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Sergeant Taylor always checked us thoroughly before sending us in: regulation uniform, backpacks, anti-ballistic helmets, Kevlar vests, and, of course, your gun. You couldn’t go anywhere in this place and be safe without your gun.

     Sergeant Taylor was strict not just because it was his job, but because he cared. He wanted us to have all the gear we needed to survive—in school.

     Since the Parkland Act, schools were now so much safer and more equitable. Everyone wears the same military grade school uniform. Everyone has to go through the same biometric security screening to get into the school and into every classroom. Everyone has a regulation handgun with live ammo and trains with it during PE.

     The math is so basic: the good guys will always outnumber the bad guys in any school. We were now armed and prepared to complete our academic mission. We were locked and loaded for learning. We were fighting fear with firepower.

     There were always some who spoke out against the Parkland Act and the militarization of our schools, but that’s just Twentieth Century thinking. School gun deaths are down 42% in the seven years since the Parkland Act went into effect. And once the coders figure out how to firm up the handprint safety locks on the primary grade handguns (who knew peanut butter and jelly could spoof the handprint recognition software), that should bring down the overall school gun deaths another 12% or more.

     So, we are making progress. Sergeant Taylor reminds us of that every day. He tells we are a new generation. A generation that can defend itself against anything and accomplish everything.

     I admire his optimism. But, I don’t share it…yet. I have to admit, I feel a bit dead inside because of what happened last month. My fifth grade pal Dara was killed. A substitute teacher accidentally shot her during recess. The substitute said the auto-safety feature malfunctioned. I cried for Dara every night, when no one else could see me. We’ve been taught that we shouldn’t get too emotional about things because that’s what can trigger the kind of mental illness that leads to school shootings. It’s hard for me to understand it all, and I’m concerned that my tears mean that I might fit The Profile. We’ve all been warned to be on the lookout for our peers that might fit The Profile.

      A couple of days after Dara’s death, our regular teacher, Ms. Forman, had us all trace our hands holding our guns on a big piece of butcher paper. We all got to choose different colors when we did the tracing and then write our names in the outline of our guns and add smiley faces and flowers. We even let the substitute teacher trace her handgun. Ms. Forman said it was a way to promote healing. We marched the big sign in during Dara’s funeral and draped it over her coffin. The clergy all smiled, and Dara’s mom fainted.

     Now, every time I get off the yellow armored bus and the driver and his tailgunner wave to me and my fifth grade pals, I feel like a piece of shrapnel is working its way deeper and closer to my heart. In many ways, I already feel like a ghost. Like I’ve joined Dara and we are hanging out on a mile-high jungle gym looking down into my school. Neither of us likes what we see.

     But, then we look beyond the school, and we get really scared. Ghosts getting scared, that’s really something. We see kids just like us on mile-high jungle gyms looking down at their schools all across America. We keep staring and one-by-one, all those thousands of kids turn and lock eyes with us. With me.

     Because Dara is looking at me, too. I only feel a little dead. Dara and those other school kids are all dead. They are still looking at me. To me.

     I slowly climb down from the mile-high jungle gym and go back to my classroom surrounded by all the other living and breathing ghosts that are my classmates. I go to my desk. Take out my school-issued handgun. Ms. Forman’s eyes widen a bit and her hand goes to her holster.

     I raise my gun.

     My eyes meet my teacher’s. She freezes.

     And then I loft my gun into the garbage can near her desk. The loud clatter makes all my classmates eyes widen in alarm and their small hands fumble for their guns. Then they realize what has happened and they freeze like little green plastic army figures. Ms. Forman is still frozen, for another moment. Then she slaps the big red panic button on her desk.

     Doors snap shut and auto-lock, blackout shades drop to cover all the windows. In 30 seconds, Sergeant Taylor is at the door, overriding the lock. He rushes in with his assault rifle drawn. He wheels on each of my classmates holding their guns, assessing, smiling, proud.

     Ms. Forman is pointing at the garbage can and Sergeant Taylor goes and kicks it over. My gun tumbles out. Ms. Forman now points at me, the gunless one.

     Sergeant Taylor looks at me, sees I'm the one who threw away the gun, and it's as if he’s been shot through the heart. He loses color and I think he might faint like Dara’s mom, but he doesn’t. He is now frozen. Stymied. Haunted.

     Haunted. Like he’s seen a ghost.

     And then I understood his fear and my new power. Sergeant Taylor had told us we were a new generation. I get it now. Dara on the mile-high jungle gym helped me see it.

     We are the deadest generation. Ghosts who your bullets don’t scare because you’ve already killed our childhoods, our innocence. Ghosts you can’t intimidate because you’ve robbed us of a violence-free future. Ghosts who are very good at one thing: haunting the conscience of America.

     We are the Deadest Generation. The new American Spirit. And we are on the haunt.

End

 A long-time English teacher and science fiction reader, I like short short stories and long long hikes in the Pacific Northwest.

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