October 1, 2015
Modern American Horror Story
It was the worst of times.
Guns blazed in the schools and in the streets. People feared one another not for real reasons but for potential reasons yet to be typed. Old wealthy white men argued with each other over nothing on television while poor young women languished with the dead stuck inside them. Millions of people ran from barbed-wire fence to barbed-wire fence, begging for someone to open the gate, to escape the explosions growing hotter at their backs. Kids drowned as inflatable rafts were harpooned, money was transferred and created and exchanged among men on yachts and in jets, as they ignored the gurgling, gangly bodies below them, snapped up by carrion predators.
Far below the clouds and jet plumes, far to the west of the drowning children, but east of the shootings (this week), north of the barbed-wire fence, lay a school. It was a large school, an American high school, modern with wifi and all the conveniences of the modern west: a full kitchen, sports complex, pool, full theater program, band, choral, and orchestral program, and perhaps most importantly, a daycare center for the children of the students and teachers.
This daycare center doubled as the town’s main public preschool. It held classes five or three days a week, regular school day hours, or school day plus extended care hours. The center was all-inclusive; no child with a developmental or physical disability was denied entrance, and it was well staffed with educated, caring teachers and assistants. It was brightly lit and children’s art adorned each wall. Cookies perfumed the air, a song echoed from the back walls.
Sarah cocked her head to the door, she heard something. Something weird. Sarah was four years old, wore a Dora pink t-shirt and a white tulle tutu, sparkly red Mary Jane shoes. The teacher’s assistant, Christine, watched Sarah intently, touched her hand. Sarah gripped Christine’s thumb with all her might and tightened her jaw. Sarah and the rest of the children quieted to an eerie silence. Christine looked at the lead teacher, Kerrie, and Kerrie nodded towards the closet.
Christine squeezed Sarah’s hand back and ushered her backwards, towards the closet.
“I am going to keep you safe,” Christine whispered in Sarah’s ear. Sarah moaned softly as she shuffled backward. “Shh it’s ok, there’s something weird going on, yes?”
Sarah nodded vehemently, looked to Christine and then to the door, the wall, the window, the door again. Christine saw a shadow pass over the glazed window of the door, over Sarah’s face. She picked Sarah up and carried her to the closet.
Kerrie, the lead teacher in her fourth year at the school, noted the children’s reactions, saw the shadow also, locked the door, lowered the blinds, shut off the lights, opened the back door to the playground outside and allowed it to slam emphatically. She looked around the room, under tables, under chairs, checked the self-contained bathroom, before entering the safe room herself.
The safe room.
Normally the coat closet, the safe room had been built to withstand a tornado, or worse.
Christine and Kerrie took headcount, compared against the morning’s roster. All the children were present and accounted for, they merely had to wait this out. There’d been no announcement over the public address system, “This is the Intruder Drill, please take cover,” yet the children’s and their own gut instincts had announced danger.
Sarah reached in the darkness for anyone, anything, she moaned and begged and whimpered and finally found Christine’s warm sweaty palm with her own. She rubbed it against her cheek. Other children held onto each other or their grownups’ legs in search of comfort. It was hot and stuffy in the room, and six year old Claire was not having it. She screamed and wailed in her wheelchair, frantically poking at her picture board.
“Shhh sweetie, it’s ok. We’re in danger, yes, but we are here and we love you,” Kerrie whispered into Claire’s ear. “I know you can hear me, Claire. I know you’re scared, and it’s ok to be scared. We have to get through this together, ok, love? We will all get through this together.” Claire quieted against Kerrie’s cheek as other children leaned against her in the humidity. All voices silent as a click woke up the outer door of the Special Education classroom.
Muffled voices in their classroom. Kerrie looked at Christine and she returned the quizzical face. Were they being tested by the administration? Was this a drill? Was this a real attack? It said “Special Education” on the plaque on the door, there could be no mistaking where the intruders were. Shuffling feet, a squishing sound.
Kerrie and Christine and their eight students of various abilities had no way of knowing their principal was already dead, their office secretaries were splayed open in their swivel chairs, blood dripping down to a dark puddle on the berber carpet, that the entire theater department had been demolished, the chemistry classrooms had been shattered with gunfire.
The preschool wing was attached to the high school by one flimsy door and was often forgotten by those without immediate business there. A voice rang out in the classroom.
“Sarah? Sarah? It’s Daddy! Where you at, Sarah? Where’s my little snugglebunny?” a barely-masculine voice called, hardly audible through the reinforced steel door. Yet, she heard, and jumped up and down, squealing. Christine rushed to quiet her, conceal her from her father.
“Sarah? I’m comin’ for you, baby! They say you stupid, but I know you ain’t stupid! I’m comin’ for ya! Where you at, girl?”
Sarah jumped up and down and stomped on Christine’s foot, bit her hand.
“Come to Daddy, Claire! Come to Daddy, my snugglebunny! Let’s play ball, yeah?”
Sarah wriggled and screamed into Christine’s hand as she struggled to keep the child quiet and safe, and remain calm as the other kids became uneasy. The other seven children restlessly shifted and fidgeted. A shadow grew under the doorframe.
“Sarah? You in there, baby?” the man’s voice called.
Sarah struggled against Christine’s hand and arms around her.
“Sarah, Daddy’s not himself. We have to be careful, we have to be safe and quiet. Safe and quiet. Safe and quiet,” Christine whispered and repeated the phrase until Sarah became quiet and heavy.
Gunshots. The rat-a-tat-tat of rapid fire bullets against the closet, the doors, the windows shattered, muffled thuds in the cubbies. The children instinctively huddled with their teachers. Claire put her head down on her wheelchair’s adapted desk.
“Fuck it man, just let’s blow it all up,” the voice said as Kerrie recorded his voice on her cell phone.
A flash, an explosion, heat. So hot, everyone in the safe room was dripping with sweat. Two, three, five, seven children fainted with heat and shock. Kerrie passed out. Only Christine and Sarah remained conscious, hugging each other tight against the terror, rocking.
A dog barked and wailed and barked again.
“Doggie!” Sarah squealed. Christine hugged her tight.
The clang of hammers, chisels, the roar of a drill. Daylight. Camera flashes, shielded eyes. The dog barked on.
“Oh my God oh my God oh my GOD!” Sarah’s mother exclaimed as she rushed to her daughter and Christine. She swooped Sarah up into her arms and swung her around.
“Daddy good,” Sarah said emphatically, shaking her head ‘no.’
“That’s right sweetie, Daddy’s not good. But he’s gone,” her mother murmured. “It’s just you and me know, baby, shhhh.”
Sarah looked up at her mother, then to Christine. “Chrissy happygood, happy good,” Sarah said to her mother’s ear.
Claire clutched Kerrie’s hand as she wheeled her around the rubble. Claire’s father scooped her up from her chair as if she were a feather and she might take flight. Claire squealed in delight and flailed against her father as he hugged her.
“Ms. Washington, your classroom was the only room without lives lost,” said the television reporter with the microphone in Kerrie’s face. “How do you explain that?”
Kerrie thought a moment and then replied, “I have the best kids, the most intuitive kids, and they knew what the score was, even before we did. They warned us and we only had to follow through,” she smiled over to Christine.
Christine noticed and nodded.
“How does it feel to be the hero of Lincoln High?” a reporter asked Kerrie.
“Like family,” Kerrie replied. Silently, with a smile, Christine agreed.