I sit in class tapping my pencil against my thigh in boredom. The sunlight filters in through the window behind my seat. The teacher sits in her seat and clicks away at her mouse as if her life depends on it. My other twenty classmates sit around doing their work. Several stare off to space. The lights flicker making the light white room almost sinister. Cold sweat rolls down the back of my neck. My girlfriend keeps texting me about how we need to talk. For better or worse I've been putting it off.
"Five minutes," The teacher states absently as she concentrates on whatever is on the screen. A few students groan while the rest ignore her. Me included. I finished my work. Now all I can do is sit and wait...
The pen clicks. Someone caughs. The clock ticks. I breathe slightly. Someone shuffles their feet. Another scoots their chair back. I glance up and one of the pretty blonde girls looks down at her desk quickly. I ignore her and watch the clock again. Three minutes.
"Three minutes." I scoff in amusement.
My eyes scan over my open tabs and I notice I have an email. I stop clicking the pen.
I open the email and read the sender and contents. Jiavanni: I'm bored, ready to be outside. This work is stupid. I reply in the affirmative then glance across the room to where she sits. She rolls her eyes at me nods toward Daniel. I extend my hand and tap down on the desk in three sharp pounds with my knuckle. Nothing that would catch the teacher's attention anyway. A few students look up. Including Daniel. He gestures toward my laptop. A light flickers in his eyes and he starts checking his own laptop for his email. I watch as his eyes scan the screen before he cracks his knuckles and begins typing. He hits send and looks back at me and Jia.
Daniel: Yeah I know! I'll just finish it for homework. I'm ready for some soccer.
Jiavanni: We all know you won't.
I hear a buzz, a sort of buzz you hear when a plane flies overhead.
You guys hear that? Sounded like a plane? I've never heard a plane go over before. I peek up at Daneil and watch as his eyes scan over the screen before he looks at me and nods his head. In his eyes I can see him telling me he agrees with all that I said.
Daniel: Yeah, I thought it was weird.
Jiavanni: I didn't hear anything. I look at her and she scruntches her brow before shrugging. I hear bags beginning to be zipped up and the general movement of 'class-is-over'.
"Alright, pack up and get ready to go," The teacher says glancing quickly from the computer to the students. Everyone moves quickly then to get out of the room, packing up and putting away school property and borrowed laptops. I close mine and slip it into my bag.
"What do you think it is?" Daniel calls across the room.
I hear a loud crash and the whole room freezes. Just for a second before our world is consumed into so much whiteness that it's all black.
I lean forward, my head throbbing and body aching. I’m hot and sweating. I can’t see past the blur in my eyes and taste the foulness of smoke as it fills up my lungs.
The crackling of fire assualts my ears and groans are tangled up so terribly in a cacophony of sounds. I sit up and look around but the smoke makes my eyes water again and can only catch glimpses of red and grey. I open my mouth to call for help but cannot make a sound. My throat burns and scratches. I reach up with my hands as the smoke suddenly seems to clear. I open my watery eyes and look around. Fire is all around but the smoke goes straight up in long harsh columns. I unsteadily get to my aching feet and look around. I see a pile of four bodies to my right, two shuffling and moving around. The top one extra red. I try not to gag as I step away, looking in the other direction. But instead I see more piles of contorted flesh and cloth. I lean against a small remnant of a brick wall and slide down to the ground covering my eyes.
I hear yelling and a moment of gunfire. Just a few shots. Almost not enough for me to accept it. But I've been to the range. I've pulled the trigger before. I know what a gun sounds like.
I get to my feet and look around, ignoring the smoke as it is moved this way and that by the wind. The blue sky can be seenbut I can't see farther than ten feet away from me. Craters fill the schoolyard and have consumed half the 'hut' (portable classroom) closest to the main building. I hear someone caughing to my right. I look back at the pile of bodies.
Three of them are trying to untangle themselves from the top body. Corpse. I rush to their aid, stepping over another unmoving body along the way. I help Jiavanni to her feet as Daniel gets Elizabeth. An upperclassmen.
"What happened?" Jiavanni demands between sobs and lung-wracking caughs.
"I dunno," I shrug as a chain of uncontrollable caughing takes hold.
I striaghten myself back out and look around. The other three stand, faces pale and without expression. Shell shock I realize. Which makes me ask the question; Why aren't I like them? I grab Daniel's arm. He looks at my hand blankly.
"Come on, all of you grab hands, let's get out of here," I gasp. He lifelessly grabs Jiavanni's hand as she grabs Elizabeth's. I grab Daniel's and lead him through the rubble and past prone bodies to where the hallway once was. I mentally tag fallen bodies as I pass. It is just more fallen rubble, the hallway, but it was clearer and easier to walk through.
As I make my way to the exit where we will be safe outside of the smoke and away from the many fires I remember the gunshots I heard. I stop them and have them sit down.
"If you have to leave, if you have to leave, go and don't look back. But otherwise stay here and I'll be back." They nod and I turn to head back to the classroom.
I rush back into the classroom as I cover my mouth with my shirt trying to filter out the smoke.
I start to search for bodies and find one lying under a fallen desk. I lift it and toss it off of them, then check for a pulse. Nothing. I feel overwhelmed at the thought. The thought that someone I've known for months now is lying dead infront of me. I could have been talking to them not ten minutes before. I rock back and forth on my heels, my eyes blurring up once more. This time not only from smoke.
"Kevin!" I hear called out weakly. I whip my head around and spot a dust and grime covered body peeking out from under some fallen roof panels. I rush to them blindly before tripping over something and suddenly I'm on the cold yet burning hard ground. I ignore the pain shooting up my knee and crawl towards the body. Gabe.
"You okay?" I ask testing the weight of the panel. It's heavy but not too bad. Hopefully.
"Yeah, I think so... I just can't move..." He drones off, the empty look clearly being fought off. He struggles to remain fighting. For as it dawns on me that that is what he is doing that it is why he is still alive. The bodies around me... Some gave up when they had a chance... I push the thoughts away and brace myself against the panel.
"On three, okay? One, two, three-" I lift the panel and he scrambles out slowly, oh so slowly! Can a man not move faster when his life depends on it? He barely crawled! I have seen babies move faster than this teen boy is! But alas, he does get out from underneath and I let it fall against the ground. He kneels down next to me and brushes off his hands eyeing my knee.
"You're hurt." I look at it and as if suddenly reminded I feel excruciating, almost unbearable, pain as I spot the crimson red blood pouring from my apendage.
"I'll be alright," I say through clenched teeth. It could not be anything more than a simple grunt. "You think you can lift things?"
"Uh..." He stares off to the front of the classroom, or at least where it would be, for several long seconds. I hear gunshots again. I reach forward to stir him. He can't give in on me now. "Yeah," He says suddenly, "I can. Why?" I sigh with relief.
"Go to the front of the classroom, I'll head around back and we're gonna grab who we can and meet up at the entrance to the room. Alright? You got that?" Gabe nods slowly, distractedly, before scruntching up his brows.
"Nothing..." I shrug and stand.
"Alright, go on. I'll be there in a minute." I walk away from him, leaving him to stare at my back. I go from body to body checking cold neck after cold neck. Soon I've checked eight and know that there is only one more I can check before I have to head to meet up with Gabe. I see a body lying on its stomach. Probably not alive. I carefully shake it, him, and call out to him.
"Hey, Will... Wi-" I can't bring myself to say his name again. My emotions threaten to overwhelm me. I reach for his neck but stop myself. An inch away. I can't bring myself to do it. I can't accept the fact that he is probably dead like the rest of them. Another person that I couldn't save. Can't save. Someone I did not get along particularly well with but if I wanted to mend things he was always there to do it. But where is he now? What can I do now if I want to make my peace?
"Kevin!" My name rings hollowly through the smoke filled room. More gunshots. "Come here, quick!" I retract my hand and stand. I run towards Gabe without looking back.
The coarse voice calls to me once more.
“Kevin!” I tiptoe between a growing fire and a collapsed brick wall.
“Yeah?” I ask stepping in next to him. Two bodies sit infront of him. I see that they’re in the same situation that Gabe was in. A piece of debris sits over them pinning them to the ground.
“I lift you pull,” I mutter with a shake of my head. He nods. I squat down next to it and test its weight. Heavy. “One, two, three-” Screeches erupt as metal scrapes metal and loose pieces fall randomly. I concentrate on keeping the debris lifted, trying not to let it slip. There’s no way I could lift it off of them and cast it aside. I’m counting to twenty, but when I get to twenty I’m done. I’ll be spent. Working out and adrenaline can only get one so far and this is where lines start to get drawn.
“Hurry,” I grunt. fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, “I can’t. Hold. Longer.” Nineteen,twen- I drop the load and let out several long, rough breaths. Then I cough a devil out.
“You get them?” I gasp.
“Yeah,” He gasps back. I look at the two bodies. One is obviously dead. I can’t look at his face. I look to the second.
“Felicia’s alive, help me lift her onto my shoulders,” I tell him wondering at the physical strain I am putting on my body. Even after constant physical excercise for three years- though as a teen these are not straight on three years- but three years nonetheless. In Raiders, a JROTC sport, I had done plenty of firemen carries after running four to five miles and doing seventy push-ups and sit-ups in a minute’s time. And that was without the life-or-death adrenaline that’s pumping through my veins right now. But now I’m exhausted. I want to lie down and go to sleep, to sleep and not wake up until these horrors and nightmares go away. I want to sleep until the teacher swats me on the forearm and tells me to wake up. Tells me to go to detention for the first time. Tells me I’ve been suspended for whatever reason. For the simplicity and ease of real life. Why can I not wake now?
“Here,” Gabe says lifting her slightly. I kneel down and allow him to place her on my shoulders. I shuffle her unconscious body around a little before I’m satisfied. A limp body is easier than a wake one.
“Let’s go,” I mutter as we head for the door. I step out into what’s left of the hallway. I spot two shapes leaving the firey room from across the hallway. Eight feet infront of us.
“Caden,” I whisper in surprise. My voice allowing me no more. Gabe achieves more.
“Caden, are there others?” He asks looking between the well muscled and defined blonde teenage boy to the tall and lanky brown haired teenage girl.
“Yeah,” The girl, Megan, says shakily on the verge of tears (Caden doesn’t look far from it himself and I know I’m not) “We need help getting them.” I open my mouth to respond when I see movement to my left. Two soldiers stand there. About thirty feet away. Their guns are drawn but not aimed. They wear gas masks.
“Hey!” One calls, I feel relief flood through my body. “Come here, you’ve all been called back. We’re coming to get you,” Questions flood through my mind. If soldiers are here does that mean there’s a fight going on outside the school and that’s why they were bombed? Or did the bombing come first and that decided the battleground?
“Please sir, we have a trapped student in there,” Megan calls pointing at the room she came out of. The first man, a slightly shorter man, waves us towards them.
“Alright, but first we need to get the able-bodies. Come to us,”
“Wait, I have some friends at the end of the hall I need to get,” I say turning to go get them.
“No!” The taller one yells, “You just point us in the direction and we’ll get them. Don’t worry. You are our main concern!” I want to argue but know it makes a sort of terrible sense. Besides, Felicia is getting heavy. She’s a shapely female and this unfortunately leads to a slightly heavier weight. I take a heavy step toward before I hear Megan yelling again.
“No! I won’t leave them!” The heat increases and she turns to go back inside the collapsed room. Caden moves out of her way when the taller soldier lifts his rifle. Everyone freezes.
“Come! Now!” He seems to say normally yet his voice carries with such authority it leaves no room for negotiation. Megan pouts out her lip but turns back toward the soldiers.
I get ready to take another step when two boys, upperclassmen that I recognize from other classes, step out of nowhere and hit both soldiers from behind.
“Run, they’re rounding up the-” Another gunshot sounds. But now the boy has a red hole in his chest. He falls to the ground and his comrade is quickly cleaned up. I’ve made my decision.
I turn and sprint in the opposite direction, Felicia’s weight suddenly seems a little less. My legs and back still ache but maybe not so much...
“Up!” I scream as I see the three kneeling figures huddled against each other near the outside. We catch up to them and they begin to fall in beside us as they cast worried and confused glances behind us.
Time passes slowly and quickly and blurry yet so very clearly. I could not tell you what happened in those next few minutes but I remember everything being so vivid. It could have taken no longer than three minutes yet it felt like hours but it happened in seconds... And how we ended up in the line of trees (probably a quarter of a mile thick) I could not tell you. But we are here now and no one appears to be in pursuit. I lay down Felicia in the wood. I lean against a tree and pant.
My right foot goes numb. I look down and see the red gash poking through the gaping hole in my jeans. My heart beat quickens and I can just see the blood begin to flow out more rapidly. I feel faint. I slide down and sit, every movement of my leg exaggerated by the pain. My eyes tear up and I cannot see for the umpteenth time of the day. I slowly reach down and gingerly dab the wound with my finger and can just feel the pain flowering. I wonder vaguely how I managed to carry Felicia all this way. But the blood seems to tell me that it came at a cost. I strip my sweater off then proceed to pull off my shirt. I slip back into my sweater and tie my shirt around my thigh tightly.
“You alright, Kevin?” Gabe asks coming to kneel next to me. I shakily relax against the tree and look at our group. We gained a few students. I don’t where from or how but here they are.
“Yeah...” He nods and sits next to me. The group all sits. They stare off at the sky and trees and shrubbery and their own hands. Dead silence. I set my head back against the trunk and close my eyes.
“What do we do?” A small voice asks. Almost a whisper. Yet in this silence it could have been a yell. I jump and many stir. Their eyes open wide and bodys jerk. They look wild and scared. PTSD. I think with a shake.
A moment goes by and no one responds.
“What do we do?” They ask again. I look at her. Grace. A slight figure that joined us during the run. Probably.
“We go back,” Megan states firmly. All eyes turn to her. Grace nods.
“No.” I hear myself say. It surprises me. All eyes on me.
“We can’t just leave them!” She yells. Actually yells. I think of Will. My resolve snaps but with it goes my power to speak. I try to shake my head to let her know I agree but I am powerless. I try to move, cry out, anything! But can only sit there and watch as they all stare at me with their dead empty eyes. Can not another speak up? Can they do something other than stare?
“You’re right,” She says suddenly looking at her feet before sitting down with a ‘huff’. My body relaxes. I look from face to face wondering if they saw what happened to me. Wondering if they saw that I had no control over myself and do not know what just happened.
“Then what do we do?” Back to that question. Why that question? Why always that question? Are there not plenty of other questions in life! Or at least another to ask? Another who may have answers?
“I don’t know,” I mutter through a scratchy throat. “Leave, call our parents?” I suggest lamely. Some blink back their look of lostness and reach for their phones. Remembering that they have them for the first time.
“Don’t call the police,” I say suddenly. My mouth is moving faster than my brain. It’s a muddle of thoughts and feelings and memories and abscence thereof. Everyone stops and looks at me again.
“Why?” Someone asks. Names are no longer relevent. We are all just another human being trying to see the light of tomorrow. I shrug.
“Those were U.S. soldiers,” Caden speaks up for the first time. All eyes on him. Mine included. I wonder if mine are as empty as theirs. “If the army is on it then couldn’t the police be?” He asks shakily. I remember I have a dad. I have a soldier dad. Soldier.... What does he do? I wonder. Was he a soldier? Would he do something like this? I can feel the adrenaline leaving my body and the aches and pains of the day catching up. I forget and remember and forget within an instant. He was SF. Is SF. What does SF mean?
“Look!” Someone says hurriedly from the edge of the treeline that looks out into the open field where the basketball court sits. West of the main building and North of the huts. South of the trees. And between the trees and the court sits a road. A road now full of armored personnal carriers, humvees, and ambulances. The closest ambulance driver gets out of it (a man in a full MP unifrom) and leaves the vehicle running as he talks to a nearby soldier. But the student, Jiavanni as it turns out, is pointing to the basketball court where the men are rounding up the students into groups. We watch as one tries to run away and is shot in the back without a second’s hesitation. I watch as the blood gushes from the wound and he tries to crawl away. Everyone ignores him. He will not survive the wound even if he does crawl away. I don’t allow myself to look at his face. I don’t allow myself to recognize him. Someone behind me pukes.
“Can anyone here drive?” I ask suddenly. I know the safest way out of this.
“I mean, I can but...” Caden volunteers. I don’t look at him. I don’t let his doubt fuel my own.
“Alright, that ambulance can’t be any different.”
“My parents won’t pick up,” Someone chokes out from behind me. I turn to look at Grace as she lets out a sob. The tears start to run down her face. Then she lets out a cry. I think of the sound. I step forward and in one swift movement have my hand wrapped around her mouth and my mouth by her ear. The explosion of adrenaline and sudden anger almost too much for me.
She freezes. No one breathes. It subsides. I was harsh and rough. My knuckles are white. My face red. I can’t see through the blood pumping through my head. I pull my hand away with a jerk and take a shaky step back.
“I... I’m...” We all stand in a moment of scared silence.
“I’ll grab Felicia,” Megan volunteers.
“So we all go at once?” Caden asks eyeing the driver. I shrug, the moment moving on buy my brain still frazzled. “Alright, let’s do it. Megan, you say go.” All eyes move to Megan as she lifts the undoubtedly heavy Felicia onto her own slim and tall frame.
“Okay I’m ready,” She states taking a few weak steps toward us.
“I got it,” Rippy states, another who joined us during the run. He steps forward. He’s a short and well muscled individual. Five six and a hundred and thirty pounds. Muscle. He’s not defined but he’s big. At least one of the largest in muscles of us. He wouldn’t have any trouble with Felicia. How convenient. Megan passes her on without complaint.
“I’m ready,” Rippy states. I look at him and what I see scares me. The socially awekward and unsure, depressed teenage boy is all focus. His eyes are a light blue but now can only be seen as the darkest of blacks. His blonde hair makes it look as if his head were on fire with concentration. His face set and emotionless in such a way that makes me believe he could kill a man without a second thought. Would kill a man without a second thought. He takes point of the group.
“Let’s go.” His voice is cold.
I see Rippy’s back and Felicia’s limp body over his shoulders. I think of all the times we ran together during Raiders. I wonder what he felt looking at my back like this. For he always complained about me being faster and me being able to go farther. Always talked himself down and beat himself up over everything he did wrong. Everything he felt someone was better than him at (whether they actually were or not) and he wouldn’t let himself or them forget it. The one who cut, not consitantly and was getting better, but cut nonetheless. The one that was reported for suicide too many times.
What thoughts went through his head when we laughed together over a shared military joke or whatever. He was a good, smart kid. Yet he threw it all off and was fairly lazy. But now, now he runs ahead of me carrying a girl to what we all hope to be safety so she may survive another day and we all won’t face the same fate as those being crowded infront of us.
Lost in the thoughts I suddenly find myself staring at the green grass and feel excruciating pain in my right knee. I push myself up and glance back. I see Grace. Crawling towards the ambulance with tears streaming down her face. At that rate she won’t make it. I push myself up, ignoring the pain on her account for if I went on my own I would be done then and there, and am quickly by her side lifting her to her feet.
I wrap my arm around her waist as she wraps hers around my shoulders and she says something and I think I say something and I feel the pain and the blood pumping through my veins. I cannot see anything except the ambulance. I cannot hear anything except for the blood pounding through my ears. I can feel my feet slap the ground no more than I can feel Grace’s arm around my shoulders. Only the ambulance, my blood, and my wound are of any consideration and relevence to my current state of care.
But now I’m in the ambulance, lying on my back, panting. Grace sits next to me puking on the floor. I bite my tongue to keep my own from coming up. The vile taste feeling my mouth. I hear the twang of bullets slamming into the vehicle. I wonder how we all made it in. If we all made it in. I realize we’re moving. I sit up and look at the tired faces around me. We hit a bump and it doesn’t faze half of them. But then the doors pop open.
“Close them!” Someone yells. I shakily get on my feet before a sharp turn is made and I’m thrown against the wall, two others do the same.
Several bullets slap against the inner wall but luckily don’t hit anyone. I can see that the soldiers are getting smaller and smaller and already we will be a challenge to hit. We’re going down a straight road though. Daniel leans out and grabs the door.
“Got it,” He states as he yanks it closed. But just before it slams shut he stops and looks down. I watch as a steady flow of blood becomes rapid within a second as it spurts from the center of his chest. The ambulance turns. In the blink of an eye Daniel can be seen no longer. That last moment of my friend forever burned into my eyes. The shooting stops.
I sit in the front seat, phone out, directing Caden to the nearest schools.
We all agreed that this would become a sort of bus and we would begin dropping everyone off where they live. But then the problem of siblings came up. So now, after figuring out every single destination we have to make, we have an order in which we will make the drop offs and hope that the gas holds out.
No one else acted capable enough to say “Take this next right” so I took the job.
“Take this next right,” I tell him. He slows a little before pulling in when we get to that point. We park right in front of the entrance of the elementary school. Rippy and another go in. Only Rippy comes back. We know they have chosen to stay with their sibling. We drive away without looking back.
The drive is quiet to the next school (dropping off another student and her two sisters inbetween). We all wish we could be the next ones. The ones to get off next and be within our family's warm embrace and never have a worry. Wish we could be the young and innocent teenagers we once were. Not even two hours ago. Two hours! All of this has happened in two hours! So much death and destruction! The world has turned upside down on its head and it took less time than most major motion pictures!
"Crap," I mutter after Caden asks about where we're going, "We missed the turn," I carefully reroute us to our destination and get us back on track. Kicking myself for losing focus.
"Thanks for getting us out of there," A voice says behind me. I turn in my seat and look up at Jiavanni.
"I, uh.." I wonder what I have done the past two hours. Two hours! "Yeah, sure." Her eyes are red and her face puffy. Her shoulders shake and I can see that she's going to begin crying again. Her shirt is all crumpled and dirty. Covered in ash and blood. I feel like puking. She steps forward and collapses into my arms. I hold her awekwardly and wonder at what it is she expects of me. In need of a distraction I look at the road ahead and recognize it.
"Make this left up here, then the school will be on our right."
Caden pulls into the parking lot then drives straight up to the front doors as we have done with every other school.
"Come on," I tell Jiavanni lifting her slightly. Victoria, her older sister, appears behind her. Her face is white and shocked. I'm instantly puzzled to where she came from and why Jia was not with her. I shrug it off.
I lead the two girls through the front doors and find the second set of these locked. I bang on the window facing the front office and peek in.
"Mrs. Bain!" I yell. "Mrs. Bain!" A head pops out from behind a door frame at the far side of the room. Her worried face changes to relief when she recognizes me, then to confusion. She rushes out of the office and into the main hallway where she lets us in.
"Thanks," I mutter as the two sisters embrace their mother.
"We need to go," I state looking at them braking through the questions Mrs. Bain is shooting rapid-fire at her daughters. "I'm here for my sister and you and let's go home, now," I think back to our school and what we had seen on the drive up. Something I blocked from my brain then and am only allowing it in now to convince her we need to leave. So I can get my sister.
"They're coming for the schools, all of them. We've been stopping at schools like this one and..." I bite back tears as I recall the scene, "And... When we... We pulled up but there wasn't a school... The bombs..." We sit in a confused silence for a minute. Such a precious minute. For any minute now they may drop more bombs and devestate the very ground we're standing on as they have done to others. Mrs. Bain nods.
"I'll get your sister, you can get in my car and we can go. Have you contacted your parents?" I shake my head and she gives me a look of concern before hurrying off. I step outside and take a deep breath of air. I pull out my phone and check it for the umpeenth time. Hoping one of my parents would respond to my many texts. Still nothing. My battery is at 70%. I shut it down.
Mrs. Bain comes back with my sister. I cannot explain the joy I felt. The deep sadness I experienced. I could write a book about my feelings, but it would be so full and repetitive it would be poiontless. We hugged for far too long.
"Kevin, you can ride with me home, they can get where they need to go," Mrs. Bain tells me. I can see Rippy taking long strides as he makes his way toward us. I shake my head, slowly at first.
"No, take my sister-" I can see her snap her head around to look at me with her tear-filled eyes. "-and I'll be back with those that are left. They need somewhere to stay, they can stay with me if they must. But would you be willing to take some in?" She looks at the ambulance and takes in Rippy with unease as he stops next to us. His cold black eyes looking us over. I try to remember the boy I knew two hours ago.
"Of course," She sighs, "Make it back..." I tear myself from my sister and leave with Rippy.
The back is quiet. The stress of the day leaves us all exhausted. I fight to stay awake. I concentrate on the vehicle parked sporadically along the road. Every now and again we pass another moving vehicle. Many times we have to take a detour around some craters in the road where lots of vehicles were. I always wondered why in the movies everyone just abandons their cars but when bombs are being dropped form the sky into any highly populated zones... I can understand the reasoning.
The memories begin to trickle in slowly. Everything I blocked out. I focused soley on surviving another few minutes. But now that I’m not fighting and am think my brain does what it’s meant to do. It thinks.
I try to move past the prone body on the ground. Try to ignore the fact that I never checked to see if he were alive. What if he was? What if he was still alive and I could have gotten him out of there? Could my consciounce live with that? Must I? I look at my blood covered hands. I have blood on my hands. I laugh at the sickness of it. I laugh at the obsurdity of life. The challenges we face. What we used to think was life and what it has become. I laugh. I laugh...
We pull into Caden’s neighborhood. The first few houses are fine. But the eighth on the right is blackened on the right. The next house is half destroyed. The next barely has a foundation. The next is gone. The last is a crater. Caden keeps driving.
He stops next to a half destroyed house that I recognize from pictures as being his. He gets out with his sister and walks slowly toward the building. I lean over and turn the ambulance off for now.
“Where are we?” Felicia looks at me through tired eyes. I think of the blackened hole where Jiavanni had said her house was.
“Last stop.” Her eyes widen slowly.
“Yeah.” I’m abrupt. I don’t mean to be but it’s sharp.
“What about me?”
“Your house... Is there somewhere else...?”
“No! No! No! No!...”
After getting a crash course in how to drive (with little fear of hitting a moving object) I drive us home. Everyone sleeps in the back. Or at least pretend to. I doubt they can. I think of that one Twenty One Pilots song, “Car Radio”. It explains my feelings exactly.
The turn was a little tighter than I suspected. I get out of the ambulance and open the back up. They look at me with alert and scared eyes.
“I crashed it.” I scan over the people I will be spending time with for who knows how long. Caden. Felicia. Grace. Rippy. Caden’s sister, Olivia. And Megan. Rippy was my only true friend in there. But now he's another person entirely. I can see Felicia about to spark off.
"It's half a mile from here, we can walk." Caden and Rippy dig through the ambulance for any supplies we could take as I lead the girls down a curved road between trees on the left side and a fenced in neighborhood on the right side.
Within five minutes Caden and Rippy catch up and no sooner than we hear the scream of jets. Together we dive into the trees and hear exposions. We look back and see where the ambulance was is a ball of flame. The scream of jets slowly fades.
"A tracker..." Someone states. We stay down for several more minutes. We wonder if it's better to get behind where they've already bombed or go to where they have not. Where they hopefully have not. The thought dawns on me for the first time today. How could I have forgotten? How could I not have wondered if my own house and neighborhood was safe? Perhaps that is why neither of my parents answered- My phone rings. Just a soft vibration. But it rings. Rings! I dig into my pocket and carefully dig it out.
Jiavanni, my heart beat slows and I try to ignore the dissapointment seeping in. I read the rest of the text. Are you guys alright? No one is at your house. Your sister is with us. Who do you have? I look at those around me.
Yeah, we're good. You guys okay? We're a quarter of a mile down the road. I let her know who we got. I hit send and watch as the system button swirls. And swirls. And swirls. Then it stops and says "Send failed". I look at the connection.
"I lost connection," I state blandly. Everyone pulls out their phones.
"I still have mine," Caden tells us. No one else does.
"Text Jia, let her know we're about a quarter of the mile down the road and tell them who's here," I tell him gesturing around the group before leading them just through the edge of the wood to the neighborhood. We walk silently; with the exception being the attemptedly quiet sobs from someone I don't care to identify.
I look up tiredly. To the blue sky. The bright blue sky and the white fluffy clouds. It looks like a good day. Like every good day that has ever happened. But the smoke that can be seen in trails allows it some sinister character. Something to match the mood. To truly match the mood.
We walk into my neighborhood and I look about in thanks that nothing was hit of ours. No smoke pillars lead away from the place that I live.
“Jiavanni respond?” I ask Caden as we make a right toward her house.
“No, I lost signal shortly after I sent the text,” He responds tightly. I consider asking if he left his parents a text to let him know where he was going. I decide against it. I vehicle speeds past us. We walk a little further before coming along this velvet colored house with an American flag iron decal hanging on the front door. The house next door is white with an American flag standing tall and proud in the smoke-filled sky. I think of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
I step onto the front steps and knock on the door. Several seconds later Mrs. Bain opens it up. I spot Mr. Bain behind her. He grasps a shotgun tightly in his hands. They welcome us with open arms. They look dismayed at how many they must welcome.
“Hey, I want to head over to my house and search for my parents,” I tell Mrs. Bain once I feel like we’re set. When everyone is comfortable.
“I don’t think that that’s wise…” Mrs. Bain warns quietly. The toilet flushes and the sink turns on. The room is quiet. Why?
“Looters, protestors,” Mr. Bain states without humor.
“You’re kidding?” Megan asks stepping out of the bathroom. We all turn to look at her. We all see that they aren’t kidding.
“Looting is stupid though,” Caden mutters.
“They want supplies and weapons. I want supplies and weapons. It better secures my survival,” Rippy adds without emotion. He sits up from the couch and comes to stand next to me, “I’ll go with him.”
“Me too,” My sister volunteers coming closer to me. My heart aches.
“No can do Shorty,” I tell her, “If this is serious…” I eye Mr. Bain’s shotgun.
“But!...” She sticks out her bottom lip and her eyes water up. She grasps my arm in a deadlock and squeezes until it goes numb. I bring her into a tight hug.
“Look, I love you Shorty, I’ll be right back, okay? I’m going to grab clothes and stuff for us. Maybe some of dad’s guns as well…” I try to stand but she doesn’t let go. I wish we could just fall asleep right then and there. Not worry about it until morning. But if looters are out then we need what we can get now. I tap her lightly with the palm of my hand on her back a couple of times and whisper “Alright Shorty.” She automatically unclasps herself and takes a step back looking at the ground. I lean over and kiss her forehead.
“Alright, let’s go,” I tell Rippy glancing at the Bain’s for protest. When they offer none I follow Rippy out the door.
“Wait,” I hear Mr. Bain call. We both turn and look at him. He waves me closer. I do as is requested of me. He passes a handgun between us. A revolver of medium caliber.
“You know how to use it?” I take it and check the safety then see if it’s loaded. All six bullets are in.
“Yeah… Yeah. Yes.” He looks me in the eyes and I see a deep sadness. But under that sadness sits an anger. An anger perhaps aimed at those that have caused us this harm. Maybe that I am asking to do this against their better judgement. I almost want to tell him that it’s my choice and he needs not to arm me but I bite my tongue. He stares me down for what feels like an eternity before finally nodding. The sadness is still there.
“Come back safe.”
“I plan to.”
Together Rippy and I walk down the street. The pistol stowed in my pocket. I try not to limp at the pain that crawls up my leg. I glance around uneasily before stopping suddenly. Something happened, something new. Rippy stops next to me and tenses up, his head swiveling back and forth. A knife appears in his right hand. A kitchen knife. I wonder when he had the time to get it.
“The ringing,” I state in bewilderment. I listen to the wind and the wind chimes and the birds. I listen to all of it with a new clarity. Though the birds feel almost like a taunt. How can the birds still sing on a day such as this? How can they bare to sing with so much death around them? I feel like shooting one. I have to stop myself for reaching for my pocket.
“What ringing? You mean from the bombs?”
“Uh, yeah. Yes. It’s gone. I can hear again.” I respond honestly. I hadn’t realized I couldn’t hear that well before but thinking back on it I’m sure my ears have been ringing since the bombing. Rippy slips the knife into a fold of his jacket and begins walking again. I can sense irritation radiating from him like heat from a microwave burrito. My stomach stabs out in hunger. I catch up.
We make a left at the intersection several houses down and walk another four. About a hundred meters before we arrive at my exceptionally long driveway. Twenty four yards of concrete down to my garage that sits beneath my room on the second story.
My house looks so normal, the green house with a large window looking in on my room. The door in the center of the layout and two windows to its right to even it out (the garage being to its left). Then above it are three windows that match the door and windows below that look into my parent’s room. It’s all so strange that the birds sing and the beautiful green forest behind it sways in the sun’s rays. That the green grass and bees are unaffected by the terrors I went through. Rippy is already eight yards down the driveway and I have to jog to catch up.
“How do we get in?” He asks gesturing to the locked door. I dig into my right back pocket and pull out my wallet. I dig around in one of the smaller wallet pockets and pull out a clean blue key. I slide it into the locks and brace myself for a moment. Rippy continues to be impatient but I ignore him and count to three before opening the door. Opening it to whatever may be inside.
I look at the walls and couches. The black blank TV over the fireplace. The ceiling fan. I take it all in with wonder. Wonder at the comfort that this room gives me. A comfort I never realized or respected before today. The thanks I should have had for the safety I took for granted. The roof over my head and a family who looked after me and cared for me. Now they’re who knows where and unreachable. I suddenly remember I have grandparents. The urge to reach into my pocket and call them is unbearable but I recall the heavy weight of the revolver in my pocket and I know it is there for a reason.
“You grab the weapons, I’ll get food and water. Grab us both backpacks to carry all that we can with us” Rippy wakes me from my stupor as he strides across a living room he has only seen once before toward the kitchen. I nod emptily and slowly walk up the stairs feeling the gentleness of the handrail under my partly closed palm. It greatly contradicts the sprint I normally take up these very stairs. Two steps at a time.
I reach the top and look to my right into my room. The lime green walls and trophies along the wall farther to my right. My bed sits in the middle of the room to allow room for the closet on one side and the window on the other. I step over my charging Kindle and belt rack on the doorknob and look into my surprisingly neat closet. Something I spent half an hour organizing the day before. Conveniently.
To the left of the closet sits some shoe boxes and books I didn’t have space to put elsewhere along with some old NERF toys I haven’t touched in who knows how long. To the right there’s a plastic tub containing old bookbags, balls, and old school supplies/paperwork. I dig out a combat backpack my dad gave me when I was five, a Patagonia duffel bag, and a regular Patagonia backpack. My dad was willing to spend over a hundred dollars on a high quality bag in exchange for several years of service. I roll up the smaller Patagonia and stuff it into my duffel then toss the combat pack down the stairs.
“Rippy, here!” I call down as it clatters against the plastic flooring. I head back to the closet and pull down several of my nicer jackets and my sweaters and toss them into the bag. Then go through my underwear and socks, shirts, shorts and longs pants drawers and stuff a few of each into my bag. I grab my hats and a few belts and throw the in as well. I look around my room and grab a couple of beanies. I don’t know when I’ll see my family again or how long I’ll be with these people. But I do know that they’ll be needing clothing and I have some to offer.
The duffel appears to be almost full but I know it can still fit double what it has with room to spare. It’ll be tight but it will work. I walk to the closet directly across of my room and pull out two small blankets and slip them inside. This takes up a lot of room. I can fit little else and pull the second Patagonia out. I move all of the blankets and grab a pillow to stow in there. It’s immediately full.
I turn to my left to face my parents room. I walk in and head straight to the back right corner of their room. A small safe sits next to the bed under a floating shelf. I press in the code and open the safe to a satisfying click. Inside sits a loaded pistol and various caliber rounds scattered about without care. I reach for the weapon but stop myself. If my parents come back and they need a weapon this is the safest and easiest access of all of them. I instead grab all of the ammo that won’t fit in the gun and slip it into the duffel.
I close the safe again and walk to the shelf across the room and look at the third shelf up from the ground. A little cardboard box sits there painted to look like wood. I fold it open and pick up the barely used .22 revolver sitting within. I load some of the .22 bullets I found into the weapon and pocket it as well making sure its safety is on. Then grab the keys off the top of the shelf and head to the walk-in closet through the master bathroom. To the left of the door sits a large green safe.
I stick the keys in and slide it open. A single-shot switch barrel sits inside next to a pump shotgun next to two hunting rifles. I stick them in the duffel diagonally so their barrels stick out. Then I reach up onto the shelf on the opposite side and bring down an AR that I’ve never taken a close look at but have spotted on several occasions. I don’t even bother inspecting it but slide it in next to the others. I don’t know if we have ammo for it or anything and don’t feel like searching. Finally I go back to the safe and take my arm and slide it across the top shelf effectively dumping all of the safe’s contents into the duffel. Which is now heavy and quite full.
I walk back through the kitchen to another floating shelf on the other side of the bed. I open it and shuffle around some of the paperwork. Under the paperwork lies the immediate defense pistol. Large caliber Glock with no safety. Just a five pound trigger. I undo my belt and slip the holster through before redoing it.
I leave my parent’s room and look down the hall to my left. Past the laundry room (to the left) and the to my sister’s room. Which is eight feet down from my room. I walk abscently to her room and take a look around. I run back to my room and grab a fourth bag, and back in her room stuff some of her clothes in there with her favorite blanket, a couple of her books I think she hasn’t read yet. Semi satisfied I grab a few books I want to finish and a all the flashlights I can find as well as go through the top floor for all the knives we own.
I walk down the stairs laden with three of my own seven bags. One of which I left at the school.
“Rippy, you get all the food?” I ask him. He comes back shrugging the bag I gave him on his shoulders. In his hand I see the Yarborough. The nicest knife in the house. A fantastic knife that fits into the form of your hand, well weighted and sharp.
“Yeah, you got ammo for that thing?” He asks nodding his head toward the .50 caliber muzzleloader sitting in front of the fireplace.
“No but grab it, it might be a pretty good deterrent. Now give me the Yarborough.” I demand. I know It’s excessive. As if I need another weapon. I have a pistol at my hip, my own combat knife also belted against my other hip (a gift from my dad for my tenth birthday with his team engraved into the side) and a bag full of rifles on my back.
“Give me a gun.”
I shrug and pull out the .22 pistol and give him some spare bullets. He takes it and looks at it with disgust then checks if it’s loaded. Then eyes the pistol at my hip.
“Look, I’ll give you the Walther when we get back. Just hold onto that for now,” I tell him. The Walther is another .22 pistol my dad bought for me and my sister so he could teach us how to shoot. He eyes the pistol at my hip again before handing over the Yarborough.
He grabs the muzzleloader and I hand him the bag full of my sister’s things and we’re on our way.