Palo Alto Weekly 32nd Annual Short Story Contest
Third Place Young Adult

Just Another Monday

By Benjamin Stein

About Benjamin Stein

Benjamin Stein is a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Palo Alto High School. He enjoys playing soccer and tennis, as well as competing for the Paly debate team. And, of course, he is a part-time writer. Part time, in this case, means the annual Palo Alto Short Story Contest and the occasional English essay.

 

Inspiration:
I spend a large, some may say abnormal, amount of time keeping up with the news. This is where I stumbled upon inspiration for this story. After experiencing a bomb threat at Cupertino High School with my tennis team and a lockdown at Palo Alto High School — both in the wake of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 students — I felt compelled to write something about gun violence in schools. My story does not delve into an analysis of the events. Instead, it lingers on the raw, even bloody images that convey the horrors of what life as a student can instantly become.

 

Judge's comments

Three students — two boys and a girl — alternate telling this story of a school day that starts with the usual trivialities but soon becomes violent and deadly as a lone gunman attacks the school and starts shooting. All three narrators are in danger — only two survive. It's a chilling, only-too-real story told by three excellent narrators.
— Nancy Packer

The weekend had been pretty good for Randall. He had done his homework, slept for long enough to make up for the negative hours of sleep attained during the school week, and been on a screen long enough to sufficiently annoy his parents. Now, the weekend was ending with a soccer game against Miguel and Cora.

It would be a stretch to call it a soccer game, thought Miguel to himself. More like a soccer hangout. The three of them were lounging around in the fading light on a Sunday afternoon, occasionally prodding the soccer ball with a bored kick, but mostly talking about school. Miguel had a math test on Monday that he was worried about. He felt inclined to head home and study but he stayed nevertheless. He had precious few moments outside of class to talk with his friends anymore.

Cora shifted her eyes away from her two friends and up onto the sky. It was getting late, and the sun seemed to be ushering out the weekend with a spectacular finale of oranges, pinks, and a streak of red. Cora though it looked like blood. Her two friend followed her gaze up to the heavens.

"It's getting late. I should go soon," said Randall, breaking the silence. He looked around for his soccer ball, only to find it at Cora's feet. Randall grimaced. Cora was by far the best player present, and attempting to take the ball off her would mean certain humiliation.

Miguel laughed. "Go on then Randall; get your ball," he said, adopting a teasing tone of voice. He knew from experience how this would end. Anyone who tried to take a ball from Cora would ultimately end up on their knees, begging her to give it back to them, all attempts to steal it from her in the traditional manner having failed.

Cora toyed with the ball, beckoning Randall to come and get it. She tensed up as he ran at her, recklessly flinging his feet around in an attempt to steal the ball. She expertly wove the ball through his legs, and he collapsed in a fit of laughter.

Randall picked himself up and went in for another attempt, laughing. The three of them played for a few minutes more under the sinking sun, draining every last drop of fun out of the weekend.

- - -

The next morning Miguel woke up to the incessant beeping of his alarm clock. He turned over and looked at his clock. He knew it was 6:30 am, but was surprised that morning came along so fast. Miguel had stayed up late studying and needed to summon all of his will power in order to drag his tired body out of bed.

Cora was already up and about. She liked to get up early. Starting the day off earlier than most took away the stress, she thought to herself as she looked out her window. It appeared as though the blood-like streak from the night before had expanded. The whole sky glowed red.

Randall quickly shoved down his breakfast. He had slept in by about forty-five minutes, and getting to first period history on time was going to be a stretch. If he got another tardy, that would mean Saturday School. Randall shuddered at the thought as he threw his books in his bag and raced outside.

As Miguel biked to school, he caught a glimpse of the sky. The red from earlier was fading, but still present. Miguel didn't like it. He remembered a line that he had read in a book some time ago. "Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning," he muttered to himself. He took some deep breaths to calm himself down and recited theorems that he memorized for the math test, now only twenty minutes away.

Cora was the first to arrive at her English class. She sat down near the front of the room and began to take out her materials. After making sure that she was sufficiently prepared for English class, she pulled her laptop from her bag and checked the homework for other classes. Cora had soccer practice after school and was hoping for a light workload. Unfortunately, both her Math and Science classes had assigned unnecessarily large amounts of homework. Cora shook her head. "Mondays. . ."

Randall sprinted into his History class just as the bell rang. His teacher glanced across at him disapprovingly. The rest of the class was already working on a writing assignment, so Randall hurried to a seat in the back of the room and grabbed his computer and history materials from his bag.

Miguel quickly scrawled his name on the top of his math test. He glanced at the first problem. "Easy," he breathed to himself as he circled the correct answer. All around him, other students were doing the exact same thing. The classroom filled with the noise of scratching pencil on paper. It was calming, thought Miguel, as he went on to question two. Suddenly, the calm was shattered by a loud bang. Miguel looked up. There was another bang. And another. And another. Miguel's classmates jumped out of their seats, looking for the source of the noise. Then the screaming started.

Cora jumped out of her seat, covering her ears. The bangs and the screams were deafening. The rest of the students in Cora's class began to feverishly flip their desks over, forming a small barricade at the door. Cora ran to help stabilize it by adding her own chair and desk to the mass. The students not working on the barricade rushed into the closet. The shots and the screams grew louder.

Randall dived under his desk as the window of the classroom shattered under a sea of bullets. A couple kids sitting near the front of the classroom were hit. Blood gushed out of their wounds and over the classroom floor. Fresh screams filled the air. Randall could see a dark figure holding an assault rifle running away from the classroom.

Miguel closed the window shades to minimize the view for the shooter, and then followed the rest of his classmates into a closet in the corner of his math classroom. His teacher came in behind him, phone in hand. Miguel quickly pulled out his own phone and texted his parents. All around him, his classmates were doing the same thing.

Cora thought her ears were going to explode. The shots were getting closer and closer to her classroom, and so were the screams. This combined with the wailing sound of approaching police sirens to produce a sound that shook Cora to her core. Her teacher lay down by the door with a fire extinguisher, ready to attack the anyone who attempted to break the barricade. Cora was huddled behind a closet door with the rest of her classmates. Some of them were on the floor, silently sobbing. Others sat deathly still, their faces drained of life.

Randall looked around and saw a boy lying on the ground a few feet in front of him. The boy was hit on the shoulder and blood was turning the floor around him a bright crimson. Randall crawled over to the boy, taking off his shirt as he went. Once Randall reached him, he rolled up his shirt and began to tie it around the wound to slow down the bleeding. As he did this, Randall looked down at his own chest. It was covered in blood from another gunshot wound in the boys neck. Randall grabbed the boy's wrist and checked his pulse. The boy was dead.

Miguel looked around the closet, searching for anything that could be used as a weapon. His eyes were barely able to make out a stack of textbooks in the dim light. He grabbed them, and began to pass them out to his classmates. If you hear shots, run. If you see the shooter, hide. If you are within twenty feet of the shooter, fight. Miguel didn't need a ruler to realize that he and his classmates, huddled up in the cramped closet, were within twenty feet of the closet door.

Cora gritted her teeth as the shots grew louder still. They seemed to be right outside the door of her English class. Suddenly, she heard the sound of desks falling. The shooter was pushing through the barricade. Cora shut her eyes. Then came the hiss of a fire extinguisher, shouts from the shooter, and then more shots. Cora's teacher screamed as she was hit by a hail of bullets. From outside the classroom came the sound of a gun ejecting a magazine, followed by a fresh magazine being shoved in and a gun cocking.

Randall jumped away from the dead boy. He looked around the classroom and saw his classmates building a barricade and dragging bodies behind it. Randall grabbed the boy by his arms and pulled his limp body across the slippery, blood soaked floor to the barricade. Randall could feel his heart pounding in his chest, adrenaline being pumped into his bloodstream. He glanced around the classroom. School, a place which he and his friends once thought of as safe, was now a warzone.

Miguel heard the sounds of footsteps in the hallway outside his classroom. Police officers were sprinting towards the English building. English. Didn't Cora have first period English? Miguel tensed up at the thought. School, a place which he and his friends once thought of as safe, was now a warzone.

Cora buckled as bullets penetrated the door of the closet and hit her in the shoulder. Classmates on both sides of her also fell to the ground. She grabbed her shoulder with her other hand, watching in shock as blood made its way through her shirt and pooled up in her hand. Cora dropped to the floor. School, a place she and her friends had once thought of as safe, was now a warzone. And Cora was a casualty.

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