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A journalist interviews the perpetrator of a mass shooting, hoping to find answers.

Midori Caine
5.0 4 reviews
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Chapter 0

It was an overcast day, typical of when Autumn slowly fades into Winter. Brahms Prison was almost an aberration that loomed on the endless acres that sloped into the sky. Trent Butler entered the prison a little before eleven and was struck by how grey everything seemed. It was as though all colours had been deliberately desaturated as soon as he crossed the threshold. The guards greeted him, made small talk, and did their bit with the metal detector. When he was waved in, a burly man who introduced himself as Kowalski accompanied him past rows of cells. Prisoners glanced at him, as though he were no different to the guards, but not one offered any disparaging remarks.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” said Kowalski.

Trent was caught off-guard. “Huh?”

“Chanthavong. She’s a fucking nutjob.”

“I know. I’m not trying to glorify her or anything.”

“Coulda fooled me. She’s getting off on the attention, you know. She never really talks, other than yes or no. Usually sounds like she’s gonna cry. But she’s had that shit-eating grin on her face for a week now.”

“I just wanna find answers.”

Kowalski stopped and turned to him. His face could have been carved from stone.

“You know, that day, my brother was at the mall. He left an hour before it went down, but I think about it every time I see her face. The fact she feels validated by this is beyond fucked up.”

Trent looked away. He felt his face flush pink and hated himself for it.

“I know. I knew people too. I just want..” he said, hoping the words would form but they wouldn’t.

“Yeah, yeah.”

A few turns after, and Kowalski opened the heavy door that led to a long room where their footsteps echoed past rows of tables and chairs.

“Sit down. We’ll go get her,” said Kowalski.

He left swiftly, and Trent waited until the door closed before picking a place to sit. He chose a grubby table in the furthest corner which has a barred window offering a view into the courtyard. Excuses to leave flooded his mind, as he began to feel trapped. Sighing, he pulled out his recorder and set it on the table.

“This is gonna be something else,” he remarked to no one.

He sat there for some time, until the door opened once more. Kowalski and another guard remained, as she entered. Her dark eyes scanned the room until they found Trent, and a small smile crossed her face as she approached him. She sat down, shuffling in her seat until she was comfortable. Her raven hair was long and spilled over her shoulders, and it contrasted with the dull orange of her prison uniform. As he turned on the recorder, her eyes bore into him, as though she were figuring him out before he could even speak.

“This is Trent Butler of the Daily Inquisitor, the date being Friday, the seventh of September 2001. I am interviewing Stephanie Chanthavong. Would you say hello, Stephanie?” he began, his voice professional as always.

“Hi,” she said.

He fished out a notebook from his bag. “I guess, we get right into it.”

She snatched at the notebook, her eyes scanning each question, before looking back at him. Her face was blank, and the only colour was the rash of acne on her right cheek. A chuckle escaped her lips.

“What is this,” she asked.

He frowned. “Questions.”

“These questions are awful. Next, you’ll be asking me my favourite colour.”

“They’re pretty standard questions.”

“Do you want to do this right? I’ll begin. I was born in Brahms to-”

He shook his head. “Our readers wanna know why you did this.”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you. But we’re going to do this right. This isn’t some New York Post dogshit. I really want my story heard.”

“This isn’t about your story. It’s about why.”

The trace of a smile dissolved, and her face looked almost mechanical. Abruptly, she stood and marched to the exit.

“Stephanie,” he protested.

“No. We do this the right way or not at all,” she fired back.

She banged on the door repeatedly, as he leapt from his seat and held up his notebook.

“Look,” he said, waving it before casting it aside, “we’ll do this your way. Fine. You tell your story, and I’ll get my article. Deal?”

She stopped and looked back at him. “I will end this interview. Be warned.”

She slowly made her way back to her seat, eyeing him the whole time. A knot tightened within him, as he tried to think of questions to ask.

“So, tell me about your childhood,” he began.

The mechanical mask faded, and the small smile returned. He felt an odd rush of gratitude as she spoke.

“I was born here in Brahms. My parents split when I was two, and I lived with my mother thereafter. I never saw my Dad again.”

He leaned forwards. “Do you think that had an influence?”

“Absolutely not. I don’t miss what I never had. Honestly, my childhood was fine. Before I knew anything, honestly, I think that’s when we’re at our happiest.”

He briefly glanced outside, and she tilted her head.

“You disagree?” she asked.

“It’s not a universal view,” he replied.


“Tell me more about your childhood.”

"Was your Dad abusive? Mom didn’t care? Brother kick your ass?”

His legs crossed under the table as he found it very difficult to make eye contact.

“Just talk about yourself. I’m not the one being interviewed,” he said.

She briefly considered asking him again but decided against it. Seeing his cheeks flush red was enough.

“You had a website, am I correct?” he asked.

“Skipping ahead, are we?” she smiled.

“Well, I read your works. Your short stories are actually pretty good. You also mentioned in a blog post that you were working on a novel?”

Her eyes bulged briefly, and she sat up straight before answering. It was like 1996 again, and she was just another random writer from his university days.

“Oh wow, which did you read? What was your favourite? Did you enjoy the themes?”

"Wound Like a Smile really stood out to me. The protagonist fighting back against her bullies. Using her body as a weapon, as opposed as a playground for her tormentors? Honestly something else.”

“That’s my favourite. It began as a poem, you know?”

“What inspired it?”

“I guess it was about this absolute bitch I went to middle school with. She was a queen bee, and she was always surrounded by these bottom feeders who laughed at everything she said, you know? She was always calling me ugly. Going on about my skin. The part in the story where Mary rips the face off Regina was something I used to fantasize about.”

He began messing with a hank of his hair. “I, uh, used to write short stories. Some of them revenge, but yeah, probably the worst was caving in this guy’s face. Your words ‘bottom feeder’, yeah, he was one of those. Kissed ass to the popular kids.”

“It’s satisfying, huh?”

He shrugged, “I just wish he’d have left me alone, to be honest.”

To this, her expression hardened. He began to rub his left wrist.

“Your novel. You still working on it?” he asked.

“Yeah, they let me have pencils and paper. I have around a thousand pages in my cell. It’s about a mass shooting inspired by what happened in Columbine. I just finished a chapter where they shoot up the cafeteria and...” she broke off, as Trent struggled to return her gaze. “What? This is interesting,” she protested.

“You hoping to get it published?” he managed, forcing himself to meet her eyes.

“Of course. Publishers would be crazy not to. I can get you a copy if you want.”


He adjusted, hoping his next question would keep the interview going. His mind’s eye saw a bluebird ready to take off if he made one wrong movement.

“How was your time at school? You wanna talk about that?”

“Sure,” she said, weighting her words carefully, “it was a transitional time. I wasn’t really bullied, outside of the things they said, but certain people didn’t make things easier on me. I had bad skin, I was really skinny, I looked like a doll. Funny, because most people now like that about me. You should read the letters I get.”

“What did you excel at? You had a favourite subject?”

“English. I loved writing stories. Shocker, I know. I loved creating these worlds where I decided on everything. No nasty surprises, unless I decided there would be. Teachers loved my works, but they never asked about them. Pretty funny considering what the news reports have been saying.”

He thought of the various reports he had seen. Certain stories of hers were dug up by journalists trying to tie them into her taste in literature and video games and anything that generated a headline.

“I saw that Stray Bullet was popular,” he said.

“Yes. They all fell over themselves when they found out it was named after a KMFDM song.”

“I knew it. Had a feeling it was. They’re a good band.”

They both leaned forward, once again meeting in the middle.

“I know, right? I had Angst on repeat for like a whole month.”

“I always loved that record, but I lean closer to the album Stray Bullet came from.”

She gave a huge smile. “You know, Eric Harris was a huge fan of that album.”

The brief warmth was extinguished. He shifted back, hoping she wouldn’t notice.

“You want to know if he was an influence, right?” she asked.

“There has been talk, with that TIME magazine spread. You were pretty evasive on the matter.”

She laughed, and it was a hollow sound. Almost spiteful, like a child laughing at the misfortune of another. He waited, as she dragged out each moment. Annoyance began to sting him, but he kept calm as she spoke.

“Well, it began out of curiosity. Maybe it was their writings, or the aesthetics, but it just spoke to me. All of it.”

“What spoke to you?”

“Their letters, their videos. They even had the same taste in music as me. I don’t think I ever could have gotten into their vibe if it wasn’t for all of the articles and tv shows about them. I know more about them than my parents know about me. But yeah, it was all academic-like at first, but I started to identify with them.”

“How did you identify with them?”

“They saw the world for what it was. Full of weak people. They do nothing but drain society, drain people like me. Columbine was a beautiful act of art, honestly, I’m still jealous they had the world’s ear. They made everyone stand up and take notice. Eric especially. I’m so much like him, seriously.”

“So, that would make Liam like Dylan then?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“What happened during those final moments?”

For a brief moment, her face lost composure, as something sour crept across her features.

“We’ll get there,” she replied, her expression softening.

“So, when did you two meet?”

“Psycho website. They have clips of gore and people getting killed. We chatted about the Columbine footage, and it just went from there. He was so angry, so alive. I hadn’t felt much in like six months but talking to him made me feel something. It was so insane to think I felt so alone, yet a state over, there was a guy who was just like me.”

“Did you love him?”

She thought about this question, sucking in her cheeks as he waited.

“I miss having him to talk to.”

“You get letters though, from fans, right?”

“Yeah, but they try too hard. They don’t have his authentic rage. He was so much like Dylan and these nobodies just feel like copycats. But anyway, he took to my writings, got me into KMFDM and Mayhem.”

“This rage, did you feel it?”

“Of course. You understand. We are forced to be around absolute fucking mouth-breathers who do nothing but make us feel bad for not being as pathetic as them. You know, all I wanted to do was put them in a video game, like Wolfenstein, so it is last man standing. It took a month. Just a month being buried in articles and shows about Eric and Dylan, and we already decided to do the real thing.”

Anger radiated from her as she spoke. He remained stone-faced as he pressed on.

“So this was when you floated the idea of a shooting?” he asked.

“Actually,” she said, her face snapping back to serenity, “he was the one who suggested it. I only agreed.”

“What? But the trial..”

“I lied. No stupid book is going to make me tell the truth. It was pretty fun, in all honesty.”

He thought back to the trial. Her head was constantly bowed, with her saying either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when prompted. He didn’t see the confident person sat before him, but some muted young adult probably wishing she ate her gun.

“One day in the chat,” she continued, “he suggested it. Honestly, I was so proud of him for it. I was gonna suggest we meet up, spend the night then end it all. But we wanted to make a grand gesture. Something that would make Oklahoma look like a kid playing with a firecracker.”

“Who suggested Brahms mall?”

“I did. Like Eric and Dylan, we wanted to target anyone and everyone. But on a larger scale. I think we did it the best. They’ll be talking about me for years.”

He shifted in his seat, making sure he did not avert his gaze. The words rose in him, like bile that he had been carrying around ever since that fateful day.

“I was there when it happened. When you two showed up,” he said. His voice was cold, yet she raised her eyebrows as though he were talking about the weather.

“Really? I don’t remember seeing you,” she replied.

“I was at the music store.”

“What was you getting?”

His mouth hung open, not knowing how to respond.

“Did you get Mechanical Animals? I hope not. That record sucked.”

“No, I don’t remember. I do remember though, hearing gunshots by the food court. I saw the both of you randomly firing. Two people..”

He broke off, rubbing his eyes as she watched him like a curious child.

“Oh, those teenagers,” she said, “I felt so powerful then.”

He almost knocked the recorder off the desk. A cool wave washed over him, and he supressed the urge to shudder.

“We’re missing parts of the story here,” she said, her voice growing stern once more.

“I just want to know something. Call it my last question,” he said.


“No, just answer me. This one question. Then we’ll do the rest.”

She wrinkled her nose but did not protest,

“Why? What was the purpose of all of this? Why didn’t you just write a novel or join the army or whatever? Why did people have to die?”

His voice cracked but he didn’t care. He felt a strong urge to scream it into her face and make her understand.

“They were nothing. Nobodies. I was just cleaning up.”

“You didn’t know these fucking people. You didn’t know me, and you could have easily shot me if I had gone to get lunch instead of getting a record.”

“Them’s the breaks.”

Her tone suggested finality. He stood up, wanting nothing more than to call her every name under the sun. Snatching his recorder, he pressed off and pocketed it.

“Alright, settle a conspiracy theory, did you shoot Liam? There’s a bet going on at my office.”

She stood suddenly, smirking as he winced.

“It was supposed to be a pact. Dual suicide. But I wanted to relish in it, you know? He shot himself, boom, but it just didn’t appeal to me. Cops took me down, and yeah. Here I am,” she said.

Something felt off, but he didn’t question it. He read the report, and he saw the images of her being bundled into the back of the police van. He wanted to bring it up, and break that smug armour, but wondered why.

“I’m leaving,” he announced.

“I’ll fax you over a copy of my novel,” she said, giving a little wink.

He said nothing as he hammered on the door. Kowalski greeted him with a curt nod, as he hurried out. They walked in silence down the hall until they reached the guard’s office.

“I’ve got some trash,” Trent said, ejecting the tape from his recorder and handing it to Kowalski.

“Didn’t you get what you wanted?” Kowalski asked.

He shook his head, “Nothing, no.”

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