𝗦𝗵𝗼𝗼𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝗶𝗻 𝗥𝗲𝘀𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲

𝘣𝘺 𝘚.𝘎. 𝘌𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘳𝘩𝘰𝘧𝘧

The year was 2027 and, much to the shame of the community, Hipple Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa, was the only public school left in the United States that had not yet suffered a mass shooting. From June 14, 2023 to November 27, 2025, what became known as the ‘N. R. Plague’ reared and spread with violent urgency—an unsanctioned national project of sorts, racing to consecrate every school in the country with massacre. And somehow, no one could explain why, this wallflower of a red brick building dodged the whole woeful trend.

NPR came through town on a non-caucus year (unheard of) and did a spot: ‘One School Left Behind.’ When the attention failed to draw bloody incident, some in the community rejoiced but many felt deflated, unable to rationalize why their school had to be different. The PTA had banked on the story bringing tragedy. Surely being the only untarnished school left in the land of the free would attract the worst that American liberty offers. Wouldn’t someone (or a number of someones) crave the notoriety earned by dabbing the last square for a blackout on the nation’s bingo card?

At their September meeting, ideas got tossed around—notions running the gamut of insipid to seemingly viable. The Treasurer, who taught third grade math, demonstrated red and white bullseye targets for students, to be worn front and back during recess. The one dad in the group suggested arming the school’s autistic kids and just, you know, waiting for the inevitable. Another idea: start a ComeShootUs page offering cash monies for the legal defense of any nut aspiring to infamy.

In the end, it was the new PTA Secretary, Meg Hobsbawm, who made all gathered see they’d been thinking about this too hard. Mother of a first grader, this was her first year of involvement. Already she had them wooed with the hypoallergenic scotcharoos she brought to every meeting (made safe by swapping peanut butter—the one thing you simply could not bring near a school—for sunflower butter). She even provided back-to-school-themed napkins and a spatula/pizza-cutter combo utensil, sparing them from having to lick the chocolate off their fingers, though they did that anyway.

Meg smiled often but only ever mouth-closed, pushing her lower lip up and bowing the corners wide. Everybody knew this was because of her black tooth, a shortened, dead incisor in the top row. Its decay, rotten blunt as the nib on a chisel-tip Sharpie, could be glimpsed on hard consonants. No one knew why it went unfixed when it clearly caused her shame. No one was rude enough to ask. The most popular rumor was that perhaps, just maybe, her ex-husband was a dentist and letting the tooth die was her lasting revenge. No one knew if her ex-husband was a dentist, of course. They all knew each other, but they didn’t know each other.

Meg’s winning idea?

A Shooter in Residence.

“Our problem,” Meg explained from within her wimple of swooping red hair, “is one of branding.”

She explained it would be an honor, this residency, bestowed upon some hapless loser harboring delusions of grandeur. He’d need to feel cheated. He’d need to see himself as disenfranchised. Their grant of coached vengeance would fulfil something already present and dangerous in him.

When everybody around the pushed-together tables set their phones down, acting President Stacey Runker knew she’d just become a lame duck. This was just the sort of forward-thinking she herself lacked. Nothing thought up during the worst of her three A.M. worries came anywhere close to this.

In the library they had the tools necessary to start fulfilling their agenda straight away. Crowding around a school iPad, they drew up the state’s sex offender registry and did a search for men living just beyond the mandated radius of Hipple.

“He shouldn’t be black,” Stacey said and blanched. She placed a hand on Mr. Shpak’s shoulder. “No offense, Mr. Shpak.”

“None taken.”

“It’s just the tragedy’ll be, like, that much more if it’s white-on-white.”

“I get you,” the PE teacher said. “I get you.”

There weren’t enough black sex offenders in the area to choose from anyway. They scrolled through thumbnails of broken-looking men in out-of-fashion glasses with hairstyles too long or too short until Meg halted her finger.

“This’s him,” she declared. “This’s our Shooter in Residence.”

Justin James Deknoblough had itty-bitty squinny eyes and a mouth cinched shut. His shaved head suggested latent, if not manifest, white nationalism. He’d assaulted female relatives under the age of ten.

“Meg,” Stacey said, “there’re so many candidates. We should be vetting, we should be—”

“That is our shooter, and I am sure of his potential,” Meg commanded. “Mr. Shpak, jot down his address. I need to be on his stoop with a tray of scotcharoos tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”

Logistically, the plan was extremely simple once alighting upon who should do what. Amassing the gear for wholesale murder was as easy as attending a fairgrounds gun show and placing some orders online. Meg left those details to the other parents and teachers. Her own role required greater dedication and vision. She was the one who had to beguile Justin James Deknoblough into doing the PTA’s bidding.

It turned out there was no stoop at Justin James Deknoblough’s little grey house.

There was a screened-in porch.

Balancing a tray of sunflower butter scotcharoos, Meg let herself in, nearly tripping on a leash left on the outside-in carpet. Cautious even with the absence of frenzied barking, she knocked on the inner door. When it opened, she found the man with the chipmunk eyes and shiny head. Behind him, the German Shepherd’s tail-wagging how-do-you-do let her know the canine would be no trouble.

“Don’t worry ’bout Rosie,” Justin James Deknoblough said in a clipped voice. “She’s my therapy dog. Nothin but love.”

“I can see that she’s a lover not a fighter!”

“What can I do ya for?”

“Mr. Deknoblough—”

“It’s De-NAH-blow actually.”

“De-nah-BLOW?” She approximated a girlish giggle. “Like blow-them-all-away?”


“My name’s Meg Hobsbawm,” she said. “I’ve been sent to talk with you about an exciting proposition from the PTA at Hipple Elementary School.”

His little squinny eyes bulged. “Oh, oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. I made sure to make sure the house is proper distance from any schools. My parole officer, she—”

“Mr. Deknoblough,” she said with the honeysuckle drizzle of two-faced affection. She raised one finger to her lips to cover her decayed tooth. “Why don’t you just invite me in?”

Justin James Deknoblough let her in—not only that afternoon, but every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for the next five months. If he had friends, he would have described this to them as an affair, his first real relationship with a grown woman since he was fourteen.

For Meg it was grooming.

She experienced some measure of pity for the man, her efforts to manipulate the failure of his life being so eagerly lapped up. When she aggrandized the public hate he’d earn, he bayed revenge at the society that already shunned and punished him for what he deemed his God’s-honest sexual preference. When she quizzed him on the residency’s consequences, he spoke of completing something started years ago that was bigger than everybody involved—this crossing off of every school in the country with wholesale violence.

His only trepidation, often voiced tenderly after she manually relieved him, had to do with what, in the aftermath, would become of his dog. Each time he brought it up, Meg promised to take Rosie.

They had dates at a quarry—the pooch cowering in the truck while her owner acquainted himself with spraying bullets with a bump-stock. They also scouted out Hipple every now and again. Staring down the school while giving him a handy, Meg would narrate what he’d go in and do in the past tense of a Dateline voiceover. She provided him with diagrams on jam-clearing, architectural layouts of the building, photos of faculty who might give him trouble. She reminded him in late night texts how the good people of America would never forgive him for his past crimes even though he’d done his time and complied with the judge’s orders. For his part, he seemed to break down nicely.

All the while, she kept the PTA abreast of her progress. The others fulfilled their duties, investing in weaponry and gear well within the annual budget. Not only had they cooperated in a true parent/teacher alliance, they did so with fiscal responsibility. The December bake sale covered ammunition costs all on its own. No one could come along later and accuse them of splurging.

On the morning of Friday, March 13, Meg sat in her self-driving SUV in the school parking lot waiting for her shooter’s janky old truck to barrel into the turnaround. Her nerves were ecstatic with anticipation. Soon as he went in, she was to ride to his little grey house and get Rosie out before the authorities descended. Then she’d ride back to the school in time to show up crying, calling her daughter’s name for the cameras.

Two minutes to the appointed hour, her phone rang.

“Listen, Meg,” he mumbled at the other end.

“No, you listen to me, Justin James Deknoblough.” She spat his name, flecking the wheel with spit. “You’ve got five minutes to get your ass down here and be a man. I’ve invested far too much for you to go chicken shit on me now.”

She wasn’t one hundred percent sure, talking over him, but the gargled words she caught sounded something like, “Can’t hurt them kids no more…”

“So you’re just gonna be a pussy about it, are ya?”

She checked her screen but couldn’t figure out if he’d hung up.


She checked again. He was gone.

Refusing to lose, she resorted to the old maxim about taking things into thine own hands.

She slinked into the school wearing the cammo catsuit worn in solidarity with their would-be killer and made her way to the auditorium dressing room where the PTA stashed the massacre kit under lock and key. Decking herself out, she attached extra clips to her belt—each modified to hold extra rounds—and loaded the AR-15 just like she’d trained numbnuts to, thanks to the Internet. Honestly, if she’d known this was going to fall into her lap like this, she could have taken care of it the previous autumn. That broken idiot wasted the better part of a school year, not that this was really the time to get hung up on woulda-coulda-shoulda.

Determined to look sexy for the witness accounts, she tied her mane back into a poofy ponytail, brought out her heart-shaped locket, and pulled up the skull-grin lower-face-mask. Death herself in the lightbulb-rimmed mirror. Mascara next—being a redhead, she had those white-yellow lashes that needed some definition if her eyes were going to pop on TV. If they caught her, she’d stand out in the pantheon of this brand of massacre. Not your stereotypical, predictable, bowl-cut mama’s boy.

Knowing her daughter had second lunch, Meg Hobsbawm kicked the bar on the cafeteria door and levelled the rifle, determined to make Hipple Elementary just like everywhere else.✦

S.G. Ellerhoff holds a PhD in English from Trinity College Dublin and is currently an editor at Tsunami Press. He is the author of Mole (Reaktion Books, Animal Series, 2020) and Post-Jungian Psychology and the Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut (Routledge, 2016). He also co-edited George Saunders: Critical Essays (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and Exploring the Horror of Supernatural Fiction: Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (Routledge, 2020). Find out more at www.sgellerhoff.com.

Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE