The Miracle
by Scott Lyerly
forum: The Miracle
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Miracle


           Swat teams had assembled outside of the school and were awaiting orders.  The county sheriff, a lean, muscled, good-looking man, was giving orders in a rapid-fire sequence.  “Team One, hold your position.  Team Two, proceed to the loading door.  Prepare for entry.  Jimmy, I want shooters on the roofs of those buildings over there and over there and I want them now.  Jackie?  I need you to do press control.  Get everyone back behind those lines.  No press and no spectators had better come within a hundred yards of this area.  If anyone crosses that line, start arresting people.  Roberta, you had better start calling the hospitals.  This one looks bad.”  Sheriff Leon McGovern was in solid control of the law enforcement in this worsening situation.  The only problem was that the law enforcement community was only half of the whole.  The other half of the equation was the gunman inside.  But considering the fact that the worst thing that the small town sheriff had ever dealt with until now was a convenience store robbery, he was doing quite well.  No one around him could see just how unnerved he really was.  But his wife, who knew him so well, saw his exquisite fear and immense control.

          Denise Roberts of Channel 10 news had climbed a fence with her cameraman.  The press line was well back to the rolling green hills that encircled the school like a moat.  But Denise never liked being contained and she liked Sheriff McGovern even less.  She saw this as the perfect opportunity to publicly embarrass him and drive him out of office.  Her bleached, perfectly quaffed hair dropped in her face and in one sweeping motion she tucked it back behind her petite ears.  If she was really lucky, she would catch the teams he was commanding screwing up a rescue maneuver and give the parents of the deceased children the opportunity to sue him.  That would be blissful for her.  Of course, a small part of her felt horrible about the deaths of the students, especially at the hands of one of their peers, but her need for vengeance went beyond the needs of anyone else.  As she played out the sequence of events in her mind, an old quote came back to her: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

          Billy thought that Denise was out of her mind.  He was trying to heft his camera and stay inconspicuous at the same time as he and the bitch reporter he worked with hugged a low wall under the shade of some trees.  He knew what her real motivation was and he was appalled at her inhuman disregard for the parents, the teachers and the law.  He would have refused to go but for the fact that the producer of the evening news had crackled something in his ear piece about being fired if he didn’t accompany her.  But at the moment, he was losing the game of watching his footing, trying to aim the camera, keeping an eye on the cops and looking for something newsworthy to shoot.  His thoughts kept returning to his next door neighbor, Sally.  Her two boys were in tenth and twelfth grade at the high school.  There had been no word yet as to who had made it out and who was still trapped inside.  His heart broke as he thought of Sally, who was high-strung to begin with, and how panicked she must be.  He and Denise paused, with their backs against the wall, and he thanked God Almighty that his kids were in a private school.

          Sally Schmidt was in a frenzy.  She was running around the parking lot grabbing people by the arm.  She had not heard from her kids and she was in a frenetic state of mind.  She had already talked to her husband who was on his way to the school from his office.  He tried to calm her down, despite his own dread but he knew that once Sally hit that level of anxiety, the only recourse was to let it run.  Sally had a history of overacting.  The heavy rainstorms, the drought, the Gulf War.  At one point she had been convinced that the draft would start again and that her husband would be taken away to Kuwait.  But this time, she had the right to be frantic.  The rumors were wild and numerous.  People were saying that there were anywhere from one to five gunmen, randomly executing students as they found them.  Some people had heard that there were twenty-three confirmed deaths, while others said that everyone had been spared.  There was even a crazy rumor that it was an elaborate scheme to getting money and attention and that the shots fired were warning shots alone; that the whole thing was one big hostage situation.  But because she hadn’t heard from her kids, no messages on her cell phone or at home, Sally was blind with panic, near to pulling her hair out.

          Thomas Byrne of Tommy’s, the local convenience store, watched from the relative distance of his shop-front.  The school parking lots were a seething mass of human chaos.  No one knew exactly what was going on and everyone was looking for someone they knew, loved, or heard was still missing.  He had been standing out front watching the whole thing as it unfolded for the last hour and a half.  He wasn’t worried about his shop because he knew no one was interested in buying right now anyway.  But he was worried about the students.  He knew many of them and liked most of them.  They were his biggest source of income, and despite the occasional bad apple or shoplifter, most of the students liked him back.  They tended to have a healthy respect for anyone gruff enough to tell them to take a hike when they were acting up or to slap them some skin when they won the big game or scored a hot date with an even hotter girl.  His brow was furrowed, with his bushy gray eyebrows arching down, and his arms were crossed as he leaned against one of the pillars that held up the shop-fronts of the stripmall.  He was talking to parents and students as they congregated wherever there was some free space and most seemed pretty stunned.  Poor Sally Schmidt had been absolutely beside herself.  He hated to think about her boys, maybe still inside.  Of all the kids he knew, Harrison and Winston Schmidt were two of the nicest.  He gazed on as the swat teams re-adjusted their positions.

          Liz Uthoff had just spoke to Tommy Byrne and was headed down to the parking lot to meet up with her little girl.  Okay, she admitted to herself, maybe she’s not so little.  At eighteen, about to graduate and go off to college, she almost a woman.  Right now, though, all she could think of was the image of her daughter Claire as a five year old smiling at her when she received her first Big Wheel.  Now that little girl was waiting to meet her in the parking lot.  Thank God, thought Liz.  Thank God, thank God, thank you God for sparing my baby.  Liz had felt her heart stop when she heard about the shooting on the radio.  She was in the process of stuffing envelopes at a local attorney’s office and the DJ broke into the song.  He read a pre-written statement and all motion around her stopped.  Everyone held their breath as they waited to hear names or at least a preliminary body count.  But no body count came and the collective breath was never released.  Then the phone rang and it was Claire.  Liz felt her adrenaline level soar as she spoke with her little girl and managed to keep it together as she gathered her purse and jacket and left.  Now she was approaching the area where they had agreed to meet.  Her eyes swept over the crowd, back again and once more before she spotted Claire.  There she was, standing with a group of friends, trying to hold onto each other as if their lives depended on it.  Liz shouted Claire’s name and Claire turned.  They ran into each others arms and Liz’s strength disappeared.  She wept like she hadn’t in years as she held her baby.

          Dana Claypool watched as Claire and Mrs. Uthoff clung to each other, bawling.  She dabbed the corners of her own eyes as she watched their reunion.  She hadn’t talked to her own mom yet because her mom was on the East Coast giving a presentation.  But she had spoken to her dad, who lived in Florida.  He had been happy to hear from her unexpectedly and horrified when he found out why she was calling.  He had not yet heard about the shooting and he was grateful that she had called him.  Now she stood with a group of her friends, including Claire and Kim Zurdanski, the minister’s daughter; always something of a goody-goody, but a cool enough kid despite.  Dana said hello to Mrs. Uthoff once she and Claire had separated and they spoke for a little bit.  Dana wasn’t sure but she thought there was only one guy.  She had heard the blasts and didn’t recognize them as gunshots.  They sounded like firecrackers to her.  But once she heard the screams, some ancient survival instinct surfaced and she knew exactly what was happening.  She ran from the cafeteria, where she had been sitting with Claire and Kim and joined the fray of students crushing their way out of the exit doors.  She had been terrified of the situation, but never really felt like she was ever in danger.  Her panic was the collective panic of the other students.  A frightened crowd could be even more dangerous than the shooter, and now Dana knew why.  But now she was feeling better, just a little jittery.  The fear-induced hormones were receding and she could feel her body crashing.

          Reverend Eric Zurdanski arrived a few minutes after Liz Uthoff.  He was absolutely terrified because no one had seen his son, Paul.  He released Kim from his monstrous bear hug and talked to her for a moment.  She was obviously okay, not injured in any way, and quietly crying.  Kim was always the quiet one.  She had her arms wrapped around her body with her arm occasionally reaching up to her eyes with a damp Kleenex.  Paul was the boisterous one, but a damn sweet kid who studied the faith very seriously.  Reverend Zurdanski talked briefly with Dana, Claire and Claire’s mother, making sure they were each all right.  After getting assurances, he craned his neck to try and look above the crowd.  He was a mountain of a man at six foot six, but his height didn’t help him.  He needed to find his son.  His heart was half healed by the presence of his daughter, but it would not be whole until he knew his son was safe and unharmed.  He told Kim to go up the hill to Tommy’s and call her mother.  He gave a quick word of blessing to Dana, Claire, and Liz and then headed off in the direction of the police activity.  Maybe they had news of Paul.

          Big, booming shots rang out from the school.  There were screams from the crowd.  Sheriff McGovern yelled into the walkie-talkie and the swat teams moved.

* * *

          Paul Zurdanski stood in the boy’s bathroom on the second level of the school, staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun.  On the ground behind him lay Harry Schmidt, dead in a maroon puddle.  He was missing most of his face.  Paul only knew it was Harry because of the letter jacket with his name embroidered on the front and the Hard Rock Café pin just below it. He didn’t know if Winston was alive.  He didn’t appear to be, but his wound looked to be only in the shoulder.  There were a few more bodies in the hallway outside the bathroom.  

          Paul had been in the bathroom when the shooting started and heard the screams as people went running down the hallway, which was nothing but a shooting gallery for Randall Eugene Crisper.  He had opened up with a pump action shotgun and bodies started dropping.  That sent the crowd into a frenzy and they pushed even harder to get out of the way of gunman.  The screaming crowd of students had trampled one poor girl, Suzie Nasient, to death.  Randall had simply stood over her lifeless body.  
Paul had thought the coast was clear.  He heard no more yelling, no more gunshots, no more panic.  The bathroom and hallway were filled with a quiet that pressed upon his ears.  He opened the stall door slowly.  It squeaked quietly and he cringed.  He slipped through the narrow opening he created and stepped carefully toward the bathroom door.  He passed poor Harry and Winston as he tried to get out.  It looked as though they had been trying to sneak a couple of smokes before the next period started.  They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Paul rounded the corner to the door and found himself face to face with Randall.

          Randall held the shotgun in both quavering hands and raised it to chest level when Paul came into view.  Paul instantly recognized Randall, the class misfit who everyone who liked to pick on.  A skinny, small kid with glass that were now speckled with spots of blood, he was terrifying to behold.   He looked almost as stunned as Paul felt.  His eyes were wide and bloodshot and his hair, usually parted evenly on either side of his head, now stood up in tufts as if he had been pulling at it.  The shotgun waved in the air as Randall tried to hold it steady and couldn’t.  He recognized Paul and the muscles in his jaw relaxed a fraction.

          Paul didn’t know what to do.  He and Randall stood across from one another for a tense minute before Paul finally screwed up the courage to speak.

          “H-Hi, Randall.  H-How are you?”  Paul tried to sound buddy-buddy with Randall, thinking that it might save his life.  His nervous stammering, though, gave away his fear.

          Randall didn’t answer immediately.  He blinked a few times and his eyes dropped to the ground, for a second, before he looked up and replied, quietly, “I’m great.  I’m just fuckin’ great.  Can’t you see how abso-fuckin-lutely great I am?” 

          Randall sounded as desperate as he looked.  Desperate and something else Paul couldn’t quite place.  Paul could feel his knees shaking and knew he was very close to urinating despite the fact that he had just gone.  Maybe he could talk to Randall, bring him back to some measure of sanity, sparing his own life in the process.

          “Randall, what are you doing?”

          “What, is that trick fucking question?” Randall snapped.

          “No, I-I’m serious.  Why are you doing this?”

          Randall looked around and his wide eyes grew wider.  It was as if he suddenly realized what had truly happened and that he was responsible.  It hit him hard and tears welled up in his eyes.  He turned back to Paul.

          “I’m sick and tired of being a loser!” he almost whispered.  “I’m sick and tired and people kicking me in the ass as I walk down the hallway, knocking books out of my hands and shoving me into the lockers.  I’m sick of being picked on!”

          Randall was withdrawing into himself and Paul was watching it unfold.  He was trying desperately to wrap his mind around Randall’s actions and he was failing.

          “But Randall, this?  Did you really need to do this?  Why not go to the principal or something?”

          “I went to the fucking principal!”  The veins on Randall’s neck bulged as he shouted.  He was clearly agitated by this conversation and the last thing Paul wanted to do was to agitate Randall any more than he already seemed to be.  “They didn’t do anything for me but tell me they’d look into it.  Well, now they don’t have to.”

          Paul started to wonder how many other people he had shot and, maybe, killed.  Randall continued.

          “I just wanted them to stop hazing me.  I wanted to be left alone.  I wanted to be able to walk down the hallway and not hear laughter as I passed by them.  Why couldn’t they just leave me alone?”

          Tears were now streaming down his face and the shotgun drooped.  Paul thought this might be the chance he needed.  He could talk Randall down and save himself in the process.  It always worked on TV, didn’t it?

          “Randall, I understand where you’re coming from.  About being teased, that is.  I mean, come on.  Look at me.  A minister’s son.  You think I don’t get picked on?  Oh, they’re terrible about it sometimes.”  He took a step forward to reach out to the hurting boy.  Randall’s head snapped up and he snapped the shotgun level at Paul again.  Paul tossed his hands in the air.  He didn’t know why, really.  It wasn’t as though he hand anything to hide in them.  It was more symbolic to show he was completely at this boy’s mercy.

          Randall’s voice was full of spite.  “Oh, you think you know how I feel?  Do you?  Well, you don’t!  You don’t know shit about how I feel and don’t pretend you do.  You’re the minister’s son.  Yeah, people pick on you, but they don’t beat you up for it.  They don’t flush your head in a toilet because of it.  But they do that to me.  They steal my clothes during gym and throw them into the girls locker room.  Then the girls laugh when I have to go in there in a towel to get them.  And do you know why they do these things?  Because I wear glasses.  Because I get good grades.  Because, whenever the teacher calls on me, I know the answer.  That’s why they do it.  Well, they won’t do it anymore.  I’ve taken care of that, haven’t I?”

          Paul watched as Randall’s small frame started to shake.  He was coming into the full realization as to what he had done and it was rocking him.  He was sobbing and kept repeating “Haven’t I?”

          Paul understood suddenly what that other quality he had heard in Randall’s voice had been: despondency.   Despondency over his social torture and his pummel-able quality that the jocks seemed to pick up on.   Jocks like Harry and Winston Schmidt, who would never haze this kid again.  Paul wanted to help this kid, this killer, who just wanted to be left alone.

          But he was too late.  Randall’s eyes suddenly lit up.

          “We’re going to play a game.  I’m going to ask you some questions and you are going to answer them.  If you get them right, you live.  If not you die.”

          Paul’s bladder was aching and he thought that he might pass out soon.  Blood was surging through his ears and his hearing became gray.  He tried reasoning once more with Randall.

          “Why?” he asked.  “Why would you want to kill me?  I’ve never done anything to you.  I get picked on too, remember?”

          “Because I can’t stop.,” Randall whispered.  “I’m trapped.  Don’t you see that?  I’ve started something that I can never walk away from.  So I need to finish it.  That starts with you and ends with me.”  His desperation hit its apex.  “But I want to know something from you first.  You’re the Reverend’s son.  Surely you must know something about church beliefs and dogmas.  Did you ever come across the problem called ‘theodicy’?  Do you know what that is?”

          Paul nodded weakly.  “Yes.”

          “What is it?”

          “Th-th-theodicy is a potentially unanswerable question.  Put simply, it says that, one, God exists, two, God is all-powerful, and three, evil exists.  It then asks how that is possible.”

          “Yes,” Randall muttered softly, almost to himself.  He stood silent, caught in the stares with his gaze roughly aimed at Paul’s feet.  A minute passed and then a tired ragged breath drawn into his lungs brought him back from his ugly reverie.  He looked Paul dead in the eyes and said, “Now, answer the question.  Solve the problem.  Reconcile this issue for me.”

          Randall raised the shotgun and brought it level with Paul’s face.  Paul’s bladder could finally hold on no more.  A wet stain appeared on his jeans and spread as the urine ran down his legs.   Randall saw the stain spread and wrinkled his nose.

          Paul looked cautiously past the gaping muzzle at Randall.  It hit him suddenly.  Randall wasn’t asking for an explanation of evil.  He was asking for—no, pleading for—an explanation of how he could have committed this unspeakable violence.  His mental and emotional capacity was bottoming out and now needed comfort.  Paul was amazed.  This smallish, tortured kid, this unlikely Starkweather, was nothing more than a boy who needed his mommy.

          Paul said a quick and quiet prayer in his mind.  He took a deep breath and chose his words carefully before speaking.  Then he began.  “I don’t believe that evil exists.  I know bad things happen, but it doesn’t mean that they are evil.  People do things because they are angry or greedy or sad or psychologically screwed up.  But it doesn’t make them evil.  And bad things are sometimes good things, sometimes needed.  They ultimately force the creation of a greater good.  When something bad happens, we react, we compensate.  It’s like if a woman got raped and then, because of her experience, she formed a program to prevent the same thing from happening to other women.  You know what I mean?  The deaths of those here today will probably bring the community closer together.  People will grieve and they will mourn and then they will make schools safer.  They will work to ensure that this never happens again and in the future, children will be safer then they have ever been in the past.  When all is said and done, you may have actually saved lives.”

          Paul wasn’t sure he was speaking.  The words he chose were unthought; they simply flowed.  Fear started to fade.  The things he said made sense to him.   The question was, would they talk Randall down from the proverbial ledge.

          The shotgun sagged in Randall’s hands.  His face softened and he almost smiled.  Paul started to crack a nervous grin himself.  They were reaching a middle ground to from which to work.  Paul reached out to Randall slowly, his palm upward, his fingers apart.

          “Give me the gun, Randall.  You don’t have to do this anymore.  I understand how you feel, man.  I really do.  And I can help you.  I can get my father to help.  He lives to help others who need it.  That’s why he became a minister.  But you have to let me have the gun.  Otherwise the police will storm in here and be all over you.  So what do you say?”

          Paul’s tone was soft and his words were careful and deliberate and they were exactly the wrong things to say.

          At the mention of the police, Randall’s eyes widened and the muscles in his face tensed.  He pushed himself away from Paul, who had moved in very close while he spoke.  Randall snapped the shotgun up and leveled it at Paul.  It hung in the air a mere foot from Paul’s head.  There could be no way for Randall to miss.  His face had twisted itself into a painful rictus of sorrow.

          “Look at me!  I’m evil!  And despite what you say, no good will ever come from this.”

          Paul tried to counter.  “You’re not evil Randall.  You’re just misguided and—"

          “Shut up!” Randall screamed at him.  “I am evil and there’s nothing that can be done about it!  It’s over!  There’s no way I can just walk out of here.  You know it and I know it.  There’s only one way for this to end.”

          A long heavy minute passed with Randall holding Paul at gunpoint.  Paul waited for the next scene in this drama.  As he stood there, he felt a bewildering calm descend upon him.  His shoulders relaxed and his eyes, which had been wide with anticipation, narrowed and focused.  Paul felt as though, for the first time in his life, things made sense.  Standing in the boys' bathroom, opposite a killer with a loaded shotgun aimed at him, he felt as though the world, with all of its oddities and inexplicably random cruelties, was right.

           Finally Randall asked quietly, “Paul, do you believe in God?”

          Paul looked Randall in the eyes and stated firmly, “Absolutely.”

          Randall nodded shortly and he said in a quiet, resigned voice, “Yeah, so do I.”

          He pulled back on the trigger.  Paul winced, waiting for pain, or noise or even a quick entrance on the other side of life.  The gun roared.  Tile behind Paul splintered as the round exploded into the back wall of the bathroom.

          Paul opened his eyes.  He was still staring at the now smoking barrel.  He thought that maybe he was dead.  He looked behind him to see if his body lay on the floor, headless.  But there was nothing.  He looked down and felt his body whole.  He looked at Randall and knew he was still alive by the expression of pure shock on Randall’s face.  They stared at each other for a moment in utter disbelief.  Then Randall brought the shotgun up and placed it on Paul’s chest.  He pumped the shotgun, chambering another round.  Paul stood there still in utter shock.  Randall squeezed the trigger and the tile behind Paul exploded in shards again.  And yet, Paul remained standing, breathing, very much alive.
Randall panicked.  He backed away from Paul, who was still standing in the bathroom, wondering at his lack of a gaping wound and his continued existence.  Randall pumped the gun again and backed himself up against a wall.  He started to turn the gun around.

          Paul snapped out of his wonderment.  He realized with abject horror what Randall intended.  He raced over to the boy.  Randall saw Paul coming and tried to turn the gun back around to fend him off.  He moved too slowly and he and Paul locked hands around the shotgun, vying for control.  Paul was a decent sized kid and Randall was smaller, but Randall had a hell of a grip.  He fought for the gun like he was fighting for his life.  The struggle ended when Paul finally let go with one hand and brought it down open into Randall’s face.  With a hiss of surprise, Randall let go off the gun and Paul threw it down the hallway.  It clattered away.

          Suddenly, on the stairs, the sound of boots pounded upward.  The swat team stormed into the bathroom with firearms raised and started shouting.  Both Paul and Randall were brought to their knees and cuffed.  The police needed to figure out who was who in this showdown.  Randall was sobbing and begged the police to shoot him.  But even while Paul was waiting for matters to settle, he felt the calm that had descend upon him resettle and a fire burn in his heart.  He breathed slow deliberate breaths, filling his lungs with stale air and he smiled.  He understood now that there was a purpose to his world and a direction he had to go in.  And as he smiled at his future, he realized that it was two thousand years later and that miracles were still happening.

copyright 2001 Scott Lyerly.

Scott Lyerly:
Scott Lyerly is an analyst for a large retail organization.  In his spare time, he writes, publishes "The SiNK", a small-press literary journal (, and chases after his two-year-old daughter.  His previous publications include "Black Petals" and ""