Occupational Games: Blasted (To Twenty-Five Years Ago)

Submitted into Contest #246 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “It’s all fun and games…”... view prompt

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A large red ribbon, severed in half, lays on the ground in front of a sleek, modern edifice. Young girls in fresh make up and short uniforms, with taut bows, form two parallel lines in front of wide open glass doors. They shout hellos as people saddled with bags traverse between them. A woman entering the building beside me points to my espadrille wedges, “You did not wear running shoes.”

“Why would I?”

“For the drill.”

“The drill?”

The woman side-eyes me and turns to a young girl with shellacked dark hair, “Oh my! How spirited. What a greeting.” The girl, and her others, extend silver and black sparklers and shake them with vigor to form an explosive, glittering barricade. My hands raise in protective reflex as I attempt to push toward the entrance. With waxy, pink lipped grins the young girls bellow, “Welcome back. Go team!” 


One by one we step through the edifice doors into a multi-story corridor. A row of administrators, suited in ties and polished shoes, form a half-circle in front of trophy cases. With frozen, plastered smiles, the administrators point in unison. “That way,” they recite in chorus.

We adjust bags to redistribute weight and shuffle down a barren hallway. A music stand in the center of the hallway blocks us. Upon it rests an arrow—scrawled on a sheet of paper—pointing to a propped open door. We step through into a room with accordion dividers pushed open. A low din of chatter rolls as people remove cross-body satchels and tuck canvas bags beneath tables. 

With a cough that quells the noise, an administrator from the greeting corridor steps inside. Silver temples suggest he is a man in his mid-forties, but the youthful curve of his jaw and chin causes second guesses. He wears a turquoise tie and a grey suit. His belt matches his shoes. His suited counterparts follow into the room, cough, and close the door behind them.

The turquoise tied man gestures with his hand, and TV’s—two per wall, eight total—illuminate with graphs, figures, and specs. In a voice twinged by costal accent, the man shares, “For months, construction’s been hard at work. Our building now houses innovative technology, flexible spaces for collaboration, and state of the art infrastructure. But most importantly, notice the new titanium doors. Impenetrable. Look out the windows. The glass is bulletproof.”

The room erupts. People jump to their feet. Applaud. Exchange looks of triumph and relief. I stand, too. Clap. Avoid eye-contact. My chest tight, throat constricted. 


The man in the turquoise tie motions, with hands, for the room to sit. Excited ejaculations of “finally”, “about time”, and “hallelujahs” quiet. A heavy set woman picks her bag off the floor and places it in her lap. Her breath labors. “First drill?” she points to my espadrille wedges.

Before I can respond, four uniformed officers rise from seats in the front to flank the man with a turquoise tie and grey suit. They possess height, broad shoulders, thick thighs. Their meaty hands rest upon belts weighted with weapons. The TV’s lining the walls blink from building statistics to a list of instructions. A murmur spreads throughout.

“Yes, fortified doors and windows increase protection,” barks the tallest of the uniformed officers, “but perpetrators find a way. You are vulnerable. You need to be prepared.”

“Ready for the fun and games? I hope you wore running shoes,” quipped the tied man. Laughter, agitated, replaces the murmur.

The broadest of uniformed officers steps forward and points to the instructions on a screen, “Pay attention. We start in the hallway.”

The participants in the room tuck bags aside, rise and begin to file out into the hall. I follow. We form two parallel lines with our backs against the wall. We fold our arms across our chests. The uniformed officers stomp between us.

“You will hear a clap.” One officer smacks two wooden boards together, creating the sharp staccato sound of a gun shot.

“That means run.” Another officer jiggles the handle to ensure the door we exited from locks behind us.

“Don’t get hit,” says a third officer brandishing a dart gun.

“At the sound of my whistle, begin.”


With folded arms, we look at each other. At the shrill trill of a whistle, we peel ourselves from the wall and begin meandering up and down the hall. We’ve been instructed to act normal, to walk with ease, but as we anticipate the imitative crack of gun fire, the tension pulsates, the paint so pungent and fresh it nips at our tongues' tips.


Every body petrifies, limbs halt mid-motion. Clap. Clap. The once-pretend meandering morphs into shoving. Bodies break into sporadic running. People scream. I do not move by the control of thought, but rather leap by the demand of heart thumps. I pull on the knob of a locked door. Scatter down the hall. Pull the locked knob of another door. The crowd cries out in panic.

Two imposing uniformed officers pounce from a door across the hall and pendulate large rifles to part the crowd. I cower with hands over my head and sprint in espadrille wedges. I hear the air puff of ammunition exiting the weapon. A young woman with dishwater blonde hair reels backwards and clutches her leg. A man wearing a basketball t-shirt darts sideways and maneuvers a door open. I follow, and with two hands, shove him in. Stumble over him. The door swings shut.

“Did you get hit?” he asks. I shake my head. “First drill?” I nod. “Don’t worry. They shoot blanks.” We heard a swell of cries in the hall, and the man’s eyes grow wide. “Hide,” he mouths and points to a desk. As I scramble beneath it, he moves a bookcase away from the wall. Climbs behind. We fall silent. The door swings open, thuds against the wall. My body curls tight, knees clutched to chest. My eyes squeeze shut as my forehead presses into the carpet.

“Found you,” a baritone voice speaks to the rhythm of boot steps. I hear the sound of air popping out of a muzzle. I hear the soft thump of impact. I hear the groan from a man hidden behind a bookshelf. I turn my head so my cheek imprints upon the carpet. My held breath burns. My eyes crack apart to peek beneath the desk. Two black boots, one by one, materialize before my vision.

“Found you, too. Bang. Bang. You’re dead.”


The black booted officer did not fire his weapon. Instead, he reached out a hand to pull me to my feet. “Congratulations,” he said and pointed to my espadrille wedges, “Your first drill is complete.”

We return to the room with accordion dividers and eight television screens. Those hit by blanks are instructed to stand. We chuckle. They trade experiences. The man in the turquoise tie coughs.

"If this were real, those hit would not be here."

The suit and tie administrator nods and sits down. The officers nod back and stand shoulder to shoulder at the front of the room. They click through text-heavy slides laden with acronyms. Their voices punctuate the words if, when, and exit.

"Any questions?"

The man with a turquoise tie and gray suit grins and opens the door of the large, undivided room. The uniformed officers wish us luck. File out. As we sling bags over our shoulders and crook totes into elbow nooks, the young girls with high ponies, sparklers, and pink rouge enter to cheer us off to lunch. The heavy set woman cradles her sack like a baby in arms and pants, “Let's hope, this year, it does not happen to us."


“Lock the door. Now. No one exits.” The administrator's head, which popped in, disappears. 

I stare at the room I'm instructing. We pass around quizzical looks. I place the laser pointer on my desk as if resting a precious relic and take calculated steps toward the door. Open it. My head turns down both lengths of the hallway. Aside from fluorescent reflections, it is empty. No sight of the administrator. I slide keys from my pocket. Grip them so they do not rattle, and fumble to lock the door. I’ve unlocked this door many times to enter, but I've never locked it from within.

“Is the door locked?”

“I think so?”

“Holy shit!” someone cries, standing in front of the window. All other bodies in the room push aside desks and chairs to meet him at the customized, bulletproof glass. In eruptive chatter, they pronounce similar expletives. I gently touch the shoulders of my instructees to part the way and peer below.

In the parking lot, a melee of emergency vehicles converge in divergent directions, creating a blaring foray of red and blue lights. Administrators and uniformed officers holding portable radios wave, point, and run. The scene unravels like a silent film, for the bulletproof glass also barricades noises. A boy turns to me, his face drained of color.

“SWAT is here.”

From an ominous black truck void of labels, handles or plates, a dozen figures emerge. They march in tactical, black vests, black armored sleeves and pants. Black kevlar helmets, like welding masks, cover their faces. Identity obscured. Several SWAT officers push forward with polycarbonate ballistic black shields. Others follow, shouldering large, missile weapons. They enter our building. We, at the window, giggle, but our throat gurgles are not joyous. 

The drill. I remember.

“Hide," I mouth, and point to the corner. With outstretched arms I corral everyone into a huddled pile parallel with the door. We press in amongst each other. We cower. Someone whimpers. Another shooshes. Through thin drywall we hear, in the hallway, the pelting march of boot soles. Then we hear, from the room next door, a clash. A bang. A heavy thud, like objects being hurled. My projector screen shakes.

My phone vibrates. I look down and read:

-Is this a drill?

-No. It's real. SWAT here.

-Get away from windows.

-Hide under desks.

-Everyone on the floor.

-Keep quiet.

A girl begins to gasp in rapid, frantic patterns. She clutches the hand of another. "Please," she gulps in whispers. "Please," over and over. Her saucered eyes, rimmed wet, meet mine, "Please. I need to call my parents." On hands and knees, I move closer to the pile of bodies to force them in tighter. The carpet fibers dig into my flesh. I take a measured breath. Speak slow, steady.

"You may panic once you see me panic."

But a junior uncurls from the fetal position and rises onto his knees. He points to my hand, which holds my phone.

"You are shaking."


The door rattles. We crouch, tense. With eyes shut, our pile melds into a single, silent abyss. Our arms wrap around our heads, cup our ears. No one releases a breath. The carpet threads dig designs into our skin. Did I lock it? Did I lock the door correctly? repeats in my head.

The door swings open. Thuds.

"All clear."

The administrator who first instructed no one to exit steps into the room. He is followed by several other administrators and three SWAT personnel. Our pile of bodies in the corner untangle in collective exhalations. Our bags, purses, and backpacks are searched. We are given orders to "hold and wait" for administration and law enforcement to conduct full building investigations.

"I need to use the restroom," a junior mews.

"Hold it. No one exits until we finish."

"Please." He presses his thighs together. I can see a growing, dark stain.

We learned, after, the noise from the adjoining room came from its occupants piling furniture atop furniture to create a blockade in front of the door. We learned, after, the threat resulted from someone contacting emergency services. They claimed to possess a weapon. Promised to shoot anyone who entered the bathroom stall where they hid. They gave the address to our building.

A prank call. A cruel hoax. All fun and games when it’s fiction.


But this story is real. These 'games' are REAL. It happened to me. To my students.

This is the occupation, today, of being a teacher.

April 20, 2024 00:01

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
22:45 Apr 20, 2024

Gripping story. Had a shooter come to high school graduation practice when my granddaughter was a graduating senior. He was stopped by the policeman on duty. Anniversary of Columbine April 19th.


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