I knew something wasn’t right the moment I walked into Mrs. Knickerbocker’s class on Thursday morning. We called her Mrs. N. because of the silent K in her name. She felt it unnecessary to acknowledge its existence and made sure we didn’t.
Mrs. N taught our 10th-grade history class and challenged us to the point of stressed induced screaming, but despite how difficult the class was, I enjoyed her as a teacher.
Any other day she would be found sitting up straight at her desk, a smile on her face, makeup done perfectly and her brown hair in a tight bun. But today, she slumped over. Her hair lay limp and dead in a messy thrown together bun, tiny pieces of hair poked out in different directions.
I sat down at my seat in the back, keeping my gaze on Mrs. N.
“You think someone died?” asked Roxanne, my best friend since Pre-k, as she chewed her pencil.
“I don’t know, maybe. Wouldn’t she take the day off?”
When the bell rang, everyone fell silent. They didn’t want to be caught by Mrs. N acting out during class. They all stood slowly and faced forward to gawk at our teacher as she lifted her head from the desk to join them for the pledge of allegiance. Her normally tanned complexion looked pasty white and the dark bags under her eyes told the story of a long night without sleep. She stayed at her desk but didn’t stand; her hands fidgeted under the desk as if she were playing with something.
The principle’s morning announcements boomed over the loudspeaker and Mrs. N continued to gaze around the classroom not looking at any one person in particular. The principle said something about homecoming then clicked the machine signaling that announcements were over. Almost on cue, Mrs. N stood up. Shaking a little, she walked over to the door and closed it behind her. I could have sworn I heard the echo of a locked door, but it seemed no one else noticed.
Our teacher looked weak as she made her way back over to the dry erase board to write our daily journal entry on the board. Goosebumps raised on my arms. I turned to Roxanne to ask her if we should tell anyone about Mrs. N’s condition but her pencil scribbled in her journal. I pulled out my journal from my backpack to start the assignment after Mrs. N sat back down at her desk again. She fidgeted with something under the desk again. The hairs on the back of my next shot up, sending shivers down my spine.
After ten minutes of silence, she spoke.
“How many of you know what causes fear?” Her voice dry and shaken.
Samantha, a blonde girl in the front of the class, raised her hand.
The kids didn’t like her for being the teacher’s pet, or maybe they just thought she could be annoying. Either way, she wasn’t a class favorite.
“Yes…dear?” Mrs. N said forcibly as if ‘dear’ stuck on her tongue.
“”Fear is caused when you see or hear something you’re afraid of,” She said, with a big, dumb smile on her face. I hadn’t liked her since she beat me in the spelling bee in the first grade. Everyone knew how smart she was then and she wasn’t afraid to show off.
“Yes, but no.” Mrs. N scooting forward in her chair. “Fear itself isn’t just caused by seeing the thing you’re afraid of, it’s much deeper than that,” She said as she slowly looked around the room. “Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts under the stressful stimulus and ends with the brain giving off a chemical, making your heartbeat increase, which energizes muscles, and gives that feeling we all call fear. This is the fight or flight response.” She paused and looked around the room with a slight smirk on her face. “Most people believe that you wouldn’t be afraid of many things if you knew you weren’t going to live long,”
Abbey raised her hand. “Mrs. N, are you feeling ok?”
Finally, someone noticed.
“Yes,” she spat “Perfectly fine.” She opened the drawer.
I stared at my teacher as my hands grew sweaty. The tension in the room grew too uncomfortable levels. It hung in the air around us.
“Do any of you know how long you’ll live?” Mrs. N asked, her hands moved behind her desk again. I saw her hand reach inside a drawer, pulling something out and setting it on her lap. “Someone answer the question,” She said “Anybody?”
Sam, once again, spoke up first.
“Um…Mrs. Knickerbocker? I don’t think any of us truly know how long we’ll live for. It’s just not possible unless you have some kind of disease or a doctor tells you, but even then, it’s just an estimate.” Sam’s eyes fell to the floor, along with the corners of her mouth.
“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to say you’re wrong. Even Samantha Ryder can be wrong. Oh so wrong.”
Mrs. N pulled a gun out from her lap and pointed it straight at Sam’s head.
The entire class screamed in terror, knocked their desks over and ran for the door. Benjamin tried the knob but it wouldn’t twist, it was locked from the outside. My heart pounded in my chest as Roxanne ran to me and pulled me to the back of the room. Sam, on the other hand, still had the gun pointed at her head and wasn’t moving. She didn’t blink or make sound and her whole skin faded to a pale yellow. The entire class spread out against the back wall, as far away from Mrs. N as possible.
“Alright now,” Mrs. N said, “I know you have them. Everybody, take out your cell phones and throw them into the corner.” She grabbed Sam’s shoulder and pointed the gun at the class.
We all reached into our pockets and threw our cell phones as instructed.
“Now do you understand?” She said collecting the cell phones and placing them on the desk. “That pounding in your chest is the adrenaline; that chemical I spoke about.” She pointed the gun back at Sam’s head “I bet Sam’s heart is beating faster than all of yours. She’s so scared she can barely breathe. What would you call that class, fight or flight?” She looked back at us; all our classmates hugged friends or cried out their pain and fear. I had Roxanne, and I wasn’t letting her go.
“Well?” She yelled at us. At the same time, she pulled the hammer back on the gun. Sam’s whole body jumped. “There’s no need to raise your hands, just call it out.” Everyone watching could tell she wanted to pull the trigger.
Zack Evans, a small black boy, stepped forward. Ashley Cruz, a tiny red-head attempted to pull him back by the hand but missed. “I-I think it-its…um…the, um… flight response,” He said then quickly made his way back over to Ashley, who burst into tears. I didn’t blame her.
“Very good, Zack,” She smiled, “Ok, next question.”
She lowered the gun and pulled the trigger. Someone screamed. Sam dropped to the floor. Roxanne and I ran to the project tables and threw ourselves underneath them. I peeked out at Mrs. N from under the table; she had bent down and picked up Sam; blood poured from Sam’s open wound, and she pointed the gun at her again. Most of the class screamed and tried to find a way out, while the other half stood petrified.
“Next question,” She said to the frantic class. “You fall in love with someone, but you’re married, they threaten to tell your husband, is that fight or flight?” she asked holding the gun right under Sam’s chin, who whimpered and held her stomach.
Nobody answered her question; they all just stood there.
“It’s being a fucking coward, that’s what it is!” She pointed the gun at the back wall and fired.
Benny Kita grabbed his leg in agony as the bullet passed through and embedded itself into the wall behind him. His friend Andy ran to his side and helped him apply pressure to the leg.
Why hasn’t anybody heard this yet? I had an idea but I wasn’t positive. I turned to Roxanne and nudged her with my arm. She looked at me with bloodshot, tear-filled eyes. I wanted to hold her but it wasn’t the time.
“Was this room the old band practice room?” I asked, dreading the answer.
Unable to speak, she nodded.
I was right; the room was soundproof, and that’s why nobody on the outside heard anything. I looked out from under the table again; Mrs. N. still held the gun to Sam’s jaw. Her face matched the color of the crimson puddle on the floor. Sam’s body swayed and her eyelids drooped. Benny’s leg still gushed blood but it didn’t look deadly.
“Tick, tock, tick, tock, Sammy’s looking bad,” Tears streamed down Mrs. N’s face as she jammed the gun harder under Sam’s chin.
My heart almost froze in mid-beat when I saw a foot in front of me, Gabriel’s cell phone attached to the side of his backpack. Edging myself slowly toward his phone, I tried not to make any sudden movements.
“What are you doing?” Roxanne asked; her voice hit a new high octave from the fright in her throat.
“Shhh,” I hissed back.
I crawled out from under the table on my stomach, my fingers inching closer toward the phone; I could almost feel its cold plastic against my skin.
“Well, what do we have here?” Mrs. N said staring right at me.
I tried to get back under the table but she took the gun away from Sam and pointed it at me. I could feel my fingers, toes, and bottom lip go numb, I could barely move.
“Come on Isaac, get off the floor, it’s dirty,” she said with another one of her laughs. I had to stand up or get my head blown off. I stood up slowly, making sure to maintain my eye contact. Mrs. N didn’t blink once as she followed my eyes with hers.
“Over here, Isaac. I have a few things I would like to say to you.” She said when I got on my feet.
I walked over to Mrs. N and got as close to her as possible without touching her. It wasn’t by choice, she pulled on my shirt. I could smell her perfume, mixed with the scent of Sam’s blood.
In the time it took me to walk the few steps over to her, Sam had passed out. Mrs. N stared at me with her intense watery eyes. She smiled slightly and dropped Sam to the floor, landing her in a puddle of her blood with a splat.
“So Isaac, what were you doing under my tables while I’m trying to teach? Were you making out with your girlfriend?” She laughed and tilted her head to get a better look under the table. I flinched and a squeak escaped my throat. She looked up at me again.
“You know, it’s not nice to ignore the teacher in the middle of the lesson,” she said in a baby-talk voice; my skin crawled.
She lifted her gun and pointed it at my forehead. I could feel the warmth from the last report on my cold skin. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. Roxanne flooded my mind. My pulse began to quicken but my breathing slowly decreased. I knew any minute my life would be over.
Mrs. N. pulled the hammer back on the gun slowly, she did this, I believe, because she thought the sound would be scary. It was terrifying. The barrel of the gun pointed directly at my face. I could see the black hole where the bullet would appear to make contact with my forehead. I could see the notches and imperfections in the gun clearer than anyone. I could see the jagged edges of Mrs. Ns fingernails. I could see I was about to die.
I wanted to think of Roxanne. Her smile. Her laugh. Her scent. Everything mixed with a huge coating of memories, fear, panic and her. I closed my eyes and remembered her face one last time. I wanted her face to be the last thing I thought of.
I closed my eyes as if to sleep and let whatever happened happen, but nothing did. I stood there for several moments before opening my eyes to see Mrs. N still holding the gun, still standing with it pointed at my face. I stared at her, and for a long while she stared back.
“What’s the matter with you?” Mrs. N finally asked staring at me with fearful eyes.
“Why aren’t you frightened?” she asked pushing the gun into my forehead. “Why aren’t you crying?”
She took her gun and forced me into the back of the room, where all the other students were. Many of the other kids whimpered and ran in the other direction. She stopped walking after my face pressed up against the wall.
Her hands shook hard. The gun pressed to the back of my head wiggled in different directions. My stomach tied itself up and nausea climbed inside me. I turned my head slightly. Her hands still shook but she didn’t speak or do anything. I had to stop myself from gasping. Roxanne crawled out from under the tables. I stared at her until she mouthed the words “Turn around” As soon as I understood her; I turned my head back to face the wall.
“You all know that none of you are going to make it out of here.” Mrs. N said to the class, her hands and voice shook more.
“Mrs. N?” I asked quietly, turning my head a little to see her. This must have been the bravest thing I’ve ever done. “Why are you doing this?”
Mrs. Ns eyes grew wide and her mouth hung open slightly. Maybe because I could still form sentences with a gun pointed at my head. I never knew.
The gun fired, people screamed, and darkness engulfed me. At that moment, I would have bet my life I was dead.
About the Author:
Taylor Morrison is a non-binary writer, blogger and podcaster specializing in writing about the art of writing. They are active in the LGBT+ communities and have an interest in working with mental health activism. Taylor has been writing for most of their adult life and previously was the host of the “Mr. Write” podcast – a podcast about writing for fiction writers. They are currently writing pieces for Medium on writing craft and advice, writing apps, and NaNoWriMo prep strategies. Taylor is a skilled writer of multiple formats and styles. Currently, they are working on creating blog posts, fiction stories, novels, audio books, and more. If you want to support Taylor in their creative pursuits you can become their patron on Patreon at their page patreon.com/TaylorMorrisonWriter. You can also follow all of Taylor’s new blog posts and content at medium.com/@taylormorrisonwriter.