In the hallway, gun shots suck all the sound out of the world, reverberating like a skipped record, rebounding against my heartbeat, before crashing back into the world with a pop.

I’m in the bathroom stall, feet tucked underneath me, breath sucked in so hard my ribs ache, thinking this could be my last breathe, and what a waste it would be trapped inside my lungs, its potential shriveled like a burst balloon.

The trampling feet and screams stopped a minute ago, The silence is eerie like gap between songs, that pause where your mind too often wanders toward self-harm. I’m afraid my last moments will shrivel to ash in the face of death, trampled by those who come after me: investigators, news anchors, politicians. I want to tell myself that I’ve felt all these things before, but like a toddler touching a hot stove, there is no preparation for the pain I imagine. No lyric, no meme, no dialogue, just an aura of dread. I pull out my phone, trying to decide who will be cursed with my last message, mother or friend, father, or the world?

Our history teacher, Mr. Kirks, the one who got fired, played us one of those last phone calls from the passengers on 9/11. He said he was trying to teach us empathy. I can’t think about real people. Not now, so I wonder about those people who rushed the terrorists, did they know their phone calls, their husky goodbyes, their final words would become history, evidence of a tragedy, no one unborn would ever believe?

Did anyone see this coming? Who can I blame for these moments of dread? The boy out there, playing soldier; a classmate prowling, wanting the last word, his rage seething, a bonfire doused in gasoline?

Without a witness, a cell phone on record, won’t his violence speak for us all–

But.

I open the bathroom door, eyes squinting (because I don’t think I can look my death full in the face), body pointed toward the stalking shadow. Because. If my death is already foretold, then let it come full-throated, breathe-rib-rattling, arm held out, unyielding.

Tommy Dean is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in the Watershed Review, Spartan, Literary Orphans, JMWW, Split Lip Magazine, and New Flash Fiction Review. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.

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