Kenneth waited in the Emergency Room with his grandmother. It was a brightly lit area kept clean on the surface, but his young nose picked up traces of every sickness in the room. He was unprepared for the sick people and he was unprepared for the wait. His grandmother’s symptoms had been frightening to him, and he had rushed her to the hospital. However, the Emergency Room staff had not even considered excusing her from filling out forms – much less from sitting for a long while among other miscellaneous sufferers. The department’s remedies for boredom included a television that only played health infotainment, untouchable magazines because of the number of sick people who’d deposited their germs on them, and an improvised game of guess-what-ails-him.
“The tall one by the desk just hit his head with the doorframe on his way in,” his grandmother joked.
Kenneth felt responsible for his grandmother’s symptoms. She had gone to work without the yellow jewel whose power had kept her healthy for so many years. Her regular job tasks had worn her out. She had been feeling tired most days. She had not been able to sleep. She had forgotten things and had not been able to concentrate. If she had not given him the jewel to have on his person, she would have still been healthier than women one tenth her age. But she had refused to take it back insisting that her body had to learn to take care of itself.
Kenneth stood up and walked over to the vending machines that were along the back wall of the room. One machine sold sodas and water. The other sold snacks. He laughed that a hospital would offer such unhealthy choices. As he looked through the assortment of chips, chocolates, and candies; he heard a commotion in the distance. Then, the sounds grew louder. The still sick air in the waiting room was shattered by the distant, but undeniable, sounds of screaming and the baritone bang of a shotgun.
Kenneth went where the ends of two halls met at the Emergency Room entrance. One hall led to the ambulance bay and the other, much longer hall, led to a receptionist’s desk at the front of the hospital. He heard another low bang. It came from the end of the much longer hall. As he looked down it, he saw a man turn the corner and walk down the hall toward him. He held a shotgun. Kenneth was out of range, so he watched the shooter for a moment to see what he was up to. The shooter checked doors as he walked down the hall. He did not bother trying to open locked doors and the few that were unlocked led to broom closets and supply rooms. He was looking for anyone to shoot.
Kenneth walked back into the Emergency Room. He looked around to assess the people’s awareness of the danger. They did not know the man was coming. The sounds of screaming and shots fired seconds ago were absorbed by the walls and drowned out by the television. The people by the Ambulance bay doors probably evacuated promptly.
Even if the people in the Emergency Room knew the danger that was coming, many of them would not be able to flee. Kenneth looked around the room and lamented the number of disabled people. Most of them would not outrun the shooter. They would be easy targets. He thought about just alerting everyone as he carried his grandmother out to safety, but immediately felt badly about having considered leaving disabled people to fend for themselves.
Kenneth decided to take action himself. The jewel made him very fast and very strong, but not faster than bullets and not strong enough to keep them from harming him. He needed a shield. He grabbed the sides of the vending machine he had shopped at earlier and picked it up. He realized that may have appeared very unusual to anyone who had seen him and quickly looked over his shoulder at the people in the waiting room. No one had noticed. He carried the machine a couple of steps and almost dropped it when the power cord, which was still plugged in, went taught. He tugged on the machine a few times until the plug came out of the socket. Then, he looked around again to see if anyone had noticed him. No one had; so, he carried the machine across the room and to the hall.
The shooter was much closer to the entrance of the Emergency Room. He paused for a moment when he saw Kenneth carrying the vending machine, but he quickly snapped out of his surprise and his defenses kicked in. He fired his shotgun at Kenneth who then used the vending machine as a shield. The sound of the gun firing was startling and frightening. Kenneth felt the bumps of the shot as they struck the back of the machine. He shielded as much of his body as he could while still being able to see the shooter.
“Put the gun down, er, Mister,” Kenneth said. Kenneth’s original plan was to throw the vending machine at the shooter. Having seen him up close and as just another person, Kenneth feared he might crush or kill him. If it could be done, Kenneth would find a nonlethal way to stop the shooter. “You don’t need to do this.”
“Yes, I do,” the shooter said. “This is the only voice this country hears.”
Kenneth continued to advance slowly toward the shooter using the vending machine as a shield. Then, shots pierced the back of the machine. Food bags were shredded and the metal flew through the inside. The plastic cracked. The next shot would likely come through.
“I’m not old enough to vote yet, but I think I can reply to you for my country,” Kenneth said as he felt adrenaline explode from his core and rush out to his extremities. His fear crossed a threshold and thrust him to action. He rushed forward and quickly closed the gap between him and the shooter. The shooter held his ground, so Kenneth rammed him with the vending machine and sent him flying. The shooter fell hard on his back, slammed his head on the ground, and released the shotgun as his arms struck the ground. It slid spinning away from where he laid.
Kenneth heard the footsteps of people running down the hall. He looked up and saw that they belonged to two security guards and two hospital staff. They spotted the shooter on the ground. As the shooter reached for his shotgun, the two security guards pounced on him. One staff member helped them restrain the man and another picked up the shotgun to make sure its owner would not be able to retrieve it. The shooter was finished.
Kenneth saw everyone’s attention focused on the bad guy, so he slipped away. He walked quietly back into the waiting room to sit with his grandmother. The room was nearly empty. The only people left were his grandmother and a few others who could not move themselves and had been left behind.
“Why are you still here?” Kenneth asked his grandmother. “Didn’t you hear the gunshots?”
“Yes, but I didn’t want to lose my place in line,” she replied.
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