I’d just locked my car and was walking toward the florist when I heard the shots. The people on the street around me turned their heads with casual curiosity. We craned our necks with unassuming interest while the pops continued. A wave of awareness washed over us with the first scream, and then we ran - suddenly becoming a collective mind, panicking in unison. Bodies falling around us.
I ran with the pack. We raced together as a confused, disjointed mob.
Just as I was running by it, the store window to my right exploded, sending glass crashing down to the ground at my feet. I stopped and froze with my hands above my head. I waited for the bite of death, because at that moment when it seems as though the inevitable cannot be avoided, you wait for whatever is coming your way. You just wait for it. But ol’ Grim never appeared, nor did the pain of a bullet, the sudden realization of which grabbed my attention and I dove behind a parked car.
For all I knew, the gunman was behind me, or in a window just above me from one of the many second-story offices and apartments that lined the one-way street. I couldn’t tell. The sound of gunshots reverberated off the walls on both sides of the street, pelting brick, pavement, windows, people - all around me. They came in fast succession and with every burst, I ducked down deeper. My heart thumped and my hands trembled as I covered my head. I’d never felt terror so palpable. The fear itself was pure pain.
I needed to know where he was but my head told me that if I looked up to scan the buildings, I might make eye contact and then I would surely die. And so I made myself as small as possible.
The roar of bullets moved away and I heard screams from those in a similar predicament far to my left. My trembling hands rose and felt for the top of the car, and I pulled myself up slowly to see where he was. Sirens bellowed in the distance but it did nothing to curtail the endless firing of our assassin’s gun.
I turned around and faced the building behind me. Of course, I got stuck with a brick wall. The nearest door was fifteen feet to my left, to my right was an alley entrance - and possible escape. But the shooter was still in a murderous frenzy, now to my right since I had turned around. If I made a run down that alley of a street, away from downtown, I might be noticed. I would have to wait for the shooter to turn his attention to my other side unless he was closer than I thought. Maybe he was casually walking down the street instead of perched above me in a sniper’s nest.
Yes - that was it. The sound of gunfire had moved away. He couldn’t be in a stationary position above me. This was my chance to move.
I inched left but was stopped short by the sight of a guy in a red parka, face down on the sidewalk. I couldn’t see his face nor any blood, but he wasn’t moving. Did I know him? Probably not. The tourist season was always in force, the participants changing with the season. Now it was the leaf peepers who came in droves to enjoy our mountain town and fall foliage. But if he was a townie, chances were that I knew him.
Did I know the shooter?
The gunfire to my right intensified.
“No, no, no!”
The shooter was definitely on the ground and he was hunting. Stalking those who were hiding like me. I couldn’t go out like this and wind up another statistic. I had to survive. I hadn’t even done anything with my life yet. Nothing meaningful. I wanted to live.
For my brother, David.
I wanted to do something important with my life, make them proud. I didn’t want to leave my family burdened by a horrendous and meaningless death, leaving them with nothing but grief. This thought emboldened me to move.
I shuffled through the glass-covered ground to my left, still braced against the sedan which kept my cover. At the end of the car, I put my hands on the hood and slowly rose to see if I could get a look at the street.
Something crashed into the wall behind me and I dipped down. The shots were getting closer but this was a different noise and it was alarmingly close. I turned around and saw nothing but red brick.
“Tawni! Tawni!” The voice yelling my name was muffled and sounded far away. I looked up to the windows on the second floor, unable to see anything but blackness beyond.
“Don’t move, Tawni! Stay where you are!” the person shouted. Something else was yelled but I couldn’t hear it over the gunfire and wailing sirens.
To my right, I saw my potential savior. A row of swiveling lights blockaded the south entrance into downtown. But they stopped there and came no further. I heard terse yells and a volley of shots. I was still alone. They weren’t coming for me. To my left, the bright lights of more police cars appeared at the intersection, blocking the north entrance and locking us in. With him.
Red Parka Guy wasn’t the only fallen body. Beyond him were countless others and to my right, there were more. A trail of death led far beyond, following a pattern of screams, gunfire, and silence, to where a monster unmasked itself as the creator of this carnage. It was obvious that he was a hunter and I was a sitting duck. He would be coming for me. The gunfire became louder. He was coming closer to where I hid.
If I kept moving left and quickly ducked behind car after car, I could outpace the guy. But what if he stepped up onto the sidewalk? I would be in his direct line-of-sight.
I had no choice. I had weighed the options with my limited time and I wanted to run. I wanted to get away. I couldn't take instruction from a voice in the window.
My father once said that if I was ever faced with an assailant who had a gun, I should never do what he said or be complacent. I should always run. He told me that it’s extremely hard to hit a moving target but if you stay and do what the assailant says, you’re a stationary target, and as good as dead - so always run.
The side-view mirror of the car I was behind, on my side, exploded in a volley of gunshots and I took off running.
I was now the target.