Jesse Martin walked into his classroom. The air was somber. The day had begun and no one was really enthused about being here. School was bad enough as it was. The teachers were unenthusiastic. He had six classes a day, lunch, and gym. The teachers read off his lessons from rote memory. The books were uninteresting. The material dull as a butter knife. He had to go to school though everyone assured him. In school lay the keys to his future. Without an education he would be nothing—lucky to get a job flipping burgers at McDonald's. Like every other kid at East West High School, he resigned himself to a day of absolute boredom in the hopes that he could achieve this distant dream of a decent life, free of burden and debt.
Blond and blue eyed, Jessie was the stunning picture of the American dream. People that looked like him were on television all the time, and billboards, and, well, everything. He was the quarterback for the East West Saints, and he was good at his position. The other kids at school looked up to him. The girls all wanted to fuck him. The boys all wanted to be him. No one ever suspected that his mom was a drug addict who loved her Valium more than she’d ever loved him. Or that his dad was a ghost around their house—working himself to death trying to support their upper middle class lifestyle. He saw his dad in pictures more than he saw him in real life.
Jesse wasn't a whiner though. He knew the world had very little sympathy for whiners. All in all, he had a pretty good life. He always got the things he needed, and most of the time, he got whatever he wanted. He understood these things with a higher mind than most people his age. His grandfather had told him once that he was, simply, wise for his age. He had taken great pride in that. He buckled down. He did what needed doing, and, although he was bored on some weird level he could barely understand, he didn't let that stop him. There was a better future for him at the end of this long, dull, road. He wouldn't have to work as hard as his father if he played his cards right. He wouldn't marry a woman like his mother—pretty, but fake, all her smiles painted on with her lipstick in the morning.
“Substitute,” Jamal Irwin said as Jesse took his seat. Jamal was Jesse’s best friend and running back for the Saints. Half African-American and half Jewish, Jamal was a study in the determined. He’d already locked down a football scholarship to a top ten university. Jamal didn't come from the same kind of life that Jesse had. Jamal’s family was barely clinging to middle class, and with each drop in the economy, Jamal’s family was falling further and further down. Jamal was his family’s hope—their shining light and he was pulling through for them like the champion he was. Jesse didn't envy Jamal his success—he just loved him. They had been friends since kindergarten and time had rendered them more like brothers. “At least the eye candy’s pleasing today.”
Jesse glanced at the substitute teacher. He noted several things about her instantly. The first thing was that she was pretty and young when their ordinary teacher was ugly and old. This teacher didn't have the lines of bitterness around her eyes that Mrs. Morales, their real Spanish teacher did.
The two top buttons of the substitutes pale white blouse were undone. Her skirt was inky black and mid-thigh exposing long sexy legs. Her black heels were high—maybe six inches. She looked a wet dream he’d had not too long ago, down to the long black curls cascading down her back. Her lips were ruby red and her attention was on them, sliding from face to face. Her gaze was slightly insecure. And there was a certain hunger in it that he didn't know how to name.
He was distracted from attempting to figure out why he thought his sexy new teacher was hungry, by the arrival of Charity Granger and Stephanie Blythe. He’d dated them both last year and actually slept with Stephanie. He’d almost liked her more than just that, but she’d been so needy that it had made him uncomfortable. She had wanted all of his time and all of his attention. Even though she was a cheerleader, she didn't like football, and while he didn't give much of a fuck about football either, he couldn't stand the way she expected to be worn like a pretty coat—and nothing else. He could do anything he wanted to her. She had no stops—as long as he was with her. He couldn't even tell if she liked him in the time they were together. All he knew was that she liked belonging to the East West Saint’s quarterback. He’d broken her a little in the polite phone call where he had dismissed her. He felt bad about it sometimes. Using her had never been his intention—a thing of which he was promptly accused—he’d wanted to like her. His only requirement had been that she liked him in return. Not the East West quarterback. Him.
His gaze moved from Stephanie’s sleek, flaxen, form to Charity. The whites of Charity’s chocolate colored eyes were pink from drug use. Charity tried hard to be Stephanie’s twin. She had the sleek, toned look down to a well-copied science. However, there was just more to Charity than there was to Stephanie. There was a sadness in Charity Granger that rested just beneath the carefully applied make-up she wore—a desperation that was just as intense, but very different from Stephanie’s. The makeup hid Charity’s cuts and bruises most of the time—and everybody, en mass, teachers and students alike, let most of the time be enough.
Charity sat next to Jamal and Stephanie took a place behind the other girl. The substitute sat on the desk, and crossed long tan legs. Her panties were thin, sheer and black.
“I will have you know,” the substitute said. He saw that her name was on the board. She was Ms. Rodriguez, “that I am, originally, from Mexico. Bad Spanish will not be tolerated in this classroom today. Each of you will try, very hard, to please me.”
Her voice was like velvet, her accent so slight it was almost imperceptible, but it was there, and he found himself leaning forward to listen to her talk.
“Oh, I’d try very hard to please you,” Jamal whispered, and Charity tapped him the in back of the head with a number two pencil.
“Pervert,” she breathed.
“Damn right,” he said.
“She looks like a cheap whore,” Stephanie said, “but then Jesse likes his whores cheap. Look how hard he’s paying attention.”
“Do not fuck with me,” Jesse told her. He was simply not in the mood for her shit today. He took his gaze off the spectacle that was their substitute teacher, glanced at the clock, and just resigned himself to it.
The sound was loud, and in the near distance. It sounded like someone’s tire blew out while driving fast. It was a hard pop, and, along with that sound came one long, dreadful scream.
The entire room grew silent in the wake of that sound. No one talked. No one breathed. The sound of the clock moving a second hand was the loudest noise in the room.
“What was that?” the substitute asked.
“I don’t know,” someone whispered back. There was burgeoning panic in that frantic reply.
Another hard pop, and a wavering high-pitched scream.
“What the fuck?” Jamal asked.
The loudspeaker made that strangely annoying static noise it made when it came on. The principal’s voice dominated the room.
“Attention classrooms of East West High, it seems we are in the middle of a school shooting. If you would please move to the back of your classrooms and retrieve your Security Blankets in an orderly fashion…Please do not try to leave the classrooms. This is standard procedure in these situations…Just retrieve your assigned Security Blanket and everything will be okay…”
There were several more pops—gunshots. And several more screams, each one higher and more horrible than the last. Some went on and on, the agonized shrieks of those in pain—dying.
“Oh my God,” Ms. Rodriguez moaned in horror.
“…I repeat,” the principal continued. “Classrooms of East West High, retrieve your Security Blankets. This will be over in a matter of moments as long as no one panics. Do not confront the gunman. Do not run out into the halls. Get on your hands and knees, and put your Security Blankets around yourselves in the procedure we have practiced. The police are on their way…”
Jesse couldn't move, but chaos reigned all around him. It was like he was in some special place outside of all of this, watching it like it was some horrible dream. The gunfire was coming closer by the second. He heard screams in the hallway. The substitute teacher rushed past him, less pretty now that her face was a picture of horror.
Everyone was moving at once—surging toward the back of the classroom like a fleshy sea. They had practiced this a thousand times—but in the culmination of the horror all grace and order was gone. Chairs were turned over and scattered everyone. Several people started crying outright.
Someone smashed into the classroom door and a pale hand left a dark red blood streak on the glass. A face was visible for a second, the eyes wide. He recognized the other boy. Paul Cranston. Science nerd who’d somehow lost his glasses. A little geek who, Jesse secretly thought, was going to change the world in some big way. Paul’s startled, agonized, face slid out of sight.
You’re not wearing your Security Blanket Mr. Cranston, Jesse thought insanely. He felt the smile curve his lips—a terrified reaction of his face for a joke that really wasn't funny.
The slightly hideous, oh-so-plastic, grin faltered when he actually heard Paul answer him.
That’s because they’re stupid, Mr. Martin. An incredibly stupid way to solve the problem of gun violence in America. The essence of putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound, excuse my terrible pun and darkish sense of humor. The next thing they’re going to do is have us come to school in bullet proof vests. Or hell, maybe they’ll arm us and we can shoot it out in the classrooms like Billy the Kidd and Butch Cassidy…
Blood—thick and bright—seeped under the door. At first it was a trickle, and then it became a river, moving over white linoleum like a thing sentient and alive. Just outside the door, Paul’s voice welled into a terrible howl, that clipped off suddenly and became horrific begging. “Please,” he said, “Pl-Please. N-No. Don’t--”
A face wearing a dark ski mask appeared suddenly at the classroom door’s window. Jesse felt like a statue—a thing made of solid marble. His mind told him to move as he stared into the gunman’s eyes, but his body simply would not obey. He understood the meaning of rooted in fear then—completely. His bladder felt heavy. Distantly, he wondered if he were going to piss himself before he died.
“…I understand that you are afraid,” the principal’s voice said over the loudspeaker.
…Afraid to go to school,” Paul’s voice said. …Afraid of getting beaten up by bigger kids because you’re smart or gay or black. Or all of those things. Or none of those things. Just different. Afraid of lackadaisical teachers who think we need to ‘toughen up’ … or the predatory ones. Afraid of being so bored with the mundane, watered down, curriculum that you’ll quit and have no future at all. Afraid of not doing well enough to secure a good future. Afraid of being shot by some kid that’s feeling all those fears and can’t control it…
“…but I assure you that we have this situation under control…”
…Out of control. Everything is out of control. Big Money says guns are okay. So what if a few kids get killed in the process of making all that delicious money. Fuck, even the Security Blankets are going for a thousand dollars a pop. Pay a thousand dollars and save your children. Standard Issue Security Blankets will keep them safe during those war-like sojourns in school. This is another test. Live or die. The results will be on your taxes. Along with the price of the gun this fucker’s using to kill you today, Jesse My Man…
The doorknob turned and didn't open. Jesse was surprised that someone had had the forethought to lock it against the intruder. A second later and the butt of the madman’s rifle smashed through the glass of the door. A dark clad arm reached in, grabbed the knob, and turned it.
“…The police are here. Can you hear the sirens? It’s almost over. Just remember you’re Security Blanket and you will be okay…”
…Bullshit… Paul snapped. …Stupid, greedy, and careless is never okay. Someone always pays the price. Today it’s us. Tomorrow it’ll be someone else…
“Here’s Johnny,” the gunman cackled madly before exploding into the room. He was dressed in all black—a grotesque TV depiction of a vigilante murderer, but, Jesse had recognized his voice. It was Craig Jackson—a kid as low down on the social scale as Paul Cranston ever was without any of the brainy potential.
Jesse sat in his seat in school being stared at by his would-be murderer with the voice of a dead boy in his head. He could see Paul’s body now, just outside the door way. Behind him, his Spanish class cried out in a symphony of terror, the uniform sound broken only by the occasional plea. He turned his head to see them because the killer’s eyes were on them and they were a solid wall of orange—draped in the security of the school issued blankets. The things were bullet proof and damn near military grade.
“Fuck it,” the killer said.
…He sounds just like the goddamn government, Paul said. His voice was soft under the wailing of sirens, the screams of the classroom, the noise of the gun and the pounding of Jesse’s terrified heart.