Almost as if by magic, she no longer had her shoes on. As she walked toward the sunset, she realized that she wasn’t getting any closer. Instead of trying to reach it with her feet, she instead reached out her arm in an attempt to touch it. She stretched as far as she could, nearly to the point of being painful, when-
“Gianna? You still with us?”
Gianna’s eyes snapped open at the sound of her name. She sucked in a sharp breath and shot up in her seat. She did her best to wipe the sleep from her eyes and be present but to no avail. “Yes, ma’am.” Her voice came out groggier than she had hoped.
“Okay. From now on, think you can stay awake for at least half the class?” Mrs. Delaney, Gianna’s teacher, asked.
Gianna nodded vigorously.
Mrs. Delaney gave her a sidelong look but moved on with the day’s lesson without any more questions.
Gianna slumped down in her chair, relief flooding over her. She listened to the lesson for a moment before her mind wandered once again. Hopefully, she wouldn’t stray too far. That’s how she fell asleep the first time.
What a shame. That was a good dream… wait, she thought for a moment. What was it about again? She shook her head and moved her thoughts along, bored with her current one. Gianna pictured herself having lunch with her sister, which always made things better.
Before she even noticed, the bell had rung. She stood and gathered her things, shuffling out into the hallway with the rest of the students. She slowly made her way towards her locker to drop off her bag before lunch. She bumped into this person and that, not remembering any of their faces and not exactly caring. Absentmindedly, Gianna reached her locker, grabbed the cold lock in her hand, and twisted the dial with ease. She tugged the lock, which gave with a satisfying click. The door clanged open against a neighboring locker, and she tossed her bag inside. She shut and locked her locker with the same mindlessness effort she had given everything else that day. More unmemorable faces passed as she practically sped-walked her way to the cafeteria.
“Your sister’s not joining us today, again, is she?”
Gianna startled, then sighed upon recognizing her friend Mina’s face. “Yeah, she is. Why?”
“Gianna! She’s a little attention hog who thinks she’s our age!” Mina then nearly got trampled by oncoming students but continued walking like nothing happened. “Can she just not today, Gi?
Gianna shook her head, “She has no one else to sit with. It would be obvious I stood her up if she ate alone. Besides, Ivy’s funny and has a better fashion sense than me or you.”
“Speak for yourself.” Mina flipped her hair, nearly smacking someone with it in the process.
“Can you pick up the pace?” Gianna asked Mina. “Ivy is waiting for us.” Gianna couldn’t wait to eat. It was her favorite part of the day. She eagerly pictured herself walking through the lunch line and choosing the roast beef and gravy, they went well wi-
Gianna’s eyes widened as countless forgettable faces rushed by her, knocking her to the ground. People stepped on her, pinching her skin and yanking her hair in their attempted escape. Pain shot through her body. She could feel the blood drip from her lip, and she had no doubt that bruises would soon form along her arms and legs.
She drew her arms to the sides of her head. All that surrounded her were racing feet and terror-filled, blood-curdling screams. However, one sound stood out among the rest.
There’s a shooter in the school.
I’m going to die.
All these thoughts raced in her mind as she laid there, caught in a stampede of panicked students. Fear pierced her heart, and she fought the urge to scream right along with everyone else. She gathered her bearings as fast as she could and stood, spinning in place. Mina was nowhere in sight. She didn’t whether to feel relieved or hurt, but she couldn’t dwell on it. Gianna turned to run but stopped herself short, a horrifying image flashing across her mind.
“Ivy,” Gianna whispered under her breath.
Gianna darted in the direction of the cafeteria, opposite of everyone else. Her breath quickened to a pace she didn’t think humanly possible. She stopped at the doors and peered inside. She glanced frantically back and forth for any sign of her sister. Her heart gave a little when she spotted what she believed to be Ivy’s bright pink Crocs sticking out from behind a turned-over table. Gianna had hoped so desperately that Ivy had fled the cafeteria, but if she hadn’t, there was no chance of her being left behind. Gianna had to do something. She didn’t know what, but she would not leave her sister to die, no matter how terrified she was.
Gianna reached for her phone to text Ivy when she remembered Ivy’s annoying text tone that always played on full volume. Should she be in there when Gianna texted her, everyone would know right where she was. Including the shooter.
As she looked through the cafeteria windows again, she saw the back of the shooter walking towards the kitchen doors on the far-left side of the room. In a moment of irrational adrenaline, Gianna opened the door as silently as possible and shut it softly behind her. She gave one last look in the shooter’s direction and took off towards Ivy’s crocs, passing bodies of kids she didn’t recognize. Her shoes clicked louder than she expected, and fear pounded in her bones. She slid behind the table and immediately slapped her palm against her sister’s mouth.
Ivy’s eyes were wide with panic but soon flooded with relief and then tears.
Gianna shook her head and lifted a shaky finger to her lips. She embraced her sister and could feel her tremble against her body. Or was it Gianna that was trembling? She could no longer tell.
Ivy jumped in Gianna’s arms.
The gunshots were close, and so was the shooter’s threatening shouts. “Quit hiding you pieces of sh-”
“I don’t want to die,” Ivy whispered into Gianna’s chest, using the shooters rage to conceal her volume.
“You’re gonna be fine. I promise,” Gianna whispered back.
Gianna glanced towards the cafeteria doors to see faculty and a few, who she assumed to be, parents standing on the other side. She made eye contact with one of these adults and immediately recognized him as her Chem teacher, Mr. Foley. He looked to the others and pointed at the two huddled sisters.
Police could be heard in the distance, coming from the other side of the shooter.
Mr. Foley peered in and waved the girls to him.
Gianna pulled Ivy away and pointed to the door. When Ivy looked at her, confused, she pointed to Ivy then again to the door.
Ivy shook her head fast, not bothering to stop the tears this time.
Gianna didn’t fight them either. She nodded slowly, and when the man beckoned them again, she practically shoved Ivy out from behind the table.
Ivy sprinted, barefoot, to the door, not risking looking back. The man pulled her out to the hall, and she disappeared from Gianna’s view.
The man waved Gianna to him.
Gianna waited half a second before running to the door, her heart pounding and her shoes clanging against the concrete.
Half a second too late.
Gianna fell in a heap to the ground, right next to the other forgettable faces. She could not reach the door with her feet, but perhaps she could reach it with her arm. She stretched as far as she could but reaching shot white-hot pain through her arm. So, instead, it fell to the floor.
Ivy’s scream could shatter glass.
Gianna watched as the shooter fell, becoming no different than his victims.
The adults yelled and reached for Ivy, but none of them could keep her from her sister. She ran and slid on her knees down to Gianna’s body and held her in her arms, covering herself in blood. “No! Gianna, no!” Her voice broke as she screamed.
Tears dropped to Gianna’s lifeless face.
“Please, Gianna. Don’t go. Just stay with me. Please. Just stay.”
Kristin Mitchell was born and raised in Corbin, Kentucky. She is a freshman at University of the Cumberlands pursuing a degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. She is set to graduate in Spring 2024. She also hopes to one day pursue an MFA (Master of the Fine Arts) from University of Kentucky. It is her goal after graduation to travel the world while writing Young Adult novels that touch the hearts of readers through the exploration of life’s hardships and conquerable circumstances.