Violent Ends Excerpt
When I was approached by Shaun David Hutchinson about contributing to a story to Violent Ends, a collection about a school shooter, my mind started to race. On the one hand, I was intrigued, and fascinated by the idea of getting into the mind of a kid so troubled he would release his inner demons on innocents. But on the other hand I was concerned that such a thing could be gratuitous and sensationalized. I needn’t have worried. Shaun has put together a brilliant collection of stories. Not about the shooting, but about the events that led to it, the people surrounding it, and the psychology of one troubled teen.
What makes the story I contributed even more special to me is that I didn’t write it alone—I collaborated with my son, Brendan. Brendan is quite an extraordinary writer, and is working on his own novels—as well as co-writing a story with me for UnBound, the upcoming Unwind short story collection.
In trying to come up with an idea for a story for Violent Ends, I wanted to try something very out of the box. I started to think about the weapon. If a gun had a soul, what would it feel, what would it think? How would it relate to its owner and the world. Brendan and I chose to tell the story from the point of view of the gun. It longs for its purpose, but at the same time is terrified of what that purpose might be. I really feel we captured something special and chilling with our story “Presumed Destroyed.” Read an excerpt below:
By Neal Shusterman & Brendan Shusterman
I am not defective.
I am not malformed.
My imperfections are entirely cosmetic. A discoloration in the steel along my handle. A vein slightly lighter, mildly less tempered than the rest of me. But my barrel, my chamber, my trigger and hammer are unmarred. My action is every bit as precise as any other.
And yet I was separated from my siblings, sorted into a pile of discards.
You cannot know the misery of being deemed unworthy of one’s purpose, even before knowing what that purpose might be.
I was tossed into a holding crate, doomed to be melted down – re-smelted into that angry bright liquid from which I was forged. Destined to lose my identity in the fiery melting pot. This was to be my fate – but it didn’t happen that way.
Instead I was saved.
It was not out of compassion. No, nothing so selfless. I was saved out of greed. A worker in the factory, whom I did not know, and did not care to know, stole away with my crate. All of us relegated for the furnace were instead offered for sale in a dark room to a shadowy man.
“See what I’ve brought you? There are more than two dozen here.”
“Yes, two dozen substandard pistols.”
“Minor flaws, that’s all.”
“I have a reputation.”
“So only take the best of them.”
“Fine. I’ll give you forty a piece.”
“Fifty. My final offer.”
“Take ten of them, and you have a deal.”
The shadowy man was the first to hold me in his poorly-manicured hand, but he never pulled my trigger. I was nothing but a commodity to him, and he was merely a middle man to my destiny.
I was smuggled on a long journey in darkness, to a place far different from where I was forged. Plenty of time to wonder what I’d be used for. I knew the possibilities were endless. I come from a family of both fame and infamy. Distant cousins fought wars, bringing both devastation and freedom. Some kept the peace in the streets of cities, but were also abused by those sworn to protect. I tried to imagine the sort of hand I would fall into, and what purpose that hand would have for me.
In the end, I was sold in a filthy alley – a quick, quiet cash deal – but at least I now belonged to someone.
My first owner was a man of brutal camaraderie. I never knew the name of his gang, only that he belonged to one. From the moment he held me, I knew what I was to him. A symbol. An icon of his manhood, of his pride, of his ascension from impoverished mediocrity. To him I was a ticket to greatness. He would test the speed of his draw to an empty room. He would show me to his friends, bragging. And he would keep me loaded. There was always a bullet in the gullet of my chamber, lodged there, choking and heavy, in that penultimate position, awaiting the act. My act. My one true function.
I understood him all too well. He had passion, but it left me cold, for it was a careless passion. He believed my power to be his own and he took it for granted. On the rare times he fired me it was a pointless act – such as the time he aimed me upward on New Year’s Eve, in a vain attempt to pierce the sky. He pulled the trigger with such random, reckless abandon, I felt only shame.
Do not misunderstand, I didn’t hate him. I pitied him, though. He thought my presence in his life would bring him respect, but how could it, when his own actions engendered such disrespect?
Then, in a moment of weakness, he resorted to crime. A store of convenience in the predawn hours of a violent summer storm.
The clerk seemed defiant, rather than compliant when he saw me.
“Calm down, kid, put that gun away. No one’s gotta get hurt.”
“Shut the hell up, old man. Just gimme everything you got in there.”
“You don’t want to do this. Just-“
“I said shut it. Do I look like I’m playin’ around? Give me all the money.”
I felt hot in his hand. His sweat conducted his nervousness like electricity, and it empowered me. I felt alive, born anew, and yet disgusted by the feeling. Was this my purpose? Was this it? So compelling, yet so ignoble. I could feel his adrenaline as if it was my own. I could feel the fear on the other side of the barrel, too, but I could feel something else. Something like experience. And it was not the experience of my owner.
“Hold on a moment…just let me open the register.”
“What are you doing? Stand up straight, old man!”
And just like that, the tables turned. A stand off. I could see the gun the man was holding. A Desert Eagle .50 Caliber. It was a beautiful weapon which made me feel inadequate, inferior. It was as if that gun was mocking me, laughing at me. The shame of being used for a lowly heist was replaced by the embarrassment of being bested.
“Whoa, man…take it easy…”
I could feel my owner’s cowardice. It had always been there. His bravado was just a thin veneer slathered across it like cheap paint on an old revolver. He was having second thoughts about this whole thing. Was I failing him, or was he failing me? I could not provide him what he wanted. I could not bring him true respect, and he could not give me a purpose. In a moment he faltered, lowering me just a bit, and my rival, the Desert Eagle took its cue to shame me once more, for a weapon like that is all muscle, and no remorse.
The shot rang out like cannon fire and it burst into my owner’s arm. He swore and cursed as he bled, but still he held me, cradled me. He ran, bursting through the door, setting off the convenience store’s disturbingly cheery electronic doorbell. The clerk didn’t even bother to yell at us.
We ran through the rainy streets. Cars whizzed by, people ignored the wounded man. I was shrouded in darkness as he had stuffed me in his pocket, but I could feel his broken manhood, his lost dreams. When we got home, he closed me into a toolbox like a coffin, and I sat their for months. Time faded with no way to measure the days in the darkness.
Such was my existence. And in time, I came to believe I had no purpose. No reason to be. The prospect filled me with lethargic despair.
Then, after many months – perhaps years, he opened my steel sarcophagus, reached in, and pulled me out. His wound had healed, but I sensed in him a scar of firm resolve. He had a new intention for me, but it confused me, because I also sensed that he would never fire me again.
He slipped me into a pocket filled with crumpled dollars and stray coins. Small bills and spare change speak of such shallow, trivial things; what they have been spent on, or the wallets and purses they have known. Their chatter annoyed me, and it made me wish he would spend them frivolously, so I could be rid of them. As it turned out, he was far more interested in finding them companions than he was in me.
He took me out in an alley, perhaps the same one in which he purchased me, and, as he held me up to show me off, I realized the truth. I was about to change hands! That bullet which pierced my first owners arm, in a way, tore open a new future for me – for now I would pass into another’s possession. Who shall own me, I wondered? And for what purpose? Would I be used for a family’s protection? Would I fire upon Coyotes or other scavengers? Or would I be put on a pedestal in a collection, to be revered as a work of art?
“Ok. I got the money you asked for right here.”
“Good. You came alone?”
“Yeah, of course. Just like you said.”
“Good. Then take it, kid. I hope it brings you more luck than it did me.”
And now, in the faint light of the familiar alley, I am thrust into the hands of my new owner, and I am reborn!
Into the life of an angry, frightened boy…