The story prompt was provided for the very inspiring Reading Writers contest that was run by Elizabeth Guy every quarter or so until last year. The version of the story I sent didn't do very well - only placing in the top 70 or so. It also made the shortlist of four in a Swords Writers competition. Any feedback or criticism is more than welcome.
Sep 15th 2010
And if it isn't righted soon, it will most definitely cause the death of your protagonist.
The only source of help is a cell phone that, for some reason, becomes useless.* Despite the high-tech times we live in, your protagonist is a lone, sitting duck.
You have up to 1,500 words to resolve this nightmare. And that's just enough space to show off your knack for building suspense. The end's in sight. The clock is ticking. How does your protagonist get out of this alive?
*The cell phone that suddenly has "no service" at that critical moment is a writing technique that's been done to death. Therefore, we're going to publish in The Verb, along with the winning story, your Most Ingenious Reasons a Cell Phone Becomes Useless.
The Deadly Legacy of Mr. Villiers
“Mr Villiers would never know if his actions saved us kids, or if he’d saved any of us at all. He’ll never learn if he’d done enough. He’ll never know these things, because once you die, that’s it. He didn’t believe that himself, but what one believes really isn’t relevant.
“My great uncle, my father’s mother’s brother, a lifelong devout Christian, died at the age of ninety nine. He was another strong believer. I like to think that he’s up there somewhere, looking over us. Because his belief warrants his presence, up there, somewhere, among the stars. In Heaven. But really, at bottom, that’s just maudlin sentiment. He’s not up there. There’s nothing to look forward to after death. I know.
“I know because I’ve been. Yes, I was one of the schoolkids saved by Mr Villiers’ heroics. But I met death too. The newspapers, the tv, the Internet, they all said that seven students lost their lives that day, along with our vice principal. Actually, there were eight. One of them made it back. You won’t read that in the newsprint. You won’t see it on the documentaries, the shooting spree magazine shows or the fifth anniversary specials. You won’t see it because I came back. And…” Tad Wallhern cleared his throat. He looked into the throng of silent faces. “And actually, I like to keep it to myself.”
The school assembly remained quiet, except for a lone, monosyllabic cough.
“The doctors said that I died three times. That I had to be revived three times. I know that I would’ve been dead from a third gunshot wound. I know that Mr Villiers took that bullet for me. And, as we learned only later, when the weapon was found, it was the last bullet in the gun.”
Tad Wallhern lowered his head in deference, inwardly recalling the horrific first day of his final year at the school.
Closed circuit footage of the school corridor from that day aired many times on national and international news channels. Sometimes the footage ran in slow mo, so that a running commentary could be provided. It featured Mr Villiers – the vice principal and head of the science faculty – and a disgruntled former student.
The 2006 fall semester was the first full academic year to implement a school wide cell phone ban. Introduced after the kids had started posting seemingly lewd or compromising camera phone pictures of the teaching staff to their online profiles and various web pages, the ban had been preceded by the expulsion of Christopher Riesling Jensen in the previous school year. Christopher had hidden in the girls’ locker room, taken dozens of pictures, and had posted them anonymously over the course of ten weeks. When he’d been discovered, the promising student had been expelled.
Christopher Riesling Jensen had turned up on the first day of the new school year. Mr Villiers was standing outside the biology laboratory, as his students streamed into the class. He saw Christopher at the end of the corridor, standing in a long black trench coat. The bell for class rang out, the last of the kids went in through the classroom doors, and the corridor fell silent. Mr Villiers stood watching Christopher for a moment that stretched. The boy pulled a pistol from his belt. He pointed it towards Mr Villiers. Mr Villiers turned and ran. Rather than go into the classroom, Mr Villiers fled up the corridor, perhaps to draw Riesling Jensen away from the classroom, rather like a gazelle springing into the air enthusiastically to distract the attention of a leopard from its fawn.
Mr Villiers had not run at any kind of speed since early 1992, when he had attempted to catch a bus. As he sprinted away, enhanced closed circuit footage showed a pack of cigarettes, pens, keys, a lighter, loose change, a wallet, and various other accessories scattering from the pockets and belt loops of his jacket and pants. Mr Villiers bounded up the corridor, his jowls and belly wobbling like jelly, his teeth gritted in a grimace at the sudden workout he was forced to endure. The last thing seen to fly from his person was his cellphone, which bounced out of his shirt pocket as he turned the corner, just as a flash was seen coming from Christopher Riesling Jensen’s automatic pistol. The phone seemed to hang in the air for a moment, spinning, before clattering to the tiled floor where it broke into several pieces.
Christopher Riesling Jensen walked calmly towards the biology lab and went in through the door.
Mr Villiers returned to the corridor on hearing the first of the gunshots. The camera footage captured him scrambling on the floor, picking up the pieces of his phone as he attempted in vain to reconstruct it. Less than half a minute later, he had given up and was seen charging back down the corridor and into the lab, where seven students already lay dead or dying and a further two were wounded.
“I was one of the wounded that day,” Tad Wallhern explained to the assembly. “Christopher pointed the gun at my head. Mr Villiers came in through the door. He told Christopher that he was the one that he wanted. He argued that he should let the rest of us go. Christopher shot him dead. Mr Villiers saved my life. Now, in truth, Mr Villiers had been a real S-O-B as an administrator.”
This drew a laugh from some of the audience.
“He had pushed for Christopher’s expulsion. He had insisted on the cellphone ban. Maybe, if we’d had our phones that day…well, the cops would’ve got here sooner. But they sure wouldn’t have got here in time to save the victims. It had all happened in less than a minute. So, it stands to reason that Mr Villiers’s sacrifice be recognized. In his honor, and in memory of my sweetheart Debbie, I never carry a cell, even to this day. There’s really nothing that I can’t use my landline for up at the ranch that I need a cell for. And really, when I’m away from home, it’s kind of liberating to know that you can’t be contacted twenty-four seven.”
Tad Wallhern left the stage to an enthusiastic ovation, several of the students taking snapshots of his departure on their camera phones.
An hour later, his SUV turned onto the dirt road that led to the ranch. He thought about the girl he’d lost that day four years earlier, his high school sweetheart, Debbie, whom he’d intended to marry. He wondered if he’d ever find anyone to love that much again, another girl of his dreams, or if, like his conservative Christian uncle, he’d die a lonely old bachelor, tending to cattle well into his dotage on the property he’d inherited from him.
Debbie was among the cheerleaders who had been photographed naked in the girls’ locker room by Christopher Riesling Jensen. Tad had lodged a formal complaint when it seemed that Christopher was only going to receive a suspension. Really, Tad felt far more responsible for the entire killing spree than he cared to admit to anyone. He was often sorry that Christopher hadn’t killed him.
Tad had lied to the assembly. He didn’t like denying himself a cellphone. He found it limiting, especially out at the isolated ranch. He actually had one, three years obsolete in terms of phone technology, in his kitchen cabinet. The battery had died long ago. As he approached his home, he wondered to himself if perhaps he should recharge it, as the first step in re-entering society. His thoughts were an admission that he’d led a rather hermit like existence. He couldn’t see a reason not to send text messages to a few old school friends, and invite them to dinner out at his place. He told himself that he should get over his fear of feeling happy. He didn’t know if the cellphone coverage extended as far from the town as his ranch. He was unsure how difficult it would be to re-subscribe to his service. He drove past a Buick parked at the side of the road. He didn’t recognize the bearded man wearing shades in the driver’s seat, and drove on, full of survivor’s remorse.
Christopher Riesling Jensen emerged from the Buick. He watched the wake of dust from Tad Wallhern’s SUV as it continued towards the ranch. Christopher donned a pair of rubber gloves. America’s most wanted man then opened the trunk of the car, removing the bottom of the compartment. Beneath it was a large, long toolbox. He opened it to reveal a pistol, a shotgun, a blow torch, a length of rope and a set of knives alongside various other tools and implements. He removed a pair of wire cutters. He sized up the telegraph pole beside the parked car, and smiled to himself.