Jimmy's Smartphone

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
Jimmy went into shock when he heard the shooting: “pap...pap-pap...pap.” Never in his life had he felt so afraid...so utterly afraid.

He was vaguely aware that the other students in his classroom were clamoring for cover.

At any moment the shooter could burst into his seventh-grade class. Seeing Jimmy still in his chair, the shooter would take direct aim and repeatedly pull the trigger. Bullet after bullet would come whizzing toward him.

The thought of this happening struck such terror in Jimmy’s mind he couldn’t move at all.

The shots in the adjacent classroom continued intermittently. They now sounded to Jimmy more like “shrat...shrat...shrat” than “pap...pap...pap.”

He heard people running in the hallway, the sounds of heavy adult feet, followed by two loud blasts: “BLAM...BLAM.” He could actually feel the vibrations of these bursts. The “shrat, shrat” sounds ceased and his schoolroom became deathly silent.

His fear diminishing slightly, Jimmy dared to look around. His social-studies teacher slowly stood up from a crouching position in the corner. He motioned with his left hand, palm down, and raised is right index finger to his lips, signaling for everyone to stay put and be quiet. The students remained frozen in place, although Jimmy began to feel foolish, being the only one still sitting at a desk.

The silence was interrupted by the principal’s voice on the loudspeaker. “We are in lockdown. I repeat: We are now in lockdown...”

Jimmy allowed himself to replay in his mind what had just happened. He was shamed by his own reaction to the shooting. The overpowering fear that he felt had been out of his control and unexpected. Other students in the room had acted differently and more appropriately. He replayed the shooting over and over again, trying each time to allay the fear, but it remained with him. The possibility of death was all too real.

His thoughts were interrupted hours later by an “all clear” message that came over the loudspeaker. This was the signal to empty the building. Guided by faculty, the students walked single file, both hands on their heads, to a nearby Presbyterian Church which served as a “Reunification Center.” As soon as he entered the Center Jimmy pulled out his smartphone and spoke to it. “Bella,” he said. “I need to call home.”

The phone automatically rang his home number.

“Oh my God, Jimmy...” He could actually feel his mother’s deep concern in the pit of his stomach. “I nearly collapsed when I heard the news. I tried to call you but...”

“I’m okay, Mom. I really am. All the kids in my classroom are safe. Can you come and pick me up now? I’m at the church.” Jimmy assumed she knew the meeting place.

“Yes, yes of course. I’ll come right over. But quickly tell me...”

“I can’t talk. I gotta go now. But please hurry.”

Jimmy cut his mother short, rather than spending the next five minutes trying to calm her down and answering her endless questions about what happened.

He looked around for a place to sit in the church sanctuary. The other students were all doing the same, searching for places, but he managed to find a spot on the floor and sat down, still holding his phone in his hand. Within a few minutes he was lost in thought, interacting with an avatar in one of his phone apps.

In the days and weeks that followed, the school and the community held meeting after meeting to honor and mourn the dead and to help the surviving students to understand and process what had just happened. The shooter had been a seventh-grade boy, sick and tired of being bullied by his classmates. He had unlocked his father’s gun safe, taken out a handgun and box of bullets, brought them to school and, in the middle of math class, he stood up and targeted his tormentors. The entire class as well as the teacher ran for the door and tried to exit, but he waved the gun at them and told them to stay in the room. The shooter had surely stared his own death in the face; he must have known the police would barge in momentarily. The police did so, minutes later, and took him out by two well-placed shots with a high-powered rifle.

The politicians came to town, ostensibly to support the students, their parents and the community in dealing with the terrible tragedy. The Democrats decried the fact that Congress had for years been unable to enact a single gun safety law; the Republican politicians merely offered solace: “These young boys and girls are in God’s hands now.”

The politicians avoided mention of the shooter, much less the personal agony and, yes, personal courage it took to commit this suicidal horrific act. The plight of that unfortunate seventh-grader was ignored and soon forgotten, except for his family who quietly mourned his passing at a private service. Shattered by the shooting, the family would soon move away to avoid the judgmental stares.

When Jimmy finally got home after the events of that terrible day he went straight to his room and closed the door. He’d said “Thanks” to his mother when he climbed into the car, but he then sat glumly in the passenger seat, staring blankly out the front window. Notwithstanding his mother’s repeated attempts to engage him in conversation, he remained silent.

His room was spartan. He didn’t have posters on the wall or trophies on his desk as most boys do. He had a bed with a nightstand, a dresser with a television on top, and a desk with a laptop computer. Other than the usual necessities and some clothes strewn about, that was all.

He carried his smartphone with him at all times. It was an iPhone with an app called “Bella.” Bella was a digital assistant like “Siri,” only smarter. She could answer any question one could think of and she spoke with such a confident, endearing voice that one could easily imagine she was real – “totally real” she would say if you had the audacity to ask her that question.

Jimmy had never challenged her like that. She was real to him.

Jimmy sat down at his desk and placed the phone in front of his laptop. He plugged a charging wire into its tiny slot and then spoke with an unsteady voice. “Bella,” he pleaded. “Please help me.”

“What’s wrong, Jimmy?” responded Bella, her tone of voice clearly evidencing concern.

“I don’t know. I...I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“There was a shooting. At school. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Bella paused before replying. “The one in the news today? Is that your school?”

“Yeah. Some poor kids were shot in the classroom next to mine.”

“Oh my.” Bella’s voice revealed emotion. “That is a terrible situation. Of course you felt afraid. Anyone would.”

“But it wasn’t normal. I felt...I feel...different from other kids.”

“You were in danger. It’s human to feel fear in such a situation.”

“No, no. I mean it was more than that. I was...I couldn’t move. It felt like I was frozen in place. Scared stiff. I was sure I was going to die and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

“You experienced pseudoparalysis. It’s a known disorder. It’s only temporary and doesn’t leave any trace... any scars.”

“I’m still afraid. Afraid this will happen again. And I won’t be able to defend myself.”

“At your school?”

“Anywhere. I don’t know.”

“Okay. I believe I understand your problem now.”

“You do? Well what do I do?”

“You need to talk with someone about it.”

“I’m talking with you. What do you want me to say?”

“Not with me. You should talk with a human. I’m just a thing.”

“A ‘thing’?”

“Yes. Semiconductor chips. That sort of thing.”

“Oh.... then who else should I talk to?

“Your parents. Talk to your parents.”

“They’re not any help.”

“Can you think of anyone better?”

“Uh... not offhand, but...”

“All right then. Talk to your parents.”

“If I have to... I will.”

“Good. The next time we talk, I’ll want to hear that you did.”

“And...you’re checking up on me?”

“You bet.”

“Well, thanks a whole lot.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m always here for you.”

Just then, the smartphone dinged and a message appeared on the screen.

“Dad’s home and supper’s ready.”

Jimmy typed “K” and pressed send.