“Gabriel” by Emma Atkinson

There was a boy who lived on my street until he shot his parents. I wasn’t home the night he was arrested, which is too bad because everyone who was has this big story to tell now. This guy Dennis lives five blocks away and still won’t stop telling everyone about how he heard the sirens and “knew something was up,” like that means anything. My parents kind of know the woman who heard the shots and called the cops. She babysat me once, ten years ago, when my mom had the flu and my dad was out of town. Anyway, they know her well enough that everyone knows they know her.

I heard he didn’t even put up a fight. The police came to his door and he was like, “Oh, my parents are upstairs.” He let them handcuff him like it didn’t matter. I try to imagine that, being shoved into a cop car and not even caring. I got hauled into the vice principal’s office for leaving campus at lunch last week. I wasn’t even in real trouble and I sweated through my shirt. How do you turn it off, that part of your brain that cares if adults get mad at you? They can do anything they want. You have to make nice until you’re eighteen. I thought that was the deal.

He shot his dad in the head and got his mom in the chest. My parents tried to shoo me out of the room when it came on the news, like I’m six. I could tell by the body bags which parent was inside. His dad was a big guy – not fat, but big – who used to stand in the yard smoking cigarettes. For some reason he wouldn’t sit on the porch, he would stand in the grass staring at the sky over his neighbors’ houses. His mom was a tiny lady. She wasn’t anorexic skinny, I don’t think, but she was small. So you could tell from the body bags.

I bet he was high when he did it. We used to smoke together. Truthfully, it’s more like I would bribe him with weed to come hang out with me. I stopped him once, a couple years ago, while he was mowing the lawn. I had a dime bag in my back pocket, “burning a hole” like my mom would say.

“You smoke?” I asked. That’s my favorite thing about drugs. They make you instant friends. He turned off the lawnmower and followed me. He didn’t even say a word.

I was never scared of him. I thought he was cute. He had bad acne and a big nose, but there was something about the way he walked that I really liked. He would sort of lope without moving his waist, in that way that skinny boys have. I gave up on that, though, when I found out he had this boyfriend he was really obsessed with.

“His name is Skye,” he told me. We were in my room, and he was far higher than me. I had been moderating my intake because I had to go to my grandmother’s that evening and she freaks me out when I’m high, with her thin hair and the brown spots on her skin. Gabriel put the tip of his pinky finger in his mouth and bit down, not exactly like an evil villain, but like he was too lost in thought to notice how stupid he looked.

It turned out that Skye was older, nineteen or twenty. He had blue streaks in his hair and his own apartment. I never saw him on the news, probably because he didn’t want to talk to the media about how he was fucking a sixteen year old. In Gabriel’s estimation, he was “super hot.” I’m not making fun of him either – he sounded super hot to me, too. I mean, I would have been obsessed with an older guy with his own apartment who liked me, too.

My mom says that anyone could have seen something horrible was coming, especially after he got expelled for assaulting Mr. Rayburn. He was one of the English teachers, and even with all the coverage no one really knows what Gabriel’s beef with him was. He was the kind of popular teacher who tells jokes and never gives really hard assignments. This happened maybe three months before the shooting. Gabriel just marched into his class first thing one morning and jumped him.

Before that he used to come to school drunk all the time and pick fights with the football and basketball guys. Still no one was scared of him, except maybe the adults. The boys who fought him usually won. He would smile at them sideways with blood on his teeth and dirt in his hair. He would pull himself off the ground smoothly, like a robot built just for that, and limp away off campus. He had scars on his arms, straight lines and white circles. I never thought to ask about them, even when we were both out of it and talking about, like, peeing our pants in Kindergarten or whatever. There are funny secrets, and there are secrets that bring you closer to someone, and there are secrets that can only build walls between you and everyone else, whether you share them or not.

I wasn’t allowed to hang out with him, by the way. I had to invite him over when my parents weren’t home. Especially after the Mr. Rayburn incident. Maybe we should have stopped hanging out at that point anyway, but I just felt like…like, who hasn’t wanted to punch a teacher? Plus, around then he started showing up with his own weed sometimes. I thought he was starting to like me.

I swear when we hung out we just talked about the normal bullshit. It’s not like he ever said he was Satan or tried to torture my dog or anything. One time it turned out he was really into astrology and we talked about stars for a long time.

“What’s your sign?” he asked, sitting on the floor and leaning against my bed.


“No way! That’s not you. When’s your birthday?”

I told him and he laughed, loudly like suddenly everything made sense.

“You’re Cancer rising,” he said. “You’re basically a Cancer. That’s you.”

Other than that it was all who was selling weed and where you could get a fake I.D. He was a Capricorn, for what it’s worth.

It wasn’t even a big story when it happened. The local paper wrote some hilarious bit about the different cliques at our school. They tried to make it sound like he ran with some disturbed crowd, interviewed kids who had eaten lunch with him once. They got everything wrong. There wasn’t really any national coverage because some other guy killed a lot more people just a few days later, people who weren’t related to him, so that got everyone’s attention instead.

His house is still empty. A few weeks ago my friend Krista and I were talking about breaking into it. She was spending the night at my house, with a bottle of wine she smuggled out of her parents’ kitchen. At the time she was really big on bloodstains.

“Do you think there’s still blood on the walls? We should go see the blood on the walls.”

“Sure,” I said. I could see her point. It’s not like the walls were going to be part of a museum exhibit any time soon. This was our chance to see them.

We made it up to the front door when she suddenly started crying and saying she didn’t want to go in after all. I couldn’t see her point then, not as much, but she was sobbing and I wanted to get out of there before any cops showed up.

I was never scared of him, but I’m a little scared of his house. It’s two stories with a cement porch and white columns, like every house around here. Any asshole could move in and never know about any of this. I want people to see it like I see it. I want people to feel like I do, about any house or boy they think is great. Like there’s probably something wrong with you just for glancing in their direction. Like you have to fall asleep every night wondering if what happened there might happen to you too.

I think I’m going to spray paint pentagrams on the front door, or break all the windows or set fire to the roof. I’m going to start telling everyone that Gabriel went insane because of a dark presence lurking in the walls. Who would know better than me? I’m going to tell the new freshmen that he’s going to break out of jail and kill anyone who moves in. I’m going to whisper to the people touring his house that you better be careful around here, because late at night you can still hear his parents shrieking with shock and pain. I swear to God that they are trapped here, and they are vengeful beings.

Emma Atkinson

Emma Atkinson’s work has previously been featured on themighty.com, the 2015 Pooled Ink anthology, and the Drunken Odyssey podcast.

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