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When the first shots were fired at 7:01 a.m., the kids in the media center didn’t know how to react. Samantha could hear something stirring the cafeteria into a frenzy - muffled popping noises, shouts - but didn’t recognize the symptoms as the beginning of a shooting. Of course she didn’t. No one jumped to that conclusion. She slipped the book she was reading into her bookbag and joined the many inquisitive others that ventured into the hallway to see what the commotion was about. It wasn’t until the horde of students and teachers from the cafeteria spilled into their hall that Sam and the media center kids caught on. Screams. More popping noises. A crescendo of pandemonium. What started as cautious curiosity suddenly turned into a mob panic as Sam found herself swept away by the tide of sprinters.
It wasn’t long before she was shoved off her feet. As she fell, her ankle curved into a position that should never naturally appear in a human ankle. It felt like the ligament linking her leg and foot had been screwed around like the cork on a bottle of fine wine. Her ankle became ablaze with searing agony.
Suddenly on all fours, she frantically tried to avoid getting trampled. The forest of legs around her refused to give her a chance to stand, and her ankle prevented any hope of getting back up. Shoes stomped and kicked her down with the force of a herd of hysteric animals. Flashes of pain coming from every direction. The next blow would land on her head if she didn’t get out of the madness soon. Somewhere. Anywhere would work.
“Help me,” Sam’s voice squeaked at the indifferent crowd around her.
Then she saw it - the bathroom! The girl’s room stood open only a few feet away, beckoning to her. She clutched the wall and dragged herself to the restroom - the oasis in the middle of the storm. Just barely pulling herself through the precious threshold, she collapsed and rested her chin on the damp tile that had seemed so disgusting only moments before. Now it felt refreshingly, beautifully calm.
As Sam lay there, watching the crowd flash past her, running thinner and thinner, another girl burst from a stall at the back of the room and rushed over to Sam.
“Help,” Sam pleaded.
But the girl from the stall hopped over Sam and joined the fleeing crowd and disappeared.
Sam continued to lay there gasping, waiting for the inferno in her foot to abate before trying to get up and get out of the school as fast she could.
Come on, heal up! Heal already, ankle! I need to use you to get the hell out of here faster than I leave seventh period everyday.
But as the number of kids in the hall trickled down to a few panicked stragglers, she realized that she wouldn’t be able to make it on her own. She had a quickly dwindling number of options. She looked down at her foot. It stared back at her, bent at a crazy angle that an AP Calculus class could probably find the cosine and tangent of. Sam couldn’t do any of that calc crap. She sucked at math.
She set her chin back on the tile and reached into her jeans pocket. She was hurt, tired, confused, but most of all, she wanted to hear her dad’s voice. She wanted to hear him tell her that he was on his way to right now. Dad was a cop - a damn good one. He would know what to do, what to say.
As she pulled out the phone, she noticed someone walking a lot slower than the other hallway stragglers. By the looks of it, he was actually the last one in this hall.
The strolling stranger stopped right in front of the restroom entrance. She looked up to see a boy with a large stature but oddly boyish face and scruffy brown hair, about her age, looking down at her. She had never seen him before in her life. Either that or, more likely, she had never noticed him amidst the crowd of blurry faces that walked these halls.
“Help?” she asked the only other person left.
The boy held out a hand and she took it; he dragged her painfully to her feet. He wordlessly braced her against him and walked her not to the hallway, but rather deeper into the bathroom.
“Hey, what are you doing? We need to get out of here, right? What’s going on anyway, do you know?” she interrogated the helpful stranger. Despite Sam being so close to him, she couldn’t see his eyes. His long, mangey brown hair kept them hidden from sight.
He didn’t answer her questions. He walked her into the second stall and delicately set the reluctant Sam down on the toilet, a spasm of pain springing back into her ankle. The boy stepped back out of the stall and stood there a moment, peering down at her through his tangle of hair.
“What are you doing?” Sam said, and for a moment, she began to get a bad feeling. What is he doing?
Then the boy opened his mouth for the first time. He had a strangely high pitched voice that contradicted his large frame.
“You won’t make it very far without help,” he pointed out bluntly. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with escape.”
“Wait, what? Why the hell not?” Sam demanded, wincing in the wake of her ankle’s protests.
“Because I’m not leaving this school,” the boy said simply, offering a small smile that only filled Sam with a strange sadness. He turned to go and slowly closed the stall door behind him. “If you stay put until help arrives and keep your feet off the floor if he looks in this bathroom, you’ll be alright… Good bye.”
“You’re… you’re not leaving? What’s that supposed to mean? Just tell me what’s going on here,” Sam pleaded.
But the strange boy was out of sight, trodding out of the restroom and leaving Sam alone on the toilet.
Sam sighed but felt no relief, only helplessness. She looked at her phone, still clutched tightly in her hand. She rapidly called her father’s phone, her original plan. She saw the signal bars in the upper right corner of the screen going down faster than the Titanic.
Stupid phone can’t ever get a signal from inside any building. Gotta make the call fast before I lose the connection!
There was a crackle on the other end as Dad picked up and Samantha’s heart soared. His voice, ever strong but distressed, “Samantha? Samantha! Are you safe?”
Sam’s voice choked on her hurried words, “Dad… yes, yes, I’m okay. I-I’m in the school. In a bathroom - my ankle - I think I twisted it bad.”
Sam heard her dad swear - a rare occurrence only reserved for scary situations. That made Sam’s spine go rigid with fresh fear. She clutched the phone like her life depended on it.
“Sam, I’m coming. I heard the news at the station. Police are arriving at the school right now. It’ll be just a bit longer, honey. I’m coming to get you, just stay hidden.”
“Dad, please… hurry. I don’t know if I can walk. I think-”
A gunshot. Unmistakingly closer than before. Perhaps from this very hall. In her surprise, Sam knocked her wounded ankle against the side of the toilet. She clamped her hand over her mouth to suppress the yelp.
Could that have been… oh god.
After several seconds of silence, she removed the hand and whispered, “Daddy… dad? Dad?”
Crackling noises spurted from the phone and threatened to cut off Sam’s only connection to safety. But Samantha could make out a few more of her dad’s static-ridden words, “Just got information on the shooter over the-----one boy with a handgun----ong, brown hair------stay---,” right before the signal was completely lost and Samantha was left alone in the silent restroom.