Internal Lockdown

Internal Lockdown

by Ernie Quatrani, Rahiem Brooks


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Over a morning, you can tend to your garden, paint a room, watch the morning news repeat its talking points. Over a morning, you can do the laundry or visit the doctor for a check-up; you can run errands. Over a morning, you can stop a school in its track, or lockdown an AP English class. Over a morning, you can get revenge.

Green Hill is a small, ordinary Pennsylvania town where nothing ever happens until the morning a shocking act of violence crushes its normalcy. One morning the school is interrupted by the frantic announcement calling for a lockdown. AP English teacher, Mike Zarlapski, swings into action, following the lockdown procedures. Although his students help pile as many desks in front of the classroom door as possible, their panic is not allayed as they communicate with what is now the outside world first-in responders, police entering the building, and the shooters who remain at large via cellphone.

Internal Lockdown, Ernie Quatrani's, first novel is raw, honest, and his most important story. Although it's his first, the book is told in a straightforward style from different viewpoints, but mostly through the lens of the kids locked in the classroom. Before there was Columbine, a student Mr. Quatrani taught murdered a classmate in a biology lab. The student walked out of the high school after deciding against shooting up the cafeteria. Mr. Quatrani was in the cafeteria proctoring a study hall. As a high school teacher, he functioned in a world where lockdown drills became routine, but there was much more to a lockdown than can be imagined, as Internal Lockdown reveals. The novel is based on his unfortunate experience and years of research.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939665652
Publisher: Prodigy Gold Books
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 354
Sales rank: 627,538
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Ernie Quatrani was a public high teacher and baseball coach for over three decades, heavily involved in co-curricular and faculty activities, including a school safety committee. He still is resident of the semi-rural district he taught in. He has been a part-time newspaper reporter for local papers since he was in high school.

Fifteen years into his career as a teacher, six years before Columbine, a fatal shooting occurred within the school building Ernie taught in. A student took the life of a classmate with two gunshots in a biology classroom. At the time, no plan was in place to react to the shooting in real time. Ernie was concerned about school safety long before Columbine brought national attention to a growing problem. The concerns were also personal because his three children were progressing through the high school from 1998 to 2006.

Internal Lockdown began as a short story in 2004, a way for the author to deal with what he saw as large gaps in preparedness: the point of view of teachers and students sheltering in a building, and the unanticipated ramifications of the ordeal. Those concerns only grew for the author as lockdown practices became less of a priority and too "routine." Actual lockdowns at the school were not debriefed in any depth in order to improve the system. Quatrani's has had memoir writings published in Apalachee Review, North Dakota Quarterly, r.kv.r.y., and Green Hill Literary Lantern.

Read an Excerpt


The class groaned as Mr. Zarlapski handed out a multiple choice test to begin the first period of the school day.

"Shuuut uuup." Zarlapski said in mock reproach. "I told you guys this was coming last Friday. Plus, it's posted on the Google Site. Duh."

"I saw it," confirmed Cassie Van Doren.

"See?" said Zarlapski just as Rachael Megay's text alert chimed twice from her purse.

Zarlapski looked at Rachael over his reading glasses and held out his hand. One Z-rule was that if a cell phone distracted during class, he would take it and hold it until the end of the period. Zarlapski could see her blush from twenty feet away.

Zarlapski thought he heard a couple of other text alerts, but no one was acknowledging that it was his or her phone.

Then, another interruption. Isaiah Shue, in a Hawaiian shirt dominated by shades of green, shuffled into the room.

Zarlapski signaled for the class to wait.

"Good morning, Isaiah. Nice shirt," Zarlapski remarked to the portly, bespectacled junior.

"Uh, thanks. Sorry, I'm late," Isaiah said, color rising to his cheeks.

"Not a problem."

Zarlapski placed the questions face down on Isaiah's desk while he lowered his book bag to the floor and settled into his seat.

"Ready?" Zarlapski asked everyone. "Begin."

Zarlapski checked the clock over the door. It was 7:50.

The teacher wrote 8:10 in large numbers on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom and walked around while the fourteen members of the class began to dissect a satirical article from The Onion.

Muffled chuckles here and there told the teacher that at least some of the kids were getting it.

Mike Zarlapski enjoyed this class, even if some of them had had their moments this year.

On cue, Carey Ackerman annoyed everyone when his thick bio textbook thumped on the floor next to his bright red sneakers.

"Oops," he said, putting his hand to his face in mock disbelief.

Zarlapski stared Carey down until the pain-in-the-ass went back to the test. Some students shook their heads in exasperation.

Carey generally projected a polite, fawning attitude, but Zarlapski had learned it was a façade. All the "Yes, sirs" and "Thank you for working with me, sirs" were phony. Carey Ackerman was almost a caricature of a sincere, concerned student; his handsome looks helped fill out the illusion. Zarlapski took him with a veteran teacher's "whatever" attitude. Other educators hated Carey, judging from the comments in the faculty room.

Other than Carey, Zarlapski was blessed with one of the best classes he had ever had. A combination of work ethic, enthusiasm, and personality made the class a joy to meet with for ninety minutes every other day.

Zarlapski sat down at his desk and began fiddling with his varsity lineup for today's game against Moreland Prep. The PA chimed as if an announcement was going to be made, but nothing followed. The teacher waved for those students who had looked up to get back to the test. One of those days.

He grabbed his phone to check the weather forecast. Highs in the upper forties, variably cloudy. Baseball in early April. He hated coaching in cold weather. Two texts were waiting for him from two other teachers. They would have to wait.

At least the classroom was comfortable this morning. Gray clouds were rolling in over the football field, and it looked like it was still flurrying a bit. Zarlapski sighed aloud, distracting Cassie Van Doren. They locked eyes. Zarlapski tapped his chest. She rolled her eyes and smiled and went back to work.

Cassie played the airhead role too often, probably from a lack of confidence, and she flirted with everyone, but she was a brilliant writer and a diligent student.

At 8:10 Zarlapski called a halt to the test.

"All right. Exchange your papers, sign your name at the bottom. I'll run down the answers, and then we'll discuss," Zarlapski began.


Isaiah Shue was still looking for somebody to exchange papers. Kelly Keiter reached around Isaiah from behind and took his paper, giving him Nikki Bennington's.

"Thank you, Kelly," said Zarlapski.

"Number 1, D as in Delta."

"Two. A," Zarlapski continued.

Zarlapski ran down the thirteen other answers and then asked if anyone wanted explanations.

John Pagliano put his hand up, "I don't see how ten is C. That's a lot vaguer than 'opulent' in D."

Before Zarlapski could answer, the PA alert dinged again. "Internal lockdown, shooter in the building. Administration. Internal lockdown."

Who to hell was that? Zarlapski thought, not immediately recognizing the voice of assistant principal Tom Roth.

Shooter in the building?

The PA was still live. Was that a firecracker in the background? A scream? Indistinct frantic voices, more firecrackers, glass breaking, a burst of static. The PA went silent.

Eyes locked on either Zarlapski or the speaker next to the clock above the classroom door. Zarlapski froze. He considered urging his students to run to safety, but no words came. Teachers had been told that experts believed that the first best option was to flee the scene of a shooting, if that's what this was, and it sure sounded like it. According to statistics runners have the highest survival rates. The north wing had an exit onto the upper parking lot. Students would have a decent run to get to the tree line on the other side once they got down the three flights of stairs. Or they could turn right and head for the football field, which was the school's rally point for fire drills and other evacuation drills. That would take them behind the north wing. If the gate was unlocked.

The announcement said that the shooter was in the offices? Zarlapski wasn't sure what he had heard. Maybe there was a window of opportunity if there was only one shooter, and not others waiting to ambush them.

But at least three of them would have to stay behind. Isaiah got winded walking two steps and could not be hurried. Nicole Bennington was on crutches. Zarlapski would have to wait with them. Zarlapski knew that tactical thinking mandated leaving those behind that can't keep up. Cold, but practical. Not for Zarlapski. Running was risky. Staying was risky. Lose-lose.

He also knew that police strategy had changed since Columbine. First responders now entered the building immediately and began searching for the "active shooter." Most shootings were over, for better or for worse, in about twelve minutes maximum.

We can hang on for that long, Zarlapski thought. There must be sixty classrooms in the school. The odds were pretty good that the gunman wouldn't find his way to room 522 in twelve minutes if he was in Admin now.

There had been a couple of unannounced practice lockdowns during the year and "shelter in place" procedures had been discussed at faculty meetings. But, for the life of him, Zarlapski could not recall anything he was supposed to do.

With the closed partition separating rooms, his room from 521, 522 had one exit door.

Next to it was a window, three-by-six feet, covered with posters and colored paper. No one could see in — unless they made an effort to peek through little gaps in the paper. The hall was quiet except for the sounds of a key in a lock farther down the hall.

Stephen Bennett finally spoke up, "Well?"

Bennett's voice snapped Zarlapski's brain into gear. Zarlapski pointed to the partition. Most of the students began moving to the only corner of the room that was out of sight from the hallway, as they had practiced a couple of months ago. The teacher grabbed his red emergency binder from his desk and opened to the first page.

Following the procedure, Zarlapski turned out the lights.

Some of the kids were taking places in the corner against the closets and cabinets that lined the wall on that side of the room. Zarlapski motioned palms down, and most of the rest found a place on the floor. Nicole Bennington was propped up in the corner leaning on crutches. Carey Ackerman was still on his feet trying to peer out the door.

"Sit down, Carey," Zarlapski snapped. He gave Mr. Z his this-is-cool grin and sauntered over to an open spot on the floor against the partition.

Zarlapski brisk-walked across the front of the room and taped a green "522" to the window that looked out onto the football field. He also had two red 522's in case immediate help was needed in the room.

The teacher squatted in front of the students and called attendance, to be sure, in a hushed voice from the list in his emergency folder. Focus, he implored himself. He had to stop his mind from racing. Everyone answered, "Here," except Carey's, "Hey." Zarlapski noted the asterisk he had placed next to Isaiah's and Regina's names back in September. They were to remind him that, tucked in the pocket of the binder, were multi-paged instructions for each on stapled yellow paper explaining all of Isaiah's and Regina's medical problems and following procedures in an emergency. Like this one.

Isaiah, as his parents had explained in a fall meeting with all of his teachers for the year, had myriad problems including Addison's disease, his adrenal gland did not produce enough hormones. Isaiah's medical issues had caused him to miss about forty days just this year, including all of last week. Any kind of stress could be life-threatening. Isaiah had to hydrate himself and took frequent bathroom breaks constantly. Zarlapski allowed him to just get up and leave without signing out whenever he needed to.

Isaiah needed to be medicated several times a day, pills and shots; the medicine was in the nurse's office in Admin. Unusual stress increased Isaiah's need for medication. Vomiting was a medical emergency. Zarlapski scanned the list of symptoms that would indicate acute distress:




If Isaiah exhibits any of these symptoms, call the nurse IMMEDIATELY (7709).

Call 911 if you cannot reach the nurse.

During evacuation practices, Isaiah had been escorted down steps by his teacher at the moment, after everyone else had moved out of the building. His bones were fragile, and any jostling might result in a fracture. He needed to stay out of the normal hallway rush between periods. During fire drills, Isaiah waited outside the nearest exterior door. Someone, the nurse or a maintenance man, came along in a golf cart and rode him out to the staging area on the football field.

The nurse was tipped off about internal lockdown practice and would have Isaiah sent to her office five minutes before the drill began. Zarlapski had separately asked guidance, the nurse, and the vice principals what he should do with Isaiah Shue if a real internal lockdown occurred.

"We would have a real problem," a guidance counselor had said, giving Zarlapski a sympathetic tilt of her head, but no real plan.

Regina had diabetes. She was diagnosed within the last year, and doctors were still trying to get her condition under control. To complicate matters, Regina was inscrutable. She never changed facial expression, and she never initiated a conversation. Zarlapski would not have been surprised if she had undiagnosed Asperger's.

Zarlapski tucked the sheets back into the pocket, picked up the binder, and walked to the classroom door. He listened for any sounds in the hall. Nothing. He opened the door a crack.


The teacher closed the door quietly and went over to the window and replaced the green 522 placard with the red. He needed to get Isaiah out of here ASAP. There was a space of about three feet between the window and the closed vertical blinds. Students could not see what Mr. Z was doing.

Now that the red 522 was visible outside, the room would be given priority, hopefully.

Zarlapski carried his laptop to the back of the room where he joined his students sitting on the floor.

Isaiah did not look good. He was pale and perspiring. Kelly Keiter had helped Isaiah find his place on the floor, and she was sitting next to him and talking to him in a reassuring voice.

Isaiah was rocking back and forth. Kelly took his hand.

Most of the other students were sitting quietly, some staring, some biting lips, some tearing up. Meredith Clancy's lips were moving like she was praying. Lauren Dougherty was fidgeting because she needed to pee. Ackerman was on his right side, propped on his elbow,

"Awesome. If this goes on for a while, I won't have to take my Calc test," he said.

"Shut up, asshole," responded Matt Bianco who hated everything about Carey Ackerman, from his eyebrow piercing to his red sneakers.

Mr. Z. knew that Carey could be vicious with his peers, especially online. Most of the other students in the room disdained Ackerman. Finding a partner or group for him to work in was problematic, and he usually defaulted to having him work with Kelly Keiter who tried to get along with everybody because it was her Christian duty not to judge.

Ackerman hung around with William Holder, a Vista View expulsion a couple of years ago. He reportedly spent some time in a mental hospital or jail before returning to the community last year.

Carey's in-school friends included some of the most notorious pests in the building, like Anthony Russo who was a bully, a sneaky little vermin who was suspended last year after "accidentally" smashing a girl face-first into her locker. His real forte was cyberbullying, however. Russo had a knack for zeroing in on vulnerabilities. He was a master troll.

Carey and his mother came to the area before Carey's ninth grade year. There were lots of rumors that came with them: his father had abused Carey; Carey had been expelled for, depending on the gossiper: a bomb threat, bringing a weapon to school, pushing a teacher, dealing drugs. Whatever the specifics, he was no angel. Twice in the past month, Zarlapski had seen Carey in Tom Roth's office. Last week the two had been joined by Officer McCaffrey of the Green Hill Police, a former student of Zarlapski's.

Zarlapski was about to warn Bennett and Ackerman when the lights flickered and then went off. There were gasps.

"Damn," John Pagliano muttered.

"What was that?" Rachael Megay said.

Cassie Van Doren tried to stifle a cry with her right hand to her mouth. Kyle Yarborough, sitting next to her, put his arm across Cassie's shoulders.

"Be cool," Zarlapski said, as much to the students as to himself, as he waited for his email.

The next step in the red binder's procedures was to report into guidance, specifically Tricia Belinski. Zarlapski typed in In the subject line, he entered "rm 522 all present inc ISAIAH S. and REGINA H. — — ADVISE."

The message lingered on his screen giving no indication it had been successfully sent or was trying to send.

Isaiah was now trying to regulate his breathing by "blowing out birthday candles."

Zarlapski smiled grimly at the unfortunate metaphor. Kelly Keiter locked pleading eyes with Mr. Z as she held Isaiah's hand, their backs against the divider that separated them from 521.

The teacher took the index card out of his shirt pocket that held the test answer key. He wrote, "Alert/Abdominal Pain?? — Let me know" and gave the card to Kelly. She read the list and nodded at Z.

Zarlapski saw that his email had been returned as undeliverable. He cursed under his breath and tried again. This time Zarlapski used the address book to make sure that he had Tricia's address correct. He clicked SEND. Same as before.

Maybe the servers were rebooted after the power had blinked. When the lockdown plan had been put together several years it was decided that communication was supposed to take place via email. The plan probably should have been updated by now. However, the odds were very long that the school would ever be in a real internal lockdown. Why waste valuable class time?

Zarlapski got up and walked to the phone hanging on the wall near the door. The usual dial tone was missing. He pushed "0" anyway.

He tried 911 which did not require the prefix "1." Nothing.

He punched in 7503 which was Sue Snider's extension. Nothing.

The students were having better luck communicating than the teacher was. Zarlapski had always figured that, despite the prohibition on cell phone use during a lockdown, in a real emergency the cell phone battle would be a lost cause and he was not about to go to war over it. From the gasps and tears, Zarlapski could tell that bad stuff was happening in some parts of the building

Some students were sharing their screens or whispering the messages to those near them:

"office shot up"

"... machine gun"

"... six people with guns"

"Megan Walls shot."

Cassie crawled next to Zarlapski and sat on his right. Wordlessly she handed him her cell phone; she was shaking. It was a text message from "Levee," Ben Levengood, Zarlapski guessed. The message said, "czar shot CPR 9-1-1 luv u"

"Where is he, Cassie?"

"Math class, Mr. Ric's room."

"Ask him where the shooter is."

Cassie quickly texted.

"IDK," came back quickly.

"Doesn't know."

Cassie was biting her lip trying not to cry again.

"Thanks," Zarlapski said putting his arm across Cassie's shoulders. "I'm sure everything is going to be fine. Keep me updated, OK."

As Cassie crawled back to her seat on the floor. Zarlapski got to his knees so that everyone could see him.


Excerpted from "Internal Lockdown"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ernie Quatrani.
Excerpted by permission of Prodigy Gold Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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