“Who Cares Anyway?” A Short Story by Richard Sale

   Richard Sale headshot (2)



“I don’t like other people.  And they don’t like me either.

“I’ll live.

“My mom says it’s because I’m selfish. But if she improved herself instead of criticizing me all the time, maybe I would have had a new father by now. I don’t have a father, by the way. The old one left.

“I used by BB gun again yesterday. The bird fell. I watched it hit the ground. I wonder what the bird was thinking. Anyway, who cares? Who cares about what a bird thinks? That is why I practice and train. I train to hit targets. I train to get better skills.

“What do I really like to do? I like video games where soldiers kill enemies. It takes skill to kill enemies. It is exciting too. You don’t get bored. On the screen the enemy soldiers pop up from the ground all of a sudden, and you have to hit them to win. You have to pile up points. In the game, when you hit a guy, the blood gets splashed on the ground. I like that. The blood makes it more real. Blood doesn’t bother me, by the way.

“My friend, Roger, has a father who shoots real guns.  He is training me to shoot! Roger’s father is okay because Roger gets to do what he likes.  At my house, my mom doesn’t like me, as you probably can tell:  I am a poor student, I’m messy, I don’t tidy up my room. The other day I left my shower towel on the bed, and she comes in and says in that voice of hers, “Is it really too much to ask that you pick up your stuff? You know the burdens I’m under. You know I can’t bear things. I can’t do all of this alone.” She goes saying that while other boys make their mother’s proud, she has nothing to be proud in me. And I think, proud of what?

“Anyway, life is boring, and I hate school.  I have a Latin teacher who doesn’t like me.  Why study a language that no one speaks anymore? It is fun watching her getting angry at me. It like watching a dog growling and showing its gums.  I saw dog like that once. My mom is after me about school again today, but why should I pay attention?  We all sit like groups of grouse on the ground, little seated birds being preached at. My class is full of weenies. A lot of teachers think that I am a boy after their own heart, but I want nothing to do with all that learning shit.  It’s not for me.  Even before I went to school, knew I would cut a poor figure – I knew it before I went there. So what? Let the other kids be the center of attention.  If I could do what I like and do what I really wanted, I would be able to hunt all the time, be out in the big, vacant lot near our house all the time. In school, I cannot study.  I sit there at my desk, and I stare at the books, I tried to make out what they meant, but I couldn’t. I really tried, but nothing happened. My mind just doesn’t work.  I just sit there.

After she visited one of my teachers, she comes home and in the kitchen she says, “You make me sick, Jack, do you know that?  Other boys are making their parents proud, but what do you do? All you do is lie around. Answer me.”

 I don’t answer. I start walking away. “Do you have any idea of how embarrassed I was, hearing them talk about how stupid you are?” she yells. “Answer me, you sniveling little idiot,”

  I didn’t answer. I wasn’t sniveling either.

“But she went rattling on: ‘I mean, we are known as bright people in this town. We have standards to uphold. You can do what you like, but I’m the one who has to pay for it!’ And then she ends by yelling, ‘And lose some weight. You look like a sissy.’

But I can’t run away, can I? I’m only fourteen.

“See, my mom is full of grudges, grudges because my so called father left her for another woman, and she has grudges because she doesn’t date, grudges that make her feel that she is never gets what is due her, grudges because I’m a failure at school.

“And of course, she hits me.  I try to duck and dodge, but she is always trying to slap my face, or break a hairbrush over my head or hit me with a pot.  I don’t really rebel. I just push her away and keep silent and vow to remember.

“Only one time, a long time ago she had hit me and, I had had enough, and I held and fixed her the way I would sight on a target, like a squirrel or a bird, but inside I was not really very mad. I just sighted on her. For a couple of days  I didn’t respond to her at all,  just stared at her, making her act as if she would do anything to make me feel better. I enjoyed that a lot. I felt a sort of cold disgust, but it lasted only a day, and that was a long time ago. I realize my mom and me we are two separate beings. Like the kids in school.

 “This teacher said I had a low opinion of myself, but see, I don’t have opinions.  They get you upset, and I never feel upset. School has no reality for me. I wait until the next time I go shooting.

“And I am really getting good at the war games too. Roger is going to give me his old gun, he says. My shooting gets better all the time.

 “I live to go hunting with Roger, my closest friend. We live in a small house just down from the high school.  The high school is made of stone and is high with lots of windows and a playing field on one side. My stucco house is small and ugly.  My grandfather owns it, and my mom doesn’t get along with grandma, so we don’t see that much of them, and if we do go and see them, I hear about for days afterwards, the quarrels between them. I mean, how boring is that?

“There is a big vacant lot on one side of the house, and I go there and kneel down and watch the little trickles of stream there.  I see things others don’t see. I found tiny tracks in the mud.  I told my mom about it, and she said, have you done your homework? I told her about it again, and she said she didn’t care about tracks and there were probably no tracks but something I made up, but the tracks were there all right. And soon there were more of them.  At Roger’s house, his father had a magazine about hunting and trapping, and I learned that mink or muskrat were making the tracks.  That was something I liked.  I wasn’t excited, you understand.  I don’t get excited, but I was interested in trapping the animals making the tracks, and shooting them or skinning them for their pelts maybe.

“In the meantime, I take my bb gun, and I go out and shoot birds.  There are lots of trees near the house. I fire, and the bird falls. I just throw it into the woods.  Once I tried to show one I’d shot to my mom, but she screamed at me to get it out of the house, so I did.

“What was the big deal? Birds have no souls.  A girl in my class was accused of strangling her sister’s canary because it causes so much noise, and it was silly to watch: how all sorts of stupid horror swept through the school. Who cares about a dead bird? People pretend to care about stuff, but they don’t care. Not at heart, they don’t.

“I’m not tall, and I am a bit fat, and there was a guy at school who makes my life miserable. He used to, anyway.  After school, we got out on a playground that has a sandbox at the end, and while the other kids are running around, he and I start to play, and then he starts twisting my arms, or he trips me and I fall, and then I have to lay there while he rubs sand into my hair and stuff.  He was sort of an after-school friend; his father is a policeman. But every time we played, it always ended in the same way.  So one day, without warning, near the bicycle shed, I hit him in the face. He looked so surprised.  I hit him again, I hit him again, and he fell down, and then he ran. I couldn’t catch him: his lucky day. But I liked hitting him; I liked seeing his fear of me. Something else not to worry about. I don’t like to be bothered with things. People would be smart to leave me alone.

“We were in the woods where Roger’s father took us, and I shot a squirrel with his 22.  It fell and it didn’t’ move, and I looked at it.  Then I took my knife and cut off its head.  I was looking at it when Roger came up.  He looked like he didn’t like it.  “What?” I said.  He said, “Don’t let my father see the squirrel?”  “Why?” “Just throw it away, will you?” so I did. I mean, big deal. Who cares anyway?

“Roger’s father must have said something because my, mother started to talk about the squirrel, and how we have to be kind to animals, and it was like someone talking from the moon. Do squirrels have souls? Who cares anyway? “I don’t care. I just keep practicing with my bb gun.

Roger is going to give me his old .22 rifle.”


“I don’t think Jack has any feelings.  That’s what my dad said.

“I told my dad he was wrong.  Jack and me, we’re close friends.  Jack is loyal to me, and that’s a feeling, isn’t it? We help each other out. We have each other’s backs. He is the only kid who loves to hunt the way I do. I am no star at school, and neither is he, and he doesn’t react when his mother scolds him.

My dad says that Jack doesn’t have “a generous nature.”  He says I have a generous nature, but I feel bad about my friend Jack. His home life is miserable, his mother sees to that, but, I mean, what does that matter when Jack and I can shoot and hunt? My dad took us out on the range with the .22. And Jack hit the target almost all of the time. Jack is a much, much better shot than me. My father told him “an eye like is a gift,” but Jack didn’t even say thank you.

“Jack does odd things. Like him hacking away and taking off the head of that squirrel.   The squirrel bounding away, scampering, and, he shot it, and he bent down and removed its head. He was so calm. He was incredibly calm. One time when we were visiting in the country and a guy from a local farm got in our way, and we had to stop, and Jack looked at him the same way he looked at the squirrels’ head.  I was glad when that guy went away.

See, things approach me in life through my feelings, and I always thought everyone was like that. Maybe my dad’s right — that Jack has very weak feelings if he has any at all. That’s what my dad says, but maybe he’s wrong. Jack has  always been nice to me. He’s always been a loyal  friend.

Once I saw him shoot a skunk a farmer had caught in a trap. The skunk was working and struggling trying to position himself to spray us, when Jack shot him in the head. We were up very close, and both of us saw him die.  We watched the light quickly fade out of the skunk’s eyes until they were dull-looking and empty, and I never wanted to shoot a skunk or anything else. I sort of cringe inside at things. There have to be boundaries, I think.

The Teacher

“Most kids have a sense of sufficiency, of confidence, a forward-looking outlook. They want to become something special, they are certain about who and what they are. Most of them have refined feelings, certain discernment. They love any teacher that can convey reality to them through their feelings.

“But this one boy, Jack, is disturbing. He is the odd man out – he doesn’t fit in. a loner with no friends. Can’t be bothered with people. People as obstacles — that’s him all over.

“Teaching him is like trying to cut a log with a spoon, or opening a garage door with an ax.  The boy’s mind was closed to anything improving or inspiring. Activity is movement towards an end, but this boy’s energies were directed only on hunting, on killing things, killing animals. Most boys and girls wanted to amount to something, to succeed, but not this boy. His most gratifying moments center on hunting.

“His mother is a spoiled, self-willed woman. Her son fills her with anxious, torturing unrest, apparently. But to her, loving her son was a kind of transaction.  Love was an investment, and whatever love you gave a child, it had to bring in a big return, and the boy was always falling short. She has an obsession with appearing socially proper: wearing fashionable clothes, having good grooming, presiding over everything within reach, making a favorable impression was her supreme goal of life. That’s what people say about her.

“She could be violent; a neighbor’s child, who had been in a bathroom at Jack’s house, told how the mother had grabbed Jack by the hair and plunged his face into the dishwater in the kitchen. She held his face under water, and after she dragged him out she began hitting him. She got all shamefaced when the student came in from the bathroom and realized someone had seen her. Another student told me that once that Jack had a pet mouse called Ben, and the mother had taken it and dropped it into the toilet and given the handle a twist.  Who knew if that were true? School is a place of versions, after all, isn’t it?

“But I don’t know.  Maybe she is right. Maybe the things wrong with her son are wrong all through. So I guess you can’t blame her.


“When I heard the news report, I could believe it. I was in the kitchen when I heard it, and went blind.  I just stood there. My mother was screaming, ‘You have to hear this…you have to hear this, Roger!’ The report said that someone had shot a guard near the school a few blocks away from our house. My father was at work, but my mother yelled, “Oh, my God!” Because she knew! She knew right away. At that point, I hadn’t heard what Jack had done, and I hadn’t heard yet that Jack shot himself and died after doing what he did.

“The place where the guard was shot was only a few yards away near the high school, so I got on my bicycle and rode to the high school. I pedaled like crazy, my mind gone all frantic.  I finally saw Jack coming up the street, carrying something long. He was about to enter the school.  Inside, I froze. I suddenly thought: Jesus. The school. He didn’t look at me. I yelled very loudly at him, trying to get his attention. His jaw was tensed. He didn’t look at me.  He kept heading for the door of the school. I was running. I kept running, and he kept heading for the school. Finally, I grabbed him from the back, and he turned.  I saw then the rifle.  Our eyes met.

When I woke up, I heard the rest, how they found his mother at home, shot in the head, and the death of the three kids at school. I was at home in bed by then. Jack had hit me and knocked me out. But when I heard it, I couldn’t bear it, and I said, “Oh Jack,” I wailed it out over and over. “Why? Jesus, Jack, why?” But no one knew. I guess the teachers and kids in school fell the way the birds fell when Jack shot them. To this day, no one knows. My father and mother tried to comfort me, but no one came up with any answers, and their comforting was all hollow. And Jack, poor Jack; I mean, he is gone for good.”

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10 Responses to “Who Cares Anyway?” A Short Story by Richard Sale

  1. Yours Truly says:

    I had most troubling adolescence…
    No love anywhere, at home or in school.
    I’m mighty glad I didn’t turn out to be like the protagonist, Jack.
    [But sadly, till this day, I’m still tryin’ to make my Ol’ Lady proud…]
    Thank you, Mr. Sale for understanding the troubled youth of to-day.

  2. Don’t ask for whom the bells toll?

  3. Charles I says:

    Thanks Mr Sale. I was a miserable escaping adolescent. Took a lot of people a long time to teach me anything healthy that took. I care.

  4. Yours Truly says:

    Ha, ha. (irony…)

  5. From North Dakota says:

    Hmm … sorry, but Mr. Sale misses it. Pathological killers have no feelings, its true, but those who grew up under a more natural order of things understand that humans lives are not comparable with other animals. That’s not to say they are not concerned with animal suffering or needless death.
    Almost no one now days had a mother that said “boy, go fetch us a chicken for supper”. Most get their chickens already killed, cleaned, cut, and wrapped. They are the result of 3 or 4 generations doing their hunting and gathering in the supermarket.
    I do agree that needless killing of animals with no remorse is indicative of a psychopath, but killing a skunk in a trap is something that any and all trappers do. And killing coyotes, coons, skunks, and other varmints which prey on favorite game animals is something many many hunters do who are NOT psychopaths.

  6. Paul Escobar says:

    Mr. Sale,
    I think this should be distributed in schools. It incites empathy and an understanding of tragedy in the reader…in ways that mass assemblies & sermons cannot.
    I know the recent movie ‘Chronicle’ attempted to convey something similar to its audience…but sometimes the spectacular elements in films allow the audience to disengage from the core.
    Thanks for this,
    Paul Escobar

  7. Fred says:

    Abandoned by dad, betrayed by mom, ignored by the system. A sad tragedy.

  8. nick b says:

    I see your point, but Jack seems to justify his killing because his targets ‘have no soul’, not for a pragmatic reason like being a ‘varmint’. To me this indicates that he believes there are creatures or beings with a soul. Otherwise, why make the distinction?
    There are confines to the short story medium, so much is left to one’s imagination/speculation. I wondered about when Jack made the transition to perhaps thinking his human victims were soulless as well. Therefore, who would ‘care anyway?’ He hadn’t completely made the decision that humans are soulless, if that was his internal justification, because he spares his friend Roger, albeit violently.
    Still, very dark stuff. Left me with many things to think about, like a good short story should.

  9. From North Dakota says:

    Good points nick. I missed that part. Sorry for the criticism Mr. Sale.

  10. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    “Criminal violence emerges from social experience, most commonly brutal social experience visited upon vulnerable children, who suffer for our neglect of their welfare and return in vengeful wrath to plague us. If violence is a choice they may make, and therefore their personal responsibility, as (Lonnie) Athens demonstrates it is, our failure to protect them from having to confront such a choice is a choice we make, just as a disease epidemic would be implicitly our choice if we failed to provide vaccines and antibiotics. Such a choice — to tolerate the brutalization of children as we continue to do — is equally violent and equally evil, and reap what we sow.” From “Why They Kill,” by Richard Rhodes.
    Rhodes’ description of sociologist Lonnie Athens’ work in identifying a four-step process of “violentization,” as he calls it, is fascinating. The story of Jack could have been one of his examples. Athens’ family was dominated by a very violent father who had totally cowed his mother and siblings. But as Lonnie remarked later in life his father came to know that if it came down to Lonnie or him, his son wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. Rhodes also had a tumultuous upbringing. He and his brother were held captive and almost starved to death by an archtypically evil step-mother until the older brother managed to escape and notify the police. Among other things Rhodes has written are the go-to books for lay people about the development of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons.

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