In Ten Minutes, I’ll be Dead
When I left for high school that morning , I left thinking I’d come home in the afternoon, that I’d fish my key out of my lint and receipt-stuffed pocket and struggle to push the front door in before being jumped by my oversized pug and hardly acknowledged by my calico. I thought I’d procrastinate on AP Bio homework by binging Netflix, that I’d crash on the couch with Ritz crackers and Friday the Thirteenth because it really was Friday and it was October so I was in the mood for horror.
In about two hours, I’d be dead...
...but I didn’t know that yet. I was anxious as I walked into school through the side gate by the Media Center, not because there was a chill in the air, or a Raven’s caw that foretold my fate. Instead, I forgot to study for a Calc test the night before. I’d brought a Sailor Moon keychain to school for my best friend Cindy because it was her birthday and I wanted to surprise her. I texted a friend, Andrew, who never got to class on time and never spoke, about his English paper that was definitely due today. He texted back that I should be more worried about actually remembering to give Cindy her gift.
Cindy met at the gate, and we walked to first period together. We’d have three before I'd meet my end.
“So Riverdale got renewed for another season,” she said as we walked.
I guffawed. “Again? Are the Netflix executives on drugs?”
“You gotta admit. It’s basically the world’s wackily funniest, if overproduced, soap opera on the planet.”
“Still, they green light another season and cancel the Dark Chrystal? What is wrong with them?”
We didn’t know our fates as we conversed about TV shows and comics and that new book that just came out. And I wonder now, was there an omen in the breeze that I’d missed? A whisper in the wind of what was to come? Did our conversation distract me from some infernal hint from the universe of what was to come?
But I guess I would have never seen it, because the omen—the “lone wolf”—blended in with the hoodies and sweaters and jackets and long-sleeved T-shirts. Why would anyone have noticed that boy’s backpack was unusually slouched? Or that he wasn’t walking to any particular class, but instead milling about?
I certainly didn’t. I was thinking about that keychain. About Cindy’s face when she finally saw it.
I’m sure later, everyone that lived saw each and every minute in where he could have been stopped. There’s always a solution after the fact. Always a would-be hero after the dead are buried. For some reason, the answer never seemed to be making sure the boy never got his hands on that pistol. Even though in hindsight, our fates were sealed the moment he bought it.
We neared our first class, and I realized now would be a good time to give Cindy her gift.
“Hey, before I forget,” I said, about to pull out the keychain. Then, the early bell rang, and we knew we get going. I groaned, and Cindy giggled at my petulance.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll have a chance to tell me when we get there.”
We made it just as the late bell rang. US History was our first class, and we’d talk about recent events during the first ten minutes. The recent mayoral election. The protest at the courthouse. The shooting yesterday at Crest High. We debated which events would go down in history, and which would be forgotten by memory. And everyone agreed that the shooting would be buried, because there were just too many like it to keep track—a digit on a bar graph. A non-anomaly. And right after that we moved onto our lesson about the War of 1812. Because there was just so much more to discuss with that.
“Psh, hey,” I whispered to Cindy as my teacher lectured about Andrew Jackson. “I got something for—“
The bell rang, and I sighed. Now I’d have to wait until lunch, because we didn’t share our next two periods together. We left class and in the periods following, I counted the minutes until lunch. The minutes I had left to live that I didn’t think would ever end. Each second was a mile long, a teasing eternity before I could finally, finally give Cindy her birthday present. I texted Andrew about if while in class, and he teased me saying at this rate I’ll be dead before I could give her the keychain. 'Very funny', I texted back.
But finally, lunch came, and I raced to the cafeteria. In half an hour, of course, I’d be dead. My last supper was a room temperature pepperoni pizza and a bag of sun chips.
Everyone around Cindy was wishing her a happy birthday, and someone had even brought her a chocolate cheesecake cupcake with a fake candle. Everyone sung her happy birthday, and and she made a wish to get all fives on her AP exams this year. We all laughed at that, because we knew Cindy got that every year.
“Fine,” she said with faux-annoyance. “I wish for a Sailor Moon-themed birthday present.”
I smiled. Now was my chance.
“Hey,” I said. “Before I forget, I wanted to give you—“
“Attention, attention,” blared the intercom. “Lock, lights, out of sight.”
I’d rolled my eyes. A drill. Of course. And it had to be during my lunch hour. And just as I was about to give Cindy her present. So now I’d have to stay quiet and wait until it’s over to give it to her. And I better text Andrew because god knows where he is and the vice principal would pulverize him if he was caught out of class right now. And so I did. And I laughed blithely when I read his response—that it wasn’t a drill. That somebody was in the building. What a comedian. I texted him to seriously get to class before he got in trouble.
I didn’t even get to click send before we heard gunshots.
Hisses, cries, and stunned silence clattered and echoed against the high walls and ceilings, before being drowned out by hushes. This was a dream. It had to be. I could feel each kid’s arm brushing up against mine under the table as each pinched their wrist, some until they drew blood. And my arm could feel each fingernail, like a rusted jagged needle, tearing at our skin like a desperate sacrifice to whatever god would listen, would deliver us from this nightmare.
But nobody came. Nobody came even as the desperate tears rained on our knees. We were alone, with the doors unlocked because the teacher who was watching us went to the bathroom for five minutes and left with the keys that locked away our tomorrows. Because why would anything happen today? It was beautiful out, the sky clear robin-egg blue, a warm day in Autumn. A Friday to celebrate. A birthday for a friend.
Yet, in ten minutes, I’d be dead.
I sighed and let out a sob, then grabbed out my cellphone. One last text to Andrew. I said I was sorry for not believing him, and that if he got out and I didn’t, that I hope he lived a nice life. It took an age and a half for him to respond. And it was one simple text:
Give Cindy the keychain.
I almost laughed, but I buried my head in my legs instead. In five minutes, I would be dead. By this point, I knew this much to be true. This one thing. We’d have this one last thing at least. I shuffled under the table, whispering her name.
“Cindy,” I called. “Cindy, where are you?”
There was a banging on the door. I had three minutes left to live. Kids screamed. Some cried. Some continued cowering under the tables. Others got out of hiding to either run or fight. I groaned. I didn’t think I’d find her in all the chaos. I began screaming. Or crying. I don’t know which.
But somehow in the confusion, she found me.
“Hey,” she whispered shyly, like a stranger who wanted a dance at homecoming.
“Hey,” I said quietly. I rubbed my neck. “I… I wanted to give you something.”
Her eyes widened, sad and happy at the same time. “What did you want to give me?”
It went dark then, but I like to think that I threw the Sailor Moon keychain in time for her to smile, to laugh at the chicken-scratch “Happy Birthday” tackily attached with a neon pink sticky note. I don’t know if that happened. I don’t quite know what’s happening. In a minute, I’ll be dead—a tragedy and a statistic. A political movement. A call to action. A call for partisan division. What was done to stop it? What will be done to keep it from happening again?
Who could say? I don’t even have seconds left to puzzle it out.