Winner of the Hear Here Emerging Authors Contest
His name is Dakota. He’s the boy I’m thinking about, the boy who wears loose denim jeans and old sweatshirts that wrap around his body to cover bruises. It’s not just his father that does it; his mother completes it just as well to his neurons. So do some of the kids in school, which I guess taught him everyone abuses you in life. Well, at least everyone but me.
His red hair is a little longer than how most boys wear during the warmer weather, but that’s okay. I don’t like people based on how normal they are.
Tracing his freckles in my mind, I close my eyes and see pale skin with popping green eyes staring back. When you’re peeking into them, they cure anything wrong stirring inside. It’s funny how they do that, even when demons circle him like vultures.
My legs press tighter against myself in the light cut room. The door is bolted but none of us are complaining, even though most days we long for that wood to let us escape. The teacher is even using a paper to cover the tiny window the way they do in drills, the way you don’t expect to ever have to see in the real event.
This one girl’s not very popular but she still dresses in skimpy shorts and see-through shirts; well, her panic has made her throat tighten and she’s choking as silently as she can. Her best friend is staring harshly next to her. I can see her fingers digging into her own skin before she suddenly snaps and slaps her best friend’s face.
“Shut up, Nelly,” she says in a rough whisper everyone can still hear.
The door knob suddenly rattles and gasps echo. The girl crying screams in a short moan before she throws her head to the floor. It’s quiet enough to hear the heartbeats, all pounding under the paucity of air being inhaled to pretend like we’re not here. But, we are. Even the faithful know that.
The shaking stops and heavy footsteps walk away gradually, all of us still scared for fake safety. After a minute, a few people’s glares pull from the door and look to one another’s. ‘We’re okay? He’s gone?’ Their thoughts practically resonate like telepathy in my brittle head.
A booming crack rings complementary to the screams and the glass panel shatters through the red pulps of fiber opposite us. Another bullet goes to the handle, making it fall off as the door’s kicked in.
Just like that, I expect lives to dissipate fast but in slow motion, like any disaster. The shooter walks through the door in a black hoodie; it’s pulled up so his face is impossible to find in the darkness, leaving only his gender distinguishable by his build. Through hectic shuffles and whines, his gun lifts, and he scans the room with it likes eyes. The trigger stops in the middle section. He pulls off his hood while I stare down the iris of a barrel from a diminishing distance.
He grabs my shoulder and I realize then how insanely calm I have been until this precise moment. Fight and flight battle each other while he drags me by my underarm, my eyes wide as an innocent’s. My body is dragging out the door and they’re watching, no savior, before a boy leaps up and punches at the death machine. The death machine then punches back and wins the fight by knocking him over. I scream and now it’s real. Now, it’s real.
He releases me when we’re out in the hall and I crumble in on myself, covering my head with my hands, as if it will help.
“Please,” the words somehow form semi-coherently but elongated. “Please! No, please!”
“Bree, it’s me.”
I look between trembling fingers at the voice. It’s the right hair, eyes, face – the voice matches. It shouldn’t.
“Yeah,” he says peacefully in the eye of the hurricane. “C’mon Bree, we probably don’t have much time to get it done before the police get here.”
“What?” My lips utter as he takes my hand to pull me along.
He walks down the stairs but I trip on the top ones, so he picks me up and carries me gently. I smell the settled clothes on his toned chest, so lost. We reach the bottom and turn the corner of our prodigious high school and before I know it we’re at the end of the B Hall, the in-and-out fluorescent strips no longer passing above. He sets me down as I stare at the door in front of us, his hand sticking to mine through my loose fingers.
“What’s going on, Dakota? What are you doing?” I’m talking hazily.
He turns and wraps his arms around me, running us backwards against the parallel locker. His fingers cradle my head as our foreheads touch. I can barely breathe; I’d never thought he’d be this close to me, even though I’ve dreamed of it the six months I’ve known him. Not that this made anything okay.
“Oh, Bree. I’ve wanted to hold you for so long. You’re the only thing.” I stare into his twisting green irises; I could do it forever and then again. His hands are swirling wildly through my mousy short hair and I don’t know what to do. All I know is I must be blushing. “I’ve let it pass so long, but now… Bree, I’m strong!”
Dakota kisses me. Hard. My eyes expand and lose their guard. He pulls back and brings me on with my hip glued to his.
The door flies open and the unreal situation becomes more momentous when I look at my tripping feet, a blood splatter on the teal converses. The screams are physically close, but in my head they’re just a distant ring.
He lets me go softly onto a chair. Dakota knows what he’s looking for immediately, stomping a path through the kids, each squirming frantically or trying to run. A bullet blazes someone trying to escape and they toppled over on their side.
“Stop or I shoot everyone!” The weapon waves like a toy and the players yield. “Thanks.”
I think I hear a laugh at the end before he grabs a jock, Tony Teelan, by his shirt.
“C’mon,” Dakota mumbles. “You run touchdowns faster than this.”
He releases him in front of the board, the Civics lesson still up from earlier.
“Man, what are you doing?” Tony bellows, standing smaller for the first time.
Dakota runs over erratically and lifts me up, my side tight to him once again.
“Do you know what you’ve done to me?” I turn and look up at Dakota as he shows pain for the first time.
“I’m sorry man-”
“Shut up! Shut up! You don’t get to talk this time!” The veins on his neck bulge. His eyelids close for seconds that feel like minutes. When the green is visible again, I don’t really see the same shade in a different color. “Now, we stand up.”
“What?” He takes my limp hand in his. Now we’re both holding the gun.
“Bree, you told me to stand up. You’re right! God, you’re right.” He cups my cheek and I’m taken back. He thinks I want him to hurt them too. He is doing this… because of me. “Here we go.”
My fingertips feel the cold, smooth trigger in our palms. Dakota wants to, wants us to, kill the person who’s bullied him hardest.
I stare through Tony, through an abating lifespan. We all die slowly, a little each day, each second. Death is inevitable. Sometimes the timing is, too.
My mind halts and there is no answer. None of this is part of the paradigm. This is the gray in life, but it doesn’t really matter when I have to find the black from the white.
I’m sure some deep part of Tony is white, but all I know is the black that’s hurt Dakota so many times. Dakota is the dawn that was born into the darkness; He’s my white.
Our hands raise and line with Tony. Numb and shaky fingers hold the trigger that will end this all, finally.
“I love you, too, Dakota.”
I turn the gun from Tony as fast as I can, but at that moment Dakota’s finger presses hard on mine and shoots. Revolutions always begin right when the world ends, don’t they?
McKenna Brooks is a teenager who is starting to see the benefits of high school, regardless of the time it takes away from her strides towards her passions of all the arts and working with children. She has a love of Olive Garden, annoying quick-witted sarcasm, and a very tight relationship with her family. A deep and personal loss fuels her drive, even when it makes her crash. McKenna thinks the pain of airbags are definitely worth the road trip of a lifetime.