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Even the calmness in the morning air felt eerily peculiar, like the calm which anticipates the storm of the century. The dark and dreary skies along with a slight wind chill added to the New England climate. I recall while walking to my bus stop that morning that my surroundings were absolutely still, an absence of wind or current in the air left leaves and branches untouched. My environment seemed almost artificial in this manner as if reality was slowly departing this world - leaving me with an intangible, surreal interpretation of those final moments.
That morning, Willow Lane felt abandoned; though it was not normally a social or festive site, sadness overcame me as I walked by the namesake willows to the glowing-yellow stoplight which marked the end of my three minute stroll. My golden miniature-train gleamed in the rejuvenated Spring sun as it came to a halt roughly a meter from where I stood just like it always did at forty three past six. Its doors opened, and warmly invited me.
On occasion, I would listen to the radio on my mp3 player. This day was one such instance. Static between changing stations served as rough transitions until I found the news. President Ahmadinejad of Iran wished to purge the world of the Jewish state of Israel. Tensions on the Indo-Pakistan border exacerbated as the fight for Kashmir continued. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks once again ended. North Korea shelled a South Korean island and killed four. Hate. I exhaled the frustration I had for the current state of the world, and subsequently switched to a classic Green Day. I viewed hate as a foreign issue, nothing that concerned me. I saw hate to be something containable, a disease quarantined in a remote place. I chanted to myself, “Wake me up when September ends.” I didn’t know what hate was capable of.
Until the time the bus reached Eden High, my eyes had not moved from the foggy window pane next to my seat. Our school was a palatial building. It had been built only a few years ago, and it was my home away from home. I longed to come to school everyday. I loved the people I talked to. I loved the classes I took. Within its walls, I felt genuinely happy and safe.
The morning bell somberly knelled four A notes indicating the beginning of the day. The throngs of students dispersed from their cliques and headed off to first period. I was one of them. I said my goodbyes to familiar faces, and descended a stairwell to the science wing. Fluorescent tube lights emitted a pure white radiance unparalleled by the dull sky visible through a large window at the end of the pristine hallway. I walked into the last classroom on the left. Biology was my favorite class; I was fascinated with life, but further intrigued by where it came from. I got good grades, we learnt cool things, and our teacher was really nice. What more could you ask for in school? I sat down in the middle of the classroom, and greeted Ms. Robinson.
She reciprocated, “Good morning, Simon. How’ve you been? This weather is just depressing! I think there’s a storm headed our way.”
“I’m fine, but this weather has me down too”, I said, “I’m not a big fan of rain either.”
Students were starting to pour into the classroom. A black haired, broad shouldered boy entered, dropped his backpack next to the seat to my right, and sat down. Ralph had been my best friend since the first grade. Practically brothers by every aspect other than blood, we were inseparable.
He leaned towards me, “Hey, can I borrow the notes we took last week on the circulatory system?”
“Yeah. I’ll give ‘em to you later,” I said without looking at him. My gaze was directed at the influx of students entering the room, scanning for a certain individual.
Truthfully, Honors Biology wasn’t my favorite class only because I thought it was interesting. For the past year and a half, I had liked–
Her vibrant green eyes stole my attention without making contact with my own. Like a thief, she made no sound. It seemed as if she walked in slow motion. Her glimmering ash-brown hair curved behind her dainty neck and carelessly rested on her right shoulder. She was garbed in a blue that matched the intense Atlantic on a stormy day. She wore a small smile on her face, and I found myself mirroring it. And when she walked by, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. She carried the same scent she had carried since the first time I breathed her in. Fresh Lavender. This aroma translated to absolute euphoria – I felt weightless. Soon, I was flying.
I must have looked like a fool because when I came to Ralph was looking at me with utter sympathy.
“You know she’s not seeing anyone, right?” he suggested.
“I know, I know.” I responded.
“C’mon Simon! This is pathetic. If you don’t tell her now, someone else might”, he reasoned.
“You’re right”, I admitted dejectedly. But I didn’t plan to say anything to her about what I felt. My feelings were too strong, I’d scare her away.
The morning bell rang another four times, now indicating the beginning of first period. Ms. Robinson began to talk about the respiratory system; but instead of taking notes, I simply thought of her. She was the only oxygen I needed, and I didn’t know how much longer I could hold my breath.
I stole a glance at the large clock in the corner. By 7:58AM I seriously started to zone out. At first, I thought of oxygen, then I thought of her lavender scent, and then I was flying away from there. I loved everything about her. I loved her precious smile, her laugh, her personality. We had talked before. Her favorite color was green, she liked Italian food, and she wanted to pursue journalism. Her articles for the school paper were constantly on the front page. She had a seemingly vast knowledge of any topic you could think of. From pop culture to politics, she could hold her own in any conversation. Needless to say, I was not worth–
All of a sudden, the ball of our fates had begun to roll. There was no stopping what came next. We were all acquainted with emergency lockdown protocol. Everyone was certainly startled. I heard murmurs of “What’s going on?” and, “I didn’t know we had a drill today”, go around the class. Ms. Robinson walked over to the door, closed it, and then locked it. Everyone else got up, pushed their chairs in, and sat at the edges of the room. Ms. Robinson took her seat at a corner after closing the windows and pulling the blinds down. Ralph sat next to me in silence, but his eyes conveyed confusion. I tried to maintain my composure. This was obviously a drill – no doubt. I didn’t fret at all, but when I looked at the faces of those near me – my composure deeply faltered. I rubbed my arms in an effort to calm the hairs that had stood up. In this manner, we waited…
In an adjacent wing one floor above us, acts of sheer terror were taking place. A scrawny, blue eyed, black haired boy walked away nonchalantly from the history classroom he had just emptied an entire magazine of 9mm rounds into. There were a few seniors here who had but a few more weeks of school to complete before finishing their high school journey, but now they could never. The wounded were rendered immobile by his carefully placed shots in vital areas, and the fortunate ones who had not been shot, ducked behind a desk or chair, their hearts beating like drums, their breathing fast and sharp.
At this point, every other fluorescent tube light stopped glowing, dramatically dimming the building. The same warning bell sounded again in its grave manner; the only difference was that now it continued without stopping. Along with this, an ominous red light gradually lit up the hallways from the ceilings briefly before diminishing in intensity. From the darkness, the boy’s face was now a light red
The boy moved on to the next room. The next group of victims was alarmed with the banging of the gunfire. They knew this was no drill, no exercise. One boy, only fourteen, looked to the one sitting next to him with large watery eyes that longed to be anywhere, anywhere else other than in that room. Some trembled, others began to weep. On the other side of the door, the boy drew his tool of massacre, smiled vehemently with the thought of what came next, and pulled the trigger. An explosion of wood and metal preceded the emptying of yet another magazine and the screams and moans of the terrified and innocent. The same boy now lay sprawled on his stomach, clutching his side, his hands stained with his own life essence. The dark substance once inside of them was now splattered on the windows. Those meant to live for scores to come now had only seconds.
The stairwell at the end of this wing fed echoes of screams directly to the wing beneath it. 911 calls were being made by the fortunate few who were spared the ability to pull out their cell phones. The police and ambulances were on their way, but what did prison matter to a boy with nothing to lose. A pair of bloodshot yet piercing blue eyes descended these flights of stairs and arrived in the math wing. He removed a Bushmaster machine gun that was strapped to his back, and stowed the depleted Glock. The worst was yet to come.
Having communicated orally all our lives, when faced with a dire emergency like this, we were all confused by how little words mattered when we let our eyes do the talking. The loud bangs became more frequent, and the screams got louder; we knew what was happening. Some kids bravely moved desks and chairs around the classroom and barricaded the door with the best of their efforts.
By 8:06AM, I had exchanged my fears and hopes for a miraculous intervention with at least ten others classmates. She was number eleven. I had checked on her about every thirty seconds expecting to see her biting her fingernails or holding back tears, but strangely, she sat withdrawn in silence. How could she possibly remain calm in a scenario like this?
For a few precious moments, her green eyes locked with my blue eyes and asked me how I was doing.
I responded bravely, Fine. You?
She smiled, It’ll be okay.
She convinced me in a heartbeat with her eyes which provided solid assurance. I don’t know how I believed her; the salvo of machine gun fire was getting louder, and the atmosphere grew tenser. Ms. Robinson sadly looked at her silver engagement ring, and sniffled repeatedly.
Suddenly, through the window facing the North parking lot, we saw two police cars, and a few ambulances pulling up to the school. We were saved! The sight of them sent sighs of relief off. We only had to last a little while longer.
But then we heard the reloading of a gun outside our door, and we knew what was about to happen. People were shifting silently into the corners of the room, beneath desks, behind chairs, and they even gathered near friends for a final embrace. The doorknob exploded violently, and the door itself was kicked open to reveal me standing just outside the room.
I was perplexed by who I saw before me. He was slim and had black messy hair. His eyes were a piercing blue that sought judgment of all of us. He was as tall as me, and wore a black vest on top of a white shirt which had a little more ammunition strapped on.
I was absolutely baffled: He was me. His face was my face. His eyes were my eyes. Only our clothes distinguished us. Never in my life had I seen him. Who was he?
He held up his fear-inspiring horrible gun, and started spraying bullets at the people in the room from left to right. As fast as I could, I wrapped my hand around Ralph’s shoulder and pushed him down hard. I ducked behind a desk just in time. The window behind me shattered. She was behind Ms. Robinson who shielded two students, one from either side, with her own body. Her screams will haunt me forever.
Falling glass cut my legs and arms. I saw the captain of the varsity lacrosse team, Jack, lifeless, a bullet hole in his neck. Out of my peripheral vision, I vaguely recognized a bloody Alex Stein, president of our class, lying on the ground trying to impersonate his late friend Joel Kennedy. Book shelves splintered. Pieces of book paper rained down like confetti. Streams of blood ran towards the boy because the hallway was of slightly lower elevation than the room. Moans of the living and of ghosts reverberated in the room. I could not see the boy’s face, but I had a good picture of what it looked like by now. Content with the havoc he had wreaked here, he left to visit another room.
It was silent except for the sobs from an adjacent room, the moans of the wounded, and the boy’s footfalls. I checked to see if Ralph was fine.
I tapped him on the shoulder, and softly whispered, “He’s gone.”
He slowly looked up, but was devastated and rendered speechless.
I softly crawled over the limbs and bodies of people who I didn’t know to her. She was on her side facing the corner of the room. Even in death, Ms. Robinson protected her with a hand resting on her side. I pulled her left arm off of the blue torso gently; then, with my trembling hand, I pulled her shoulder so that she faced the ceiling. My heart was pounding faster and with more force than it had ever before. Please God, please!, I begged.
She made no effort to stop the bleeding in her stomach. In all the pain she was in, she was still smiling. A darker blue was flooding the ocean blue. Her eyes moved and found mine.
Eve, please, no, oh no, God please!
But this was the result of Hate. Eve knew how to die. She poured love through her eyes into mine. As the last of her life left, her head became limp, her eyes closed, and she was gone.
I was sobbing uncontrollably with a mixture of raging emotions. I cried for Eve, I cried for my friends, I cried for my teachers too. “The innocent can never last.”
Hate took them away.
Hate killed them.
I Hated Hate.
And when the boy reappeared at the door, knowing that there were some survivors who pretended to be dead, I charged at him with all the strength I could muster. I took him by surprise! I shoved him all the way into the lockers on the other side of the hallway. The gun went off pointed towards the large window. Like a tug of war, we wrestled for it in the red light. It turned sideways, towards him, towards me, and sideways again. But the assailant was me – this was a stale mate. Who’s hate was stronger? I channeled all my fury into this pull, until the barrel finally faced him. Without hesitating, I pulled the trigger.
He fell. In the red light, his blue eyes looked red, so different from my own.
The gun fell from my limp hands. My breathing was heavy.
Hate had taken me for its own.