Home » 2011 Winners » The Flannery O’Connor Award Third Place Award to David Krall

The Flannery O’Connor Award Third Place Award to David Krall

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s

Flannery O’Connor Award

Third Place

Goes to

David Krall

Scammon, KS

(High School Category)


I was born in Wichita, Kansas to loving parents in the year 1994. By the time my family settled in Parsons six years later, a younger sister had appeared and a strong bond with my extended family had developed. Unfortunately, my mother and father divorced several years after the move, but they maintained a cooperative relationship for the sake of their children, whom they had enrolled at St. Patrick’s Catholic School. It was at St. Pat’s that I discovered my love of writing.

When I graduated eighth grade, I was faced with a dilemma: as St. Patrick’s did not offer a high school education, I would be forced to choose a different school in which to enroll as a freshman. I opted for the Christian education provided at St. Mary’s Colgan High School in Pittsburg. Last year, I attended Mrs. Dickey’s Creative Writing class, an enjoyable experience that has benefited me greatly. As of this summer, I am a Junior at Saint Mary’s, and I look forward to another fun, enriching school year this August!

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Important Copyright Information


The Game

by David Krall

All Rights Reserved

“Jordan! Take cover! Jordan?” In Jordan Ozze’s state of heightened sensation, the frantic voice from his headset rang like a siren, jarring him into action. As his legs sprang into motion, he raised his camouflage-sleeved arms to cover his helmeted head. Jordan urged his legs to move faster as a high-pitched whine began to shake his eardrums.

“I read you,” Jordan muttered shortly. “You don’t hafta tell me twice.” Glancing over his shoulder, Jordan could see that he had distanced himself almost fifty meters from his previous position, and he was still sprinting. The whine was growing louder, and a heavy wind shook the trees through which Jordan made his flight. “That thing’s gettin’ pretty loud. How long’ve I got ‘till impact?”

“I would estimate…um….” The voice paused as Jordan’s contact analyzed the situation. “…fifteen seconds,” it concluded.

“Dang it! I ain’t that fast!” Jordan practically spat. “You think ya coulda warned me sooner?” Driven by a greater urgency, Jordan’s legs pumped harder, his feet driving again and again into the hard earth. Thud. Thud. Thud.

“You’ve got twelve seconds,” warned the voice in his ear. Jordan shielded his face with his right forearm, just barely deflecting a leafy branch. He stumbled slightly, but continued his hasty progress. I can’t slow down, even for a second, Jordan reminded himself. The slightest hesitation, he knew, could make the difference between life and death, and Jordan knew better than to take chances in such situations.

“Ten seconds.”

“I might make it.” Behind him, the sound had grown no louder; in fact, it had faded slightly. “I can barely hear the thing. Now, what about our targ-?”

At that moment, a loud report issued from a clump of greenery to Jordan’s left. Jordan swore and darted to his right as a bullet whizzed past his head. There was no longer any need for news of his target; the enemy had spoken for himself.

“I heard that. Are you…?” For a moment, only static filled Jordan’s receiver as his partner struggled with his words.

“No, he missed.” The static seemed to increase in volume. Jordan took this to be a sigh of relief, and he frowned. “That one might not’ve hit me, but I’m still in danger,” he observed darkly. “How much time’s left?”

“O-one second!” Jordan’s comrade stammered, horrified. Clearly, he had forgotten about the threat that hung so close overhead.

Jordan cursed again. Now, escape was impossible. The whine of the approaching projectile had grown again and was now a massive screech. The communicator clicked and someone shouted in Jordan’s ear, but the scream had grown too loud. Jordan could only stand, helpless, as a boom resounded through the trees and a shockwave began to spread from the source of the blast.

Then, another crack disrupted the already-turbulent air. Jordan felt something cold enter his chest, shattering ribs as it went. The sensation was not painful, but when Jordan examined the wound, he saw that blood had already begun to turn his green combat vest black. “Th-they got me,” Jordan coughed, though he doubted that his comrade could hear him over the wail. Then, as the explosion began to turn the forest red around him, Jordan collapsed, blackness swirling around the fire in his vision. This is it, then, Jordan thought, this is the end. Gradually, the redness vanished, giving way to a cool, dark black.

“Game Over,” read the enormous pearly letters that filled Jordan’s vision. “Your score: 47, 900. Your rank: 879,278 out of 1,579,289 players. Would you like to-?” A list of options and an advanced menu would have followed, but with a savage roar, Jordan began to struggle, flailing wildly with invisible limbs. “Game Over” became “Ga- -ver” as wires became disconnected and pieces of hardware knocked aside. “G-,” the system attempted desperately to spell out, but Jordan’s hand had at last found the power switch. A flip of this plastic instrument broke a circuit, banishing the last ghostly “G” into an abysmal night.

Slowly, fleshy blinds rose from Jordan’s eyes, bringing a foggy sunrise to his aching brain. A fixture embedded in the ceiling above him cast its rays about the tidy living space, which now began to emerge from a nebulous sea of shapes and colors. A bed occupied the far wall, and a desk guarded a closet door to the left. On the right wall stood an entryway, flanked by a lamp and a towering bookshelf.

“Jordan! Jordan? Are you alright in there?” The man’s voice that filtered into the room rang with genuine concern, so Jordan answered with as much strength as he could muster.

“’m okay,” he groaned.

“You don’t sound okay.” A head covered in the same greasy, chocolate-colored hair as Jordan’s appeared in the open doorway, followed by the shoulders, chest, and legs of Harold Ozze. Mr. Ozze’s thick shoulders heaved once, a sigh. “Kid, sometimes I worry about you. I know you get real into your games, but your mom and I are just down the hall. All you have to do is holler and we’ll be glad to help you out.”

Jordan lifted himself shakily from his seat and, turning, saw firsthand the wisdom in his father’s proposal. The space around the low, black chair from which he had just risen lay in chaos. Mere centimeters from Jordan’s foot, a network adapter sat like a lean-to on its antenna and one of its edges. At an arm’s length away from the seat, a massive, obsidian tower lay toppled, its thick AC adapter barely lodged in its respective cavity. This adapter wove and snaked haphazardly across the otherwise spotless floor, arriving by a circuitous route at an outlet in the opposite wall. The black box sprouted other cords like a dark, rectangular head growing so many multicolored hairs. Most of these, disconnected at one end or the other, spilled over the chair and onto the floor. A few, however, stretched to the edges of Jordan’s vision, pulled taut by an unseen force. Feeling the tug of these plastic-coated chains, Jordan raised his hands to his head and removed a domed black helmet.

What a mess! Jordan reflected in disbelief. I did that? As he imagined tedious hours spent matching wires and sockets, consulting a manual all the while, a feeling of dread and even remorse began to stir in some corner of his heart. After a moment, however, pride crushed such sentiments beneath its heavy foot and Jordan faced his father with a withering glare.

“I can take care of myself. I’m not five anymore, Dad.” Jordan’s reply had been harsher than intended, and his father’s face took on a disappointed expression.

“I understand, son. You just tell me if you need help… with anything.” On shuffling feet, the man departed.

Like that’s going to happen, Jordan reflected irritably. Didn’t I just tell you I can take care of myself? For a moment, he considered repairing the dismantled console, but, again glimpsing the wreckage, thought better of it and threw himself onto the neatly folded sheets that covered his bed. Due to the fatigue created by his in-game experience, sleep was far more achievable than the virtual reassembly of a video game system. Even so, Jordan’s fitful tossing did not cease until hours later.

 

“Hey, Ozze! What’d you do last night, eat a horse?”

“I dunno, but he sure is as big as one!”

“You guys wanna play football?”

“Great idea! Let’s bring Jordan; he’ll run five yards, then collapse. We won’t even hafta tackle him!”

The jokes and laughter followed Jordan through the halls of George W. Bush Middle School. Every student in Jordan’s seventh grade class knew that their classmate’s weight was a condition contracted by poor lifestyle rather than genetics, and he was teased accordingly. With each verbal blow, Jordan’s broad shoulders sank lower and his fists shook more violently. Finally, at the toll of a bell more beautiful than the fifth level theme for “Starship Xeon” (Jordan thought), classroom doors opened and Jordan sought refuge in Mr. Green’s World History class. He claimed his customary seat at the back of the room and practically collapsed into it.

“They sure are brutal today.” The words came softly, a bit cautiously. Even before he turned to his left, Jordan knew to whom this voice belonged. He had, after all, heard it on many occasions before. This voice had guided him through treacherous African rainforests and around pits of sizzling lava on the planet Darion. Its owner had made even school survivable for Jordan.

“Morning, Ralph,” Jordan greeted his friend. Ralph Giovanni smiled and moved his hands to busily straighten the collar of his starched oxford shirt. This was one of his habits, and Jordan disregarded the action.

“Sorry I wasn’t more help last night.” Ralph’s pale face seemed twisted, as though he were in pain. He must, Jordan realized, have worried about that all night! He probably got less sleep than me!

“Aw, I just died once,” Jordan reassured his friend. “You’ve saved my life hundreds of times.”

“Thanks.” One of Ralph’s hands had ventured upwards and was now moving his large, round glasses up and down the bridge of his small nose. “I’m sorry the other guys are like that,” he breathed, suddenly afraid to be overheard. “They make fun of me, too, you know.”

“Soon, we’ll get back at ‘em. I got an idea…,” Jordan began, only to be interrupted by Mr. Green’s booming voice.

“Ozze! Giovanni! Class has begun!” the teacher bellowed. Snickers erupted from the class as it turned its collective head to witness the source of the commotion.

“I’ll tell you about it at lunch,” Jordan muttered before hiding his face behind the cover of his textbook.

At a table in the corner of the lunchroom, far from the chattering, shifting quilt of students that covered the less remote benches, Ralph Giovanni awaited his friend’s arrival. He was not disappointed. Five minutes after the bell for lunch had rung, an oversized Hawaiian shirt could be seen emerging from the hungry, milling crowd. Ralph’s long-time friend puffed into view, his face so red from exertion that his freckles, so obvious when the boy was stationary, were all but invisible.

Without a word, Jordan heaved his legs over the bench and, still panting heavily, dropped his lunch tray onto the table. Ralph remained silent as well. Just as Jordan excused Ralph’s nervous habits, Ralph made allowances for his friend’s poor physique. After gasping like a fish pulled from its watery home for over a minute, Jordan finally regained his breath and began to speak to Ralph, whose vibrating foot had begun to convey his eagerness.

“Remember how I said I had a plan in History?” Jordan prefaced. Ralph, though he clearly remembered his friend to have used the word “idea,” nodded. “When I was runnin’ from that missile last night, that guy stopped me by firing over my head. He scared me, but didn’t hurt me.”

“Uh-huh,” Ralph murmured politely, though he failed to appreciate Jordan’s logic.

“All we gotta do is show these guys we’re dangerous, and they’ll leave us alone!” Jordan concluded with a triumphant grin.

“But…how?” By now, Ralph was thoroughly bewildered. This was hardly an idea and even less of a plan.

“What’d they do last night?” Jordan queried impatiently.

“He pulled a gun on you.” Ralph’s eyes widened as the significance of this fact began to sink in. “You don’t mean we’re going to…?”

“That’s right.” Jordan’s pride was evident on his face. “If we walk into school tomorrow carrying guns, those thugs’ll never bother us again!” This, Jordan stated matter-of-factly, as though it were the fourth law of nature.

“But…” Ralph would have liked to object, to say, “Wouldn’t that be dangerous?” or better yet, “I can’t take part in something crazy like that.” Instead, he concluded with, “Where’ll we get them?”

The question brought a frown to Jordan’s lips, causing his already-drooping cheeks to sag so that they were in danger of settling onto the colorful, upturned collar of the boy’s rumpled shirt. “That’s the problem,” he replied. “I never go shopping with my dad, so I’ve got no idea where to buy ‘em. I don’t think he’s got any at home, either.”

Ralph breathed a quiet sigh of relief. His father happened to keep a gun safe, but he had no interest in bringing this to his friend’s attention. Due to the unavailability of firearms, he had been spared the adventure, glory, and danger of his friend’s latest plot, and he was grateful for his narrow escape. The bespectacled youth relaxed and ceased even to finger his collar. Taking advantage of his companion’s silence, Ralph attempted to change the subject.

“So, how was-?”

“Oh! I’ve got it!” Jordan interrupted loudly. Then, at a gesture from Ralph, he lowered his voice. “I’ve got some old plastic rifles in my closet back home. They don’t really shoot, but they look just like the real thing.” Ralph tensed again. As Jordan excitedly educated his classmate on the finer points of his plan, Ralph responded with a mechanical “Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” Jordan’s enthusiasm had carried him far from the reach of discouragement, much as a boat carries its passengers far from the shore. Nothing remained to Jordan but the sea of ideas in which he floated. Ralph, who grew increasingly uncomfortable with each passing minute, knew from experience that any attempt to reach his friend now would be futile.

Fantasies of the next day filled the long, dark subway tunnel through which the steel carriage shot, carrying Jordan home. Thoroughly invigorated, the boy rushed across his apartment’s threshold with such haste that his father glanced up from his newspaper and asked, “What’s the rush, son?”

Jordan hurriedly fabricated an excuse for his haste. “Ah, just got to the next level on my game and promised I’d meet Ralph online so we could beat it together.” The words escaped in one breath, and Jordan feared that his father might grow suspicious.

Despite his son’s concerns, the elder Ozze’s credulity was absolute. Still, the story failed to fully satisfy the man. “You do that, kid, but I’ve been thinking. You play those video games so much, I sometimes wonder if you ever come back to the real world.”

“Waddaya mean by that?” Jordan’s reaction was defensive. Why was his father bothering him with this now?

“There’s so much violence in those things, I wonder what you’re learning from them.”

“But they’re virtual reality, and that means it’s supposed to be like real life. It can’t be worse than stuff I see and hear all the time, can it?” Jordan argued.

“Sometimes I wonder about that but…never mind. You just go and enjoy your game. Sorry I bothered you.” His age beginning to show in his slackened face, Harold Ozze retreated behind his newspaper.

Jordan, meanwhile, had already traversed the length of the apartment’s only hallway. He flung his bedroom door open and nearly slammed it closed behind him but reconsidered as the door neared its frame. Such a loud noise as the slamming of a door might draw his father’s attention, which could in turn impact the success of his plan. Thus, Jordan caught the door’s edge deftly with the tips of his beefy fingers and closed it carefully, allowing it to make no noise louder than a soft click.

Now safe from the eyes of his parents, Jordan strode purposefully across the room. His father, he noted, must have fixed his console; it sat in perfect order on the floor to his left. Reaching the far side of the room, Jordan paused to consider the hulking mahogany desk blocking the closet door, then set his jaw grimly and began to push. With effort, he slid his desk about a foot to accommodate for the door’s curved path and stopped, sweaty and panting. His bedroom door, it seemed, had stifled the scraping sound that had accompanied the desk’s reluctant journey; the radio still blared from the kitchen where his mother prepared the evening meal and his father remained silent and (as far as Jordan could tell) transfixed by his newspaper.

Now, however, the uncertainty that Jordan thought he had outdistanced with his enthusiasm and impulsive reasoning had finally caught up with him. By moving the large, wooden sentry from the spot it had guarded for five years, Jordan had taken his first step into unfamiliar territory. As the boy questioned whether to proceed, his father’s words echoed in his mind. “I wonder what you’re learning from those things. I sometimes wonder if you ever return to the real world. You just tell me if you need help…with anything.”

How hard could it be to open his bedroom door, walk down the hall, and say, “I need your help, Dad,” to the man engrossed in the daily news? Too hard, Jordan answered himself. I’m thirteen, old enough to make these decisions for myself. Dad would just make things harder, as usual. And, he continued, swiftly regaining his old confidence, this is something I have to do. It’s the only way I can win respect at school. Thus encouraging himself, Jordan grasped the doorknob firmly in his hand and turned it but did not open the door. Behind this thin sheet of wood, he knew he would find the two plastic rifles, large black keys to respect and fear. In mere moments, the toy guns would be in his backpack, waiting to strike fear into his classmates’ hearts. Jordan pulled on the handle. He could hardly wait.

 

“I’ve got ‘em,” were Jordan’s first words to Ralph when he arrived at their designated meeting place (or “rendezvous” as Jordan insisted on calling it). “They’re in my backpack.” The two boys stood behind a light post about a block from their school. Jordan’s grim determination added weight to each word he spoke. Ralph fidgeted.

“You know….” After his first two words, Ralph’s volume dwindled. “Do you…do you really think that…this is right?”

“What?!” Jordan practically shouted.

“Never mind.” Ralph’s pallid complexion had reddened and he immediately regretted having spoken. It was too late, though; the damage had been done. As Ralph’s visage acquired a crimson pigment, Jordan’s soon shone a royal violet.

“Ralph, we’ve been bullied since first grade. First grade! We oughta be doing way worse to these guys! It’s just a little scare: that works in games, so it oughta work in real life. How different are they, anyway?” What Ralph had feared would be a full-scale eruption had been more of an earnest plea, and Ralph took the opportunity to further his point.

“Sometimes I wonder about that.” Ralph never realized that he was echoing the words employed by Jordan’s father the night before. “And here’s another idea: if the world is a game, then who designed the levels? Is there some all-powerful ‘Ultimate Programmer’ responsible for our world and, if there is, would he like how we’re- Hey! Don’t laugh at me!” Ralph cried, a bit hurt, for in an action that had banished all tension from the atmosphere, Jordan had begun to chuckle.

“Ha, ha, ha! Whaduz that make you, one of those religious types?” he guffawed. “An ‘Ultimate Programmer!’ You should listen to yourself.” Jordan’s laugh had always been contagious, and Ralph soon began to grin sheepishly in spite of himself. This was the same boy Ralph had always known and he had never managed to remain angry with him for long. Jordan radiated an impression that, somehow, the situation would be alright so long as one followed his lead. Ralph believed it.

“Let’s not talk about that now.” Suddenly, Jordan ceased to laugh, even to smile. “It’s like this: when I leave school today, I’m gonna leave with everyone’s respect. Now, you can be a part of that, or you can chicken out. What’s it gonna be?”

Ralph would have liked nothing more than to ask for more time. A day would have been wonderful, but Ralph would have appreciated even another hour to consider Jordan’s question. By this point, though, there was really only one answer, so Ralph met his friend’s eyes with difficulty. “Jordan,” he began, “I’m your friend. You know I’m with you on this.”

“Good. You’ll be needing this.” Jordan unzipped his backpack and produced a long, black object. Ralph’s hand received it and transferred it to his own schoolbag. Then, emerging from their cover behind the light post, the two boys turned and strode towards the school.

“Boys, class has be-.” Mr. Green’s customary announcement was interrupted by a voice from the back of the room.

“Shut up or I’ll shoot ya!” The voice belonged to Jordan Ozze, as did one of the two deadly, black cylinders pointed at his heart. The teacher’s speech faltered. The color drained from his face and, in mute submission, he “shut up.”

“That’s better.” Jordan wove among desks and fellow students until he stood behind Mr. Green at the podium. Behind him trailed a pallid boy with white-blonde hair and oversized glasses.

“Who is that?”

“Ralph Giovanni.”

“Ralph? How could he be doing this?!”

“He seemed like such a nice kid.”

The whispers chased each other around the room for ten seconds, at best, but the noise continued long enough to spark Jordan’s irritation. “Didn’t you all hear me the first time? I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it. Now shut up!” he roared. An uneasy silence blanketed the room. “That’s better. Stay in your seats, everyone, and you, sit down,” Jordan ordered, indicating his teacher. The older man, his mouth tightly closed, walked to his desk and sat, hands spread innocuously on the dark, hard wood of his workspace. “That’s right. This is my class now!” At that moment, Jordan realized that he had complete control over the room. He began to laugh, softly at first, then louder and more maniacally until the sound filled the room and reverberated from the walls.

The class observed in stony silence, unimpressed, and Ralph, who stood protectively behind Jordan at the podium, began to feel a bit embarrassed. “Scare them a little” had been Jordan’s plan. Much to Ralph’s relief, nothing particularly frightening had yet occurred, unless of course someone in the class was phobic of abnormally loud laughter. “Hey, Jordan, can we go back to our seats now?” Ralph muttered to his laughing friend.

After a moment, Jordan regained control of himself. His reply boomed nearly as loudly as his earlier fit. “Back to our seats? No way! I just got up here! I….” As he spoke, Jordan cast his gaze about the room, watchful for any misconduct. What he saw, instead, was a lone hand raised above a sea of desks and faces. Surprised, he trailed off and sputtered, “Do you have a question?”

“Yes, why…why are you doing this?” The girl trembled, staring nervously at the weapon in Jordan’s hand. Jordan pointed his rifle at the girl, who emitted a small squeal and ducked her head.

“What’s yer name?” Jordan snapped. The girl could no longer meet his eyes. She stared at the classroom’s linoleum floor, shaking so violently that the shortest leg of her chair contacted the white surface three times with each word she spoke. Thud. Thud. Thud.

“I-I’m Wilh-helmina J-J-Jones,” she barely managed to convey. Then, Jordan heard a loud, wet gasp.

“Jordan.” Ralph spoke firmly. “She’s crying. I’ve known that girl since second grade, and she’s terrified of guns. She has been since she was six and her brother’s ex-girlfriend brought one to her house. She’s never done anything to you. Please, leave her alone.”

Jordan scowled and considered it. His goal, after all was to inspire fear. Still, Ralph had a point. Those who really deserved to feel pain were elsewhere in the room. He turned his gun so that its barrel now pointed at a boy in the front row. He was tall, with short, brown hair that (by Jordan’s estimate) extended about three centimeters from root to tip. Tough and muscular, the boy twisted uneasily beneath Jordan’s gaze. “I’ll tell you why I’m doing this.” Jordan’s voice had grown quite cold and the boy in Jordan’s sights shivered slightly from the chill. “It’s because people like you,” he shouted, advancing on the boy, “tortured me every day for six years! But now, it’s the other way around. I can make you pay. So tell me,” he said to the boy, whose face now shone with sweat, “how would you like…” he paused, “…to die?”

No sooner had Jordan spoken this final word, however, than a loud wail split the air. It’s the emergency siren! Jordan realized to his chagrin. When activated, George W. Bush Middle School’s alarm system not only alerted the entire school building to a security concern, but it drew a squad of armed policemen to the scene as quickly as they could be dispatched. And, Jordan realized with growing horror, the police department is right next door!

“Ralph! What’s going on?” Jordan turned back to his friend, only to catch sight of Mr. Green, one of his hands extended beneath the desk’s writing surface. A hidden button, he realized, of course! The teacher’s desk must have been equipped with a button for triggering the alarm. But Ralph was standing next to him the whole time! “Ralph! Why didn’t you stop him?” Jordan cried desperately.

Ralph still stood at the podium, but the barrel of his rifle pointed unthreateningly at the ground. He favored his teacher with a silent nod, then turned to face Jordan. “I’m sorry.” Ralph spoke softly, but the quaver in his voice had all but disappeared. “I’m sorry Jordan.” Footfalls were echoing in the hall, approaching the room. “But…” The door to the classroom vibrated as the feet approached their destination. “I can’t do this.” The plastic gun in his hand fell to the floor with a hollow clack.

No sooner had Ralph’s rifle fallen to a heavy rest on the classroom floor than the door to the hallway burst open, admitting five black-clad men. Their helmets were dark with visors hiding their eyes. Where Ralph’s shirt boasted a breast pocket, the police units’ outfits featured “New York City Police Force” in white lettering.

“Nobody move!” The voice from the first of the visitors was oddly distorted, as though he were speaking through a microphone. “Drop your weapon!”

“Not-a-chance!” Jordan bit out through his rage. That traitor, Ralph! This is his fault! Jordan’s thoughts had turned bitter and razor sharp. Now, he had one goal: revenge.

In a swift movement, Jordan’s left hand captured the collar of Ralph’s white shirt as the fingers of his right wrapped around the trigger of his plastic weapon. The rifle’s long barrel was pushed painfully into the smaller boy’s rib cage. Serves him right, Jordan thought, I hope it hurts. “You come after me, and this boy gets it!” he announced aloud.

“Don’t worry, officers, it’s just a- Oof!” A jab at Ralph’s chest with the rifle silenced him, and the voice from the doorway spoke again.

“I said, drop your weapon!”

“Leave now or I’ll shoot the boy!”

“I’ll give you five seconds to lay it on the-”

“I’m gonna shoot him right now and see how you like it!” Jordan shouted impulsively, but the room drew a collective breath. This, it seemed, was the extent of the police officers’ tolerance. The voice from inside the lead officer’s helmet ceased to speak, suggesting to Jordan that the officer had indeed been speaking through a microphone. In that moment, each of the five men pulled an identical weapon from a hidden pocket of his uniform. The guns were the size and shape of pistols, but Jordan knew that they were far more impressive than they appeared; he had used them frequently on “PoliceSim: Las Vegas.” These were TK-98s, the most powerful handguns carried by United States police forces, and five of them were pointed directly at him. It’s no problem, he tried to tell his reeling mind. I’ve been in this situation hundreds of times before. Thousands!

But what if- What if I die? The voice that Jordan thought he had silenced the previous evening had returned and with it came fear and doubt. Jordan attempted to push it from his mind.

I’ve died before! I’ve been here a hundred times, and it’s always been the same. I can take care of myself now!

“Oh yeah?” Jordan shouted, “Well, I’m not scared of you! You just shoot me for all I care!”

“Jordan! No!” Someone was screaming in Jordan’s ear, but the alarm blared so loudly that it threatened to drown out the voice. The cry was too late, however, for the police had risen to Jordan’s challenge. Though five guns were pointed at him, a single bullet flew from the leader’s weapon, spinning as it flew. The report shook Jordan’s eardrums, and the shadowy figure’s hand flew back nearly a foot in the air. Time seemed to freeze. If that bullet hits me in the brain, I’m dead. If it hits me in the neck, I’m dead. If it hits me in the heart, I’m dead. In his mind, Jordan reviewed the list of “kill shots” from the “PoliceSim” game. The outlook was poor and he knew it. I’ll be seeing the “Game Over” screen any second now, he reflected as he closed his eyes and waited for the bullet he could not avoid to reach his body. If it hits me in the head….  If it hits me in the throat…. If it hits me in the chest….

Apparently, “PoliceSim: Las Vegas” was not included in New York City’s police training curriculum, for the bullet contacted none of these. Instead, Jordan heard a sickening squelch and a popping sound to his right. They’ve got terrible aim. Jordan grinned slightly. Never did it occur to him that the force that had spared his life had not been poor aim but, instead, mercy.

Then, a sensation that Jordan had never experienced filled his gun hand and quickly spread until it filled his entire body. The feeling was, at first, comparable to the burn he had sustained the previous autumn when he had accidentally placed that same hand onto a heated stovetop. But this, he began to realize as the “burning” reached a crescendo, is way worse. It was not, after all, akin to touching a hot stove so much as it was similar to dipping his hand into a vat of molten iron. But…why? Jordan was shocked. Why had such pain accompanied the blow? He’d been shot hundreds of times in video games. Thousands! Why did the wound hurt now?

Then, Jordan understood. Clearly his father, Ralph, and the nagging voice inside his brain had been right after all. I’m sorry, Dad, Ralph, Mr. Green, thought Jordan as tears welled up in his eyes. I…was wrong. Then, Jordan was driven to his knees as his body was shaken by another wave of agony.


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