Sitting in the back of Mrs. Smith’s U.S. History class, Billy Johnson passed the time doodling in his notebook, with headphones in each ear. Head on the desk, he concealed the headphones from his teachers by wearing the hood up of the same black sweatshirt he wore every day. It was Tuesday so we was listening to rainforest noises. He listened to different nature playlists for each different day. The other students cast confused and judgmental looks his way whenever an earbud fell out and they could hear his choice of music. For the most part, nobody paid any attention to Billy.
The bell rang, and out of the corner of his eye Billy saw the other students hurrying out the door to their next class. Billy slowly got up and threw his bag over his shoulder. He shuffled out the door, paying no attention to what Mrs. Smith was saying to him. He walked down the hall, looking at his shoes, bouncing off other students passing him in the halls. Out of nowhere, a voice with a heavy New York accent yelled at him, “Hey watch where you’re going, punk!” And the shoulder of the voice came flying into Billy’s chest. Billy flew to the ground, books scattered around him, and looked up at the smirking group of football players, staring down at him menacingly. The group walked away, and Billy sat there, collecting his books. Mrs. Smith came out and distastefully moved him along, yelling at him to “get up off the floor.” Billy glared at her, but did as he was told.
The bell rang again and Billy hurried to his next class, Advanced Chemistry II. Billy loved chemistry, and especially his teacher, Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee was an older southern man of about 60, born and raised in the heart of Georgia. He always had a jar of peach candie on his desk, and always offered Billy one as he walked into class. Billy enjoyed the lectures Mr. Lee gave. This was the only class that Billy sat in the front of the room and paid full attention to what was going on.
Billy felt a fatherly bond with Mr. Lee. Billy’s home life was all but pleasant. Billy’s father, a severe alcoholic, often went on violent, drunken rages. During these, as Billy’s mother called them “daddy tantrums”, Billy would hide his five year old sister under the crumpling stairs in the moldy basement. His mother, the main victim of the attacks, spent her days working as a cashier at the local supermarket to try and put food on the table, but mainly to bale Billy’s father out of jail on the weekends. Billy’s father, a coal miner, spent the everyday of his adult life in the coal mines, and every night in a stool at a bar down the street with the rest of the miners. Billy’s mother became hardened to life of a coal miner’s wife. The only acknowledgment she would ever give Billy was telling him that dinner was ready, or yelling at him to run down to the gas station to buy her more cigarettes. Needless to say, Billy did not feel welcomed anywhere but in Mr. Lee’s class.
The next day, Billy walked into his chemistry class, a faint smile on his face, excited to see Mr. Lee. The slight color of joy in his face quickly rushed away when Billy was greeted by a younger man sitting in Mr. Lee’s chair.
“Where is Mr. Lee?” Asked Billy.
“Mr. Lee was rushed to the hospital last night,” the substitute teacher said, “he had a heart attack walking to his car after school yesterday.”
Any bit of emotion Billy had left in him died. Billy nodded and walked to the back of the room. Billy stared aimlessly into the air. The noises of the classroom buzzing around him like gnats on a hot summer day. The bell rang and Billy got up and walked out of the room, and down the street to his house. He threw his bag inside the door and then walked calmly up the stairs and sat down on the end of his bed. He sat there through morning, and when it was time for school, he slammed his door shut and locked the door. Billy sat against the door and began to sob. He leaned his head back against the door and sobbed himself to sleep.
The next few weeks were hard for Billy. With Mr. Lee no longer at the school, and no word of his recovery, Billy walked aimlessly through the school, being shoved around and giving no thought to it. No one asked him about the busted lip and black eye he wore under his hoodie, or the bruises on his arms. He just walked to and from his classes in silence, hardened to the torments in his life. Billy was a different person now. He had nothing to look forward to in life. No hope to keep him going. The only emotion he felt now was anger. Anger towards the bullies in the school. Anger towards his drunken father and heartless mother. Anger towards the teachers who treated him like he was just another number. He no longer expected Mr. Lee to return to school, and his heart lie in the hospital bed with him. Now, Billy was filled with a blackness that spawned hatred, and he just kept bottling it up inside of himself.
One night Billy’s father didn’t return home, and his mother was asleep on the couch downstairs, and Billy’s stored hatred began to spill out of him. Breathing heavily, he walked from his parents’ room to his own, holding his father’s pistol in his hands, staring at it ominously. He looked at himself and then back at the gun. He took a deep breath then shoved the gun in his backpack, and threw himself onto his bed, and drifted into a slumber.
The next day, Billy woke up and sat in complete silence, encompassed by the darkness of the early morning. As he walked to school a light rain began to fall. As he walked up to the school, he stopped and looked up from his feet and looked into the inside of the school, that seemed to glow with warmth compared to the cold and desolate outside. His stomach churned as a group of laughing students walked off a bus and hurried past him into the school. He stepped in the front door, and began breathing heavily. The students moving throughout the halls blurred together. He took his bag from his back and held it in his hand. He slowly unzipped it and reached his hand inside the bag. He let the bag drop, revealing his father’s gun. The blur of students he had seen transformed into tunnel vision as he saw the group of football players that tormented him every day.
He cocked the gun and raised it. Without a word, Billy pulled the trigger and he watched as the body of one of the football players fell to the floor like a rag doll. Instantly screams of terror were heard throughout the halls, students ran away from the armed student. A few of the other football players tried to carry the body of their teammate, in hopes of saving him, but Billy let go another bullet in their direction, dropping another student. The bullets flew from the gun more frequently now. As the gunman became more comfortable with taking a life, he began to do so more often.
Amidst the chaos from inside the school, Mr. Lee had been gathering his papers from the backseat of his car. Today was the day Mr. Lee planned to return to work after his heart attack. Mr. Lee heard the screams and sounds of gunfire from inside, and he rushed to the passenger seat of his car. He opened the glove compartment and looked upon the revolver he kept for self defense. He took a deep breath and grabbed the gun and wobbled quickly over to the door, cane in one hand, revolver in the other. He stepped in the front door, and stopped as he saw his favorite student standing in the hall, bodies littering the ground around him. “Billy!” Mr. Lee yelled. The gunman turned and faced Mr. Lee, but showed no signs of recognizing he stood in the door.
Mr. Lee stood, dripping in water from the now pouring rain. He raised his revolver to point it at the gunman. The gunman quickly raised his own gun. “I’m sorry, my boy,” Mr. Lee whispered as he pulled the trigger of the revolver. Billy’s body fell lifeless to the floor. Mr. Lee slowly lowered his gun and pain and distraught washed over his face. After a silence had washed through the halls for a long time, the sounds of sirens began to sound in the distance. Students and teachers began to leave the safety of their classrooms, and they looked from the body of Billy to Mr. Lee who was putting all of his weight onto his cane. Mr. Lee began to lose his balance and students came to support him. Police and paramedics came running into the school. Two officers came up to Mr. Lee and helped him walk over to a bench.
“If it wasn’t for your bravery,” one of the officers said to Mr. Lee, “ a lot more could have died today. We thank you for taking action.”
Mr. Lee looked up from the ground, “I did what had to be done.”
And with that he stood up and walked to his car.