Mr. Kim takes attendance as the kids work on their warm-up: listing items for their survival backpacks. The all-faculty email had suggested coloring sheets as a calming measure, but Mr. Kim had wanted it to feel like a normal day—there was no need to draw any more attention to it. He saves the attendance page and closes the screen.
Show of hands, he says. Who needs a little more time?
Seven kids raise their hands. Sage Bennett at Table 1, whose page is still blank—he hasn’t even brought a pencil—keeps his hands on his desk. Mr. Kim tells everyone they have three more minutes, but secretly, he’ll give them five.
He opens the all-faculty email, the latest reply from Schulte, one of those not-to-sound-like-a-jerk emails that starts with not to sound like a jerk. Schulte says it’s morbid, handing kids coloring pages instead of addressing institutional this-and-that and the structural blah-blah-blah…Schulte’s only 23, still a kid. He’ll figure it out soon enough. Mr. Kim calls time and all pencils go on desks. They’re finally learning to listen.
Good morning, he says. Someone raise their hand and tell us what’s happening today.
He calls on Juliana Cockrum, who sits next to Sage Bennett at Table 1, and she tells the class what will be happening today.
Juliana’s right, Mr. Kim says. So in about five minutes, Principal Mark will get on the intercom and tell us to shelter. At that point, I will lock the doors and pull the blinds. And then what will you do?
The children call out, so Mr. Kim raises his hand, reminding them to not call out. He then calls on Sam Magtanggol, who sits at Table 6. This is Mr. Kim’s system. If he calls on someone from the front row (Tables 1–3), the next person has to be from the back row (Tables 6–8), then the middle (4–5). Sam tells him everyone is to crouch against the walls, away from the door and windows.
Ayesha Moore, Table 5, raises her hand and asks if they could use their desks as shields. Mr. Kim tells her just huddling against the wall should be enough, and then she asks if she can take her chair with her, hide under it.
Tell you what, Mr. Kim says, if it’ll make you feel safer, and you can do it in an orderly fashion, I suppose that’s okay. So, after Principal Mark tells us to shelter, and we lock the doors and cover the windows, we’ll—
Mr, Kim, Lizzie Stringfellow from Table 3 raises her hand.
My dad—he’s a police officer—says what we should do is break the windows and climb out. He says you hit the corner of the glass—
You know, he’s absolutely right, Lizzie. If our hallway is secure, we would rush out the doors and head toward the fire station. There are situations where we would knock out the windows but this time—
Mr. Kim, Cyrus Montazeri says, wouldn’t we get all cut-up from the glass?
Good point Cyrus, but let’s remember to raise our hand. What we’d do to ensure we didn’t get cut from the glass is we’d throw our jackets over the glass. But we’re not doing that today. Today, we’re just going to be crouching against the walls. Quick thumbs-up if you understand.
He waits for the children to raise their thumbs in the air. He then gives the rest of the instructions. Someone will be coming around and jiggling the door handles to make sure they’re locked, and to simulate an intruder. Mr. Kim tells the children they’re to keep calm and silent when that happens.
Sage Bennet raises his hand, and tells Mr. Kim if anyone broke in here, he’d stab them in the face with scissors. And then Cole Timmons says if someone broke in, he’d spear them like Roman Reigns, and they’d go through the folding wall that separates their classroom from Mrs. Haugen’s room. And then everyone laughs, and then Travis Baalke begins chanting, Tribal Chief, and then Mr. Kim tells everyone to calm down and focus. As the laughter dies down, he forces a smile.
Anyway, he says, we will wait for a second announcement that will give us the all-clear. Then we’ll unlock the doors, turn the lights on, and get back to our desks. And what will the volume-level be during the drill?
Zero, the class shouts.
Mr. Kim, Sage Bennet raises his hand again. I didn’t like the story.
It takes a couple seconds for him to realize Sage is talking about the assignment, the excerpt from Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, the reason they’d begun class listing the items in their survival backpacks.
Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Sage, Mr. Kim says. Here’s the thing, you still need to do the worksheet. And besides, next year in sixth grade, you’ll be reading the entire book. Maybe you’ll like it better when you see the whole story.
He calls on Amari Francis, Table 2, who asks why there’s no recess in middle school when his cousin, who’s in sixth grade at an elementary school, still gets to have recess.
Listen, Amari, Mr. Kim says, I totally—
Attention students and staff, Principal Mark says over the intercom, in approximately 30 seconds, we will begin the drill. Please listen carefully to the instructions.
Mr. Kim holds up his finger and class goes silent. They listen as Principal Mark lays out the scenario and the procedures. As the students head toward the walls, Mr. Kim peeks out the door to check for stragglers. He locks eyes with Schulte, who peeks out from the door directly across, and tries to give Schulte a reassuring look. Schulte winks and shuts his door.
Mr. Kim secures the door and turns around. Children sit huddled against the wall, the one separating their room from Mrs. Haugen’s, knees pressed against their chests, some of them stifling giggles. In the back of the room next to Table 6, Ayesha and a few of her tablemates have crammed themselves into the corner of the room, a barrier of chairs between them and any potential intruder, shielding themselves with books and binders like a Spartan phalanx. He returns Ayesha’s thumbs up and hits the lights.
Amari Francis lies on his back, hands folded behind his head, knees bent, in a sit-up pose. For the rest of the drill, Mr. Kim will think about his recess question. It doesn’t seem fair for some sixth graders to get recess when others don’t. Doesn’t seem fair at all. The door handle jiggles. The room stays silent—Mr. Kim is so very proud of them. He listens to their soft breaths. The jiggling stops.
Jeff Chon is the author of the novel Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun and the short story collection This Is the Afterlife. His work has appeared in Juked, Barrelhouse, King Ludd’s Rag, and Seneca Review, among many other fine places. He is very tentatively working on a new novel.