The Tower Journal

  Gabrielle Foster

   A Million Yellow Cabs

            Sweat beaded on his forehead. The bag by his feet seemed to grow larger with every passing minute of the cab ride. His nails dug into his palms as he went over everything in his head. His thoughts scattered, and he bit his lip trying to pull them back. He needed to stay focused, he had work to do. The cab driver kept throwing glances at him in the mirror. Did the cabbie know? His paranoia crept up on him and he squeezed his eyes shut. He had to stay focused, this wouldn’t work if he wasn’t focused. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the time. It was 1:08pm. He was right on schedule. He was already half way through the city, another 20 minutes or so and he’d be there. His huffed a sigh of relief. Right on schedule. At least he could control this one small piece. Everything else was relative.
            He turned his attention to the buildings rushing by him as the cab wove its way through the city. The anonymity calmed him. He was just a yellow cab racing along, mixed in with hundreds of other yellow cabs, all going about their lives. There was nothing special about him. He was just one of a million yellow cabs.
            Michael felt the cab start to slow as they approached the traffic light. His hands started to shake and he breathed deeply, in and out. Almost there, just a few turns. He reached for his bag and settled it on the seat next to him. Michael rummaged through trying to find his wallet. The cabbie glanced back again as Michael cursed quietly under his breath. He managed to extract his wallet and pulled out several crisp 20s. As he yanked back on the zipper, the cabbie glanced back to switch lanes and tried to catch a glimpse of the contents of the bag. Michael hastily finished zipping and the cabbie returned his gaze to the windshield. The cab slowed and pulled off to the side of the road. Michael quickly handed the 20s up to the cabbie, and exited the vehicle.
            The cab slowly pulled away, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Strangers always made Michael nervous. He hitched his bag back onto his shoulders and set off across the park. It was a fairly large park, full of gardens and trees, benches, and paths for strolling lovers and dog walkers. In the distance stood a small structure, nestled amongst the trees, and surrounded by a fence. He had no idea what it was for, but it was private, and a good place to think. He dropped his bag over the fence and slid himself between the broken links. The building’s exterior was shabby and un-kept. The door was heavily padlocked, but he only needed the security of the structure for a moment. He checked his phone again. 1:25pm. Still right on time. He tucked the phone away, and opened his bag. He carefully inventoried the contents to make sure he had everything he needed. Satisfied, he zipped the bag up again, and pushed it back over the fence. He squeezed back through the broken links and slung the bag over his shoulder.
            He crossed the remaining distance of the park in minutes and came out on a busy sidewalk. Tucking his arms close to himself, he tried to avoid the people rushing past him. No one gave him a second look, and he picked his way down the street towards his destination. He came to a crosswalk and stood on the edge of the curb waiting for the walk signal. People around him hummed away on their phones and buzzed at their companions. They were a swarm, zipping from place to place, always rushing. The signal changed and the people crossed, Michael among them. He broke away from the crowd and turned down an ally way. It was dark, and smelled of urine. Just before he emerged from the other side, he stopped and dropped his bag. He needed to get ready now. He unzipped the bag and carefully pulled his father’s handgun out. He fumbled with the clip and checked to make sure it was still loaded. He glanced back in the bag and grabbed the extra clips he had packed. He tucked the gun into his jacket, the clips into his jeans. Michael pulled his phone out of his pocket again, and using the heel of his boot, smashed the phone to bits. He couldn’t risk someone using the location services or the GPS on his phone to find him. He stuffed everything else deeper into the bag, turned the corner out of the ally, and arrived at his old high school.

            Michael had grown up like any normal kid. His mom had loved him as much as she could, and his father had always been proud of his successes. He had done fairly well in school, and had a small group of friends. There was nothing unusual or remarkable about him. Like any kid, there had always been a bully, and he had minimal problems at home. He remembered his mother napping a lot, and his father, who was in the military, was often away from the house.  It wasn’t until later when Michael was older that he realized his mother was an addict and his father was avoiding. But during his formative years, they had been adequate parents. Until they had ruined his life.

            Michael stopped short and stared up at the brick and mortar. The American Flag flew high, the pole planted neatly behind the school sign. The lawn was lush and green, rolling gently uphill to meet the stone steps. Michael stood, just looking, for a long time. And he remembered...

            It was the first day of high school and Michael was nervous. All his life he had lived in the same small town, with the same friends, in the same schools. But over that summer between middle school and high school, his father had accepted a new position, one that had required the family to move. Despite his protests, his parents had packed up their things and moved to their new home. Michael had spent that summer exploring the city and learned everything he could. His high school was tucked between two large buildings on a busy street. He was surprisingly sad that his new high school looked just like all of the other buildings, and wasn’t nestled on a few acres of land. There were no sports fields and no patio where students could eat lunch. It did have a nice small lawn out front, and a beautiful stone walkway. Michael nervously hitched his bag onto his shoulder and made his way down the walk and had tried to blend with the crowd of students. He was jostled back and forth as he had tried to find his way down the hall to the office.

            “Morning. Can I help you?” the receptionist, an elderly woman with a kind face, had greeted Michael as he entered the office.

            “Uh, yes. My name is Michael Montgomery. I’m new here, and kinda lost. I’m supposed to be picking up my schedule and some paperwork?” Michael shifted back and forth, while the receptionist had disappeared through a door behind her. Moments later she had emerged with another woman, this one much younger, and had introduced her to Michael.

            “Mr. Montgomery, this is our guidance counselor, Mrs. Peterson. She’s going to take a quick look at your schedule with you, just to make sure everything looks good. And I’m Mrs. Marsh. I’m here if you need anything at all dear,” the receptionist had said as she smiled and returned to her desk. Michael followed Mrs. Peterson into her office.

            Michael pulled the gun from his belt and checked to make sure it was loaded. He mounted the steps and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Not locked. He stepped into the vestibule and carefully closed the door behind him. He started slowly forward, coming up to the office. Behind the front desk sat Mrs. Marsh. She was grayer than the day he met her, but it was her. Michael, gripping the gun tight, opened the office door.

            After he had met with Mrs. Peterson and signed off on his schedule, Michael had sat quietly through his morning classes. He had felt a little odd, sitting in the front and quietly following along. He had been nervous to participate, just in case he said something stupid. The lunch bell rang, and Michael had made his way to the cafeteria. The room was huge, and had been filled with so many kids. He had wandered around for a moment looking for a table, and had finally chosen one at the back of the cafeteria. The table was worn, and many names had been scratched into the wooden surface. Michael had settled himself down and pulled out the sandwich he packed that morning. He was just about to take a bite when someone had grabbed his things and tossed them.

            “Yo FAGGOT! This is our table!” A tall, muscled kid had leered at him. Michael had nearly shit himself. He stared dumbfounded. His assailant’s name was James, a senior, and the captain of the baseball team. Michael had snapped himself out of his daze and had hastily grabbed his things. James and his friends had settled themselves around the table and Michael left the cafeteria. He had scooted into the boy’s room and tucked himself into a stall. He finished his lunch alone, something he got used to over the next four years.

James and his friends were replaced by different tormentors, but they had all been the same. Michael had been punched, kicked, spit on, tripped. His locker had been vandalized, his things had been stolen. He had been tortured. And no one had done anything to help him.

            Mrs. Marsh looked up and smiled as she recognized Michael. The smile faltered as she saw what he was holding.

            “Michael! What are-“ Mrs. Marsh fell silent as the bullet hit her skull. She made a gurgling noise, slumped over on the desk, and slid to the floor. Blood poured from the hole, covering the desk. The shot alerted the other people in the office, and one by one, Michael picked them off as they came through the door behind the front desk. He waited for a moment, the silence ringing in his ears, as he listened for approaching footsteps. No one came. He had timed everything perfectly. The students and faculty were all gathered in the gym at the other end of the building for a pep rally. The only people who wouldn’t be there would be here in the office. He was alone now. He could move against the others without interruption.

            During his junior year, Michael had finally had enough of the torment. His mother had become so medicated that she didn’t seem to notice her son’s steady decline. His father hadn’t been home in almost a month, but when he was, he locked himself in his study to work. Michael had spoken to the guidance counselor Mrs. Peterson, to the receptionist Mrs. Marsh, to the principle and to the vice principle. No one had believed him. So, he had to take care of things himself.

            He had gotten to school early the next day to set his plan into motion. He was going to show James2.0, a clever name he had come up with for today’s tormentor, that he wasn’t spineless. Michael had built himself a bomb. He was going to put it into James2.0’s locker. And this wasn’t just any bomb. It was full of sulfuric acid, and would burn anyone within a ten-foot radius. All Michael could hope was that James2.0 was surrounded by the rest of the assholes when he opened his locker. Unfortunately, Michael had forgotten to connect some wires and the bomb never went off as planned. He was supposed to be expelled for the attempt, but the school couldn’t prove beyond a doubt that it was Michael, so he had been suspended instead.

            Michael made his way down the hall, headed for the gym. He didn’t pass anyone on his way. The school seemed to be deserted. Michael was just about to turn the corner when he heard a whipping sound. He cocked his head for a moment, and then realized it was a helicopter hovering. Michael quickly stepped away from the windows, and backed himself into a classroom. His heart was racing. Someone had figured out what was happening. Michael needed to figure out how to make his way to the gym without getting caught. He chanced a quick look out the window and saw the police cars. There was already a crowd forming behind the yellow tape. He needed to escape. He slid down the wall to the floor. He needed to think.

            Michael had gathered his cap and gown, getting ready for the ceremony. Graduation day was finally here. Michael had suffered through 4 years of pure hell, and now he would graduate and leave this awful place behind. He had been excited to go off to college and mold himself into a new person.

            All of the students had been gathered together in the gym, ready to make their way to the auditorium to march. Michael had snuck on to the bleachers away from the crowd. He had watched as kids hugged each other and exchanged little gifts. He had longed for that companionship again. Even the friends he had in his old town had drifted away from him. They had hardly ever called, and when he had made contact with them, they always had an excuse to cut the conversation short. Michael had supposed they just didn’t have anything in common anymore. They had all been obsessed with getting laid, and partying, while Michael had been obsessed with finding ways to get back at James2.0 and his friends. It didn’t matter anymore. He was finally free.

            The principle came in and had started gathering the students together. As they walked through the doors, they were handed their caps and gowns. They had dropped them off with the staff so that they could be checked for any hidden things, like flasks or paper airplanes. Just before they entered the auditorium, the students had slipped into their gowns and adjusted their caps. Michael zipped up his gown, pulling up the rear.

            The students were seated alphabetically, so Michael had been in the middle somewhere. As he turned to file into his seat, the row behind him had burst into giggles. He looked around slowly, and saw everyone pointing and laughing. He had looked around trying to figure out what they were pointing at when James2.0 had laughed in his face and said, “Hey Faggot! Nice robe!” Michael quickly removed his robe and held it up to inspect it. Nothing on the front. But when he flipped it around, he saw what everyone had been laughing at. Someone had written FAGGOT in Sharpie on it, and had drawn a large penis on his robe. Without thinking, Michael had thrown the robe at Jame2.0 and had lunged. He ended up breaking James2.0’s nose, cheekbone, and collarbone. Michael’s stunt had earned him 1 year probation, and he had no longer been allowed to march. Instead his diploma had been mailed to his house and he had been escorted from the building by police. He was angry. He was hurt. He arrived home and wandered from room to room. He had stopped in front of his father’s gun safe. Michael had touched the lock, and remembered the key had been in his father’s desk. Michael pulled the key out and had tucked it into his pocket. He made a mental note to make sure the key was returned before his father missed it. He had only needed it for a few hours. Just long enough to get a copy made.

            Michael felt his hands slide across the floor. They were slick with sweat. He had to get up and get moving. He knew by now that all of the students had been locked in the gym, and that the school would be on lockdown, but he could still escape. He heaved himself from the floor and exited the classroom.

            Back in the hallway, he hugged the walls to avoid any sharp shooters. He was just about to duck through a classroom when someone came around the corner. It as his father. He was dressed in his gear, and had clearly been called in with his unit to help. Michael stared at him, his father staring back.

            “Why?” was all his father could say.

            “Because I have to,” Michael responded, and raised his father’s gun against him. His father was too quick. He pulled off two shots, dropping Michael to the floor. Michael shivered for a moment, gazing at the ceiling. He felt cold and numb. No pain. His father appeared beside him and looked down.

            “Why?” Michael managed to sputter through the blood.
            “Because I had to,” his father replied.


   Copyright © 2018 Gabrielle Foster

Gabrielle Foster is a writer, artist, creator, grad student, and car salesman who was born and raised in Portland, ME. She is currently attending Southern New Hampshire University for a Master's Degree in Creative Writing.

The Tower Journal
Summer 2018