Mitzi Brenner, an introverted 35-year-old, stuck to an existence of physical work, a routine that kept her in an unusual comfort zone. She drove to the back parking lot of Melrose Middle School in Sweetbay, Texas. The first mode of progressive thought was to check her emails in her compact custodial office. She smiled sweetly to herself as she pressed “enter” to her friendly Dell PC desktop.

She whispered after getting through the sign-in to her Yahoo! account, “Hope this is the day. The fifteenth short story written, and this one gets published.”

She scrolled down and opened her mail from Paris Review. In quiet disappointment, she shook her head, thinking I was so sure this one would validate my passion as a writer.

A fairly attractive man with a thick brown mustache and dreamy green eyes, ten years her senior, popped his head into the open door to her office. “Hey, blondie, c-c-could use your help. The boys’ bathroom in Academy 3 is f-f-full of water. I’ve got to get on to the cafeteria.” He got it out with only a few stutters.

“Of course, Joseph, the computer has nothing for me today.” One click of the mouse, and she raised up to help her co-worker and friend out. They walked down two corridors to the beginning of her area. He would look over at her at every pace or two. Joseph had held a silent lingering crush for her going on the last eight years. Mitzi seemed to him as a mystery for someone her age. Her looks were a complete contradiction to her lack of interest towards the opposite sex. Most women in their thirties or any age needed to be in a relationship at all times, but not Mitzi. She seemed happier in her single state of affairs.

She dressed in jeans hugging tightly around her waist, stomach and hips. She complimented the jean ensemble with T-shirts or some sports top tucked in neatly. Her long, thick ash blonde hair would be tightly pulled back by a tie that matched the color of her top. Joseph imagined at times that mass of hair spread out on pillows next to him in bed. He did not act on this fantasy, for reasons being he was married, and the belief that how could someone so pretty want to be with him?

Throughout their eight-year association, Joseph was the only man Mitzi showed any outward regard for. Each day before Joseph left for the day, Mitzi would spend her five o’clock break with him. They possessed an easy way of conversation, and despite his stuttering, she showed no ridicule.

They came to the bend where Joseph would turn to get access to the cafeteria. “Oh, before I f-f-forget.” He stopped for a minute to catch his breath. “T-T-there is a meeting for all staff and teachers in the auditorium at 4:30, gotta be there.”

“Mmm, any idea what it’s about?” Mitzi asked.

“Nope, but know it’s important. Some suit from the county government is talking to us.” Joseph said, then waved her off.

At 4:30, Mitzi joined her custodial staff, day and night custodians. She whispered to Claudia, the older dark-haired, Mother Teresa-type custodian assigned to the offices, big gymnasium, and health class hall. “I hope this isn’t what I’ve been dreading.”

“Well, he’s the Harrison County councilman, so I believe it might be what I fear, too.” Claudia answered back.

The man, well-dressed and aptly poised came up to the podium in the center of the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking time away from your busy day to come to this vital gathering. This fall, Proposition 89-CW has been voted on and passed. It states that all school administrators, teachers, and staff will be trained to carry concealed weapons.”

The packed auditorium rumbled with building reaction. Some seemed in favor, others vehemently opposed to the recent state legislation. A tall redheaded male teacher stood up. “Sir, is this mandatory?”

A uniformed officer from the Sweetbay Sheriff’s Office joined the councilman. He took the microphone, “Yes, if you want to stay employed by the state. Those of you who are not licensed to carry a firearm need to do so immediately!”

In the front row, Iris Ridgeway, a raven-haired, rotund, highly vocal secretary from Melrose stood up. “I haven’t shot a gun since college. Are we going to have some kind of training?”

The officer answered. “I believe the councilmen already mentioned that. There will be classes to sign up for down at Town Hall. In each school, there will be a team of trained law enforcement officers in play. Where the schools have none, there will be metal detectors put in at the front entrances. All of you will have to use your personal swipe cards to gain access to the other back and side entrances.”

The meeting ended at 5:30 and Mitzi ran out and ahead of everyone else. She took shelter in one of the handicapped stalls in the girls’ bathroom close to the cafeteria. She slid the metal lever to lock, then huddled against the left corner close to the long steel bar. She shook violently, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. She cried quietly as a nightmarish memory came rushing in.

A woman was screaming, holding her left ankle, the most vulnerable part—the Achilles heel. Her hands were covered in blood. She looked up, screaming some more. A man was coming closer to her, bending over with a bloody knife in his hand. A shot rang out. He raised up and turned around. Another shot blasted out. This second shot forced his large body to the hard tile bathroom floor.

Mitzi pulled out some toilet paper and wiped her eyes. She told herself, “Get ahold of yourself. You’re safe. Momma survived. We live a good life in this sweet town.”

She heard Claudia’s voice. “Mitzi, are you all right?”

Mitzi came out of the last stall. “Hey, Claudia, I had to pee something fierce.”

Claudia showed relief. “You ran ahead of everyone. I thought the meeting upset you.”

Mitzi was calm, showing no signs of what she suffered only minutes prior. Washing her hands, she gave Claudia a crooked grin, “I want to keep my job, so I’ve got to comply.”


Ten o’clock came, but no rest for the weary. Mitzi drove on to Mabel’s Double D for two or three hours of cleaning and taking the trash out for early morning pick-up. She parked her car in a half-moon shaped driveway in front of a gray and white stone two-bedroom ranch-type house. She walked through a line of sweetbay magnolia trees which dominated most of the coniferous forest in and around the quaint town of Sweetbay.

Long green pods hung from the dense branches of the trees. She took the small red berry-like fruit which emerged from the pods to her upturned nose. The fruit smelled of faint bubble gum. She walked into the back of Mabel’s, where the tall sweaty gray-headed cook was cleaning the massive long grill.

Bart Cooper, wrapped in a grease-stained white apron, turned around. “Good, you’re here. Some old codger of a trucker stunk up the men’s bathroom something awful.”

“They did what I feared, Bart. We have to carry a weapon to work.” Mitzi said.

Bart put down his dirty rag and scratched his head full of thick tufts, going every which way and that. “Well, your mom said you’re a crack shot.”

She yelled back as she reached the closet with her cleaning cart. “I hate guns. I have to get a license and buy one if I want to continue working at the school.”

The bathrooms were cleaned and smelled like nothing had ever soiled them. It was time for Mitzi to take a break. She came to the counter where Mabel Brenner, owner, was talking to a couple of truckers needing pie and coffee before they went out onto Interstate 20 again. Mabel Brenner, tall and redheaded, preserved her curvy figure very well since her days as a Las Vegas showgirl.

“Sorry to interrupt your fascinating dialogue, Momma. Could I get the last piece of Lizzie’s pecan pie?” Mitzi barked out in a sarcastic tone.

Mabel tapped the hands of her last customers and winked. “Boys, excuse me. My darlin’ daughter needs some fuel.” She walked towards where Mitzi was seated with a decided limp.

Mabel’s Double D was one of those eating places holding fast to a “simpler time” when communities were bound by shared stories, pan-fried chicken, hamburgers on the grill, and hot coffee. 27 years ago, Mabel bought a plain, dreary, concrete-block, peeling stucco rectangular building not too far from Interstate 20. She put a cheerful canary-yellow paint job over the exterior and had giant lime-green shutters installed beside each window. The specials changed daily: Bart’s toasted onion cheeseburgers, chicken and dressing, smothered pork chops, and Mabel’s signature country-fried steak. The cornbread for morning fare was light and buttery. As for the home-baked pies, several varieties were prepared by waitress Liz Madewell, an ex-cop from Chicago.

Mitzi took one bite. Her eyes closed in sheer delight of what her taste buds were experiencing. “Oh, that almost makes the news today seem palpable.”

“What happened, sweet girl?” Mabel asked, leaning in close, her extremely made-up eyes all wide and waiting to hear.

“All personnel—including custodians at Melrose—all over Texas have to comply to carry a concealed weapon, Momma. I heard it at the meeting and I lost it! I shook like silly in one of Claudia’s restroom stalls.”

“It’s a known fact: you know how to handle a gun. Maybe it won’t happen at Melrose,” Mabel reasoned.

“Momma, there you go with your unrealistic Disney mind! There have been sixty-nine school shootings since January. This state is the first in this gun-loving country to pass this law, and others will follow. Can I keep it together and control myself when faced with a shooter?”

“Sweetie, the last time you were so young. You held a gun and saved a life! You seemed to get over it!” Mabel said, holding on to Mitzi’s arm. This development and Mitzi’s state of mind made Mabel very uncomfortable. “Honey, we’ll talk later. I hear Bart yelling for me.”

While chewing the last heavenly bites of Lizzie’s pie, Mitzi mulled over in her mind whether she should talk to someone about that nagging sick feeling she possessed whenever she remembered that horrible night. She could not understand why the lawmakers couldn’t go for a more reasonable order of solutions: more concrete gun laws, stricter background checks, mental help more readily available to problem youth, raising the gun ownership age to at least 21, and banning AR-15 assault rifles.

Mitzi was surprised when she passed the battery of questions on a background check. She showed no emotion and sat there with a deadpan expression as she answered the Sweetbay officer’s line of questions. There existed a thought she did not vocalize: the incident she was involved in 27 years ago where she shot a man twice who was threatening her mother after he had almost cut her up, causing her early retirement from the bright-light stages of Las Vegas. Her application for a gun license proved there existed holes in the present Texas gun laws.

Liz Madewell came up to Mitzi one night when she was cleaning the front room of the diner. Liz, much like Mitzi, held her good looks under a bushel of no make-up, a dowdy posture, and a short, spiked hairdo. She came to Mitzi’s eye level, proving both women were taller than most females they knew in Sweetbay.

“Mitzi, I heard you were forced to carry a concealed weapon. If there is anything I can help you with, let me know,” Liz told her.

Mitzi demonstrated a sigh of relief: someone was actually giving her practical help rather than a pie-in-the-sky optimism that only left her empty and more angry. “Lizzie, yes, by all means, help me in what gun to purchase. I’m thinking a .357 Magnum.”

“Your thinking is going in the right direction; highly effective terminal ballistics.” Liz bobbed her head up and down, giving forth a half-grin.

Mitzi grimaced and asked, “Terminal ballistics, what does that mean?”

Liz smiled and told her in a professional mode of body language, carried over from her cop days. “The .357 Magnum is highly effective because the bullets or projectiles hit the target dead on, so to speak.”

A crusty, white-haired old man in a dirty red ball cap at the end of the long counter yelled, “Would you ladies stop swapping stories over whose boyfriend is the hottest? I need the check!”

Liz nudged Mitzi and giggled. “If he only knew what we were discussing. I’ll meet you at Barney’s Guns and Targets tomorrow at 2PM.” She winked and waved the customer down. “Don’t get your Fruit of the Looms in a wad. I’m coming, Chester.”

As the weeks turned into months, Mitzi held her inner tremors to a minimum. She confidently used her stainless steel adjustable .357 Magnum during her regular stops at Barney’s gun range, attached to his massive arsenal in the cheery-looking gun shop. Liz would accompany her on occasion. She would tell Mitzi many times, “Stare at your target, keeping the emotions churning inside you in check. If you have to shoot, think to yourself, ‘it’s the shooter or me.’”


Months went by and all discussion on the gun issue had stopped, especially between her co-workers. Life went on as it always did, serious news stories abounded, but as all humans do, what doesn’t affect them personally is out of mind. Mitzi gained a routine added on to her past one: she parked in the back of the school across the lot from her area of three academies. She swiped her school ID card and walked directly to her custodial office. She not only locked her purse away in the tall brown cabinet across from her computer, but placed another, smaller green leather bag next to her purse which housed her firearm and a shoulder holster. The contents in the cabinet were secured by a padlock with only her key to unlock.

Ready to begin her area, Mitzi checked the three entrances to each academy, making sure the double doors were locked. It was April and the lined-up sweetbay magnolias and sweetgum trees decorated the back part of the elongated school with an array of white fragrant flowers and a heavy scent of pine resin.

She was rolling her large gray trash bin towards Academy 5 when she spied two tall skinny boys looking to be around sixteen, older than the middle school students. They wore black hoodies with the hoods pulled over to hide their heads and faces. They walked extremely fast down to the hallway where the big gymnasium was located. She thought it odd that their body language and their dress was not like the other casual students going back and forth from bathrooms to their classes.

She put her bin aside and walked to the office in the front of the school. The principal was exiting the door where his personal office was located. “Sir, I saw two suspicious looking males heading to the main gym area. They wore hoodies and they seemed older than the students here.”

“Mitzi, there is a strong breeze outside today. Most students use their hoodies to protect their Chromebooks. You know how the male students ram each other, and some eighth graders look older.” He attempted to dispel her alarm.

She was about to give him more of an argument when a loud pop like a firecracker went off. In another second, another pop came which sounded more like a shot, then screams commenced simultaneously as more shots rang out. The principal got on his radio, “Officers, I believe we are under fire! I repeat, under fire!”

Mitzi ran in the other direction to her office. Her heart raced and her mind held one objective: to retrieve her shoulder holster and her .357 Magnum. Each ongoing step was timed to perfection: she unlocked the cabinet, strapped on her shoulder holster, checked the cartridge for a full round of bullets, unlatched the safety, and placed the gun in both of her hands, pointing it down.

She made it to the corridor next to the library double doors. She moved very slowly to the open hallway at the corner of the library. She was face to face with one of the shooters. He was pimple-faced, his small dark eyes wide as saucers, his breath very heavy. The barrel of the .357 Magnum came up to the level of his eyes. She stood there thinking, don’t pull the trigger until he raises his firearm to shoot.

The hoodie was fully opened, revealing the short barrel of the rifle that could easily have been hidden under the back of the hoodie. He lifted the rifle. More gunshots were heard far behind where he stood. His body was shaking. His intense, frightening stare translated to Mitzi, his intent to shoot her. Mitzi pulled the trigger as he raised the barrel another inch. He hit the floor, his body jerking around like a giant beetle on its back. Although injured, he maneuvered his upper body to shoot. Mitzi fired again.

The entire altercation took less than three minutes. Mitzi was not sure where her bullets had hit until she bent over him. He was breathing, but had stopped moving. One bullet had hit his right shoulder while the other one hit him in the right side of his neck, close to his jugular.

She held her gun on him until one of the officers ran up to them. Out of breath, the officer asked, “You did this?”

Mitzi could only nod her head up and down. Speaking was difficult; she felt like she was going to faint at any minute. The shooter was soon wheeled away in a gurney. Joseph came running up. Mitzi moved like a robot, put the safety back into place, and put the gun into the shoulder holster.

“My God, you are some kind of a hero. Both the vice principals pinned down the other one.” Joseph put his hand on Mitzi’s other shoulder.

“Joseph, how many students and staff got shot?” she asked, being able to speak again.

Breathless, and surprisingly not stuttering, he said, “Five basketball players got shot right away, and two coaches when the shooter hit them at the far right entrance of the gym. I think the players are only injured, but when the coaches were wheeled away,” Joseph shook his head with tears in his eyes, “they were covered with a sheet, both of them.”

“Could you come with me? I’ve got to put my gun and holster away.” Mitzi said, then began shaking all over. Joseph held on to her right arm, leading down the hallway.

They walked back to her area. She shook her head in disbelief. “I checked my entrances before I got the trash bin. How did they get in?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “I overheard one of the science teachers saying he forgot to take the rock out of one of the doors in Academy 4.”

His radio went off. Both of them recognized the voice. It was Iris Ridgeway cackling in an unpleasant tone of command. “We need a custodian to clean up in and outside of the gym.”

“Joseph, I’ll go with you. The work will help us calm down some.” Mitzi told him, stroking the middle of his back.

Rolling down a filled mop bucket and the small pick-up, Claudia met them at a plethora of blood puddles. Claudia was putting out buckets of water to dissipate the blood as Mitzi picked up the liquid. Joseph came behind and used the chemical solution in the mop water to disinfect the tile floor and part of the wood-shellac floor in the gym. The work session for the next twenty minutes was done in complete silence.

Iris, despite her weight, moved rather quickly down to where the custodians were finishing up the bloody mess. “Well, my fine careless girl, Mitzi, I wonder how you could fail to secure those doors? Care to share this with me?” She pointed her finger at where Mitzi stood, staring but silent.

Joseph approached Iris, coming so close that she backed up. “It’s n-n-not Mitzi’s fault!” He was so overcome that all that came out next was stutters and spitting. Iris raised her hands and turned around. Her wide feet, poured into her spiked red shoes, went clacking and clumping down the hard tile floor back to her office.

The custodians could see two officers from the sheriff’s office open the left side main doors to a team of cameramen and a woman reporter. The woman reporter poked her microphone in front of Mitzi. “Can you tell the viewers how it felt to face and eventually stop the second shooter?”

Mitzi stood there, looking at the two cameras close by and the face of the reporter who seemed like a snarling cat, ready to pounce on her answer. “If you have ever shot someone, any human, no matter how evil they are, you would not be bothering me right now. I have to get back to work. There are more bloody areas to clean up.” Mitzi walked away.


In two weeks, the school days recommenced as though there had no incident. At the beginning of Mitzi’s shift, Joseph and her were blessed again by the sound of Iris Rideway’s next radio command. “A custodian is needed in the cafeteria. Trash is grossly taking over.” They rolled their eyes at each other and got to the cafeteria as soon as possible. As both tirelessly took out four bins worth of trash, Mitzi walked over to where a group of secretaries were consuming the remainder of the spaghetti and meatballs from lunch.

Mitzi’s demeanor was pleasant. She told them, “Ladies, we will be back to clean away your plates when you have finished.”

“Oh, by the way, Mitzi, we could have used a dessert of a fresh baked pie from Mabel’s Double D. I have heard the ‘Double D’ stands for your mother’s large bra size. With those big cups, that is how she gets all those male customers.” Iris said, gloating with what she thought was amusing.

Mitzi said nothing, and thought it best to walk out of the cafeteria. Iris kept going on in her cackling tone of seething words. “She was an ex-showgirl, your mother. More like an ex-whore, I’m sure of it. No wonder they ran her out of Las Vegas!”

In ten minutes, Mitzi came back into the cafeteria. The ladies were finishing up their plates. They looked up. Although head down, Iris was still eating her large mound of pasta. Those surrounding Iris at the table stood up, scrambled out of their seats, and ran away screaming. Mitzi stood there one table back from Iris with her .357 Magnum, ready to fire. In a split-second, the projectile hit the target. It went into the center of Iris’s forehead.

Her head of curly thick black hair, her greatest asset of any kind of adornment, fell into the remainder of her half-eaten spaghetti. Mitzi threw the gun on the floor. She spoke as though Iris could hear her. “Now, Iris, you won’t be calling my momma a whore ever again.”

Mitzi sat down at the table across from the unconscious Iris as blood oozed out onto the plate and the surface in front of her. Mitzi sat with the body until the authorities arrived. It was as if Mitzi was babysitting over Iris until her soul went off to a better place, away from a physical place on Earth which no one would have ever thought could be a place of violence.

She sighed and let out a deep breath. Maybe she was relieved that the trigger in her head was silent. Or the hard fact that being imprisoned for a long time would keep the trigger from coming back. Mitzi knew deep in her mind and heart that to take up the call of a concealed weapon brought back the same mindset she had when she killed that man 27 years ago.