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Play Dead

Andres Burdman

Sao Paolo, Brazil

Escola da Vila





Stay silent. Lock doors. Lights off. Shut the shades. Check if the door is locked. Check it again. Rush to the corner of the class. Be quiet! 

We’ve done this before, only this time it’s real. 

We duck below desks, crouched down like soldiers in trenches, hearing, through shaky breaths, our hearts pound against our chests. Our hands tremble so much that those who attempt to fold them in prayer struggle to put fingers together. As we will ourselves to be as still and quiet as the cold ground on which we kneel, we wonder whether our bodies will soon become as stiff and frigid as this floor. 

When we hear hurried footsteps from the halls, we tuck in our chins and huddle closer together. Our breathing quivers and our hearts quicken, the pounding and pulsing against our chests growing louder with every passing second. We don’t dare move a muscle. 

It’s not the gunman we fear—it’s the gun. That steel wolf that prowls for prey among packs of sheep, its muzzle casting a long shadow over the school, stretching out across corridors and into classrooms, making the breath of its barrel felt right between the eyes of every student. 


Earsplitting screams hurtle down the hall, guttural pleas for help, and we are petrified in our own panic, prisoners of that semiautomatic predator. 

That’s when the small explosions start. The pop! pop! pop! of gunfire.
We pull out our phones from our pockets, clutching them as if we held our own hearts.
We call our moms and dads, our brothers and sisters. I love you, I love you, I love you, we tell them. 

Can’t you play dead? They ask. Play dead! They demand. 

And as footsteps approach, our teacher pleads, everyone stay silent! Quiet kids, be quiet! So we hang up and start tapping at our screens, hoping to stay alive long enough to type just one more key: 

i’m so scared


pop! pop! pop! 

A dead silence descends upon the corridor. For a split second we think it might be over. 


You’re gonna be fine, stay with me, my baby— 


But behind our backs we turn to see... 


i love you 


...a blur of motion between the window shades. 




Glass shatters. Lungs scream. Debris drops from walls. The black vulture bullets, as they swoop down for flesh, amass air with their wings and taunt us, flicking sharp wind into our faces. 


i appreciate everything you’ve done for me


pop! pop! pop!


You’re not going to die 


i hope so, just know i love you 


pop! pop!


Please answer me 




We didn’t know blood could be so bright. We didn’t know eyes could be so empty. We didn’t know skin, when stripped of the soul it once enwrapped, could be so blue. 


pop! pop! pop! 


pop! pop! 


pop! pop! 


The pop! pop! pop! goes on till bright blood floods the classroom floor and tiny red rivers run through the tile’s ruts, carrying in their small streams dead dreams, forever forgotten memories, pulverised promises. 


And even when the dust settles and all the blood’s been cleaned, we know that it is not truly over, that it never will be. But for them we will become statistics at best, victims of yet another unfortunate accident. Some will blame it on bullying and abuse, others on rappers and role-playing games. They’ll cry over the corruption of family values, object to the state of our open borders. 


And of Jayden, whose little sister would never get to wrap her baby arms around him again, Jayden who would never again walk these halls with that glint in his eyes and that ear-to-ear grin wore no matter how gloomy the day— they’ll say as the victim count on Fox News goes up one digit, just another dead, he was shot in the head. 


No matter how much we’ll beg for them to listen, they’ll try to bog us down with the guns don’t kill people and their good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns. But this time it will be different, because the next time they tell us to keep quiet, we will not play dead. We will not stay silent. 


Above all else, this narrative depicts a poignant experience that, for some of us, is all too real. Through meticulous attention to detail and an exceptionally mature type of empathy, Andres Burdman has created a voice that is not only compelling, but necessary. Schoolchildren? Teenagers? Activists? We’re furious, that’s what.


Andres Burdman grew up moving back and forth between Brazil and the United States. He currently lives in Sao Paulo and graduated in 2019 from Escola da Vila. Along with his passion for writing, he also loves making short films. Andres will attend Columbia University in the fall, where he hopes to study English and Film.

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