A Short Story of Hope: Part 1

In the hope of inspiring and in the attitude of gratitude, I want to share with you the tragic yet inspiring tale of Brian Collins, survivor of a church shooting.

You’ve heard the stories before, but in The Shooting of Amy Rose, we find something new: a victim designing a real tangible answer, a solution to the problem of public shootings and the slaughter of innocent Americans.

When a gunman enters his church one sunny morning, Brian is shot and suffers the loss of his fellow believers—and mourns the killing of his beloved Amy Rose. Shaken and broken, Brian abandons his faith. Furious over the failure of lawmakers to protect innocent Americans, he decides to do something about it; he decides to build a device that could be installed in every public building, a device that could very well prevent anyone from shooting innocent Americans in public venues again.

This is the first chapter of his story.

Church is better with a beautiful girl by your side, Brian thought as he stared at Amy, she of the vibrant red hair. It nearly reached down to her hips. Sometimes he caught himself gazing, almost hypnotized by those strands, by her beauty, by her delicate facial features, and at those impossibly smooth hands, so different from his own callused mitts.

“Pay attention,” Amy Rose chided in a playful murmur. “God is watching.” That pixy grin had no place in the house of God. But there it was anyway, just for Brian Collins.

He turned his focus reluctantly onto the preacher, who was standing up front on the podium, telling everyone to rise and join him in worship.

A few stanzas of some new unfamiliar tune, then they were onto ‘How Great is Our God’.

It was a moving rendition, a cappella, powerful enough to filch Brian’s attention from Amy. They were three verses in—the air a bit stifling and tainted by bad breath but filled with peace for all that—when the crescendo came on like the Holy Spirit. Brian closed his eyes and let it sweep him away. Even Amy Rose stood a distant second at times like these, when the Spirit moved over the congregation. He raised a hand in praise.

‘How great is our God, sing with me: how great is our God!’

POP. POP-POP.

Brian opened his eyes. What was that?

Looking around, he noticed others had stopped singing too. Everywhere he looked there were strange glances, consternated expressions.

POP. A flash of color in the corner of his eye. A fleshy thump was followed by a low murmured grunt.

“What is that?” When he turned to Amy with this question, he realized she was no longer standing beside him. He looked down. There she was, lying on the dark red Berber carpet. Was she prostrating herself? It was such an odd sight that he almost chuckled. But then someone screamed, and in the same instant Brian noticed the carpet around Amy morphing into a liquid red, brighter than the fine woven strands of carpet—too bright.

Screams filled the sanctuary as Brian finally knelt down beside her. The music had stopped, to be taken up by this hellish refrain.

Worship was over.

Gently he touched Amy; she was shivering and horribly pale. In a panic Brian stuck his head up over the chairs, scanning for help. But everyone was too busy running and screaming to help him, and no one would’ve heard his cries for aid anyway; his voice was a mere whisper, as if stricken down in volume by the chill terror choking the church.

Breathing became difficult. There was something in the air, worse than bad breath, a tang of burnt ozone assaulting the nostrils.

He glanced back down at Amy and then over the chairs again, toward the back, his head getting dizzy. Near the doors two ushers lay face down, unmoving. Standing over them was a man, dressed all in white. It seemed incongruous, wrong somehow, that a man in white should be spraying bullets at people. If it were a man dressed in black, or fatigues, well . . . wasn’t that how these monsters usually dressed?

That’s when it hit him. We are in a public shooting massacre. Like the kind you see on TV every other month. It couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t be real. Things like this didn’t happen to you; they happened to other people, strangers in other states.

Brian leaned over Amy, placed a shaking finger against her neck to check for a pulse. There was nothing. He kept feeling for that small pump of blood through its vessel. Maybe I’m in the wrong spot. Fingers roamed Amy’s neck, so soft, searching for that all important indicator of life.

Something thwacked into his right leg, and an explosion of pain coursed through his lower body.

Brian collapsed beside Amy, sending chairs crashing backwards. Her perfume was strong down here. Whiff of spring and open fields. Purchased for her 26th birthday a few months ago, Brian had spent hours scouring the city in search of this perfect aroma.

Screams and the pop-pop-pop of the semi-automatic going off faded. Soon the only sound he could hear was that of his own heartbeat, obnoxious in his ears. With a mighty effort Brian managed to raise his right hand and stretch it forward—reaching, straining for Amy. As vision began to swim, he finally found her neck. From his prone position on the carpet, he could see where the vein would be, and allowed his fingers to crawl the length of her lovely neck to caress that vein.

Something flashed close by, just out of sight. A body? Was it the gunman?

Doesn’t matter, Brian decided, and pressed. Nearly blind and deaf from the pain and blood loss now, he barely managed to channel every last drop of energy and focus into searching for a pulse. And praying. Throughout, he prayed. How great is our God. Oh great God, let her live, let my Amy Rose live. Oh dear Jesus God, let her live.

There was nothing. He felt only supple flesh—nothing moving beneath it. Not a trace of life. She had no heartbeat. Oh God, she was gone.

In the hospital later his nurse gave him the run down. He listened and tried not to feel the hard truth, which wasn’t difficult with the morphine drip numbing his body and mind. She spouted data, speaking of dead churchgoers like it was a bullet list, her voice detached; she’d heard it all before. Twelve dead and another twenty six injured, two of them in critical condition, including Brian himself.

Brian crushed his eyelids together to stem a flood of tears.

A thousand petitions coursed through his mind in that stifling ICU, but only one question mattered: How could God let this happen?

He’d known men who had posed this very problem to him. In recent years, as the number of school shootings and public massacres increased, his friends and associates turned to him with this question, knowing he believed in ‘all that fairy tale and magical butterfly stuff’. Either they were genuinely searching for answers, or they just wanted to expose him as a fool.

Either way he had never really been able to explain it. Somehow, this had never bothered him before.

Today it did.

It didn’t make any sense. They were worshipping Him, and yet God let that man walk into His house and kill His people. How could He? Why?

By now the nurse had left. Hopefully she would leave him alone for a good long stretch, give him some time to figure things out, to mourn. As he lay there, sensing the inauguration of throbs coming from the aching bullet wound in his right leg, Brian recalled an old bible story.

It was about a tower in the ancient town of Siloam. Jesus was talking about how it had fallen in and killed 18 people; He’d been using it as a teaching tool about repentance and bad things happening to good people, even when they are worshipping—the whole sin and calamity thing that even today no one could sufficiently explain.

If he was recalling it correctly (it was difficult to focus, with the morphine and pain combo) Jesus used it as a way to point out the importance of repenting, of everyone repenting, in case they happened to end up in similar terrible ends, like those 18 on whom the tower fell.

Brian did recall thinking, as a young man when he heard this story, that Jesus had not done a good job of answering the question of why terrible things happen to good people.

When he asked the teacher about this, she had simply replied—with the condescending aplomb of teachers the world over—that ‘The question is not as important as understanding Jesus’ point, which is that terrible things happen, and so it is important that our hearts are right with God. Time is short, Brian, so we must make our beds.’

The answer provided even less comfort now than it had all those years ago.

At last the AC kicked on. Brian lay back and let the cool air kiss him and take him away.

In the weeks that followed—in a crawl—there were moments of lucidity. There were times of clear-headedness. Those periods were the worst part of his recovery. Suffering through miserable hours of physical therapy and enduring cold-hearted news reports of the Shooting in Springfield First Baptist Church proved tolerable distractions compared to his recollections of that evil day.

Memories attacked him constantly; at night when he slept, during PT when he struggled and wept and swallowed curses (Amy didn’t even like him to say ‘hell’), and during the day as he lay in bed sounds resounded inside his addled memory. The POP-POP-POP of the semi-automatic. The screams of his fellow parishioners. But lurking above all those noises was the memory of Amy Rose.

Amy on the church carpet, prone and motionless and silent.

In the waking hours little sounds startled him. He asked the nurses to stop knocking on his door before entering, as it sent him into panic mode. The man screaming in agony down the hall freaked him out, reminding him eerily of that day in church, when his fellow believers screamed and wept.

Today they would release him. As he lay in bed for the last time, three weeks after the shooting, watching and not watching the news, Brian reflected on his last moments with Amy. Her final words struck him: God is watching.

If she was right, then God was watching while a homicidal man opened fire on God’s people as they worshipped Him.

Earlier today a former student allegedly opened fire on his former classmates in a Florida high school, killing 17 . . .’

Brian sat up. The TV zeroed in on an attractive news anchor, she of the tight blouse and curious shade of lipstick that television producers seem to believe will keep viewers coming back. She continued with the story of the day, elaborating with a hint of a smile that he found deplorable. It was new but all too familiar, this story, and Brian’s left leg twitched as if in rage. How can this keep happening, he wondered. Why doesn’t someone do something about it?

‘The president tweeted today that his thoughts and prayers are with the survivors of the shooting down in Florida.’

The leg twitched again. Brian sat up, looked around at the antiseptic room. His lip curled of its own accord. He massaged his leg. Looking up, he spoke six words, icy and devoid of any remnant of devotion: “I’m never praying to you again.”

Back home on Evans Street, he tried to slip into a new schedule. The PTSD doctor praised routine, as if it were some kind of magical panacea. You lose a loved one, all you need to do is pop into a fresh routine, and voila, everything will be just super. To the man’s credit, Brian’s new routine did help a smidgen. An exercise regimen and learning to cook for himself kept his body busy, while his studies kept his mind occupied.

As might be expected of a survivor, Brian developed a deep and abiding interest in public shootings. His burgeoning obsession found a home in his den on the first floor. Covered in knotty pine and sporting a desk and various mismatching bookshelves, and one neglected, dusty and wilting spider plant, Brian set up his research office in this room.

Within a week the pine walls were plastered in newspaper clippings and various articles from politicians and survivors of public shootings.

Some of the surviving students down in Florida had organized a rally where they spoke with officials, demanding change and making vows that they would not be silenced, that their fallen fellow students would not become just the most recent victims in what some were labeling a war on peace.

In the clippings, various left-wing politicos and right-wing bigwigs responded as they were wont to do—with promises and tiny compromises that everyone knew would never bring any change.

One sunny day not long after the Florida massacre, Brian sat in his den staring at his wallpaper research as a single beam of sunlight shone through the lone window. His arms were crossed. No music played; he’d tossed all his WOW Worship and Hillsong CD’s almost as soon as he’d come home.

So far, his parents and neighbors who’d come over with their hollow condolences had not mentioned the silence.

Perhaps they understood, and didn’t blame him.

“There’s a pattern,” he said to the silence.

Meow

Brian flinched, having forgotten that Misty the cat was lurking about. He stroked the orange and white feline until it got annoyed and jumped off to find more interesting mischief in other rooms. Standing up, Brian hobbled over to the wall. He had ditched the crutches and was now onto a wooden cane sporting a flame decal—because, as he had told his mother: ‘It makes me look like I’m going faster.’

“There are no solutions here,” he said, tapping an article about a suggestion straight out of the White House. According the Springfield Gazette, they were considering arming teachers.

Like all the other hoopla that gun-haters and gun-lovers alike had stirred up over the past few years, this suggestion felt like more of the same. It wasn’t a solution. It didn’t even address the real issue, which was keeping guns out of the public arena, where citizens used to feel safe, and where they should feel safe again.

Turning around and speaking to the silence, Brian declared: ‘We need something real. Something physical that will keep guns out!”

“Are you talking to me?”

Brian responded too quickly, twisting round at the sound of the voice and wrenching his leg in the process. He yelped and staggered back into his chair.

“You okay, Bri?” This from Stephen, a neighbor. “I knocked. When you failed to answer, I took the liberty of entering. I was afraid . . .”

“What, that I’d offed myself?” Brian massaged his knee. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to commit suicide.” He looked up at his neighbor. Stephen stood there in the sunbeam, brilliant morning light illuminating the big man with buzzed hair and giving him an absurdly angelic appearance—a fat angel.

Brian grinned inwardly. In some ways his neighbor was the best man he knew, certainly the most unique. A former engineer, big old Stephen could perform algebraic equations in his head and master Euclidean architecture in his spare time. But the stresses of an academic life had nearly broken him. Now the man stocked shelves at Target and seemed happier for it, content with his place in the world.

Brian scratched his chin. He’d forgotten to shave again, and now his scruff was getting itchy. “What do you think they should do to keep guns out of public places?”

While scrutinizing the articles, Stephen replied with a shrug. “I don’t know.”

“No thoughts on it at all?”

For a long time Brian’s retired-engineer of a neighbor was quiet. Finally the man turned around and looked Brian directly in the eye. “I don’t know what is needed, but I bet the answer will be found in the private sector. No one with the power to actually do something about it has the motivation to do something about it.” He looked around awkwardly, shuffled his feet. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. I just wanted to check up on you.”

Stephen was long gone by the time Brian responded with a whispered “Thank you” and stood to see about supper.

The night was a fitful blend of restlessness, bad memories, and something unexpected.

As he tossed and turned, feet tangled in layers of sweat-stained sheets and blankets, Brian’s attention was snatched up by the sudden appearance of a blazing light. Centered in the corona was what appeared to be a man. The brilliant luminescence concealed the man’s indistinct features, and so as Brian squinted into the light he could not determine the intentions of the man. Was he a burglar?

Was it a bad thing that Brian didn’t keep a gun around for intruders?

“W-what . . . who?”

“Do not be afraid. I am here to give you what you need, what your people need.”

Brian never spoke another word as long as the man stood there, absurd and beautiful and possibly hallucinogenic. Though he listened with great interest, sleep took him the moment the light and the man were gone. He slept peacefully the rest of the night.

In the morning he sat up, touched the cold side of the bed and felt that stab of morning remorse. He swung his feet out. For a long time he sat there with his head in his hands, itching absently at a mangy goatee and unkempt hair. Each morning he was forced to endure the lonely reminder of Amy’s absence. He almost wished they had broken it off a few months ago, so that she’d still be alive today. But that was ridiculous; First Baptist Church was Amy Rose’s childhood church, and Brian was merely the visitor. She’d have been there anyway.

After spending a few minutes massaging his right leg to snuff out the pins and needles stabbing him around the scar, he reached for his cane and stood.

Like he’d been struck, Brian collapsed back onto the mattress. The memory of last nights’ events surged to the forefront of his mind, until he could think of nothing else, until the recollection of the mysterious man in the light dominated his world. What was it the man had said? It was something about a device. Yes, that was it, a device that the world needed, a tool for solving an unsolvable issue.

But what exactly was this device? Had the man described it . . . Brian clutched his head as pain shot through it. Convoluted visions clouded his mind’s eye. Unfinished blueprints filled the air before him; it seemed the only thing to do was record them. He dove across the bed, wrenching his leg and ignoring the pain to shuffle through the other bed stand drawer in search of a pen and notepad.

Coming up with them, he lay flat on the bed and proceeded to jot down every detail that came to him. Images and impressions flowed. For what seemed hours he lay there dictating, so that by the end he had five full pages of notes on the mysterious device.

An hour later, after finally confessing to himself that he couldn’t make fluff or feather out of the pages, Brian ambled over to Stephen’s house.

“Hmm,” Stephen muttered for the eighteenth time. After receiving the pages from his neighbor, the man has spent 10 solid minutes perusing, his incoherent rambling punctuated by a ‘hmm’ here and a ‘huh’ there. At last he set the pages down and looked at Brian. “You said these came to you in a dream?”

Brian nodded. Telling a worldly engineer that he’d received the baffling blueprints from what appeared to be an angel seemed a smidgen unwise, so Brian had come up with the more prosaic ‘dream’ explanation. Now he waited patiently while the smartest man he knew considered the results of his non-dream encounter.

“Well, it looks doable.”

Shock and awe traveled through Brian’s system, culminating in a tingling sensation in the thick scar tissue where he’d been shot. “Doable? You mean . . . we could build it?”

Taking up the papers, which were now crinkled and smeared with finger oils, Stephen again scanned the convoluted blueprints. “We could. Physically, I mean. But it could cost a bit; something like this will need a sophisticated brain, circuits and software, and a powerful electromagnet. I’m not sure where we’d get that.” The man scratched absently at his balding scalp.

For the first time since before the shooting of Amy Rose, Brian felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, and hope tugging at his heartstrings. Still, he dared not smile or let hope burn too brightly. He knew better than most how easily it could all be torn away.

But still, he thought, we could do this.

“Let’s do it, then,” he said.

Without a word Stephen Smith nodded. And so began yet another new phase in Brian Collins’ life. This time he would not rely on God or prayer, but on human ingenuity and knowhow, and on a little bit of elbow grease. Of course, the issue of money brought up some new complications. Without God to provide, and without Amy Rose to encourage him, Brian would have to find alternative means of financing his dream of ending gun violence in public schools and buildings.

It would be difficult and time consuming. If it worked, it would be worth every drop of sweat and blood and of falling into debt.’

In the next chapter, we follow Brian as he navigates the red-tape of politics, and struggles to succeed against the various pitfalls of building such a device. You can wait to read it free here in the next post, or discover it now for yourself here. Thank you, and keep on writing.