The shots rang out, primal fear snatching away Ishan’s ability to process anything but two factors – Fear… and self preservation. An otherwise unassuming day had been ruptured and subsequently mauled by the attack; shouts, screams, shrieks, guttural yells that faded into oblivion all melded together with the sound of weapons and then… to make things just much more surreal - an explosion. Ishan couldn’t even begin to guess how close the attack had been to him, focusing instead on ducking behind desks and fallen chairs as he made his way on all fours away from the source of danger as fast as he could possibly manage while a shockwave threatened to knock him over and a blast of heat clawed at his skin, glass fragments in tow.
“Get out… you need to get away.” He kept telling himself, over and over, the entire situation a bundle of mix matched images, tastes and smells that were foreign to the man who’s idea of something out of the ordinary comprised of new bits of gossip from the woman a cubicle over. A woman, he suddenly realized he’d seen die before his very eyes. The last he had seen of her was a hand blood pooling around it when he had glanced back to make sure he wasn’t being followed.
He didn’t feel grief. There was no room for it. All he knew was fear… fear that held him and subjected him to its flights of fancy while his rational mind still worked to piece together the sudden change in it routine and make sense of it all. But for the survival of both… Instinct had taken over for the moment. He could grieve, celebrate, ponder or whatever the hell he wanted to do once Instinct had managed to get them out of there.
He’d made it halfway across the office and stopped, somehow feeling that danger lay ahead and that his current position was a safe one… he knew that he ought to be trying to find another way but his rational mind had already begun trying to reassert itself. He heard more shouts and screams… all of them sounded alien to him. It was as if he’d suddenly lost his comprehension skills.
“Calm down, Ishan… calm down. Breath… breath… What was that?!”
His head snapped to the side so fast he was sure that if he made it out of this alive, he’d have a new ache to contend with. His ears strained against the din that was already starting to die down, rising every so often as if to maintain a presence but otherwise the screech of silence blanketed him. It smothered him somewhat, breath coming in short gasps while he tried to verify the sound of boots crunching on glass he was certain he’d heard nearby. He didn’t know it but he’d already hugged his knees and with eyes screwed shut, he lay in a vertical fetal position, the desk at his back the only thing that anchored him to the present.
“Please, go away… “Another recurrent thought that had surfaced. Denial… It was so easy. So easy that it was comforting… even as he heard a scream, a series of shots… and then more silence. It sounded female. But then again… this wasn’t happening to him. It couldn’t. It wasn’t what happened to people who went to work, paid their taxes and lived utterly normal lives. This happened to random people on the television. It happened to other people. Not him! It was wrong… all of this was wrong. It just couldn’t be happening.
Denial might have been a great way to comfort himself and allow his mind now stretched taut with worry, but the series of bullet holes that riddled a nearby table brought him back to the world. The perfect counter to his moment of respite. He’d gasped… he knew he had. He had to run. It was the smart thing to do. Instincts made things very clear. He’d been found and if he chose to stay he’d be found easier… Fear on the other hand, had other ideas for his frozen body. Jaw quivering, tears out in full swing he heard step after step get closer. This was it… He didn’t want to believe it but this was it. There was no way he could tell himself that this was a lie as well. He didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to his wife and kids… He even had a dinner meeting the day after!
He looked up, surprised at how quickly he’d buried his head in his knees. The footsteps were almost upon him. Perhaps the other person, the person he identified as danger, might let him go… perhaps they would understand that he had a wife and kids. Hope… it blinded him to the fact that the woman in the cubicle next to his was about to become an aunt and had been looking forward to her first’s birthday party. Hope almost blinded him to something else…
There, in front of him, half concealed behind a desk much like his was a woman he faintly recognized as being part of his floor. Her auburn hair half concealed her face much like the collapsed desk half concealed her form… a form he again realized had been the topic of many a conversation. But did that matter now? He stared, shock slapping him hard across the face, at the flecks of red that covered her face and was growing into a sizeable stain on her shoulder. Tears stung at her eyes as she looked at him pleadingly. She wanted his help… the thought just barely registered with him.
But what was he supposed to do?! And what if the person had been shooting at her and not at him? He stared at her, green eyes beseeching him to come to her aid, tearing at his heart that was still a thrall of fear. He had to help her… but how? What could he possibly do…?
“Don’t look at me… please look away…”
The man was very close now. He couldn’t see him but Ishan knew he was nearby. As if she heeded his silent prayers the woman looked away from him at something at a much higher elevation. He saw eyes go wide and realized that this was the time to help… Things suddenly became clear in his mind. The man was standing to his right where the desk afforded him a blind spot to go unnoticed. He knew that if he lunged he could perhaps save her… save her… save her…
“But what about me?”
Jaw still quivering, Ishan hugged his knees tighter, fresh tears streaming down his face… Fear held him in its paralyzing gaze… But he found himself beginning to wonder if it had only been fear and not something else…
A single shot sent his mind back into self preservation mode.