This is a Drill by Katie Burgess

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row of empty classroom desks and chairs; sterile vibe

It’s a gray morning close to Halloween when the alarm goes off. We’ve been expecting it. Our public safety director sent out the “Run, Hide, Fight” video link this week, which is how we know a lockdown drill is coming. She does what she can to prepare us, anything to take the stress out of practicing being murdered.

There was a real shooting two days ago, at a fine arts high school like the one where I teach. It barely made the news, because only two people died. One was a teacher who jumped in front of the shooter, buying her students time to escape. I’ve been thinking about her a lot, wondering if I’d be able to do the same. It’s my duty as a teacher, as an adult, but I also know what a coward I am.

I turn off lights and remind my students to be silent, though most of them keep chattering. I hope they would listen to me in a real emergency, but I worry that they’re too exuberant to ever be completely quiet. I’m often startled at my desk by kids screaming in the hallways or courtyard. Young artists, I have learned, scream a lot.

We get a text with the hypothetical shooter’s location and decide to run, since we’re on the other side of campus. I hold the door open, and as they spill out I see a security officer—a nice man, one of the first people I met when I started this job. He’s wearing a sign that says, “Active shooter.”

I start to run after my students, but then I remember that no, I should go toward the danger. I jump in front of him and wave my arms while my students escape through the gates. For whatever reason, I yell, “Blah, blah,” like a cornball movie vampire. He nods, unsmiling, and points his finger gun at me.  He tells me afterward that I did a good job, and I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to take compliments about being a human shield.

“Wait, you got got?” the kids ask, wide-eyed, as they return to class and realize I wasn’t with them.

I shrug. “Looks like.”

I give them their writing prompt, but I tell them this one is optional. They can write about STEM and the arts, or they can write about their feelings right now, or they can sit quietly. One of them uses the time to make an Instagram memorial for me. He hands me his phone so I can see the cute little cartoon ghost peeking out from behind a tombstone. We all crack up.

And then I have to step out of the room. Because it’s hitting me now, how I’ve just acted out what another teacher really did only two days ago, and I can’t think about this in front of my class. I can’t think about the pictures I’ve seen of that teacher smiling with her dog. I can’t think about how she isn’t some cartoon ghost, that she is dead, dead, dead.

Later students ask me how it feels to be a ghost, and I say I guess it’s appropriate for the time of year. We keep joking around like this all day. Everything we say is so funny.

Meet the Contributor

Katie BurgessKatie Burgess’s work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Smokelong Quarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Read more at

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Jacqui Brown

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