A Shot is Fired, A Boy Goes Down

I    

I don’t know if there’s been a halfway-decent record in this damn millennium. All the rap music and boy-bands taking over our country. Why’d I even bother turning on the radio?

I wind down the volume knob just low enough where I’ll be able to hear if something good comes on. Jesus, I’m outta coffee already. It’s gonna be a long day.

I’m parked up on the curb, hidden by the hill, hunting down all of suburbia’s criminal elite. Sixteen-year-olds who roll the stop sign; senile grandmas full of pleasantries who “accidentally mistook the three for a five, my dear” on the speed limit signs; and worst of all, the midday drunks who always seem so utterly confounded as to how I noticed them swerving back and forth for the last half mile after taking out a half-dozen traffic cones. Thirty years of thrills like these sure flies by.

Well, Gotham can wait, because if this caped-crusader doesn’t get another cup of joe, there’s no way he’ll survive a five-to-five. I pull off the curb and start rolling down to the gas station. It’s still before nine: my dollar cup awaits. 

“COME IN. ALL OFFICERS MAKE WAY TO THE HIGH SCHOOL. POSSIBLE TEN-SEVENTY-TWO”

Jesus Christ. I was pretty sure the scanner had died; it hadn’t made a peep all morning. Now this? Of all the things it could be. Right as Hank Williams was coming on. Jesus. Stay calm, it’s not gonna be a big deal. This’ll get resolved quickly. 

Now I’m getting all tensed up as I wheel around and take off roaring into the school parking lot. I’d been driving right past it when the call came. I’m the first one here. Doesn’t seem to be any action going on outside. I step out of the car. Solo entry. That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s my job.

I take my gun out of the holster. Third time doing this in thirty years. Not once fired. Hands are still steady. Good. Let’s go.

I creep up to the entrance and don’t see anyone. I push the door open and enter the building with my gun raised. No one. The welcome desk is empty. Someone could be hiding out behind it.

“Hello,” I call out, not too loud. No response. I step over to the desk and peer behind it.

 Jesus Christ.

A woman is toppled over on the ground, lying atop a pool of red. Her arms are flailed out. Looks like the bullet came out the back of her head. I can hear sirens off in the distance. There’s nothing to do for her that the paramedics can’t in a few minutes. I need to get moving. 

It feels like the blood is draining out of my head. What’s going on? Why am I still going forward; I should be back at the car, waiting on the others. I’m not the guy for this. Jesus. Shot in the face. She was shot in the face. Stop shaking. Why are my hands shaking?

Gunshots. I hear gunshots coming from the lower floor. I try not to, but my legs just stop moving. Jesus. This is real. I gotta do something. 

With all my will, I take a step. Now another. Keep going. It’s not a run, but not a walk either. The shots stopped. Don’t lower my gun. 

I quick-step down the stairs onto the first floor where I heard the shots. Whoever this is, they can’t be far. Now, where did that sound come from? I make my way down the hallways, following procedure. There’s not a sound to be heard. If it wasn’t for the real situation at hand, it probably would’ve seemed like any other day with all the kids in class. Hey, maybe that’s what’s happening now? Maybe I’m dreaming this shit up. I probably dozed off in the squad car back by the hill. Another slow day. I wonder if any kids are speeding by while I’m asleep?

I hear a yell from the opposite hallway. I take off running.

Jesus.

II

Forty minutes to write three pages of Shakespeare-analysis? Sounds pretty tough. But then you add on the glare of these decades-old fluorescent overheads, paired with the incessant sniffing of what’s-his-face in the back row, and the hellish reality begins to take shape. I’ve been sitting here for five minutes now with not so much as my name written on the paper, and I’m not sure how much further I’m going to get. Looking around, it seems the rest of these idiots must be forgetting that it’s sixth period on a Friday. I got better things to be doing than sitting in this desk built for an undersized freshman, bullshitting Shakespearean snobbery. 

So, because I can’t take one more second of this, I get up and ask the teacher if I can use the bathroom. He gives me a grunt, and I’m off down the hall.

A leak and a dick-shake later, I’m washing my hands in the sink, checking out my fledgling facial hair, when I hear a crack from deep within the building. It sounded a good ways away, and I can’t tell what it was. Probably some shit out of the chem room; there’s always weird stuff going on there. I wash my hands and start walking back, contemplating whether I’m better off just sneaking out the side entrance and driving home.

A sharp series of cracks comes echoing down the hallway. I freeze. A million different scenarios pulse through my mind before the worst of all affirms itself. Screams. I hear the screams of people from the other side of the building. I can’t even tell how many there are, because this fucking horrific sound is caught in my head, bouncing back and forth from ear to ear. Did it stop? It feels like every hair on my body is a needle, balancing delicately atop my frigid skin. Frigid. When did it get so cold? 

A voice doing a not-so-great job of staying calm booms over the intercom. “LOCKDOWN. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. WE ARE IN LOCKDOWN MODE. FIND THE NEAREST ROOM AND LOCK YOURSELF IN. DO NOT OPEN FOR ANYONE.”

Fuck. Before I can make any more sense of it, I turn around and bolt back to the bathroom. Fuck. The door is shut. Should I stay quiet? I knock softly. “Hey, let me in!” Fuck. No response. I knock on the door harder. “Hey, let me in!” Fuck. No fucking response. I know someone’s in there. They’re not going to open up. Fuck.

The screaming returns, followed quickly by more cracks. Getting closer. Fuck. More screams.

Where do I go? All doors barred. Stairs are across the building. 

The entrance to the hallway has a parted doorway still open. There’s space behind the door. I slip into it and hold my breath. More screams. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I bite my tongue to keep quiet.

And now silence. No screams. Are the cops here? Where do I go? 

Between hinges of the door and wall, there’s just enough space to get a glimpse of the hallway. I wedge myself in deeper, my head pressed into the corner. With one eye I can make out the empty hallway. My heart is throbbing so loud I bet you can hear it on the other side of the school. I can’t see anyone. Everything looks so normal. If I hadn’t been here the last few minutes, it would seem like any other day while class was going on. The building is clearly immune to the horrors of whatever the hell is going down. This tension could almost be mistaken for calmness.

I have no idea how long I’ve been standing here. It has to have been a few minutes. Where are the cops? Shouldn’t there be a heroic teacher or someone running around to look for kids still stuck in the hallway? Fuck, I can see the headlines already. If only–

Footsteps. Slow. One person. It’s practically shuffling across the carpet. Closer. Coming from down the hallway the door concealing me opens into. It can hear my heartbeat, I’m sure of it. Stop shaking. Stop fucking shaking. God help me.

I’m barely looking through the crack between the door hinges now, but I see him pass. Boy. Short hair. Gun half raised. Freshmen biology? Geometry last semester? I know I’ve seen him before. Sounds like he’s breathing even heavier than I am. 

He turns right. Fuck. He’s in front of me, all he has to do is turn around.

Should I stay? He might not notice me. He’s heading for the next hallway. A little longer and I’ll be out of sight. But what if he turns? Another second now and there’s too much distance between us. I’ll be an easy shot. Nowhere to run. If I’m going to do this, I need to do it now. He won’t have time to react. He’s ten feet away and the gap’s only widening. 

Fuck.

III

I did it. It’s happening. She didn’t even have a chance to think. 

It’s funny, really. Whenever I imagined it, I never thought of the blood. I could picture the face: looking down at her computer like every other day; lifting her head when she sees I’m standing right in front of her; scoffing at all of the hell-raising anarchy she thinks I represent; the disapproving flick of her tongue as she questions me; and BAM her entire body slamming backwards as I flick my own tongue, disapproving of all her pretensions and selfishness. But I never envisioned the blood. God, it was everywhere. I didn’t take the time to look at her after. I got distracted by the sticky, scarlet paste streaming down my neck. She had erupted. I thought I was going to get sick. But I did it. I did it.

No one was nearby, but I’m sure plenty heard. I took off running right after, and am now walking down the hallway. I figure there’s at least another minute or two before everyone knows what’s happening. More than enough time.

I saw on the news once that the chief motivating factor behind mass-shootings is the desire of the attacker to create a name for himself. I wonder what people will say about me? Will they think I was angry? Alone? Crying for help? That’ll be hard to prove, but I doubt they’ll have any trouble bending the truth. They’ll say I wanted to die; that I was insane; that my parents are to blame. They’ll create my story because that’s how people are: children, looking for stories to help them make sense of this fucked up world.

The truth is that I don’t want to die. I’m not alone, and I certainly don’t need the help of some do-good social worker or enthusiastic shrink. It would seem on paper that I’ve had a great life. Not a trouble in the world. No troubles except the world. A world without a point. A universe with no direction or end or beginning or purpose. This whole thing is just my experiment. A grand game of chicken against God and karma and whatever the hell people believe in nowadays. People aren’t going to get that, but that’s alright. If I achieve enlightenment or something I doubt I’ll give a shit what anyone else thinks.

I close the classroom door behind me. I’ve sure gotten sweaty. Everything’s going much slower than I expected. There goes the panicked call over the intercom. Well, looks like I’m almost done.

I’ll bet when they talk about me, everyone will say how much I enjoyed this. What a bunch of idiots. No one could ever enjoy this. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more unhappy. But I doubt Jesus was feeling too fuzzy inside when they nailed him to a post for everyone to see. Progress takes sacrifice. Amen.

For a long time I wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t really care which kind; I just knew I wanted to save people’s lives. I figured I could devote my life to fighting for others. I guess that’s rather ironic given the situation I’m in now. However, what I realized was that no matter how many lives I could save as a doctor, there would always be people dying. Some might deserve it; others surely wouldn’t. I could save the life of a drunk who might go out the next day and hit a kid on a bicycle. Now where’s the reward in that? There’s no justice in death. It’s utterly random. Yeah, you can exercise or eat salads or not smoke, but in the end there’s nothing that will protect you from getting in that car crash or falling down the stairs or getting sick or hit by a train or even shot by some kid you’ve never met before. That’s the whole point of–

“FUCK!”

He’s on top of me. Right, left, right left, this kid is driving his fists into my face. Where the hell did he come from? I need to move. He’s trying to pry the gun from my hand. I’m pinned down. Come on. I need to move. MOVE!

I manage to roll and get up on top of him. There’s blood in my eyes and I can’t see. It burns! I’ve just been tackled and hammered and nearly choked, but I can’t feel any of that pain. My head isn’t even throbbing. All I feel is the burn. The sting of my blood, his blood, their blood soaking into my eyes. Why won’t this guy stop screaming! I hit him in the mouth until he can’t move his jaw anymore. Still, the screaming won’t stop! How is he doing it? Why won’t my eyes stop burning? Where’s the gun?

His head pulses forward. Our skulls collide, yet I don’t feel it. However, the force must have been there because I’m sent onto my back and the boy scrambles to his feet. I can’t feel the gun in my hand.

“Don’t fucking move!” he threatens.

I can hardly see. Whenever I open my eyes, the blood seeps deeper into my head. I wonder if it will reach my brain? I wipe vigorously, but fail to alleviate any pain. The boy won’t stop shouting. I start telling him to shut up, but it only inflames him more. What a fool! He doesn’t understand anything. Shoot me already. “Shoot me!”

IV

A shot is fired. A boy goes down. A policeman runs over.

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