First posted here in 2013, Zero Hour is a story about Sam and Jamie, two teenagers who survive a school shooting.
I hate writing about dreams. I also hate listening to people talk about their dreams, because they’re boring, usually.
But I just had a dream. It was one of those memories within a dream things. I was in a boat on a pond, or maybe it was a small lake, as if there’s any meaningful difference between those two (maybe small lakes are deeper than ponds?), with my grandfather. I hadn’t seen my grandfather since I was six years old, because he died when I was six years old.
Anyway, my grandfather and I were fishing, out of this small boat thing. And he was laughing. And I was laughing. And we were having a good time, because we were laughing. I mean, we wouldn’t be laughing if we were having a bad time, would we?
The dream changed from the boat on a pond to my dining room. I was sitting, and my parents were sitting across from me. My feet couldn’t quite hit the floor below me. They were telling me something sad, because I was crying, and my mother was crying.
The dream changed from my dining room to a church. I was sitting in the front row. My mother was crying. An older gentleman with one of those army beret things on was talking about my grandfather’s service in Korea. He was crying.
So then I woke up. I hadn’t thought about my grandfather’s death in forever. Why was it flooding back to me now?
I can’t help but think this is all a very bad omen.
May the fifteenth, zero days, two hours before. 9:11 AM
I told Jamie about the nightmare.
She said she hated hearing about other people’s dreams. I said “Yeah, me too, but...I can’t help but feel like this is a bad omen or something.”
“Technically, there are no good omens. An omen, by definition, is bad.”
“You’ve been spending way too much time with me,” I laughed. She shot me that smile that made everything seem like it’d be okay, even when it wasn’t.
September the tenth, 978 days before, 1:58 PM
“I don’t believe in God, but if there was a God, I don’t think not believing in Him or not following the One True Faith, whichever that may be, is instant Hell Ticket. I think the basic rule of most religions is don’t be an asshole, and I think as long as you’re not one, you’re good. I can’t imagine peace-loving Buddhists going to Hell just because they’re Buddhists.”
“Sam, you had something to add?”
“I, uh, agree entirely with Jamie.”
That was our first pseudoconversation. It happened in first semester World Religions class. We had had it with each other since September and we were marginally aware of each other’s existence, but we hadn’t met until Mr. McCreary does what teachers sometimes do for little to no reason and changed the seating arrangement around, so Jamie and I were sitting next to each other. We had mostly ignored (though ignore is a bad word to use in this context, more like “didn’t interact”) each other to that point.
McCreary was pretty much letting the us do whatever we want in re a debate about whether or not non-believers or non-adherents get into the “good” afterlife, and whether one bad act was enough to get you knocked into the “bad” one when Jamie said what she did.
To be fair, I was going to say what she said near-verbatim, but she caught me off guard, so I had to stammer out something when McCreary noticed my raised hand.
After I stammered out that I agreed with her, Jamie caught my eye and for the first time she smiled at me the smile that I would fall in love with. It was the first time I noticed how really green her eyes were.
It was the first, and only, time I fell.
May the fifteenth, 0 days, 0 hours and thirty-three minutes before, 10:56 AM
We got our senior year schedules today. I got AP history with Jamie and The Other Sam, with Mr. Chamberlain. That should be good, Chambs is an awesome teacher. Jamie had decided (erroneously, in my opinion) to take AP English with Mrs. Fabregas (or as I liked to call her “Fucking-Ass”), whom we had sophomore year together. She is an awful teacher, an over-critical, condescending bully. I guess AP credits mean just that much to her. The Other Sam, Kennedy and I teased her about it. Jamie and I went to lunch.
March the ninth, 433 days before, 6:39 AM
The doorbell rang, and rang, and rang.
“Honey, I think Jamie is here...” my mother said.
I nodded and shoved an English muffin in my mouth, before opening the door.
“’Sup,” I managed to get out through the muffin.
“Hey, you. Hey Mrs. H. We need to go, we’re gonna be late.” Her skateboard hung loosely in the crook of her right arm, her purple hoodie unzipped. “You’re not even ready!” she yelled with mock exasperation, examining an old photo of me and my grandfather out in the pond. It was black and white, taken with my grandfather’s old camera.
“See, Sam, it’s not just me,” my mother smiled. I chugged orange juice from the carton in response. “You like that picture, Jamie?”
“Yeah, is that your father, Mrs. H?” Jamie asked.
“Yeah. He died about ten years ago.” My mother replied.
“They look so happy,”
“My dad and Sam always had a special bond; Sam was his only grandchild.” My mom said. Jamie kept looking at the picture, before glancing at her watch, startling her into motion.
“Thirteen minutes, forty-seven seconds until first bell. We have to ride through the slush, too. We. Are. Going. To. Be. Late!” Jamie joke-punched my shoulder on “late.”
Eventually I got myself on my bike. We rode through the slush of early March, listening to songbirds, and occasionally cracking jokes. I sped down the hill on Maclellan Avenue, Jamie close behind me. I noticed gravel on the road, probably dumped from some overfull pickup, and swerved to avoid it. Jamie didn’t.
Skateboards make very distinct sounds when they break, the sound of the wheels coming to an abrupt stop followed by the crunching of the wood. Jamie made an oof sound by the time I had leapt off my bike and began sprinting back up Maclellan Avenue.
“Jesus fuck, Jamie, are you okay?” She looked up at me from the gravel, gave me a weak smile.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, board’s all fucked up...” she dusted herself off. Her skinned knee was exposed from her now-torn jeans. I took her hand and tried to get her on her feet. She whined, and couldn’t put weight on her left leg. “Goddammit,” she whined. She looked at her watch, “Goddammit!” She yelled. It was broken.
“We’re going to the hospital, it’s only like two miles away,” I said, slinging her arm over my shoulders and dragging her to my bike.
“What about school?”
“Fuck school!” I said, more forcefully than I intended. I sat her on my bike seat, sidesaddle.
“How are you gonna ride?” She asked. I told her I’d stand on the pedals, and that she should hold on to my waist.
So that’s how we rode the 2.2 miles to the hospital. It had started to rain about halfway through our ride, and she wrapped her arms around my waist more tightly to keep warm. She needs to wear a jacket, just because it’s March doesn’t mean it isn’t cold, I thought, like a father.
When we arrived, I abandoned my bike on the sidewalk near the ER and began dragging Jamie towards the entrance, but not making much progress. Her ankle had swollen to almost double its normal size.
“Fuck it all,” I said, mostly to myself, and grabbed her waist and knees to carry her. She yelped in surprise. We looked like some sort of weird married couple, carrying the bride over threshold of the emergency room.
“What the hell are you doing?” She asked.
“Christ you are heavy,” I responded.
“Gee, thanks, Sam. That’s what every girl wants to hear,” she said with a smile. I smiled back.
“How hard is it to get a friggin’ doctor in a hospital,” I’d said a few hours later, still waiting to meet with a doctor, but now in a room watching soap operas on the tiny ceiling-mounted television.
“Why does every wedding have to be so bizarre in these things. HE’S YOUR LONG LOST TWIN, DON’T GO THROUGH WITH IT!” Jamie said to the TV. She looked away and went back to drawing in her notebook, the tip of her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth.”
“Think about all the time you’ll have to draw now! Here, let me see,” I tried to grab her notebook, something that always annoyed her, which is probably why I did it.
“No, no, and hell no,” she said, pulling the notebook away from me.
“It’s special,” she said quietly, not meeting my eyes. I rolled mine, and settled back in my uncomfortable chair.
“Whatever,” I sighed. “Oh look, stud ex-boyfriend is coming to break up the wedding!” She looked up and smiled.
May the fifteenth, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes before, 11:29 AM
The first gunshots sounded close and far at the same time. I’d heard them, but they didn’t register initially. Then I heard the screams and more shots. A stampede of humanity rushed up from the central stairwell. People crying, screaming. I saw one person, a freshman I had surveyed during history class, covered in blood. She was being carried by an older football player.
“Please, no-” another shot rang out. At this time I was certain I knew what was going down, I just didn’t really believe it, and my body refused to allow me to believe it. I looked at Jamie. All the color had left her face. Internally I was panicking, externally I was moving slowly and methodically. To this day I wonder why I didn’t book it for the east stairwell, which had a direct exit. For whatever reason, Jamie was still next to me. At this point I had reached the central stairwell. I looked down, and saw the first dead body. I saw some people still alive, but mortally wounded. One made eye contact with me. Her eyes screamed for me to help her. I was frozen. I heard Jamie gasp, then gag next to me.
I recognized one of the wounded. She was in the 3rd grade with me. Her name was Mary-Anne Chernikov. A fourth-generation immigrant from Belarus. She had been quiet, and studious. Few friends. I don’t remember ever speaking to her.
At that moment I had decided to rescue her.
At that moment a bullet ripped into her skull. I hadn’t even heard the gunshot.
Jamie was acting on instinct now. She grabbed my hand and screamed “We have to go, now!”
I couldn’t really believe what was happening. As I was sprinting down the second floor hallway, I remembered that I had talked to Mary-Anne Chernikov back in the third grade. She had one of those big boxes of Crayola crayons. The ones that held 64 crayons and usually would make the person who owned them the most popular person in the class. But not in her case. Mary-Anne Chernikov wasn’t so lucky, I guess.
I had asked her for a blue crayon. She had given it to me. I had said thanks.
Washington County Tribune
Our Eye on Washington County and the Quad-City Area
SHOOTING AT JFK HIGH
UNCONFIRMED REPORTS OF OVER 15 DEAD, OVER 30 WOUNDED
PERPETRATORS WERE STUDENTS
SEVERAL CRITICAL IN BRANSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
A shooting occurred at John F. Kennedy High School just before 11:30 on May 15. The perpetrators used AR-15 automatic rifles and Glock 9MM handguns, two popular and easily available weapons. The following is a list of identified victims:
Mary-Anne Chernikov, 17
Emanuel Martinez, 16
Carl Whitmore, 16
Frederick Dawes, 14
Sarah McGovern, 17
Thomas Mueller, 18
Theo Mueller, 18
Jason Blake-Richardson, 18
Ladasha Westmoreland-Johnson, 14
Cristiano Rodrigues, 15
Michael Keane, 16
James Doyle, 18
Misha Daniels, 18
Molly Karp, 17
Christina Cumberland, 18
Gregory Harrison, 51
Liza Fitzsimmons, 39
Fred Hawkins, 47
Lesley Wilson-Fabregas, 54
Brian Haley, 28
Nicholas Raymond, 16
Matthew Yeshua, 15
May the fifteenth, 0 days, 0 hours, and three minutes after, 11:32 AM.
Jamie and I burst through the door to the exit, panting. The serene calm and beauty of this May day seemed almost like it was mocking what was happening.
I was surprised that I couldn’t hear sirens. I wondered aloud if anyone had called an ambulance or the cops.
Looking over the campus, I saw small groups of students huddling together, most with cell phones to their ears. It was at this moment that Jamie vomited on my shoes and collapsed into a fit of sobs.
I sat down next to her, putting my arm around her, holding her close.
It would almost be a beautiful moment if it wasn’t for the circumstances.
I could hear the sirens now, many of them. In what seemed like all at once, police cars and ambulances began filling the avenue directly in front of us.
I heard a volley of shots, and saw some of the blue lights on top of one of the patrol cars explode. I picked up Jamie and ran towards the east, in the general direction of her house.
Once we crossed Van Dijk Street, officially off school grounds, we looked back. It was amazing how normal the school looked.
December the nineteenth, 148 days before, 9:47 PM
It was night and it was cold. Januaries always are around here. Jamie was giggling, a few paces in front of me, her navy knit hat with the Boston Red Sox “B” on the front (well, it was supposed to be on the front, but the way she was wearing it, the B was slightly to my left when looking at her face to face) had a light dusting of snow, as did her shoulders, as did my shoulders.
“You hungry?” She called. It was still snowing, but I don’t think we cared. Stars were inexplicably visible in the snowing sky. The streets were deserted. Winter break was to end the next day.
“Starved,” I grinned. I wasn’t really, but I didn’t want the night to end just yet. She had a way of holding my eye contact, which was something I avoided. Quite simply, I wanted to swim in those green pools.
“There’s this great all-night diner right around here,”
“Are you still in your Wallflower stage?”
We walked down the street in silence, the back of our hands touching ever so slightly.
By the time we reached Moine’s Diner and Cafe, it was past ten. Our parents might start to worry, but I don’t think we cared. We sat in a booth, next to a window. Jamie took off her Red Sox hat, her short blonde hair slightly ruffled. The snow on our shoulders was melting.
“So what do you want?” She asked, glancing down at a menu for a moment, then back at me. She made it next to impossible to lie to her.
“I’m not hungry. I just came because I...” I didn’t know how to finish that sentence. I wanted to say “because I don’t want this night to end” or “because I love spending time with you” or “because I love you”. But I just left it that. She met my eyes. I wanted to look away. I couldn’t.
“You are something, Samuel Neil Higgins.” She said, a smile creeping on her face.
“As are you, Jasmine Grace Miller.”
“Don’t call me Jasmine.”
At this point our faces were close, and she had started to close her eyes.
Our phones vibrated almost simultaneously, breaking this amazing trance. We both sighed and then said “my mom” simultaneously, then burst into a fit of giggles.
May the fifteenth, 0 days, 0 hours, and seven minutes after, 11:35
Jamie and I arrived at her house. It was empty, her parents at work. I looked at the oven clock. I was amazed that it’d been less than ten minutes since we were walking to the cafeteria. Jamie picked up the house phone. I plopped on the couch, the television remote in hand, but afraid to turn on the TV. I wanted to look at the news. But I also didn’t want to. Outside, birds chirped. Distant sirens blared and helicopter rotors chopped.
“Mom?” Jamie said into the phone. She then broke down crying. I wanted to go to her. I grabbed her hand. She recoiled jumped and recoiled from my touch. I reached for my aging cell phone in my pocket. It wouldn’t turn on, so I grabbed Jamie’s. I was certain my mother would’ve heard. Staying at home with baby Emily, probably watching Oprah or Judge Judy. Maybe the networks broke in with news coverage. Or maybe she hadn’t heard because they hadn’t heard. Not yet.
I dialed my grandmother’s number first.
Her “hello”, like usual, was quick and almost curt.
“Sam? Shouldn’t you be in school?” And I broke down crying now. “Child, what’s the matter?” She said.
“Nan, a bad thing happened at school...” I was able to choke out. I could hear Jamie’s sobs lessen in the background.
“What happened, sweetheart?”
December the twenty-fourth, 143 days before, 8:52 PM
I’d had too much eggnog, and my extended family was going through my baby pictures, and my uncle was telling me how he wasn’t happy that Trump won, just that Hillary lost, when Jamie called me.
“Are you busy?” she asked. I looked around my house, at my extended family.
“Not really, why?”
“I have something for you. It can’t wait until school’s back.” She sounded...odd. Different. Not like the confident person whom I’d fallen helplessly, hopelessly in love with.
“I’ll be right over...I have something for you, too.” I told her, now scouring my room for her gift.
“The park. Meet me at the park.” She said as I ripped out a drawer.
Walking around the city on Christmas Eve is nice. Snow falling, no one driving or walking around. It’s like you have the entire city to yourself. Across Maclellan, over Van Dijk, and we were at the park across the street from school. I saw her before she saw me, sitting beneath the statue of John F. Kennedy, a single streetlight illuminating the area immediately around her.
“Hey,” she stood up. She held something in her hand, and held it close.
“I’m sorry...it just couldn’t wait. I finished it tonight.” She handed me the piece of paper.
“Oh my god,” was all I could manage. She had drawn my grandfather and I, sitting on that boat on that pond, but she had changed the angle, so it was our faces up close. She added color, made our grins wider. She had captured his....essence perfectly. “Oh my god Jamie,”
“Remember what I was drawing in the hospital? That I wouldn’t show you?” She had tears in her eyes. So did I.
“I have something for you too,” I said. She grinned.
“Remember your watch? That you broke when you fell...that same day?” She nodded.
“It was destroyed,”
“Well, finding a decent watchmaker in the 21st century is really, really, really hard, but I found one, and...” I pulled her watch out of my pocket, ticking away. She grinned even wider.
“Merry Christmas, Jamie,” I had intended to say. Before I could she flung her arms around my neck and placed her lips on mine. We broke away for a moment before diving back in, my hands running down her jawline, onto her neck.
May the fifteenth, 0 days, 0 hours and 19 minutes after, 11:48 AM
Jamie’s mom burst through the front door, makeup smeared, pantsuit disheveled, her left heel broken, a look of pure and utter terror on her face, as if her daughter would’ve been murdered by a psychopath even when she was at home, away from the school.
I was almost shocked (as if I could be shocked anymore) at how quick she was able to get home, as I had imagined dozens of roadblocks around JFK.
I still held the remote. I still wanted to and didn’t want to turn on the TV.
“Jamie, oh Christ!” Jamie’s mom said as she burst into the house, immediately pulling Jamie into a tight embrace. My grandmother was reciting old prayers on the phone, and I was phasing in and out of consciousness.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done...” I whispered back at her.
“Sam, oh my god.” Jamie’s mom said breathlessly, grabbing me and pulling me into a hug.
“Nan, I have to go now.”
“Where are you?” She said, almost panicking.
“At a friend’s house. Her mom is here.”
I went to the refrigerator to get myself some water. I saw crayon drawings done by Jamie’s little sister, Sam. They were done in blue.
I vomited on Jamie’s kitchen counter.