In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa’s entire life passed before her. The present and past and future fused into an image compressed so tightly it seemed to catch fire. She saw herself run, her fists pummeling a pathway through the press of screaming humanity. Her shoulders bruised against the doorframe as she and three others burst through an opening built for one. She stumbled on a cracked step and nearly tumbled down the concrete flight. The sound of gunfire cracked the facade of the still morning, like a whip pursuing her beneath the boughs of a brilliant sweet gum.
She wept as she ran…ran until one high heel broke and her ankle twisted painfully; then, stripping off her shoes, she ran more. Ran beyond the power of strength. Ran, until at length the screaming of police sirens barricaded her from the madman, and she collapsed against the sun-warmed red brick of a parking garage.
Nylon snagged on the branches of a burning bush as she slid to the ground, releasing a rain of crimson that brushed her face and hid the ruined pantyhose, but she was safe. Safe to feel the throb in her ankle. Safe to contemplate what she hadn’t noticed before fleeing: the faces of those who were on the wrong side of the gunman. The ones who couldn’t get out.
There was Maddy, who had four little ones at home. Rick, the volunteer firefighter. Yun, whose parents had scrimped for years to send her to America to find a better life. Aaron, who spent his evenings teaching swim lessons to kids with special needs.
In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa saw her entire life pass before her, past and present and future, and she knew if she could save only one person, that single moment would give her life more meaning than all the hours she’d spent in this grand old building combined.
As the press of people stampeded toward safety, Clarissa stepped forward and faced down the barrel of a gun. She could see her own heart poised there like a target he couldn’t miss. She thought of the empty loneliness of her life, the solitary movie nights, her lackadaisical relationship with what was left of her family. For a wistful moment, she wondered if her sister would weep, hearing the news.
In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa’s entire life passed before her. The present and past and future rolled into an image compressed so tightly it seemed to catch fire and race toward her, riding a wave that crashed upon her with an unstoppable force: all that was, all that could have been, and all that now would never be.
When I saw the picture for this week’s prompt, my instantaneous impression was of a heart being targeted. At first I dismissed the idea, but then I heard a news story about people running away from a gunman, and it crystallized.
This story is a an experiment for me, structurally, so I’m wondering how it works. Is it clear that the first flash, in which she runs away, is not actually happening; she’s just seeing it in her mind? I’m afraid it might not be, and if that’s the case I’d love some feedback on how to make it clearer.