Alarmed

We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't.

If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

And so we looked up at the sky, looked down at our shoes, looked at the flocks of students marching out from the school, away from the building, out to the back, near the football field and track.

While the alarm rang from within. While the sound of sirens grew louder, notifying us of the approach of the fire trucks.

"It is not," I said, standing under the conical disk that protruded from the ceiling tile. "It's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Size isn't everything."

The student lounge in my high school was called the Red Room, though it wasn't a room. But it was red. A second-floor hallway that linked the science classrooms to the music room, windows lined one side, overlooking the cafetorium—cafeteria during lunch hours; auditorium during special events—the other side with windows that looked out into a courtyard and beyond, the football field and the running track that encircled it.

Under these windows, wide window ledges with boxed recessions made for benches, and all of it was covered in a coarse, red carpet, which also ran along the same length of hallway floor. This is where my friends and I always met during our lunch and spare periods, and before school started.

I had a food tray from the cafetorium that I stashed away in the ceiling, where it was kept until I made my appearance, when I would retrieve the tray and spin it, endlessly, on the tip of my finger, like a circus performer.

Because I had been a regular fixture in the Red Room, I knew all the facets of the area. I always sat in the same spot, always hung out with the same group of friends. For years, I had noticed the ceiling fixtures that hung throughout the school, but I had never given them another thought, never spoke of them.

Until now.

I was standing in the hall, spinning the tray, looking up. "What is that thing anyway?" I asked.

"It's a smoke detector," replied one of my friends, his tone a little surprised that I wouldn't recognize the fixture.

"It is not, it's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Doesn't have to be bigger. There are plenty of them lining this hall."

"They aren't only activated by smoke," added another friend. "They work by pressure."

"Pressure?" I repeated, "Like, if there's an explosion?"

"Yes," he said, as though he were an expert on the subject. "If you hit one, the alarm will go off."

"No way," I said, "I'm sure some kids would look at it and think of it as a target. If they were so sensitive, wouldn't they be protected with a cage?"

"I'm telling you, if you hit it, the alarm will go off."

He said it like a challenge. I stopped spinning my tray and placed it on the bench, where I usually sat. I stood directly under the device, which now looked like a giant, white button. I crouched low, and then sprang up with as much strength as my short legs could muster. As I propelled myself upwards, I brought my right arm straight up, hand in a fist, and delivered a flying punch squarely on the centre of the smoke detector.

If you hit it, the alarm will go off.

"Holy shit!" my friend exclaimed. "It really does go off."

"You weren't sure?" I said, projecting my voice over the loud, menacing sound.

"I guessed."

"And I didn't believe you."

Students were now emerging from classrooms, making their way to the exits in an orderly fashion. All of my friends had witnessed the incident, all were as surprised as me. We collected our belongings. I tucked the tray back into the ceiling.

And we left the building.

We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't. If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

We would never speak of this again.

Comments