Bullets and Trauma

Bullets and Trauma by Johnathon Nicolaou

He was alone. The dark wet alleyway he’d been abandoned in was void of all human life. All but his. He sobbed into his bag, still clutching it like his life depended on it, for minutes earlier, it had.

He’d been walking home from school. It was no different to any other day. It was a long and tiresome walk, but after all these years his legs had grown accustomed to it. He envied his peers. The luxury of having a parent collect you at the end of the day was something he couldn’t afford. Money was tight, it had been for a while. He rarely saw his father in between his two jobs, and his mother… well that was its own tragedy. 

She had been a teacher, and a damned good one at that. She’d taught in primary school, moulding the young minds of the future generation. He’d been fortunate enough to be taught by her, back in his youth. She loved her job, treating all her students as she did him, with love, kindness and understanding. That was until the accident.

It was a Wednesday, he’ll never forget it. He was in his final year of primary school, the year before he moved into the big leagues. Back when life had been better. Back before it happened. No one saw it coming. How could they? He’d heard stories of such things happening, but he never expected it to be in his own backyard. It was almost the end of the day. He remembered it vividly. He’d been sitting boredly in Ms Donavan’s class, counting down the slow ticking seconds, awaiting the bell that would release him into his mother’s arms so they could drive home together. A routine he’d taken for granted, one he missed immensely. The bell started blaring through the classroom. But it wasn’t one of dismissal. They had barely reached the halfway point of the lesson. This bell was different. It was louder. More aggressive. It screamed through his eardrums. Then he heard it. Three loud bangs. They tuned out the sound of the alarm. They belonged to a gun.

Ms Donovan’s face was drained of all colour. Her lips quivered as she urged everyone under their tables. She switched off the class lights and pushed a large cabinet in front of the door. Tipping it over, blocking both entry and exit. They’d sat there for what felt like hours, shivering in fear. Tears were streaming down everyone’s face, including their teacher. He’d never seen an adult cry. It was the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. His peers were dead silent. Sobbing in fear when the pop of their attacker’s gun rang out as he trawled through the building. Then the sound of salvation burst to life. The sirens of police cars screeched into existence. What happened next, he doesn’t quite know, nor does he remember. One minute he’d been sitting in the foetal position under his desk, the next he was out on the school lawn, watching as paramedics rushed the injured out of the building. It had been then when he saw his mother being stretchered out to one of the many queued ambulances. He cried out to her, attempting to run towards his once vibrant mother. Her skin was pale, and her breathing was shallow. She reached out towards him, but her hand went limp, slumping over the stretcher bed that transported her from building to car. The last thing he saw was his mother’s body jerk. It convulsed violently. The paramedics started yelling, rushing her into the truck and shooting off down the road, sirens blaring and wheels screeching.

She didn’t make it to the hospital.

That had been six years ago.

Since that day he tried not to think about it. He’d pushed the memory deep into his mind. Locking it away and swallowing the key. That was until today. He’d been walking home. His usual route. Then he reached the alleyway that separated the street from his apartment building. 

That was when the hooded man jumped out of the shadows. He pulled a gun, raising the barrel to his forehead, demanding the boy’s bag. He froze. His body had gone into paralytic shock. The memories came flooding back to him. He could hear the explosion of a gun firing. The echo of bullets flying. His mother’s limp arm and convulsing body. The gunman ripped the boy’s bag off his shoulders, pushing him to the ground. Keeping the pistol trained, the man rummaged through the bag, only to find schoolbooks and a half-eaten sandwich. The man swore, disappointed in his haul. Throwing the bag at the boy’s face, he disappeared into the shadows of the alleyway, off to find his next victim.

The boy sat there. His breathing grew shorter and more erratic. His chest pounded. His lungs pressed against his ribcage. Tears flooded his eyes until his vision was blurred. His mind fixated on that fateful school day. He curled up, back into the foetal position that had given him placebo safety once before, clutching his red schoolbag, knowing if he let go his body would descend into darkness. He was drowning. Suffocating. Unable to breathe. His body shivered. 

He didn’t know how long he’d been in stasis for, dancing on the line of consciousness. But his brain regained control when something brushed his leg. Still clutching his bag for dear life, he brushed away his tears with the top of his arm. His vision came back into focus. A small dog was sniffing at his feet. It looked at him, curiously tilting its head. It sniffed at his face, before giving a small lick to the boy’s cheek, wiping away a loose tear. He sat up, watching the dog carefully, unaware of the fact that his breathing had steadied itself. The dog whined sympathetically, before snuggling up next to his leg. It lay down, resting its head on the boy’s thigh.

The boy sniffled, the images of the school and his mother started to fade, but they remained engraved in the back of his mind. Still clutching his bag he sobbed, though this time it was a controlled sob. He’d caught his breath, crying lightly into his bag.

He missed his mother, he missed his old life. He missed his life before guns…

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