Home > The Next Best Day(3)

The Next Best Day(3)
Author: Sharon Sala

   Alejandro scrambled to his feet, his dark eyes wide with instant distress.

   “But, Miss Katie, it’s my turn to be leader!” he said.

   “I know!” Katie said, keeping the tone of her voice between regret and it’s out of my hands. “You and Kieran made bad choices. Now, get to the back of the line and do not look at each other. Do not touch each other. And just to make sure, I’ll be watching you to help you not forget again. Allison, you will be leader today.”

   “Yes, ma’am,” the little girl said, and strode to the front of the line like she was walking a runway.

   Katie sighed again. Three more hours and Saguaro Elementary would be out for spring break. It was none too soon.

   The past weeks had been stressful beyond words. By the time she’d returned to work, everyone knew what had happened. Half of the staff wanted to talk about it. The other half just gave her sad, hangdog looks. It was the students who’d saved her sanity. They didn’t know what had happened, and the few who’d asked her if her name had changed were fine when she answered, “No.”

   But today, the kids were antsy to be gone, too, and Alejandro and Kieran were examples of the lack of focus within the building.

   Katie glanced up at the clock again, then nodded at Allison.

   “It’s time. Lead the way,” Katie said, and watched Allison disappear out the door, with the other students in line behind her. Katie stayed toward the back of the line to make sure her little rebels were still there, and up the hall they went.

   They were halfway to the cafeteria when they began hearing popping sounds and what sounded like a scream in another part of the building.

   Before she could get on her walkie to check in with the office, the principal was on the school intercom, and the panic in her voice was enough to freeze Katie’s blood.

   “We have an active shooter in the building. Proceed with lockdown procedures immediately.”

   Katie groaned. She was halfway between her room and the lunchroom so she immediately ran to the nearest classroom, which happened to be Lila’s room, and yanked the door open.

   Lila was already in lockdown mode and running to lock the door when Katie appeared.

   “Lila! We need to shelter with you. We were on our way to the cafeteria. It’s too far from our classroom to go back!”

   “Get them in here,” Lila said, even as she was getting her students on the floor against the far wall, away from the door.

   “In here! In here!” Katie cried, and began hurrying her students into the room.

   A series of single shots rang out, as if the shooter was picking targets, but the screams she’d been hearing suddenly stopped, and the silence was more terrifying than the screams.

   Katie was counting kids as they entered the room, and then realized she was missing two. In a panic, she spun and saw Alejandro back down the hall, lying on the floor with blood pouring from his nose, and Kieran kneeling beside him.

   “Oh my God! Lila! Proceed with lockdown. I’ve got two missing,” she cried, and turned and ran.

   Lila saw the little boys way down the hall, and Katie running in an all-out sprint to get to them, even as the screams and gunshots were getting louder.

   “Hurry, Katie! Hurry!” Lila shouted, and then slammed the door shut and locked it before running back to the students who were now in a state of panic. Some were crying, and some were too scared to move. She had to get them into the safest part of the room and flat on their stomachs. The smaller the target, the harder they were to hit.

   For Katie, the slamming door was a relief to hear. Her students were safe. Now all she had to do was get the last two and bring them inside with the rest of her class before it was too late.

   ***

   Alejandro was crying so loudly that he didn’t hear his teacher calling to them, but Kieran did. When he heard Katie shouting at them, he looked up and realized the other kids were gone and the hall was empty.

   “Get up, Alejandro! Miss Katie said we have to run!” Kieran cried.

   At that point Alejandro looked up and realized they’d been left behind.

   “Miss Katie…I fell!” he cried as Katie came to a sliding halt in front of them.

   “I see, baby, I see,” Katie said. “But we have to run now,” she said, and grabbed them both by their hands and started back up the hall with them, moving as fast as their legs would take them.

   All of a sudden, she heard the sound of running footsteps behind her and panicked.

   Oh God, oh God…he’s behind us. No time to get into another room. No time. No time.

   And then some older students flew past her unattended.

   “He got in our room. He shot our teacher,” one girl cried as she flew past.

   Katie got a firmer grip on the boys and began pulling them as she ran, but the shots were louder now. The shooter was getting closer.

   Then out of nowhere, one of the coaches appeared at Katie’s side. Their gazes met as he reached down to help her. His hand was on Kieran when a bullet hit him in the back of the head, splattering blood everywhere as he dropped.

   Both boys screamed.

   “Miss Katie!” Alejandro cried.

   The shock of what Kieran had seen was too much as his little legs went out from under him.

   Katie yanked Kieran up into her arms and pushed Alejandro in front of her.

   “Run, baby, run!” she shouted. “Go to Miss Lila’s room. See, the door up ahead! Just run!”

   No sooner had she said that when a bullet hit the floor between her feet, and then a second one ripped through her shoulder. It was like being stabbed with fire. She screamed, nearly dropping Kieran, and in a last-ditch effort to save the boys, she grabbed Alejandro and threw herself on top of them.

   Kieran was screaming and Alejandro was in shock.

   Katie’s shoulder was on fire and everything was fading around her.

   God, oh God, please don’t let them die. She wrapped her arms around the both of them and held them close, whispering.

   “Alejandro…Kieran. Don’t talk. Don’t move. I love you.”

   More gunshots rang out. She heard a body drop beside her, but she wouldn’t look. Couldn’t look. And then there were more screams, more shots as Katie took a second shot in her back and everything went black.

   Seconds later, police appeared in the hall in front of them and took the shooter down, but the damage was done. Katie was unconscious and bleeding out all over the boys beneath her.

   ***

   The shooting was all over the news, both locally and nationally.

   Thirty-six hours later, of the five adults who had been shot, Katie McGrath was the only one still alive.

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