The children were meek behind my makeshift barricade: an active shooter pushed his way in anyway. He Ramboed right up to me, little beady crazy eyes darting all over my face like a tongue. Did you know, he said, that I am not coping well with various exigencies. I know, I said. Running into you on the street is like getting a speck of dirt in the eye. The children milled.
Another one booted in a few minutes later with a very American-looking contraption that uses unleaded premium to spray thousands of shotgun blasts per second, if you would only give in to your impulse to caress its enormous, jutting trigger. He pointed the barrel at me. Been wronged, he muttered. I nodded even though it was obviously not true. He gestured at the children with the barrel in a way that made me pee. Perform justices, he said. I lined the children up according to their spiritual cleanliness, and I praised or criticized or smacked each one according to arbitrary and extemporaneous impressions. Is it fair, he said. Yes, I said, it is totally fair, I would absolutely never allow even a tiny inaccuracy to sneak into our great and objective system. He handed me his weapon and stood at the end of the line, eyes closed, jaw clenched. Go ahead, he said. It’s my turn.
A third one came in panting, flushed with exertion and exhilaration, and hid behind the door while he reloaded each of the thirty-five guns he was carrying. This is the greatest, he said, game I have ever played. Like a video game, I asked, he said no, those are meditations. This is the game of newspapers. I shuffled back, because newspapers don’t distinguish allies and enemies; relax, he said, I’m a high scorer. No reason to waste bullets on people who aren’t government employees: I’m past civilians. I didn’t relax. The next day, the newspaper read DEVIL’S DAY: SOUL-EVISCERATING MADMAN SENDS INNOCENT TOWN SCREAMING TO THE BRINK OF ANNIHILATION.
We were in lockdown and the children were singing their lockdown song. A radio crackled somewhere and an active shooter burst through the door with the kind of tactical nuclear missile that you can buy at gas stations in Missouri. Little red dots from laser sights crisscrossed the room, searching out his body, his melon head, his pockmarked face. He cowered. He hissed, can you tell me real quick I only have a minute can you tell me what a pussy tastes like. I said, nothing special. He said you are god damned wrong it is very very special it is the most special and precious thing and they lit him up.
I was in lockdown and I was making a bonfire of the children to keep warm. The shooter was extremely active, he was wearing himself out. It reminded me of soccer practice, when you make the players drill and drill, pushing them just a little further every day because you don’t have any idea what is appropriate or what is sufficient. They spindle and they heave and they become ropy, enraged at the ball, excessive in their off hours. You charge them, they pay: then, sometimes, the other team doesn’t show up to the big game, and they look up at you with exhausted mooneyes.
The next shooter dropped down through the foamboard of the ceiling, which is just ersatz, it hides the ducts. He came down right in the middle of the children, and I couldn’t tell who was who, but then yes, the only one with the bullet-spitting statue of a pit bull. A moment later an abused toddler with a shoulder-mounted chainsaw launcher kicked in the door, and a laid-off security guard with an armful of anti-personnel mines swung in through the window. The shooters circled like maypole dancers; I smelled sex in the room. The whole thing started to seem totally without narrative, completely unvideoable, which made me fear for the livelihoods of the news crews. A shirt hit the ground: the children clapped and oohed. One hot second later, the PA crackled into life: the lockdown was lifted. Everyone was instructed to go back to their normal business, but we were assuredly at it already.
Nick Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, including Movie Plots from Epiphany Editions. His first scholarly book, on Chinese prose poetry, is forthcoming from the Hawaii University Press.