THE KINGS OF BRAN’S CAULDRON

BRIAN I: Robbing Graves

Brian held a cup of expensive coffee in one hand while the other was deep in his jacket pocket, toying with a business card. He sat on a leather-covered stool at the end of a long, marble-topped breakfast bar. He waited as his client scoured the brochure with an expression he’d seen a hundred times on a hundred faces. Too many details, the frown said, just give me an end product.
+++“Hmm,” she eventually sighed. “What if I wanted a Presley-Kidman cross? How much would that cost me?”
+++Brian gave his most professional smile. “Unfortunately, that can’t be achieved, Mrs Moore.”
+++She lifted the brochure and pointed at it. “But it says in here you can merge donors to produce … a Cross Child, is it?”
+++“A Cross Star, yes that’s true. But with the donors available from the Doppelganger packages, we’re working with DNA alone. What you get is an exact clone of the donor, Mrs Moore, regardless of whose sperm or ovum is used. Incorporating the Nicole Kidman package would be expensive and pointless. It’s all in the brochure.”
+++“I see.” She pursed her lips. “Maybe I’ll just stick with the Presley package, then.”
+++Brian felt his smile crack, and hid it behind a sip of coffee. “Ordinarily, Mrs Moore, that wouldn’t be a problem. But as I’ve already explained, all our Doppelgangers are presently off the market.”
+++“Oh, yes, I remember now.” She waved her hand apologetically. “Some legal wrangle, wasn’t it?”
+++“With the families of the DNA donors, yes; there’s a technicality in the contracts for image rights. We hope it’ll be cleared up soon, but until then …” Brian shrugged, and looked sheepish. “I’m sure you understand.”
+++“Yes. Yes, of course.” She returned to the list of names, and clicked her long fingernails on the marble top. “But Nicole Kidman is still an option?”
+++“Absolutely,” Brian assured her. “In fact, two thirds of our packages come from the Prime Time generation, so there are plenty more donors there. Perhaps you’d be interested in crossing with another star of the same era?”
+++Her eyes thoughtful, she ran a finger down a list of names in the brochure. “Perhaps Orlando Bloom,” she pondered. “But maybe not. I really want someone manlier, someone with a bit of bite … Is Russell Crowe available?”
+++Brian shook his head. “We do have a contract with Mr Crowe, but we won’t control his image rights until he, ah, passes on. Presently, he’s alive and well.”
+++“Really? He must be ancient.”
+++“Seventy-four, the last I heard.”
+++“That’s a shame.”
+++Brian gave a small cough, and sipped his coffee again. “There is a waiting list I could add your name to,” he suggested, “but there’s no guarantee as to how long you’d actually have to wait.”
+++She pursed her lips. “No, I don’t think so.”
+++“Well, Orlando Bloom is available. How about a Kidman-Bloom Cross Star?”
+++She raised an eyebrow, and then made a small noise of delight. “Yes. Yes, that’s growing on me,” she said. “How much and how soon?”
+++Brian snapped opened his briefcase. “Let me do some figures, and we’ll go from there.”

SOMEWHERE ELSE: Little Bastard

The sickly-sweet stench of burning meat was thick in the air.
+++At the apex of the road, where it curved and cut between two mountains, the wreckage sent plumes of black smoke into the sky. Fire crews worked hard to extinguish the flames, and police did their best to hold back a long line of traffic.
+++The sky had darkened to a rich red by the time the wreckage was safe to approach. The twisted tangle of charred metal was barely recognisable as the car it had once been. Nearby, another car, smashed but untouched by the fire, lay on its side, as the ambulance crew tended to the driver.
+++From a distance, Detective West lit a cigarette, and watched passively as Detective Bigman returned from the scene.
+++“Kit car,” Bigman said. “With a petrol engine, if you can believe it. That’s why it went up like it did. The driver’s burnt to shit.”
+++“You don’t say,” West said and gave the younger detective a baleful look. “What about the other car?”
+++“Regular electric. The driver’s got some cuts and bruises, and in mild shock, but apart from that, he’s okay. Damn lucky, if you ask me. The petrol car must’ve been doing a hundred when they hit.”
+++“Any ID on the dead guy?”
+++“Yep,” Bigman held up a clear plastic evidence bag, “what’s left of it.”
+++West took the bag and frowned. Inside was a shrivelled plastic card. The name and picture were melted away, and just the tail end of a barcode strip and insurance number remained.
+++“Look at the last three digits,” Bigman said.
+++RCM.”
+++“Clone.”
+++“I know what it means,” West grumbled. “But who was he?”
+++“I’ve been wondering that myself,” Bigman replied, “I mean … someone famous, you think?”
+++“I don’t give a shit,” West said. He flicked away his cigarette and it hit the ground with a shower of sparks. He looked at the melted ID card. “I’m more interested in where this fucking idiot got his hands on petrol.” He sighed, and gave the evidence bag back to his younger colleague. “I’ve seen enough, and I’m cold. Get a statement from the other guy. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

BRIAN II: Ball Games

By the time midday arrived, Brian was sitting in Mr Lom’s office, waiting patiently as his morning sales report was checked over.
+++It wasn’t often he received a summons to see the boss, but lately it seemed that he could do no wrong, and everyone wanted to pat him on the back.
+++“Another Prime Time sale,” Mr Lom murmured without looking up. “Impressive stuff once again, Brian.”
Brian didn’t reply, and Mr Lom continued.
+++“A Kidman-Bloom Cross Star – expensive, too.” Mr Lom read the report a little further, and then his brow furrowed heavily. “You say here that Mrs Moore enquired about a Doppelganger package.”
+++“That’s right – Elvis Presley.”
+++“But you explained about the image rights dispute?”
+++“Yes.”
+++“And how did she react?”
+++“She was more concerned that Russell Crowe wasn’t dead.”
+++“Good, good.” Mr Lom visibly relaxed, and for the first time since Brian entered the office, he smiled. “This really is excellent salesmanship, Brian,” he said, tapping the report. “Do you realise you’ve made more sales in the past two months than you made in the whole of last year?”
+++“Just a lucky streak.”
+++“Don’t be coy. Every sale like this improves the company image. We won’t have the monopoly on the market forever, Brian, and when the climate heats up, we’ll need salesmen like you to keep us ahead of the competition.”
+++“I suppose so.” Brian couldn’t keep a miserable edge from his tone.
+++“And I’m not the only one who appreciates your hard work,” Mr Lom continued, closing the report. “The company’s currently planning a new package: ‘Sweethearts’, we’re calling it.” He chuckled. “We’ve been getting more and more requests for Cross Stars from famous married couples, and who are we to disappoint the cream of society?” He chuckled again. “Oh, I know it’s just another fad, but you have to make the most of opportunities. Am I right?”
+++“Yes, of course.”
+++“The company wants the right man to head-up the project, and we’ve decided that man is you. We want you to be the first to take ‘Sweethearts’ door-to-door. Everyone’s agreed.”
+++“Okay,” Brian answered, slowly. He could think of nothing else to say.
+++“This is a brilliant opportunity to really establish yourself in the company, Brian. Perhaps even get a promotion. So I’m giving you a few days off to prepare. You’ve certainly earned them.”
+++“I’d rather keep working.”
+++“Why? Enjoy it while you can. There’s no point in running yourself into the ground. Get yourself fresh for the new challenge. Take Helen away for a few days, and that son of yours … Donald, right?”
+++“Right.”
+++“He must be, what, fifteen now?”
+++Brian noticed his boss’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Seventeen,” he said.
+++Seventeen …” Mr Lom gave a low whistle. “My son was a bastard at that age. Couldn’t tell him anything. He knew it all. I expect Donald’s giving you some of the same, eh?”
+++Brian shrugged, and sat back in his chair. “You know how teenagers are.”
+++Mr Lom’s smile faltered almost imperceptibly. “Yes … I do.”
+++In the awkward silence that followed, Brian unconsciously slipped a hand into his pocket and curled his fingers around the business card there.
+++When Mr Lom finally spoke, the smile had gone from his face completely.
+++“Brian, I needn’t remind you of the high standards we set at Bran’s Cauldron. We like you. You play ball and don’t complicate things. That’s the kind of attitude the company likes to encourage. So if any problems start hindering your … job satisfaction, you come to me first and we’ll sort it out together.” Lom leant forward for emphasis. “Any problems at all, if you know what I mean.”
+++“Thanks,” Brian replied. “I’ll bear it in mind.”
+++“Good.” Lom’s easy manner returned. “Well, I guess that’s everything. I’ll see you after the weekend.”

SOMEWHERE ELSE: Birthday Singer

Detective Grogan stood sipping tea from a Styrofoam cup, and watched as the forensic team busied themselves around the body lying face down and naked on the bed. The dead girl was a student, still in her teens. To Grogan, she looked comfortable somehow, with her cheek resting on a soft pillow, and her arms relaxed by her sides. She seemed peaceful, at rest, as if she could wake any moment from a deep sleep.
+++Someone nudged Grogan from behind, just as he was taking a sip of his drink, making him spill hot tea down his chin and shirt. Summoning his most baleful glare, he turned, wiping his chin with the back of his hand.
+++“Stop pissing about, Alice,” he growled.
+++“Only trying to raise a smile, chief,” Alice said. She then stopped grinning as she looked at the body on the bed. “God knows we need it sometimes.”
+++The girl was attractive, even in death. She had an hourglass figure, buxom and curvy; her hair was blonde, with only the beginnings of dark roots showing through.
+++“Such a shame,” Grogan whispered.
+++“I know,” Alice replied. “Why can’t I get a girlfriend like that?”
+++“Because you’re ugly,” Grogan retorted. “Now let’s have some respect for the dead, lass.” He cocked his head to one side, and narrowed his eyes. “Alice, no one’s messed around with the scene, have they? No one’s touched the body?”
+++“No. This is how she was found. Why?”
+++“The way she’s lying … If you’d just swallowed a whole bottle of sleeping pills, wouldn’t you be under the covers? Curled into a ball? Clutching at the sheets? Something more than just lying there so bloody … normally.”
+++“Who knows?” Alice replied. “I’ve never wanted to kill myself. What’s on your mind?”
+++“I’m not sure. But I get the feeling this has been staged.”
+++Alice shrugged. “Well, none of the neighbours report seeing or hearing anything. And the pills she took you can buy over the counter. The only unusual thing here is her NI number.”
+++“Yeah, how about that?” Grogan said. “RCF. Not the first one we’ve had, is it?”
+++“As far as I can see this is cut and dry, chief,” Alice said. “Just another suicide. And nothing’s going to change that just because she’s a clone. Why don’t we come back to it tomorrow? Let the forensic boys do their job, and see what they turn up.”
+++“Ah, you’re probably right, Alice,” Grogan said, and patted the young woman’s shoulder. “It’s been a long night. Come on, I’ll buy you supper.”

BRIAN III: Home Life

Parked beside a secluded phone booth, down a quiet country lane, Brian sat in his car, looking at the business card that had been living in his pocket. A few days ago it had been stiff and white, with sharp, crisp corners. Now it was frayed at the edges and sullied by grime from Brian’s fingers.
+++It carried the Bran’s Cauldron’s puerile logo; a cauldron from which a host of bright, pointed stars spilled out into the world. Beneath that, in pen, someone had scribbled a phone number and the words: Call me. Don’t use a company line! But there was no name.
+++With a tired sigh, Brian opened the car door. But just as he was getting out, the car phone rang. The display announced his wife as the caller, and Brian closed the door and sat back again. With the card still in his hand, he answered.
+++Immediately the small telecom screen on the dashboard showed Helen’s image. Her eyes were red from crying, and she sniffed and wiped her nose with a tissue.
+++Where are you?” she demanded.
+++“Working,” Brian replied.
+++Donald’s come home.”
+++“Did he tell you where he’s been this time?”
+++No. He said it wasn’t my business.” Helen sniffed again. “I need you to talk to him. Now. I can’t control him anymore.”
+++“Calm down.
+++He … He threatened me, Brian.”
+++Brian sighed. “Put him on.”
+++I can’t. He won’t come out of his room.”
+++“Right. I’ll talk to him tonight.”
+++And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?” Helen’s voice had taken a decidedly shrill turn. “He won’t listen to me, Brian.”
+++“Well, he obviously has things on his mind. Just give him some space for now.”
+++Oh, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Always taking the easy road.”
+++“Don’t start on me again, Helen.”
+++Brian, this is our son we’re talking about! Half the time we don’t know where he is, and when we do, he acts as if we’re his prison wardens. He doesn’t go to school, he hasn’t got any friends, and leaving him to stew in his own gloom isn’t going to help. I need you to come home – right now!”
+++“I’m at work, for Christ’s sake!” Brian snapped. “I can’t just take off whenever I feel like it!”
+++Bullshit, Brian! Since when has work been more important than family?”
+++“Hey! Without my job we’d have nothing. Work and family go hand-in-hand – you know that, Helen.”
+++Yeah, but it applies to you and me more than most, right?”
+++Helen’s words were like acid, and her face burned from the screen. Brian closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
+++“Look …”
+++Helen hung up.
+++Staring at the darkened telecom screen even after the call end symbol stopped flashing, Brian suddenly realised he’d been crushing the business card in a clenched fist. He looked out at the phone booth, standing innocently against a backdrop of trees and hedgerows, fields and crops, and a clear blue sky. Brian left the car, his fist still clenched.

SOMEWHERE ELSE: Bohemian Royalty

Bomi spent all day making his apartment look perfect. The smell of cleaners and polish was heavy in the air; all exposed surfaces were free of dust and grime. He put his favourite patchwork Picasso quilt, with matching pillowcases, on his bed, and then he washed and ironed the dark red velvet drapes for the lounge. He rearranged his furniture according to the rules of the old feng shui craze. Finally, Bomi carefully chose a few books to place on show upon his grand piano; books that added a selective insight into the kind of person might be.
+++By the time Mr X arrived, everything was just how he wanted it.
+++Bomi opened the door with a smile he hoped projected a relaxed and welcoming manner. “I’m so glad you came,” he said to the young man outside. “Please, come in.”
+++Mr X hesitated, his eyes nervously gazing back along the corridor. “Just what we agreed, right? Nothing more?”
+++“Of course,” Bomi replied, smoothly. “I’m a man of my word.”
+++Mr X stepped in and his host closed the door behind him.
+++“Take a seat,” Bomi said, ushering his visitor into the lounge. “Can I get you a drink?”
+++Mr X remained standing and shook his head. “No.” His gaze was still nervous as he glanced over the lounge, apparently unimpressed. “Can we just get this done? I’d rather not hang around, if you know what I mean.”
+++“Certainly.” Bomi hid his disappointment. “You had no trouble getting the virus, I take it? You are infected?”
+++“Yes. As of this morning.”
+++“Good. How do you feel?”
+++“Like I want to pass it on and get uninfected as soon as.”
+++Bomi smiled tightly. “I quite understand.” He turned away from his guest, and looked out of the window, down onto the river outside. “Why don’t you go through to the bedroom and wait for me there?”
+++Mr X didn’t move from the spot.
+++“Is something wrong?” Bomi asked, still gazing through the window.
+++“I don’t care why you’re doing this, I just don’t want it coming back at me. If I get caught, I’ll be in a whole world of trouble.”
+++“You and me both.” Turning from the window, Bomi smiled reassuringly. “You needn’t worry. Tonight, we’ll have our little moment, you will leave, and if I’m infected the remaining funds will be transferred as promised. I have no further interest in you.”
+++Mr X nodded, and then licked his lips. “I … I’m not really gay, you know. I just need the money bad.”
+++“And that’s why we’re of mutual benefit to each other.” Bomi returned to looking at the river scene. “But as you say, the sooner we get this done, the sooner you can get back to your normal life. You’ll find fresh towels in the bathroom if you want to shower first.”

BRIAN IV: Airwaves

“Hello?”
+++Who is this?”
+++“… I think you left your card on my windscreen last week.”
+++Brian! I was beginning to think you wouldn’t call.”
+++“Well, I have.”
+++Yes, and thank you for not using a company line. I apologise for not transmitting an image. It’s better if you don’t know who I am. What’s that noise?”
+++“Nothing – just some kids on bikes. What do you want?”
+++Are you sure no one can hear you?”
+++“Yes. Now tell me.”
+++Let me ask you a question. How’s your sales quota been since the company pulled the Doppelganger packages?”
+++“What?”
+++I hear it’s never been better.”
+++“So …?”
+++Ever feel like someone’s trying to keep you sweet?”
+++“Why don’t you get to the point?”
+++The Doppelgangers, Brian. Why do you think Bran’s Cauldron pulled the clones? And don’t give me the official company spiel, either. I’ve been over those image rights contracts myself, and there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re watertight … Brian …? Brian, are you still there?”
+++“Yes … yes, I’m here. I don’t know. Tell me.”
+++There’s a delicate situation brewing, but then, I think you already have your own suspicions, right …? What I’m about to tell you is for your benefit only. What you do with it afterwards is up to you. Now, are you sure you’re alone? I can still hear noises.”
+++“There’s a tractor in a field … there’s … no one. I’m alone, okay?”
+++Okay. In my position I get to put my finger into just about every pie that comes through the legal department. There is a problem with the Doppelganger packages, but the image rights dispute is the company’s way of covering up a much bigger problem. There’s trouble with certain DNA donors, those who had, well, a less than agreeable end to life. Ring any bells so far?”
+++“I … I’m not sure I follow.”
+++The clones from these donors have inherited some genetic meme. Consciously they aren’t aware of it, but deep down they know they died before their time. Somewhere around puberty, the clones slip into a routine that ultimately emulates how the biological original died.
+++They’re killing themselves, Brian, and it’s started to happen all over the world.”
+++“No. If that were the case, the company would issue a warning. They’d put out some kind of alert, not cover the problem up.”
+++You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But they don’t have to. You see, technically, clones are nothing more than a product. Jesus, even cattle have more rights.”
+++“That’s not true! They’re normal people with human rights.”
+++Morally, yes. Legally, very much no. If you’ve ever seen a clone’s National Insurance card, you’ll know what I mean: Registered Clone Male; Registered Clone Female … never once has a clone been regarded as a normal person, Brian. Trust me, if Bran’s Cauldron has its way, they won’t be liable for much more than store credit.”
+++“I don’t believe you.”
+++Yes, you do. I can hear it in your voice. And I don’t blame you for being scared.
+++“So, what? The company has to be doing something about it?”
+++Oh, they’re doing something all right. Bran’s Cauldron has compiled a very thick dossier on every client who purchased a potentially faulty Doppelganger package. They intend to address every case quietly and individually. If a client believes they’re in a unique situation – while receiving a nice fat cheque – then the company avoids media-hyped lawsuits, and can carry on with their good name intact.
+++“Then … then the company has itself covered. I don’t see why you’re telling me.”
+++Because, Brian … because if a client got wind of the bigger picture, and issued a formal complaint – made a real public song and dance out of the situation – the company would have no choice but to admit their liability. It would let others know they’re not alone, and, to be honest, Bran’s Cauldron would be fucked.
+++But it’s an academic point unless the right person has the balls to lodge a complaint with as much noise as they can make … Are you okay, Brian? You’re breathing fast.
+++“I don’t understand … what am I to you?”
+++Just a fellow grave robber … I guess I feel sorry for you, for all you salesmen. I bet none of you could believe your luck when the company offered you and your wives a free package of choice. The most desirable product on earth, yours for nothing! It must’ve been hard selecting the perfect Star Child from all those options.”
+++“I … I …”
+++It’s all right, Brian. I understand it’s good policy for salesmen to use the product they’re endorsing. But do you ever wonder how different life would be if you’d said no?”
+++“What? I don’t know … please …”
+++It could be worse, you know. Put yourself in the shoes of a company boss. How would you feel if you noticed that in amongst all the clients connected with suicidal clones, one name belonged to a work colleague – a salesman, say? What would you do? If it was me, I think I’d sweeten him up by slipping him all the easy leads, the dead-cert clients. Maybe transform him from Average Joe to Top Dog Salesman in just a couple of months.”
+++“Fuck you!”
+++Sorry, Brian, I forgot to ask. Which package did you and your wife go for? Brian …? Brian, are you there?”

SOMEWHERE ELSE: Bagist in the Rye

“Are you fucking stupid?” David asked.
+++“Not at all,” the kid replied. “There must be some driving force behind what you’re doing. So I ask again. Is it that you don’t want to fit in, or simply that others won’t allow you into their groups?”
+++With his gun still trained on the youngster, David wondered if he was being set up here. He checked up and down the alleyway, but couldn’t see anything suspicious. “I don’t know what gay-boy college you come from, mate, but when someone sticks a gun in your face, he’s not after a conversation.”
+++“Oh, I’m not that naïve,” the kid said. “I know what’s going on here. I’m just curious, that’s all.”
+++David paused for a second, and then shook his head. “You want to know if I have a driving force?” He chuckled coldly. “Yeah, it’s like a voice in my head. Right now it’s telling me if I don’t get a fix, I’ll be screaming the walls down in my bed-sit tonight. It’s telling me I’ll believe rats and cockroaches are eating me alive. It’s telling me you’re made of money, and, whatever happens, you will give me your fucking wallet, even if I have to pump your face full of bullets. Get it?”
+++To David’s bemusement, the kid’s expression seemed to register pleasure at his words, and almost looked understanding.
+++He must be on something, David decided.
+++“It makes perfect sense now,” the kid said. “Drug addiction is one of the loneliest cliques a man can belong to. It’s only fully appreciated by other junkies. Different social groups find it hard to understand and accept, as with any other prejudice.”
+++David cocked his gun and took a step closer. “I’m not fucking joking! Give me your wallet.”
+++“I have no wallet to give you,” the kid replied. “So I guess I’m in a bit of a predicament.”
+++“Empty your pockets – on the floor. Now!”
+++“No.”
+++The kid went down easily under the butt of David’s gun. Looking up from the floor, he met David’s eyes expectantly, blood creeping down his face and matting his hair. “I suppose this is it, then,” he whispered.
+++Continuing to glance down the alleyway, David shuffled nervously from foot-to-foot. The shakes were beginning now, and this wasn’t helping. “What’s fucking wrong with you?” he snarled through gritted teeth. “Just give me what you’ve got.”
+++Very calmly, the kid replied, “I’ve heard it said that every person can intellectualise the differences between us all. But at the same time that we never truly learn to accept them. Don’t you think that’s a shame?”
+++“You need to stop talking, mate, and start emptying your pockets.”
+++“I can’t,” the kid said, amiably, almost kindly. “I don’t fit into your clique, or anyone else’s. I have my own driving force. And to be honest, it’s much more interesting than taking orders from a junky who’ll probably be dead by the end of the year, anyway.”
+++The crack of David’s gun echoed down the alleyway.

BRIAN V: Defending the Castle

When Brian got home it was late, and the house was dark. He poured himself a large scotch, and shrugged off his coat, leaving it where it fell on the floor. From somewhere upstairs, he could hear the muffled sound of music.
+++“Have you heard the news?”
+++Brian wheeled around, and saw his wife was sitting on the sofa, waiting in darkness.
+++“Helen,” he said. “What’re you talking about?”
+++“The news,” she replied. “Russell Crowe died tonight.”
+++Brian couldn’t stop a sour chuckle escaping his lips, and he switched on a lamp in the corner of the room. “Want a drink?” he asked.
+++Helen shook her head and squinted against the sudden brightness. It was clear she had been crying. “I called the office,” she said. “Apparently, you’re on holiday. Why didn’t you come home?”
+++“I’ve been thinking.” With his drink in hand, Brian sat down on a footrest in front of the sofa and faced his wife. He took a long swallow of scotch and sighed. “Do you ever regret not having our own baby – you know, naturally?”
+++“We’ve been over this,” Helen said. “We can’t change what’s already happened.”
+++“I know. But do you blame me? Do you think I never really gave you a choice? I’ve been wondering, you see. About … about …”
+++Helen leant forward and placed a hand on her husband’s cheek. “I don’t regret anything, Brian, but we need to start dealing with this. Together. You’ve been so distant recently, and I can’t do it on my own.”
+++“I know. I know. How is he?”
+++Helen let her hand drop, and was clearly holding back more tears. “He’s been in his room on his computer all day. I haven’t seen him since we spoke on the phone.”
+++“I’ll go up and talk to him.”
+++“We need more than that, Brian. I think it’s time we considered a shrink. He needs professional help.”
+++A knot of hatred cramped Brian’s insides, and his fingers whitened as he tightened his grip on the glass. “It might be too late for that,” he said, and took another swallow of scotch, his hands shaking.
+++“What’s wrong?”
+++“The company knows what’s going on, Helen. Donald’s not the only one.”
+++“What?”
+++“I spoke to someone today—”
+++Brian flinched as a noise like thunder erupted from upstairs. It seemed to echo for a long time before fading into silence.
+++He and Helen stared at each other.

SOMEWHERE ELSE: Teen Spirit

Donald’s bedroom was a typical teenager’s pit. It wasn’t too small, but size wasn’t really important; somehow, no matter how big it might be, the room would never have held quite enough space. There were posters on the wall, a few books haphazardly on shelves, and dirty clothes strewn across the floor and on an unmade bed. Here and there, food-caked plates were piled one upon the other, and mugs, half-filled with old drinks, made dirty rings on the dresser and side tables.
+++A computer sat on a desk, a computer filled with music and movies. The monitor was alive with the images of a band playing to a rioting audience. The song was heavy and familiar, the type of music that could so easily form the soundtrack for a summer.
+++Donald was slumped before his computer. His sandy hair was matted with blood. The back of his head was mostly missing. Where once his face had held haunted yet angelic features, it was now burned and bruised, ripped, torn. Eyes that had never ceased demanding answers had finally stopped looking for questions.
Donald’s arm dangled by his side, dead fingers mere inches from a smoking shotgun lying on the floor.
+++The door to the bedroom opened abruptly, disturbing the blue-grey mist that hung in the air. Donald’s father rushed in but stopped short, his hand still clutching the door handle. He saw the gore on the carpet, the red spray on the walls and posters. Donald’s father cocked his head to one side as he looked from the shotgun on the floor to the ruin of his son’s head.
+++Donald’s father made a guttural sound, unintelligible, but understood clearly enough by his wife as she ran up the stairs behind him.
+++“Brian, what’s happened?” Her voice was breathy, hoarse.
+++“Don’t come in.” His tone was flat, detached.
+++“Tell me what’s happened!” Desperation now. “Let me see!”
+++“Helen … no …”
+++But Donald’s father made no real effort to spare his wife from the images of her dead son. He didn’t even attempt to close the door. Donald’s mother choked. She held a hand to her mouth. She collapsed, falling backwards, landing heavily in a sitting position outside the bedroom. And there she wrapped her arms around her stomach and wailed.
+++Donald’s father dropped to his knees, but he didn’t let go of the door handle.
+++And on the computer screen, the audience’s appreciation reached a climax, and the band played on with a soundtrack for a summer.