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Fault, a Short Story by Anna Ross

Updated: Mar 26

My parents decided not to give my brother a funeral. I guess they didn’t want to talk about his death. I know I didn’t.

Instead, we had a simple quiet cremation and went to Scarborough to scatter his ashes. Not because Scarborough had any special meaning to him but because the seaside is where you go to scatter the ashes of someone who didn’t reach an age to have a real place of meaning.  


We didn’t go down to the actual beach, instead parking partway up the cliff in a less crowded spot. Nevertheless, the sea air hit me hard when we got out of the car. To be honest I wasn’t a fan, too much of a seaweed tang in the air for my liking. 

“Shall we just go to the edge of the cliff?” I asked, mostly just to break the silence as my dad opened the car boot and just stared making no move to retrieve its’ contents. 

“I’ll take it,” I said sombrely. I didn’t like touching it. Every time I did, I found it so strange that I was holding my brother. Simon had only been a couple of years older than me but he had also been almost twice my size.

I tucked my phone into my pocket to take the urn, getting one final glance at the article showing my brother’s picture. I hated that picture. It was his dead picture. The one all the papers had decided to use. It was constantly paired with the story of his death…and everything that came before it.

I didn’t know where the picture they took of him was from, it was a close-up of his face with a crooked smile and I knew Simon would have hated it. To be fair he hated all pictures that had him wearing his glasses rather than his contacts but I could tell, if he was watching from the beyond, he would have been annoyed at their choice.

You wouldn’t think such a thing would even process upon seeing your recently deceased brother’s image but it did. Granted, Simon wasn’t the type to spam Facebook with selfies but they wouldn’t have had to search hard to find a better option.  

I had read a lot of the articles about him. I still wasn’t sure why I kept looking, each one just made me miserable all over again. I suppose I was looking for answers. As if somewhere buried deep in the media would be some new clue as to what made him do it and who was to blame.

Not that there wasn’t already a wealth of information. 

According to his roommate, he’d started spending a lot of his time in chatrooms. I hadn’t really thought much of it at the time, to me a chatroom was a place where people gush about celebrities and argue over Game of Thrones theories. These were not the chatrooms Simon had been visiting.

I was eighteen and owned a television so I knew what incels were but it didn’t seem like something I needed worry to about. They were just a bunch of bitter crazies who existed far away and hated that they weren’t good-looking enough to get laid, choosing to blame women rather than themselves.

At least, that’s what I thought. In my more recent research, I uncovered that they were now classed as an actual terrorist threat and they weren’t always as far away as you thought. It was chilling and the thought that Simon was now permanently labelled as one…it stung. 

Incels hated women but Simon hadn’t hated me. I don’t think. Yes, we’d grown apart as we’d got older and yes, we had been fighting a bit more recently but there had been no hate there. Had there? The short essay he posted online just minutes before he pulled the gun would suggest otherwise.

He had prepared quite the epilogue to his life, full of things we never thought he would say. Things we never thought he could say.

He mentioned me in his story but not by name. My involvement was more marginal, he mentioned at the beginning when he was setting the scene that he had a sister and I was later referenced when he talked about Kristine and how she had been my friend. I felt very much that I was being shunted out of this story…I honestly couldn’t say whether I was more insulted or relieved by that fact.  

Reading through you could see the tell-tale signs of his dyslexia. Throughout his life, he had often sent me his essays to spellcheck. As he got older and more into complex science I understood less and less of what I was reading to the point where I didn’t really pay attention to the meaning behind the words. He hadn’t asked me to check this. This would have held my attention. 

His writing mostly revolved around his failure to attract girls. The deep-rooted flaws of society, the unfair nature of women’s choice and a weird obsession with redheads I’d never known he had.

Granted, Simon had not been that attractive but he hadn’t been ugly and I would probably peg him on the lower end of average. I felt that if he’d worked harder at self-improvement rather than feeling sorry for himself, he could have found someone.  

He had never been confident. He was an introvert, a bit like me, except whilst I liked to spend my time with a good book he would gravitate towards screens. As I grew older and attended a new sixth form, I became more sociable. There I’d found more like-minded souls and even had a boyfriend for a while. 

Simon had clearly not had such luck at university. Certainly not with women. I don’t know how many people Simon had asked out. I’d advised him to join a dating site but I learned from my mum he’d quit the site after just a few months. Perhaps he’d had a bad date or maybe no one had wanted to date him. I’d never know.

I did know he had asked out my friend Kristine. More than once in fact. Maybe he thought he stood a chance because she wasn’t beautiful. She had a rather plain face and distinctly crooked teeth which she had intended to get fixed later in life. She had been better looking than him certainly but not beautiful like the posters of bikini-clad models on his bedroom wall.

She had rejected him and it had hit hard. He hadn’t given up and had kept asking her out until I told him to stop. Kristine had once mentioned her final rejection had been ‘firm’. I didn’t put any thought into what that might mean at the time. 

I wonder if he would still have killed her if he’d known she was a lesbian. I was one of the few individuals who knew about her true sexuality. She’d been determined to keep it a secret until she was no longer living with her parents, she had been worried about how they would react being devout Christians and all. I suppose their reaction would remain a mystery.

She had a dead picture too. At least hers was more flattering, she was smiling a winning smile, looking directly at the camera, completely oblivious to the fate coming her way.

Kristine had always wanted to be an actress. To be big in the media. She might not have been especially pretty but she was talented. She always got the good parts in our school plays and could even cry on cue. She would have killed to have been on the news…but not like this. I supposed this was as famous as she would ever get. She was to forever be a misunderstood side character in my brother’s story.

According to Simon’s memoirs, he’d been planning to ‘exact his vengeance’ for several months before the concert tickets even went on sale. Kristine was his prime target though he had clearly wanted to take out as many ‘Chads and Staceys’ as possible.

Maybe I should have noted that it was out of character for him to be so eager to join our group. He didn’t know most of my friends and was still awkward around Kristine. When I told her he wanted to come she had urged me not to talk him out of it. I had told her it would be good for him. He wasn’t going out much and promised I would make him agree in advance not to ask her out again. 

As it happened on the day of the festival I called to check where he would meet us. He had gone ahead and arrived on the first day. Before I could even bring up Kristine, he informed me he was sorry but he’d lost my ticket so I couldn’t go with them. I had already been on edge that day thanks to receiving a less-than-optimal score for my mock A-Levels earlier that week and demanded he give me his ticket only to be told he had already checked in and we couldn’t switch.

Being denied the reprieve that would be the concert had pushed me over the line and I had ended up shouting at him over the phone that he was useless. Those were, in fact, the last words I ever said to him.

I found out what happened by watching the news later that night. The caption read that a shooting had occurred at the concert, three people were confirmed dead including the assailant who had turned the gun on himself and at least another four had been injured. The news anchor showed blurry video footage of a man they claimed was my brother and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. At first, I thought they had to be talking about someone else. I phoned Simon only to have it ring out, then my father who had to convince me it had been Simon and that yes, he had in fact been the instigator not just another victim.  

It was worse with my mother. My father hadn’t been able to get in touch with her and when she arrived home I had had to try and explain it through my tears. In the end, I couldn’t do it and had just directed her to the news channel which said the cold hard facts better than I could. Since that day every time I recall the way her face had crumpled, I feel a stab of pain and anger. 

I had always had a closer relationship with my mother than Simon had had with her. Our mother had always been a wallflower even at home, personally, I had always felt she was a bit too passive for her own good, especially when our father was around. Neither Simon nor I had a close relationship with our father, he was very involved with the law firm in which he worked and as a result, tended to leave us to our own devices. As his daughter I’d always felt a bit disconnected from him, certainly, I had never considered myself a priority in his life. Perhaps Simon had felt the same. 

It was a moot point now. For Simon at least.

We walked out to near the edge of the cliff. It was sunny and bright, as attractive a place as any to lay the fragments of your family to rest. After being given a nod, I unscrewed the lid off the urn and released his ashes which flew away with haste, some falling limply onto the grass.

I looked at the grey remnants of my brother, some of which had floated onto my jeans and wondered if I should say something about Simon or about life and death in general. I looked at my parents whose expressions were, I knew, a mirror of my own.

No one said anything.


Anna Ross lives in North Yorkshire and works as a university administrator, trying to help students be less clueless than she was at that age. Though she is noted amongst her peers for writing literature with dark underlying themes and messages she is actually a very friendly person in the real world.


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