Screenshot 2023-12-12 at 3.01.10 PM.pngTwo words changed our lives forever.

“Active shooter.”

We all knew what it meant. We’d had drills. When Principal Deen’s tense, hushed voice spoke those words over the PA, we understood.

Sandra Collins hurried to the door. I was glad she was class leader today. I wasn’t sure I’d have thought to move so quick. Even as she pressed the lock, loud pops rang out from somewhere nearby. Screams echoed through the walls. Eyes wide, Sandra slapped the light switch, plunging us into semi-darkness, the only light from the two windows.

“One, two, three—come to me.” Mrs. Brady, our sixth-grade math teacher, gave our ‘remember phrase’ in a low, clear voice.

I slipped quietly from my seat, following my classmates. We gathered near Mrs. Brady’s desk, in the corner farthest from the door, but along the same wall. If a stranger looked in, he’d see only a dark room with empty seats.

Mrs. Brady laid her finger over her lips. We nodded. Of course, we’d be silent.

I couldn’t have spoken if I wanted to.

Mom would’ve been surprised, I think. She calls me her chatter-happy squirrel. It’s part of my sensory stuff, she says, but I just like to hear noise. To know I’m not alone. If I had a brother or sister, I probably wouldn’t mind the quiet so much. Or the dark corners, where shadows gather along with the dust.

Pop!

I jumped. That one was definitely closer.

A couple of kids whimpered. Mrs. Brady hugged us all closer to her. She motioned downward with her hand, and we sat on the floor. Huddled over. Even laid flat.

Small, smaller, smallest.

CRASH!

Footsteps pounded past our door. I could hear people breathing. I waited for screams, but none came. Just running, breathing, and the squeaks of sneakers. Should we run, too? What if the gunman had a bomb?

A hand touched my arm.

I lifted my cheek from the floor. Tight in the corner, Mrs. Brady held as many kids as her arms could reach. Her hands held theirs. She lifted one clasped hand and nodded, encouraging us. All around, we each found a hand to grasp.

A hand nudged mine. Majula—we called him Major. I knew him from grade school. His dark eyes met mine.

I took his hand. His skin was warm and dry. It felt better, somehow, having us all connected. None of us alone.

Loud footsteps.

Heavy, and slow. Not running, like the others.

My heart pounded so hard my whole body moved with each beat. I tried to breathe slower, but couldn’t. Air from my nose stirred up dust on the floor in little puffs. I watched it swirl around the feet of Mrs. Brady’s desk.

Major’s hand squeezed mine.

I squeezed back.

The knob on the door rattled.

Thank you, God, for Sandra and her quick thinking.

Count your blessings, Mom always said. Sandra was a blessing. And Mrs. Brady. And Major. My Mom and Dad were blessings. Funny, I’d never thought of them that way before. I wonder if they knew? If we made it through this, I’d have to tell them.

There were only three weeks left until Christmas break. Yesterday, all I’d wanted was an iPhone. Now, all I wanted was to see Mom and Dad again. I’d squeeze their hands, like Major was squeezing mine, and make sure they didn’t feel alone.

Pow! Pow!

The explosions were so close they were deafening. Not pops, like before, but sounds like cracks of thunder. A smoky, metallic smell filtered into our room. Had the shooter loosed some kind of chemical? Was he smoking us out of the rooms so he could gun us all down?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

What was that? It sounded like a bird.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Major’s fingers twitched. I turned my head, ear scraping on the floor. There, at the window.

A face.

My heart skipped a beat. Maybe two. I could see tactical gear. Was it the shooter? Had he gone outside to come around to the windows and shoot us where we hid?

A badge flashed in the light. Not the shooter, I realized.

A cop.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He pointed in, then at the window.

“Go.” I heard Mrs. Brady whisper.

Sandra crawled on hands and knees, staying low. She glanced at the door, eyes searching carefully before turning back to the window and twisting the latch. She pulled the window up.

The police officer put his finger over his lips the same way Mrs. Brady had earlier. He pointed at us, then at the window.

I looked back at Mrs. Brady.

Her eyes met ours. She nodded, and held up her clasped hand again.

We understood.

We moved as a group, quiet as mice. It was hard, getting up off that floor. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay there, flattened down. But I fought it. I learned something else that day.

You can be afraid, and still keep moving. Defy the darkness.

One by one we slid out the window. More cops waited outside. They herded us toward the parking lot, where an army of emergency vehicles crowded.

In the end, we left the same way we’d sheltered—together, our hands clasped.

Someone cried a name.

Parents’ faces began to appear, and one by one we released into the arms of our families. We’d survived.

I saw Dad first.

I’ve never been so glad to see him. His face said the same. He held me tight. Then Mom was there, hugging us both.

I took their hands in mine, and squeezed.

They squeezed back.

#

The day before Christmas we all went back to the school parking lot. There were a lot of tears. Two teachers had died protecting children. But we clasped hands and sang carols, defying the shooter's attempt to kill our hope. Defying the dark.

We may be afraid, but we’ll keep moving forward.

Together.
 
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What I particularly liked about this story was that you captured the tension, the uncertainty, and the fear. I hoped, rather than knew, that it would end well and couldn't stop reading during the classroom scene. That's what they call a page-turner! Very well done.
 
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Story Title: Defying the Dark

Two words changed our lives forever.

“Active shooter.”

We all knew what it meant. We’d had drills. When Principal Deen’s tense, hushed voice spoke those words over the PA, we understood.

Sandra Collins hurried to the door. I was glad she was class leader today. I wasn’t sure I’d have thought to move so quick. Even as she pressed the lock, loud pops rang out from somewhere nearby. Screams echoed through the walls. Eyes wide, Sandra slapped the light switch, plunging us into semi-darkness, the only light from the two windows.

“One, two, three—come to me.” Mrs. Brady, our sixth-grade math teacher, gave our ‘remember phrase’ in a low, clear voice.

I slipped quietly from my seat, following my classmates. We gathered near Mrs. Brady’s desk, in the corner farthest from the door, but along the same wall. If a stranger looked in, he’d see only a dark room with empty seats.

Mrs. Brady laid her finger over her lips. We nodded. Of course, we’d be silent.

I couldn’t have spoken if I wanted to.

Mom would’ve been surprised, I think. She calls me her chatter-happy squirrel. It’s part of my sensory stuff, she says, but I just like to hear noise. To know I’m not alone. If I had a brother or sister, I probably wouldn’t mind the quiet so much. Or the dark corners, where shadows gather along with the dust.

Pop!

I jumped. That one was definitely closer.

A couple of kids whimpered. Mrs. Brady hugged us all closer to her. She motioned downward with her hand, and we sat on the floor. Huddled over. Even laid flat.

Small, smaller, smallest.

CRASH!

Footsteps pounded past our door. I could hear people breathing. I waited for screams, but none came. Just running, breathing, and the squeaks of sneakers. Should we run, too? What if the gunman had a bomb?

A hand touched my arm.

I lifted my cheek from the floor. Tight in the corner, Mrs. Brady held as many kids as her arms could reach. Her hands held theirs. She lifted one clasped hand and nodded, encouraging us. All around, we each found a hand to grasp.

A hand nudged mine. Majula—we called him Major. I knew him from grade school. His dark eyes met mine.

I took his hand. His skin was warm and dry. It felt better, somehow, having us all connected. None of us alone.

Loud footsteps.

Heavy, and slow. Not running, like the others.

My heart pounded so hard my whole body moved with each beat. I tried to breathe slower, but couldn’t. Air from my nose stirred up dust on the floor in little puffs. I watched it swirl around the feet of Mrs. Brady’s desk.

Major’s hand squeezed mine.

I squeezed back.

The knob on the door rattled.

Thank you, God, for Sandra and her quick thinking.

Count your blessings, Mom always said. Sandra was a blessing. And Mrs. Brady. And Major. My Mom and Dad were blessings. Funny, I’d never thought of them that way before. I wonder if they knew? If we made it through this, I’d have to tell them.

There were only three weeks left until Christmas break. Yesterday, all I’d wanted was an iPhone. Now, all I wanted was to see Mom and Dad again. I’d squeeze their hands, like Major was squeezing mine, and make sure they didn’t feel alone.

Pow! Pow!

The explosions were so close they were deafening. Not pops, like before, but sounds like cracks of thunder. A smoky, metallic smell filtered into our room. Had the shooter loosed some kind of chemical? Was he smoking us out of the rooms so he could gun us all down?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

What was that? It sounded like a bird.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Major’s fingers twitched. I turned my head, ear scraping on the floor. There, at the window.

A face.

My heart skipped a beat. Maybe two. I could see tactical gear. Was it the shooter? Had he gone outside to come around to the windows and shoot us where we hid?

A badge flashed in the light. Not the shooter, I realized.

A cop.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He pointed in, then at the window.

“Go.” I heard Mrs. Brady whisper.

Sandra crawled on hands and knees, staying low. She glanced at the door, eyes searching carefully before turning back to the window and twisting the latch. She pulled the window up.

The police officer put his finger over his lips the same way Mrs. Brady had earlier. He pointed at us, then at the window.

I looked back at Mrs. Brady.

Her eyes met ours. She nodded, and held up her clasped hand again.

We understood.

We moved as a group, quiet as mice. It was hard, getting up off that floor. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay there, flattened down. But I fought it. I learned something else that day.

You can be afraid, and still keep moving. Defy the darkness.

One by one we slid out the window. More cops waited outside. They herded us toward the parking lot, where an army of emergency vehicles crowded.

In the end, we left the same way we’d sheltered—together, our hands clasped.

Someone cried a name.

Parents’ faces began to appear, and one by one we released into the arms of our families. We’d survived.

I saw Dad first.

I’ve never been so glad to see him. His face said the same. He held me tight. Then Mom was there, hugging us both.

I took their hands in mine, and squeezed.

They squeezed back.

#

The day before Christmas we all went back to the school parking lot. There were a lot of tears. Two teachers had died protecting children. But we clasped hands and sang carols, defying the shooter's attempt to kill our hope. Defying the dark.

We may be afraid, but we’ll keep moving forward.

Together.
Omg I was moved. So beautifully written, I was there at the scene
 
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Nicely done. The only thing I didn’t care for were the “Loud Footsteps,” POW!, POW!, but that may just be me.
Thanks, Jim. I meant the POW! POW! to be gunshots (not the footsteps), as sensory of what a child would experience. When I pasted into the post, it lost something in the translation, so I had the idea to bold those spots. It was an impulsive choice, but I rather liked putting an extra emphasis on the sounds. :) Sorry you didn't care for them, but glad you were able to enjoy the story regardless.
 
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What I particularly liked about this story was that you captured the tension, the uncertainty, and the fear. I hoped, rather than knew, that it would end well and couldn't stop reading during the classroom scene. That's what they call a page-turner! Very well done.
Thanks, Rose. :) I always look forward to what you'll have to say on my stories. For this one, having a 7th grader of my own gave me an inside glimpse into what this might be like, and what a kiddo might be thinking in such a time. I didn't want to go too dark with it, after all - it was about togetherness in the face of fear and darkness - but I'm glad the tension was still there.
 
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