Downtown, five men and five women, masked, and tightly gripping their automatic guns, storm into a department store. Inside, they slaughter almost everyone shopping and working for the holidays.
As night descends, it is all that plays on the news.
The boy and his father sit and watch. Only the television is on. It is the only light in the room.
‘Do not respond to anything negative said to you,’ warns the father to his teenage son.
The boy looks to his father’s eyes.
‘They,’ says the father jabbing his finger at the television, ‘want everyone one else to hate us. They want us to feel hated.’
There is a picture of one of the shooters on the screen. The boy’s father glares at the face.
‘He does not care about you, son. He wants you to feel hated. He understands what he has done. ‘
The boy cannot remove his gaze from his father’s aging features.
The man goes on, ‘They truly think what they do helps. They make more problems. In the end, they will do nothing more than scorch the Earth.’
The son turns back to the news.
‘Do not react if anything terrible is said to you, boy,’ again, cautions his father. ‘They want you to.’
The moon is perched high in the sky. It shines through an open window.
Retired to his bedroom, the boy is arched over his desk. He reads and watches videos from his computer’s screen. Words and images of the terror group. He takes in their rhetoric throughout the long night. He tries to understand their reasoning for what they do. The boy feels as if he must learn. They are linked through their shared religion.
The boy was raised to interpret the sacred texts differently than these ‘maniacs,’ as his father refers to them. ‘They are a death collective,’ he has told his son.
And as the boy reads and watches and absorbs more and more of all the terror group has to proclaim and rant, he finds his fists clenching. His teeth grinding. His forehead sweating.
The boy navigates to a news website. Just to read about, once more, what has happened in his own city. His face is stolid.
The boy sits back in his chair. The words of the terror group, the death collective, slither among his thoughts.
He glances out of his bedroom window. The moon blazes behind the night clouds.
The boy calculates an idea, he forms a plan. There is something he must make.
At school, in the packed hallway, someone shoves the boy.
‘Go back to where ya came from!’ he hears hollered at him from amid the bustle of students.
His father in his head: ‘Do not react… It’s what the maniacs want…’
Standing in front of his locker, the boy hangs his head. Scribbled across its cold exterior – killer – bold and in permanent marker.
‘Do not react to it, son… They want you to feel hated…’
On his computer, on the internet. Typing and tapping frantically on the keyboard.
The boy looks up, ‘Time fuse.’
The boy looks up, ‘Shell/pasting.’
He looks up, ‘Black powder bursting charge.’
He looks up, ‘Black powder lifting charge.’
And, ‘Quick match.’
The boy smirks.
His father knocks on the bedroom door.
The boy jumps in his seat, shouts, ‘Hold on!’ as he minimizes each internet window. He stands, then opens the door.
His father peeks in, asks him how he is.
‘I’m fine,’ the boy assures his father.
The man nods. ‘Hmm… Your principal called earlier… Said you were given a hard time at school today…’
The boy’s eyes widen. ‘Yeah… but, I didn’t give anyone the reaction they were hoping for.’
‘That’s admirable, son.’
‘Maybe. But, I also heard you in the back of my head.’
His father laughs. ‘Well, then, make sure you always keep me there! It’ll do you right!’
He ruffles his son’s hair, and backs out of the doorway.
The boy hears him stomp down the stairs and, soon, settle onto the squeaky couch.
In the living room, the television is turned on.
The boy closes his door, and turns, looking back at his silent computer.
Over the next week, the boy gathers and buys the supplies he needs. He spends his nights (after his parents have fallen to sleep) creating, constructing, putting together the pieces of what he builds. The time fuse, the shell, the pasting, the black powder – both bursting and lifting charges. The loop and mortars, the potassium nitrate. The stars and the shooting wire.
Through the clouds, with the nights and the waning moon, the boy works feverishly. He must finish before the weekend. For Saturday evening brings with it the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in the center of the city, in the park.
This… This is where he will bring it. Where he will ignite it.
This is where people will be. What the boy builds, it will be a message to those gathered, and a communication to the terror group.
Saturday morning, the boy sits on his bed staring at what he has made.
He knows what he is going to do is right.
And he smiles.
The boy, watching the crescent moon, moves through the dense mass of people. Ahead, the unlit Christmas tree stands tall, seemingly waiting to burst with hot colors.
With a duffle bag slung over his shoulder, he passes around the tree. He rushes for an area blocked off by barricades, where the mayor and other VIPs have parked their cars. It is vacant of bystanders.
The boy hops the barricade, sliding the bag off of his shoulder where he lands.
He throws open the zipper, and extracts the contents from within.
His eyes dart this way, that way, left, right, left. Has anyone seen him? No. No one, yet.
Soon, with his work properly set up, the boy diverts his attention to the crowd around the Christmas tree. They are counting down from ten in unison. When they reach one, the tree booms to life with thousands of burning, colored lights. The people cheer and dance to Christmas music pumping out from overhead speakers.
The boy’s face glows.
He says, quietly, to himself, ‘Sorry if this startles you, people…’
He strikes a match.
‘But, I’m sure you’ll love it…’
He sets the wick aflame, and runs as fast as his feet will take him. Hurtling over the barricade, back into the gathering of celebrators.
‘Watch!’ the boy hollers, pointing to the sky.
Around him, people look up.
There is a muffled explosion near the mayor’s Cadillac, and the spectators surrounding the boy leap back, turning their attention away from the sky.
‘Watch!’ shrieks the boy, louder than before, pointing upward, still.
Everyone looks into the night.
And the sky explodes.
With the most brilliantly bright firework the city has ever seen.
‘Wow!’ shout countless people together. ‘Wow! Wow!’
In the air, sparkles of tiny fire blossom and descend to the ground. It is a flower blooming and dying in moments. It is a supernova, up-close.
The boy watches the faces around him. They smile and laugh, starry-eyed. The falling firework shines on their skin.
He has done that which he came to do. The boy has sent a silent message, delivered with a tremendous sound and a colossal light.
After nightmares of blood and terror, the boy has brought kindly fire to the sky.