(6) We All Fall Down

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Six Weeks Ago


I woke up when the first person in the dorm screamed.

My room was silent. My roommate wasn't supposed to show up until the second week of class, and the ceiling hung dark and unfamiliar above me as I lay deathly still in bed. Just listening. The clock projecting red numbers onto the wall near my feet read 4:13 AM.

A scream in the night in a dorm-style university residence is the kind of thing I maybe should help out with, but didn't want to. That's something I'd learned about myself over the years. It didn't matter how much first-aid or survival training I gained; how well I could stitch myself up or start a fire or build a shelter from scratch in the backwoods. When someone screamed in the night and it wasn't my responsibility, I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, hardly daring to breathe, waiting for someone else to deal with it.

Footsteps speed-walked up the hallway. The resident assistant for our floor knocked on the door three rooms down. When it opened, I heard someone sobbing. Then a thump like a body falling to the ground, and silence.

It was raining outside. Or trying to, anyway; the first few drops smacked my window now and again, and the wind kept whistling and falling still again like there was a storm on the way. The forecast wasn't predicting a storm. I rolled over and pulled my blankets up around me, waiting for the RA to walk away again. She never did. Eventually, I fell back asleep.

Footsteps in the hallway woke me up again. Someone sprinted past my door as I opened my eyes. I remembered the scream. It was just after six now, and I think my mind started counting seconds on its own, because I got to seventy-six before the next scream ripped the silence. The person on the other side of the wall from me shot up in bed. She asked a question across her room, but nothing replied. Feet thumped to the ground. She repeated the question—a name—again, then again, louder, more panicked.

A car screeched and crashed outside.

The person in the room beside me went silent. I realized she'd pulled out her phone when her shaky voice reached me through the drywall. "Campus police?" Something about a medical emergency. Then she said, "Dorm room 304. Amy—"

Her voice cut short as she crumpled to the floor.

I sat up slowly.

I knew what real fear felt like. It was like a claw that wrapped around you without your consent, and then gripped you, pulling all your skin tight across your body. I could hear things, but only like I was underwater... warped, garbled, detached from their meaning. Someone began shouting down on the lawn outside my window. Someone else shouted in the hallway. A door slammed.

I crawled out from under my covers, hands gripping the blankets as I pushed them off. My door was unlocked. I stumbled over to it and stopped again with one hand on the doorknob, listening. Voices and footsteps rippled up and down the hallway. I could hear my own heartbeat through my skull, a drumbeat more befitting of a war drum than a flesh-and-blood organ. A voice passed by outside, panicky, shrill. "Call an ambulance. I don't know what's going on."

I slammed the lock shut and leaped back into bed, scrambling under the covers. Something was happening outside, and I don't know what. The only thing I felt was a sudden, overpowering instinct not to open my door, and not to make a sound, either. Another body hit the ground outside. Someone began to sob loudly. "Help," they said. It wasn't a shout. They weren't actually calling. "What's happening? Help. Somebody? What's going on?"

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