Sirens scream, tearing at your ears and forcing you to the floor. Something electric, an energy, dances in the air. You’ve practiced for this moment, but today is different. There’s real panic in her grown-up eyes as they look to the door and then back to you and the others—pancake-flat on the floor, trying to hide your small bodies from view.
You scramble on all fours and make it to your desk, but not before the pounding starts. The door shakes from the force. She locked it, right? Will it hold?
The pounding comes again, harder, rattling the entire room. The hand-shaped, turkey cut-outs decorating the walls of your third-grade classroom sail to the ground. You spy a hooded figure outside the door and slide further behind the desk to stay out of sight.
“This is no goddamn drill,” you mumble under your breath. You know better than to use words like that. The kind of words your parents bark again and again when they knock-down, drag-out fight. The kind of words that rip you open and fill you with a cold emptiness and boot-shaking fear. A fear that owns you, a fear like right now.
More hammering on the door. So loud and endless. You lay there, trembling, wound up tight, knees in your chest, wondering how the intruder got into school in the first place. Wondering who he is, what he wants.
Finally, the glass in the door shatters, scattering sharp pieces on the floor. Johnny and Tasha break their long silence. Their screams, like bullets, pierce your paper-thin shield of courage. You’ve never heard a sound like that before, not from a human—or an animal for that matter. This is no playground scream. No video game scream. This scream digs its nails in deep; it bites and pinches.
“Stay down!” yells Ms. Anderson. “Stay—.” Her voice is cut off by a series of gunshots. They thunder off the concrete floor and echo through the cave-like halls that go to lunch and gym and the playground and safety. A safety that’s too far from—
Your hand grabs at your chest; you slump forward, the taste of hot blood on your lips.
A cop yells, “Shooter down!” Another yells, “Shooter down—clear”. The moment hangs there like a noose until you catch a short breath. Then another long, full one, lifting your lungs with sweet life. You wipe the blood from your lips with your sleeve. Thankfully, you’ve only bitten down too hard and broken the skin. You start to calm. The red stain on your clothing glares back at you. And you know, in your heart, that it’s there for good.