Fiction: Life, Legend, Legacy

By JD Clapp

Raymond rolled out of bed around 12:20 p.m. He’d slept off the worst of it. He made coffee, lit a joint and grabbed the New York Times from his stoop. He sat in the recliner that came with the studio apartment, reading the paper, smoking his joint, drinking coffee and taking the occasional note for an essay he’dbeen thinking of writing for the New Yorker.
He spent the afternoon reviewing his dissertation notebooks, drawing mind maps and causal loop diagrams and taping them to the wall adjacent to his desk. I am getting closer to nailing this theory down…
Around 5:00 p.m., when it got dark, he dressed and headed to the bar. Can’t stay too late, I need to grade papers tonight.
He made a few notes early in the night, but he ended up drinking and reading a Bukowski anthology on Drinking. Raymond got home just after midnight and slept fitfully.
Wendel spent the morning memorizing the surface streets surrounding campus on his computer. He plotted his primary and secondary escape routes. Once satisfied, he got to work writing his letter. 
That afternoon he drove to the old, abandoned quarry to shoot his custom assault rifle. Wendel wore black tactical gear, including a helmet and face mask.The cold, wet weather meant he had the place to himself; he didn’t waste the opportunity.
Wendel set up multiple carboard human silhouettes and two empty propane canisters. He practiced and timed his scenario three times, careful to reset the targets in different positions. He emptied two clips, shot both canisters, and made fatal hits on 22 targets in 64 seconds on his last round. Figuring in the propanecanisters rigged with fertilizer and ball bearings would take down another couple dozen. I’m ready motherfuckers. 
Tabatha sat in the corner booth of the café working on her assignments. She was on her third latte of the day, when her former roommate Jamie texts her. 
Jamie: My doctor cleared me to come back to school in spring.
Tabatha: You up for that? How RU sleeping?
Jamie: Sleeping good. I met another survivor, and she has helped sooo much! 
Tabatha: So glad to hear! He should be in prison!!!
Jamie: He will get what’s coming. I can’t control that.Karma. 

Raymond opens the main door leading out of the boarding house, once a stately Victorian manor for some long-dead college dean, now a maze of incoherent firetrap rooms occupied by undergrads and a few graduate students like himself. A shock of cold wind off the lake stings his face, and he takes a tentative step onto the stoop. No ice. He carefully walks down the five stairs from the boarding house to the sidewalk running along High Street. He pulls the collar of his corduroy sports coat up, stuffs his hands into the patch pockets, and heads to Jack’s Tavern. Shakes setting in, he needs a drink.
Hot, cold, sun, rain or, like today, snow, Raymond has taken this route daily for the past three years. As he crosses 11thhe jumps over a puddle of grayish slush at the far curb. The sole of his salt-stained loafer is no match for the patch of black ice. He goes down. 
The cold sidewalk radiating through his thin sport coat, Raymond looks up at the glowing streetlight. It’s fucking noonand that streetlight is still on… He lays there hating his life, the oppressive gloom of the mid-February sky seemingly pinning him to the uneven concrete. 
The girl is tall, athletic, and unlike himself and most students, dressed for the weather—pink puffy coat, white wool beanie, gloves, sensible boots. She looks down at him, her face coming into Raymond’s view upside down. Farm girl…
“Are you ok?” she asks.
Raymond is pulled from his pity trance of self-loathing. He notices the life in her wind- kissed pink face, the gleam in her green eyes, the blonde braids spilling from her knit cap. 
“Uh, yeah. Just slipped,” he answers, as she offers her hand to help him up.
No longer prone, he thanks her. She reminds him she is a student in his sociology research class. Shit, Tammy…Tabatha…first-generation student from bumfuck…her roommate was in that date rape thing last semester…
“Tabatha Sanderson,” she reminds him.
“Yes, I know, just a little disoriented after the fall,” Raymond says. 
Jesus, how did I not notice how pretty she was before…because you’re a pathetic drunk…
“See you in class Friday…and thanks for the hand up.” 
She smiles, tells him no problem, she’s glad he didn’t get hurt. As she is walking away, she turns and says, “You really need some boots.”
Raymond takes his usual booth, exchanges pleasantries with Jessica the bartender. Over Raymond’s tenure as a fixture in the bar, they have developed a silent routine. She pours him a bourbon without asking, then brings over a coffee with a handful of creamers. In an hour she will put in his order for a cheeseburger and house salad, ranch dressing. They will talk about sports or her boyfriend while he eats. She will keep his coffee cup full, bring him bourbon number two after lunch, then, if he is still there, a third around 3:00 p.m. He will write in his notebook. Depending on the day, he will leave $20 or $30 dollars under the coffee cup and nod goodbye.
Raymond opens his knock-off Moleskine notebook with about 20 blank pages left. This will be the 57th notebook he’s filled during his research. Now in his third year of being ABD–all but dissertation–he is collecting data, analyzing it, and refining his theory of how and why people drink in bars. He runs his fingers through his thinning hair and re-reads yesterday’s work. Reading his work, he’s second guessing whether he has enough data to stop…something he considers the first step toward his legacy…is not yet perfect. But what is missing? The question is driving him mad.
He thinks back to the recent meeting with his advisor. His advisor’s advice plays over in his head, still stings–Don’t be one of those fat, bald, drunk 40-something graduate students still hanging around campus avoiding the real world. Finish the goddamn thing.
Wendall shuffles through the letters on his desk. He crumples the dismissal letter, tosses it into the overflowing trash can. He glowers while he tears the summons into pieces. She’s suing me because she changed her mind two days after we fucked? I made that bitch cum twice!  He sits down at the keyboard and opens a Word document titled, “Open Letter”. He re-reads his statement. Suck on it, fuckers. Kick me out? I’ll be a fucking legend. 
He opens the cello case on his unmade bed and glues in the first piece of stiff foam.  After he fits the second and third pieces, he closes the case to let the glue set and places it in the corner next to the long, flat Pelican gun case.
Tabatha is sipping a vanilla latte in the small café just off Swenson Hall, when her mother texts—Hi, sweety are you driving up this weekend for Uncle Ron’s birthday party? 
She sighs. She loves Uncle Ron, but the drive back Churchville is two hours on unplowed two-lane rural roads…and there is that party Chase invited her too…and the group presentation on Monday in her social work class.
Sorry mom, I have a big group project due Monday and we are meeting Saturday and Sunday to work on it. I’ll call Uncle Ron to say happy birthday.
Her mom replies they miss her and are proud of her making the Dean’s List, especially after what that despicable boy did to her poor roommate.
Thanks, mom. I’m ok. Jamie is coming back to school next semester, too.
She looks out on the students walking in the falling snow. She smiles, grateful for being here, her family back home, her life. 
Wendall sits at his keyboard and finishes typing two dozenemail addresses into the “To:” field. He re-reads the body of the email. Satisfied, he double-checks his gear on the bed. Ready.
He rummages through the top drawer of his bedside stand, pulls out a pill bottle and shakes three blue pills into his hand.Gotta love Addies. He pops them in his mouth, chews them, then washes away the chemical taste with a swig from the tall Red Bull can that lives on his bed stand. Gotta be alert as hell for this.
He walks back to the keyboard, hits “send.”
Running late for her 2:00 p.m. class, Tabatha walks faster. As she rounds the corner toward the main entrance of Founder’s Hall, she hears screams, followed by several pops. She takes two more strides forward before her brain catches up. Run! She spins, stumbles, falls. She claws at the sidewalk, regains her feet, and runs toward High Street. 
Looking up from his work when Jessica says something is going on across the street, Raymond sees students running in random directions away from Founder’s Hall. A tall male student falls hard. That didn’t look natural…what the…FUCK! 
Wendall raises his homemade AR—full-auto, sound suppressor, laser dot scope, bumper stock—and takes aim at the group of running girls nearing the High Street. He sings along with tune blaring through his earbuds, Do you want to die? Do you want to die?
He hits one in the back, another in the leg. He tosses the empty clip, pulls another of the five from his vest, and slams it in the receiver. He sees the tall girl with the white beanie and pink jacket almost safely inside Jack’s Tavern. It’s a long poke, 200 yards. But what the hell… He puts the red dot on her back and squeezes. Hit! The suppressed barrel makes a pop; the bump stock lets him instantly fire a second round that misses.
Raymond sees Tabatha sprinting toward the tavern door. He is almost to the door when she stumbles and the front window shatters. Time slows. He sees a blotch of red appear near her shoulder, then red spray and feathers from the down puffy coat mingling with the falling snow. 
He knows he will act, what he must do. I’m not brave. He is outside. He slips, falls over Tabatha. I need to get her inside.
Wendall sings…Out by the lake tonight… He grins as he fires a shot into Raymond’s back. Two ’fer!
Raymond feels the impact between his shoulder blades. The .223 bullet passes through his left lung, clips his heart, and lodges in his ribcage near his sternum. I should have finished the damn dissertation. 
He knows.
As Wendell takes aim at a girl running down the middle of High Street, he feels the slug hit his bullet-proof vest. He falls. On the cold ground, the wind leaves him. His face is cold in the snow. His assault rifle is three feet from his outstretched arm. He is stunned. Cops. Get up! He feels the second slug hit his left ass cheek. There is little pain but the concussion of the bullet breaks something in an audible crack. I need to get the Glock from my…
Five months later, Tabatha stands in the spring sun on the sidewalk in front of Jack’s Tavern with the other survivors. Her green eyes, though moist, no longer shine. She half-listens to President Daily’s remarks as they set the placard in the wet cement. 
The press asks her about Raymond. She tells them he was a hero; she wishes he was here so she could tell him that.
She is one of the few people left as the little crowd disperses. She is numb as she reads the placard:
On this spot, during the tragic events on February 21, 2022, 
Raymond A. Bryant, Ph.D. (posthumous) heroically saved the life of Tabatha Miller. 
May he rest in our eternal gratitude and peace.

JD Clapp lives in San Diego, CA. His work has appeared in Cowboy Jamboree, The Dead Mule, Revolution John, Poverty House, and numerous others. In 2023, he was a Pushcart nominee in nonfiction, and had a fictional story selected as a finalist in the Hemingway Shorts, Short Story competition.