SURVIVING THE FALL: Chapter One

                                                                                                            

Surviving the Fall

By

Rebecca Inch-Partridge

 

 

Chapter 1

“A lot has been said, discussed, debated and even argued about my mother. I thought it was time to tell her side of the story. So here is it, partly in her own words, so people know the truth and better understand really what happened.”-- Zack Wallace, 33 years After the Fall.   

 

Irene knew she needed to stop the gunmen before they reached the high school quad, but had no idea how. They strolled across the parking lot, rifles slung over their shoulders, as if they had all the time in the world. One glanced her way. Irene ducked down in her car, fumbling through her purse for her cell phone.

“What the hell?” a young male voice asked.

A short burst of automatic gunfire erupted.  Irene peeked through her windshield in time to see the young man in front of the gunmen go down.  She recognized him as one of her freshmen students.

Someone screamed. Without hesitation, the gunmen fired at the few students lingering around the entrance to the quad. Irene instinctively ducked back down. She punched 9-1-1 into her phone and hit the green button, then peeked again. The gunmen were entering the quad, shooting randomly side to side as they walked. She dropped her phone even as it rang. The police wouldn’t get there in time. 

The thirty-five-year-old history teacher forced herself to sit up enough to look through the steering wheel, put the car in gear, and went after the shooters. By this time, everyone had started running for cover.  If the two got to the gym, where over two hundred students were attending the pep rally, there’d be a slaughter.

 Irene stomped on the gas, drove over the curb, tore through the front flower bed and swerved around the large planter boxes. But now the shooters were deep inside the quad. There was a fence between her and them. She spotted that the gate to the right had been left unchained for the landscape crew. She plowed her 2010 Mustang through it. The loud crash distracted the gunmen for a moment.

 “9-1-1 what’s your emergency?” she heard a woman’s voice faintly from her phone, as it flew to the floor of the passenger side.

 “Help!” Irene screamed as bullets struck her vehicle. She dived sideways until she was almost lying in the passenger seat, but kept her hands clenched on the steering wheel, “John Adam’s High School! Two shooters!”

She realized she might hit innocent bystanders if she didn’t force herself to look where she was going. She raised her head just enough to see over the dash. One of the shooters was only a few yards away and running in long desperate strides away from her. He turned to bring the rifle to bear. Irene forced herself not to flinch as her car struck him.

She saw his shocked face all too clearly as his body slid up the hood and slammed into the windshield before he fell off to one side. She recognized her former student, Billy. She resisted the urge to hit the brakes as her Mustang thumped-bumped, thumped-bumped over him.

 Irene had known he’d be one of the shooters. Last year, she’d tried to reach out to him and his friend, Todd.  She had failed. And when it became clear their emotional issues were beyond the school’s ability to help, she’d worked to get them expelled. Now Billy and Todd had come back, and she had just killed one of them. And she’d probably have to kill Todd too.  Bile came up and threatened to gag her. She swallowed it back, knowing she'd do whatever she had to do to make him stop shooting people.

The petite redhead turned her Mustang toward Todd as he shouted Billy’s name in horror. He swung his rifle around and a steady stream of gunfire spattered her car. That suited Irene just fine.  At least he wasn’t shooting any more students.

The searing heat of pain streaked across her forehead. Blood ran into her eye. She pressed a hand to the spot to stem the flow. “I’ve been shot!” she yelled to the dispatcher on the other end of the phone.

Todd stopped shooting and dashed toward the gym. Irene turned the wheel and aimed her Mustang diagonally across the quad to cut him off. But he was almost there, and her car began to sputter and smoke.  She ignored whatever the dispatcher was saying and called out, “Several students are down. There’s only one gunman left, but he might make it to the gym. It’s full of students.”

Even as she said it, she realized she wouldn't get there in time. “Oh God! You have to hurry. Get someone to the gym! Tell them to evacuate the students through the south--"            

Alex Kevin, the science teacher, hurled his laptop bag at Todd. The tall, lanky teen turned and fired as Irene’s friend and colleague threw himself back behind a large, cement planter box. Todd turned back toward the gym, shooting at the students running toward the enormous brick building hoping to find cover. They hadn’t realized that the gym was his target.

Of course the site of where he’d been so humiliated was his goal. The guys in the locker room had thought it’d be funny to grab him from the showers and throw him out of the locker room and into the gym naked. Now dozens of innocent teens and staff where going to pay the ultimate price for that cruel prank.

Alex grabbed a backpack lying next to him, took out a large textbook, stood up and chucked it at Todd. The book struck him in the head. Todd changed direction. He came around the planter and shot Mr. Kevin’s point blank in the face. The text book that the teacher held in front of him did nothing to stop the bullet. Blood, bone and brain matter showered the concrete.

 “No!” Irene cried out, angry with herself and her dying car for not getting her there in time. But her friend’s sacrifice gave her enough time to catch up to Todd. Her car slammed into the dark haired teen and then the gymnasium wall, pinning him.

Irene’s head smacked the steering wheel. She stayed crouched down, panting and crying. She waited to see if he’d get off one last shot. When it didn’t come, she looked out the shattered remnants of her windshield at Todd’s mangled body.

He remained upright, squished against the brick façade from his hips down. His head turned slightly.  Blood gushed from his mouth. His eyes came to rest on Irene. He tried to lift his rifle, but his fingers lost their grip. The weapon fell to the pavement with a clatter that was loud over the silence that had descended upon the campus. Then his acne pocked face became slack. His body collapsed, folding onto her hood with a bang.

Irene jumped, screamed and bailed out of her wrecked Mustang. She kicked the gun out of her way and rushed to Todd. She searched his neck for a pulse. There was none. She collapsed against the bloody brick wall and slid down to a fetal position.

The analytical part of her brain knew there were a lot of wounded people who needed help. Even though she was just a history teacher now, in her younger days she’d been an EMT. The emergency responder still within her clicked over to mass casualty incident protocols. Her head resounded with the word TRIAGE.  The injured needed to be triaged.

But how could she possibly sort her students and colleagues by their degree of injuries? How could she declare anyone beyond help? But that was what had to happen so resources could be diverted to those who could still be saved.

She decided it was better than facing the fact that she’d just killed two teenage boys. Boys, she had given up on. She tried to get her legs under her and stand.

A fellow teacher came up and took her gently but firmly by the shoulders and pushed her back down. “No. Don’t get up. You’ve been shot.”

 “I’m fine. It’s superficial. Go help the others,” she insisted, even as blood ran into her eyes stinging like hell. She used her shirt to wipe it away, but more trickled down her forehead. In frustration she shoved her would-be helper back. “Get the walking wounded over to one side. Tell everyone else who’s not hurt to find someone bleeding and put direct pressure on the wounds.”

Reluctantly the teacher left her. Irene crawled over to Alex. Her friend had purposely distracted Todd so he wouldn’t make it to the gym. She reached out and groped around his neck searching for a pulse. She’d known there wouldn’t be one, but she still had to check. She knelt on the ground beside him helpless and defeated.

“Mrs. Wallace?” a terrified voice whispered from the other side of the planter. Irene looked up and leaned to one side to see two girls huddled together. “Is it over?” the first girl asked, still whispering.

“Yes, Shovannah. It’s over,” Irene managed to say. Sirens wailed from somewhere still distant, and she  wished to God the EMS personnel were already there. She couldn’t hold it together much longer.

The teens scrambled to her like preschoolers looking to the nearest adult for protection. They froze at the sight of Mr. Keven’s dead body. The second girl started heaving as the first one screamed hysterically.  For Irene, the world suddenly came back into focus. She heard the cries and pleas for help coming from all around her.

“Are either of you hurt?” she asked, once again in EMT mode.

“I twisted my ankle, and she hit her head pretty bad,” the Shovannah reported.

“Okay. But neither of you were shot? Right?”

They both shook their heads. “But you are. Your head.” Shovannah reached out as if to touch the wound on Irene’s forehead, but then withdrew her hand. Irene stripped off her sweater and tied it over her head like a bandana. At least it slowed the blood to a trickle. 

“And he was.” Shovannah pointed over her shoulder. Tommy sat curled up against the other side of the planter holding his gut. Irene crawled to him; she didn’t trust her legs to support her.

He was groaning with each breath and only semiconscious. Irene tried to do a primary survey: airway, breathing, circulation, she chanted to herself. Besides the obvious gut wound, he had bullet wounds to his shoulder thigh. Irene knew what she needed to do, but she alsoknew she was on the verge of passing out.

“Listen to me,” she ordered the frightened girls and injured senior, “I’m about to faint. You need to have him use his jacket as a bandage over the stomach wound and have him hold pressure as tight as he can. Then one of you find something to use on the shoulder to do the same thing. The other needs to take care of his thigh. When the paramedics get here. Make sure they know right away that Tommy’s here, and that he’s critical--"

 Her vision turned from white, to grey, to black. Irene surrendered to the darkness with a sense of relief. At least now she wouldn’t have to deal with anymore of the aftermath. Now she wouldn’t have to face what she’d done.

 

 

# # #

From the Journal of Irene Wallace

December 10th  (approximately 70 hours before the blast)

 

 I hate my life! And don’t know what to do about it. Actually that’s the worst part. There is nothing I can do! Damn, I wish I could go back and change what happened. I keep wondering if I could have done more. Wondering if things would have been different if I hadn’t helped get them expelled.

Since I can’t go back, sometimes I wish I’d died that day. Hell, my life is over anyways. What does it matter that I still breathe. Of course, I feel bad at having to kill those boys. But I feel a lot more guilt over all the innocent lives I couldn’t save. Then there are those still recovering from their wounds and those who will never fully recover.

Shit! Shit! Shit. After three months , all I can think about is that I should have been able to keep this from happening.

It’s not like I didn’t have fair warning. I’d been having those nightmares about a shooting for months before it happened. But dammit they were just bad dreams. It’s not like I’ve ever believed in premonitions. And once it became obvious that they didn’t want help, and that their families weren’t willing to do anything about the situation, I thought I was doing the right thing by getting them kicked out and sent over to continuation school. I thought that’d be the end of it.

When the nightmares didn’t stop, I should have known they’d come back. I should have believed them. But how crazy is that?

It doesn’t help that the media is constantly hounding me and my family “about the incident.” That’s what they call it, “the incident.” As if three students and two teachers weren’t murdered in cold blood. Like there aren’t over a dozen other people recovering from gunshot wounds.

Worse yet, the idiots can’t seem to decide whether to make me out to be a hero or a villain. At first, everyone was singing my praises as the person who saved countless lives. The person who kept this from becoming the next Columbine.[1] Then after the police officially cleared me, Todd and Billy’s family’s filed a freaking law suit.

Oh God I don’t know whether to hate them or feel sorry for them. But they’re making our lives Hell.  First it was their relentless media campaign and now this.

Okay, maybe I do hate them. I sure hate the media. Right now, I hate the world. Hell, I hate myself.

I think I’m going crazy. I can’t sleep and when I do there’s a new nightmare haunting me. Yeah, I’d expect to have bad dreams about “the incident,” but these don’t stop there. They’re not flashbacks of what happened. They start with that then morph into something else. They’re scaring the hell out of me!

In the new dreams, an old Asian woman is clutching the body of a child. Then she morphs into my mother, and she’s holding Zack in her arms and wailing. It’s not like any cry I’ve ever heard from her. Not even when my dad died. This is the scream of a banshee. Then everything changes to this idealistic image of my family at a park. But then there’s a mushroom cloud behind them and they melt in a fireball. These dreams of apocalyptic fire come nearly every night.

I feel like the damn characters in the movie Nightmare on Elm Street.[2] I never want to close my eyes and sleep again.

How the hell am I supposed to go on with my life?

I guess it’s not like I have any choice. For Zack and Tom I have to. Well, for Zack at least. Our son is the only bright spot left in my life. Things aren’t going so well between me and Tom right now. But for Zack I’ll find a way to keep going.

 I’m not sure if I’m really ready to go back to work tomorrow. Sure, the Freud[3]-in-a-box, quack that the school district made me see cleared me. But I didn’t tell him about the nightmares or the fact that I wish I’d been killed by that bullet. Instead, I’ve got this ugly red-line of a scar across my forehead that constantly reminds me of what happened and that that particular nightmare came true.

I haven’t told Tom about the new nightmares. Maybe I should, but I just can’t. Right now we have enough to deal with the civil suit and all. Of course I was named along with the entire school district, the High School and the principal.

We were assured that the school district’s lawyers would protect us, but Tom’s afraid they’ll throw me under the bus. So he hired an attorney to work with the district’s lawyer. It’s going to cost a fortune, but this lawyer assures us if the suit is ruled to be unfounded, Todd and Billy’s parents will have to pay all the legal fees. He even wants us to file a countersuit for defamation of character. The last thing  I want to do is drag this all out with a countersuit.

I’ve tried asking God what I’m supposed to do about these new nightmares, but so far he hasn’t answered.

Go to Chapter Two

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[1] One of the first mass shootings to take place at a High School.

[2] A popular horror movie from Before Fall.

[3]  A 19th century neurologist who founded psychoanalysis