Tag, You’re Dead
The sound of rain from inside a raincoat with the hood up is different from any other kind. Rain on the roof doesn’t sound the same. Rain in a tent is similar, but still not quite like the rattling of rain just on top of your head, covered by only a layer of plastic rubber. It’s close, personal; you can hear every drop.
His hands were cold. This rain was cold. The thunder was far off and seemed to roll over the length of the sky, the sound growing closer. His breath was rising in thick, steady clouds of white exhaust. Around his feet, the water was puddling, clear at first then when the blood reached it, it smoked red like you’ve seen blood do in water. The fingers that were once clutching the gun’s handle were now slack and frozen, the metal of the body and barrel freezing. His mind was just as frozen. He could only feel like he was moving by watching the red swirls jig and jag in the puddle as the raindrops hit it one after the other. It was something to do. He had to do something. Any moment now, a car would drive by and see what he had done. He half wanted one to. Wanted someone or something to see what he had done and do something about it…or to him in return.
His eyes followed the red stream that was leaking into the clear puddle up to the body the red was coming from. It was on its back, backpack by its side, black jeans soaking wet, eyeliner running down its pale face. He considered the body’s style of dress with disinterest like he had done before. All of this, the grey t-shirt, black hair in the face and the black and white striped hoodie were something he had come to loath. He took one step towards the body and bent down. He waited in this position for another five minutes as if he expected the body to jump up and drag him to the ground. It didn’t move. He reached out and snatched the silver and black iPod out of the wet street and put it into his own jacket pocket.
The deed was done now. The spoils collected. He stood back up and looked once again at the body. It was so thin. Another thing to hate about it. He watched the rain make new patterns out of the leaking eyeliner on its pale face. This got boring. It was time to go. But where?
He turned away from the body and began to walk down the cold, deserted Detroit street. Everyone was inside watching TV or eating dinner like a nice, normal, happy family. Detroit-normal anyway. Family? He jerked around to stare at the corpse one more time as if daring it to say “I’ll tell my big brother and he’ll beat you up!” but it didn’t move. With that thought, he gripped the gun more tightly and gnashed his teeth. Older brothers weren’t a problem when they went to the same high school. Even if he was seventeen. Age didn’t matter.
He took out his school ID and read it out loud as if to convince himself that he was the boy looking up so happily out of the high school lunch card.
“Coen Dillard. Detroit. Junior. Age: 15.”
That was all it took. He was once again a smiling, happy, innocent fifteen-year-old boy. He performed this spell whenever he felt the need, which wasn’t often; because often, he was a good boy. He was a good black boy, people would say. He was a gentleman at the grocery store when he would help old ladies with their bags. High grades at school were good and he was the captain of the hockey team. He was going to be locked away in the family vault as the family’s prize golden boy. So to him this action was low. But no matter, it had to be done. He hated sinking to his incriminated brother’s level, but someone had to get rid of that one person.
He walked back over to the body, suddenly unsure, as these people are, if he had killed the right person. He hesitated for another five minutes before he bent down to the corpse’s level. He knew he wouldn’t have to touch it though. The ID card was in the backpack. He found it and read it too:
“Noland Clark. Detroit. Sophomore. Age: 16.”
Yes, it was the right person. And now he was dead. The rain had stopped, but the blood had flowed all the way down to the nearest stop sign. That was a long way for a dead boy to travel.
Detroit was known for its crime rate so it was no surprise when the next day at the breakfast table, the little sister, Sara, ran into the kitchen and said, “Mama, someone’s got died on the TV. I think there was a shootin’ at Coen’s school!”
No one cared. Murder was common enough in Detroit. Someone would die that day too and the next. And Coen would see to it. Someone would have to die again. And it would be as simple as last time. Noland had an older brother who would be after him in a hurry as soon as he figured out who it was who shot his little brother. And this older brother was smart. It wouldn’t take long.
Morning classes were canceled for a small memorial service. It was raining again. Coen sat in the back of the bus as it drove him and twenty other students to the memorial site. It was almost considered extra credit if you went to enough school memorial services in a year. In the back, hair in his face, earbuds in his ears like his brother, sat Noland’s older brother. Coen could watch him without wincing or a drop of guilt. Inside his backpack the silvery gun waited again. But these things never work out the way most people hope they will. All day he was around the older brother of his first victim and he never could get a moment where he thought he could shoot. So he waited.
The bus dropped a handful of the kids off at a single stop and Coen got off too. He stood long enough at the stop sign to watch where his target walked to. He went down the street then turned left. Coen dashed after him when he turned and ran until he came to the same corner. It was an alley way. The boy was walking down it at a fast pace. Did he know he was being followed? No, he couldn’t. He walked to the end of the alley way and crossed the street then stopped and waited. He turned around and began to look left and right as though he were waiting for someone.
Coen ducked behind a large, smelly green dumpster and peered over the top. Close to the edge of the lid his eyes saw over, was a small ant crawling at lightning speed as though it wanted to leave the scene of the crime. He watched the bug for what felt like many long minutes. It crawled then stopped to try and pick at a piece of gum that was attached to the side. When it couldn’t get it up, it began to run again. It ran very fast. When Coen looked up, he saw a car slowing down at the spot where the other boy was. He swore in his head then stood up to take the shot. He aimed, someone opened the door of the driver’s side of the car, he fired and they stood up blocking his shot.
The boys’ mother fell to the ground, a silver bullet through her skull causing her brains to splatter over the car and the street. Coen didn’t flinch as he watched. He had always wanted to know what real live human brains looked like. He watched the elegant white lady fall, her handbag spilling its guts out as it hit the ground too. The other boy ran to his mother’s side, his own makeup smeared down his face, just like his dead brother’s, as he fell to his knees next to her crying with her blood on his white face. Crying was weak, Coen thought. So he cried and grew just a little stronger from this miss fire. Oh well, the tougher they come the harder they fall. This was all for the better. Besides, he thought, what mother wants to live in a world where both her sons are dead. This accident was a favor to her.
Sirens split the air with an unexpected shriek. There must have been cops around the corner. The only thing was this: Coen’s brother always told him “Screw up once, you can fix it, screw up twice and you deserve to die”. There was no more messing up. Only the boys were supposed to die. Only the boys needed to die. Deep inside, Coen wondered if this was a sad thing or just something that had to happen. Like Noland’s death. It had to happen. Someone had to kill him. It was all he could think about for days. For months the boy had bothered him.
As he watched the ambulance whisk the body away, he wondered if he should feel guilty. But that thought would have to wait. The police decided that the shot had to have come from his direction because of how the bullet had entered her head and were coming his way. He needed to get home and out of sight. He was safe though, this wasn’t even really his bus stop. No one would know.
But they did. What Coen had thought was Noland’s iPod was a phone as well and the tracking in it lead the police to his house. The little killer saw the cars outside before his mom did. She would break if cops came banging on her door for a second time. So he told her.
“Mamma,” he said, looking up at her as she lay on her bed, “I killed a boy.”
Little Sara was in the room watching cartoons on the TV and was now captivated by what her brother was saying.
No one stopped him as he ran out the back door just as the front buzzer sounded. His mother’s eyes were glazed as she watched her last son dash out the door. There was still a chance, she thought, for her to get off unknown.
“Sara, hide in the attic, please,” her mother ordered calmly. She had imagined this day for a long time. Just like this. She scooped up her silken white robe and threw it on over her lingerie and went the front door of her condo.
“My I help you, officer,” she said, sighing and leaning against the door frame.
The officer was taken aback by the tall, white woman standing skimpily clad in front of him. He vaguely composed himself and asked, “Excuse me ma’am, I don’t mean to bother you, but we’re wondering if we might have a word with your son Coen. We understand he attends the same school where Noland Clark was shot and we’re asking all the kids if they know anything or have any information.”
Mrs. Dillard stretched now, flexing her lithe limbs. “I’m a new resident, officer, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not my business if some little black kid gets in trouble.”
The officer averted his eyes, cleared his through and said, “Noland Clark was a white boy, ma’am. However, Coen Dillard is black.” He looked at Mrs. Dillard again, obviously taking in her ivory skin and yellow hair. “Forgive me, ma’am, we won’t be bothering you no more.”
Mrs. Dillard watched the policeman walk down the steps of one of the only upper class area in all of Detroit. Coen had just gone and done what all the other boys his age were going to at some point or another in their lives. Would she him again? Did she care?
Coen didn’t think he could stand living outside the house, but something inside him drove him not give up. He couldn’t figure out if it was fear and guilt or even something as simple as laziness. Sometimes, he wanted to sit in an alley and cry. He wanted his mother with him, he wanted his home; but those things weren’t an option now.
After almost a month of stealing from stores and pedestrians for food and going into super markets for warmth from the cold Detroit winter, the little murderer found himself taking out Noland Clark’s photo I.D. and staring at it for hours at a time. Noland Clark’s dark eyes seemed to had changed since his death. In this picture where once they were bored, glazed and uninterested in the word, they were not unseeing, dark, vacant and melancholy. They had seemed live and now they were very dead.
Coen wondered what Noland Clark would have gone on to do in his life. Nothing good for society, he told himself, staring into the ever darkening eyes. If he believed that Noland Clark was not going to do anything great, then it made his death far less mysterious and not so much of a burden. Even though Coen had told himself that feeling remorse was for losers, he did feel it every once in a while. The burden was there, hidden in his heart, but there all the same. Perhaps, Coen told his reflection in a puddle of oil and gutter water, you are no good for society either.
But he would never believe that.
On the last day of his life, Coen was trudging down a particularly dirty and smelly street when the sound of a gun being cocked came to his ears. He turned expecting to see who the person standing at the other end of the ally.
Noland Clark’s older brother, with his hand wrapped tightly around the glistening handle of a gun, eyes blazing with fury, glared across at Coen. Coen made no move, sign or gesture that he was afraid that Noland Clark’s brother could see, but in Coen’s heart, he was screaming for his life.
Don’t kill me, he whispered in his mind.
“You’re taking away my chance to make it right,” Coen said out loud. The silver gun didn’t even twitch.
“What about my brother’s last chance?” the one holding the gun screamed in reply. “You can’t make it right!”
I can take away your pain, was the mental reply.
Coen didn’t say anything for a long time. He gazed at the figure in front of him. In an instant he knew. He knew Noland Clark’s brother was not going to kill him. Why not? Why let him live? The anger that suddenly boiled up Coen surprised even him. Fiery rage engulfed him at the thought of having to live on in this blackly guilty way. He wanted the guilt gone, but he did not want to have to pay for it.
“I won’t pay for what I did to Noland Clark,” he spat. “You want revenge? You’ll have to kill me. Kill me!” he shouted.
Noland Clark’s brother was gripped with the fear that Coen had dashed aside before when he pulled the gun on Noland Clark. Coen remembered the fear of actually holding a weapon to a boy’s head. His eyes had widened and he had gasped from fright at his decision just before he pulled the trigger. The it was over. If he had hesitated for more second, like Noland Clark’s brother was doing now, then Noland Clark will still have been alive. But something in Coen had made him cast away the fear and thrill of the kill was pumping venomous desire though his veins at the sight of the blood. The kick of the shot had pulled the gun from his hand and made a splashing noise when it landed in the puddle.
When Coen’s eyes refocused from his memories, he saw Noland Clark’s brother vanish around a corner, the gun lying on the concrete. The numbness of having a flashback did not fade away as Coen walked toward the gun like a limp puppet. He fell onto his backside next to the gun and picked it up with his gloved hand. Like a windup toy, as though he had imagined this moment for years, he put the head of the gun in his mouth. He waited for that moment—that gasp—to come, but it never did. He heard the gun go off before he felt it. For just a moment the world tipped, then it swam, then the evanescence of this world faded into a black nothing as he slipped into the next life to await his judgment. Fear gripped his heart in its last few, feeble, guilty beats of life before it stopped like a clock out of wind.