Ms Chambers was just explaining why you should say ‘for him and me’ not ‘for he and I’ when she heard a soft whine and perhaps imagined a rush of air passed her nose. She looked to her left and saw Jimmy Toat standing there at the door, the doors to all the classrooms were open to encourage a little more air on that hot day.
She was about to remind him that he was suspended for what he said about her and Mr Patterson-Smythe. It didn’t bear repeating, but she had forced herself to tell the Principle, and he had promised that ‘steps would be taken’. Jimmy was sent home whilst the Principle, a kindly, liberal minded man who was, nevertheless, weak, tried to decide whether to expel the boy for suggesting that his teacher like anal sex with a fellow teacher. There had been no reason to suggest this except pure malice on the part of the boy, or a desire to attract attention.
Now he was standing at the door. Her eyes had not even focused on what was in his hand when the top of her head came off with the second shot. She slumped over onto the desk in such an odd yet human pose, that her pupils did not realise that the silenced gun, hidden from most of their views, had killed her. The view of her bloody and still pulsating brain was beyond their imagination to think what they were looking at – people shot in the films that the boys, at least, loved to watch usually died with a red patch on their shirt and a distracted ‘arrgh’ as they fell. Ms Chambers was not such a staged death and her body moved of its own accord. Her body’s last action was to release her bowels. Beyond her, three A students froze as pieces of bone and brain hit their books, their hands, their faces. One fell soon after with a large hole in her neck from which she would bleed to death before help arrive, crying for her mother and her sister, and her dog.
Jimmy moved down the corridor, now the mist was descending. He had intended just to take revenge, but now he had shot Ms Chambers there was nothing holding him back. In class 8, beside class 9, a young student teacher, Miss Grencowski, was trying to explain the rules of French grammar to a group who had no more interest in that than in any other subject. It was a cruel irony that the most inexperienced teachers were given the worst classes, it was a sign of approval and seniority to get classes that actually wanted to learn. She looked at the movement she saw from the corner of her eye, and felt a sting at the same time in her stomach. A small metal object hit her skin, burst through and demolished her left kidney. It continued to her spine and ricocheted off the bone after breaking a vertebra, shot up to her lung and left her struggling for breath, and life. Jimmy had no argument with her, so he turned the gun to face the class and two students fell. The rest erupted into mayhem, trying to hide under desks or head for the windows. Two slumped onto the window frames with multiple wounds; one dead, one soon to be. The silenced pistol was out of ammunition and Jimmy unslung the M16 his father had proudly bought as a souvenir of his service days.
In class 7, Mr Grouting clapped his hands in the camp way he had and said ‘Now that is just tooo much’ assuming the student teacher (who the media would all call Miss Grenkowsci, an ultimate insult to her grieving family) had lost control of her class. He started towards the door, and reached it as Jimmy shot him with the M16; staggering back, the small, gay man whose life the pupils had often made a misery of, had just enough time to say ‘Hide, hide’. When Jimmy appeared and fired into the class.
In class 6, Mr Patterson-Smythe knew what that noise was. His class were giggling at the crackerjacks that some joker had let off in the hallway. They looked uncomprehendingly at their teacher slamming the door shut and then dragging his desk to block it. Were they being kept prisoner for laughing? He had heard that noise too often before, seen colleagues fall too often, cradled a dying friend once, and once too often. When Jimmy found the door would not open, he simply fired through it, and the veteran GI felt his body jolt as three bullets and several wood splinters hit him. His super-heated brain asked why he had survived Iraq unscathed to be shot in a classroom, but then he began to slide to the floor. The door was being pushed open and the desk was starting to slide; with a supreme effort, Mr Patterson-Smythe braced his feet on the floor and pushed back. Another bullet took his ear off and sent a small piece into Christie’s screaming mouth. She would be sick later simply at the thought of that. Jimmy wanted in, not just to deal with the other teacher who he blamed for his trials, but also to get at Jed, a boy who had made his life a living hell of bullying and ridicule from the first year at the school. The Principle had failed to deal with the bully, always giving him one more chance. Now the boy sat in a pool of his own urine, like a couple of others, and cried. Mr Patterson-Smythe repeated his injunction to hide under their desks; some heard, some were paralysed with fright.
Just two and a half minutes had passed; the school was waking up to what they had drilled for – a gun attack. The security man, hadn’t seen Jimmy come in through the hole in the fence that everybody north of the school used if they walked in, rather than walking round to the front. Everybody knew about the gap in the fencing, it had seemed innocuous enough; but it was unwatched, unguarded. Now he leapt to action. He was determined, dedicated, and determined not to be found wanting at his job. He ran down the corridor and as he passed the gym, the door opened and a boy half appeared with a long dark weapon. Terence Vandermyer Jr shot into the door opening before he realised it was a baseball bat. An innocent victim killed another one in his determination to do a good job. The boy, the only remaining son of refugees from Syria, fell to the ground as the large calibre slug opened a massive hole in his stomach. He would be on life support for four days before the hospital switched off the machines and the Syrian family lost the will to make a new life anywhere.
Terence was horrified, but knew the reckoning would come later, he rushed on, swung round the corner and flew across the corridor as a shotgun fired into him at point blank range. The investigation made sure his accidental shooting of a pupil was simply listed as another victim in the final report, there was no point in besmirching the name of a hero who had died trying to save the pupils. Naturally he would have been better assessing the situation, he might have actually done some good instead of becoming another of the mounting statistics.
Jimmy walked past the gym, unaware of the cowering PE boys and girls hiding behind pieces of equipment. He didn’t even notice the red line under the door where Nizar was bleeding onto the floor beyond.
Classroom doors were closed and barricaded; but a couple of shotgun cartridges into a door opened a large hole to fire through. He had come prepared and if the aiming was less targeted now, it was still causing injuries. A bullet through a window showered some teenagers outside having a crafty smoke. One looked at his friend to see a foot long triangle of glass protruding from his head. Remove or not? What should you do? Another friend was trying to stop the bleeding from his neck wound. These were the tough boys of the school. The ones who said they didn’t care about education and actually did cut classes. They were just as ill-equipped to deal with this sudden turn of events as the geeks, the sluts, the fashionistas, the sporties, the teachers, in fact only the rats reacted logically, all of the lab rats (kept more as pets now that dissection was off the curriculum) heard the sharp, scary noises and hid in their shelters.
Five minutes and forty two seconds had passed when the Principle, the liberal, educated East Coaster who wanted to do what was right left his office. He stood in the corridor and asked Jimmy to stop, to think. He stood in full view and attempted to block the hallway with his inconsiderable body. Jimmy hesitated momentarily. The Principle still held some authority in his mind. Then he raised the M16 and fired and the man, who had regretfully suspended him, and had been working, until that very moment, on ways to get Jimmy back into class to receive the education he so needed to avoid the scrap heap created by failed industries and promises; the man collapsed in pain and fear. The result of his liberality and hope in people having redeeming features, walked towards him and fired again, and again, and again. In the office, the secretaries screamed as they saw the Principle fall; the plain glass door to the school office shattered as a bullet hit it. But Jimmy wasn’t after them, he turned and climbed to the next floor.
At the top, he stopped and listened. In the distance, he could hear sirens getting louder. Soon the school would be surrounded by all manner of armed forces. He knew if he wanted to escape alive, now was the time to drop his weapons, or run, or both. He did neither. This was a one way trip, he knew that now. The news had shown these events in various ways numerous times, either the assailant died of their own hand, or in a hail of bullets. There was no desire to take someone alive and try and discover what made them this way. The silence in his head contrasted with the noise in classrooms and the alarm sounding – five short blasts, a gap, five short blasts – that was the code for gun attack. They had planned for this eventuality. What civilised society has to plan for a gun attack on a school when the country is not at war? What civilised society has to find itself at war with its own citizens like this? The board of control had asked that very question when the money was requested for training and planning for gun attacks – the answer had been the headlines in the media; it was becoming part of US national life. The silence in his head was a roaring, angry silence.