Friday, September 5, 2008

Parallel Attraction by Michelle Houston

Curling her knees against her chest, Anna-Marie tried not to flinch as the gunman jerked around, the automatic weapon he held with one hand pointed in her direction. All around her, people sat huddled together, many softly crying as they battled hysteria. Feeling a strange sense of calm, she knew that she might not walk out of the building alive. Judging by the handheld device the lead gunman was holding in his other hand, and the way he kept threatening to blow them up, it was almost certain someone was going to die.

She could hear police outside the building, pleading with the gunmen to answer the phone. It had been ringing almost nonstop for the better part of the last half hour, but the gunmen either didn't care or weren't willing to talk. Her mind analyzed the problem, as she would any mathematical equation, she ran the numbers and kept coming up with the same odds: someone was going to die. Either by giving in to panic, or when the police rushed in. Worst case scenario, the gunmen would get edgy and blow them all to hell.

A flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she turned her head slightly to the left. She could see the briefest glint in a mirror. Not wanting to draw anyone's attention to what she figured was the cavalry arriving, she forced herself to look away. It was evident that the police had run the numbers, too, and had come up with the same odds. Without the gunmen's willingness to talk, to attempt to negotiate, they had to do something. She hoped whoever was in charge wasn't a gung-ho hero type, looking to ride the waves of glory for saving them all.

Looking around at all the people in the room, she wondered what they were thinking. The mother in the corner holding her child tight to her chest. The father of two trying to shelter his family while holding his wife's hand so tight that it would be a miracle if her fingers weren't broken. People facing their demise. She couldn't help but wonder what thoughts tormented or comforted them.

Facing her own death, she found it ironic that rather than her life flashing before her eyes, all she saw was emptiness. Twenty-eight years old, and she had nothing to show for her time on the planet. Just student loans that had to be paid and a crappy job with the college while she worked on her doctorate. Closing her eyes, she vowed to plant a big kiss on the first available male she came across, and then to stop hiding from life. She needed mental stimulation, but there had to be more to life than the intellectual.

Everyone around her had always seemed to find something more, something with a deeper meaning. She wasn't sure what it said for her that she hadn't, but it was time she started looking.

"What the fuck?" The lead gunman's expletive drew her out of her own thoughts and back to the here and now.

Jerking her head up, she opened her eyes to see the leader looking toward the glint of light. The gunman waved his weapon at the corner near her and started firing. It created a domino effect among the robbers. They all started firing at the walls and ceiling. All the innocents in the room started screaming, their high-pitched voices drowned out by the machine gun fire.

Anna-Marie watched in shocked horror as the lead gunman stopped firing and pushed a button on the device.