Peak Experience by Jack Cameron

     “Sean, we’ve all seen the videos. That incredible photo. We know the story of what happened. What we don’t know is what it was like for you. What was it like ending that rampage?”
     “Let me tell you, Megan, it was a peak experience. Do you know what that means?”
     Sean’s about to launch into his whole monologue about “peak experiences” like he has three times in the last week and probably hundreds of times before to freshman bar girls. Sean Harris is America’s hero. He saved my life. Three weeks ago he shot and killed the man who held a gun to my head. The gunman was Brian, a coworker I had known for four years. He was a nice guy until they fired him. Sean’s the security guard.
     When Brian fell after being shot, I fell with him. I rolled off Brian’s dying body and felt strong hands pull me up. It was Sean. He pulled me into his arms. I was crying. He looked me in the eyes. We kissed. Someone took a photo. It was a Hollywood ending to a shooting rampage that left eight dead at the Chambers Community College admissions office.
     My name is Katie Emerson. I’m a 26-year-old guidance counselor. And for the last three weeks I have been doing interviews next to Sean with everyone from CNN to NBC to even Fox News. We’re supposed to be on Ellen next week. I have yet to tell any of them the whole truth. How can I? Absolutely no one wants to hear what I have to say. Gun owners all over the country have found a perfect savior. They can point to him and say, “See? A good guy with a gun saved lives.” My saying something bad about Sean Harris is like asking for death threats. Though honestly, being a woman, the rape threats will come first.
     So I listen to Sean regurgitate Maslow’s philosophy of peak experiences and stay quiet, trying to remember to smile in case the camera cuts to me.
     “You see, a peak experience is one in which you have sudden feelings of intense happiness and awareness. You’re no longer thinking about regrets from the past or worries of the future. You are fully engaged and alive in the moment. You feel your connection with the cosmos. These experiences are sometimes religious, sometimes drug-induced, sometimes they come from meditation, sometimes you can get that peak experience from really good sex.” The audience laughed at that line.
     “Other times are like that day,” Sean continued. “I was right there thinking of nothing at all except the present moment. It was that sort of clarity that allowed me to make that shot and end the situation.”
     “Wow. Powerful stuff,” Megan said. I tried not to roll my eyes.
     “Katie, what was that day like for you?”
     It was the worst day of my life. But I can’t say that. They’ll point out how Sean saved me. How lucky I was to have Sean there. How our kiss is world-famous. When I think of that day, I end up with two images in my head. One is seeing Sean pull that gun and thinking, Shit. Now Sean’s going to kill me playing hero. And the other image was Sean’s dick. I didn’t want to, but there it was. I came in an hour early straight from my morning workout to get a head start on things. Brian was fired the day before, making his caseload now my caseload. I was still wearing my gym clothes when I showed up. Sean waved as I approached the front door. He unlocked the door, letting me in, then relocked it. The building was technically not open for another hour.
     “Hey, Katie. Looking good.” Sean said, clearly staring at my boobs like a 14-year-old boy.
     “Thanks, Sean,” I said (though “Go fuck yourself” seemed more appropriate). I walked into the women’s restroom, turned on the light, and started getting changed into my work clothes.
     I don’t know how long he was standing there. I wasn’t facing the door and I didn’t hear it open. But I was only in my panties when I turned around to grab my dress and saw Sean. It took me a moment to realize he had unzipped. He stroked himself and smiled at me as if he expected me to smile back. I didn’t.
     I didn’t scream. I didn’t run. I thought in circumstances like these the fight-or-flight reflex would kick in, but I did neither. I just froze. My therapist recently told me this is a very common reaction, but at the time I remember thinking, What the hell is wrong with me?
     He started walking closer. Something clicked inside me. I said quietly, in a voice that did not sound like it came from me, “Get. Out.”
     “I’m sorry,” he said, turning around and quickly going for the door. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
     Four hours later Sean kills Brian, shoves his tongue down my throat, and becomes a hero for saving me. The entire planet wants me to thank him for that “peak experience.” You know what? Fuck it.
     “Megan, for me that entire day was the worst day of my life.” I said.
     “Really? But what about — ”
     I held up one finger. She stopped talking.
     I looked at Sean’s smug face. “Sean, I agree it was a peak experience. The thing is Maslow says a peak experience is always a positive one. I disagree. Nothing about that day for me was positive, but from the time I watched Brian shoot Wendy and Todd and Jocelyn and five students, then grab me as a hostage, to the time you shot and killed Brian, to the moment you forced me to kiss you only hours after exposing yourself to me, it was a peak experience for me, too. I was hyperaware of the present moment, as I imagine you are right now. The difference is you aren’t the victim here. You created this situation by exposing yourself and assaulting me. But hey, don’t worry. I’m sure I don’t have enough evidence for the cops, and the public is very forgiving when it comes to people like you. I just wanted to tell you on live television that you are human scum. Not in any vindictive way, but just so people out there know what to expect when Sean Harris invites them on a peak experience.”

Jack Cameron writes the Tacoma-centric website and is the author of a forthcoming crime novel called A Better Lie. His work has been previously published in a book of flash fiction called 15 Minute Stories and in Creative Colloquy Volume 1.