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The Right To Bear Arms This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Ms. Ogalthorpe tried valiantly to attract the attention of the roomful of half-dazed teenagers. It was late May; a hazy muggy day that made you feel like flopping in a hammock with a book you wouldn't read and a fluffy pillow, not to gain the tribulations of consciousness for a few short, sweet hours. At least, that's what it made Ms. Ogalthorpe feel like. But with fortitude beyond the call of duty she lectured on in her American government class. "The Second Amendment to the Constitution has become, in recent years, quite controversial ...." She was cut off by the ludicrously staccato sound of the classroom doorknob meeting with the wall. A small puff of plaster rose from the hole it made, smoke from a miniature cannon. The doorknob seemed frozen, trapped eternally in the half-inch wall; the human occupants of the classroom seemed equally temperate. Somehow, after gazing at the man who stood in the entrance, Ms. Ogalthorpe did not think she would be reclining in that hammock anytime today.

The man whose feet tightly pressed against the edge of the doorway was lost. The most ignorant of children could see that, and the children who reclined stupefied in their chairs were not ignorant. They stared in wonder at the tangled brown hair which fell into the green-eyed view of this vagrant, this displaced visitor. His face had a lightly bent nose, and full lips that belied the sallow complexion and sunken cheeks. His black overcoat was worn, wool, worsted and most likely stolen. Underneath this, he wore a pale t-shirt which had probably once been white, but had now degenerated into a nondescript sepia tone. The shirt was stretched over a scrawny torso, and the torso was supported by even thinner legs. The combat boots on his feet matched the fatigues whose torn cuffs concealed the black leather down to the instep. They added an element of aggression to his overall air of grime. But nothing described heretofore was the thing which defined him most. The thing which defined his person and his purpose, as well as giving him the unconscious power he wielded over the occupants of the room, was the double-barreled shotgun.

The gun rested gently in his palms. The wiry muscles of the forearm twitched, and the involuntary expression seemed to reach out with power greater than it deserved and shake each pupil a little further into his or her chair. Brows knitted with confusion, he said, "Is Mrs. Wentworth here?"

Mrs. Ogalthorpe swallowed and replied, "She - she, um, retired last year."

The man's expression descended into greater depths of bewilderment. Finally it cleared, apparently transfigured by a course of action which had penetrated his thoughts. "Leave," he ordered Mrs. Ogalthorpe. Helpfully, he used the barrel of the gun to illustrate the path to the door. The absurd creature walked forward to take her place at the head of the class. Mrs. Ogalthorpe hesitated, her concern for her students weighing against the value of her life. I can't save all of them, no, certainly not all of them - but perhaps I could persuade him to release a few ... She glanced up guiltily. The gentleman smiled slowly, seemingly reading her thoughts, and she exited the room trembling.

The smile stayed on his face as he scratched his head with the business end of his gun. The image vaguely recalled in the students a semblance of dusty yearbook photos displaying fresh-faced young individuals, not approaching thirty. The man watched Mrs. Ogalthorpe leave, and settled into her mottled chair. The chair presided over linoleum, chalk dust, books, adolescent anxiety, desks, gum, pencils, and any attention left over for learning after the matters of looks, gossip, the opposite sex, and friends had been considered. He looked quite comfortable in this unaccustomed position of power, and placidly surveyed his domain.

The walls blankly reflected a robin's egg blue sheen of horror at the east and west faces of the room. This feeling was echoed by the countenance of each member of the class. More than one leg of the P.S.-issued chairs was vibrating with the irrepressible energy of fear. The blackboard dominated the front wall; it mutely absorbed every ray of sun, every expression or emotion, every glimpse of life to chance its way, then wiped itself clean again. His face was illuminated, not by the oscillation of the fluorescent lights above the students, but by the sun. To shield his face from these rays, he hefted his boots up on the desk. Calmly, he commenced to pry the dirt clods out of the boot's tread pattern with an old-fashioned engraved fountain pen.

The words engraved on the barrel of the fountain pen were "Excellence Through Learning 1994." Mrs. Ogalthorpe knew that because it was her pen. She was not thinking of it, however, as she paced rapidly through the hallway. Her total attention was focused on the principal's office. She came to the office and stridently bulldozed through the steel-rimmed glare of the secretary. Barging into the office of the principal, she declared with all proper solemnity - she had said it over and over in her mind on the way there - "I think we have a hostage situation."

f f f f f f

Rollins looked up as the phone rang. He watched Flagman answer, watched as he mumbled curse after vexed curse into the receiver. Flagman scribbled on the pad by his desk.

Drawing heavily on his cigarette, he said, "That was the high school." Rollins stood, brows furrowed. Flagman issued forth a perfect smoke ring. "Some nut with a rifle just took over seventh period social studies."

"How many?" Rollins said it in a tone already resigned to the inevitable.

f f f f f f

The kids sat rigidly in their chairs; no one had moved or spoken since the man had come into the room. Patrick Monahan was one of the sitters. In the third desk from the front, second row, his mind was working overtime. Something must be done, he thought. It isn't possible for a human body to remain still forever. Could I wrestle the gun away from him, maybe? Yeah - distract him and then try to take the gun away ... Another part of him spoke up, Who do you think you are, Superman? The guy's got a loaded gun! You do want to live long enough to be able to drive a car, don't you? He continued to debate with himself. Three or four of his classmates were thinking in the same vein, but with similar concerns for their own safety, they also remained in their chairs. More often their thoughts ran like Jess Roberts's. Oh my God! Oh my God, I'm going to die, I'm going to die, I'm going to die and I'll never see my family or my friends again ... A few students sat mutely in horror, a simple, panicked phrase or two repeated itself over and over in their brains. It might be He'sgonnashootus, or Nonono, but it was all they were capable of thinking at the moment. One student was thinking none of these things. He was thinking, I could kill him, I could do that; it would be simple, it would be simple ... simple ...

f f f f f f

The ambulance was the first to pull up. Flagman noted this from over Mrs. Ogalthorpe's shoulder. Roy Bilges walked up, tension apparent in his step. "What's the situation?"

"At this time, I'm not sure. The teacher's incoherent. All I can get from her is that some grungy looking guy walked in with a rifle, and she ran off to tell the principal. Apparently, the rest of the school was let out a few moments ago, as usual. No one has gone in or come out of the classroom since the teacher left. On the bright side, no shots have been heard."

f f f f f f

Suddenly he pulled his feet off the desk. Patrick tensed in his seat, waiting for opportunity, to do what, he didn't know. Clip (nicknamed for the pen clipped to his front pocket since sixth grade) Klerpunski simply looked up. He, the smartest kid in the class, had been sketching on the desk. He had realized events were beyond his control some time ago. In his seat in the back corner of the room, he had a nice view of every occurrence. To keep panic at arm's length, he kept a sardonic running commentary in his mind. Well, well, the plot thickens, he thought. But the man merely said, "You all can walk around, y'know. You don't have to stay in your seats." The comment was made as if he had suddenly remembered there were others in the room. At first no one moved. Then several students dashed for the radiator and bookshelves at the back, moving as if a hell hound was following and not the gaze of the man at the desk. Perhaps because there was no more room at the back, perhaps because they felt they could safely construct a facade of bravery, other pupils headed for the side walls. These walked slowly, deliberately, and upon reaching their destinations, slouched against the wall. Clip was the only one who remained in his chair. He didn't feel two more feet of air would help obstruct a bullet; he was morbidly hopeful, however, that if he remained where he was, at least he wouldn't be shot in the stomach. So Clip had a perfect view as one of his classmates inched slowly across the floor. His view remained absolutely clear as a hand reached up to the desktop and took the gilded stand for the now muddy fountain pen. The stand was cut crystal, quite weighty. Clip glanced quickly at the man, apprehensive, and saw him still looking dazedly at the students camped by the radiator. He turned back only in time to see a foot slip behind the desk. The man turned around, finally sensing someone's presence; a sharp crystal corner crashed into the top of his skull. The man fell forward, cheek to the blotter, his finger flexed on the trigger.

f f f f f f

Pop. A small, quiet sound in the school's driveway. Enough to nearly give Officers Rollins and Flagman whiplash as they turned toward it. They couldn't wait any longer.

f f f f f f

Everyone was silent for a long time. Maybe the pause was a second, maybe an hour, how long, exactly, does it take to change a life forever? Patrick Monahan walked slowly forward, and gingerly touched the wrist of the man, he let it fall to the desk again in a gesture of finality. Patrick looked at Mary Proudman, who stood behind the desk. At first he tried to look in her eyes, but he couldn't, so he just stood, looking at the streaks in her long blonde hair. Mary let the pen holder drop to the floor. It cracked. Jess Roberts was crying. Clip Klerpunski was laughing hysterically, yet did not appear to know it. Actually, when the psychiatrists would ask him later, Clip would say at first he had been thinking about the production of Macbeth they had done in the fall ... Out, damned spot! ... And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow ... full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing." After that, he could only send one sentence to revolve around and around in his mind - It looks just like cherry Kool-Aid, in her hair, it looks just like cherry Kool-Aid ..."

f f f f f f

Rollins' hand trembled on the doorknob. But he opened it anyway, to find 31 pairs of eyes set on him. An outsider might have found that strange, because the most interesting thing in the room were the tiny red flags hanging limply outside the barrel of the gun. One said "Bang!!" The other said "Gotcha!!"


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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