"By Grand Design"
I don't believe in fate - a predetermined path through life that is unavoidable no matter what our actions are. Rather, defining moments in our lives where decisions have to be made. Crossroads if you like. Which path you take determines the next chapter in your life and the lives around you. Today one of those defining moments took place and my actions were going to spark a bizarre and grizzly chain of events for me and those around me. Events that may, ultimately, determine the fate of all mankind.
My pupils were hot, bothered and itching to escape for the weekend. They looked about as enthusiastic as road workers on a hot summer's day. Then out of the blue a distant roar that sounded like Niagara Falls, drifted into the classroom. A welcome change from the silence that had blanketed this muggy afternoon. I stopped in my tracks and turned from the whiteboard to witness a look of wonder and intrigue on the faces of the entire class. Now boredom had turned to excitement in an instant. Before I could utter a word the children leaped out of their seats. Falling over each other to get to the window. Eager to quench their thirst for curiosity. I followed calmly and added casually
"O.k. kids once we find out what's making the exciting noise, I want you all back in your seats. O.k.?" One or two of the children reply with a zombie like "yes, sir". All their focus and attention on searching the school grounds and the cloudless blue skies trying to be the first to see what amazing events would unfold before them.
My older, wiser and more logical thinking knew there would be a rational explanation to the thunderous noise that was increasing in intensity by the second. I also knew that the vivid imaginations of the students would be conjuring up all sorts of fantastic and wondrous scenarios. A fleet of alien spaceships entering earth's atmosphere to enslave human kind perhaps? Or a horde of encroaching giant insects on a feeding frenzy, or maybe an army of hideous monsters on horseback sweeping across the country side brandishing long sharp swords. Cutting down every living thing in their path. I was racking my brain for a more plausible reason. Are there any threats of invasion from neighbouring countries? No. It couldn't be an earthquake as the earth beneath our feet wasn't wobbling like a jellyfish and there were no ominous looking clouds as far as the eye could see. I had no rational explanation at all. All I could do was to watch and wait with my wide eyed companions.
Even though the noise was getting louder there was nothing out of ordinary to be seen. I started to have an uneasy feeling about what was taking place or as in this case, the lack of something taking place. Then the window panes started to rattle. Which in turn rattled the children, who started to back away from their view of the outside world. I had to take charge of the situation before panic set in.
"O.k. kids you know the drill" I say sternly. "Under your desks"
Without questioning me, they all rushed to their desks. Some of them colliding along the way. Once they were all neatly under their desks, I gave the second and final command.
"Ok. Nobody gets out from under their desks until I say so. No matter how scary it gets, OK?"
"You're in a safe place, right where you are." I shouted over the constant and ever increasing roar.
This time I received a frightened but alert "Yes Mr Harper" from most of my year 2 students.
There was no movement from little Lisa Williams, whom I spotted holding onto the desk leg like she had found her long lost teddy bear. Her head was tucked in between her arms and there was a steady stream of tears rolling down her arms and dripping onto the floor. Not wanting to embarrass her by shouting in front of her peers, I quickly ran over to her to console her and to assure her that everything was going to be alright. Even though I was far from convinced of our safety myself. I put my hands on her shoulders and shook lightly.
"Lisa, Lisa" I said, trying not to alert the others. But before I could say Lisa's name a third time, she leapt at me and latched on for dear life.
"I'm scared Mr Harper" she sobbed.
"It's ok Lisa, everything is going to be ok. This will all be over before you know it." I say with conviction, even convincing myself that everything is going to be ok.
She said nothing and just hung on even tighter.
I didn't have time to console her so I just took her with me to the window. Her head tucked tightly into my chest. I couldn't hear her sobs over the roar but I could feel the dampness of her tears on my skin. I scanned the school grounds. Not a thing out of place. Taking my gaze skyward, I spotted what looked like a swarm of jet planes approaching at incredible speed. There were too many to count and they were in no set formation. They were just massed together like a swarm of bees. Simultaneously, as if on cue, they dropped their missiles from their underbellies. With a puff of smoke, the missiles arced towards the school. My world stopped as I stood fixated on the encroaching rockets of death. The selfish side to my human nature momentarily took over. In my mind was screaming "RUN! SAVE YOURSELF, EVERYONES GOING TO DIE ANYWAY!" I dismissed the thought as quickly as it had snuck up on me. I couldn't and wouldn't leave these children here to die while I cowardly saved my own yellow hide. Only I knew that in seconds the whole classroom would be transformed into small particles that would dance in the air until they found their resting place on the scorched earth. I turned to my class for the last time.
"Let's sing a happy song" I shout, while trying hard to to choke up with tears.
They respond well with a relieved look on their faces and wait eagerly for me to start.
"The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round..." The kids continue, taking their minds of the terrifying situation. I close my eyes and hope like hell that my kids will end up in a better place and don't suffer any pain. Before I can finish my thought the missiles burst through the classroom from above. I wrap my arms around Lisa squeezing her firmly as I kiss the top of her head and, what seems like eternity, but in reality is only a few seconds I wait for the explosion and certain death.
The sound of children coughing ignites my attention. I open my eyes to see the air filled with dust but I can still make out four dark objects embedded in the back wall. Four menacing missiles that could potentially blow at any moment. Lisa and I start to cough as the dust enters our lungs without invitation.
"OK kids. I want you to get up, and as quickly and carefully as possible we are going to head to the bus."
Waving the dust from in front of themselves and coughing along the way, the kids head towards the bus. I want to check the entire classroom before I vacate myself.
"Eden!" I cough across the room to one of the stragglers who has been helping his fellow classmates.
"Could you please take Lisa to the bus for me?"
"No problem Mr Harper"
"Thanks Eden, you're a good boy." I say smiling.
I feel Lisa's grip tighten again.
"Its ok honey, Eden will get you to the bus. And I'll be there as soon as I check the classroom for any others." I plead with her.
"You promise?" Lisa says as she looks deep into my eyes as if she could read a lie.
"I promise" returning her stern gaze.
"Ok" she says releasing herself. Eden takes her hand and they both cover their mouths as they exit the classroom.
I frantically race around the classroom checking under desks and in cupboards for any children that may have been hiding or scared stiff by the traumatic events.
All the while, I keep glancing at the missile, as if they may give me some kind of warning before they explode.
Ok. No-one is left. Time to run like the wind and leave this doomed classroom in my dust. As I make my way down the still and eerie hallway, I hear a second wave of jets approaching. The dust is thicker in the hallway and I move my arms rapidly to disperse it before it gets the better of me. Coughing and spluttering I exit the building into the madness. I spit the dry grittiness from my mouth as I survey the chaotic scene unfolding before me.