Scream Christmas decorations are up, the stockings are hung, Santa has been visited, toys are bought and hidden, cookies baked, and assurances have been made the fireplace will be empty Christmas eve.

It’s a beautiful winter’s day. She had skipped off to school, turned and waved and gone through the door of the school chattering with her best friend forever.

And then the phone rings.

Hello? What? When? At the school? Is anybody hurt? Oh, my God!

You hang up.

You call your husband. Please hurry. I don’t know yet. Hurry. You weep and scream and cry and ask him to please, dear God, hurry. He’s on the way. He tells you everything is going to be OK.

You hurry. There are drawings on the side of the refrigerator, held up with a magnet from Disney World. One is of Santa. One says “I love you, Mommy.”

There’s a pink sweater, the piece of a puzzle, the arm of a dismembered Barbi. You told her to pick up her toys. Why does she always leave that jacket out. The dog barks. And barks.

The sun is shining. There is a tree with a broken limb in the corner of the yard. You’ll never forget that tree. The bicycle is in the driveway. There is a tiny glove on the front seat.

You drive toward the school. You’ve made that trip twice every day. It’s not far. You were just there.

You see the police cars, and the fire trucks, and the ambulances, and men carrying big rifles, and men with dogs. And you stop. And you start running.

There are police everywhere. Why are there so many? Nobody is smiling. They are all in a hurry. They say to go to the fire station, but you want to go to the school. You ask everybody you pass. What’s going on? Tell me. My child, my baby, is in that school. Don’t you understand that?

Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?!

Another parent is running. You know her. The church. She tells you there’s been a shooting. That’s all we know. All the children in the school were taken to the fire station. They’re inside.

All of them?

I don’t know she shouts.

Everybody is so nice, but their eyes are sad. You will always remember the eyes.

Where is my husband?

You see a neighbor coming toward you holding her child’s hand. She’s crying. It’s awful, it’s just awful, she says.

Did you see her?

And the neighbor sobs, and the nice policeman takes you by the arm.

Inside the fire station. They are all inside. Right?

And the nice policeman with the sad eyes doesn’t say anything. And you know.

And you shake him and pull away and shout the brutal, hopeless, tragic, hysterical question: is she inside the fire station?

And he says no.

And you don’t believe him.

And then you do.

And you scream. And scream.


Feature image of flag half mast by Kahunapule Michael Johnson via the kahunapulej flickr photostream and used under creative commons license. The image used in the story was licensed by Mark Johnson at
Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is a professional mentalist and mind reader who presents his unique and unforgettable program to conventions, college and universities, sales meetings, private parties, business and civic clubs and more. He has also appeared at the Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta and produces, along with Jerry Farber and Joe M. Turner, Atlanta Magic Night at the Red Light Cafe in Midtown. He is a member of the Psychic Entertainers Association, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Georgia Magic Club,Buckhead Rotary Club and Friends of Jim The Wonder Dog. You can learn more at He is the author of three books: "Living The Dream," the story of the first ten years of FedEx; "Superman, Hairspray, and the Greatest Goat On Earth," a collection of mostly true stories;, and "Yes Ma'am, You're Right: The Essential Rules For Living With A Woman."  Mark's day job is as a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant. Mark has traveled around the world twice but has never been to Burlington, Vermont. He does not eat beets or chicken livers, and he has never read "Gone With The Wind." He is the only person he knows who was once a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. He is a fifth generation Atlantan,  the father of three, and the grandfather of five. All offspring are demonstrably perfect. He lives in Smyrna with his wife Rebecca (aka The Goddess) and two dogs: Ferguson, an arrogant Scottish terrier; and, Lola, a Siberian husky who is still trying to figure out what the hell she's doing in Cobb County.