His car comes to a stop and he sits with eyes forward, hands at ten and two. The speakers blast some kind of chaotic synth music created by an insane underground philosopher, full of buzzing and harsh drumbeats like machine guns. His mind is empty from previous hours of meditation; empty except for the Lord’s Work. That’s always there; maybe it’s always been there, even since he was a toddler. His entire life has always arched towards the Lord’s Work: it is his destiny. No, that’s too deterministic, too much Calvinism leftover from his childhood…option, that’s the word. It’s always been an option, a potential path. That means there were other paths, but this is the right one. The best one. There’s a tinge in the back of his mind as he stifles a thought and a memory—he doesn’t want to think about…it’s the past, it’s irrelevant, he says to himself, half-out loud. He is limited in action by linear time, and indulging in the past only distracts from the task at hand. This is his path; it is the only one that matters now. And it’s a good path, he thinks, one full of beauty, a chance to forge a real work of art. Maybe the other one would have been more beautiful, but in such an ugly world, one must take what divinity he can get.

The music reaches a fever pitch, his ears sting from the discordant sound, and his chest is massaged by the rhythm of the base. He blinks, takes several deep breaths, opens the car door and steps out of the vehicle, bringing his AR-15 rifle up to the firing position in a fluid, well-drilled motion.


It was a glorious summer day, a bit colder than what he was used to, but that was to be expected after traveling from the American South to Northern Europe. Cruising down a highway in a bus filled with sleepy Russians, everything seemed new and exciting, even though the woods lining the road looked a lot like the ones back home. He wasn’t looking at the woods, though. He was looking at the pretty girl in the seat beside him. An hour into their conversation on the cross-country ride, he still couldn’t believe his luck in sitting next to her. He hadn’t even tried; it was sheer chance. He’d wanted to talk to her since the first day of class, when he’d barely kept up with the introductory material because he couldn’t stop glancing in her direction. She had such cute little squinting eyes, but flashing grey-green so that when he looked into them, he couldn’t help but think of Homer’s descriptions of Athena. As they rode back to the dinky backwater where they took classes and away from the local capital with all its towering cathedral-spires and eardrum-bursting basement nightclubs, he realized he’d never spoken this freely with a girl before. She listened to him talk about Nietzsche, about God, about Donald Trump—and, wonder of wonders, glory of glories, she responded, and she said things he hadn’t heard before, and he hung onto every word that came out of her sweet mouth. The sun refracted through the window behind her and reflected off her pale golden hair. He watched his mind romanticize the experience in real time, and he threw himself into it.


He’s been planning every second of this, his magnum opus, for months in advance. He’s walked the path a hundred times before in broad daylight, noting every window and concrete bench and the lines of fire in every direction and the average number of pedestrians on the route and how they are distributed among the various walking paths. He knows that it takes 27 seconds to walk in a combat stance between his parking spot and the library door. He knows the door is heavy, so it will take a moment of concentrated exertion to pull it open with one arm while the other holds the rifle, still in firing position, sweeping the atrium in front of him as he enters. He knows there’s about a one-in-three chance that a campus cop will be within sight when he begins his work, and a part of his brain has been trained to watch for their distinctive black uniform even as he performs the other tasks. He doesn’t even register a thought until he’s already in the library, and a trail of bodies stains red the green grass between his pre-owned Toyota commuter sedan and the building. Now he sweeps the open-concept first floor of the library, still walking slowly forward, squeezing his trigger finger every time he sees a human silhouetted in his red-dot reflex sight. The pandemonium barely registers in his clear mind; the terrified shrieks of young people, the barked orders of a few clear-headed men, the mad dash for the exits wash over him like a mist; he only hears the rhythmic drum of his rifle. A light goes off in the back of his mind: he’s fired 20 rounds, time to reload. The motion is smooth and well-trained. The spent magazine clatters at his still-moving feet even as his right hand clicks another into place, hits the slide release, and moves back to the pistol grip. He’s well within the allotted five seconds when he resumes fire.


They were paired off for the midterm project. It had been her idea. They were supposed to prepare a local dish for the class; she wanted to make some kind of nut bread, and he went along with it, happy to be in her company. They walked to the supermarket to buy ingredients, and she made him laugh when she spent 20 minutes marveling at the prices of flour and spices. They used his dorm kitchen for the baking and upon arriving she immediately launched into a cleaning frenzy, washing dishes and wiping everything down. He watched with a kidlike grin on his face, and cracked a joke to his roommate—“looks like they installed a dishwasher after all!” She shot him a dirty look, but her eyes were smiling.

On their last day in the country, the entire class went to the beach and got drunk. It was late afternoon and he was floating on a cloud of alcohol and basking in the northern sun; he’d stripped his shirt and he’d lifted weights earlier and he felt like a Greek demigod. Suddenly, there she was in front of him, those glittering eyes staring straight into his. She reached up and grabbed his face in both her hands, and all at once his body was on fire. They just looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds, and he soaked her in and reveled in the pure joy of the moment.


He clears the library floor in 50 seconds, right on time. He’s spent two magazines by the time he pulls open the door on the opposite side of the building from where he entered and crosses the threshold. Outside, as predicted, is a gaggle of students who were too curious or too stupid to follow university protocol and run for their lives. They scatter, but not before he shoots five of them. They go down; some are dead when they hit the pavement, some are still screaming in pain or gasping for air as they choke up blood. Still gliding across the pavement, he makes for the student center, just across the thoroughfare. By now, his heart is thudding in his chest from exertion and adrenaline, and he’s glad for all the extra cardio work he put in leading up to the act. He can’t afford to slow even for a second to catch his breath; the most important thing is to keep moving, never stop hunting. Trying to defend a position or getting bogged down in a room-to-room search for targets would only allow the police to catch up with him and dictate his actions; the Lord’s Work calls for constant movement from target-rich environment to target-rich environment, both to maximize his effect and to stay a step ahead of is opponents.

Out of the corner of his eye, he suddenly sees the brilliant flashing of police lights. A cruiser has turned off the road and is barreling down the thoroughfare toward him. Briefly, alarm registers in his mind, but he shuts it out quickly; no time to panic, no time to worry, only time for action. He planned for this, his body knows what to do, and he just has to keep his mind from interfering. The cruiser skids to a stop and the door opens; he’s already covered behind a large concrete planter and emptying a magazine into the window when a single female officer, handgun drawn, gets out and ducks behind the door. The car, built like a tank, absorbs his fire until he’s dry. It takes him four seconds to replace the magazine; after two seconds of silence, the officer stands up, still covering behind the bullet-ridden door, and aims, exposing her head and upper body. She misses her first shot, and by the time she re-centers her target, the AR-15 is primed. Already aimed at her face, it takes only one disciplined shot to take her out. The officer crumples, blood spurting from her disfigured head.

The exchange takes less than 20 seconds. Still on schedule. There’s a second horrified stampede as he enters the sprawling student center building and the crowds of students who took shelter there after he entered the library trample each other to get out. He spends two more magazines in as many minutes.


He walked by her side through the bustling streets of New Orleans, dodging drunken revelers as they soaked in the raucous spirit of the city together. The streets were filled with happy, rowdy people, all shouting at each other and laughing at everything. Every other block had a gaggle of young boys banging away on makeshift drums, hoping to impress the tourists enough to get a few dollars thrown their way. The drumming added to the chaotic din, and he was high on dopamine and oxytocin from a day spent with this girl. They’d talked for hours about everything; she’d told him her story, all the details she’d refused to tell anyone over the summer. A broken family, an abusive mother, foster homes, and nights spent homeless. Once, she began to cry, just a little, and it was the closest he’d come to shedding a tear since middle school.

They walked through a tourist-trap magic store and made fun of the cheap plastic souvenirs and the boomers buying them; every time she laughed, he thought his heart would burst. The night was a blur of wandering, laughing, stealing glances at each other; he wanted to memorize her face, sear every feature into his mind, it was so beautiful. They found themselves on a bridge overlooking the final destination of the Mississippi River, watching an old-timey steamboat pull in. They give tours around the bay, she said. We should go on one next time you visit. Next time. He stole a glance sideways at her as she watched the water below. The moon was out full, shining on them like a spotlight. Music echoed faintly from the crowded streets behind them. His mind raced as he tried to read her; he almost leaned in to kiss her but couldn’t make up his mind. No, he thought. He hadn’t expected this. Not ready yet. Next time, then everything will be just right.


The student center is a huge, single-story building housing everything from food courts to conference rooms. On a normal day, it’s packed; today, his bloody work in the parking lot and the library has driven half the campus here, and he follows them down the long, wide hallways, murdering student after student with carefully-managed bursts of gunfire. He can hear sirens behind him now; the police have just arrived at the library. They’ll spend precious minutes clearing the other building, and as more confused reports come in, they’ll be looking out for multiple shooters across the campus. After just five minutes, he’s already killed enough innocents to win a place among the worst mass shooters in history. He still has two more magazines strapped to his chest rig, which he wears over an old Austrian army field jacket, carefully chosen to evoke his desired aesthetic. He clears a corner: the hallway is empty. He turns around and crouches, keeping his rifle trained on the end of the hallway 30 feet behind him. He listens. The screaming and pounding of feet has subsided; the building must have mostly cleared. The hallway is littered with corpses, and the only sound now is the chorus of crying from the sirens outside and the injured around him.

It’s almost time. He has one and a half magazines left for his rifle, plus the handgun on his hip. The adrenaline begins to subside as his chest heaves, and tension builds in his mind. Like a man about to step off a cliff or onto a stage or into a conversation with a beautiful girl, he stares at the task in front of him with apprehension; his heart beats faster and he feels frozen in place and his hands begin to shake ever-so-slightly as the gravity of his situation impresses itself on his mind. His mind is quick to wander: he begins to imagine a bullet entering his body, boring through his flesh, crushing his ribcage into fragments, piercing his heart and lungs; his breath is stolen away as they rupture in his chest, and blood flows from his mouth…gravity. That’s the enemy, he remembers. A dozen lines from a dozen authors fill his mind, seared there by long contemplation. Then he’s back, mind clear, breathing even, hands steady. He balked once; never again. The final performance is about to begin.


He lay on his bed in a cramped dormitory. His outdated phone was beside him, but he wasn’t looking at it. He didn’t know how long he’d been there, but he couldn’t think of any reason to move. His mind churned over the same paths of thought again and again, never finding anything new, never coming to a decision. A sense of longing so intense it hurt filled his mind; he finally understood what it meant to have a heavy heart. It was an almost physical sensation, like his heart was dead in his chest. He tried to rationalize it away: it’s just hormones again, you need to eat something or work out or pet a dog. But the pain was still there. Besides, he’d tried all those things, and all they did was turn the pain to anger for a moment. He could try to intellectualize it or manage it or even mock it all he wanted; nothing changed the fact that his primordial mind knew he should be pouring his being into a love for something or someone and he wasn’t, and it was punishing him for his failure.

He grabbed his phone and stared at it. Her last message from three weeks ago, and then his confused inquiries. No answer, no explanation. Just silence. He could see his unanswered call, and before that, the times she’d called him, out of the blue, just to talk about nothing in particular. Everything had been so perfect; they’d made plans to visit again, he’d been ready. Then, nothing. He’d gone over their interactions a dozen times, trying to figure out what had happened, but in the end, it didn’t matter. She was gone, permanently out of reach, a path closed off forever. He’d tried to cry once; he thought maybe the chemical release would ease the constant misery clouding his mind, but he couldn’t do it. He’d loved that girl, even though he’d never told her, even though—he realized—he’d never even held her hand. He’d seen a future full of joy and beauty, and then it had disappeared into thin air, leaving only a sinkhole.

Gradually, painfully, he built a wall of hatred between himself and his love. The fucking bitch was a tease and a whore, he made himself think. She’d probably lied about all those things in her past; she’d probably lied about everything. He thought of all the little quirks, all the flaws which had made him want to love her and help her and fix her, and he made himself hate them.

He lay still for a long time. Then, suddenly, he jerked up and leapt out of bed like he was breaking free of an invisible restraint. A path had closed, he thought, but there must be another open. There must be another way to achieve beauty and joy in his life. After all, what higher aspiration could there be but beauty? The world was so ugly in so many ways…

He stood in front of the little bookshelf beside the desk, full of books he hadn’t read. He’d been gathering them slowly over the past few years; he liked owning books, especially ones that seemed rare or esoteric or forbidden, but he never made the time to read them. He picked out Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment at random. He used to love fiction, until he began finding himself unable to relate to the protagonists in modern literature. Maybe this time would be different.


The stage is set. The first act is complete: an exemplary mass shooting, perfectly executed to the highest standards of those who have gone before. Now he will exceed them all; he will go the distance no one else has been yet willing to go. A beautiful act, he thinks, worthy of heaven itself. The final point on the mosaic that is his life; chronologically it is the last point, but what does he care of chronology? Time is a construct, and he has broken his shackles to constructs. More or less time on this earth, what does it matter, except to the extent to which it influences the structure and form of a life? Death is a conduit for beauty, and now is the time to allow that beauty to flow through his actions; now is the time to complete his mosaic.

All this flashes through his mind in an instant as he kicks open the glass door of the student center, gun leveled at the open green before him. The library is to his right, another building to his left. Police cars surround the former building, officers taking cover behind them with guns pointed towards the entrance, where the SWAT team is clearing it room-by-room. From the building on his left issues a stream of students evacuating away from him towards the parking lot. It’s as good a situation as he could have hoped: he’s on the wrong side of the police line, with a small crowd of civilians looking on, and—what luck!—a news chopper even hovering high overhead, watching with eagle eyes. A hundred phone-cameras in a hundred hands swing towards him as he opens fire on the police line, descending slowly down the steps of the student center, partially covered by the Brutalist architecture. He kills three cops before they realize where he is and another before anybody returns fire. They have rifles now, and he is forced to duck behind an ugly concrete pillar as rounds whiz past his head. But he doesn’t stop moving: he swings around and comes out on the other side of the pillar in a second, dumping rounds at the still-exposed officers. The onlookers are scattering, but many still record the action from the midst of the crowd and from nearby windows and from the helicopter above as he takes on the police alone. The scene is cinematic as he maneuvers from cover to cover, bursting into the open to advance despite the hail of bullets coming in his direction; he looks like a soldier out of time in his open green combat jacket and blue jeans. A patch from some army that no longer exists adorns his shoulder, and he moves with a drilled confidence towards the line of police cars.

He crouches behind the cruiser he shot up earlier to reload and realizes he’s emptied his last magazine. Dropping the rifle, he draws his pistol. This is it. He hears the SWAT team burst out of the library, shouting to the other officers: where is he? The police are yelling orders, shouting out positions, injuries, get out of there! A hundred cameras watch him steel himself, shove the fear out of his mind, and stand up—and freeze.

There she is. Standing behind him. Her face is terrified but resolute. He never saw her scared before. He stands in stunned disbelief; this is impossible. She can’t be here. A hundred cameras watch his face contort in a mixture of confusion and horror as his mind races: what is she doing here? Can he even trust his eyes? And the question that threatens to crush his soul: had he been wrong? He stares at her, small and hauntingly beautiful, and her eyes seem to peer into his soul, and his heart swells as all the hatred and anger melt away, and he remembers the other path, the one he’d thought was closed. The horrible cries of the wounded slowly come to the fore of his consciousness; they get louder and louder until it’s all he can hear and it feels like his eardrums will burst.

Then, in a voice like a hidden mountain spring, she speaks his name, and suddenly, he is crying.