Foam

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They said not to play dead when the terrorists came. Run, for god’s sake – run for your life. Playing dead could really get you killed. They could shoot you just for the hell of it, or a bomb could go off. The roof could fall in, the terrorists or the Special Forces could burn the building down. But I wasn’t buying it. Running, you could get shot in the back. You could run straight into them, and they probably wouldn’t take too kindly to your attempted escape. So I Googled how to look dead. Fake blood. White face. All that. And there was a video tutorial about how to make your mouth foam using sherbet and water. I tried it out one lunchtime, terrified a group of eighth-graders and got sent to detention. It worked though – they all thought I had died. I pretended to have a little fit first – not my best performance but I grazed my knuckles on the hard concrete of the quadrangle and I think the sight of blood helped. From then on, I always carried sherbet in my backpack although I was careful never to give in to the temptation to eat it because I knew my teachers would confiscate it if they ever caught me with it again. I kept my eye on the terrorist threat level, always hovering between probable (yellow) and expected (orange). The most severe was certain (red), which I never understood – how could anything be certain until it had actually happened? Did they have to wait until the terrorist’s finger was actually on the button, in which case what was the use of such a warning? On the day the terrorists attacked my school the threat level was not certain, it was only probable. Probable. I had checked that morning and it was all I could think about as I watched one of the terrorists, in fatigues and balaclava, stride down the main corridor of HE2 wielding a homemade gun. It was only probable, I thought, that he was there. It was only probable that I was going to die. There had been no warning, no whoop whoop of the evacuation alarm. They simply drove onto the school grounds in disguised vans, ran out and started shooting their weird but deadly little pop guns, herding everybody they could find into the gymnasium, the staff room, the groundskeeper’s shed. I hid between some lockers, my bag pinched between my knees. I thought of the sherbet but it was too late – there was a terrorist in the corridor and there had been no shooting there so it was hard to see how he could believe I had been killed. I hoped something would distract him and he would stop and turn around, like in the movies. If he did that, I thought, I would be a good boy, do what they had told me to do and run, run like hell until the school was nothing more than a dot in the corner of my eye. I had had dreams like that but mostly I did not get out unseen, chased by some weapon-wielding maniac until I forced myself awake. But this was not a dream, and it was not a movie. I felt sure he would see me – how could he not, crouched there as I was so ineffectually, barely hidden, in the most obvious hiding place the corridor offered? He saw me immediately, his eyes small and brown in their slits. The bit between his nose and his lips, where a moustache would have gone, glistened with sweat. He raised his gun, one of those strange junkyard tangles they all carried, and I could feel myself losing control of my bladder, my bowels. I thought of my parents as he flicked the safety catch off. ‘Got anything sweet?’ he asked.

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