Sound and Stone

Saved by the bell. I allowed myself a moment’s victory as I watched the makeshift paper plane glide high above my classroom, its nose hitting the old fashioned bell used for class dismissal, and tumbling into the wire trash bin below. It had taken me an obscene amount of time to master the maneuver, evident by the growing pile of crumpled wreckage beside the bin. I glanced at the clock beside the door and was elated to find my game had succeeded in distracting me for the duration of my confinement.

I had the misfortune of being assigned to late night detention every third Thursday of the month. Why I had to stay regardless if any kids were assigned the punishment was beyond me. Something about mandatory overtime hours, and tax payers dollars… yada yada. The politics held no interest for me.

I quickly gathered my things, leaving the planes in open burial-figuring they would give the night janitor some amusement-and flipped off the lights as I locked up. I rushed from the building, glad to finally leave the stench of cafeteria food and sweaty gym socks that seemed to waft through the hallways at all times. I slowed my pace only once the brisk night air filled my lungs. It was actually a really nice evening I realized, and decided to switch direction and walk the scenic route home through the state park.

It was as I passed by the Historical Town Hall that I ran into trouble. The building was merely a remnant of our City’s past, before it grew too big for the small meeting place. It was an impressive sight, hidden here in the middle of the otherwise simple park. It’s wide marble steps led up to a columned front. Inside there existed a small court room for meetings, and an information desk now used for tourists. The building was topped with a large dome, housing the City Bell-a gift from some president decades ago.

The park square was devoid of people, save one figure making it’s way towards me. As I continued on, the hall on my right, the gap swiftly closed between me and the stranger heading the opposite way. We would cross paths before the marble steps. I readied myself to offer a neighborly wave and a smile, questioning the social acceptability of distance before acknowledgment. I had decided that a reasonable proximity was met, and was just raising my arm in hello, when the man came to a sudden halt. Surprised, I stopped myself and was stammering out a greeting when a flash of silver caught my eye. The man raised a small gun in my direction. “You son of a bitch! I finally found you!” the man sputtered. The light from a lamp post resurrected his face from shadow, the obvious rage settled there clenching my gut in panic.

The only place to go was up the marble steps of the state building. I raised my hands in a gesture of surrender, hoping fervently the man could see through his haze of anger to the fear painted plainly on my face. If he could recognize me for a victim, maybe I could conjure some semblance of empathy to diminish his blind rage. I could see him unwinding, muttering with increasing incoherency. “I tried to tell you over and over, and you wouldn’t listen. DAMMIT why won’t you listen,” he finished with a wave of his weapon in my direction and a spray of spittle.

I knew he had tipped the edge, could see his hesitation dissipate as his expression settled into a determined resolve. Mind scrambling I saw no solution, no escape. In a last ditch effort I tried to plead my innocence, “Look I’m sorry, but I didn’t do anything to you.” At this I saw my error. He tensed at my words, his face growing hotter and his body quaking causing his grip on the gun to be unsteady as it shuddered in my direction.

I kept eyes fixed on the barrel waving before me, afraid to look away lest it go off. Contrary to his outraged appearance he said with slow mirth, “You didn’t do anything to me, you say?” With an outburst of laughter, entirely devoid of humor, he continued with rising volume “You’re right, you did NOTHING for me. But I did everything for you.”

With that he clicked the safety, leveled the gun with my chest, and spit in my direction. “Now die you selfish fool.” I instinctively took a step back, bracing myself for the coming trauma. In the instant before he squeezed the trigger, a mighty “dong” reverberated throughout the square, as the City Bell chimed the hour. He lurched forward, set off kilter by the intrusion of sound in his already tense state. In the midst of his stumble he misfired, the barrel now pointed downwards. The bullet hit a mark-if not its intended-and I collapsed to the steps, a searing pang in my calf bringing me down hard as marble bit into my back.

I only took a moment to marvel at the unlikeliness of my being alive. I looked up at the man, staring in open shock at his miss. I tensed, prepared to lunge at him as he recovered from the surprise. To my amazement however, with a quiver of his lip he dropped the gun, and fell to his knees sobbing. “I… I, I’m sorry.”

Relief flooded my veins. The madman reduced to this blubbering fool, I thanked my good fortune. A moment ago he had been set on my demise, but his fever broke and whatever stomach he had for the deed was gone. His outcry of emotion infectious, I broke down myself. I felt the sting of hot tears rolling down my face. Had he pulled the trigger a moment earlier I’d be dead. Saved by the bell.

PROMPT: “Tell me a story where the first line and last line are the same but have entirely different meanings.”

Like what you read? Give Lizzie Donnelly a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.