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The Message: Historical Flash Fiction by cam

Site of Confrontation on May 4, 1970, Kent State University

Photo taken from the perspective of the Ohio National Guard soldiers when they opened fire on the students.

Photo taken from the perspective of the Ohio National Guard soldiers when they opened fire on the students.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Ohio, Kent State University

Synopsis of The Message

On May 4, 1970, a four day emotional battle of wills between war protesters and the National Guard, comes to a bloody end on the campus of Kent State University. Sharon and her boyfriend, who try to continue their normal lives as students, get caught up in the violence and send a devastating message to the man responsible for the carnage.

The Message

Over the last four days, Kent State University campus has become a cauldron of boiling emotions. I'm in the library on Monday morning, listening to tear gas canisters explode on the commons area outside. Without a break, Ohio National Guardsmen have been riding the heels of students who are protesting the Vietnam war and the recent invasion of Cambodia by U.S. forces.

My girlfriend, Sharon, and I are attempting to live life as normal, weaving our way in and out of warlike conditions to continue our studies. In spite of the activity outside, Sharon is supposed to meet me here before her first class this morning, something we've regularly been doing for several months.

I watch through the windows. The guardsmen don't look that excited to be chasing college students around campus. In fact, some of them are my fellow students at KSU.

The Governor is the one who is out of control. I can hear him now, shouting into a microphone. The growl in his voice betrays the ire in his heart for the angry mob. Using his tongue as a brush, he paints, in stark black against white, his perception of those who would dare threaten his political fantasia.

Worse than the Nazi Brownshirts, he says of the protesting students. Worse than the Communist element and the night-rider vigilantes of the tobacco wars. These are the worst type of people that we harbor in America. We are going to eradicate the problem. It's over within Ohio.

While he was running for office, the Governor vowed to end campus unrest across the state. Apparently, government sponsored intimidation, even violence, are his way of keeping that promise.

This isn't Sharon's fight. She's focused on her studies and consumed with a stray puppy she found running around on campus. Pets aren't allowed in the dorms, but he rarely barks, and she's kept the dog a secret with the help of her roommate. She calls him Bobo, an adorable Yorkie mix.

I cross to the windows and scan the commons area, looking for Sharon. She should be here by now. The guardsmen advance across the grass of the commons toward more than a thousand student protesters who hold their ground and begin to chant together, one, two, three, four, we don't want your ******* war; pigs go home. This looks bad, very bad.

I see her. She's running toward the library, her bob haircut bouncing with each stride. She is either oblivious to the confrontation in front of her or she doesn't care, and now I understand why.

Bobo is on the loose, and she's chasing him. I run out of the library to help catch the dog, to get Sharon out of the middle of whatever is about to happen.

The guardsmen respond to the vulgar chant with an unprecedented amount of tear gas. The canisters sail over the library commons against the backdrop of trees laden with the buds of spring. An acrid smell fills the air, along with trails of smoke. Protesters, who aren't overcome by the tear gas, fight back with a barrage of glass bottles and rocks.

Bobo runs straight into the crowd of protesters and, to my dismay, Sharon follows.

A rifle shot announces a new level of violence in the four-day struggle. I expect to see the soldiers firing warning shots into the air but am shocked to see bayonet fitted barrels pointed directly at the students.

Bobo exits my side of the crowd and disappears around the corner of the library. I let the dog go because Sharon doesn't emerge chasing after him. The students are panicking, scattering, and she is lost somewhere in the chaos.

The rifles of other guardsmen burst to life in response to the initial shot. People fall to the ground, screaming out in pain. Some flee to the library.

I run onto the commons area just as the gunfire ceases. Cries of grief and pain nearly overwhelm me as I search for Sharon. I grab a female student with a bob haircut and spin her around. She must have expected to see a soldier with a rifle because she draws her arm back to strike me. But her's is a stranger's face.

Tears roll down my cheeks when I realize that I may not find her among the confused and frightened people who stumble around me. She may lie among the dead and dying on the ground.

I kneel beside the fallen body of a young woman. She opens her eyes. Blood seeps from her shoulder. It isn't Sharon. I leave her in the hands of another student and stagger to my feet.

I recognize her from a distance and race to where she lies on her back with her head resting on the grass in a halo of blood. I drop to the ground beside her. A bullet has ripped the right side of her neck open, and bright red blood is pumping out with the force of her fading heart. She mouths my name and closes her eyes. I work my arms beneath her body and draw her to me. I head across the commons toward the library and hear distant sirens growing louder. Help for Sharon is on the way.

A librarian holds the door open. I carry Sharon inside and lay her on a study table. Clean towels are brought out, and I press them against her torn neck to stop the bleeding. Her blood seeps through, coating my hands. Will she die? Is she already dead?

I hear the door open. Footsteps approach. I turn and see the ashen face of the Governor.

"Is she––?" The Governor seems unable to finish.

I let one of the library staff hold the towel against Sharon's neck and step toward the man who is responsible for the carnage. I reach down and take his hand in mine, leaving in his palm the only message I care to send.

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