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Miss Carmen

“Come on guys, put the math books in your desks and come to the carpet. Let’s read a little,” Carmen says while grabbing the story book off of her desk and moving to the giant rocking chair in the middle of the room. Fifteen first graders rush over in one herd. A little girl, May, is stuck in the crowd and loses her balance. Inches before hitting the floor, Carmen intuitively picks her back up by her waistband. “Slow down sweetie, you can’t afford to get hurt before Christmas,” she chirps.

The children surround their teacher on the floor with a cluster of bright, beaming faces. “What are we reading today?” May asks with her blonde curls rustling against her pink sweater. “Well,” the teacher coos to May’s pretty green eyes, “Since the holidays are coming up, I thought we could do something a little special.” Kyle raises his hand with a nervous face covered in pudding from snack time. “Yes Kyle?” “Will there be princesses in it? Because I don’t like Princesses, I like trucks.” The kids giggle and his teacher smiles. “No Kyle, you won’t have to be a Princess. I was thinking that we could put on a holiday show! Before school lets out for vacation, we could go to the auditorium in beautiful costumes and sing some holiday songs. The whole school and your parents could watch you all. What do you think?” The kids cried out their approval, Kyle and the boys high five and the girls dance around. The teacher laughs, every day she comes to work they are cuter and cuter.

“Boys and girls, please settle down, I need to tell you what we’re going to do today. Have any of you made a Gingerbread house?” Tyler, the class troublemaker, raises his hand. “Tell us about making them, sweetie,”says while beaming down to him. He looks at her with a big, smile missing two front teeth and says, “I haven’t made one, but I sure did eat one.” Carmen smiles again as the children laugh. “You’re all so silly. Well, today each of you will be making one! But first, we need to learn about the people that live in these houses.” The children leaned forward as she pushed back a strand of her long, dark hair and opened the book. “Once upon a time,”

She pauses. Upstairs, the sounds of desks being thrown to the floor and scampering pours through the ceiling. “Once upon a time what?” May asks. The distinct rattle of desks being thrown is replaced by a slamming door and someone crying. “Once upon a time, there was a very funny man.” She continues reading the picture book, keeping a cautious ear to the events unfolding upstairs. By the middle of the book, the mayhem occurring on the second floor was still persistent. ~Better safe than sorry~ she thinks to herself. “Children, go get your nap time mats and put them in the paint room. Take a nap, and after your nap we’ll read,” she says, trying to think quickly. They stare at her with dumbfounded expressions. “We never nap before lunch”, Tyler says. “Why are we napping in the paint room?” he asks.

“I know it’s strange and different, but everyday calls for a new adventure, doesn’t it?”she says while standing up and straightening out her sweater dress. “Maybe the color will give you some interesting dreams,” she says through her teeth with an overly-bright smile. “Just please listen and do what I say, I’m trying something new. We’ll see who has the best dream, ok? It’ll be a contest” she explains hurriedly as the ruckus upstairs grows louder. The children just stare at her, oblivious to their surroundings. “Come on, grab your mats. Do it quickly and do not speak or I’ll take away recess,” Carmen pleads through her sullen green eyes. They hurry to get up, grab their mats and she shoos them into the room. “Stay quiet love doves, I’ll open the door in a half hour. Sweet dreams” she says with a calm smile while closing the paint room’s door, and locking it.

Carmen goes to the classroom’s entrance and locks it, still unsure of what she had heard from the second floor. ~Gosh, I hope I’m not over-thinking this. The children aren’t too scared though, so I’ll give it thirty minutes and then let them out. David’s right, I must be working too hard.~ Hurriedly sitting back at her desk, she emails the main office: This is room 405, I hear things upstairs...Are we alright? After hitting send, she worriedly glances over to Mrs. Hill’s room all the way across the hall. Her children are painting, unaffected by the now obvious commotion upstairs. Old Mrs. Hill herself is sitting reading a newspaper. Carmen texts her, hoping that she’s simply being over-dramatic: Deena, do you hear things too? This should just be an average school day. She turns back to the computer and refreshes the page, hoping for an immediate response. The office is never unconnected to the school, of course they must be typing her relief email right this instant. She lets another long, anxious minute go by and she refreshes the page again, there’s still no answer.

Unnerved, the young but experienced teacher calls the office through the class phone. ~Please, please, please answer me.~ No one answers. The ceiling starts pounding from hectic activity upstairs and she hears the nearby shattering of glass. Redialing the phone, she calls the classroom above her. “Mrs. Clark, are you ok?” Carmen sobs into the receiver with a whisper, panic filling her restricted voice with every unresponsive second. That’s when she hears it:

Three sharp bullet shots.

Quickly rising from her desk, she looks through reflective glass walls to see a figure down the hallway. A strange man is standing outside Room 400 with a gun pointed at the door. He is dressed all in black with a dark saddle bag over his shoulder.

Carmen runs to the outside of the paint room, cellphone in hand, ready to call whomever will help. “Kids, are you alright?” she croaks into the locked door, trying to block the oncoming tears that will surely resonate in her voice. “Most of us are sleeping, but I’m so bored. Can I come out with you?” As usual, Tyler moans from the other side of the door. “No, Tyler. Try to go back to sleep. Are you the only one awake?” she says, praying school’s bad reception will finally work, while dialing 911. “No, May is too!” She holds her phone to her ear, praying for a life-saving call to connect. “Each of you take the headphones in the corner and listen to a book. Pick whichever one you want, we’re going to read tomorrow with them. If you want, use the crayons and color too. Just stay quiet, no matter what.” The phone still hasn’t connected.

“Flake Down” the speaker booms.

~Oh no. No, no, no.~ “Miss Carmen, don’t we need to go outside? That’s the emergency word,” May asks, timidly knocking on the door. “No, May it’s quite alright. Um, this is the new drill. I knew we would be having it, that’s why I had you all nap early. Stay quiet, there’s no need to wake up the others.” She trills through the door, losing her skill to stay calm as unruly tears drip down her face. “May, sit down and listen to the book and color with Tyler. Now. Please.” She waits to hear the light pattering footsteps of the beautiful little girl, then walks back to her desk. At last, her phone finally connects.

First ring: Carmen tries to glimpse the man while still behind her desk. He’s no longer in the hallway.
Second ring: She sends a text to her fiance and parents saying: I love you, Thank you for the life you gave me.
She will never see David at the end of an aisle while wearing that perfect white dress she purchased just last weekend.
Third ring: She refreshes the page again, still no rescue email.
Fourth ring: Eight more bullet shots from down the hall.

“Hello, this is 911. What is your emergency?” Tears burn like anxiety, her degrees and training didn’t prepare for this. “I’m at school, Bear Cub Elementary, there’s a man here with a-a gun. Pl-please come, help” she stutters into the phone, all her words slurring into a dishevelled mess. “Ma’am, please calm down. We can’t understand you. Repeat what you just said.” Carmen lifts her fearful emerald eyes back to the hall window. The night she fell in love, David said they were her finest feature.

The shooter is outside the room now, staring into the windows of rooms across the hall.

With clarity and sudden bravery, she repeats: “There’s an intruder at Bear Cub Elementary with a gun. I’m in room 405. I have fifteen first graders hiding in a locked paint room. Please, we need you.”

The other side of the phone is filled with static, then chatter. “My baby!” Screams another woman in the police station. The male voice she was originally talking to comes back to the line. “Help is on it’s way. Everything will be OK. Where’s the killer now?”

The killer has entered the room directly across the hallway.

Carmen’s voice becomes more panicked. Her voice suddenly has an unheard screeching quality. “He’s across the hall! Please, children are being murdered! Help them please! What do I do?” she forces into the phone. All her composure has completely been lost.

“Ma’am you need to leave your classroom, it’s for your own safety! The police are on their way and will be there any minute. Get out, the children must be safe in the paint room.” The man alerts.

Eight more shots are fired.

“Ma’am, you’re too close. You need to get out.” ~But the children?~

The murderer has exited the other room. He walks to 405’s door, where she sits.

“Where is he located now?”

~I need to save them.~

Carmen hangs up on the male voice she relied so heavily upon. Replacing her tears with a mask of bravery, she sighs at the confused messages her love sends back. The doorknob is thrashing, but it won’t open. She quickly texts David back: You will be an amazing father One day. Promise me you’ll go find an amazing life. I love you. He starts to call her, confused about the news, but she can’t answer.

The killer shoots the door down.

~God, please keep the children asleep and silent. Keep their innocent ears covered.~

Emerging through the now empty door frame, the man points a loaded gun at Carmen, still seated behind her desk. “Where’re the kids?” Mind racing, she looks down, making sure she isn’t too quick to answer.

“Music Class” she says to his face. “And where is that?” he demands. “Why? Do you plan on listening to their gorgeous orchestrations?” her rage slowly creeping to her throat. She is not afraid.

He moves closer to her, keeping his finger on the trigger. “I don’t think you’d want to mess with me, ma’am.” He looks her in the eyes, trying to find hidden fear beneath the cool calm facade. All she shows and feels is defiance. “A sexy girl like you must have a life; a hubby, a place. You can keep it, if you’ll tell me where them kids are.”

Without looking down, she texts David from under the seat: Please don’t miss me.

“Sorry,” she says, her fiery jade eyes striking with electric daggers, “I don’t bargain with pigs.”

Honest at last, he does just what he promised: twice in the heart. Carmen’s beautiful, dark hair falls onto the keyboard. The haunting police sirens remind him of “Amazing Grace”, a sullen lullaby to the beat of her slowing heart. He swivels around the room, taking in the broken door and beautiful corpse. Tears break a resilient barricade as he realizes what he has done. Shots fired and the screams of young lives massacred pound on his skull from the inside of his demented brain.

A murderer walks over to Carmen and holds her chilling hand. She’s whimpering her last goodbyes but he can barely hear her. “Let me help you” he whispers, crying more and more, not understanding why she is hurting. “Don’t touch me” she hisses in a shallow breath, her back too slowly lifting and falling. He picks up the bloody phone on the floor. It’s filled with incoming calls and texts, all from one man named David. There’s another call coming that he answers as a man’s deeply troubled voice booms into the phone.

“Carmen? Carmen? Are you alright?”

The twisted shooter looks back down to the woman, her blood now staining the once white sweater dress, the last white dress she will ever wear. He strokes her hair, watching her chest fall one last time. He kisses her head, and whispers, “Your voice is a drum. You just tap, tap, tap,” into her unhearing ear. Then he takes the gun and places it under his chin, howling into the phone “The pounding doesn’t stop!”, as he pulls the trigger one last time.

“Thirteen bottles of milk on the wall, 13 bottles of milk,” May hums while she dances the crayons across her page and starts listening to another book. The rest are wondrously still asleep in the dim room. She has been awake drawing a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Next week she will lay the picture beside the best teacher she ever had. ?



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Pafjb said...
Jun. 24, 2013 at 11:13 pm
A good piece of writing, very moving.
 
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