This short story is based on a fictional account of a campus shooting.


Literary fiction


Whitney Hubbard (United States)

I look like I need somebody to breathe for me. I can’t drink a can of beer without using both hands. I blame my diminution on my mother who refused her pediatrician’s advice about giving me growth hormones. How my pupils stand up at the end of class tragically reminds me of how short I am. Bullies hounded me throughout grade school, pretty girls petted me. If company comes unannounced, I change out of my house slippers in favor of my boots with the two inch heels. My shortness, my smallness, my tininess doom me to bachelorhood. My one sexual experience came with a prostitute. She kept telling me to stop squirming. When my time was up, I asked her for her card. What I thought would have made me feel like a man didn’t until I denied giving her a tip for cigarettes.
It is late Friday afternoon. Our building is empty. Exams are over. Students have gone home for summer. Our faculty meeting is being held in our department’s lecture hall, whose interior is terraced with forty rows or so, with the capacity for holding eighty-four occupants based on the fire marshal’s count. Our number of faculty totals thirty-seven. Seven of us are absent. Nightmarish survival guilt will have those lucky seven seek therapy.
Our core faculty sits in the first four rows. The chairs are attached to long desks, swinging on arms. These chairs are tricky since sitting in them takes athleticism. Most adjuncts, such as myself, find more security from their insecurities toward the auditorium’s upper reaches. Graduate students group together.
I seek out the companionship of Dawn Clinkscales. Even though a seat is available on either side of Anna Romonov, a Crimean exchange student, I am too intimidated to take the chance. Anna is a rangy pro-Russian lynx, who always sits down in my dreams with her skirt expertly tucked. I once said hello to Anna in the copy room, but she overlooked me when turning around. I dream of how I could grant Anna’s desire for citizenship by leveraging a marriage proposal. Anna’s only flaw is that American girls have taught her to cake on the makeup.
Dawn Clinkscales makes room for me. Dawn is non-threatening. Dawn and I share the same office. We share writing assignments and try our best to improve as instructors, but we accept how the university devalues us, and how students attack us in their evaluations of our performances.
Dawn weighs three hundred pounds. She takes the elevator rather than the stairs to our office. When I hear public service messages promoting the statewide health initiative plan, I think of what blisters would form on Dawn’s heels from her walking to work. She keeps hard candy and snacks in an office drawer. I worry that she’ll become diabetic, that her body will be deformed by amputation. I’ve had Dawn and her husband over to my house for dinner. When I gave them the grand tour, it seemed as if they thought my home was incomplete without a woman’s touch. Dawn laughed at the poster of Ronnie Van Zant above my fireplace. Her laugh questioned my politics, and I assumed she might have assumed I was racist based on how Van Zant performed with a Confederate flag as his backdrop. I told her even though Van Zant stood 5’6, he performed barefooted when singing live. I wonder if Dawn worries about me dying alone or being shrunken by old age.
Our meeting goes according to the agenda. Faculty who have already submitted final grades do not have to worry about receiving threats from the Provost about the grade submission deadline. Ideas are brought to the floor, resolutions are passed, minutes are recorded, and questions draw new concerns.
Our final piece of business is addressed by our most likable and cheerful administrator, Sloan Haskell. Sloan has been communicating with the university’s police department in how to proceed in the event of an active shooter. As she’s debriefing us on new developments, the door to her right opens. A pupil enters, carrying military equipment, dressed as a sniper, wearing a holster. Her lunacy is further emphasized by how one side of her head is shaved. She’s got it in for one of us who gave her an F. We never knew she fit the profile of what we’ve been told to look for in students who may need counseling until it was too late.
Her first shot slays the teacher responsible for failing her. This victim had raised her hands to shield her face. Her executioner simply shot through her palms. The shooter now turns indiscriminate with her fire, championing all other students who have failed a Writing or Speech class. Her second shot strikes Sloan Haskell in the back, exiting through her breast plate before magically striking the mouth of a seated Speech Instructor, who pitches forward.
Our assassin smiles a peaceful smile. She shows off her accuracy by shooting a pair of graduate student twins in identical anatomy. Our assassin has a scholarship with the university’s rifle team. She’s wearing a brace on her wrist. Did she injure herself while taking target practice?
The head of our department tries to reason with the murderer but suffers a bullet to the groin. Two instructors, one a husband the other wife, die holding each other. A candidate for promotion is done away with while begging for mercy. The oldest teacher on our staff sacrifices himself by stepping in front of our youngest.
From the center aisle and the side aisles, some of our faculty attempt to rush the assassin, but they are cut to pieces. Between the discharges I hear the metallic bounce of shell casings. I smell America in the gunpowder, and how it reinforces our right to bear arms. In Van Zant’s song “Saturday Night Special,” he didn’t have the forethought to preach against assault rifles.
Mobile phones are being shot out of hands. Anna is slain when running for the top exit. I’ve never seen a body drop with such abruptness. It’s as if gravity was or wasn’t.
A stray bullet catches Dawn in her heart as she’s trying to extricate herself from her complicated desk chair. How I find myself beneath Dawn came about through my instinct for survival. Dawn’s weight has deadened some of what I hear, but I have always had an ear for weaponry, and I can tell the assassin has increased her firepower through the caliber of her sidearm. The intervals between reports grow longer. She must be walking among the dead and dying, in what has been turned into an academic mass grave.
My ears are ringing, but through their ringing I can hear the assassin rising up the middle aisle, getting closer. Her soles are suctioning blood each time they lift to take another step. Where is the rapid response team Sloan spoke of? A panic button should be installed in every classroom. I can’t tell if Dawn is holding her breath for my sake or hers. If the assassin doesn’t kill me by shooting through Dawn, will I perish from suffocation? I never thought that two females would kill me at once until I am spared by how Dawn’s blubber stops the fatal bullet from going through her to unknowingly get at me.

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1



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