The group’s methods sounded extreme. I would have thought so once, in my other life. We found future mass shooters and we stopped them before they could act. That’s the simplest way to put it. David, our hacker, found these nuts in chat rooms and online fora, verified with online purchases of ammunition. He could even track most gun show sales, though I never understood how.
Sometimes we sent a scout team. You’d find the guns, the ammunition. Body armor. If you were really lucky, you found the goodbye video, or the notebook with the school or concert or shopping mall mapped into it, kill zones circled in red.
Big Rev being Big Rev, there was sometimes scripture involved. While they were tied up, whether it was a Code One and Rev was just trying to frighten them (the “Big Scare” we called it) or it was a Code Three and execution was eminent, he was fond of the passage of the bible that says,
“For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Never having been much of a reader of the bible, I nonetheless found some satisfaction in these words, and in the actions which often followed. But I still retained some of my connection to my old life, my old ways of thinking, so at first I found these actions disturbing. I thought about quitting the Group.
“This whole thing. It’s crazy. Isn’t it? I mean, we can’t just go around doing this,” I said to Big Rev. “There has to be some other way. To make people understand, I mean.”
He soaked that in. He had met me at a bus stop on the engineering part of campus. We had just done my first Code Three the night before.
It was a beautiful summer day, the second summer after my wife was killed. It was that blessed early part of the season when students hadn’t yet arrived for their summer courses and the whole campus was a deserted utopia, an oasis of green and art and birds and melancholic beauty. He stood from the bench, still nodding. For a moment, I thought I had him convinced.
“Make people understand,” he repeated. “Understanding, empathy.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. It gave the impression of someone deep in thought, grappling with an impossibly difficult dilemma. Not like he was trying to convince me of something, but like he himself were trying to figure it out. “These are foreign words to most people, part of an obsolete language. Often parroted, seldom understood. Worse than that, to many of them, it is a naïve, stuttering, jabbering language.”
He squinted up, flexed his jaw like he was drinking the sunlight.
“But the one thing those people on the other side do understand is violence – and fear of it. That primal, instinctive, inescapable urge to do harm to things you don’t like. Or don’t understand. Or that act or think differently than you.
“Our movement tried to resist this idea for the longest time, thought it could elevate the conversation. For years. Used these antiquated, Enlightenment-era ideas that, given the true facts and statistics of a situation, Man’s logic and reason would prevail, would overcome emotions, tradition, and - yes – even fear.”
“It can work, it just –” I started, but he held up a massive finger.
“Not anymore, my friend. Our age is post-factual. Man doesn’t give a damn about logic or reason. Man is an animal, a primitive one. A scared one. He gives a damn about being right and feeling safe. Emotional reasoning. Confirmation bias. The anecdotal trumps the universal; feeling trumps logic, faith trumps fact.
“You see, there’s no elevating the conversation when fear is involved. This movement, our group, our tactics – all we did was evolve. We evolved past the old ways of using reason. We evolved past facts and statistics and sad, sad emotional appeals. We evolved past the language those people, those crazy people, were deaf to.
“But we didn’t just evolve – we adapted. We learned. We learned – finally - how to speak in the only language they understand: fear of violence.
“It’s a numbers game, in the end. Sooner or later, enough people were going to be affected by mass shootings that they would rise up in rebellion. The minority becomes the majority. The weak become the strong. We are a nation, after all, founded on this very principle. When the law works against us, when the money works against us, when the power works against us, we rise up. We overthrow. We revolt. And no revolution is bloodless.”
A red pickup truck with Greek letters scrawled on the side tumbled by, stereo blaring. In the bed of the truck three shirtless boys splashed around in a children’s wading pool.
“I had this conversation with an old lady last week,” I said. “I was waiting for Spencer’s violin lesson to end. And this old lady, she must have been waiting for someone, too.”
“Well. Argument. She told me the solution – the only solution – was to arm teachers.”
Big Rev nodded knowingly.
“She wanted to give me a gun. Me. Can you imagine it? She kept calling schools ‘soft targets.’ She said until we do that, until we arm all the teachers, we’re just sheep among the wolves.”
“And I refuse to put a gun in my classroom. But I also refuse to be a sheep. It is better, I suppose, to be a wolf among the wolves.”
“Then stay with us. We’re the baddest motherfucking wolves around.”
Winner of the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award, Adam Kotlarczyk's short stories have been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. Adam's fiction has appeared in the Tishman Review, Madcap Review, and Fictive Dream, among others. He teaches at a gifted school near Chicago.