120 seconds

He shifts his weight, eyes dead set on the double doors only feet away now, doors he’s been through so many times before; the hallway inside a stretch of misery containing painful memories he recalls with a bitter taste in his mouth, reflexively tightening his grip around the object pointing mercilessly forward.

The glow from the all too bright fluorescent lights reflects on the tiles, ivory-white and speckled with dust and the imprints of footsteps colliding and merging together. The walls close around him; the cheerful banisters and echoes of laughter coming from somewhere around the corner fade into nothingness, until he sees only white — white that turns to black that turns to red, a melting pot of colors the shade of nightmares.

She sits with her legs crossed, bent over the spiraled notebook sprawled open on her desk, shading in the petals of the flowers that encircle perfectly written equations. She sits in the back row to avoid the bored and lingering stares that travel from desk to desk until finally settling on the clock, counting down the minutes to the end of the period. The view from here is an array of tables and the backs of heads so familiar she’d know them with her eyes closed; people she’s grown up with, people she loves and dislikes and doesn’t know well enough to decide. These moments filled with the dull hum of the AC and the rhythmic scratch of chalk on board are almost peaceful; in a matter of minutes, thundering footsteps, shouts, and barks of laughter would fill the halls, and she would once again become one with the crowd. Two minutes to go. 120 seconds. 

The first shot fired seems to shake the ground from deep within — a far-off scream ensues, and heads whirl around in shock. It doesn’t register to her, what is happening; her body seems to react first, her heart lurching so far into her throat she’s afraid it might fall out. A second scream. Hurried footsteps. A shout: STOP! Another dreadful, thunderous sound that shakes her to her core. And suddenly she’s on the floor, crouching down with twenty other shuddering breaths, some heaving desperately and others stifling silent sobs. The teacher seems to have given the instruction to hide but she can’t remember when; nausea and fear envelop her in their embrace and she is too weak to fight back.

The ringing in her ears mixes with the sounding of the alarms; the faint drone of a siren blends in with it but it’s too far off, nowhere close enough. The slam of the door against the wall jerks her from her trance and she is aware of every strand of hair standing rigidly on the back of her neck as he steps inside and fires without hesitation. There is a sickening thump of a body making impact with the floor, and this time the screams surround her. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. Another bullet fires, barely grazes her ear, and paints the wall behind her a brilliant shade of crimson. Bile rises in her throat as the body of a girl collapses. She wonders if she’s next, wonders how many seconds more she has left to live, wonders what will become of her family if she is gone, wonders what she said to them before she left this morning, perhaps for the last time ever. But people are beginning to make their escape, some struggling to open windows and others bolting for the safety of the outdoors. He’s moved on, a predator seeking its next target, leaving chaos and the stench of death in its wake.

Phone screens light up, message after message; and her own vibrates silently in her back pocket. She lifts her gaze to meet the scene before her: terror etched upon faces, eyebrows knitted together in permanent shock, quivering breaths and moans so painful they’re almost inhuman. She has no sense of time anymore — steady hands bring her to her feet, soothing voices surround her, she is led out of this miserable place, out into the blinding sunlight and into familiar arms in which she finally allows herself to break down.

From the back of her mother’s embrace she can make out the swarm of students being ushered outside by figures dressed in navy blue; parents and friends and families desperately search the crowd for their own, willing for a sign that they’re okay and safe and unharmed. An officer makes his way toward a blonde-haired woman, and his hunched shoulders and grim face indicate he does not bear good news; she watches helplessly as the woman clamps a hand over her mouth and lets out a piercing cry, her whole life forever ruined.

Helicopters begin landing to transport the bodies of the deceased and aid those in need of medical attention; the suspect in question is dragged away and shoved into the back of a car. He was mentally ill and insane, she hears someone whisper. He planned this, someone whispers back. Gun control, AR15, thoughts and prayers, second amendment, never thought this could happen here — she catches hold of these words as she passes grieving mothers and fathers, reporters, students giving their account of the day’s events — and all she feels is a deep and dark hollowness.

Future generations would roam those same halls and sit in those same classrooms, untouched by the pain of their predecessors but living in constant peril knowing what had happened here could happen again. If the walls could speak, they’d tell the tale of bloodshed, of young lives snatched away in a fraction of a second, of brilliant futures crushed with the weight of misplaced anger. History would mention them in the margins of its tale or not at all, for they’d already be long forgotten, buried with the other incidents, just another number on the list. But the people would be forever tied to this place — they’d lost their sons and daughters here, their hearts and souls.

Death had come to their doorstep, bringing with it chaos and an emptiness that would never fade, leaving them with hell on earth — their burden to bear, their losses to carry, their lives forever changed and never to be the same.

Simra MariamComment