"Aaaah! I’m shot!"
"Help me, please! Someone! Anyone!"
"My arm! I’m hit! Oooh, my arm!"
"Mad shooter! Run! Aaaah!"
Alexis’ screams mingled with those of the crowd as they surged blindly in every direction. They reminded her of trapped animals, wild and unpredictable, stampeding madly, leaving their wounded behind or trampling them mercilessly underfoot. Alexis would need to be careful where she chose to lay down when she was shot.
A new round of gunshots burst forth, the loud rat-tat-tat echoing around them, seeming to come from a dozen places at once. She ran for the outer fringes of the melee, when suddenly she felt a sharp tug at her right pant leg, just below the knee. Looking down, she saw that her leg was soaked in red, and suddenly looking queasy, she swayed and collapsed to the ground, letting loose with a scream of agony which added to the intense panic around her. She slowly pulled herself up on her hands and one knee, and started inching painstakingly forward, dragging her bloodied leg behind her.
People and faces flashed past, some glancing at her with fleeting sympathy, but nobody stopped to help her. Here and there in the crowd she occasionally saw the faces of her friends and coworkers fly by, each so involved in their own small parts in the drama rapidly unfolding that they didn’t have any time to waste thinking about her. Alexis didn’t blame them. She understood. Her eyes spotted a glimpse of bright red hair in the crowd, and she saw her good friend Chrissie. She was clutching her shoulder, as liquid even redder than her hair trickled steadily down her arm.
"Help me," Alexis croaked out, her voice weak, but Chrissie disappeared without hearing or seeing her.
Alexis slowly managed to pull herself to her feet without putting any weight on the leg. She moved forward, trying not to lose her balance as people jostled her in every direction.
Somebody next to her howled out a long, blood-curdling cry of pain, a death-cry. She turned to see the source of the hideous noise clasp his hands to his chest, deep red fluid pulsing out between his fingers. With a ragged, bubbling gasp, he wavered, and then crumpled to the ground like a puppet whose strings were cut. Observers, some taking pictures with their phones, saw blood slowly trickling from the corner of his mouth, partially open, painting a red stripe down his handsome face. For a moment, his eyes and those of Alexis locked, and there was recognition. She knew him, his name was Troy, she’d worked with him before on a couple of jobs.
Somebody ran into her in their panic to escape, and she stumbled. She quickly regained her balance, remembering not to put any weight on her right leg. She looked back down at Troy, and could have sworn she saw him wink at her before he gurgled something unintelligible and his eyes glazed over and closed, perhaps for good.
She staggered away from him, suddenly realizing that she had been standing in place for far too long. She needed to get in position, she couldn’t be late. She covertly glanced at her wristwatch. Darn. She lurched into a kind of loping run, half limp and half hop. Resentment bubbled up in her. Why did Troy always have to be such a showoff? Even in death. Especially in death. He did it every time. She only wished that she could look so good when her turn came.
"You’re going the wrong way! The shooter’s that way!" some Good Samaritan yelled at her, as he grabbed at her arm and tried to lead her in the other direction. Thinking quickly, Alexis feigned hysteria as an excuse to yank her arm away from him.
"Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!" she bawled at him, her face suddenly contorting into the very persona of stress-induced insanity itself. She gnashed her teeth at him as if she wanted to bite his head off. He quickly backed off.
"Suit yourself, lady!" he exclaimed, turning his back on her and evidently giving her up as a lost cause.
These people, the ambiguous "Innocent Bystanders", always got in the way during times like this. Bumbling fools, she thought, they have no clue what’s really going on. She felt like laughing at him, but she seriously did not have the time. Would she make it, she silently asked herself. Another covert glance at her wristwatch followed by a quick glance at her surroundings confirmed that she might… but just barely. She shoved her way against the tide through the crowd. Dragging her leg was wasting too much time, so she decided to save it for the cameras. To make up for this, she waved her hands wildly in the air and shouted hysterically as she ran, "I’m hit, I’m hit, my leg, I’m hit!"
She looked around. She was close now. She could even see her own secret marker up ahead. People had their cell phones out and were busy videoing the frantic goings-on. She assumed the limp once more, more markedly than previously. Her face, her body language, everything about her showed the most intense panic. Her heart was racing like John Force, and she could hear her heartbeat banging it’s rhythm on her eardrums.
This drumming was suddenly interrupted by another long, echoing burst of gunfire. At the start of the deafening volley, Alexis started counting backwards in her head as she staggered into position. 10…9…8…7…6… She was in the range of the cell phone cameras now. She didn’t look at them, just continued going, a panic-stricken woman with a bloodied leg, dazed and disoriented. She felt, rather than saw, the cameras following her every movement. 5…4…3…2… She never got to 1. A small, muffled explosion. Her arms flew up, and she gasped. A small spot of red on her shirt slowly grew and blossomed outwards. She fell to her knees, her eyes glazing over, her mouth gaping in shock. Another thud, and she fell back senseless, a hole through her shirt above her heart, a dark puddle gradually forming under her.
A few minutes later, some men with the air of professionals about them approached where she lay, covered her with a white sheet, and carefully but quickly lifted her body onto a make-shift gurney.
"Clear the way. Clear the way," they curtly ordered as they maneuvered through the bedlam. They eventually entered into a closed-off area of the premises, the security guards there letting them pass as they strived desperately, but so far successfully, to hold back the common rabble. The gurney was laid on the ground among several others already there, an empty one was picked up, and the two men departed by the same way they had come. The body was left there, away from the prying eyes of the public.
The corner of the now-stained white sheet was slowly pulled down, until Alexis’ pale face was exposed. Her eyes were closed, and she looked suddenly so peaceful, so serene. It was hard to imagine the hellishness she had just come from.
A man’s smooth voice spoke first. "Great job, Alexis. It’s already going viral on YouTube. I couldn’t have done it any better myself."
"Yes! Wonderful performance. A round of applause for Alexis, guys. You did good," a feminine voice chimed in.
Amid hands clapping enthusiastically all around her, Alexis opened her eyes with a dramatic flutter. Chrissie was across the room, leading the others present in the applause. Troy was kneeling at her side, handsome as ever, beaming down at her.
"I mean it Alexis, that was really a great job. Very convincing," he repeated with a charmingly fake movie-star type smile. "Like I’ve always said, there should be an Oscar just for crisis actors like us. I’d nominate you."
Alexis smiled gratefully, lapping it up, and then stretched contentedly. She did do a good job, now didn’t she?
"Cut," she purred softly. "That’s a wrap."