Healing through story

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shortfiction24 – shattered by a bullet

Paige Ryker struggles to recover after a school shooting shattered her life.

For 2024 I will be posting a new short story here every other Wednesday. If you would prefer to receive my weekly newsletter by email, you can sign up here. The newsletter will feature these stories as well as serialized stories from earlier blog posts.

Shattered by a Bullet

Bob Gillen

On the first day of school after summer break, Paige Ryker sat at her favorite school cafeteria table. Her friends Meghan and Kim were not there. 

Paige knew they wouldn’t be. 

They were dead. 

Several girls, fellow juniors, waded through the lunchroom chaos to join Paige.

“The freshmen get stupider every year,” Mara said. “I was almost wearing someone’s mac and cheese.”

“Hey, Paige,” another girl called out. “How was your summer?”

Before she could answer, Joshua Nobles slammed his backpack down and squeezed in next to Paige.

“Mind if I join you?” He didn’t wait for an answer.

“How’s your shoulder doing?” He pointed to the navy blue sling over her left shoulder, a sling that matched her navy top.  He reached into his backpack to extract a cold grilled cheese sandwich. 

Paige shrugged.

Silence fell over the table. 

Last April a shooter had burst into Paige’s classroom. The shooter had murdered Paige’s two closest friends, Meghan and Kim, and wounded four others, including Paige herself. The shooting had left Paige lying in a pool of blood, her left shoulder shattered by a bullet. She spent two months in the hospital dealing with multiple surgeries, then all summer in rehab and physical therapy. She still did not have full range of motion in the shoulder.

Joshua repeated, “How’s the shoulder?”

“Better, thanks.” She shrugged again. “But I won’t be playing volleyball this year. So much for a college sports scholarship.”

“Yeah, that sucks.”

Paige looked around the table. “I miss my friends. They should be sitting here.” She brushed away a tear. 

Joshua said, “Have you seen the memorial garden they planted during the summer?”

“No.” Paige picked at a bag of chips. Joshua leaned over and snagged a handful from her bag.

Their school had closed down after the April shooting, and moved all the students to home schooling for the rest of the semester. Then they tore down the classroom where the shooting occurred. It was located at the end of a wing. The shooting had been confined to one classroom, thanks to a fast-acting off-duty police officer who happened to be in the building. The school board replaced the classroom with an outdoor memorial garden.

“I hear they’re planning a service for later this week.”

“I don’t think I can handle it.”

“The other kids who were wounded transferred to other schools,” Mara said. “You’re the only one who came back.”

Paige waved her right hand at the room. “That explains why everyone is staring at me today.”

“Yeah… I guess you remind them of what happened last year.”

Mara’s statement sucked the air out of the room for a long moment. 

Paige hung her head. 

“Sorry, Paige. My bad.” 

“It’s okay. When I get rid of this friggin’ sling, I can fade into the background.”

Lunch period ended and Paige headed with Joshua to their English class. Passing students stared at her sling. 

In the English class Mrs. Chen welcomed them back to the new school year. She avoided mentioning last semester’s shooting. After highlighting what they would cover for the semester, she then directed them to write a five-paragraph essay on their summer experiences. “Keep it casual,” she said. “This is merely a warmup. You know, get your minds working.”

Paige pulled a notebook out of her backpack. She stared at the blank page. 

Mrs. Chen stepped up next to Paige, put her hand on Paige’s shoulder. “Write whatever you can.”

Paige nodded. Her hand began to move. 

Ten minutes into the writing exercise Paige felt tears running down her cheeks. Mrs. Chen grabbed a tissue from her desk and walked it over to Paige. 

Paige shoved her notebook aside. Is this what the school year is going to be? Crying every day? Having nightmares every night? Sitting on the sidelines at the volleyball games? Watching for Meghan and Kim in class, at lunch? Looking for their texts on my phone?

Paige had saved Kim’s last text on her phone. She had been sending it in the middle of their American History class. This is so boring. Why…And then the gunshots. The screams. The the darkness. 

Mrs. Chen called the class to order. “I hope that got your creative juices flowing. Would anyone like to share what they wrote?”


Paige’s hand stabbed the air.

Mrs. Chen hesitated, scanned the room. No one else volunteered. 

“Okay, Paige. Do you want to come up to the front of the room?”

“Okay, I guess.”

Mrs. Chen stepped to the side, motioned for Paige to stand in front of the teacher’s desk.

Paige held up her notebook. “I warn you, there’s mature language.”

Mrs. Chen said, “I think we can deal with that.”

Paige cleared her throat, eyes down on her page.

My summer was a disaster. I spent most of it going to rehab for my shoulder. I missed sports camp. I could not take driver’s ed training I don’t know when I’ll be able to get my license. My dad bought me a car last spring so we could start lessons. A Toyota Prius. Not exactly my choice, but at least it had wheels and a motor. It’s been sitting in our driveway for six months. 

Paige paused, took a few deep breathes, continued reading.

I am so pissed off. Seriously. Her voice pitched higher. The asshole who shot me ruined my life my two best friends are dead my shoulder is shattered. The doctors say I will get maybe 90% usage back after a few more months. Probably never 100%. I can’t play volleyball this year that ruins my chance of getting a sports scholarship. I had been voted MVP last year. I had a chance at a scholarship. Instead I spent the summer going to physical therapy. I have a scar on my shoulder that looks like pink nail polish spread over the skin of a cantaloupe. I can’t wear a strapless dress. Ever. Every morning my mother has to help me finish getting dressed. That’s not too embarrassing!

Tears ran down Paige’s face. She tucked the notebook under her left arm so she could wipe them aside. Mrs. Chen handed her another tissue. 

Today everyone stared at me when I walked through the halls. Yeah, it’s me Paige. One of the survivors. I should be glad…I’m not. Not happy at all. Why me? Why am I here, and Meghan and Kim are gone? Why do I have nightmare memories of seeing their bodies on the classroom floor before I passed out? Hearing the crash of the gun and the screams of the students. I didn’t know they were dead until I woke up in the hospital three days later.

Paige choked on her tears. Hiccuped. The room was silent except for her sobbing. Several students wiped their eyes. 

This whole situation sucks really sucks. I feel like a shriveled tree with no roots. I have no ties. No friends. No sports. No driver’s license. Yeah, I know I survived. I have my family. My mom and dad have been great. My brother is a huge help. But I had plans. Meghan and Kim were going to carpool with me this year.

The asshole who shot all of us is dead. I’m  glad. I would shoot him myself if I had the chance. Okay, this is the fifth paragraph. That was my summer. Ruined because some demented wacko felt like shooting up our school. 

Paige sniffled as Mrs. Chen handed her more tissues.  Paige looked at Mrs. Chen. “Sorry about the language.”

Mrs. Chen smiled. “Thank you for having the courage to read your story.”

Paige shrugged. “The survivors never get to tell their stories.”


Mannequin Monday – Africa Rasta Hair Salon

Mannequin Monday – Africa Rasta Hair Salon

Another mannequin waiting for someone to dress it. Words, sketches, clay, film, whatever media you choose.

This week features a short story by writer, dramaturge and activist Bibish Marie-Louise Mumbu. And a brief interview with photographer Mark Seliger, done for The Creative Process.

Lastly, a piece of my current writing.

Continue reading

Don’t Wait for Anyone

“Don’t wait for anyone. Life doesn’t wait. Don’t become what you most fear. A wasted soul. Leap for the rope and swing towards the stars.”

John Patrick Shanley


It’s been a long time since I last posted here. A family illness, now resolving itself, absorbed time and attention. I’m working my way back.

My next book, Off-Road, is close to completion. The time away from working on it gave me a new perspective, and I am re-structuring the story. Publication date will likely be September. I’ll keep you informed.

One of the most fun aspects of writing this story has been creating and developing the characters. One of them, Lyndie Reed, is a high school junior. She’s always on the move. An avid runner, she logs many miles every day. Lyndie is inspired by one of my nieces, who recently ran the Boston Marathon twice – in the same day! She started early, ran the course backwards, and arrived at the official starting line in time to run the prescribed course with all the other runners. Fifty-two point four miles. Amazing.

Lyndie is Tessa Warren’s best friend. It’s a new friendship. Tessa has spent the last two years mourning for her brother, killed in a car crash a few months after he graduated from film school. She’s now “leaping for the rope,” beginning to step into her brother’s film shoes.

I look forward to introducing the Film Crew to you. And, with luck, the book will become a series. Talk soon.



Caution Tortoise Xing

The desert tortoise features as a character and a premise in my upcoming YA short “Off-Road.” Here’s a bit of information on the tortoise. Enjoy.

The tortoise is the state reptile of both California and Nevada. It is a threatened, not endangered, species.

Defenders of Wildlife estimate, “In some areas, the number of desert tortoises has decreased by 90% due primarily to human activity. Desert tortoise declines appear to have been most severe and widespread in the Western Mojave Desert.”

The National Park Service says, “Since the reproduction rate of the desert tortoise is low, the survival of every individual tortoise is important to the continuation of the species. Many of the threats to adult desert tortoises are related to or are the direct result of human activities; please be aware of how your actions can affect tortoises.”

Here are several links to sites where you can learn more about the desert tortoise:

Defenders of Wildlife

National Park Service

California Turtle and Tortoise Club

Caution Tortoise Xing; Mojave Desert Tortoise

Mojave Desert Tortoise

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