WARNING: Graphic content. May be sensitive for some readers.
For a writing prompt, I was challenged to write a story in second person, with the phrase, “You check the time. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late.” This story is graphic, so please read with caution. Thank you!
When Elijah asked you out, you smiled. You had been playing with his feelings for a few months, just for fun. You knew that you wouldn’t ever seriously date him, but one date couldn’t hurt, could it? You agreed and he asked if you would meet him at the mall at ten minutes after ten. The time seemed very specific and strange to you, but you didn’t think too much of it. You consented to meet him then, knowing full well that you wouldn’t arrive at the right time.
You get ready in the morning, wearing a red sundress and black sandals, confident in your looks. You look in the mirror, contemplating yourself. Small waist, big hips, curly blonde hair, straight white teeth, and big blue eyes. You smile at your reflection, content. You glance at the clock. It’s exactly ten after ten. You smile and walk to your car, grabbing your keys and purse on the way out the door.
As you pull into a parking space at the mall, you check the time. Perfect. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late. You check your makeup and hair in the rear view mirror, fluffing and primping yourself to perfection. You give the mirror a smile, checking your teeth. Perfect.
You open the car door and stroll out, heading towards the mall. You notice a strange sound and glance around you for the source. When you don’t find one, you shrug and open the mall doors.
Your ears are immediately met with the sound of human pain. You stare at the scene around you with wide eyes, horrified. Bodies are laying around the mall, some still moving, others eerily still. Plants and clothing racks are knocked over, shops in complete chaos. Blood is coating every surface, the floor, the walls, the couches in the middle of the aisle. You’ve never seen such a dark color of red.
You can’t seem to move, even though your brain screams at you to run. You watch, in seemingly slow motion, as a little boy crawls laboriously to his mother, who is lying on the ground, not moving. Her eyes are wide and staring up at the ceiling. The boy lays on his mother’s chest and cries, begging for her to wake up. Close to them is an older couple, crumpled together on the ground. Neither is moving. You feel something break inside of you as your eyes follow the stream of blood on the mall floor.
A little girl, no older than seven, wearing a bloodstained yellow dress and blonde braids has spotted you, the only person left standing. She starts to run towards you, limping and holding her injured arm.
“Please, help!” she screams. “Save me!”
You make no move to help her, as you are still shocked, but you jump when a gunshot echoes all around you. You cover your ears and close your eyes. When you open them, you see the body of the little girl lying before you. You drop to your knees and turn her over. Her eyes are open, much like the dead mother.
Something shocks you in your body, and you scramble backwards from the girl, pushing her away from you. You struggle to your feet and run to the closest store, gunshots reverberating behind you. You tear through the upended racks and shelves of clothes, fighting to get to the back of the shop. Nothing goes through your mind except terror and the urge to save yourself. You hear a scream and nearly step on a young woman hiding behind the counter. You shush her and crouch down with her. You push her farther into the counter and cover her with your arms, hiding with her.
Minutes or hours pass, you’re not sure which. You hold the shaking woman tightly, ear straining for any possible sound. The gunshots seemed to have gone up the stairs, and every new shot makes you jump and the woman in your arms cry out. You have to constantly shush her and you’ve passed being patient.
Too soon, the gunshots start to come closer until they’re right outside your shop. The woman is crying so hard you have to press your hand over her mouth. She cowers in your arms, her eyes shut tight. Heavy breathing and footsteps start to walk into the store, and you feel a simultaneous wave of calm and panic wash over you. You cradle the woman, whispering words of peace to her. You start praying.
“Dear Father, please help us. Please protect all the people left here and take those who have died up into your kingdom. Please protect us, please help us. Please…” you trail off.
You watch a pair of black boots come into your sight. You look up into a familiar face.
“Elijah?” you ask in astonishment. At first you are jubilant, certain he’s here to save you and he’s survived the shooter, as well. Then you notice a gun in his hand, hanging by his side. The smile melts from your face like frosting. You look up at him with terror.
He smiles a psychotic smile. He lifts his gun, and you silently pray to God. You pray for your family, your friends, the people in the mall, and for Elijah. All this in less than a second. The gunshot is louder than you had ever imagined, and it goes through the shaking woman in your arms like she’s made of butter. You look down at her, watch the blood run from the wound in her head. She doesn’t shake anymore and you do nothing but hold her close and wait for the next bullet that will end your life.
“You brought this upon yourself,” Elijah whispers, his voice barely loud enough for you to hear. “You played with me, taunted me, you made me do this. They are the ones who are killing me. They did this, this isn’t my fault!”
Elijah’s voice has risen to a scream. You cower, ducking your head and pleading with him, “Elijah, please. These people are innocent. If I’m your target, kill me and be done with it.”
Elijah laughs, his smile not reaching his eyes. They stay angry, piercing you with their psychotic glare. “You really think this is all about you? These people know nothing of pain and suffering. They don’t deserve to be here anymore than you do. You are worthless, just like this filth.”
He kicks the leg of the dead woman that you still hold in your arms. You pull her closer, knowing that everything is almost over. You will become another number on a list on the internet for college students to study. You will become a number told to horrify young high school students to gasp at during school assemblies. You will become a gravestone that people’s gazes will slide over as they walk past you to visit their own passed loved ones. You will become nothing. And you’ve accepted that.
As Elijah lifts his gun to point directly at your head, he says, “This is your fault.”
The gunshot, though expected, made you jump. Strangely enough you don’t feel any pain. You don’t see anything spectacular, you don’t feel anything. You open your eyes to see that you’re still in the mall, clutching the dead woman. You look in front of you and see Elijah sprawled on the floor. You hear more footsteps and for the first time, yelling. A man in a blue uniform comes into view and checks Elijah’s pulse. He calls something out of the store and receives a response. He looks around him, and spots you. Again, he yells towards the opening of the store, then looks back to you.
“Are you alright?” he asks softly, as though not to scare you.
You don’t answer. You faint.
Blackness overtakes your vision, then a familiar and unwelcome face. Elijah. Elijah looking at you, Elijah laughing, Elijah smiling. Then more haunting images. Elijah frowning at you after you told him you wanted to be ‘just friends’. Elijah talking about his parents, who left him in an orphanage. Elijah frowning at a child hugging its mother. Elijah talking about the world’s cruelness. Elijah forcing a smile as he met your parents.
You wake up in the hospital, with your mother and father by your side. As soon as you turn your head to face them, your mother bursts into tears. Your father just holds your hand and says nothing, patting your mother on the back.
Trying to talk through her tears, your mother chokes out, “We were so worried about you.”
You say nothing. You think that if you open your mouth, you might scream. You just watch your mother cry and your father console her. After a minute you stare at your father, hoping to answer the question you can’t bear to ask.
He looks at you and says quietly, “Twenty dead and twenty-six injured.”
You close your eyes. Twenty dead. The mother, the old couple, the little girl, the shaking woman. They are just numbers, now. But to you, their family, their friends, they are much more than that. Twenty-six injured. Did the boy make it out or is he one of the twenty? Do they count you as one of the twenty-six? As far as you know, you aren’t injured on the outside. Not in body. Mind may be a different story.
After a while, your parents are required to leave and doctors and nurses ask you how you are feeling. You can’t answer them, but respond with shaking or nodding your head. They are starting to become nervous about your lack of communication. They’re worried because you won’t eat as much as they put on the plate. They whisper things you don’t care about enough to listen to and glance over at you when they think you won’t notice.
After a couple of days filled with tests, nurses, doctors, crying family and friends, you are discharged from the hospital. Since no one trusts you enough to drive yourself, your mother drops you off at your apartment and walks you to your door. She puts the keys in your hand.
“Do you want to be alone?” she asks, the first time she hasn’t been teary within the last three days.
You look to your mother, looking into her blue eyes that look identical to yours. You nod, grateful that she would ask. She nods and without another word walks to the stairs and disappears. You look back to the apartment door. You find yourself procrastinating by studying the wood grain. You try and memorize the lines and highlights of the wood, standing there, as unmoving as a statue.
You look down at the golden key in your hand. You look at the door handle, taunting you. Solitude. The one thing you’ve craved for three days. Right in your hand. In what seems to be slow motion, you put the key in the door and turn it until you hear a small click. You open the door and take a deep breath.
The apartment looks exactly how you left it. Your dining room table with a small stack of mail on it. The only chair pulled slightly out. The pillows on the couch askew. The popcorn bowl still on the table in the living room. The kitchen still a mess. You walk, almost ghostlike, to your bedroom. The blankets are still a cyclone, the decorative pillow still on the floor. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and stare at your reflection. Just three days ago, you looked alive. Now your abdomen looks shrunken, your cheeks hollowed. Your mouth refuses to twist into a smile and your hair is bedraggled. But the biggest difference is your eyes. Your eyes are still big and blue, but now they are wide with fear. You collapse on the bed and start to sob.
For the first time since it happened, you allow yourself to think about the shooting. You sob in anger, betrayal, sadness, and guilt. How didn’t you know that Elijah could act that way? Surely there were signs, but you just missed them? How could you be that stupid?
Who were those people that you saw dead or injured on the floor? What kind of lives did they live? What did they do for fun? Who was their family and friends? How would they grieve them?
And the most important question, why didn’t you save them?
You had the opportunity to save the little girl, didn’t you? That’s what she screamed as she ran towards you. ‘Save me!’ she had cried. And she had died at your feet. The little boy crying at his mother. Couldn’t you have saved him? Or was he even dead? And what about the shaking woman that you had held in your arms as she died? You didn’t even move to save her when Elijah shot her. You should have done something, right? You had your phone in your purse. It wouldn’t have taken much to call the police and maybe save a few more lives. If you had just thought it through instead of trying to save your own skin, maybe a few more people could have had a second chance.
And what about Elijah? What had prompted him to shoot an entire mall? Why had he wanted you there to see it? Did he want to traumatize you? To have revenge? Of course, these questions can never be answered. Elijah is dead. And now you have to live with everything you could have prevented.
Elijah’s last words and questions plagued you the whole night, and you cried yourself out until you could fall asleep. Amazingly, no dreams or nightmares haunted you, and you woke up in the afternoon to a knock on your door. You get up in a daze and open the door. Your mother is standing there, holding her purse.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she says. She steps towards you for a hug, but you back away, still wary. She clears her throat. “The police have asked to interview you about . . . everything. Would you be ready for that?”
You take a deep breath. Are you ready for this? You think about the shooting and Elijah. You think about the twenty dead and the twenty-six injured. You think about the boy, the mother, the little girl, the old couple, the shaking woman. You think of the new orphans, the new widows or widowers, the new childless parents. You think of the fallen, and the ones lucky enough to survive. You look up at your mother and nod. You can’t change what happened to those people, but you can bring justice and awareness to the world.
You walk out to your mother’s car. Before she gets in, you hug her for just a second. You quickly get into the passenger’s seat. Out the window, you see your mother wipe away tears in her eyes. Elijah’s face flashes through your mind, making your vision clear even more. You drive to the police station and walk in, ready to face the world for the crimes it committed.
Thank you for reading!