“10:25 EDT” by Rachael Warecki

I. The Minutes Before and After; the Minutes In-Between

Although the call crackles over our scanners at 10:36 a.m., we know the trouble started earlier. Those of us reporting for the Intelligencer up in Lancaster are jaded enough to do the math, make an estimate based on what we’d gleaned from the local geography. 9-1-1 call came from outside the schoolhouse; it would’ve taken some time to escape—ten minutes or thereabouts, so let’s say 10:25. We make a note of it because we know we’ll have to refer to it later: in our newspapers, in our magazine articles, in the books some of us will write about those brief, violent minutes, once enough time has passed. Even though there have been no shootings yet, the darker, more literary parts of us recognize that it’s just a matter of time, that soon another set of hours and minutes will grace our notes, because the emergency call had mentioned a gun. Ten-seventy-two, the dispatcher had said. The stories told by police scanners, like those of Chekhov, tend to follow a certain arc when there’s a ten-seventy-two.

Who would do this to the Amish? one of us asks later, once the third act has reached its grim conclusion and we’re gathered around the crime scene perimeter, waiting for the answer to that exact question. What kind of person? And to children. It’s like shooting bunny rabbits.

We nod and look out at the farmland around us. It’s a far cry from Lancaster, this emphatic, unending flatness, and for those of us who are city-born and bred, the wide open spaces are uncomfortable. God’s country, we think, except here God feels oppressive, like one day His hand came down from the sky and pressed the entire region as flat as He could. It’s easy to imagine the fields around the schoolhouse strewn with bloody rabbit carcasses, left to rot because they’ve been shot for sport.

What kind of person? we repeat to each other, and even though we’re sickened—saddened, horrified—we’ve already begun to do our jobs, crafting a scaffold onto which we can build a shadow-man or boogey monster, creating a story.

II. This Kind of Person

This kind of person made a list, we discover. Or rather, the police discover, and then they share it with us: a list of materials for the possible rape and definite murder of five Amish schoolgirls. Tape. Eyebolts. Lubricant. A hose. Bullets, guns. Binoculars, earplugs. Flashlights. Wood. Candles. We add the items to our notes because they are important to the story. Those of us who write by hand give each item its own line, as if by separating these instruments across the length of a legal pad, we can avoid imagining their uses. Some of us go home that night and avoid making love to our husbands or wives; the tiny bottles of KY Jelly cast monstrous shadows across the drawers of our bedside tables.

This kind of person left a note: “I don’t know how you put up with me all those years. I am not worthy of you, you are the perfect wife you deserve so much better. We had so many good memories together as well as the tragedy with Elise. It changed my life forever I haven’t been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate toward God and unimaginable emptyness it seems like everytime we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn’t here to share it with us and I go right back to anger.”[1] Some of the more cynical reporters make cracks about the spelling and grammar. A few of us, doodling in the margins, find we’ve sketched strange body parts: whiskers, floppy ears, cottontails.

[1] Text of the first page of a three-page suicide note written by the murderer to his wife. Source: The Associated Press.

III. Es ist eine Waffe / There Is a Gun

„Der Mann mit derPistole istmit mir.EristeineSprache, der ichnicht versteh,sprechen. Ist Englisch, ich weiß, aber ich habkein Englisch, und seine Worte sindschwer zu folgen, wie meine Schwester, als sie Wagenräder tut,denkt sieniemand sehen kann. ‚Was?‘, frage ich den Mann. ‚Wer sind Sie?‘ Und nechste: ‚Bitte.‘ Ich bin erschrocken. Er richte die Pistole auf mich jetzt wie mein Vater zielte seine Waffe auf seinen Hund als er krank war. Hinter unser Haus naemt er es Hund, als er dachte, dass ichnicht auf der Suche. Ich bin nicht krank, aber immer noch der Mannschaut mich an, wie ich bin, dass Hund.Dannzieht erseine Handund ich kannsein Gesickt nicht mehr sehen.Alles, was ichsehe, istdie Waffe.“[2]

[2] Some of us are from the region and speak Pennsylvania Dutch; the story we are looking for is that of the victims. We imagine their thoughts: “The man with the gun is talking to me. He is speaking a language I don’t understand. I know it is English, but I do not know English, and his words are hard to follow, like my sister when she does the cartwheels she thinks no one can see. ‘What?’ I ask the man. ‘Who are you?’ And then ‘Please.’ I am frightened. He is pointing the gun at me now, the way my father pointed his gun at his dog when it was sick. He did it behind our house when he thought I wasn’t looking. I’m not sick, but still the man looks at me like I am that dog. Then he moves his hand and I can’t see his face anymore. All I see is the gun.”

IV. This Kind of Person (Part II)

This kind of person molested children, we learn.

By now, we’re no longer crowding ourselves around the yellow-taped perimeter of the crime scene. We’ve returned to our offices and keep tabs on the case via phones, computers, and the Associated Press. Those of us from smaller publications, like the Elizabethtown Journal and the Intercourse News, have been assigned happier, homier stories: the festival at Stoudt’s Brewery or a review of the latest Amish theater production. The reporters from national publications have long since decamped to places that have more intimate relationships with violence. (This was the third school shooting this week[3], one of those correspondents said the day she arrived, one full day after the rest of us had scratched 10:25 into our memories. Her voice was tired; she didn’t carry a notebook.)

This kind of person drove a milk truck, we note as an afterthought—realize that detail is not quite correct, cross it out, write tanker, because a truck and a tanker are two different things, and the phrase milk tanker is far more accurate and ominous: those of us who at first pictured a white van and doorstep-glass-bottle-delivery are quick enough to replace that vision with a hulking, black, anonymous semi, a more appropriate image to associate with this kind of person.

Still: this kind of person had a policeman for his father.

This kind of person had a wife. Children.

This kind of person once washed dishes for a living. Some of us remember high school summers spent elbow-deep in suds; some of us leave our stacks of dirty coffee mugs to soak one more day in our office sinks. The doodles along our notebook margins take on dark, specific shapes: curlicues that could be intestines, ink blots like pools of blood.

This kind of person has not built himself to the architectural standards we created when we first crafted our story’s scaffolding, and so we examine the nooks and crannies of our towns with new eyes. Corners and alleys make us nervous. Even those of us who’ve never lived in the country start to long for the infinite flatness of farmland. Between the corn and the sky, we reason, at least we’ll be able to see someone coming. We know our thinking is irrational (tape, eyebolts, bullets, guns, five dead little girls), but we think it anyway.

[3] At Platte Canyon High School, September 27, 2006, and at Weston High School, September 29, 2006.

V. The Years and Years and Years

Hours and minutes continue to pass. Although few of them have to do with the case, we mark time anyway. Those of us closest to the Amish community attend the funerals of those five little girls and watch as national news outlets are captivated by the levels of warmth and forgiveness they find there. We notice when we stop assigning ominous interpretations to our notebook doodles, and then again when we stop using notebooks altogether. We memorize the day when the Intelligencer Journal merges with the Lancaster New Era. We keep lists of the publication dates of those books we always knew we’d write. The darker, more literary parts of ourselves hide the lists that show our remainder numbers, which tell us that we will never succeed in publishing again.

It’s harder to pinpoint the exact minute when our papers start to shut down or move online, when we start to lose our jobs. Those of us who are young and show promise manage to land positions in cities with more robust publications. A few of us move out to the country and try to appreciate the oppressive palm-print of God’s hand, the endless amount of free time He’s graced us with. We try to emulate the Amish. We buy shotguns we barely know how to use. We plant vegetable gardens that wither and die, and we’re surprised by how good our anger feels as we rip the rotting roots from the soil. When we doodle, which happens more frequently once we give up on our gardens, we sketch shapes that are lonely and uncertain. We try to create new stories for ourselves, but we keep losing the endings.

We listen to the police scanners when we can. Those of us who are still in the Lancaster area agree it’s gotten worse: ten-seventy-twos every day—every hour, it seems, when things are really bad. It stays with us when we turn back to our radios or try to escape into our phones; our eyes and ears are filled with stories about children’s bodies in Colorado, in Arizona, in Connecticut. Our pens couldn’t have kept up with all the hours and minutes that now need to be written down.

On days like that, we forget the wide-open sky and rows of corn. We go back to our small, isolated houses and sit on our porches with our new-bought shotguns across our laps and remember how vividly we imagined these fields covered in the bodies of dead rabbits. We wonder what kind of people we are.

1091093_347757792022433_1818843801_oIn addition to receiving honorable mentions in contests held by Glimmer Train, The Masters Review, and The Stoneslide Corrective, Rachael Warecki’s fiction has previously appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Masters Review, and elsewhere. She has twice attended the Tin House Writers Workshop, studying under Luis Alberto Urrea and Karen Russell. She received her MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and is also an alumna of Scripps College, Loyola Marymount University, and the Teach for America corps. She resides in Los Angeles and works as a digital media marketing specialist for Burbank Bob Hope Airport.


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