Grade: 12th grade
Age: 18

What About Them?

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It’s ironic. A year ago, I stood in the chilly Indiana air, in the middle of third period, holding back tears. That day, I wondered how many students, how many teachers, looked out classroom windows at us. 100 students stood outside our school, pink cheeks and watering eyes — the sound of sniffling noses and cars passing by. I held the stranger’s hand next to me, my palm brushing against their rough skin before locking fingers. The rest of the school watched as we remembered the lives taken from school shootings.
Every day, I sat in class calculating where to run, where to hide, if we were next. No plan, no drill, no training could have prepared us for today. So, it’s ironic. We sat in our classrooms, fearing the worst. We stood outside, fighting for change. Yet, a year later, this nightmare still came.

“In this boast, what is Beowulf saying?” I stared down at the words on the page, crafting up an answer in case I was called on. Someone else answered as I zoned out. As I scanned the room, reading posters, the lockdown alarm buzzed — this sound we’d been conditioned to associate with fear. I looked to our teacher, saw her eyes widen, as she rushed to lock the door and shut off the lights. “Get in the corner. This isn’t a drill.” Everyone went silent. It had always been a drill. We followed her orders, trying to hide. Our teacher stood near the door listening. Natural light poured in from the windows. I knew we were supposed to shut the blinds; that’s what we’d practiced. But we didn’t, and it didn’t matter now.
I stood near the back of my cluster of peers, jammed between desks and cabinets. There was barely space to breathe. I took a breath, afraid to exhale in the silence. My mind raced. Then it sank in. There were no announcements. This really wasn’t a drill. Someone was in the school with a gun.
What felt like 20 minutes was only 3. I turned my head at the sound of muffled cries; a boy stared down at his shoes, tears dripping from his chin, wetting his shirt. My hand brushed the jacket of the girl in front of me who breathed heavy. She was having a panic attack. “Do it with me. Breathe in and out, in and out.” My face turned to the source of these murmured words. She stared at me, a look of fear in her widened eyes, and mouthed, “What is happening?” I shook my head, shrugged my shoulders. But, I knew. We all knew.
I stared at the clock; time slowed. My hand rested on my chest, feeling my heart beat fast. It wouldn’t stop, and I didn’t know how to make it. No one spoke, so, when it happened, we all heard it — a scream. It pierced the quiet. Then our teacher spoke; “We have to build a barricade.”
A few people moved immediately, desperate to feel useful. Eventually we all broke away from the corner, stacking desks in front of the door. We heard more screams, and each came with what we’d dreaded: gun shots. When we finished, backpacks and Beowulf books littered the floor. We each pulled our phones from our backpacks. Everyone seemed to do the same thing: send one last “I love you” text then slip our phones into our back pockets.
Gunshots and screams grew louder. We made our way back to the corner, our “safe” haven. We held hands, hugged and cried. A few were in shock, not reacting. We stood, silently, listening to the chorus of sobs, screams and shots. Bang, bang, bang.
“Okay,” our teacher paused. “We have to get out of here.” She glanced down the empty hall, shots and screams continuing, then rushed to the window with the blinds left open. “Okay, one-by-one crawl out the window. Look around and look up. Make sure no one is outside or in a window. Then, run. Get far away. We will all meet up at Wendy’s down the street. All of us, okay?”
We were hesitant but moved quickly. Only a small section at the bottom of the window opened, just big enough for one person to slip through. Our teacher shuffled us close to the window. We all watched as the first person maneuvered through the opening, checked for danger, then ran to safety, further and further away from the gun shots that kept getting louder and louder. One-by-one we squeezed through the bottom of the window, working quickly. My heart pounded. Only half the class had gone. The gunman was close. Really close.
“Everybody back up!” Our teacher held the brick she’d used to prop open her door. In an instant, the brick left her hand, smashing into the window. Glass rained down. Students running glanced back. The shots halted. “Get out, now!” We rushed to the window, four people spilling through at a time. Some were cut by the glass but barely noticed. Adrenaline rushed through us. The cold, metal frame of the window smashed against my cheek just before my shoes hit the mulch below. Then, I ran. I didn’t check if it was safe; I just ran. The shots resumed inside. I glanced behind me, the last of my classmates tumbled through the window, my teacher amongst them.
I felt the cold air hit my lungs, my feet thudding on the ground, tears spilling down my cheeks. My heart beat fast. I saw my peers ahead of me, felt them close behind. Somehow, I made it. I swung open the Wendy’s door, looking at the faces of my teary-eyed friends. Employees looked horrified hearing the news. Students called their parents. My teacher arrived with the rest of the class. Just as she’d said, we all made it. We were alive. I was alive. But, I wondered about the others — the screams, the ones left behind. What about them?

4 thoughts on “What About Them?

  1. Very realistic story….one really sensed that the author was there. A very timely topic. What a wonderful ending to think about the others and not be self obsorbed.

  2. Some stirring moments here. This section was vivid and compelling: / Then our teacher spoke; “We have to build a barricade.”
    A few people moved immediately, desperate to feel useful. / … That’s sparse and effective prose. That’s all I needed to envision the scene. The nuanced ending worked well, too. I liked that our protagonists escaped safely, but this was clearly no happy ending. The whole essay would be great material for starting a class discussion.

  3. Well written, I enjoyed the juxtaposition with the protest and specificity of Beowulf books littering the floor. And also, it’s so depressing that this is the second year in a row I’ve read a story here with a very well written story of a school shooting. That this is so horribly and firmly etched in the minds of our youth.

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