Timothy Gray and his sister Amanda burst into their grandmothers den.
"Gram...on the news..." Amanda began breathlessly.
"There was a news report, Gram," said Timothy, his eyes wild. "We were at Billys house...and Billys father said we should come home right away...because...he heard...we heard...something happened...and it was on the news...and they...they said that...that..." faltered Timothy.
Timothys face was flushed. His heart was pounding wildly, and his hands were beginning to shake.
Timothy and Amandas grandmother sat very still in her big wingback chair. She stared out the window at something very far away. As if frozen in place, her hand clutched the telephone receiver that lay in her lap. It was making those beeping sounds, the way it does when you forget to hang the phone up.
With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Timothy quietly took the receiver from his grandmothers hand and hung it up.
"Gram" Amanda rattled nervously, "It happened where they are, right? So we better call to make sure theyre OK, hadnt we? Gram? Well call them up and see if maybe they knew the ones it happened to...I mean, because...because...we know that it was some other people this happened to, right, Gram? Weve gotta call right now, because...its not...it wouldnt be...it couldnt be...them..."
"It was, honey," she whispered.
A tear rolled quietly down Grandmas cheek as she fought for control.
Amanda gasped, trying to understand.
"This is not happening," Amandas mind said calmly. "Rewind. Select alternate ending."
"So...so...when...this happened...they...they got hurt...right? Amandas voice began to shake. "But theyre...theyre gonna be OK, right, Gram? And well go to the hospital, right? And well tell them theyre gonna be OK."
Amanda was finding it hard to breathe. "Theyre gonna be OK, arent they? Gram? Grandma?"
Amandas grandma turned to the two of them, and her eyes were filled with pain. She shook her head slowly.
"No, honey," she said softly. "Theyre not going to be OK."
"Theyre not dead?" blinked Timothy, shaking his head as if to deny this was happening. His anguished grandmother closed her eyes to the words.
"Theyre dead?" he said, dazed. "They cant be dead, Grandma," Timothy said firmly. It was not possible to comprehend this. His head was beginning to spin.
"They cant be dead," he said again. "Grandma, theyre young," as if the inherent logic in that statement could somehow overcome the horror of the news he was struggling to deal with.
"Grandma, theyre young," it was a whispered plea.
Timothys knees went weak. He doubled over as if hed just been hit in the stomach. The pain was so awful it made him want to throw up.
Amandas hands curled into fists, instinctively rising to her head, as if to ward off invisible blows to her mind. "NOOOOOOOOO!" she wailed. "NOOOOOOO!"
Amandas scream was like a knife to her grandmothers heart. She held her arms out and gathered the pair to her. As she did so, she closed her eyes and offered a silent prayer.
"Dear God, help us get through this."
Amanda leaned back and took her grandmothers face in her both her hands. "You make this not happen, Grandma. You make this not happen," she pleaded with a sob.
Amandas voice began to rise.
"Make THISNOT --- HAPPEN--Grandma!!" Amanda commanded, her voice shaking.
"MAKE ...THIS...NOT...HAPPEN!!" she shrieked hysterically.
Her grandmother cradled her in her arms.
Timothy sat down on the floor with a thud. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, absentmindedly rocking to and fro as he sat there.
"Not even Grandma can make this not happen, Amanda," he said woodenly.
His body felt like lead. His mind was numb. His rested his forehead on his knees. He couldnt think past the words "This cant be happening. No way can this thing be happening."
"Im so sorry, love," said Grandma, with a sob. "Im so sorry. For us, and for them. For everybody." She reached out and touched their faces, stroked their heads.
Timothy drew back, looking at his grandmother with fury in his eyes. "You cant be sorry for anybody who did this?!" he demanded.
Amanda collapsed onto her knees on the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. Her head lay in her grandmothers lap, and like a drowning child, she continued to hold on to her grandmothers hands for dear life.
"Everyone's family is going to have to live with what happened, Timothy," she said with a ragged sigh.
"Why did this have to happen?" he shouted angrily. "How could it happen?"
Timothy balled up his fist and hit the arm of the chair as hard as he could. "Why would somebody want to hurt innocent people?"
"Why them?" he screamed.
He rose up on his knees and hit the arm of the chair again, this time with both fists, screaming "Why hurt people WE care about? Why would somebody do this? What did it accomplish except to hurt us, and everybody else this happened to?"
"Grandma..." Timothy wailed in helpless anguish, "What's the matter with somebody's head? What would make them do this?"
"Damn them!" he raged. "Damn, damn, damn!" Timothy hit the chair again and again, sobbing, overcome with rage and grief.
"Bad people," moaned Amanda. "Bad people did this."
Amandas grandmother held them close again.
"So many lives shattered," she thought wearily. "And for what possible purpose?"
She closed her eyes and with every ounce of concentration she still possessed, she blocked out the sounds of the weeping in her arms. "I have to know," she thought.
Quietly, deliberately, she allowed her reach to penetrate further than it had ever gone. Her mind delved deeply into another dimension, seeking an answer.
"Why did you do this?" she demanded of a barely discernable form, the whispered substance of which still swirled and eddied within her reach.
"To show them," came the reply. "To get even. To prove I was better, that I was in control."
"How could you not anticipate these consequences?" she asked softly, the sound of weeping children echoing in the background.
"I didnt think that far" came the whispered reply. "I thought only of the power, of proving something, of making them remember me, and saying how smart I was for doing this."
"Your actions attested to nothing more than your monumental stupidity. Is that the way you wanted to be remembered?" she pressed, "Is that the legacy you sought?"
Silence lay heavy in the field that surrounded the conversation.
"It was like a game...."
"This was no game. Theres no way to bring the players back to start over."
"You could tell them Im sorry now."
"Its too late for you to be sorry."
"What will happen to them? The people who are left?"
"Why didnt you stop to ask that question of yourself before you decided to do this thing?"
"I don't know. It all seems so stupid now. But what will happen to them, the people who are left?"
"Certainly they will go on. Life does go on. The course of their lives will change. Everyones lives will change. People will curse your memory."
"What about my family?"
"You've broken their hearts and their minds. The people who loved you. Your family will live with disgrace, simply because they share your name. Some may even change their names, to avoid being associated with your memory.
Your family will not be able to properly mourn for you, because of their revulsion at what you've done. They will distance themselves from the love they once felt for you. They may try to put you from their minds completely, because the pain, the shame of your existence is too heavy a load for them to bear.
Your family will be cruelly shunned. Few people will be able to forgive. Fewer still will realize that the people who loved you are your victims too.
Your family will be treated unfairly and looked upon with suspicion and distrust, as if somehow the evil you allowed to rise within you might be contagious."
"What about my friends?"
"Everyone you ever knew will wonder why they didnt see something, do something, in time to stop you. The thought that they could somehow have prevented this, will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The people who knew you will forever search the eyes of others, trying to guard their loved ones against this kind of evil.
Because of you, families that would have been, cannot
Loves that would have thrived, are lost to eternity.
Families that are, will be no more."
"I didn't realize..."
"Ah, but you did. The decision was yours. Future generations will marvel at your incredible stupidity, your weakness, your inability to stare evil in the eye, and overpower it. You alone made the decision to do this thing.
But for what purpose? To what end?"
The darkness swirled uneasily before her.
"We've all been given the capacity to choose between good and evil. How could you not understand the simplicity of the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill?"
Softly she repeated the phrase she herself learned in
"Lead us not into temptation...deliver us from evil."
"Guns and knives and bricks and explosives don't cause harm unless they're in the hands of the weak, the immature, the irresponsible, the ignorant, the unbalanced. It's not the evil lurking in the shadows we were taught to ask for protection from, it's the temptation of the dark side, the evil from within, that represents the greatest threat to us all."
"Could it be that no one ever taught you that?"
"How can that be? How can that be?" she wondered.
"I have to go back now," she told herself. "I'm needed elsewhere." But she paused for one last moment in that place, where the sound of silence is as deep and dark as the sea.
The voice to which she had spoken began to be swept away, as if on the tide, and the final words of the conversation brushed past her, before they swirled away, disappearing into the velvet abyss...
"Oh, God...What have I done? Tell them, please God, please tell them, tell them all...Im so very sorry, so very, very sorry."
The Conversation, by Cynthia Gurin