I'd never thought much about the smell of blood and dead bodies before.
There were two people on the floor when we passed, and blood--a lot of it--splattered on the walls and pooled on the tiles. One of the victims was a girl with a gray lanyard tangled around her neck. She was a junior then, with long blond hair that was stained with her own shade of red. The other was a boy who I couldn't quite make out. He wasn't wearing his lanyard. I imagine he would've been written up if he got to his next class, probably, but maybe he was the type able to charm himself out of the detention. I suppose it didn't matter, though. There wasn't a next class for him.
I tried to look at their faces, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. The boy was lying on his stomach, but his face was turned towards our line. My eyes could barely manage to skim over it before veering suddenly to the plain bulletin behind him. The girl was turned away from us in a stooped position against the wall, her hair covering the majority of her features. I was silently thankful. I didn't want to think about who they were--not then. I never wanted to know, really.
Rachel buried her face into my shoulder, sobbing forcefully into my uniform polo. I could tell she was trying like hell to stay quiet--she stopped herself from sniffling loudly once we'd left the classroom and was heaving softly out of her mouth so her spit and snot ended up all over my shoulder--but it wasn't working well. Olivia was having the same problem further up the line. She normally sat two seats ahead of me in Mrs. Dwyer's class. Freddy Thompson looked back at both of us and put a finger to his lips. He was our class president. Obediently, I reached back and gripped Rachel's hand, pulling her gently to my side so she was walking further away from the corpses. Daniel Kim stayed behind in line to do the same for Olivia. Olivia had almost snapped at him earlier today for "pretending to be her friend" or something like that, but now she didn't seem to mind.
We were just down the hall from an exit, but that hallway was the longest distance I'd ever walked. The posters for the school musical and club fundraisers were still up, but a few of them were smeared with red, as if someone had wiped their bloody hand across them. We reached the doors and began filing out into the parking lot, but as we were leaving, we heard another round of gunshots. The shooter must've been near the cafeteria. Immediately, my thoughts went to Milo. Rachel barely stifled another sob.
It didn't matter. We had to keep going.
I barely remember what happened next. There was a police barricade outside the school. Ms. Dwyer led us to them. They asked if any of us were injured. We all nodded no. They told us to call our parents. Some people got out our phones. They told us we were safe. We said "okay" and proceeded in numbness.
I sat down on the pavement and stared at the ground. It was hard to look at the school. It was hard to look at Rachel, or Olivia, or the policemen, or anyone. Instead, I looked at my shoes. My white Nike sneakers had blotches of crimson on their toes. I must've stepped through the gray-lanyard junior girl's blood without noticing. Thinking about it made me want to vomit, so I reluctantly made myself look up.
A policewoman was talking to Rachel. Walkie-talkies were going off everywhere, but I couldn't make out what they were saying. Far away at the main entrance, another class had escaped. It was small--only about ten kids--led by my French teacher, Monsier McKowsky. It was probably his other French 5 class. My friend Hedi was in the group somewhere, and even though I wanted to look for her, I could only see the limping girl Monsier was holding onto. From head to toe, she was covered. I wondered how much blood I'd seen today.
I took out my phone. I wasn't ready to call my mom yet, but I knew she would worry if I didn't. I was distracted, though, by one new message from Milo, sent three minutes ago.
Please tell me you're safe, it said.
I'm safe, I replied. My hands were shaking. Where are you?
The three dots let me know he was responding, but it seemed like forever until the two messages appeared.
In Hedge's room, in the closet.
Don't worry, my phone is on silent, and my screen isn't bright enough to screw me over. I think I'm safe. But I just heard three more gunshots. Are the police here?
Hedge's room was on the second floor in the science wing. Milo would have trouble getting out if he wanted to, but at least he wasn't in the cafeteria now. Maybe that make-up test saved his life.
Yes. They're surrounding the school. Rachel's talking with a policewoman now. Please stay safe, I said.
I will. I love you.
I love you too.
He was silent after that. There were no dots. I texted my mom that I was okay.
"Addison?" Ms. Dwyer said, as if she had said it many times already. She was kneeling down next to me, but I didn't notice her being there before. "Can Officer Ramirez here ask you a few questions?" She gestured towards the policewoman with a clipboard standing beside her, who gave me a sad smile that made me feel like a lost puppy she wanted to take home. I didn't really want to talk to anyone, but I said okay. Officer Ramirez sat down next to me and nodded for Ms. Dwyer to leave.
"Did you see anyone carrying a gun to school today?" she asked immediately after Ms. Dwyer had turned the other way.
"No," I said. I'm not dead, am I?
She made a mark on her clipboard. "Did you know of anyone threatening to shoot up the school in any kinds of communications, social media, et cetera?"
"No," I said. She made another mark.
"So you don't have any knowledge or information regarding the identity of the shooter?"
"No," I said. Mark.
She asked more questions. I said more "no"s. She made more marks, and then it was over.
"Thank you for your time." Officer Ramirez stood up and paused to give me another smile. "You're very brave, to escape the school like you did. I saw you holding that other girl's hand. You're a very good friend. And don't worry, Miss Addison. You're safe now."
"Thanks," I mumbled, and she left to find another student. Over the next few minutes, I heard those last few words many, many times. Every officer who wanted to talk to me, every teacher and staff member who'd escaped, even a few students that I'd left with--they all said the same thing to me and each other. You're safe now, they'd whisper calmly, or we're safe now, as if they were trying to convince themselves--as if saying it made everyone safe. But not everyone was.
I found out in the next few minutes from Olivia that the junior girl with the blood I stepped in was named Alice, but her friends at lunch called her "Ginger" ironically for some reason involving spices. The boy without his ID was named Joel. He played the lead in the school musical last year, and he was going to go to Pitt next fall for theater. I didn't know Alice or Joel, but I knew their bloody figures would be stamped on my retinas until the end of time. Maybe Alice's fluids would wash off my shoe eventually, but the edges of the stain would always be there.
My phone beeped. I realized that I had seven texts from my mom, but those didn't matter to me. The only one that mattered was the one that just arrived.
There was another shot. It sounded close. I'm scared, Addie.
Sometimes I think I've lived too long.
I could badly sing countless songs
About how people--
People I loved and appreciated long ago--
Would have me believe that in the short time I've been alive,
I've made more mistakes than most people do in their lifetimes.
They tell me I'm awful
Society-hating and stupidly-waiting
For good things to happen to me
When no such things could occur.
They say that
I've made "too many bad friends" and let too many good ones go
While saying that
I've learned too many things and that makes me a scapegoat, too.
True, the circumstances of my life give me some excuses
But I'm sick of being the one who supposedly loses
All my "good" influences
And having it blamed on me.
But, for the record,
I like the things I have.
I like the people I know--
The friends I've made who have helped me grow
Into a person I can love.
The mistakes I've made and the lifetimes I've lived
Make me better.
And I'm glad I didn't keep the aspects of myself
That you liked best.
A Magical World
It's funny, really: we were born into this amazing reality, yet all we ever do is try to escape it. In a lot of ways, we act like entitled children, longing for a more interesting world where more things happen, and there are more ways for things to happen.
But we already exist in a world where anything can happen. We only wish it were easier to make those things happen.
Generations ago, humans looked up at the sky and thought flying was some mystical work of the arcane. We saw the stars and thought they were gods, unable to be understood. We looked into the seas and dreamt of the depths hidden to us. We saw inventors as wizards. Knowledge was magic. Knowledge still is magic, but we realize now that magic isn't an instrument of the gods. Magic is stretching our human capabilities to their limits, and using those capabilities to build incredible things.
People never notice the magic happening right in front of them, but it's there. It's there, and it's real, even though most don't realize it. Maybe just for that reason, the magic of the universe we live in will always be more fantastic than that of make-believe.
*Guttural Primate Sound*
None of these darkened pixels on your computer screen mean anything.
The scribbles of ink in your notebook have no more inherent sound to them than the blank spaces in between them.
The inflections of your lips and tongue create nothing but meaningless noise.
But these pixels, and these scribbles, and these inflections mean worlds to us.
They make us love, and they make us go to war.
They describe themselves, and make us think in ways we could only explain by ways of using them--
But in reality,
Words are nothing but a myth of the collective mind.