Hall Duty

The door to the English hall bursts open and three students run toward me. This is not a race. They are not seniors sprinting out for a Big Mac. They’re not rushing to a fight between the jocks and the stoners. This is a panic run, a run of terror. They’re running to escape.

The door bursts open again and others stream out.

“Guns!” Nate David’s eyes are wild; his face is pale; he’s trembling. “They’re killing people!” he screams before he rushes on.

I hear shots in the distance, and I, too, want to run. I want to join the herd. Instead, I do my job. I check my classroom. Empty. My students aren’t due back from lunch for another ten minutes. I shut off the lights and close the door. I want to lock the door and shut myself inside. The temptation passes.

I return to the hall and move against the flow, toward the cafeteria.

“What can I do?” I ask myself. I’m unarmed. I’m a fifty-two-year-old, two-hundred-pound weakling. This isn’t like the food fight I broke up last week.

Panic sends students stampeding down the hall, unlike any fire drill. I’m safe as long as the stream continues. The danger is at the end of the flood. That is where the shooter will be.

I see the wounded. Libby, an honor student from freshman English, clutches her right arm, her yellow blouse soaked with blood. Two basketball players carry Jason Richmond, their team captain, bleeding from the abdomen. His eyes glaze over. Bob Jensen, the physics teacher, hurries down the hall, his arm around the waist of his daughter, Jill. She is dragging her left leg.

I see students from my Writing Foundations class: Melissa Volmer, Seth Turik, Rick Harding. They are the rebels, the outcasts of the school. They look up with fear-filled eyes, inarticulate. I want to stop to comfort them, but instead I keep moving. I know I’m going the wrong direction, and so do they.

I reach the door outside D-Locker Bay. Beth Wilson, from First Period Contemporary Lit, stumbles into me. She’s sobbing. Her sweatshirt and jeans are covered with mashed potatoes and gravy, as though a tray has been spilled on her. There are flecks of brain matter on her face. “Don’t go in there, Mr. Joens.”

Melissa’s best friend, Jennifer Shertz, grabs her arm and helps her down the hall, trying to keep her moving as she sobs. I open the door to the lock bay. The stream of victims has dried up. Carefully, I step into the bay. It’s empty.

I walk purposefully to the long narrow window on one side of the doors and glance into the cafeteria. No one is left standing. Cautiously, I open the door. “Why am I doing this?” I wonder as I step through. “Who do I hope to save?”

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