When the lights go off, the acting stops. The quiet room suddenly fills itself with nervous whispers and soft footsteps. The red light of the alarm goes on. I look around the room and see faces that I’ve never seen before. Their lips quiver, they bite down on their tongues, their eyes fly as they scan the room. I’ve never seen most of them like this. Scared.
Dana holds a gun in between her fingers and turns the doorknob. I breathe in and my heart finally races. Sweat runs through my skin and I bite my lip as a scream builds up inside me. I know what must be going on. I know what to do, what I should be doing, but my body won’t move. It just shivers in place. I need to move.
A hand grasps my jacket and pulls me off the chair and onto the floor. I can’t stop shaking. I feel a tug on the collar of the jacket as white panic rushes through my body. My back hits the leg of the desk with a thud. Salamander hides underneath the shadow of the desk. She presses her finger against her lip. Thick sweat covers her entirely. She waves her hand up as she inhales slowly. I follow her lead, trying to get the beating of my heart out of my ears. I hold my breath until it burns. She lowers her hand and I let go of the air. I press my hands against the wooden floor until they stop shaking. I try to clear my head, but fear won’t let me think straight.
Salamander crawls out from under the desk and peeks at the red room. She comes back down and slides through the floor in complete silence. I watch as she disappears into the shadows and appears again in the red light. She reaches the edge of the room and pushes a white panel on the wall. It falls down into a miniscule passage.
Kids crawl through the floor in silence. They reach the passage and crawl into its darkness but I don’t move. I remain in the shadows, my heartbeat my only company.
Three gunshots ring outside the door. I breathe in and hold it. I push myself against the desk and slide through the floor until I reach the door. I stand up slowly and press my back against it. I let the breath out and gasp for air. My palms are sweaty but I grab the doorknob and hold it locked. Salamander hurries the students to get out. I press my eyelids together as I listen to the footsteps outside getting closer every second.
Gunshots make the door tremble. I press my hand against my lips as to not scream. I wave at Salamander and point at the door. We need to go.
The doorknob shakes. I try to keep it steady in my hand against the force. It stops moving and without missing a beat I drop to the ground. Gunshots fly onto the wood and over my head. I can feel adrenaline rushing through my body. Salamander closes the passage and hides in between the shadows of file cabinets. I pull out a blade from my boot and press myself against the hinges of the door. I can feel them moving as it opens. I’m too scared to even breathe. The black shadow casts itself against the red light like a demon. I grasp onto the knife as I try not to move. Long seconds pass. The shadow moves and I keep myself from jolting back.
It grows smaller and disappears. I count five seconds and let out a deep breath. I stand up, gasping for air. Salamander runs to the panel and opens it. Without thinking or checking twice, I rush to the passage and crawl into it. Salamander follows and closes it behind us.
In complete darkness, I can only feel my body tingling with adrenaline and my throat burning with the scream I never got to release.
I always knew that “spies don’t get scared” was a myth. Every single trainee in that room was scared for their lives and I don’t think one can train that fear out. In that moment between the unknown and fiery red, we were scared. Now, between the unknown and darkness, we are terrified.