For OS Fiction Weekend, here is the first chapter of a novel called "Square Pegs." Hope you like it.
Square Pegs-- Chapter 1
Lonnie Callum and Jackie Mann had been friends since kindergarten. Physically they were diametrical opposites. Lonnie was tall and thin, a scarecrow without the straw, while Jackie was doomed to resemble a bowling ball, short and round. It’s not that they weren’t popular. Nor were they unpopular. No, it was worse than that. They were gray teenagers in a Technicolor world.
But what they had in common was an intense friendship and a shared view of a world in which they were square pegs. Yet before the night was done, they knew that, for better or for worse, they would be gray no longer.
The car rounded the corner and drove down the darkened street, past the middle class houses illuminated by the old time carriage lamps lining the curbs. Lonnie concentrated on driving, his knuckles white from the death grip he clamped on the steering wheel. Jackie occupied himself by staring into the windows of the passing houses, absently wondering what might be going on inside, picturing families gathered at dining room tables or sitting together in front of the television, doing family things, and kids doing homework. Not that he ever did any but he pictured it just the same.
The car pulled up to the curb. Alex Ripley grabbed the duffel bag that lay at his feet in the dewy grass and hefted it to his shoulder. He waited impatiently for Jackie to open the door.
“Where the hell have you two been?” Ripley demanded, trying unsuccessfully to hide his growing edginess.
“Keep your shirt on, Alex,” Jackie countered with false bravado. “We’re right on time.”
Alex tossed the bag into the back seat and climbed in after it, plopping down into the seat, momentarily feeling like he was eighty-five instead of seventeen. The car sped away.
“We’ll be there in five minutes,” Jackie offered, unnecessarily.
“I’m ready,” Alex replied. “And for Christ sakes, Lonnie, watch out for cops.”
“Just sit there and let me worry about the driving,” Lonnie said through clenched teeth. His hands gripped the wheel even tighter. He realized that they shook slightly.
Alex unzipped the duffel bag. He carefully took out the double-barreled sawed-off shotgun then rooted around inside it until he found the shells. He took them out and pressed each one to his lips, kissing them gently, anointing them as he determinedly loaded each one into the breach. Satisfied, he snapped the breach shut. Using the sleeve of his flannel shirt, he gently wiped both barrels of the shotgun. When he had finished, he softly ran his fingers along the twin barrels, caressing the cold metal. Then he took a small blanket from the duffel and folded it repeatedly until it was a thick 3-foot by 3-foot square. He would use this to muffle the sound of the blast, just as he had seen it in the movies. It wouldn’t be long now, he thought. Alex realized his heart was thumping in his chest, but it was not a bad feeling. No, not a bad feeling at all. It made him feel alive.
The car rolled to a stop at the curb. The boys surveyed the scene, looking past shadows, on the lookout for anyone or anything that shouldn’t be there. Of course, they didn’t really have a clue what that was since they had never done this before. But things looked peaceful beyond the windshield.
Jackie noticed the twinkling Christmas lights in the windows. He was aware of the wreath on the door, the green velvet bow on the doorknob, the artificial snow sprayed in the corners of each window simulating blowing snow. His eyes took in every detail about the condo, his senses keenly alert, not unlike the guard dog that sniffs the wind breathing in information. He counted six windows, a door and bay window. He even noticed the steam rising from the stack vent on the roof into the clear, cold, starry night air.
It was too late now. In less than five minutes everyone’s lives would forever change. Damn, he thought, why did Mr. Peterson have to run into us earlier this afternoon. Why couldn’t he have left well enough alone? Why couldn’t he have stopped at the water fountain or picked up a book lying discarded on the floor? Why did he have to come along when he did? If he had done any of those things he’d get to live a long life. But he hadn’t. There really wasn’t a choice. It was a shame but it was what it was. Wrong place, wrong time, a price to be paid. So now he was gonna have to die.
Lonnie shut off the car engine and let out a huge sigh. His knees trembled. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to climb out of the car. But Alex had convinced them that there was no alternative. They had moved past the teacher being a flesh and blood human being. Now Mr. Peterson was just a problem that had to be resolved. They had no choice really. It was survival of the fittest. Kill or be killed. Lonnie smiled to himself at the irony.
Alex reached up and turned off the switch to the dome light.
“Let’s go,” Alex commanded from the back seat.
Jackie’s head snapped forward at the words. He opened the door, feeling like a spectator, watching himself from another place, his insides quivering, scared shitless yet excited as never before. He climbed out of the car and held the door open for Alex, as Lonnie soundlessly closed his own door and walked around the back of the car, joining them.
“All right, Jackie,” Alex whispered. “You know what to do.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yeah, I kn-know,” he croaked. “I walk up to the door and ring the bell. You’ll be standing on my left with the shotgun at your side. When he opens it, I say hello and then step to the right.”
“That’s right. And that’s when I whack him. Then we get back in the car and drive away. Everybody set?” Alex glared at each boy, daring them to object. “And when it’s over, don’t run. Just walk to the car normally. No one’ll react and nobody’ll be able to ID us. This stuff doesn’t happen in their neighborhood. They won’t be ready for it. It’ll take time for them to process what they are seeing, and they’ll be confused.” He looked at each boy again. Even in the dark he could see that Lonnie’s face was ashen. “You gonna be okay?” he demanded, smacking him roughly in the shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Lonnie countered.
Suddenly he could feel a massive jolt of nervous energy come from deep inside him, coursing through his limbs, and transforming him from a reluctant voyeur into a willing accomplice. This was going to be an incredible next few minutes. It’s not very often you get to see somebody get killed, he thought.
“Okay,” Alex grunted, satisfied. “Let’s move.” Alex wrapped the blanket over his arm and let it fall over the barrels of the shotgun.
The boys walked slowly to the condo, standing at the foot of the steps.
“Well this is it,” Jackie muttered, surprised by the sound of his voice. He swore he had said it to himself.
“Yeah, this is it,” Lonnie agreed.
The boys looked around. No one was out and about. Alex noted that there was no snow, which meant there would be no footprints. Not that it mattered. He nudged Jackie and the two boys went up the steps. Showtime. Jackie reached out and pressed the doorbell, despite the fact that his hand shook so much he had to grip his right wrist with his left hand to steady it. He silently cursed this outward sign of weakness. He hoped that Alex hadn’t noticed it. Jackie turned quickly but Alex’s gaze was riveted to the door.
They could hear the bell ring inside, a muted song of two notes. “Avon calling,” Jackie thought, foolishly and stifled a nervous laugh. He could hear muffled footfalls coming towards the front door. Any second now, he thought, forcing himself to remain calm.
Alex watched the doorknob turn. The door swung open. His finger tightened slightly over the triggers. Everything seemed to be unfolding in slow motion. Mr. Peterson stood in the door, a long sweater hanging over a pair of worn jeans.
“Good evening, Mr. Peterson. Sorry to bother you,” Jackie blurted out.
Roger Peterson stood in the doorway. He was confused. These were the kids he’d run into earlier in the day. But he didn’t teach them. What were these kids doing here? What did they want that couldn’t wait for Monday?
“Uh, hi guys!” Peterson said. “What can I do for you?” His fingers rested on the safety lock of the knob.
“Move,” Alex hissed at Jackie, shoving him with his shoulder and raising the shotgun, all in one motion. Jackie jumped like a scared rabbit.
“What the…,” Peterson said, sensing rather than seeing the movement of Alex’s arm. “Hey!” he shouted, seeing the shortened barrels peeking out from under the blanket rising up to meet him. In a millisecond he realized what was happening but it was already too late.
The shotgun exploded, the sound muffled yet still so loud that Jackie screamed in shock. The center of the screen door disappeared into a mass of wood and metal splinters, the blast catching Roger as he turned, trying to avoid the gun. The shrapnel hit his hands as he raised them to shield his face, turning them into bloody stumps. The side of his face erupted into a crimson mass of mangled flesh as the pellets continued their lethal journey. The force of the blast rocked Peterson and he spun around, launching him into a pirouette. His already lifeless legs slowly twisted as he sank soundlessly to the floor.
“Cool!” Lonnie blurted from the sidewalk. Even from that distance he could see pieces of Peterson’s face spattered against the inside door. “Way cool, man!”
Alex grabbed the splintered door and yanked it open. He looked down at Roger Peterson, curled in a somewhat fetal position with his legs corkscrewed under him. He aimed and fired again. The shotgun thundered once more. Jackie realized his hands covered his ears. A huge chunk of Roger’s waist disappeared and a sea of blood poured from his destroyed groin.
Jackie thought he was going to be sick. He moved his hands from his ears to his mouth and raced off the porch. Lonnie just stared at the dead teacher. Good to go! Good to go!, he thought. He looked around, expecting to see a huge audience coming on the heels of the thunderous shotgun blasts, but they were still alone. Alex was right.
Alex lowered the gun to his hip and calmly turned around. Jackie stared, unable to remove his gaze from the smoke curling from the barrels.
“It’s done,” he announced, as if they had just delivered a newspaper or brought in the mail. “Let’s get outta here.” He walked off the porch and headed for the car. In the distance, a church carillon played a Christmas carol that announced, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
Lonnie raced to the car and turned the key to the ignition so hard he was afraid he was going to snap it. The car roared into life. He gunned the engine. It seemed like time was standing still, waiting for Alex and Jackie to get in the car. Finally they climbed in. Alex collapsed into the backseat and Jackie scrambled into the front. He slammed the door. Lonnie tromped the gas pedal and the car screeched away, fishtailing its way down the street and around the corner.
“Waaahoooooo!” Lonnie screeched, pumping his fist in the air. “Sonofabitch, we did it! Wow!|”
Alex sat in the back, legs stretched across the seat. “Fucking-A-right we did!” he announced. “Problem solved!”
Alex lifted the shotgun off his knees and snapped open the breech. He stared at the two spent shells for a moment. Then he lifted the shotgun to his nose, closed his eyes and inhaled the smell of the weapon as if it were some religious object.
“Here,” he said as he handed a spent shell to each boy. “Something for each of you. Sort of a memento of your rite of passage.”
Lonnie’s gaze shifted from the road to the shell, then back to the road. He clutched the shell so hard he thought it would crumble. His hand trembled again and he had trouble finding his pocket. He took a deep breath and finally slipped it into his coat.
Jackie just stared at the shell resting in is palm. It seemed so innocent. So unreal, yet so lethal. Kinda like the remains of a firecracker or something.
“Holy shit!” Jackie muttered softly. “Bet the rest of the kids don’t have the balls to do what we did. We just killed somebody!” Suddenly Jackie felt a rush unlike any thing he had ever experienced in his life. The intensity jolted him as if he were hit by a cattle prod. “Holy shit!”