Daniel Cunningham

The Crowd Below

He was almost at the top of the tall vertical ladder that leveled out onto a small walkway around the base of the water tank. It had taken him two trips to get everything up on the platform. Some concerned citizens had already begun scrambling up the streets to see what all the commotion had been. There was already some standing at the fence that blocked in the tower, looking on at the man climbing up.
The man had brought with him several rounds of ammunition for his rifle and figured if the townsfolk stood down there long enough, they still wouldn’t understand what he was doing, even when he started to fire at them. They were that dumb. The truth was, he had hated them even before he’d started to go crazy. Maybe they had helped drive him crazy; him being forced to bare the unimaginable dread of having to put up with the ignorant way they carried themselves in everything they said and did. It was the collective blinks of their eyes when he told a joke that didn’t have a fart or a racial slur in it, their inability to hold a conversation that didn’t involve God or Nascar. Why shouldn’t he contribute his madness to them?
Well, for one thing, he knew better. He knew exactly what had driven him (or was driving him) mad. Secondly, not everyone in the community was abhorrently undereducated. When his rampage had begun, one of the first people he had killed had been his neighbor Jim Authors. Jim was a well-learned and beloved member of the township. He had taught English at the local high school and helped coach the baseball team as well. Many nights the two neighbors had sat on either one’s front porch and shared a six-pack. They would talk about politics or history or literature or family and these conversations served as intellectual refreshment for them both. Jim was one of the few people around that could challenge him mentally. He had always admired Jim and even though shooting him had been no problem, it still wasn’t high up on his list of things he’d wanted to do today.
Then again, in the last few days he had done several things that weren’t on the “to do” list. Many of which were way further down the docket than killing Jim Authors.
He had been hurriedly packing some provisions into the bed of his truck and trying to ignore the growing pain in his leg when Jim had strolled up quietly behind him. Jim was reaching out for his shoulder when Harrell (the man in the tower) had caught his reflection in the rear window.
Harrell hadn’t hesitated. At this point his plan had been solidified and nothing was going to stop him. He knew that Jim had to have heard the gunshots and was now coming to investigate. Harrell wasn’t going to be halted or hindered. He had already gone over the edge. There was no stopping now.
He drew his small handgun from its holster and with the speed of a snake and the accuracy of a hawk had stabbed the muzzle, pointing upward, under Jims chin, snapping Jim’s open mouth shut with a muffled bang and an eruption of gore. Bits of brain and tissue rained upon the ground with a sickening, chunky sound. Like pouring a soup can onto concrete. Some had got on him but he was not concerned. Getting bloody was going to be an acceptable nuisance. After Jim had slumped to the ground Harrell had stared into the sky for several seconds as if he was unwilling to look at what he had done. Then something forced him to move. Something worse than any of the nightmares he had been party to in the last three days.
Now, as he sat winded and wheezing upon the highest ledge of the town’s giant water tower, he was staring at the sky again. He was completely covered in blood. Some of it was his but most of it belonged to various neighbors and acquaintances.
His rampage had taken him into the heart of town where he had laid siege to the general store and ransacked the pawnshop next door for guns and ammunition. There would be some resistance from the locals.
There were a few people strolling the town square and they had instantly converged on his truck as it approached. He jerked his truck to a halt directly in front of the strip that housed both destinations and began firing the moment he’d stepped out. There was no one in the general store as he grabbed bandages and water but by the time he was leaving a few townsfolk had entered behind him, aiming to block Harrell in. There was a vicious fight, during which the one cop that was roaming the streets of town-square had wounded him. After the smoke settled and he was the only one left standing he made his way to the pawnshop. He made short work of gathering what he needed in there. He knew more people would be showing up. Probably a couple more cops as well…not that that mattered, the cops of this town had no authority anymore. They would try to kill him on sight and he didn’t care. He wasn’t scared. Everyone that had been within earshot would probably be on his or her way. That was part of his plan.
Make a scene. He wanted his last few hours to be a spectacle. He wanted an event that was worth writing a song about. He wanted every able-bodied member of his community to bare witness to the end times with him. He wanted an audience worthy of his blood-lust,even if there were no one around who’d appreciate it with him.
He looked out to admire the view. Being this high up meant he had a great range of visibility. He could see the heart of town. It felt strange knowing what horrors had befallen those streets. There was smoke rising here and there. He could see flames licking out of the courthouse windows. He hadn’t noticed it was on fire when he was “shopping”. He wondered how it had started. His sister used to work in that building.
As he looked down he could see that a few more people were clambering up the hill and a small congregation was already amassed at the fence, lining it and looking up at him. He noticed a few more police had begun to arrive, mixed in with the shuffling crowd.
The pain from his wound was beginning to flare up now that his adrenaline was wearing down. He washed and cleaned it with great pain. After dressing it he fell back against the tanks outer wall. He couldn’t see the crowd…and they couldn’t see him. Even if there were a sniper somewhere, they’d have a hard time getting a shot. They probably wouldn’t be aiming for him anyways. There was whisky he’d brought up with him to help with the pain of his old wound, an injury he had suffered the day before.
It was smaller than the wound he got from the cop but it was much more painful. It was on his left leg just above the knee and it hurt so bad that when he had spun around to shoot Jim Authors, the pain almost took him off his feet. It had been pinging him every step of the way when he was in town and having to climb the water tower ladder twice hadn’t done it any favors either. Harrell could see that it had begun to bleed again and a dark patch of burgundy covered the center of the dressing. He pulled deeply from the whisky bottle and placed it down next to the food he’d brought up. His plan didn’t call for him to be alive long but he brought up enough food to last for days.
Then he began loading the guns. Every now and then he would peer over the scaffold. The crowd was growing. He could hear their voices. In the mass, he eventually began to see familiar faces. He made out Sidney Carol from his work. She had always been an unrelenting nuisance to him and he decided he would aim for her first. Then he saw Kevin from down the street and Mark from the pizza shop and Erin and Ellen who apparently just couldn’t be separated for anything. It was a small town and he recognized more and more faces every time he looked down. There was a deputy pushing against the gate. There were a few citizens helping. He could hear the fence rattling below him.
He wondered if he should make a speech and decided against it. He was so high up and out of breath that they probably wouldn’t hear him anyway. Not that it would have mattered in the slightest what he had to say. They were all just too dumb to understand him. He thumbed the last round into a magazine and slapped it into the pistol’s well. Looking up he saw that there were still no planes or helicopters. He had seen one plane on the second day but it was so high up that he knew it wasn’t there to help. It was there to observe. Help wasn’t coming for him.
He placed the handgun beside him and picked up the scoped hunting rifle. It was a five shot so he needed to place the rounds well. He had plenty of ammo but wasn’t about to waste his time with franticly fired shots. He was going to do this right. One shot, should mean one kill. They probably wouldn’t even scatter. They were just that dumb.
He drew in a deep breath as he found Sidney in the crowd. It didn’t take long and he didn’t hesitate as soon as he had.
The recoil was soft and the crackle of the barrel was low. There was plenty of space to absorb the sound as it rolled over the land. The bullet met its’ mark and old Sidney Carol would never cheat Harrell out of overtime again. She fell to the ground and the people around her didn’t even notice. Before he knew it, he had fired all five rounds and there were four bodies lying on the ground. He reloaded and started again.
He went on like this for quite sometime and all the while more people were heading in, from all directions now. Some had come out from the woods that lie behind the tower. He started aiming for farther targets, like the folks walking up the street. He could see a good half-mile or so down that street and he had enjoyed challenging himself. Why shouldn’t he now?
It didn’t take but a few shots before he realized he would be wasting a lot of ammo. He had never been a marksman. He wasn’t the worst shot in the world but exhaustion and pain weighed heavily on his accuracy. He returned his focus on the horde below. But as he shifted his sights he saw something, someone he hadn’t wished to see on this day. Someone he had prayed, to a God he’d never talked to (until three days prior), that he wouldn’t see on this day; The day to end all days.
It was his daughter, just as he had left her the day before. Still with that wild look in her eyes and lashing up at him, she was making her way inside the gate amongst the crowd. She still had blood on her face, though it was browned and dry. Probably the same blood that had poured from her father as she’d bit his leg, hard as a little ten year old girl could bite, the day prior. He had already shot his wife and he just couldn’t bring himself to shoot her. Even though she had bit him. He had held her at bay for minutes on end and wept and pleaded heeding not the bleeding hole in his leg. Eventually he gave up and pushed her hard enough that she toppled over and he made a safe exit from the room before she could stagger back to her feet and attack again. He wasn’t feeling the leg wound yet as he gathered the final handful of gear to throw in the truck bed. But he had felt it when he'd spun to shoot Jim Authors. As Harrell had stood there looking up he had heard his daughter come growling out of the front door and that’s when he had left, quickly, for town. He had hoped the last time he would see her was then, in the rear view mirror of his truck as he sped away. Seeing her in the crowd below broke the small morsel of spirit and sanity he had left.
Now, here she was in the crosshairs of his scope as she lurked below him. And he still didn’t have the nerve to shoot. He moved on to someone else as tears stung his eyes and rolled down his face,
The cop and his cronies at the gate finally broke through and charged the tower. If they started to climb up, he would wait until they were close to the top before he started firing down the ladder-well…give the mob a false hope.Were they capable of hope? Or were they too dumb?
Harrell knew they wouldn’t climb up though. They were too dumb to use ladders. Right? He shot unabridged now.
Some people began making their way to the opened gate while others just stared up and rattled the fence. Their gnarled expressions projected malice. A swarm had soon collected at the foot of the ladder. As he’d expected they stood in frustration at the base and stretched their arms upwards, not one thought to climb. They hissed and snarled and shoved against each other. They soon would be a sea of swaying bodies. And judging from how Harrell was beginning to feel, he knew he’d be part of that gang soon enough.
He wasn’t going to kill himself. He had even contemplated heading back down and wading into his daughters open arms and hungry mouth. If there was one more thing he could do for her in life it was that. He couldn’t shoot her. He couldn’t.
No, he wasn’t going to kill himself. He was going to die as naturally as one can in cases like this. He’d get back up a little while later and probably stumble off the catwalk. He would be too dumb not to.


All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Daniel Cunningham.
Published on e-Stories.org on 07/08/2012.


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