Here’s a short story of mine. It’s certainly not my favorite (although, I love the title, admittedly), I still felt the need to share it. If you may notice, there is some Lee Child influence here.
There is blood on my hands. It is my blood. Mr. Fernandez is dead. I can see the hole in the side of his face. There is a sharp heating sensation in my left arm. I touch my hand to the spot and there is more blood. I cannot feel my tongue; it feels like it is not there. I cannot swallow. My toes are twitching. I am not sweating because my face is cold. I shiver and fall to my knees.
“Martin, Martin, get out of the doorway,” I hear Lance say. His voice sounds distance, garbled. I feel him grab me by my right arm and pull. A door slams. I hear footsteps and the legs of desks scratching the floor, then more slamming.
I hear Jennifer’s voice next to me. I feel her hot breath on the back of my ear. “He’s bleeding, really bad Lance,” she says. I think she is talking about me. “Do something Simon,” I hear her say. She reaches her hand out to take my hand and I can see a purple bruise on her wrist. She covers it up with her arm. Her blue eyes glance in my direction and then avert.
“I don’t know what to do,” Simon says. His voice is distant too, but I can hear the panic in his voice. It reminds me of that time mom ran outside and found me holding my arm after I fell off the slide. The voice is more of a whisper, like if you speak too loud, you will cause more pain.
“That should do it. I do not think anyone will be getting through that door. Move out of the way Jen,” Lance says. He comes to my side and removes his Hoya Basketball shirt. “We have to stop the bleeding. How the hell did he get shot Jen?”
“I don’t know. It happened so fast. Mr. Fernandez went to see what was going on and I think Martin followed him,” I hear Jennifer say. Mr. Fernandez was wearing those ugly brown loafers today. And no socks too. Now he is dead. He has a hole in his face.
Lance wraps his Hoya Basketball shirt around my arm and tightens it. That hurts. He holds his hand where the warm sensation is. “It looks like a through and through,” Lance says. Lance is in the same program I am in, American Government. Never in our four years at Georgetown have I seen him take any type of medical class.
“Ho…how…do you know it is a through…and,” I try to say. It is hard to talk without my tongue working right. I try to swallow, but it is like licking a blacktop, worse than sandpaper.
“I watch a lot of CSI: New York,” He responds.
“Comforting,” I say.
“You should be fine, but you are a bit pale. Jen, you have any water?” Lance asks, turning his head to where she is. I close my eyes. “Don’t close your eyes, keep them open,” Lance says. He gently slaps my face.
I stand up. Lance tries to push me back down, but I push him away. “Thanks Lance, but I feel better now. It really is not that bad.”
Over by the window, I look out over the campus from my position in the Kober-Cogan building; I can see the baseball fields. I see bodies lying on the ground. I see a Pepsi bottle rolling away from a lifeless hand. I see two students huddling together under the bleachers. A person emerges from Darnall Hall. The two students see the person too. They run from their hiding spot, but there is nowhere to go. They cower together on top of the pitcher’s mound. The person walks up to them. He extends his arm and I hear two popping sounds and the two students’ slump over. I can see the blood running down the mound, mixing with the dirt and turning an ugly brown. I turn away.
“How many shooters are there?” I ask.
Lance pulls out his cell phone. “The University’s Public Safety Alert page says there are two, maybe even three shooters.”
“How is that possible?” Jennifer says.
“I don’t know, but I do know the police will be in here any moment. After Columbine, the policy changed. The first responders do not set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT anymore. The policy is if there is an active shooter, engage the shooter,” Lance says.
“So not only can you clean gun wounds, but you know police procedure in response to a school shooting?” Jennifer says.
“No, actually I just Googled it,” Lance says. “Regardless, our best bet is to wait in here until they come in and take the shooters out.”
“No. I do not want to wait around here to be shot,” Simon says. He has not spoken in a while. Everyone turns to look at him.
“I’m just saying, I think our best bet is to move and keep moving. Besides, Martin needs medical help,” Simon says.
“No. The number one thing anyone will tell you is that you do not move a person when they have been injured,” Lance says.
“He is not “injured”. He did not sprain an ankle Lance. He was freaking shot,” Simon says.
I think back to the bruise on Jennifer’s arm. Lance and I both know about Simon. We both know about the bruises and the marks that show up on Jennifer’s arms and sides. They met when Simon joined us on The Hoya.
Without thinking, I punch Simon in the face. He punches me in the arm, the wounded arm. I fall to my knees, gritting my teeth. Lance runs over and pushes Simon into the wall behind him. Jennifer grabs Lance by the arm and pulls him away. She comes to my side.
“Are you okay?” she says. I close my eyes and then stand back up on my feet. “I’m fine.”
“What the hell did you do that for Martin?” Simon says. He has a busted lip and the inside of his mouth is bleeding. He wipes the blood with the back of his hand. “I am trying to think of ways to save your ass and you punch me in the face for no reason?”
“Oh, there is a reason,” Lance mutters under his breath. Only I hear him.
“Sorry Simon, I must be a bit delirious,” I say. “Look, we need to do something.”
“Do something?” Lance says.
“Yeah, man. I cannot stand around here and watch the execution of our friends. Whoever these people are, students, outsiders, it does not matter. We have to do something,” I say.
“First off, you have been shot. You are not going to do anything. Secondly, what is there for us to do, run at them with copies of our newspaper? I know we have printed hard-hitting editions before, but even that will not stop a bullet. We do not even know exactly how many there are. The PSA could be wrong,” Lance says.
“Oh and there is that whole part about dying,” Simon remarks.
“Lance is right Martin, there is nothing we can do, but wait this thing out. This is not the time to play hero. This is not a video game. This is real life,” Jennifer says.
I run my good hand through my hair and take a deep breath. My head feels light, like a helium balloon sitting on my shoulders. “You know I do not play video games. This is not about being a hero. This is about saving lives. We can do something here. Come on. We go to Georgetown University. Our motto is Utraque Unum, both and one. We are The Hoyas; we are one.”
“We’re also a bunch of rich kids at a private religious university that have never handled guns, have never heard a gun, have never seen a bullet wound and have never been in a fight. I am not going to run out there and get shot for no reason,” Simon says.
“A minute ago you were talking about moving from here, that it would benefit me, medically,” I say.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t talking about trying to take on three gunmen. I think that wound has screwed up your head. Seriously, let us use an example. Say we were at BP—”
“Who goes to BP now?” Lance chimes in.
Simon looks over at Lance. “Say we were at a Shell gas station. Jennifer and I are scouring the candy section looking for a 3 Musketeers. Lance is probably over by the protein shakes. Martin is either looking for Blue Moon or Lipton’s Iced Tea. Three gunmen with George W. Bush masks on—”
“Why George W. Bush masks? Robbers usually wear either the current president or Barbara Bush. She was one scary looking lady,” Lance says.
“Okay, three gunmen with Barbara Bush masks on walk through the door. One of the gunmen pumps his shotgun and blasts away the store clerk. Cigarette cartons are crumbling around his body with the big hole in the stomach. Another of the gunmen puts a pistol to a woman that was about to buy a pack of Newport’s and blasts her away. One of her hoop earrings goes flying from her ear twelve feet away. Then—”
“Jesus. We should have put you in charge of the Creative Writing section of The Hoya,” Lance says. I laugh. Jennifer suppresses a smile.
“My point is, do you run to the bathroom or manager’s office in the back, or do you try to mount an assault against three gunmen?” Simon looks from Lance to Jennifer and then rests his eyes on mine. “You bet your ass you would be barricading yourself in that bathroom or that manager’s office or even trying to escape at the backdoor. No way would you try to fight off three gunmen. It is bad enough that there are three people, but with guns? I say hell no.”
“Okay, let me paint you a scenario then, Simon. Mr. Fernandez is dead. Instead of looking over your grammatical errors in a 250-word article about the Hoya Baseball team, he is missing half his face right now. Maybe instead of that, campuses were not labeled, “Gun free zones”. Maybe Mr. Fernandez was allowed to carry, hell, maybe if we were allowed to carry…”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea. Instead of three gunmen, let us have three gunmen and a dumbass student popping off his gun trying to be a hero. And no disrespect to Mr. Fernandez, but he was a bit too feminine to be wielding a gun,” Simon says, stepping towards me.
“I should punch you in the mouth again,” I say, stepping closer to Simon.
“Come on guys,” Jennifer says, looking towards Lance for help. Lance steps between us and says, “Guys, this is not the time for a political debate about gun control. Right here, right now, there are three gunmen on campus. Gun control or gun deregulation is not going to change that immediate fact.”
“You’re right,” I say. “You are absolutely right, Lance.” I sit down in one of the chairs. “I just had a rush of blood to the head, I am not thinking clearly.”
“Thank you Chris Martin,” Jennifer says, then laughing.
“I mean, I agree with you Martin, but in a few years, when you run against James Moran in Virginia and easily defeat him, you can propose that legislation. Right now, we have to work on this,” Lance says.
“Why only a few years, Lance? Martin is twenty-four now. You only have to be twenty-five to run for Congress,” Jennifer says.
“Moran was reelected in 2010. The seat will not be up for reelection for a few more years,” I say.
“Well I can already see your campaign slogan, “Moran is a Moron, Martin is Smart”,” Jennifer says.
I laugh. “That’s really lame.”
“Hey, do not talk to your campaign manager that way,” Jennifer says, slapping me on the knee.
“Are we seriously talking about this shit right now? You are not going to be able to run for Congress if the damn police do not get in here, right now,” Simon says.
“I thought you said with an active shooter, the police would charge into the building to take them out?” Jennifer says, looking at Lance.
“I didn’t say that. Google did,” Lance says. “Don’t forget, the campus is enormous, with six thousand students. They could be on campus right now, but they probably are going room by room, building by building, square foot by square foot.”
“I have to call my parents,” Simon says. He walks over to the corner of the room, away from us. I cannot hear his conversation from here.
“That’s a good idea. In all the commotion, I did not even think about that,” Lance says. He pulls out his cell phone and walks to another corner of the room to make his phone call. Lance’s parents died in a car accident when he was five years old. He has been living with his aunt and uncle since. I think that is what made us such natural friends. I do not know who my real parents are.
“You remember when we first met?” I say to Jennifer.
“How could I not? We were playing hide-and-seek with your sister Chelsea. We were like what, six?”
“I remember I could hear you walking around, looking for us. I even remember you telling Holly to sniff us out,” Jennifer says. I did not notice, but she is holding my hand.
“She was a German Shepherd, she could have found you guys in seconds if I gave her a piece of your clothing,” I say. “She would lick you though instead of attacking. She was too nice for that.”
“Then you found me hiding in the laundry room in one of your mom’s wastebaskets. My long hair gave my spot away.”
“Yeah and you were wearing my Superman underwear on your head, unintentionally of course.”
“Right, you still wear those don’t you?”
“Uh, not those exact ones, no. I do have Superman briefs on though,” I say.
“Why do you like Superman? He is a cheat. It was like when Siegel and Shuster created him, they tried to give him all these powers and then later writers just kept adding to his arsenal. Batman is way better,” she says.
“It is hard to explain, but there is just something about Superman. It is not Superman himself, but the aura of Superman that is so powerful. I guess that is why I thought we should take on the gunmen before they killed anyone else. I know it was ridiculous.”
“You have a little Superman in you huh?” Jennifer says.
“I think all of us do,” I say.
“What I do not get…how is Lex Luthor still alive? Superman can just melt him any time he wants with his heat vision or turn him to dust with his strength,” Jennifer says.
“You know he does not believe in killing anyone. He is the ultimate pacifist. Why are you with Simon?” I do not know why I said that. It just came out.
Jennifer releases my hand and walks away. She turns back and touches the bruise on her arm. She does not see me watching her subconscious movement. “Do we have to get into this now Martin? There are gunmen shooting our friends on the campus and you are asking about Simon? Come on Martin, the gun argument was enough.”
“It is important when I see that bruise on your wrist. You deserve better Jennifer,” I say. “Talk to me. We have known each other for seventeen years. You can tell me anything.”
“Why don’t you start, then?”
My arm begins to throb and I change the subject, “You should call your parents Jennifer. They are probably scared to death, given the situation.”
“You should call Eric and Linda. You’re their only adopted son,” she says.
“They still have their biological Chelsea,” I quip. She punches me in the good arm. “I’m kidding.”
Simon and Lance return. Lance says, “I was talking to my uncle and he said the police entered the building thirty minutes ago.”
“What does that mean?” Simon says.
“Just like I said, the campus is huge. It will take a while to search it all and take down the shooters. The shooters are probably hiding or something.”
“They usually kill themselves before the cops can get to them,” Simon says.
The glass to the classroom door shatters. Within a split second, a hole rips through the far-side wall. A hand sticks through the window and unlocks the door. The desks give way as two shooters enter the classroom. Both carry small guns at their sides. My first thought is to grab Jennifer and pull her down. Instead, I freeze.
They say nothing.
The one on the left uses the butt of his gun to smash into Simon’s nose. Simon goes down. Blood pours out of his nose. His eyes are closed. Before Lance and I can react, the gunman on the right shoots Lance in the foot. Lance screams in pain and falls to the ground next to Simon.
They say nothing.
The gunman on the left grabs me by the wounded arm and shoves me up against the window. Then the second gunman grabs Jennifer by her hair and throws her across the room towards the far-right wall. I feel the gun’s muzzle on the back of my head. A bird lands on the windowsill directly in front of my line of sight. It chirps, turning its beak one way, then another. The bird flies away. I close my eyes. Nothing happens.
They say nothing.
They pull me back where Simon and Lance are. They force me to my knees. The second gunman brings Jennifer back to the center of the room with us forcing her to her knees too. After a few moments of silence, the gunmen leave the room, with their guns dangling by their sides. Seconds later, I hear pop…pop…pop…pop. Silence again. Then pop…pop…pop. From the doorway, a man in black emerges. He brings his gun around full circle to scan the room. He sees us. He puts his gun back into his holster.
“I am Officer Glencoe with the Metropolitan Police Department. Are you okay?” He walks over to Simon. Simon is conscious again.
“I think so. He broke my nose,” Simon says.
Officer Glencoe moves over to Lance. There is not much blood. It probably has collected inside the shoe. “What is your name, son?”
“Okay, Lance. Can you walk?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“What about you?” Officer Glencoe says, looking at my wound.
“I’m fine. Lance helped bandage it,” I respond.
“I’m fine too,” Jennifer says.
“Normally we would get EMS in here and get a stretcher for your friend. This is not a normal situation, as I am sure you can tell. This building is secure, but we are getting reports that another shooter is operating somewhere on the campus. We do not want to take any chances. So, can you walk Lance?”
“Yeah, I can. Let’s go.”
Officer Glencoe puts Lance’s arm around his neck and helps Lance out of the room. Every few feet Lance cries out in pain, but he keeps moving. I put my hand around Jennifer’s waist and lead her out of the room, with Simon right behind us. We pass the bodies of the two gunmen from a few minutes ago. Blood pools beneath their bodies. I see an officer putting a white sheet over the body of Mr. Fernandez. I keep walking.
Three Days Later
My arm is in a sling. It should be fine again in a few weeks. Lance was right, a through and through. Mom made me poppy seed cake the last three days. I told her to stop yesterday. I cannot eat anymore. Clouds obscure the sun as it descends; darkness begins. I drink a Blue Moon with a lemon floating on top. I adjust the lawn chair to sit up more.
I stopped listening to the news after I got out of the hospital. There is going to be a vigil tomorrow. Doctors had to reconstruct Lance’s foot. The bullet crushed many of the foot’s smaller bones. Simon will be fine.
Jennifer. She came through the house. Mom probably let her in. She wears blue faded jeans with a simple grey sweatshirt with Jack the Bulldog on the front in blue and Hoyas written on the right bottom corner. She has her hair in a ponytail.
“Hi Jennifer,” I say.
“How are you doing Martin? You look great, considering,” she says.
“Thanks, considering, yeah I am okay,” I say. I look away from her. I fixate on an old bottle cap on a blade of grass, then kicking it with my foot.
“I broke up with Simon. I figured no sense in waiting. He took it okay enough,” she says. I see her rub the back of her neck.
“I froze,” I say.
“What?” she says. She leans in closer to me.
“I froze. When the gunmen came through the door, I froze. I talked about taking action before and when the time came, I froze. I did not protect you or anyone. I just froze.”
“I froze too. Lance froze. Simon froze. We all froze. Anyone would have,” she says. She touches my shoulder. I smell her Island by Michael Kors perfume. She has been wearing the same fragrance for eleven years now. “Let’s just be thankful that for some reason those sick bastards decided not to kill us.”
“Why did they just stop?”
“Who knows Martin? We have to look to the future now. The school is not going to be the same for a long time. I am not going to be the same for a long time. I saw when they put the gun to the back of your head. It scared me. It scared me a lot,” she says.
I can still feel the cold round muzzle against the back of my head, so much power. “You know what’s weird?”
“When people talk about their near-death situations, they talk about their life flashing before their eyes. My life did not flash before my eyes. In fact, all I could think about was the image of you wearing my Superman underwear on your head. You looked ridiculous. I felt ridiculous. That was the last image I had before I thought they were going to kill me.”
I see Jennifer using her sleeve to wipe at her eyes.
“It’s silly, but I started thinking about what I was going to miss. I would never know what it was like to wake up in the morning and wonder what the love of my life was doing. I would never get to hold that person in my arms and know everything was just right. The little things, you do not think of. Like the way they curl up on the couch and read a book, their lips gently opening and closing or the fire in their eyes when they get passionate about something and want to explain it to someone else or I don’t know, the way they always leave a little bit of pudding in the container for me to finish.”
She says nothing.
“I mean, this is ridiculous and selfish. Three days ago, many of our classmates died in a horrible attack and all I can think about are my feelings. I have the worst timing. There is something I have wanted to tell you since I was seven years old and I found you wearing my underwear on your head.”
She says nothing.
“Yeah, that was a cheesier segue when I said it then when I thought it. Anyways, what I am trying to say, this, this event, made me realize that I should say it now rather than in the future. I want to say it before I don’t get that chance again.”
She says nothing.
“Jennifer, our friendship means everything to me. I can tell you anything and some things, you probably wish I did not tell you. I mean, what are the odds that the Stern’s would adopt me and we would meet? Now we are about to finish college and run a political campaign together. I mean, Jennifer—”
“I know. I have always known.”