A Transition in Colour by Mahesh Gopalan

Third place honours in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2018 Literary Contest

“Every saint has a past, every sinner a future.” ― Oscar Wilde

The shooter eyed the clock nonchalantly; then decided it was time.

The history lesson dragged on monotonously, while his five targets sat nearby suspecting nothing. The loaded Glock nestled ominously in his unwavering hands. His father had praised his marksmanship, when they had been pheasant-hunting in Pennsylvania, back in the day when his father lived with him and loved his mom. Standing up, he squeezed the trigger. In a few gory seconds, it was all over. Now the final part remained. He had one more life to take – his own.

Just as he was doing that, his eyes fell on Mrs. Clifford, who was frozen in fear wondering if her life would be ending soon too, like the others. That puzzled the shooter, as he couldn’t fathom why his favorite teacher Mrs. Clifford would even consider him a threat, after everything she had done for him over the years. She was always on his team, helping him. Mrs. Clifford just had to see the events of the past few minutes from his view. The shooter had to set the record straight.

This dithering was exactly what the Response team needed as they raced to the school, sirens blaring. Bursting into the scene, the Chief studied the situation and hollered to his men, “Hold your fire. Take him alive.” It was the first time that an active shooting incident ended with the shooter captured alive, in recent memory.

The ecstatic media cashed in on this windfall, with their 24 hour sensational coverage and endless debates on gun control, mental health and the question of arming teachers. But in the end, all the noise fizzled out and the status-quo remained.

The entire nation remained transfixed on the trial. The defence lawyer realized the only way to save his client’s life was to plead insanity. The jurors predictably returned a guilty verdict and every eye turned to the judge, who considering the shooters age, surprised all by declining the death penalty, instead striking it down to life in prison. Amongst the many discontented faces that day was the shooter himself, who hoped for a very quick end to this sordid saga.

At the County Jail the shooter kept to himself, rarely speaking a word – except to Adam, the visiting behavioral scientist, who seemed to put him at ease.

05/02/2017 Adam’s Notes…

– What made you do it? Are you now sorry for what happened?
– Sorry? For what? No…
You need to be the change you want to see. Now no one else will be preyed upon like I was.

Adam’s Comments – Subject remains delusional. On a suicide watch.

Then Lisa, a volunteer with Recipe for Change, a non-profit working amongst inmates inculcating self-responsibility, entered the scene. The vacant eyes of the shooter reminded her of her own young brother. However hard she tried, it was next to impossible to open him up, but being an experienced campaigner Lisa wouldn’t admit defeat easily. She firmly believed that deep within any individual, however condemned, exists an inherent Potential for change – The change for the better! She just had to help it sprout.

In the end the shooter made it easy for her, requesting for oil paints and canvas, himself. The next day he began by mixing the paints to create different hues. By lunch, he had his first painting ready. Lisa was pretty impressed by what she saw. The following days, the shooter created paintings with a unique sense of realism having bold and vibrant hues, contrasting tones and swirls that made them stand out. The art style included impressionism with scenic landscapes, valleys and hills, streets with lighting using gentle brush strokes.

Lisa always wondered what motivated the shooter to have snapped the way he did. Did he ever feel remorse?

“This Friday, we will be having a fund-raising sale of all work done by the inmates. I’m pretty sure your paintings would gather a lot of interest.”

The shooter listened but said nothing, an idea materializing in his mind.

The next day, the shooter was up early. He carefully mixed the oils preparing a vivid mixture of dark oranges and bright shades of crimson. And he painted. He had to get this right. The shooter opting for abstract expressionism, immediately transformed the blank canvas into an array of emotions, picking up the crescendo with his strokes. He was in a trance; painting wildly…He felt his mother’s presence nearby as she watched him work. And Mrs. Clifford was with her…Telling her she always believed in him. His mother was smiling, proud of him. He recalled the terrified look on Mrs. Clifford’s face, that afternoon. It seemed ages ago… He had let them down, and this was his moment…in some small way…The shooter then splashed the canvas with the paints; the oranges mixing with the reds, the blues with the greens and was pleased at what he saw.

At the sale, art lovers from around town were fascinated with the shooter’s work, especially his last one with the two orange ovals in a panorama of color.

It’s the birth of the cosmos…The portal to hell…Ravaging wildfires…The proverbial fury of the scorned woman…

Lisa arrived in the morning.

“Your painting was lapped up. Your inherent flair with bright colors was widely appreciated.”

No response. Not even a smile. It was like talking to a chair. Was there anything that touched him?

“The two bright orange blobs…What were you depicting?” Lisa now pleaded to get the shooter talking.
“Surely, there must be some significance…”

In his head, the shooter silently debated whether to respond or ignore.

After a minute of silence, Lisa watched the painter turn his face away from her, avoiding her eyes.

The painter then whispered “That’s my soul, meeting the Creator…begging for forgiveness…”

School shootings remain a tragic recurring occurrence in the USA, with 44 incidents already reported this year…