By Douglas Coupland Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, Part One Cheryl. My parents had already gone to work, and my brother, Chris, had left for swim team hours before. Douglas Coupland - Hey Nostradamus! Read more · Hey Nostradamus!: A Novel (Coupland, Douglas). Hey Nostradamus!: A Novel (Coupland, Douglas). Narrated by one of the murdered victims, the first part of Hey Nostradamus! is affecting and emotional enough to almost make you forget you're reading a book .
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Jason's mother, in this moment, breaks down, and attacks and seriously wounds her husband Reg which damages their relationship to the point of irreparability. In the letter, forming this section of the book, Jason details the enduring and corrosive effects on his state of mind caused by his frenzied mistreatment by the media, and his dogged attempts to restore himself.
He further details the pain caused by his father's openly preferential treatment of elder brother Kent, a leader in the Youth Alive! Jason's story continues from this beginning, as he tries to come to terms with the facts that life has presented him. He enters into a dark world very different from where he expects to see himself.
He experiences several moments of black-out near the end of his letter, becoming disoriented and lost. However, Jason is presented with another chance to kill, again in self-defense, but he restrains himself.
This choice of life over death provides him with a kind of redemption. The secondary plot movement of the part involves the death of Kent. Kent's memorial is a scene of a large fight between Kent's widow, Barb, and Reg. The fight is based over whether or not twins both have souls.
Reg says that one twin would be without a soul, which to Barb, the mother of twins, is appalled. This sends Reg into another dark spiral. Reg ends up at one point in the hospital, and only Jason goes to visit him there. Jason has now gone missing, and Heather is keeping a journal to remember and deal with her loss of him. In a vain search for Jason, Heather is befriended by a con-artist named Allison who fraudulently presents herself to Heather as a psychic in order to extort money in exchange for false news of Jason.
Allison provides Heather with information that only Jason would have. Jason and Heather's relationship began in a Toys "R" Us , with Jason downloading toys for his nephews. Jason and Heather begin to create their own characters and stories for their characters, which is the information provided by Allison back to Heather. Heather also talks about her relationship to Reg, who is undergoing fundamental changes due to the loss of both of his children.
Heather's interactions with Reg bring Reg back to a more humane Christianity, while bringing Heather to consider faith, where she had hitherto been staunchly against it. This section is told by Reg as an atonement for his previous actions as he has come to realize the faults in his particular belief system.
He is writing a letter to Jason which he is going to post on the trees around the forest, hoping his son reads the letter, realises that his father has undergone a transformation, and comes home to him.
The section, which climactically ends the book, is a paean of exultation. Characters[ edit ] Cheryl Cheryl is the first narrator of the story. She is a young grade 12 student, who is a victim of the infamous Delbrook Secondary School massacre.
Cheryl grew up in a non-religious environment but becomes religious, through her pursuit of Jason. Jason appeared to be heavily into Youth Alive! I later learned that his enthusiastic participation was an illusion, fostered by the fact that Jason's older brother, Kent, two years ahead of us, was almost head of Alive!
Kent was like Jason minus the glow. When I was around Kent, I never felt that life was full of wonder and adventure; Kent made it sound as if our postschool lives were going to be about as exciting as temping in a motor vehicles office. He was always into planning and preparing for the next step.
Jason was certainly not into planning. I wonder how much of our relationship was a slap on Kent's face by his brother who was tired of being scheduled into endless group activities. In any event, Pastor Fields's sermons on chastity could only chill the blood in Jason's loins so long. So I began attending Youth Alive! And I did - nab him. We were an item within the group itself, and to the rest of the school an attractive but dull couple. And not a day went by where Jason didn't ask for something more than a kiss, but I held out.
I knew he was into religion just deep enough to think losing his virginity meant crossing a line. The thing was, I did discover religion during my campaign to catch Jason, and that's not something I'd expected, as there was nothing in my upbringing that predisposed me to conversion. My family paid lip service to religious convictions. They were fickle - no God being feared there. My family wasn't so much anti-God as it was pro the world.
God got misplaced along the way. Are they lost? Are they damned? I don't know. I'd be mistrustful of anybody who said they were, and yet here I am, in the calm dark waiting to go off into the Next Place, and I think it's a different place from where my family's headed.
My family didn't know what to make of my conversion. It's not as if I was a problem teen who rebounded into faith -the most criminal I ever got was generic teenage girl things like prank phone calls and shoplifting.
My parents seemed happy for me in a well-at-least-she's-not-dating-the-entire-basketball-team kind of way, but when I discussed going to heaven or righteousness, they became constrained and a bit sad. My younger brother, Chris, came to a few Alive! Truth be told, I was glad to have religion all to myself. Dear God, I'm going to stop believing in you unless you can tell me what possible good could have come from the bloodshed. I can't see any meaning or evidence of divine logic.
I can discuss the killings with the detachment I have from being in this new place. The world is pulling away from me, losing its capacity to hurt. For starters, nobody screamed. That's maybe the oddest component of the killings. All of us thought the first shots were firecrackers - part of a Halloween prank, as firecracker season starts in early October.
When the popping got louder, people in the cafeteria looked to its six wide doors with the expectation of being slightly amused by some young kids doing a stunt. And then this kid from the tenth grade, Mark Something, came tottering in, his chest red and purple from what looked like really bad makeup, and there were some nervous laughs in the room. Then he fell and his head landed the wrong way on the corner of a bench, like a bag of gym equipment.
We heard some guys yelling, and three grade eleven students walked into the caf wearing duckhunting outfits - military green fatigues with camouflage patterns, covered with bulging pockets and strips of ammunition -and right away one of them shot out a bank of overhead fluorescent lights. One of the suspension cables broke and a light bank fell down onto a table of food - the not-very-popular photo club and chess club table. The second guy, in sunglasses and a beret, plucked out two grade nine boys and one girl who were standing at the vending machines.
These -were messy shots that left a mist of blood on the ivory-colored cinder-block walls. A group of maybe ten students tried bolting for the doors, but the gunmen - gunboys, really - turned and showered them with buckshot or bullets, whatever it is that guns and rifles use.
Two of them got away cleanly and I could hear their footsteps echoing down the corridor. As for the rest of us, there was no escape route, so we clambered underneath the tables, as if in some ancient nuclear drill from the s. It was a dry hot summer and the two other girls I worked with were fun -kind of skinny and nutty and they mimicked the customers quite wickedly. They also didn't go to Delbrook, so they didn't have any history with me, which was a relief, and I felt guilty feeling this relief.
Youth Alive! Lauren and Dee and some of the others visited me a bit too often, and I don't think a night ever went by without returning to my car at shift's end and finding an Alive! By the end of that August, Jason was going mental for me. He came into the city on weekends from his job up the coast, surveying for a mining company. A sample conversation from this period might go: "Cheryl, God would never have made it feel so right or so good unless it was right and good.
Could you? There was only one way he could land what he wanted, and that was marriage. One weekend in my bedroom, he said we could get married after graduation. I removed his hand from near my right breast and said, "God doesn't issue moral credit cards, Jason.
He's not like a bank. You can't borrow now and pay later. God never sends you a temptation that you aren't strong enough to overcome. I'm not sure if I used God or He used me, but the result was the same.
In the end, we are judged by our deeds, not our wishes. We're the sum of our decisions. Even thinking of him made me drunk, and all the teenage girl stuff that came with it: bees needing flowers; wanting to dissolve like sugar into tea. Of course, everybody else in the school was going at it like minks. Nothing was forbidden to them, so why not?
It's indeed a mistake to confuse children with angels. And while the everpresent aura of casual sex saturated the school like locker aroma, I didn't surrender to my own instincts, though I really did have to wonder why God makes teenagers so desperate.
Why could we see Archie and Betty and Veronica on dates at the malt shop, but never screwing around in Archie's dad's basement covered in oil stains, spit and semen? Double standard.
You can't do one without implying the other. Preachy me. Dear Lord, Protect our children, while they. Lord keep them as. I can't pray right now. Dear God, What's hardest here is that I simply can't believe this is happening. Why do You make certain kinds of events feel real, but not others? Do You have a name for this? And could You please make all of this feel real? As I was saying, silence. In the first few moments of the attack, I remember briefly seeing a patch of sky out the window and I remembered how crisp and clean the day was.
Then one of the boys shot his gun in that direction and stemmed the exodus. I know nothing about guns. Whatever they were, they were powerful, and when they cocked them, it sounded industrial, like a machine stamping something flat.
Under the tables we all dove - thumpa-thumpa-thump. Don't shoot at me - I'm not making any noise! Look at How! Shoot someone else over there! Shoot me? I could have stood up, shouted and caused a diversion and saved a hundred people, or organized the lifting of our table to create a shield to ram into the gunmen.
But I sat there like a meek little sheep and it's the only thing I've ever done that disgusts me. Silence was my sin. I sinned as I cowered and watched three pairs of ocher-colored work boots tromp about the room, toying with us as though we were bacteria under a magnifying lens. I recognized all of the boys - working on the yearbook is good for that kind of thing. There was Mitchell Van Waters. I remembered seeing him down at the smoke hole by the parking lot with his fellow eleventh-grade gunmen, Jeremy Kyriakis and Duncan Boyle.
I watched Mitchell, Jeremy and Duncan walk from table to table. Take away the combat fatigues and they looked like the kid who mows your lawn or shoots hoops in the driveway next door.
There was nothing physically interesting about them except that Mitchell was pretty skinny and Duncan had a small port-wine birthmark inside his hairline - I knew about this only because we'd been looking at photos as part of paste-up and layout during class.
As the three walked from table to table, they talked among themselves - most of what they said I couldn't make out. Some tables they shot at; some they didn't. As the boys came nearer to us, Lauren pretended to be dead, eyes open, body limp, and I wanted to smack her, but I was just mad at myself, perhaps more than anything for being afraid.
It had been drilled into us that to feel fear is to not fully trust God. Whoever made that one up has never been beneath a cafeteria table with a tiny thread of someone else's blood trickling onto their leg. I write songs about horses; you make owl-shaped wall hangings; he combs his hair like some guy on TV; she knows the capital city of every country on earth. Inasmuch as uniqueness is an arrogant human assumption, Jason was unique, and because of this, he was lovable.
To me. First off, he was terrific with voices - ones he made up and ones he mimicked. As with the girls from my summer job, I was a sucker for anyone who could imitate others.
Jason with even one beer in him was better than cable TV. He used his voices the way ventriloquists use their dummies — to say things he was too shy to say himself.
Whenever a situation was boring and there was no escaping it - dinner with my family, or party games organized by Pastor Fields's wife that incorporated name tags and blindfolds - Jason went into his cat character, Mr. No, an otherwise ordinary cat who had a Nielsen TV ratings monitor box attached to his small black-and-white TV.
No hated everything and he showed his displeasure by making a tiny, almost sub-audible squeaking nee-yow sound. I guess you had to be there. But Mr. No made more than a few painful hours a treat. Jason could also wiggle his ears, and his arms were double-jointed - some of his contortions were utterly harrowing, and I'd scream for him to stop.
He also bought me seventeen roses for my seventeenth birthday, and how many boys do you know who'd do that? I was surprised when Jason did propose - in his dad's Buick on a rainy August afternoon in the White Spot parking lot over a cheeseburger and an orange float.
I was surprised first because he did it, then second because he'd concocted a secret plan that was so wild that only the deadest of souls could refuse.
Basically, using money he'd stockpiled from his summer job, we were going to fly to Las Vegas. There in the car, he produced fake IDs, a bottle of Champale and the thinnest of gold rings, barely strong enough to retain its shape. He said, "A ring is a halo for your finger. From now on, we no longer cast two shadows, we cast one. They're for backup. And as it turned out, the legal age was eighteen, so we did need the fakes.
Jason asked me if I wanted to elope: "No big churchy wedding or anything? Sex -finally - plus freedom from guilt or retribution. My only concern was that Jason would develop chilly feet and blab to his buddies or Pastor Fields. I told him that blabbing would be a deal wrecker, and I made him vow, under threat-of-hell conditions, that this would be our secret.
I'd also recently been reading a book of religious inspiration geared mainly to men, and I'd dog-eared the chapter that told its readers, essentially, to trust nobody. Friends are always betrayers in the end - everybody has the one person to whom they spill everything, and that special person isn't always the obvious person you'd think.
People are leaky. What kind of paranoid creep would write something like that? Well, whoever it was, it helped further my cause. The important thing is that we were to marry in the final week of August in Las Vegas. I greased the skids at home and told my folks I was attending a hymn retreat up the coast; I told Lauren and the Alive! Jason did the same thing. It was set. Dear God, I'm trying to take my mind off the slayings, but I don't know if that's possible.
I'll forget about them for maybe a minute and then I'll remember again. I tried finding solace looking at the squirrels in the front yard, already gathering food for the winter - and then I got to thinking about how short their lives are - so short that their dreams can only possibly be a full mirroring of their waking lives. So I guess for a squirrel, being awake and being asleep are the same thing. Maybe when you die young it's like that, too. A baby's dream would only be the same as being awake - teenagers, too, to some extent.
As I've said, I'm grasping here for some solace. Lord, I know I don't have a fish sticker, or whatever it is I'm supposed to have on my car bumper, like all those stuck-up kids who think they're holier than Thou, but I also don't think they have some sort of express lane to speak to You, so I imagine You're hearing this okay.
I guess my question to You is whether or not You get to torture those evil bastards who did the killings, or if it's purely the devil's job and You subcontract it out. Is there any way I can help torture them from down here on earth? Just give me a sign and I'm in. What I now find odd is how Jason and I both assumed our marriage had to be a secret. It wasn't from shame, and it wasn't from fear, because eighteen is eighteen well, almost and the law's the law, so in the eyes of the taxman and the Lord, we could go at it like rabbits all day as long as we paid our taxes and made a few babies along the way.
Sometimes life, when laid out plainly like this, can seem so simple. What appealed to me was that this marriage was something the two of us could have entirely to ourselves, like being the only two guests in a luxury hotel. I knew that if we got engaged and waited until after high school to marry, our marriage would become something else - ours, yes, but not quite ours, either.
There would be presents and sex lectures and unwanted intrusions. Who needs all that? And in any event, I had no pictures in my head of life after high school. My girlfriends all wanted to go to Hawaii or California and drive sports cars and, if I correctly read between the lines on the yearbook questionnaires they submitted, have serial monogamous relations with Youth Alive! The best I could see for myself was a house, a kid or two, some chicken noodle soup at three in the afternoon while standing at the kitchen sink watching clouds unfurl coastward from Vancouver Island.
I was sure that whatever Jason did for a living would amply fulfill us both - an unpopular sentiment among girls my age.
Jason once halfheartedly inquired as to my career ambitions, and when he was certain I had none, he was relieved. His family - churchier than Thou - looked down on girls who worked. If I was ever going to get a job, it would only be to annoy them, his parents - his dad, mostly. He was a mean, dried-out fart who defied charity, and who used religion as a foil to justify his undesirable character traits.
His cheapness became thrift; his lack of curiosity about the world and his contempt for new ideas were called being traditional. Jason's mother was, well, there's no way around it, a bit drunk the few times I met her.
I don't think she liked the way her life had played out. Who am I to judge? How the two of them procreated a sweetie-pie like Jason remains one of God's true mysteries. And for this reason I'll continue. After the first dozen shots, the fire alarm went off.
Mitchell Van Waters walked to the main cafeteria doors, said, "Goddammit," and fired into the hall, blasting out the bell ringing there. Jeremy Kyriakis took out the cafeteria's fire bell in three shots, after which a hail of drywall particles pinged and rattled throughout the otherwise silent room. Beneath the tables we could still hear fire bells ringing from deep within the school's bowels, bells that would ring past sunset since the RCMP would hold off disabling the central OFF switch for fear of tripping homemade bombs placed throughout the school - bombs made of benzene and powdered swimming-pool cleaner.
Wait - how did I know that combo? Back to the cafeteria. Back to me and three hundred other students under the tables, either dead or playing dead, scrunching themselves into tiny balls. Back to six work boots clomping on the polished puttycolored linoleum, and the sounds of ambulances and RCMP cruisers whooping schoolward, a little too little, a little too late.
I began doing a numbers game in my head. Three hundred people divided among three gunmen makes a hundred victims per gunman. If they were going to kill us all, it would take a bit of time, so I figured my chances of making it were better than I'd first supposed.
But geographically we were in a bad spot: the center of the room, the visual and architectural core of the place, as well as the nexus of any high school's social ambition and peer envy.
Were people envious of Alivers! We were basically invisible in the school. A few students might have thought we were smallminded and clique-ish, and to be honest, Youth Alive! But I wasn't. In general, as I walked about the school I affected a calm, composed smile. I did this not because I wanted to be everyone's friend -or to avoid making enemies - but simply because it was easier and I didn't need to interact.
A bland smile is like a green light at an intersection - it feels good when you get one, but you forget it the moment you're past it. Dear Lord, If You organized a massacre just to make people have doubts, then maybe You ought to consider other ways of doing things. A high school massacre? Kids with pimento loaf sandwiches and cans of Orange Crush? I don't think You would orchestrate something like this.
A massacre in a high school cafeteria can only indicate Your absence - that for some reason, in some manner, You chose to absent Yourself from the room. Forsake it, actually. Cheryl - the pretty girl who was the last one to be shot. She wrote that in her binder, didn't she? Dear God, I'm out of prayers, so that just leaves talking.
It's hard for me to believe other people are feeling as intensely as I do, and as bad as I do. But then, if we're all as messed up as I am, that scares me into thinking that the world's all going to go to pieces, and what sort of world would that be? A zoo. I keep to myself mostly. I can't sleep or eat. TV stinks.
School's closed for a while yet. I smoked pot and it wasn't a good idea. I walk around in a daze and it's like the opposite of drugs, because drugs are supposed to make you feel good, but this only makes me feel bad. I was walking down at the mall, and suddenly I started hitting myself in the head because I thought I could bash away the feelings. And the thing is, everybody in the mall looked as if they knew what I was doing, and no one flipped out. Anyway, this is where I stand now.
I'm not sure this was a prayer. I don't know what it was. I've not been too specific about my life and my particulars, but by now you must have gleaned a few things about who I was - Cheryl Anway. The papers are blanketing the world with my most recent yearbook photo, and if you've seen it then you'll know I was a cliche girl next door: darkish blond hair cut in a way that'll probably look stupid to future students, with a thin face and, on the day the photos were taken, no pimples - how often did that ever happen?
In the photo I look old for seventeen. I'm smiling the smile I used when passing people in the halls without having to speak to them. The description accompanying my photo is along the lines of "Cheryl was a good student, friendly and popular" - and that's about it. What a waste of seventeen years. Or is that just my selfish heart applying standards of the world to a soul that's eternal?
It is. But by seventeen, nobody ever accomplishes anything, do they? Joan of Arc? Anne Frank? And maybe some musicians and actresses. I'd really like to ask God why it is that we don't accomplish anything until we're at least twenty. Why the wait?
I think we should be born ten years old, and then after a year turn twenty - just get it over with, like dogs do. We ought to be born running. Chris and I had a dog, a spaniel named Sterling. We adored Sterling, but Sterling adored gum. We'd go for walks and all he'd do was sniff out sidewalk discards. It was cute and funny, but when I was in grade nine he ate a piece of something that wasn't gum, and two hours later he was gone. We buried him in the backyard beneath the witch hazel shrub, and I put a cross on his grave, a cross my mother removed after my conversion.
I found it in the garden shed between the and a stack of empty black plastic nursery pots, and I was too chicken to ask her why. I don't worry too much about Sterling, as he's in heaven. Animals never left God - only people did. Lucky animals. My father works in the mortgage division of Canada Trust, and my mother is a technician in a medical lab.
They love their jobs.
Chris is a generic little brother, yet not as snotty or pesky as my friends' little brothers. At Christmas everyone in our family exchanged bad sweaters and we all wore them as a kind of in-joke.
So we were one of those bad-sweater families you see at the mall. We got along with each other - or we did until recently.
It's like we decided to be superficially happy with each other, which is fine, and that we wouldn't share intimacies with each other.
I think that lack of sharing weakened us. Dear Lord, I pray for the souls of the three killers, but I don't know if that is right or wrong. It always seemed to me that people who'd discovered religion had both lost and gained something.
Outwardly, they'd gained calmness, confidence and a look of purpose, but what they'd lost was a certain willingness to connect with unconverted souls. Looking a convert in the eyes was like trying to make eye contact with a horse. They'd be alive and breathing, but they wouldn't be a hundred percent there anymore. They'd left the day-to-day world and joined the realm of eternal time. Pastor Fields or Dee or Lauren would have pounced on me if I'd ever spoken those words aloud.
Dee would have said something like "Cheryl, you've just covered your halo with soot. It can make them hard when they ought to be listening, judgmental when they ought to be contrite. Jason's father, Reg, always said, "Love what God loves and hate what God hates," but more often than not I had the impression that he really meant "Love what Reg loves and hate what Reg hates.
Jason was too gentle, too forgiving, to adopt Reg's self-serving credo. As my mother always told me, "Cheryl, trust me, you spend a much larger part of your life being old, not young.
Rules change along the way. The first things to go are those things you thought were eternal. At noon on the final Friday before school started, Jason and I cabbed out to the airport and scanned the list of outgoing flights.
There was one to Las Vegas in ninety minutes, so we bought tickets - cash - walked through U. Immigration preclearance, went to the gate and were on our way. They didn't even bother to check our ID. We each had only a gym bag for carry-on and we felt like bandits. It was my first time flying, and everything was new and charged with mystery But it was all like perfume to me, and I tried pretending that every moment of my life could be as full of newness as that flight.
What a life that would be. The two of us had dressed conservatively - shirt and tie for Jason, and me in a schoolmarm dress; our outfits must have made us look all of fifteen. The flight attendant asked us why we were going to Las Vegas and we told her.
Ten minutes later there was a captain's announcement telling everybody on the plane our news and our seat numbers. The other passengers clapped and I blushed like I had a fever, but suddenly it was as if we were blood kin with all these strangers. At the terminal, the men all slapped Jason's back and har-har'ed, and this one woman whispered to me, "Honey, I don't care what else you do, but the moment he hints that he wants it, you give it to him.
Doesn't matter if you're fixing a diaper or cleaning out the gutters. You give it, pronto. Else you'll lose him. My lungs had never felt so pure. In the taxi to Caesars Palace I looked out at the desert - real desert - and tried to imagine every parable I'd ever heard taking place in that exotic lifeless nothingness. I couldn't have stood five minutes out there in that oven, and I wondered how the Bible ever managed to happen.
They must have had different weather back then - or trees - or rivers and shade. Good Lord, the desert is harsh. I asked the taxi driver to stop for a second beside a vacant lot between the airport and the Strip. There were some rental units on the other side of a cinderblock fence, some litter and a shedded snakeskin.
I got out and it felt as if I were floating over the sharp rocks and angry little plants. Instead of feeling brand new, Las Vegas felt thousands of years old. Jason got out and we both knelt and prayed. Time passed; I felt dizzy and the cabbie honked the horn. We drove to Caesars Palace. The three boys had been across the room shouting pointless fragments of pointless manifestos or whatever moronic ideas they had, but then, yes, the clank. It was so primal to watch their heads swivel toward us, and their eyes focusing - zeroing in like crocodiles in TV documentaries.
Dee squeaked. I could always tell that about people - if they could sing or not. Just then, for whatever reason, the overhead sprinklers spritzed on. The boys were distracted and looked up at the ceiling. The water rained down onto the tables, onto the milk cartons and halfempty paper bags; it sounded like rain on a roof.
Then it began trickling off the laminated tabletops and dripping onto my jeans and forearms. It was my time. Dear God, I am so full of hate that I'm scaring myself. Is there a word to describe wanting to kill people who are already dead? Because that's what's in my heart. I remember last year being in the backyard with my father.
We lifted up this sheet of plywood that had been lying on the grass all winter. Underneath were thousands of worms, millipedes, beetles and a snake, all either eating or being eaten, and that is my heart, and the hate and the insects grow and grow blacker by the hour.
I want to kill the killers, and I just can't believe that this would be a sin. Lord, My son described the blood and water pooling on the cafeteria floor, coating it like Varathane. He told me about the track marks left in blood by running shoes, by bare feet and by bodies either dragging themselves or being dragged away by friends. There's something else he's not telling me - a father knows that - but what could be more horrible than - Oh God, this is not a prayer. I can't help but wonder if the other girls thought I used God as an excuse to hook up with Jason, or that I confused one with the other.
Maybe I wasn't truly in love with Jason; maybe it was just an infatuation, or maybe it was only some sort of animal need like any teenager feels. Listen to me, practical Cheryl, covering my bases, even after death. But I know that when I was alive I did face these questions: I loved Jason, but what I felt for God was different altogether. I kept them separate. As well, Duncan was egging Mitchell on to kill Jeremy, too, and my hopes had flip-flopped - now I thought I might survive.
Then Jeremy said, "Go ahead, Mitchell, shoot me - like I care. He hadn't anticipated this scenario. He turned a bit to his left, looked down at me and the Bunch, then took his rifle and shot me on my left side. He really wasn't a good shot, because he was five paces away, and I should have been dead instantly. And quite honestly, it didn't hurt, the shooting, and I didn't die immediately, either.
Lauren, bless her, lunged away from me, leaving me there on the floor on top of my binder, which the water had sloshed off the tabletop.
At my new angle, I could see much better what was transpiring. Mitchell said, "Well, Jeremy, you stud, that's one less girl for you to impress," and Jeremy said, "Dear God, I repent for my sins. Forgive me for all I have done. Then I heard Jason's voice from the cafeteria doors - something along the lines of "Put those guns down now. At this point, the boys in the camera club lifted up their table and used it as a shield as they charged against the sole surviving gunman, Duncan Boyle.
It was covered with paper bags and some cookies that had been glued in place by blood. They charged into Duncan, pressing him against a blank spot of cinder-block wall. I saw the rifle fall to the ground, and then I saw the boys from the camera club laying the table flat on the ground on top of Duncan and begin jumping up and down on it like a grape press. They were making hooting noises, and people from the other tables came and joined in and the table became a killing game as all of these children, boys and girls, who fifteen minutes earlier had been peacefully eating peanut butter sandwiches and oranges, became savages, killing without pause.
Duncan's blood dribbled out from under the table. Lauren called out, and Jason came over and lifted the table off me like a hurricane lifting off a roof. I know he said something to me, but my hearing was gone. He tried holding me up, but my neck was limp, and all I could see was across the room, children crushing other children. And that was that.
And I believe I accepted God, and I fully accepted this sorrow, even though until the events in the cafeteria, there hadn't been too much of it in my life. I may have looked like just another stupid teenage girl, but it was all in there - God, and sorrow and its acceptance. And now I'm neither dead nor alive, neither awake nor asleep, and soon I'm headed off to the Next Place, but my Jason will continue amid the living. Oh, Jason. In his heart, he knows I'll at least be trying to watch him from beyond, whatever beyond may be.
And in his heart, I think, he's now learned what I came to believe, which is, as I've said all along, that the sun may burn brightly, and the faces of children may be plump and achingly sweet, but in the air we breathe, in the water we drink and in the food we share, there will always be darkness in this world.
Part Two Jason You won't see me in any of the photographs after the massacre - you know the ones I mean: I'm in none of them, and if you had seen me, I sure wouldn't have been praying. I want to say that right from the start. Just one hour ago, I was a good little citizen in a Toronto-Dominion bank branch over in North Van, standing in line, and none of this was even on my mind.
I was there to deposit a check from my potbellied contractor boss, Les, and I was wondering if I should blow off the afternoon's work. My hand reached down into my pocket, and instead of a check, my sunburnt fingers removed the invitation to my brother's memorial service. I felt as if I'd just opened all the windows of a hot muggy car. I folded it away and wrote down today's date on the deposit slip. I checked the wall calendar August 19, -and What the heck, I wrote a whole row of zeroes before the year, so that the date read: August 19, Even if you hated math, which I certainly do, you'd know that this is still mathematically the same thing as When I gave the slip and the check to the teller, Dean, his eyes widened, and he looked up at me as if I'd handed him a holdup note.
What makes you think it isn't? Casey and Dean had a hushed talk, and then she spoke to me. Klaasen, may I ask you why you've written this on your slip? It's not as if I'd walked into the bank planning all those extra zeroes. They just happened, and now I had to defend them. But maybe what the zeroes do point out is that in a billion years - and there will be a billion years - we'll all be dust. Not even dust: I said, "Just think, there are still a few billion years of time out there, just waiting to happen.
Billions of years, and we're not going to be here to see them. Casey said, "Mr. Klaasen, if this is some sort of joke, I can try to understand its abstract humor, but I don't think this slip meets the requirements of a legal banking document. I said, "But doesn't it make you think? Or want to think? Dean telegraphed Casey a savvy little glance, and in a flash I knew that they knew about me, about Cheryl, about and about my reputation as a borderline nutcase - He never really got over it, you know.
I'm used to this. I was furious but kept my cool. I said, "I think I'd like to close my account - convert to cash, if I could. Dean, could you help Mr. Klaasen close out his account? No questions? Klaasen, I have two daughters and I can barely think past next month's mortgage, let alone the year two billion one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine.
My hunch is that you'd be happier elsewhere. I'm not trying to get rid of you, but I think you know where I'm coming from. Klaasen's account.
Klaasen, I have to go. I decided to leave the serene, heavily bylawed streets of North Vancouver and drive to West Vancouver, down near the ocean. I asked if it was possible to rent a safety deposit box, which took all of three minutes to do. That box is where I'm going to place all of this, once it's finished. And here's the deal: If I hang around long enough, I might hand it to you in person. But for now, that's where this letter is headed.
Just so you know, I've been writing all of this in the cab of my truck, parked on Bellevue, down by Ambleside Beach, near the pier with all its bratty kids on rollerblades and the Vietnamese guys with their crab traps pursuing E. I'm using a pen embossed with "Travelodge" and I'm writing on the back of Les's pink invoice forms.
The wind is heating up - God, it feels nice on my face - and I feel, in the most SUV-commercial sense of the word, free. First off, Cheryl and I were married. No one knows that but me, and now you. It was insane, really. So when I suggested to Cheryl that we fly to Las Vegas and get hitched, she floored me when she said yes. It was an impulsive request I made after our math class saw an educational 16mm film about gambling. The movie was supposed to make high school students more enthusiastic about statistics.
I mean, what were these filmmakers thinking? And what was I thinking? Las Vegas? We flew down there one weekend and - I mean, we weren't even people then, we were so young and out of it. We were like baby chicks. We were like zygotes, little zygotes cabbing from the airport to Caesars Palace, and all I could think about was how hot and dry the air was. In any event, it seems like a billion years ago.
Around sunset, we got married, using our fake IDs. Our witness was a slob of a cabbie who drove us down the Strip. For the next six weeks my grades evaporated, sports became a nuisance, and my friends became ghosts. The only thing that counted was Cheryl, and because we kept the marriage secret, it was way better and more forbidden feeling than if we'd waited and done all the sensible stuff. There were some problems when we got home. This churchy group Cheryl and I were in, Youth Alive!
When I was in twelfth grade, Kent was in second year at the University of Alberta, but he was still a honcho, and I can only imagine the phone conversations he must have been having with the local Alive!
Were the lights on or off? Which lights? Did they order in pizza? What time did they leave? Separately or together? As if we hadn't noticed we were being spied on. Yet in fairness, the Alive!
We all were. Seventeen is nothing. You're still in the womb. Such a man may or may not be employed, but regardless, there is mystery there. If this man is with a dog, then that's good, because it means he's capable of forming relationships. But if the dog is a male dog, that's probably a bad sign, because it means the guy is likely a dog, too. A girl dog is much better, but if the guy is over thirty, any kind of dog is a bad sign regardless, because it means he's stopped trusting humans altogether.
In general, if nothing else, guys my age with dogs are going to be work. Then there's stubble: A guy writing something on a clipboard while facing the ocean at 3: But if he's writing real words, not just a job estimate or something business-y, then more likely than not this guy has something emotional going on, which could mean he has a soul.
Maybe you're generous and maybe you assume that everybody has a soul. I'm not so sure. I know that I have one, even though I'd like to reject my father's every tenet, and say I don't. But I do. It feels like a small glowing ember buried deep inside my guts. I also believe people can be born without souls; my father believes this, too, possibly the sole issue we agree upon.
I've never found a technical term for such a person - "monster" doesn't quite nail it - but I believe it to be true. That aside, I think you can safely say that a guy in West Vancouver facing the ocean writing stuff on a clipboard in the midafternoon has troubles.
If I've learned anything in twenty-nine years, it's that every human being you see in the course of a day has a problem that's sucking up at least 70 percent of his or her radar. My gift - bad choice of words - is that I can look at you, him, her, them, whoever, and tell right away what is keeping them awake at night: What surprises me about humanity is that in the end such a narrow range of plights defines our moral lives.
Joyce, my faithful white Lab, just bolted upright. What's up, girl, huh? Up is a Border collie with an orange tennis ball in his mouth: Brodie, Joyce's best friend.
Time for an interruption - she's giving me that look. For what it's worth, I think God is how you deal with everything that's out of your own control. It's as good a definition as any. And I have to Joyce, beside me on the bench seat, having chewed her tennis ball into fragments, is obviously wondering why we should be parked so close to a beach yet not be throwing sticks into the ocean. Joyce never runs out of energy. Joyce, honey, hang in there. Papa's a social blank with a liver like the Hindenburg, and he's embarrassed by how damaged he is and by how mediocre he turned out.
And yes, your moisteyed stare is a Ginsu knife slicing my heart in two like a beefsteak tomato - but I won't stop writing for a little while just yet. As you can see, I talk to dogs. All animals, really.
They're much more direct than people. I knew that even before the massacre. Most people think I'm a near mute. Cheryl did. I wish I were a dog. I wish I were any animal other than a human being, even a bug. Joyce, by the way, was rejected by the Seeing Eye program because she's too small. Should reincarnation exist, I'd very much like to come back as a Seeing Eye dog.
No finer calling exists. Joyce joined my life nearly a year ago, at the age of four months. I met her via this crone of a Lab breeder on Bowen Island whose dream kitchen I helped install. The dream kitchen was bait to tempt her Filipina housekeeper from fleeing to the big city. Joyce was the last of the litter, the gravest, saddest pup I'd ever seen.
She slept on my leather coat during the days and then spelunked into my armpits for warmth during breaks. That breeder was no dummy. After a few weeks she said, "Look, you two are in love. You do know that, don't you? She said, "I think you were meant for each other.
Come in on the weekend and put the double-pane windows in the TV room, and she's yours. A year ago today, I got a phone call from Barb, your mother, who had married my rock-solid brother, Kent, to much familial glee in I was driving home along the highway from a Hong Konger's home renovation at the top of the British Properties, and it was maybe six-ish, and I was wondering what bar to go to, whom to call, when the cell phone rang.
Remember, this was , and cell phones were a dollar-a-minute back then - hard to operate, too. Que pasa? Quitting time. Your mother, as you must well know by now, likes to control a situation. I asked, "How? No pain, no warning. No fear. But he's gone. On the day of the massacre, Cheryl arrived late to school.
We'd had words on the phone the night before, and when I looked out my chem class window and saw her Chevette pull into the student lot, I walked out of the classroom without asking permission.
I went to her locker and we had words, intense words over how we were going to tell the world about our marriage. A few people noticed us and later said we were having a huge blowout. We agreed to meet in the cafeteria at noon. Once this was settled, the rest of the morning was inconsequential. After the shootings, dozens of students and staff testified that I had seemed a preoccupied; b distant; and c as if I had something "really big" on my mind.
When the noon bell rang, I was in biology class, numb to the course material - numb because I'd discovered sex, so concentrating on anything else was hard.
The cafeteria was about as far away from the biology classroom as it was possible to be - three floors up, and located diagonally across the building. I stopped at my locker, threw my textbooks in like so much Burger King trash and was set to bolt for the caf, when Matt Gursky, this walking hairdo from Youth Alive!
I can't talk now. I'm in a hurry. One, two, three, go. The two of you. We know you've been having, or rather, you've been Making it. We've been watching. I'm big now, and I was big then. I took my left hand and clenched it around Matt's throat, my thumb on top of his voice box.
I lifted him off the buffed linoleum and cracked the back of his head on a locker's ventilation slits. I was maybe halfway across the middle floor when I heard sounds like popping fireworks, no big deal, because Halloween was coming up shortly.
And then I noticed two grade nine students running past me, and then, some seconds later, dozens of students stumbling over themselves. One girl I knew, Tracy, who took over my paper route from me back in , yelled at me there were three guys up in the cafeteria shooting students.
She fled, and I remembered the ship turning upside down in The Poseidon Adventure, and the looks on the actors' faces as they clued into the fact that the ship was flipping: The fire alarm went off. Against the human stream, I rounded a stairwell - one with a mural of Maui or some other paradiselike place.
The wall was pebble-finished and rubbed my right arm raw. At that point the alarm bell felt like crabs crawling on my head. At the top of the stairs Mr. Kroger, an English teacher, stood with Miss Harmon, the principal's assistant, both looking besieged; life doesn't prepare you for high school massacres. When I tried to pass, Mr. Kroger said, "You're not going up there. Kroger said, "Jason, leave.
It was raining. Oh, Jesus - he went down like a box of junk falling from a top cupboard. The shots from the caf continued. I ran toward the main foyer leading there. Bodies lay all around, like Halloween pumpkins smashed on the road on the morning of November first.
I slowed down. Only one of the foyer's front windows hadn't been blasted out, and sprinkler water was picking up patches of light reflected from the trophy cases and the ceiling's fluorescents. Lori Kemper ran past.
She was in the drama club and her arm was purple and was somehow no longer connected properly. On the linoleum was Layla Warner, not so lucky, in a disjointed heap by a trophy case. Two other students, equally bloody, ran by, and then there was this guy - Derek Something - lying in a red swirl of blood and sprinkler water, using his arms to drag himself away from the cafeteria doors.
He croaked, "Don't go in there. Inside the caf's glass doors I saw three of the school's younger loser gang wearing camouflage duck-hunting outfits. Two of them were arguing, pointing rifles at each other, while the third guy with a carbine looked on. Students were huddled under the banks of tables. If they were talking, I wasn't hearing anything, maybe because of the fire alarm and the sirens and helicopters outside.
Once I entered the main foyer, what I remember is the silence in spite of the noise. In my head it might just as well have been a snowy day in the country. I thought to myself, Well, a rifle's a rifle. You can't go in there unarmed. I scanned the immediate environment to find something, anything, I could use to kill a human being.
The answer was just outside one of the blown-out windows: I walked out the window hole and saw riflemen and ambulances and a woman with a megaphone. Up the hill were hundreds of students, watching the events from behind cars; I could see their legs poking from below. I grabbed a river rock the size of a cantaloupe - it weighed as much as a barbell - and walked into the cafeteria. One of the gunmen lay in a heap on the floor, dead.
I yelled to the guy standing over him, "Put that gun down. You have got to be. Then, in the best shot of my life, I estimated the distance between us, the mass of the rock, and the potential of my muscles. One, two, three, pitch, and the evil bastard was dead. Instantly dead, as I'd learn later. And then I saw Cheryl. The carnage of the room was only now registering, the dead, the wounded, the red lakes by the vending machines.
I climbed under a table and held Cheryl in my arms. I whispered her name over and over, but her gaze only met mine once, before her head fell back, her eyes on the third gunman, who had been captured beneath a large, heavy tabletop.
Students were now fighting each other for a place on top of the table, like people on the Berlin Wall in , and then they all began to jump in unison, crushing the body like a Christmas walnut, one, two, THREE; one, two, THREE; and the distance between the tabletop and the floor shrank with each jump until finally, as I held Cheryl in my arms, the students - unbeknownst to the forces of the law outside - might just as well have been squishing mud between the floor and table.
The air smells of mussel shoals, and Joyce and Brodie are in the low tide, chasing the long-suffering seagulls. The dogs seem able to amuse themselves without human intervention, which allows me to be expansive for a moment Okay, here's something which kind of ties into all this: It's of my father, Reg, making me kneel on the staticky living room rug.
I'd just been watching fireworks on the TV - it was the American bicentennial summer, , so I was five. I'd been changing channels and lingered a microsecond too long, a game show where a rhinestoned blond "temptress" was showcasing a fridge-freezer set about to be won or lost.
My mother peeked out the front window, turned around to me and said, "You know, dear, in the future, just think of an angel. When I first saw Cheryl, in ninth grade, it was obvious that she was the antenna who'd been receiving my prayers. You just know these things. And when she became religious, that was my confirmation. Sitting here on my log, I can feel women looking at me with the soul-seeking radar I once employed looking for my future wife.
It's younger soccer-mom types mostly, married, here on the beach on a workday, frazzled from handling over-sugared toddlers cranky from too much sun. There are some teenage girls, too, but being on the far side of my twenties, I'm pretty much invisible to them. A blessing and a curse. When I say I can feel women looking at me, I mean it in the sense of feeling hungry - you know you're hungry, but when you try to explain it, you can't.
And it's as if I feel the thought rays of these women passing through me. But that sounds wrong. Maybe it's just lust.
Maybe that's all it is. The concession stand is down the beach, not far from where I'm sitting: Cheryl worked there in her last summer. She really loved it because there were no Alive! I can see her point. That's assuming I even spoke to you, which I probably wouldn't have done, because I don't speak much.
Until they put a chip in my brain to force me to speak, I plan to remain quiet. If you'd met me just before the massacre, you'd have assumed I was statistically average, which I was. The only thing that made me different from most other people my age is that I was married. That's it. I suppose that, given my father and my older brother, it was inevitable that I be plunked into Youth Alive!
Individually its members could be okay, but with a group agenda, they could be goons. They, more than anything, are the reason I remained mute.
Dad was thrilled Kent was the local Alive! If they ever argued, it was over trivialities: Should a swimming pool used in rituals be the temperature of blood, or should it be as cold as possible, to add a dimension of discomfort? The answer: Why miss an opportunity for joylessness? Cheryl stayed for supper a few times at our house, and the meals were surprisingly uneventful.
I kept on waiting for Dad to pull back a curtain to reveal a witch-dunking device, but he and Cheryl got on well, I suspect because she was a good listener and knew better than to interrupt my father. I wonder if Dad saw in Cheryl the kind of girl he thinks he ought to have married someone who'd already been converted rather than someone he'd have to mold, and then psychologically torture, like my mother. After our marriage, we all had dinner together just once, before Kent went back to school in Alberta.
Kent and the Peeping Toms from Alive! If he had, it wouldn't have been with malice. It would have been Item Number 14 on the agenda, sandwiched between the need for more stacking chairs and the recitation of a letter from a starving waif in Dar es Salaam who received five bucks a month from the Klaasen family.
In any event, my father treated Cheryl and me more like children than adults, which felt patronizing to me. If he knew we were married, he'd treat us like man and woman instead of girl and boy. Because of that dinner, I knew I soon had soon to devise a way of announcing our marriage. I wanted a proper dinner in a restaurant, and Cheryl just wanted to phone a few people and leave it at that. It's not so much an apartment - it's more like a nest - but Joyce doesn't mind. I suppose, from a dog's perspective, a dirty apartment is far more interesting than one that's been heavily Windexed and vacuumed.
Do I keep the place dirty to scare people away? No, I keep it dirty because Reg was a neat freak cleanliness. The only person I'd ever allow in here would be Reg, if only to torment him with my uncleanness. But then nothing on earth would make me invite Reg into any home of mine.
My answering machine tells me I have seven new calls -no loser, me! Will I be there? Will I show up?
Yeah, sure, okay. I may be a disaster, but I'm not a write-off. Of course, I'll be needing something clean to wear, and it's too late to haul my shirt pile to the dry cleaners, so I'll have to iron a dirty shirt, which is dumb, because it permanently bakes the crud into the fabric.
I now have to go find the shirt, excavate the iron from under one of dozens of piles of crap, put water into it, and clear a spot on the floor to put the board up and - it's easier to write.
More about the massacre. There was some lag time between when the third gunman, Duncan Boyle, was downed and when kids started leaving the caf. Even the kids closest to the door took a while to make the connection between gunlessness and freedom. If anything, students gravitated toward their killers' corpses, I think to make a visual confirmation of death. The alarms were still blaring, and the sprinklers were still raining on us, and there were just so many kids dripping with both blood and water.
I was glued to Cheryl. My arms actually made suction noises when I moved them. I was covered in her blood. All of her friends had gone. When the mass exodus began from the caf, the authorities swooped in, in every conceivable form - police snipers, guys in balaclavas, firemen, ambulance workers - all too late.
They were taking photos, putting up colored tape, and everyone was screaming to turn off the alarms and the sprinklers, as they were not merely annoying, but were contaminating the crime scene.
For all I know, those sirens and sprinklers may still be on, as I've not returned to the building since that day. Another cop looked at me and said, "That's the guy. The first thing is how quickly they cool off, like dinner on a plate. Second, you keep waiting for their face to come back to life, their eyes to open. Even with Cheryl cooling in my arms, I didn't really believe she was dead.
So when an authority figure of proven uselessness told me to let go of the body of my wife, whose face I knew would reanimate momentarily, my reaction was to stick with my wife. Can't you see he's. You - get up. I held Cheryl close.