There’s no arguing that we have an issue with gun violence in this country. “First Day of School in America” was inspired by the frustration I felt concerning this problem that everyone is aware of, but no one seems to know how to fix. This short story envisions a not-too-far-flung future in America in which everyone is armed. Cynical satire or spot-on prognostication? You be the judge! – DT
It’s Monday morning in the Smith Family household, but not just any Monday morning. Today is the first day of school for little Timmy.
“C’mon down, son,” Father calls from the bottom of the staircase. “Mother and I have a surprise for you.”
Little Timmy appears at the top of the stairs in his Everytown Elementary school uniform: a midnight-black long-sleeve shirt sponsored by Tourniquet Co. (woven with compression-clotting technology, Pat. Pend.), matching Kevlar vest with extra armor-plate over the heart, and tactical pants with reinforced kneepads. He stomps down the steps in his new pair of Kombat Kids boots, the kind with built-in GPS tracker and knife sheath. Father ruffles Timmy’s hair and ushers him into the kitchen.
“Mother, take a look at our little man.”
Mother is unwrapping the foil from the family’s Breakfast Blocks – the scent of powdered eggs and extruded bacon rising with the steam – when Little Timmy walks in. Her fingertips go to her mouth in surprise.
“Oh my, our little boy is so grown up!”
“He sure is! But if he wants to keep growing, he’s going to have to eat all of his breakfast.” Father looks down at Timmy with a wink. “And the faster he finishes it, the sooner he gets his surprise.”
Timmy lunges to the table and gobbles down his rehydrated eggs, bacon, and toast, washing it all down with diluted orange juice concentrate. Father hugs Mother around her shoulders with one strong arm before planting a kiss on her cheek; he then disappears into the family room. Mother wipes her hands on her pocketed apron
As Little Timmy finishes up his breakfast, his knife and fork clatter against the plate, and he pushes his chair away from the table. Father appears in the doorway carrying a huge box draped in red, white, and blue fabric.
“Oh, wow!” says little Timmy. “Is that for me?”
“It might be,” Father says. “But what do you say first?” Timmy, still sitting in his chair, looks up at his mother.
“Mother, may I be excused?”
“Of course, dear,” Mother says with a chuckle. Timmy hops down from his chair with a thud as Father lays the box down at his feet. Father lifts the fabric covering the box and reverentially holds it out in front of him.
“Do you know what this is, son?”
“Yes, sir. The American Flag, sir. 13 stripes for the original colonies, and one white star on a field of blue to represent the One True God.”
“That’s right, son. And do you know to whom this flag belonged?”
Little Timmy thinks for a moment. He reaches out to touch the flag, but he can’t bring himself to soil the family’s holy relic with his pink unproven hands.
“It’s the flag used for John Jr.’s funeral, and Sister Mary May before him, even though I never met her. It’s the same one that covered Uncle Henry’s empty coffin after he died in the Russian Incursion, and the one that covered Granddad Joseph’s after he was killed at the Super Bowl Bombing.”
“Right again, Timmy.” Father drapes the flag over little Timmy’s shoulders. “And one day it will lay you to rest as well, but hopefully not for a long, long time.”
Father steps back to admire his lone remaining child and the symbol of hope that’s laid across his tiny shoulders. Mother joins him, tears in her eyes. Timmy looks from his parents back to the box before him.
“Go ahead, son,” Father says. “Open it up.”
Timmy flips the heavy metal latches and opens the box, which is no ordinary box at all but rather a war chest. It’s filled to the brim with generations’ worth of military gear.
“Is … is this all for me?”
Father laughs and nods. Mother wipes a proud tear away.
“In due time, son,” Father says. “Some of it might be a little too big for you just now, but you’ll grow into it. Here, let’s get you started.”
Mother takes the flag from around Timmy’s shoulders and folds it up into a triangle, just so. She places it inside a wooden frame with the lone star shining out through a protective plate of glass. Father starts to pull items out of the war chest that are age-appropriate for brave little Timmy.
“Here’s a complete suit of Kevlar Series III Dragonhide body armor that should fit you. It might be a little roomy since John Jr. was bigger boned than you, but it should do its job just the same.”
Father fits the armored jacket around Timmy while Mother helps her baby boy adjust the straps on his tactical pants.
“Don’t mind the holes in the fabric, now,” says Father. “Mother mended them as best she could, and washed all the blood out, too.” Father taps on Timmy’s protected chest. “The plating behind it is good as new.” He then reaches into the war chest and pulls out a combat helmet and visor, which he lays on the table.
“You won’t need that just yet,” Father says. “But once you put it on, it stays on until you get home. Understand?” Timmy nods. “Good, now let’s get you geared up.”
Father takes a variety of handguns out of the war chest and lays them in a line on the kitchen table. He then takes a few boxes of different types of ammunition, dumps them out onto the table, and mixes them up.
“If you remember what we’ve taught you over the last few years, you should be able to identify and sort your weapons and ammo, load each gun, engage the safety, and holster each of them in the next sixty seconds. Your mother will time you. And … go!”
Little Timmy lets his little fingers react instinctively, separating out the 9mm shells from the .38s, .22s, and .44s. He manages to load each of the guns and get them holstered on his newly armored little body in an impressive forty-eight seconds, a full four seconds faster than his older brother John Jr.’s first try. Father inspects his work.
“Not bad,” he says, “but you should have your .22 in your ankle holster, and your .38 across your chest.” Father kneels down and switches the positions of the two guns for Timmy. It was a simple mistake made by most five-year-olds venturing out on their first day of school.
Father looks Timmy square in the eyes.
“Who are the good guys?” he asks.
“We are!” says Timmy.
“And who are the bad guys?”
Father nods, puts a strong hand on Timmy’s armored shoulder, and stands.
“Now,” Mother says, “do you remember who your Safety Squad teammates are?”
“I sure do!” Timmy says, flicking the safety off for each of his guns. “Harry Hood, Nancy Newtown, and Kenny Columbine.”
“And who’s your Safety Squad officer?” Father asks.
“Sgt. McClane,” Timmy answers with a smile. Father helps him put his helmet on and cinches his chin strap down good and tight. Mother wipes his visor clean.
“I need a picture of my two big, strong men together before you both leave,” she says. Father kneels down beside Timmy again as Mother takes out her phone. “Give me an action pose, Timmy!”
Timmy draws his 9mm and .44 from his hip holsters and aims them dead-on at the camera like a good little soldier.
“Oh my! What a marksman!” says Mother as she snaps a few shots. Timmy’s laughter fills the kitchen, but the sharp blast of an airhorn outside interrupts their moment.
“Your bus is here,” says Mother. “Don’t forget your backpack. You have a cheese sandwich, chips, and a juicebox for lunch. And I packed some extra ammo, too, in case you need to share with the other kids.”
“Have a great first day, son!” says Father. “And remember, ‘Head Down…’”
“And Eyes Up! I remember!”
“You’ll do just fine, son!”
The airhorn sounds again. Father checks the front yard’s security camera monitor. A long, gray bus with blacked-out windows waits at the end of their reinforced concrete-walled walkway. Father pans the camera back and forth to check the street beyond their yard’s barbed-wire topped walls and steel security doors.
“All clear,” Father says.
“Sweetie, remember to keep your helmet on, even when you use the rebreathers on the bus!”
“I know, Mother.”
“And don’t forget to breathe during shooting practice. You always get so tense!”
“I know, Mother!”
“Honey, let him go,” Father says. “He’s a man today. He’ll be just fine.”
Father punches in a code to open the front door of the Smith Family home. A breeze rushes past them as the positive pressure inside the house equalizes to the air outside. The home’s thin barrier against the irradiated atmosphere of a sun-scorched urban landscape disappears briefly as Little Timmy steps out into the world. His boots thud against the concrete sidewalk as he hustles toward the bus.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Mother asks as they watch him on the monitor, safely behind the sealed door once more.
“He’s in God’s hands now,” Father says. He gives Mother’s backside a squeeze. “But we should probably make another one, just in case.”
The morning sky is burnt orange. The air smells of cordite and ozone. The rumble of the bus’ twin diesel engines echoes down the concrete corridor and reverberates in Timmy’s ears. Thick, dented steel plates line every inch of the bus except for the triple-paned bullet-proof windows that mask the watchful eyes behind them. Tall white letters spell out “Everytown Elementary – District 7” but Timmy can’t read them yet.
He’s not sure exactly where he’s going, or what route he’ll take to get there, or even what he’ll do once he’s arrived, only that this is what his parents had prepared him for, what his brothers and sisters, and uncles, and grandfathers had done before him.
Timmy gets on the bus and joins his schoolmates, who are all equally armed and armored for their first day of school, because this is the way it’s done. This is the way it’s always been done in America.