Proverbs 14:15 MSG
It’s a little before noon and 39-year-old, history teacher, Mr. Beckley’s stomach is growling. His last meal was breakfast at home before he left for school at 6:45AM. It’s also a little too warm in his classroom because the gosh darn heaters are on the fritz again and, apparently, there’s nothing that can be done.
That one student who is always a pain in the keister was his usual self, this morning, trying to be funny, making stupid remarks, not paying attention. The rest of the class was as usual: a few bored, a few distracted, and a small few who, bless their hearts, actually seem to care about American History. He gives the class the last 10 minutes to start their reading for tomorrow and sits down to rest and dream of the corned beef sandwich stowed in his briefcase under his desk.
THE FIRE ALARM SOUNDS!
Okay, stay calm, he thinks. Probably a drill but his kids are well trained. Even before he can get out of his chair they are moving in a neat, orderly procession out the door and on to the exit and the front yard of the school. He steps into the hall to monitor the evacuation and everything seems to be going okay.
Someone in another hallway screams and a group of kids come running around the corner and into Mr. Beckley’s hall. He hears the word “gun” as they run by and before it has had time to fully register in his mind that those pop, pop, sounds were gunfire, all of those kids who were making egress in a quick but orderly manner are now screaming, pushing, and running for the door. He is nearly knocked down in the sudden crush. He hollers, “Walk! Walk!” but no one is listening.
He can feel a sense of panic start to burn like a hot needle in the base of his skull and the pit of his stomach. Adrenalin starts to flood his nervous system and his normal “flight or fight” responses kick in. What he really wants to do right now is run with these kids as fast as he can go, right out that door and on to his home and the arms of his wife and children.
But he’s a teacher, sworn to himself and God, if not to the school district, to always act in the best interest of his students.
And, he has a gun.
It’s locked in a safe on the top shelf of the supply closet in the place where he used to store historic copies of Life magazine – a nine-millimeter semi-automatic hand gun with a 12-round clip that he bought at a local gun shop and the price of which was reimbursed to him by the school board on the promise that he would take a weekend concealed-carry course (which he did) (six months ago) and the gun would be the school’s property and could be removed from the classroom at any time.
He drops his shoulder and pushes through the crush of students, back into his classroom. His purpose in doing so is to get that gun and take it to the fight, to protect his kids, for that is how he thinks of them: “his kids.” First, though, he has to find the key to the safe. The key. The key. Shit! Where did I put that damn key?
Did those pops sound closer? The adrenalin is flowing freely now. His heart is racing. His empty stomach is rolling over. His hands are shaking. He’s sweating and his mouth is dry.
In truth, he hasn’t had the gun out of its case since he completed the concealed carry class six months ago. He was going to. He was going to go to the range and practice on human shaped targets every week but he never got around to it. Papers to grade. Lesson plans to create. His son’s baseball practice and games, his daughter’s dance recital, his wife’s desire to repaint the kitchen, all got in the way.
His briefcase! That’s where the key is. He fishes his briefcase out from under the desk pops the lid and the smell of corned beef rolls out and sours on his adrenalin filled stomach. He lifts his lunch bag out of the case and there’s the key, wedged into the corner. He takes it to the supply closet, stands on his tiptoes to reach the safe… and drops the key.
He finds it on the floor and, hands still shaking, on tiptoes, again, unlocks the safe and reaches blindly in to get the gun which is already loaded but he grabs the small box of cartridges as well, just in case.
The gun is concealed in a case designed for it to keep moisture out and prevent rust. He opens the case and there is the gun, smelling strongly of cleaning oil, and looking powerful, lethal, and, well, masculine.
Breathing slowly, deeply, trying to get control of his emotions – fear, excitement, anger, frustration, panic – he lays gun and ammunition on his desk. He takes the gun from the case, weights it in his hand, pulls the clip to make sure it’s loaded (just like they taught him at the C.C. Class.) He cranks a round into the firing chamber and walks purposefully toward the door, gun held in both hands, pointing upward, finger outside the trigger guard.
Most of the students are gone from the hallway but a dozen or so stragglers round the corner running full speed and, startled, he comes a millimeter from pointing the gun at them. He moves quickly to the T where his hallway adjoins the main hallway of the school. He peeks around the corner. Students running the other direction, teachers locking their doors. Several bodies on the floor. He does a quick count. Eight. Blood all around. He has no idea whether they are kids or adults, alive or dead.
Mr. Beckley ducks back out of sight raises his gun next to his right ear, pointed upward, finger still outside the trigger guard, takes a deep breath
POP…POP…POP…POP (Closer this time?)
He lets the breath out, takes another, holds it a moment, lets it out slowly and, while he is exhaling, steps around the corner and levels the gun, pointing it down the hallway. And just as he does this a young man in blue jeans and collared t-shirt steps out of a classroom and faces Beckley. It’s the math teacher, a new guy. Brian Cox. Beckley knows nothing about him.
What the hell? Has Cox lost his mind? Is he shooting up the school, killing his students? Why? What happened? Or, wait, maybe Cox is an armed teacher like himself. Beckley wonders: Maybe he thinks I’m the one shooting up the school!
Seconds tick by. Lives are at stake. The POP’s seem to have stopped. Decide, Beckley. Decide! Background, behind Cox: a few students running away, concrete block walls, hard, linoleum floors, a few windows in classroom doors. Anyone in those classrooms? Foreground between Beckley and Cox: bodies, blood.
Cox raises his weapon and points it toward Beckley.
Dean Feldmeyer is the author of 5 novels, 4 non-fiction books, three plays, and over 100 essays, articles, poems, and short stories, some of which can be found on this web site.