This story is by Austin Bartolo and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Janet followed Brian into the office, head down, focused on her cell phone. Brian stopped. She walked right into him and dropped her phone.
“I’m sorry, Brian.”
“No worries. Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not ok.”
Brian bends down, grabs Janet’s phone, and hands it to her.
“Is it Mark again?”
“It’s been almost a year and he just won’t leave me alone. Restraining orders don’t work. I’ve changed my phone number five times and somehow, he still gets it. I’m running out of options.”
Janet adjusted her sweater.
“At least the air conditioning works well today,” she said.
“If he’s threatening you, you need to call the cops.”
“They won’t do anything. Every time I call, they tell me they’ll look into it and it goes no further.”
“I’ll keep praying for you.”
Janet is a financial system functional analyst. She tests software after the programmers finish coding before the software goes to the customer for testing. Janet divorced her husband, Mark, about ten months ago. She has two kids ages 4 and 11 with him and is pregnant with her third child by her current boyfriend.
Janet works in building 856, room 201, with about 40 other people in a large room with desks carved out with cubicle partitions. The fluorescent lighting mostly works. Some areas are well lit and others are not. There are two entrances into the room. A single doorway entrance in the front and a double doorway entrance in the back. They leave the doors wide open during the day for convenience. Both entryways spill into the same hallway.
Janet continued to her desk and logged onto her computer. She adorned her workspace with pictures of her kids, awards she won, and a picture of herself with her boyfriend. The priority is coffee. The Bunn is brewing the first pot, and the Keurig is heating water. The fresh brewed coffee aroma reached Janet’s nose making her body perk up. She grabbed her favorite coffee cup and walked to the break area to get the first pour. Larry was already there. Larry is pushing 80 years old and has been working in his program for over 35 years.
“Good morning, Larry. You beat me to the coffee once again.”
“Hold your cup out.”
Larry grabs the carafe and pours the first cup into Janet’s mug.
“Half a cup, Larry. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. How’s that baby coming along?”
“The baby’s fine. Although momma could use a break.”
“Ha. You have a long while before your kids leave the nest.”
“I know. You can’t blame a girl for tryin’.”
Janet walked back to her desk greeting everyone she saw along the way. The supervisor is in and sits in the smaller office nearest the single-entry doorway. Pop. Pop. Thud. Janet’s heart races and she goes into panic mode.
“Were those gunshots?” Janet asked.
The supervisor sprung up from behind his desk and moved to his door. A gunman decked out in military-grade body armor, wielding a military issue M-16, came into the room through the single-entry doorway. The supervisor was at his office entrance on the gunman’s left.
That was all the supervisor could get out of his mouth before… Pop. Pop. The shooter shot the supervisor at point blank range and he fell over dead. Blood spatter and bone fragments smacked the wall, desk, and office door. Everyone in the office got down on the floor underneath their desks with their hands covering their head and ears as fast as they could. Janet felt her baby move and it was uncomfortable. The gunman surveyed the room and walked down the second aisle.
“Janet. Where are you?” The shooter asked.
That’s Mark. My God, he finally snapped. He will kill us all.
As Mark continued down the second cubicle row, a shaky voice called out.
“Janet isn’t here.”
Mark turned toward the voice and riddled the cubicle partitions with rounds. He emptied the first clip. Janet’s insides were churning. Nausea overcame her. She grabbed her garbage can and vomited. Tears rolled down her face as her abdomen continued to empty the contents of her stomach through her mouth. Mark pressed the magazine release with his thumb. The magazine dropped to the floor with a jingle like someone dropping their keys. He inserted the next one without skipping a beat. After ratcheting the slide to chamber the next round, Mark continued his search for Janet.
Mark turned the corner to go up the third aisle. Larry thought he had an opportunity to escape, and the poor bastard went for it. Larry made his way to the double doors, his desk was closest to it. Mark caught Larry in his peripheral, swung the M-16 around, and fired without hesitation. Larry took 10 rounds in the back. The force lifted Larry off the floor and his lifeless body skid toward the stairwell door. Mark watched Larry go down. Larry never had a chance. Mark continued through the room popping off rounds like the Terminator killing his way through the police station searching for Sarah Connor.
“Janet, if you don’t show yourself, I’ll shoot everyone in this room.”
Janet thought hard. She couldn’t stop shaking and her stomach continued to churn.
Brian reached up onto his desk feeling around for his phone.
“Janet, get out here,” Mark said.
Brian grabbed an object and brought it down to look at it. He quickly discarded the stapler and searched again with his hand.
“Got it,” he whispered.
Brian recoiled his arm back down holding his cell phone. He dialed 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 what is your emergency?” The operator asked.
“Active shooter. Active shooter in building 856, room 201. Hurry.”
Brian heard Mark’s footsteps getting closer. His heart was pounding out of his chest. Brian didn’t speak another word. His breathing became rapid. Brian closed his eyes, prayed, and concentrated on his breathing to slow it down.
Mark got to Janet’s desk and saw her underneath it, as he approached.
“There you are. Get up or I’ll kill you now.”
Janet crawled out from under her desk and stood up in front of Mark. She couldn’t stop shaking.
“Now was that so hard? These people wouldn’t have had to die if you would have just listened to me the first time. Their deaths are on your hands, Janet.”
“M-Mark. Put the gun down. I’m right here. Let the rest of the office leave and y-you and I will stay and talk.”
Mark put the muzzle right up against Janet’s chest. She felt the warmth through her blouse.
“I-If you’re gonna shoot me, do it. Otherwise, take that gun off of m-me. You’re hurting me.”
Janet grabbed the edge of her desk behind her with one hand. Mark saw the computer mouse and the entire cube vibrate.
“Words of courage. I didn’t know you had it in you, Janet.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to see our kids.”
“N-No. You’re not well. Look at you. You’ve k-killed two of my friends. Why? Because you didn’t get your way? How old are you?”
“You took the kids away from me.”
“To protect them.”
“Protect them from what?”
Janet’s hands were trembling. She heard sirens.
“Mark, put the gun down. It’s over. The police will be up here in a minute and they will kill you if you don’t put the gun down.”
“I’m already dead if I can’t see the kids.”
Five Security Forces personnel stormed the room. Three came in through the back and two entered from the front.
“Security Forces, get on the ground,” one of them said.
“Times up, Janet. I just wanted to see my kids.”
Janet noticed three Security Forces walk up behind Mark, guns raised. Janet raised her hands with fingers spread. She twisted her torso away from Mark as fast as she could. Mark pulled the trigger. The round caught Janet in the arm. She fell the rest of the way down. The three Security Forces opened fire. The bullets jostled Mark, but he didn’t go down. The two Security Forces officers in the front of the room rushed Mark and tackled him to the floor. Another Security Forces officer secured Mark’s weapon. The other two placed Mark in cuffs and escorted him out of the room.
“This is Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Reese. Active Shooter is secure. I repeat, Active Shooter is secure. Request medical help ASAP. Three dead and five wounded. Over.”
Janet and everyone else in the room heard the response on SSgt Reese’s radio.
“10-4, active shooter is secure. Dispatching medical to the scene. Over.”
“Copy,” SSgt Reese said. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the threat is over. Come out from underneath your desks slowly and carefully. Medical is on the way.”
Everyone crawled out from underneath their desks and sat in their chairs. Some still shaking. Janet got up and sat at her desk, holding her arm, waiting for the medical team to arrive hoping her baby is okay.
Jessica Deen says
You’ve written a sad and, unfortunately, realistic story.
There are a couple of things I would suggest you watch out for. You change tense a couple times between past and present and you also change POV between Janet and Brian. For example, you describe Janet’s insides churning and then also describe Brian’s heart beating, etc.
You did a good job of building up tension. I could feel Janet struggling with her decision to show herself and would have loved to read more about that, but I know it’s tough with the word limit to include everything.
Best of luck to you in the contest and happy writing!