Forrest Cumbridge poked his head through the opening of the tower’s fourth floor, his eyes focusing against the darkness onto the inky outline of the officer who was undoubtedly more than ready to leave the cramped space.
“I’ve been waiting all goddam day for you,” the officer said gruffly, his silhouette leaning against the high chair.
Forrest grinned, huffing and puffing, pulling himself out of the hole, then lumbering over to the nearest counter. He looked out the slanted windows, past the high, razor-wire fence and out onto the prison’s quiet ominous grounds where a low, thin line of fog stretched to the outer buildings. This was definitely not the kind of duty he was used to; he was used to walking the trenches, where loud-mouthed, nasty-smelling inmates lingered and slummed. Maybe because he had endured those conditions for the past eight hours, the captain thought he was in need of an easier shift; Forrest wasn’t going to argue. Because of low staffing levels, he was mandated to the midnight shift. It was fine, though. More work equaled a bigger paycheck.
“You ever been up here before?” the officer asked, eyeing him speculatively.
Forrest wondered if his newness would ever wear off. He’d had this job for almost ten months now. Granted, he hadn’t graced his presence in the towers much, this place where silence was golden and stress was almost nonexistent, but he supposed he did look like someone fresh off the bus, especially to the old geezers who worked the towers on the regular and never got to interact with those in the trenches.
“No, sir,” said Forrest.
“Well, there ain’t much to it,” said the old man. “You got your binocs there, your escape rope there, and your guns there.” He pointed to each one. “If you see a man on top of that second fence there, you have every right to shoot him. Questions?”
Forrest eyed the primitive cabinet where the guns were stored for a bit longer than he should have, like he’d never seen guns before. Inside a simple glass-hinged cabinet door were two guns: a Mini-14 and a shotgun. They were illuminated by a very dim light inside the cabinet, almost like a license plate light.
“No need to stress over the seal, son,” said the seasoned officer. “It hadn’t been tampered with. See?” He fingered a yellow plastic seal hanging from the metal clasp of the gun cabinet.
“Ohh!” Forrest yipped. “No, I wasn’t … never mind.”
“OK, so you good?”
Forrest nodded. “I think so.”
“All right then. I’m out.” Slowly, he lowered himself into the hole in the floor. “Have a good one!” he called just before his head disappeared.
“Yes, you too,” said Forrest, the guns still lingering in his mind.
Outside, at the bottom of the tower, the officer clipped the large brass key to the dangling rope, waved, then walked away. Forrest pulled the rope up, closed the window, took his seat in the high chair, and then contemplated his night. If there was nothing to do, no magazines, or crosswords, or anything to read, then the ensuing hours would tick by like days. Sometimes third shift could be so long. It sunk in your bones like a lead weight, and made you unutterably miserable. But Forrest was used to it, getting mandated two to three times per week. He got through it simply by thinking of the money he was bringing home. He didn’t know what he was going to buy with it, because he had no wife or kids, or mortgage payment, but rest assured, it would be something nice. He’d had his eye on a new Camaro, or a newly used Camaro, one with a nice engine with a lot of horsepower. He thought driving around in one of those might change his social status a little. At least he hoped so.
Forrest never came from money, nor had he ever had any for himself. At twenty-six years old, this was the first job that actually paid a decent wage. Despite that, he had always been a little chubby and backwards, and was an easy target for bullies and other pranksters making fun of him. His parents always told other people that it was a wonder he made it through high school, both academically and without getting beaten down and thrown into a dumpster somewhere. Suffice it to say, Forrest never had a girlfriend or even a female friend for that matter; they always steered clear of him. Once, someone compared his looks to David Berkowitz, the famous Son of Sam. They both had the same build and the same curly black hair. He didn’t tell anyone, but he privately cried his eyes out over that one.
Forrest looked down at the courtyard, at the space between the entrance building and the main building. In the main building, some one hundred feet away, all of second shift were lined up behind the time clock, eagerly waiting for that digital clock to strike 11:00 p.m., waiting for the moment when they could all go out to the bars and drink and forage and party and fuck one another senseless, and have a grand ole time at it. Forrest never partook in any of that. For one, nobody invited him out; and two, he was a homebody and was socially awkward. So naturally, he never stood much of a chance in meeting girls. He had created a few online profiles at a couple of the dating sites, but never received any messages. He sent them out, but never any replies.
For the most part, he liked the people he worked with. Not all of them were assholes. But there were some he didn’t care for at all. He supposed that was true at any job, but at a prison, the taunting seemed relentless. He supposed he could’ve reported the harassment, but that would’ve only made things worse. The tormentors would start showing up at his house, or follow him into stores. The prison was a big place, so there were days he didn’t have to work around the assholes; but the days he was forced to be around them were hell. On those days, he went home pissed the fuck off, vowing to quit, or vowing to get even—somehow. Others tried to tell him that they did that to everyone, as a kind of initiation, a mental toughness test.
But Forrest was not mentally tough; he was the exact opposite of mentally tough. He needed this job. If he was going to get that Camaro, then he needed to stay; if he was going to change his social life and secure a girlfriend, then he needed to stay. If only those bastards would just leave him alone. Dealing with irate and whiny inmates was bad enough; he didn’t need the added pressure of other officers—those who were supposed to have his back—fucking with him, too.
The worst was the making fun of his name. They yelled things like “Run, Forrest, run!” How he hated that Tom Hanks movie! And they had a field day with his last name—Cumbridge. One could imagine. Of course there had been some teasers in high school, but these people, these adults were downright harsh. Forrest had considered changing his entire name after graduation, but never got around to it, figuring people over twenty years of age were more mature. Boy, did the truth slap him in the face! All he had to do was change one letter of his last name: the u to an a: Cumbridge to Cambridge. My, how much better life would’ve been.
As these things raced through his mind, the all-too familiar anger rose within him. Any minute now, all of those bastards would come waltzing down that wide-paved walkway with nothing on their minds but partying and fornication.
Forrest’s heart thumped. He looked down at his hands, saw that they were shaking, then swallowed the large lump in his throat. He looked up at the clock. Mere seconds before 11:00 p.m. His eyes scanned across the people through the tall window panes below, at those milling about the time clock, eager to leave. He could almost see it on their faces.
With his pulse thumping in every orifice of his body, Forrest reached up and broke the yellow seal on the cabinet. He told himself not to do it, but then he unlatched the hasp, and pulled the door open.
No! What are you doing? Stop!
His clammy palm gripped the cold wooden stock of the M-14, then hefted it out, feeling its weight, its power.
Put it back!
He had broken the seal, which would get him written up if he didn’t have a good reason.
I’ll just tell them I thought I saw an inmate running toward the fence.
He didn’t know if that reason would stick or not, but it was the only one he could think of at the moment. He triggered a round, the sound doing something exhilarating in his body. He stepped up to the window, pulled it open about eight inches, allowing a swirl of cool air to swoop in, cooling the sweat on his skin. He waited for his interior voice to protest, but now it was silent—beaten.
With a nasty smile on his face, Forrest poked the gun barrel out the window, and waited. The hard part was over.
Now it was time for the fun part.
During the next critical seconds, Forrest’s thoughts circled around the events of that early August morning in 1966 when a guy named Charles Whitman took an elevator up to the observation deck of a clock tower at the University of Texas. Forrest hadn’t even been a glimmer in his father’s eye at that point in history, a father he had yet to meet, but he could sure envision what was going through Whitman’s head at the time.
End the suffering. Don’t let others fall victim.
Whitman’s act sure made the national news, and Forrest was sure if he had the guts to pull this trigger, then he too would make the national news. There were so many shootings in America these days; psychos walking into schools, shopping centers, people getting mowed down at huge gatherings, etc., etc. But a mass killing like this … at a prison … this would be unprecedented—epic.
The thought of his name in every paper, on every television network, in every social media site infuriated him. He wished he had changed that one letter in his last name. Smart asses everywhere would say, “With a last name like that, it’s no wonder he went on a rampage.”
Making the news wasn’t his goal, though; the goal was to make all those sorry bastards pay for what they did to him. There always came a time in a person’s life when he/she had to take serious responsibility for their childishness; the piper’s due had come at last.
You don’t have the nerve!
“Don’t I?” he sputtered, gritting his teeth, as the glassed door to the main building swung open, pale light glinting from its reflection. A throng of chattering people began to emerge, walking down the wide sidewalk of the courtyard.
Almost immediately, Forrest spotted one of the people on the list he had constructed a little over a month ago, a list of people he would’ve liked seen blown away or thrown from a high window, a list he kept neatly folded in his uniform breast pocket. There was no need to take it out, for he pretty much had it memorized from top to bottom.
The guy on Forrest’s radar was known for his wise-ass comments and name-calling. His name was Dirk Ewing. It was no coincidence that Dirk rhymed with jerk.
Forrest’s entire body prickled with sudden warmth as he took careful aim. He exhaled slowly, getting the jitters out, then held steady. Gently, he compressed the trigger, taking the play out. He held his breath, and felt the pounding of his heart in his ears.
For all the marbles.
He squeezed the trigger, and the gun kicked slightly in his sweaty grip.
Dirk dropped his lunch cooler; it clanged sharply onto the concrete walkway. A bottled water and a green apple went sprawling into the grass. He clutched at his chest, then hunched over, falling to his knees.
Things aren’t so funny now, are they, Dirk?
From his knees, Dirk fell flat to the pavement, blood coloring his light gray uniform shirt. A cluster of men gathered round, frantic chatter among them. The flow of foot traffic ceased. A few eyes lifted to the sky, two pairs directing their gaze over the walkway lights, toward Forrest’s tower.
“Get him to the infirmary!” someone shouted.
Dirk was hoisted up by a gaggle of males.
Another bullet zipped down into the crowd, this one finding its way into the head of one of Dirk’s pall bearers. A small plume of blood jumped out as he melted to the ground, Dirk’s limp right leg going with him.
A woman screamed. Then another. Pandemonium hit. Because of all the recent shootings, everyone consciously or subconsciously knew what was happening. Bullets were coming from somewhere. Later on, someone told reporters that he thought an ex-inmate was outside the fence, holed up in a tree, taking target practice. It wouldn’t have been beyond the scope of reality.
The entire crowd ducked for cover, scattering like roaches. Dirk’s body was dragged by two men back into the main building.
Forrest laughed, shooting someone else in the back, someone he didn’t know. Maybe it was a guy who beat his wife and kid on a weekly basis. The guy stumbled forward, collapsing onto the pavement.
And then Forrest spotted another deviant from his list: Breena Fenton, a young lady who made fun of him in a barrage of laughter when he asked her out on a date. If only she knew how much courage it took to approach her, she might have been compelled to feel a small vial of empathy. Hell, sympathy would’ve been acceptable, too. All she had to say was “Thanks, but I have a boyfriend.” He would’ve accepted that. But no, she laughed like it was the funniest joke on the planet.
Breena was fleeing toward him, toward the entrance building, panic strewn across her face. She didn’t look so attractive now, nowhere near like he had drawn her. Back when he first started, he saw her and then stole one of her Facebook pictures, drew it in pencil on an eighteen by twenty-four-inch frame, and then hung it on his bedroom wall where he could see it when he first woke up and right before he shut his eyes for the night.
The mini went off twice. Her arms shot out from her sides as she was expelled backwards, as if from a powerful kick in the sternum, landing on her back. Blood wetted the cloth behind her silver badge, and also seeped out from somewhere behind her blonde hair. She would never have the pleasure of laughing at someone like Forrest ever again.
“Sniper!” someone shouted, pointing toward the tower.
The jig was up. Forrest stood up, opened the window as wide as it would go and sprayed bullets everywhere, not caring who fell victim. He felt like that piece of shit from the Vegas hotel room. Deep down, though, he didn’t believe he was shooting at innocent people; he was issuing punishments to people who deserved this kind of fate. Every single person in that courtyard was either cheating on their spouse, or beating on innocents in their families, or harassing someone, or engaged in illegal activity. He was just doling out God’s long overdue justice.
As Forrest dropped the banana clip and loaded another, a tangle of arms and legs escaped to the entrance building below. The courtyard was now empty, except for the ten bodies strewn across the walkway. One of them was the man he had just relieved not fifteen minutes ago.
Forrest had no sympathy. The old man was probably like everyone else; he was probably sexually abusing his niece, or his granddaughter, or someone. He looked the type.
One body was moving, half submerged in shadow. Forrest put the binoculars to his face. It was another from his list: Darnell Hayes, a black guy who viewed life through a racist lens, a guy who always accused Forrest of being the most racist person he’d ever met. Forrest wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not, but the accusation always made him feel uncomfortable, especially when Darnell said it around a couple of the black supervisors.
“Time to die, you fucking nigger,” he whispered, putting three rounds into his torso. Darnell moved no more. Even though Darnell made everyone uncomfortable, Forrest knew he had done everyone a tremendous favor. But they’d never admit it. Especially with a news camera pointed at them and a microphone jammed in their face.
Beside him, the phone sprang to life. Brrrrring. Brrrring.
Forrest wasn’t particularly in the mood to talk to anyone; he reached out a jittering hand, and switched off the ringer. But still, that crazy stupid square yellow light kept flashing. A minute later, the light went out.
Forrest had no clue what would happen from here on out. There was literally no one left to shoot. He supposed someone was going to have to come get him eventually, because there was no way in hell he was going to walk out voluntarily. He supposed highly skilled snipers would be put on the rooftops, so maybe he could give himself up before things could escalate to that level.
For the ten bodies lying on the ground, he would be given the death penalty. Unless he pled insanity. His actions constituted insanity, didn’t they? Could he avoid Death Row and march straight into the loony bin? Possibly. He thoroughly enjoyed watching movies and playing chess. It would be an all right existence. It wouldn’t be much different than the life he led now in that he wouldn’t be able to watch porn late at night (many times looking at Beena’s picture as he got off).
The little yellow square light flashed again.
Since there was nothing left to shoot at, Forrest picked up the phone, and held it to his ear.
“Cumbridge! What in the hell is going on up there?”
It was Captain Greenwell. He was all right in Forrest’s book. Greenwell had bitched him out once for not properly patting down an inmate, but he had that coming. His three-second pat down was on him. But to be fair, the inmate was a known homosexual and was known for having HIV.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” said Forrest, teasing a bit. “Why? What’s going on? Who is this?” At this point, he could say anything he wanted. The crazier the better for the trial.
“This is Captain Greenwell!” he shouted, a bit unnerved to say the least.
“Yes, sir,” said Forrest, attentive. “What can I do for you?”
“You had better give me a goddamned good explanation as to what is happening up there! Where’re those rounds coming from?”
Forrest didn’t exactly know where to take this conversation. His mind was fuddled at the moment, but he did want to toy with him. He realized this call might be a decoy to distract him. He looked frantically around, searching the ground, then the sky. “Uh, Mr. Greenwell?” he said. “Can I call you back? I really have to go. I’ve got one enormous shit knocking at the door!” He slammed the phone down, and felt slightly guilty for pulling this shit on Greenwell’s shift. The son of a bitch was inside six months of retirement. But Greenwell was partly to blame here; he shouldn’t have assigned Forrest to this tower.
The bright yellow light shined to life again.
Forrest ignored it, then turned toward the parking lot, where cars sped toward the one exit. A couple of cars had jumped the curb and was sliding through the wet grass toward the road. One car almost collided with an on-coming truck when it hit the highway. The truck swerved, laying on its horn.
Forrest was amazed that these people were brave enough to make a run for their cars. Scared, panicked people would do almost anything to save their own skin, even put their lives at further risk. He shot at them, nevertheless, shattering a window or two. He even sprayed bullets at the parked cars. He put in another clip.
Two towers rested some fifty yards on either side of Forrest’s tower. Their spotlights suddenly flared to life, directing their bright beams right into Forrest’s windows, casting a good glare from the outside world.
Forrest flipped on his own spotlight, and trained it onto the main building’s exit. No one was getting through there alive, not that the prison didn’t have other exits. There were at least two different ways out through the fence, one at the side, and one in the rear. If times were desperate enough, he supposed someone could cut a hole through the fences. He’d be lucky if he had a clear shot at anyone ever again.
Forrest ripped up a box of toilet paper, and taped the cardboard to the windows to shield against the other towers’ lights. It worked, reducing the high beams into thin white lines around the edges of the cardboard.
With the light diminished, he detected movement on one of the far rooftops of the main building. Using the binoculars, he stared straight ahead, then uttered a slight chuckle against the dryness of his throat. “They must really think I’m stupid,” he muttered. He knelt down to where only his eyes showed above the countertop.
He thought again of his fate. Death. Unless some flea bag lawyer could prove he was legally insane. Maybe he could use his coworkers as a defense. If someone was picked on enough, there stood a good chance that person would show up at the work site with a rifle. High school had been a test. If the teasing continued into adulthood, then the only recourse was gunfire. It was the all-American way. Or maybe he could fake a couple of personalities like Ed Norton’s character did in Primal Fear. That could possibly work.
The small yellow cube flashed again. Forrest lifted the receiver and slowly put it to his ear.
“Forrest, you there?”
It was another voice. Forrest said nothing, hearing only the loud thudding of his heart.
“This is Captain Warner of the Ohio Highway Patrol.”
Now the big wigs were getting involved. Maybe before the night was over, he’d get to speak to the governor, or maybe even the fucking President of the United States.
“I’d like to ask why you are doing this,” said Warner, his voice calm, as if he was some kind of counselor asking his client why he always hit his head on the wall.
“I don’t know,” Forrest whined, surprised by the shaky tone of his voice.
“Isn’t it about time you surrender before more innocent people get hurt, including yourself?” said Warner.
It was, but Forrest wasn’t about to agree. “No one cares if I get hurt,” he said.
“That’s not true.”
“I can’t surrender,” said Forrest, swallowing hard, really feeling the dryness of his throat now.
“Because I know what happens to people like me. In prison.”
“Well, what do you think will happen to you if you don’t surrender?” Warner asked.
“I’m safe up here,” said Forrest.
“No, Forrest,” said Warner. “You’re not safe up there. You’re safe down here, in custody, where people don’t have to worry about you shooting them.”
Forrest pictured his list. Only three were crossed off, with over a dozen still left. There was a contractor who did him dirty; there was the mailman who held his mail; there was a mechanic who fucked his car up. The name at the very top—Aunt Joan—was at home right this second, doing God knew what. She was the most deserving of his punishment for what she did. The tears came now. But Captain Warner undoubtedly thought he was feeling remorse for what he’d done to his fellow officers.
Aunt Joan was Forrest’s mother’s sister-in-law. When he was little, Aunt Joan’s husband had died of a heart attack, which left her a lonely, miserable middle-aged widow. She told his mother that she’d be happy to babysit for hardly any money at all. And when Forrest went over there, she’d molest him. She’d make him lick her disgusting pussy, massage her tits, and finger her ass. It made him want to vomit every time he thought about it. Then she’d go down on him, then cuss and smack him whenever it didn’t get hard. She said that if he ever told anyone what she did then she’d get someone to kill his mother right in front of him, and then torture him so badly that he’d want to die himself.
And he believed her.
“All you have to do, Forrest,” said Warner, “is come out of the tower with your hands in the air. I promise you won’t get hurt.”
“I’m not trying to disrespect you, Captain Warner,” said Forrest, sniffling tears, “but do you think I was born yesterday?”
“No, of course not. But you do need to come out. We’re not going to go away until you do.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said Forrest. If he had known he would be assigned to the First Tower for the midnight shift, then he would’ve killed Aunt Joan before he left for work. Knowing she was dead would’ve put him at peace when his fate finally came to fruition. Knowing she was dead would’ve probably stopped him from taking the gun out of the cabinet in the first place.
“Then I’m afraid we’re out of options,” said Warner. “My men will have to take you out any way they can. Peacefully, or by force. That’s your choice.”
Forrest nodded into the phone. “It’s OK,” he said. “I don’t intend to kill anyone else.” He hung up the phone, unplugged it from the wall, then took out his list. There was a name missing —a three-letter name, which he quickly jotted down as a last second addition, scrawled in shaky letters:
Was it possible to kill God? Probably not. But it was a nice fantasy. Maybe someone could write a story about it. Or an epic seven-book series. That would be cool.
Forrest decided to write a note, a kind of suicide note, because he knew this story would make national news, and he wanted people to know the truth, not what the national media would make it out to be. He slumped down into the floor, scratching his ideas onto the neatly creased sheet of paper. It was hard to see, but his hand made the right letters. Someone would be able to decipher it. Overhead were the distinct sounds of an approaching helicopter.
He rose up to the level of the countertop, gripping his rifle tightly, and peered into the dark night sky. Nothing. Not even a light. The blades of the chopper turned, growing louder with each passing second. A moment later, it sounded as if it was right above him. What were they planning to do? Drop a bomb on top of him? Shoot out the ceiling? He couldn’t lean out the window and shoot at it because the snipers would get him.
Suddenly one of the windows burst inward. A rush of cold air swept inside the small space, and a bright flare of light exploded.
Forrest’s gun went off merely from the excitement.
There was return fire, small flashes of light from distant points on the roof.
Pinpoints of extreme, tearing force peppered his body. His skin was on fire. Before he fell, he emptied the magazine, firing toward the shadows, the windows, the rooftops, screaming at the top of his lungs.
This was it.
Another blast of light exploded. And then men came through the windows from each direction, yelling and firing—a torrent of activity. Forrest’s head smashed against the floor, right on top of the note he was working on. Dark red blood soaked the paper, the ink. Now no one would know the truth about Aunt Joan.
But that was Forrest’s fault; he should’ve come out when Captain Warner asked him to.
As Forrest’s life slowly ebbed away on that blood-soaked tower floor, he wondered if mass murderers and serial killers were ever reincarnated. If so, then he’d have another chance at dear old Aunt Joan.
Forrest Cumbridge died smiling.
Viktor Wolfe has had numerous stories and poems published in Dark Gothic Resurrected, one story in Bards and Sages, and one poem in Infernal Ink Magazine.