Last week, I happened to take a look at Chuck Wendig’s very useful writer website, Terribleminds, when I noticed a new flash fiction challenge. And a very relevant one, at that. Chuck has asked people to write a story in a world that doesn’t have guns. I was inspired almost instantly to write about a world where everyone has impenetrable skin, so nobody ever had a reason to invent guns in the first place.
I got halfway through when I was taken out by illness. So, I’ve missed the deadline, which was this Friday, but here’s the story anyway. Please comment and let me know what you think, I can always use some constructive feedback!
Alternatively, feel free to write your own short story using the same prompt (max. 1,500 words), post the link in the comments, and I’d be happy to offer my own feedback.
Emma adjusted the collar around her neck, grimacing as she once again felt it dig into her skin. She hated wearing it, but her parents insisted. They were always so unreasonable. There hadn’t been an incident in ages! She looked over to her crush, Jamie, as Mrs Farnsworth droned on about economic theory. Class seemed to be taking forever and the odd temperature in the room was starting to make her sweat.
As Jamie turned around to look back at her, she almost looked away, utterly embarrassed that he had caught her staring, but something in his expression kept her entranced. His handsome eyes were wider than usual, his skin an unattractive red. He opened his mouth to speak, then collapsed in slow motion towards her. His hand seemed to be reaching out to her as he smacked loudly face-first onto the floor.
Instinct took over as Emma tapped her collar to pull up her mask. The sounds of emerging chaos disappeared as the apparatus covered her head, and she gratefully breathed in the plastic air. All around her, kids were either putting masks on or collapsing. She looked over to the teacher, who strode over to the window and punched it. The glass didn’t stand a chance against the teacher’s unbreakable skin. Emma thought she could feel the fresh air rushing in and caressing her exposed arms.
She looked back at Jamie, kneeled down next to him and activated his mask. She hoped it wasn’t too late. Looking for his pulse to make sure he wasn’t already dead, she felt her own throat constrict. For a panicked second, she thought her mask wasn’t working. Then she realised she was crying and breathing too fast, and tried to calm herself down. Her mask only had enough air for 20 minutes or so, and she didn’t want to make it run out any faster. Or worse, drown in her own tears.
Thinking of her parents and for once loving them for their paranoia, she reached back into her bag to take out her phone. She briefly noticed that her teacher had finished punching all the windows open, and was now attending to another fallen student. She found her phone and texted her mom. ‘I’m safe, but the school’s under some sort of attack. Call the police. I love you and dad, I hope I’ll see you soon x’.
Emma looked to the door. A few people were already heading out, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to risk it. A hand on her shoulder made her jump. It was her friend Danai. She was talking to her, but Emma couldn’t hear through her soundproof mask. Danai gestured for them to leave the room. Emma nodded. She looked down at Jamie, but knew there was nothing she could do for him. At least his heartbeat seemed steady enough.
She grabbed Danai’s hand and they walked to the door together. Emma briefly looked behind her, but Mrs Farnsworth was too busy with other students to notice them leaving. She hoped everyone she left behind would be ok. She knew there was a small chance she’d never see them again, but she tried not to think about it.
As soon as they stepped out into the hallway, they were overwhelmed by a stream of students running down the stairs, towards the main exit. Emma started to follow them, but Danai stopped her. Her fingers were digging deep into Emma’s skin, but she didn’t mind it. The pain kept her centred, and there was no way Danai could break the skin. After all, nothing could break human skin – though many had tried throughout history to build a weapon strong enough to do so. Nobody had succeeded yet, which left only the mouth, eyes, ears and other openings as humanity’s weakness.
Emma tried to tug at Danai, her heart racing as the feeling of panic renewed itself, but her friend stood her ground, talking to her with a serious frown on her obscured face. With her breathing mask the cheaper, not soundproof kind, she couldn’t help trying to communicate with words.
Emma was about to give up on her, when Danai mouthed a word that Emma understood.
“We can’t go find your sister, she could be anywhere!” The shout echoed uselessly in Emma’s own ears.
Emma tried to convey her meaning through gestures, but only managed to vaguely wave at the mess that surrounded them. Danai, still holding Emma’s hand, pulled both of their hands up and made a praying gesture. “Please,” her eyes, her hands and even her mute mouth were telling Emma.
Emma sighed. Then she nodded. She worried about Danai as they fought through the streams of kids going the other way. Danai wouldn’t be protected against a noise canon. She could die. And yet, so could her sister.
When they reached the classroom, Emma pulled at Danai’s hand to stop her marching in, and gestured for her to announce herself. The door was closed, and who knows what the people inside were thinking. Danai shouted and went in, letting go of Emma at last. After a moment’s hesitation, she followed. Inside, she found the teacher huddled in the far corner, hugging those kids who were still awake. More than half the class was out cold on the floor, including Danai’s little sister. Emma shuddered. She knew these kids were still alive, at least for now, but it still looked like a macabre mass murder scene. This was not like the images she sometimes saw on the news of faraway places. This was real.
As Danai rushed to her sister, the teacher mimed for Emma to take the children. She nodded, gulping away her fear. The kids crawled over to her, heedless of the broken glass that could not penetrate their skins. She took the first girl by the hand, then the teacher arranged the rest of them in a line. Meanwhile, Danai had picked up her sister and started walking out. Emma followed, then the kids, leaving the teacher to close the door behind them and protect those who could not protect themselves.
By this time, the stream of students had slowed down to a trickle. She noticed a few students laid out in the hallway, whether taken out by the gas or caught in the stampede she could not tell. She focused on the task at hand, on navigating the kids outside, where it would be safer. She hoped.
They were nearly at the entrance when the light coming from outside blinded her and she stumbled over something. Danai, not looking back, went through the door, while the kids stopped and fell against her and each other, screaming and crying wordlessly. Emma looked down. She had fallen over a canister of some sort. It had the same label on it as her gas mask, the same supplier. She wasn’t sure what it was, and she didn’t have time to think about it. She got up, helped the kids back on their feet, and pushed them towards the sunlight, where safety awaited them.