The world began on October 6, 4004 BC and The Suffering ended on December 15th, 2005.
The phone rang and Thompson answered it.
Wash groped the women ampersand Delilah believed in God, The Skin did not, or she didn’t whenever she was around Delilah. When she was alone or with anyone else, she did.
“She is a Swine” Corey had remarked after graduating.
When Thompson heard this he spit his tea out and laughed at the reality of her porcine appearance. The Skin was in fact a pig who wore giant’s clothes and listened to terrible music and sang along to it at the top of her register, which wasn’t as high as she would have liked. When she had been in the musical last year, she attempted to sing the highest note known to man and was ever-so-pleased when she discovered a note that would have pierced your balls if she hadn’t already killed your erection.
Delilah hung out with her because no one else would.
“Who cares?” cried society.
“I do.” She told it, defiantly.
It made no difference per say, but one could hardly get a word in with Delilah without being interrupted by the skin’s miserable presence. After Corey’s comment, Thompson and Nelson added a new nickname to the list of many ‘Swinethia”.
Their best nicknames went to Geoff, who had already garnered one for himself because of the spelling of his name. Jill Worcester called him ‘Gee-Off” and hated every word he said. Thompson called him Manthia, Geoff (pronounced Gay-off, after Georg from Hegi’s dreadful Stones from the River) and finally Three Bags, after seeing him carry three bags of clothing to the rummage sale Jill and Irena were hosting for three different causes.
Irena, while she dated Thompson, used Three Bags as much as he did, which made him smile because every piece of evidence that he was rubbing off on her made him incredibly happy. They’d been together three weeks less than a year before they came up with Three Bags that afternoon waiting to go home.
Three Bags couldn’t act, sing, dance, write, read, walk, wear or perform actions correctly. He was tall and gaunt, with a string-beard made out of the wiry pubic hair all the boys at school had on their faces and that Mark Roebuck eventually grew out of his chest on young Alumni day. During the last play the school had put on, Thompson was the lead and spent the whole of the play in a wheelchair, watching stupidity get stronger by the day. In the face of Three Bags and Wash, another new guy, he had taken a shine to many, many people he couldn’t stand. The admiral whose nipples always shone through his shirt, Christian who loved god almost as much as Delilah, Henrik, who he had always kind of liked, but hated when he acted like a regular boy, Joseph whose awkwardness was as tall as he was and constantly smelled of body odor, no matter the time of day. He began to see the entire theatre as a team, especially after the sports department had tried to hang him several times the week before the play.
“Look at the money being spent” he had pleaded
“Die like a man” Eichmann, the assistant coach and English/history teacher had shouted at him, anxiously fingering the rope, waiting for the command.
“One could get the idea…”
What a nightmare it all seemed to Thompson, who was glad to be with his team mates who in his head had common foe(s) to be met: Wash and the Skin. The Skin was a girl with a gut that met her waistline at a 90-degree angle and then jutted out like a cliff. The few times Thompson had glimpsed it, he had been so fascinated with the sheer improbability of someone her age possessing a geographic feature as a stomach. He assumed further plateaus and buttes awaited ‘neath what clothes covered. She, like every girl in school, did not dress appropriately. Lowlights exclusively wore jeans and long underwear in such a way that her ass would have been completely exposed were it not for a very fine waffle weave shirt. Her chin drove Thompson completely insane and everytime she smiled he wanted to fuck a parking meter until one of them died. She looked like pornography.
And she was his enemy. Everyone was his enemy.
He had made a point of making sure everyone knew that they were his enemy. He wasn’t sure when he had made that clear for the skin but the only times they spoke were backstage in hushed tones, and even that made him load a mental pistol. Every second he thought about her existing in her nurse’s uniform didn’t actually bother him, but from the way he spoke, it certainly seemed to. She hadn’t made any kind of ridiculous statement since the first day of classes. And her two chins couldn’t compete with the anger Thompson had cultivated for Wash, who was a special kind of fuck to he and Nelson. Wash was a womanizer with an affinity for music theory and pop music that made he, Hunt, Thompson and Nelson all furious in different ways, but for a common good. Wash played the piano, guitar and drums. Thompson assumed he played bass, but shuttered to think of how he might react if he ever saw it and it was good.
Nelson and Thompson went to dizzying heights to build up defenses and excuses for their behavior and tendencies and had gotten good at completely ignoring reason in favor of meanness and loud irony. Dennis was just as good as they were, but Thompson viewed it from his as almost frivolous because he had skipped a month and a half of geometry class in 10th grade and was now sullen about going to community college. Thompson liked Dennis and always did as he asked. Dennis was one of the few people Thompson would lift a finger for. Nick Cave said it best.
Most people liked Delilah and not many people took her religion as anything other than an excuse not to hang out with her outside of school. The Skin had discovered that Delilah was religious the day she told the Skin that she was going to hell. It made Delilah sad that the Skin was a sinner, bound for the seventh circle, but that was the size of it and who was she to question it? instead of respectively declining to comment and/or engage her, the skin had argued with her and then blogged about it. this made Nelson, Irena & especially Thompson especially angry. Delilah blogged too and could have found the skins many posts about how she hated Delilah’s simple-minded approach to life and religion. She would post about how she actually did believe in god, but for some reason would never divulge this information to Delilah. The skin would feel superior to everyone when she posted, but she was missing the fundamental wrong in her being online with her inner most thoughts and that
“you’re online posting things that would normally go in a diary, but are actually online for everyone to read, and you want them to read it, so they know that you feel superior.” Thompson justified things to anyone who would listen. They rarely asked.
In Modern youth Identity literature the last year, Corey made a point of making his beliefs known. He hated Christians and blamed them for most of our problems. Professor Lindhurst had to be diplomatic, even though she at least in part agreed with him.
“Christians are the problem.”
“I can’t abide by that, Corey.”
“IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT!” screamed the Skin.
Christian and Thompson fell silent and Thompson hid beyond Philip the German’s large Teutonic head so he could smile uncontrollably at both Corey and Christian, who worshipped and emulated Corey after he graduated.
“Sorry, hehe, I just hate all generalizations.” Said the Skin.
Corey graduated the next month and took Roebuck and Trauma with him. The three of them were the only people Thompson and Nelson truly felt comfortable with. Professor Lindhurst, Thompson’s long time friend and sometimes English teacher would be sad to see their insights leave, but ok when their work ethic graduated. Trauma missed every assignment and failed quizzes constantly. The only class he took seriously was Neil’s class. Neil was the teacher all the rebellious types liked. He and Nelson were the same person except for the color of their skin, height, size, weight, length, hair, beard, eyebrows, taste in music, ability to cause pain and frankness. They were identical otherwise. Neil and Nelson both played hand drums and Thompson wanted to use both of their talents and live comfortably off of them. He dreamed of living with Irena while checks came in for his music and occasionally touring and putting out albums with the Reverend Father. The Reverend Father had 12 people in it from time to time and
was the band Thompson felt at home in, even though they had no original songs. The members of the band, and the people Thompson spent most of his senior year with were as follows: Irena, his girlfriend those days, and the person he’d spent the longest time lusting after in his life; he, Hunt, his oldest friend at school, whom he’d stolen Irena from the year before; Shilough, who was the son of his English teacher, and the only other person aside from Thompson who believed they should have original songs; Dennis, who was in another band and smoked constantly whose beard Thompson admired and coveted; Nelson, his closest friend at school now, who played drums and recorder; Dan, who was in a band with Grundleman, who everyone else in the congregation of the Reverend Father hated; Jesse, who left the school two years ago, but had been a founding percussionist and back-up vocalist; Jill Worcester, who he developed a crush on after some fucked up circumstances led him to find her crying one day before classes started one day
in November a year ago; Melina, whom he discovered a few weeks after his senior year started; Neil, who played bass better than he did, and was up for anything that involved youthful zeal and rebellion. He loved all of these people in a way that no one knew could love anything. If you had asked anyone in theatre if he was capable of love, the admiral would have shrugged and said
“I have nothing to say.”
Delilah would have been uncertain and than reconsidered because that seemed awfully mean of her.
Thompson found out later from his portly nemesis Christian that the skin loved him. “She loves you.” Wilson gleefully, yet embarrassedly blurted ‘He’s Dave, he’s an asshole, but he’s incredible.’”
Her faux free spirit bothered Thompson immensely and he wished she would give it up. The previous year she had published a story in the school’s annual art magazine about her pretending that she and her friends would play with fairies. She wore clothes she had inherited, smoked and drank, with three bags occasionally in the woods. She rarely showered, spoke in a voice that killed Thompson and many others. Her voice was haughty. Her ‘Ch’ sounds were like the air flowing out of a balloon and her mouth always seemed to be open. She had two chins on a good day, a vast weave of black hair that she dyed several colors. She dyed Delilah’s hair, but she was grounded and only let her turn her bangs purple. Thompson knew who had done it but asked anyway to settle a sense of potential satisfaction at seeming unconsciously when Delilah disapprovingly gave up the coifing culprit
“whom do you think?” she said, sounding more exasperated than she meant to. This gave him immense pleasure so he could see how fed up the skin’s begrudging mother figure had become. How sweet it will be when he finally makes Delilah abandon the skin.
Martin, the psychology teacher told the philosophy class that they should have their head in the clouds and feet on the ground. If you flew around all the time, you were a flying girl or boy.
“I’m above jobs with hahd wirk.” He said in his incidental accent. The skin wished she was, but she wasn’t. she was grounded and thus had no excuse for her behavior. She worked at an ice cream parlor and smoked cigarettes outside on the stool trying to attract customers and men, one can assume. The skin was also attracted to her brother, and even those who didn’t know her, knew that. On her blog she had three constants. The first was being upset when others had more than her. The second was that she talked about how much of a free spirit she was; drinking, music, drugs, clothes. The second was boastful and pretentious. It bugged everyone who read it to the point of head shaking and frustrated laughter. The third was how much she hated her friends, her hippie roots, good things and people. She complained about how much she disliked her mother’s hippie friends almost as much as she bragged about being a free spirit. Thompson wasn’t 100 percent sure this was hypocrisy but it
was good enough for he and Nelson who had created a blog devoted to twisting her words against her. They left it unattended all summer, after Nelson had posted the following from Doyle Rafferty, their least favorite boy in the world.
“Anyway, I chilled with Mike and went to the Princeton squash match today, and hung out in l'ville last night after searching for a ride for about an hour. It's too bad I can't upload sound clips, because playing my guitar is how I get everything out now. There's no other way to get all the pain that builds up out anymore, and playing for hours just gets it out. I can't take it anymore. I can't. I just can't.”
Doyle Rafferty listened to terrible music and made Nelson feel like his insides were imploding. He liked that about Doyle Rafferty and did everything in his power to study him and worship him. Doyle Rafferty hated Nelson with something resembling sincerity. Doyle Rafferty’s intolerable actions were enough to make Nelson weep, but it just made Thompson want to sleep.
Doyle Rafferty made Nelson really happy. He bugged Thompson and Dennis, who were bugged by everyone. Doyle Rafferty had discovered metal music three years ago and had made it his goal to learn every song that Stefan Bogner could play. Stefan was a senior like Dennis and Thompson. He bow hunted, fished, drove a mini cooper, wore polo shirts, hated Jewish people and loved metal music more than he had loved losing his virginity to the rat-like girl everyone remembers as so mean she couldn’t have possibly have existed. Everytime Thompson thought that someone might not exist, he was generally proven wrong. Maggie couldn’t exist. She spoke in two tones. One Flat when accepting all the misogyny Thompson had to shout at her as a running joke and one excited when confronted by the likes of Freda, Thompson’s editor, and her brother, Jack, the anomaly. Jack liked things and hated people. Who could blame him? If Dennis knew who he was, he wouldn’t have blamed him. Much of Dennis’ time and energy
was spent despising his classmates.
“Has he ever met jack?” asked Maggie.
“Well, no. I guess not.” Thompson said over a game of cards.
“what’ll it be, Marge?” asked Smitty, the co-pilot
“Hit me. I’m sure he would like him if he met him.” She sounded hopeful.
“He never met a man he couldn’t dislike.”
“He likes you.”
“Who’s making him?”
“Dealer has 19.” Said Smitty
Thompson consistently lost these games but played anyway. His goal was to get H, the quiet carpenter to agree to play strip poker. H wouldn’t comply with his demands, which became more and more importunate as time passed. Thompson wanted H in his skivvies and would result to anything to get him there. He had no particular reason for this. H was someone he had absolutely no problem with, in fact he rather liked him. He remembered the first time a girl had ever willingly removed her clothes for him was during a game of strip poker. He, two girls a year older than he, and a bulbous dreg named John Seither played in the theatre sewing room. He got Seither into his skivvies and then had promptly ejected him from the room. He could still taste the tension and his mounting cowardice and arousal. Unfortunately, he respected these women, all women, unless he had a reason not to. Maddie Hoobelly who got into her bra and underwear while playing the same game in the same room with 4 men twice
as large as her, did not deserve his respect and she didn’t get it. Neither did her brother Raymond. These two girls were misguided. They got into thong underwear and undershirts with no qualm. Surely they’d made a mistake, this boy was only 13 years old, and they no more than 16. His guilt made this all seem more like an incredibly sexual mistake than divine providence. He had never seen a woman in her underwear other than his mother. He was almost certain that these two women were willing to take their clothes off for him, and he would vomit on them if they tried. He watched their pale skin develop the small beads caused by the cold. Their smiles turn nervous quickly after. Sex. He left them in their bras and thong underwear before that could happen. He wasn’t in love with them, what business did he have seeing them almost naked and almost willing.
Doyle Rafferty was an old fashioned boy and most certainly would have done the same thing. Nelson and Thompson came to similar conclusions. He was not from the south, but they had no choice but to regard him as a southern gentlemen. Nelson snatched one of his online posts and added notes to it to prove their point and posted it on their blog dedicated to the skin. They had learned to network by watching March Madness the teacher’s aid. He wasn’t allowed credit on their websites or to have officially inspired them as he didn’t have tenure.
They laughed and smiled and cried together at this one night at the quarry. It reminded Thompson of when he and Roebuck would go to the library and open papers and add excessive amounts of swearing. Greg Nugent could hardly explain how his treatise on anime had an unreasonable emphasis on ‘sand-filled vaginas.’ Behaving like children was their specialty. Since Roebuck had graduated, Thompson had become blustery and depressive, fueled everytime Irena was distant with him. Now with no one to return to the womb with, Thompson and Nelson broke rules as frequently and sneakily as possible. At Young Alumni Day, Thompson sat on the panel of graduated students until the Headmaster’s wife yelled at him. Nelson painted the walls of the staircase behind the theatre, though that was only after Dennis, Melina and Jill had started to do so while getting high during theatre tech and really not wanting to do work. Their disdain for the rules didn’t upset Thompson, it just didn’t fit in with his schedule of completely avoiding society except for Irena. If he could go through most of life with only social fuck ups and embarrassments, that would please him more than a lot of stories that started with him drinking and smoking and end with him going to the sports award assembly naked and demanding to be given coach’s award on the baseball team and then passing out.
Eichmann coached baseball and was also an English teacher. He misspelled ‘physically’, mispronounced ‘nuclear’ and his anger prevented from using good grammar. He was a man of good build who shaved his head regularly and wore sports shoes, shorts and track pants or jeans. Always. Freda, Thompson’s editor found this appalling and it gave her something to feel superior about. An English teacher who was allowed to stand in front of children and get paid money in exchange for his services could also write angry letters to Freda, the editor calling her names after she criticized school spirit in the newspaper.
“You goddamned lousy red bastards! We’re at war! Get on the bandwagon or we’ll gladly run over your feet with it, you pink sons of bitches.”
After publishing his response verbatim and laughing at the incompetence of someone a good 12 years older than they, two things happened. Thompson decided to teach a class on Zombie movies, and they changed the name of the newspaper.
Nelson, Freda, his editor and Thompson all fought over who thought to call the paper ‘The Horse’s Mouth” but it was Thompson who changed it during formatting and listed the staff as the Horse’s Teeth. He’d be damned if his last year as freelance writer would be wasted on some generic goddamn name.
“I’ll be damned if my last year as contributing editor and staff writer is wasted on some goddamn generic name. There’s no fresh newspaper names out there.”
They all agreed however that they had each individually arrived at the conclusion to change the name because it enabled the most casual reader, like Eichmann for instance, to discuss a story and tell their companion that they got it
“straight from the Horse’s Mouth” they said in unison. Eichmann also said it about his response to Freda’s article. He carried himself after that like a man who had accomplished something. Each time he spied an intellectual he gave a knowing, shit-eating grin and would nod his head ever so slightly, indicating that he had just socked it to the reader of his choosing. The kids on the sports team understood it. they exchanged high fives with more fervor than he, Hunt had ever seen. He spied Eichmann entering the gym and giving the sternest High-five ever administered to Grundleman.
“we finally got ‘em”
“spoiled assholes” said Grundleman, his collar popped to unreasonable excess.
The school one day printed out copies of the sports schedule on the thickest paper Thompson had ever felt; here in bold was the list of all the games of the season for all of its teams. There in everyone of the 200+ mailboxes on campus was the schedule. He made an announcement in assembly.
“we don’t need to print these out. We have school email accounts, this information is on the website and Lyle has posted it on his door, just to my left.”
“get back in the theatre, fag!” shouted former school president Mike Breuning, who had graduated last year and was for some reason at assembly that day.
“Lousy Son-of-a-bitch! Don’t even consider messing with Texas! Go horns!” After saying this, Eichmann snorted and squealed, kicking up mud as he impersonated a steer. He took two schedules on his way out.
The next day, Russell and Grundleman confronted Thompson while he was drinking tea with Dennis in the dining hall. Thompson drank tea and coffee incessantly and excessively, exclusively in fact, until he had very little choice but to drink them. He drank tea and coffee out of a mug with a drawing of three wolves’ heads sitting next to each other. He called it the superwolf, after Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney’s album and he had even attempted to write the longest poem in the world about it. He had written two pages before quitting.
“What was that garbage announcement?” asked Russell
“there was no reason to print sport’s schedules. It’s all available for those who want to know it on the internets.” Thompson lazily countered.
“You guys have the biggest waste of paper of all.” Russell shouted indignantly and smartly. ‘Grammar’ thought Thompson
Expecting a cutting remark despite his poor grammar, Thompson looked guiltily at the Tea bag and wooden coffee stirrers the school provided that he used for a balancing game he’d invented two or three years ago. He would hang a coffee stirrer out of his mouth and then perch as many as he could on top of the first one perpendicularly. His record was twenty-two.
“Cigarettes” was the next thing he said. Thompson didn’t smoke, Dennis didn’t waste any of the paper when he smoked cigarettes. A long silence followed. The heads of the two bewildered freaks moved in all directions considering the claim. When the heads stopped moving, they looked in directions opposite one another and then their mouths thoughtfully fell open.
“Is corn wasteful?*” Thompson legitimately wondered.
“I guess if I ate enough of it, they would find out if it was wasteful.” Said Dennis shrugging his shoulders. They gave faint laughs each. Russell was dressed too well to keep in their presence, so he galloped over to Grundleman and the two of them decided to use ‘sport’s schedules’ as a unit of measurement purely to get under Thompson’s skin. He both loved and hated this behavior. He’d rather be hanged for his convictions by his peers, than convicted for rather being hanged than spend any time with the lot of his peers. He made a noose out his scarf and tied it as tightly around his neck as it would allow and fell asleep like this.
*Logic behind question that was formulated during pregnant pause. Cigarettes are in a sense agricultural. If all but the butt is used, that makes much like corn, except more efficiently used. The only part of corn that is consumed is the outside shell of kernels, which account for less than half of the total mass of the whole ear. If the skin and cob are both wasted, that means that a cigarette, that leave nothing but the filter when purchased at a store and smoked, is more efficient a commodity than corn could ever hope to be. Except of course that corn doesn’t come in paper or filter…
Thompson’s classes mostly consisted of women he vaguely knew and teachers he respected. In AP Environmental Science or APES, the class consisted of 6 people, himself, 4 girls and Matthew, their bearded teacher. Matthew’s hair was gray, and occasionally it shrunk. He wore glasses and no one had ever seen him without his beard. The idea of seeing him without his beard made Thompson more than a little uncomfortable. The 2nd law of thermodynamics made Thompson more than a little uncomfortable. Matthew’s job as APES teacher was to slowly pull 5 people out of comfort and happiness like peeling paint of a house until they saw everything and then see how they acted. Thompson reacted violently outside of class, but laughed like a hyena during class imagining everyone who lost sleep over the revelation that in fact there was no god and the universe was a cup of coffee cooling down, as Matthew put it. Thompson had lost sleep imagining the universe reaching temperature equilibrium and consider
ing how eventually nothing he ever did would matter. For this reason he refused to do assignments he didn’t like or apply to college. Irena and Thompson’s parents had gotten together over thanksgiving break and had pie and written his application for him and sent it out to 10 schools. They had expressed their concern for his applying to 2 colleges in British Columbia, but respected his wishes and filled out the application while he was working and mailed it that night. They all cried thinking about how insistent his decision wasn’t to go to British Columbia for college.
“Aren’t there other film schools in Canada?” asked his father.
“you’ll be so far away, you’ll only be able to come home for Christmas. That’s it, kiddo.”
Two nights later, Irena and Thompson lay in bed together and she began weeping softly.
“What’s wrong?” he inquired and wiped tears away on his sleeves and hands.
“what if you decide to go to college in Canada and leave me?”
“?” Thompson had been at work and had no idea what she was talking about. He suggested they play cards to make light of the situation. She drank her own tears instead.
Matthew often veered slightly off course in class during his lectures. He would do so for 15 seconds each time before veering right back on course. He worked very efficiently that way. Jill Worcester would wander off topic and needed to hit whomever she was talking to to even remind herself she had been talking about something else in the first place. This was disconcerting for Thompson who already found it odd that her arrival was announced with a slap in the gut instead of say, a handshake, kiss on the cheek, or a simple ‘hello’. Matthew veered off course one day in September. Thompson had typed his notes out and misread something that said PLT. After pronouncing it phonetically, Matthew informed them of something only he knew.
“I’ve never heard of the world ‘plt” before, although I have heard the word Pilt.” He scratched his chin through the beard.
“in what context?” Inquired Thompson
“Piltdown Man was a primitive skeleton they discovered in a community called Piltdown in England that was believed to be the missing link. It was later proved to be a rare species of ape.”
“Like the one Nelson found in the cabin?” Offered Thompson, who had searched the Internet and found a rendering of the Piltdown Man.
“Yeah, but not so belligerent.” The 15 seconds were up and they continued with the lesson.
Nelson had started taking walks in the woods, but no longer to piss in the quarry at midnight, which he did habitually for three months without fail or second thought.
“it centers me.” he told Ana Johnson, who didn’t ask. That Christmas, Nelson bought Ana the biggest knife the theatre tech crew could afford. It scared the Bejesus out of Ana and she had a recurring nightmare for her Christmas holiday. Burt stepped into the lounge. At once phones stopped ringing, conversations halted, laughter silenced, a card thrown in midair by Smitty hovered inches from the surface of the table, the heater stopped blowing life-giving heat on the students.
“Have you seen Sam Faulkner? He’s due to tour someone in three minutes.”
All were silent. Thompson shook his head in contempt. Burt backed out.
Nelson walked out into the woods, this time with a vague memory of where the once un-addled science teacher had taken them on nature walks. He had been teaching Mammology, which Thompson missed in favor of three science electives which interested him more. The addled science teacher showed them bones and skulls in the woods. Lonnie Street used to do that a great deal more before his Wife moved out from Austin, TX. Lonnie Street taught Thompson’s electives that year and used to live in a house bordering the woods. He used to make beer in the cabin and had left much of it out there for animals to find. Nelson began to come back from his wood walks with animal bones. He hung a small skull in the quiet lounge emergency lights.
“How long has that been there?” inquired Syllables.
“I think it’s new” said Shilough. He turned to Thompson who was cleaning out the coffee filter to make a new pot.
“how long has the skull been there?” he inquired.
“Three months.” Thompson replied in total darkness. Irena was concerned about the environment, so Thompson had learned to piss in the dark so as not to waste energy. This soon translated to most of his bathroom activities.
Nelson had found a deer skull, and most of its bones. The face still had hair on it. Thompson warned him he would soon grow hair and cut his own hand off because he had seen it in a movie. Nelson cleaned the deer’s head with a toothbrush he had borrowed during Young Alumni Day and it made no one the least bit uncomfortable, except Ana who had just recovered from a recurring nightmare.
“I’m not going to stop to spare your dreams!” He shouted.
The addled science teacher had recently returned from being hit by a car outside the school and now spent his days taking long walks. He and Nelson started to conspire about taking walks together, now that Nelson’s schedule was just about clear with his midnight relief now firmly in the past. Nelson was anxious to take these walks with anyone because the primitive ape he found in the cabin had almost completely emptied Lonnie Street’s beer storage and would soon start looking for more of it. Nelson thought it best not to be in the woods alone when that happened. He could think of no better companion to stare death in the face with than a 70 year old man with a beard slightly less impressive than Matthew’s who walked with a cane and an umbrella who many teachers were certain hadn’t gained all his brain function yet. Nelson had a funny way of viewing life, and thus a completely humorless way of viewing death. That’s why he harmed as many people as he could when they least expected it. That’s why he stabbed Zeke in the hand until it bled when Thompson offered one of them a cup of watered down coffee that, according to Little Ben tasted like wet tobacco. Little Ben usually knew what he was talking about, but put on an air that made many people uncomfortable like when he urged students three to four years his sire not to take up smoking. There were three people who didn’t smoke. Thompson and He, Hunt were two of them. Smoking scared the shit out of Thompson, but the more he considered it, he was in the minority, which he didn’t used to be. Dennis, Melina, Jill, Christian, his APES class, Grundleman, Russell who had three words in vocabulary; everywhere he turned people his age smoked. They seemed smart, why couldn’t he do that?
“I guess I’m in love with my senses.” He offered to Jill Worcester one day when he was waiting for Irena to finish soccer. He often found himself discussing incredibly depressing life factors with Jill Worcester more so than he would have liked. He wanted to have fun with her, but not at all show her that he enjoyed himself. The more he seemed to disapprove of her, the more she needed to convince him there was nothing to disapprove of. Thompson knew the system backwards and forwards and felt like a bad person when he took advantage of it, but that never stopped him.
“that’s fine.” She said blankly. The thing she had said originally which made Thompson very calmly panic was
“I forget sometimes that people don’t smoke.”
He told her the same thing he told Dennis.
“I have no problem with smoking, but I’ll gently encourage you not to.” He had a hunch her husky and queerly sexy voice was in part a result of her smoking. He would have felt worse about this if he remembered hearing her talk before a year ago when he had completely fallen in love with her for almost no reason. They began talking as soon as Thompson had been rid of his first girlfriend, and became infatuated with one another. Thompson had then sloppily told her exactly how they both felt and gave her the edge with which to bow out of her affection for him and leave him alone and bitter a week later. They dated for a week. Exactly. The only thing Thompson hated more than dating was trying to date someone. Uncertainty made him want to die, but the more he thought about dying, the more he didn’t want to die alone, and thus started chasing women. Women were his vice, but not in the way that a man who actually sleeps with women has a vice. Thompson thought about women, and that made him
the most inefficient creature he ever was. When he cared about a woman he got poor grades. When he dated them, which was three times in his life, he forgot he was achieving grades. The past year he had dated Irena, who was unquestionably perfect until she wasn’t anymore, he didn’t remember anything about his classes or grades. He did remember not thinking about other women, and considered himself cured. His 10th grade was a blur because he hated his first girlfriend, a chubby jesus freak who more than once made him weep openly because his convictions told him not to submit to religion. He had never told Freda, his editor, this story, but he had a hunch she would enjoy it. He would like to share it with her because he knew she wouldn’t laugh at him, she rarely did. But it wasn’t as though she didn’t laugh at stupidity. She loathed, despised, could not stand it and was confronted with it almost as much as Matthew.
Matthew had run up against trouble with authority since he was a teenager. He now had a beard of graying hue and could talk without hyperbole about Vietnam.
“Have you had many bad experiences with the police?” Thompson asked him on their way to a cemetery for APES lab.
“Since I was a teenager. I was once brought in for leaning against a mailbox.” This surprised no one. Mailboxes were filled by the postal service, and thus belonged in spirit to the government. You couldn’t lean on Uncle Sam and not get kneed in the groin. You couldn’t lean on Zeke without similar results. Yet Nelson stabbed him just the same. Zeke feared the way Nelson’s head worked, or more, that he didn’t seem to apply logic to his sense of fear. This bothered everyone. Lesser men than Zeke had been disturbed immensely by Nelson’s brain, and couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to fight them, like a man.
Matthew detested these people almost as much as he detested Nelson’s lack of restraint and disregard for the wishes of men like Matthew. Maybe Matthew was afraid of him too, but despite his lack of respect in his presence, Nelson had nothing but the utmost respect for Matthew. March Madness, the teacher’s aid respected Matthew as well, and had ever since he graduated from the school ten years earlier.
Matthew too had problems with men like Matthew. John Brown, the head of school was Matthew’s nemesis. John Brown paid his salary, heated his home, provided him with a classroom full of students and fed him. That was all John Brown wanted to do with the likes of Matthew. He would fire any teacher older than himself if he had his way. John Brown loved sports, despised the arts and didn’t care much for books either. Every now and again men like J.K. McAlister, the assistant Headmaster and geometry teacher would tell him how his class went and tell him something smart that John Brown arrogantly waved away.
“WE DON’T NEED THAT KIND OF TALK!” he growled through a mouthful of steak.
Matthew wanted his classroom to be solar powered, wanted the campus to invest in wind energy, and other such small projects that would not contribute so heavily to the destruction of the earth.
“Matthew, it costs too damn much.”
“We’re spending $100 Million on a new gym. The old one’s fine.”
“Matthew, how can I enjoy basketball if I hate the room I’m in? and besides, you already have all those goddamned books. Can’t you read about solutions and then pass it on and just keep your goddamned nose out of my wallet? This is a business. Our first responsibility is to the investors. Oh, and the Home and School association is rewriting the mission statement, I need you to edit it. I fucking hate all of that three ‘r’s’ shit.”
Matthew passed the memo along to his APES class and told them it was worth a test grade and that he would leave the gas for the Bunsen Burners on until they finished it and forged his signature.
“What do we stand for? Why? This should be easy for you five.”
“Matthew, I hate this school, and everything it stands for.”
“Well, you must hate something, what it is that you hate.”
“I hate lots of things.”
“Well, listen up. When Thompson tells you what he hates, you copy it down only change the word ‘hate’ to ‘is our top priority’. If it’s particularly good, add ‘this is a point of pride within the school community’.”
“I Hate the teachers and the way they stick their noses into all my goddamn business.”
They added this “the way the teachers stick their noses into all of our student’s goddamn business is our top priority.”
“What else?” asked the four women in his APES class.
“I hate the filthy fucking facilities.”
“See The Pristine Fucking Facilities Are Our Top Priority.”
“I hate every rich man. With their expensive clothes, and haughty looks and contempt for the lower class, and their shit-eating grins and every dick Football game these assholes play in the parking lot.”
“Our Students Are Rich, We Have Proof. Look At The Designer Clothes, Their Disdain For Filth, The Smiling, Shit-Eating Faces. The Tremendous Athletics Department Is Our Top Priority, This Is A Point Of Pride Within The School Community.”
Thompson lazily complained while the four women complimented his choices, urged him to continue and giggled to themselves. He spoke until the gas caused him to pass out.
“What is poetry?”
“It has no meaning. It just exists.”
“Nothing just exists.”
“you think it does.”
it did. You killed it.” Lynn was the AP English teacher who believed in class participation and knew the answer to every question she asked. She never made a mistake, but her students certainly did. Thompson certainly did.
“I’m going to read the poem and you’re going to pick a line that inspires you. If none of them do, then pretend that they inspire you and explain why.”
The poem ended and she asked Maggie what a line that inspired her was.
“Bowtie, fingernails, coffin, hearse.”
“Those aren’t in succession. Why did you choose them?”
“Because those were my father’s last words.”
“Were they really?”
“No, you told me to pretend to be inspired.”
“But, you weren’t inspired” said Lynn offended
“No, but I did you one better, I pretended the poet was inspired by me.”
“This is completely ridiculous.” Shouted Lynn. Hearing insults lobbed at the chair behind him, Thompson instinctively defended himself.
“I Know I am, but leave me alone.”
“Not you!” snapped Lynn. “Stop being so self-centered!”
Thompson leaned over to Delilah, “Is it self-centered to assume someone is insulting you if you hear unkind words tossed in your direction?”
“Shut up!” screamed Lynn, now irate. “If you must speak, use only nouns from the poem.”
“Inebriated Peasant. Mass Latin Cancer.”
“Mantis Muffler.” cried Freda, his editor.
“Catastrophe of silence.” Thompson finished uncertainly
“What does that mean to you?” asked Lynn, on the attack again. “You have all of this activity and planets zooming, so what is the catastrophe of silence.”
“Nothing could have happened.” He floundered about “he could be dead.”
“umm, Scarecrow squad car latrine?” asked Maggie.
“Yes you may, but take your time. Not that it matters.” Maggie departed for the restroom
“Pond bullets” said the blonde in the corner of the room before a fit of giggles.
“When will we read Robert Frost?” asked Tits, a boy with brown hair who was referred to Thompson and was referred to by Thompson as Tits. Whenever they met, they would exchange the name they had given each other.
“NEVER! HE’S A GODDAMN TRITE HYPOCRIT! HE AIN’T WORTH SHHHHHIT!” Thompson raised his eyebrows at Lynn’s hysteria.
“Look at this line.” Headight-Haunted Truckstops was the line. “is this at all musical?”
“Depends on who you listen to.” Said Thompson, feeling Bullheaded because he worked at a record store. “It’s not Springsteen by any means, but people would have you believe that. It’s too good. It’s not quite Tom Waits, but it’s close.”
At lunch that day, Thompson and Freda, his editor sat next to he, Hunt, who was studying for his American Studies Test. While dipping bread in the spicy vegetable soup, he noticed a section header entitled Haymarket Riots.
“What are the Haymarket Riots?”
“I don’t know.” He, Hunt admitted earnestly. He looked it up in the pages and paraphrased.
“Looks like some people in Boston rioted in Haymarket Square to protest police brutality.”
“Inciting more brutality, one can assume.”
“One might assume.” He, Hunt said correcting him.
“One might assume that this could be viewed as ironic.” He explained hopefully to Matthew on the way to the cemetery.
“Do you know about the Haymarket Riots?”
“No.” responded Matthew. The four women in APES said likewise.
“.” Thompson said nothing.
“Are you going to tell us?”
“Why Don’t You Make Me!?!” He snapped. Then he told them.
“The Haymarket Riots were when a group of people in Boston”
“Chicago.” Matthew corrected him.
“Right, Chicago. They rioted to stop Police brutality. Which only incited more, one might assume.”
Matthew offhandedly changed the subject and then parked the van.
“Now, we need to find every gravestone with a death date before 1900. This will give us an idea of the mortality rate.”
“Why are we here on the coldest day of the year?”
“I never mean to, but it always works out this way.” The 6 member party approached the large cemetery with grim outlooks. All of the gravestones beyond the only tree they could see were half underground and had to be excavated to see the year of their death. All they needed was their age at death and their sex. This would contribute to science, Matthew told them. It was the coldest day of the year. 41 degrees. Thompson and the four girls spent an hour and a half in the cold collecting names. It depressed them all and the cold made them turn every third word into a swear word.
“Jane, 1861 to fuck!”
“I can’t feel my fuck hands! You’re turn!”
“They all died after 1900 over here, that’s not good! Shit it’s cold.”
Matthew was wearing sandals, a windbreaker, chesthair and his beard and was somehow impervious to the cold. It may have been the fact that because of all the misdemeanors he had been arrested for he had spent a cumulative 1,061 days in prison. He added every hour to the count so at the time of his death he could send the number to an attorney and begin collecting jail immunity for his son when today’s generation became police officers.
The four women noticed that most of the men were named John and most of the women were named Sarah. Thompson wondered aloud about the string of deaths they were investigating.
“Why have always these fucking men and women met their end before 1900?”
“My god, what’s been killing them all?!!”
“We have to find out!”
They begin digging up the grave closest to them and discovered that there was in fact no body, no coffin, nor judge, jury and Executioner. Someone was using these bodies for their own twisted means. Matthew ran to the car to get his gloves and toolkit and was arrested for running in public. Thompson drove the van back to school and fell asleep in front of the heater in the lounge. March Madness the teacher’s aid posted bail.
Melina, Freda, the editor and Louis, their supervising English teacher, accepted young boy Johnny Princeton’s offer to be the photographer for the newspaper, not knowing the trouble he was not worth. This was right around the time that 3 months later Evan got into the habit of asking a lot of stupid questions so Nelson told him that he could ask one question and that would be it for the rest of his life. He wasted it.
“You just need to ask the writers what they’re writing about and take pictures relating to that.”
He asked Christian what he was writing about and disapproved of it and began taking pictures of the scenery around the library. He came back and approached Melina.
“I want to be a journalist.”
“You’re the photo journalist.” Said Melina optimistically.
“I want to write things and then take pictures of them.”
“That’s not what we discussed thirty minutes ago.” He ignored that and walked to a computer and began writing. This went swimmingly for Johnny except that he had nothing to write about, and did so with all the maturity and wit of a professional. At the end of the news day, he presented this to Freda, his editor.
“Just take pictures. That’s your job.” She snarled angrily
“I Want TO WRITE!”
That day he emailed the school asking for things to write about. Everyday for 3 weeks, the whole of the school received emails asking for something to write about. No one ever answered him until the day that both Thompson and Nelson did just that. Thompson told him: Get an idea, or stop writing. Nelson presented him with a rumor he had heard that Someone was using dead bodies for their own twisted means. He gave him impressive false statistics about grave robbing, cradle robbing, cradle to the grave, grave digging and the number of days Matthew the science teacher had spent in prison. Johnny found the farce to be a farcical goldmine and began writing. He finished his article and presented it to Louis, the faculty advisor on the paper.
“What the devil is this?”
“There is someone, on this very campus was using dead bodies for their own twisted means.”
“Where’s the proof, you lousy son a bitch?” he pointed an accusatory pencil and sipped coffee. It wasn’t very good; the grounds were unsubstantial.
“What about all the dead rabbits and foxes we’ve been finding in the rec room?”
“That’s Nelson’s apeman and everyone knows it. And please keep your voice down, he has incredible hearing and a hair-trigger temper.”
“It’s time for a change of occupation.” Johnny Princeton thought to himself.
“No,” he thought. “It’s time to promote himself to head of the distributor.” He had to control the press. Needing it was for rubes and chimps. He thought that last bit quieter to appease the apeman. In the lounge, Christian, Nelson, little Ben, Thompson and Freda, his editor were all yelling at a scrawny republican named John Johnson to get out of the lounge when a giggling blonde girl with a limp walked in the room with a worn face and no smile. She was accompanied by another girl, who none of them recognized. The two walked through the room and down the stairs to the rec room.
“Who were they?” asked Syllables.
“One of them was Jen’s Sister.” Said Raymond Hoobelly indicating the blonde.
“She didn’t look well.” Said Syllables. At this, the notion that it was ok to speak ill of the girl, a slew of insults hit the room like a man insane.
“She’s had that limp all year.”
“Well, she’s dating Segundo, what do you expect?”
“Her face looks like it was dragged through an ashtray!”
“I thought she was someone’s mother!”
The room was silent. They looked to TJ, the thin dirty stereotype who sat next to the coffee pot, who hadn’t said anything mean or clever. Nelson stood up, Thompson leaned forward, and Freda’s jaw dropped open, Little Ben spit on the floor and Christian rolled up his sleeves.
“TJ, it’s your turn to say something funny.”
“I got nothing.” He said stupidly, hoping they would ignore him.
“If you can’t add anything…” Thompson started in on him.
“Are you a contributor or a cantributor, TJ?”
“Either say something funny or get out!” demanded Nelson.
“I’ll leave.” He defied.
The lounge had five people they continually made fun of. Segundo and the Barbo sister were one of them. A unified whole. The others were Gabe Freeman, John Johnson, Christine & Johnny Princeton, who Thompson had never seen or met since he started at the school this year. He hated him just the same. Freda, his editor had met him and hated him even more having seen his face. They also made fun of the Skin. They had no rules, really. They were patently disrespectful.
“He can’t write and he has no ideas. I emailed him telling him to get some.” Said Thompson
“I gave him a lot of false statistics to see if he’ll write about it.” Gave Nelson
“I can’t goddamn believe him! We hired him as the photographer and now he’s…”
“I’ve never actually seen him.”
“Here he is!” shouted Sandy, the 60 year old wife of the theatre tech head. “He’s stupid, dear, don’t think about him. He can’t do anything.” She held up something, and then Thompson, his editor, Nelson and Irena all laughed hysterically as they saw she was holding up a newspaper with a picture of president W. Bush.
“Don’t think about him!” Sandy was rarely wrong.
“Raymond, brew some more coffee.” Said Thompson to the brother he didn’t respect.
“is it ok if I…”
“Jesus, Raymond” said Thompson
“Yeah, jeez.” Joked John Johnson
“Is he still here?” asked Sandy boisterously. Johnson stood up at this and headed for the door. They all laughed at him.
“Throw this book at him.” Nelson Demanded of Freda, who wasn’t his editor.
“Throw The Book At Him!” Thompson corrected. Newly invigorated he stood up and continued. “Johnson, if you come back here we’ll administer the truest justice there is. I’m an attorney.”
“No you’re not!” argued Nelson.
“You’re all under arrest!” He sat back down next to Irena and took no further action. Irena took to blaming him for her laziness.
“I don’t want to do anything, and it’s your fault.” Charged Irena
“I’ll take responsibility, but I won’t change it.”
“I don’t want to read this anymore, he keeps talking about Tennessee Williams. I Hate Tennessee Williams.”
“Well then stop reading it, dear. Get out of it. That’s what you do.” Said Sandy.
“There you have it, darling.” And then Thompson tuned out of reality with Irena’s legs on his lap.
John Brown, the headmaster hated the school more than Thompson did. He didn’t go there during the day unless there was a sports game or an assembly, which used to be held twice a week until he reduced their number to once every third week; this way he would have to see as little of the school as possible. He kept his job because he didn’t have to lift a finger and lived in a house he wasn’t paying for with a wife who he hated but was out of the house most of the day in her office on campus. John Brown would occasionally go to campus if there was nothing to eat in his rent free apartment, while there, he would say hello to the students who got good grades and the teachers who didn’t complain about anything except intelligence, and who loved sports. This made the people he spoke to on a regular basis tally 5. One day in his office, while scratching his chin, which was perpetually shaven and ruffling his own hair, admiring his appearance. Inside walked Eichmann, who took his hat off to
expose his purposely looking a jackass. John Brown liked Eichmann enough, and quite liked the idea of having an obsequious bull to shadow him whenever he would make appearance. He felt like President Roosevelt. Eichmann sat across from him and spoke casually.
“I suppose you’ve heard the rumors.” He asked sorrowfully
“What now?” John Brown sighed and then laughed.
“The rumors are true.” Said Eichmann
“I’ve heard about the rumours. Now give me the facts.”
“Seems that the kids we’ve had tailed are responsible for all the dead animals. They’ve been caught drinking.”
“Smoking.” Corrected his boss, who had no idea that was true but assumed that because a man of his intelligence enjoyed a drink every now and again couldn’t possibly share interests or hobbies with a couple of kids in dirty clothes.
“Smoking. As well, we caught them leaning on the school’s mailbox.” Eichmann slid an envelope across John Brown’s desk. Inside was a black and white photograph of Thompson, Dennis standing on the front lawn watching the farm across the road. Thompson held a cup of coffee and Dennis stood smoking a cigarette. They wore in the photo what they wore every day; Thompson a pair of khakis, the green English army surplus sweater, dark Yugoslavian overcoat, gray scarf, Dennis his faded colorful sweater beneath a green windbreaker with a pair of jeans, his shaggy beard snugly resting against his face and light brown hair pulled into a pony-tail.
John Brown opened and closed his mouth a few times, huffing false starts to words he had no intention of saying. This had hit a nerve.
“Those mailboxes are basically government property, what are your orders?” John Brown stood up and faced his window with his hands behind his back.
“Call the inspector. He’ll sort it out.” John Brown liked to think he made a difference in his student’s lives each day.
On his way to lunch, John Brown saw Irena coming and couldn’t remember her name, grades, activity, aspirations, college choice, instrument played, charities supported or anything else.
“You’re the purtiest girl in the whole world.”
She turned around and walked away from him.
He had handled that one well. But he still felt he wasn’t being given the respect he deserved. He hated these children, and wanted them to “revere him and fear him”. He had made up that rhyme at home one day and had since been writing it on post-it notes in varying fonts to try and decide what he wanted his insignia and slogan to look like. When he decided, he was going to make a badge, t-shirts and a blazer and begin carrying a gun and wearing a karate black belt around his head at all times so he could be the world’s first school sheriff. Now, that was a job he could get behind.
At lunch, he sat next to McAlister, the bespectacled assistant dean who voiced concern over the decline in the school’s buildings and the necessity of renovations. John Brown could have cared less about what he was talking about, but instead an incredible sense of paranoia hit him very suddenly. “These children, they walk all over me everyday. Every second that they don’t fear and revere me is a slap in my face. They all talk in hushed tones about me.” he thought.
“They want a new headmaster.” He considered this thought for a moment.
“They want a new headmaster?” He became very indignant and got angrier and angrier by the moment.
“They want a new headmaster? Let’s see how they like this!” ‘
He stood up in the middle of McAlister’s sentence and approached the salad and sandwich table. He spied John Johnson, whose legs were different sizes, which caused him to limp furiously. John Brown knew it would be simpler than simple, showing the students who was boss. Johnson approached the bread with a tray full of food and drink and reached for the knife in the jar of peanut butter when he was stopped.
“PUT THAT KNIFE DOWN, SHITBAG!!” John Brown screamed as he knocked Johnson’s tray askew and twisted his hand behind his back. John Johnson was used to being demeaned, but had also gotten used to fighting back. When he realized he was getting kicked in by the head of school, a republican, a wealthy man, it threw him off. John Brown forced his student’s body down on the salad table into a bowl of pink yogurt, which Johnson’s head landed in, sending it onto his Headmaster’s shirt.
“’t’chu’ ever fuck with me, queer!” he released the boy and began to act disgusted, like he had bathed in garbage runoff or some such filth. He looked at his hands and wiped them on a passing 9th grade girl.
“CLEAN THIS SHIT UP, JOHNSON! WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!?! GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS!” The insults were incredibly disorienting. John Brown looked toward the table with Russell, Grundleman, Tits, Dan and most of the women of Thompson’s APES class and stared intently. He gave the slightest nod, looking furious.
“That’ll teach ‘em” he thought triumphantly and strode off, his head in the air. He’d fight any of those bastards if he wanted to, and now they knew it. Johnny Princeton had been paying attention and was in awe of the power and balls his headmaster seemed to possess. It gave him a good idea.
Twenty five minutes later at the second lunch period, Delilah, Maggie, Thompson & Freda, his editor prepared lunch and traded ideas about Johnson’s being completely covered in yogurt, cleaning French dressing off of the floor. As they ate, Thompson sipping tea from the Superwolf, a strange man approached them, but did not make it obvious that it was them that he wanted. This was Burt Johnson, the man in charge of overseeing publicity and making the school look good to students and parents all over the world. Without making eye contact he started pouring himself hot water for tea.
“Have you seen Sam Faulkner?” he announced peculiarly.
“No.” Thompson spoke for his table, assuming that he meant to at least address them.
“Well, he has a visitor and he’s gone MIA. HAHAHAHA!” He laughed hysterically as he walked away with a mug full of hot water. Thompson wanted to cry. Burt’s job required that he bring families around the school to show them the facilities. Unlike a college tour guide, he could not brag about the sheer number of volumes the school’s library possessed, as the volume of volumes numbered 1, so he lied about what the school did have. Much to the burning chagrin of Thompson’s ilk who lived in the school’s quiet lounge, Burt made a habit of bringing visiting families around the lounge and lying about what went on. He had told one family that the Go table Nelson crafted in his spare time over last year’s Christmas break was a table made in art class. He told families the school planned to build a recording studio. Told them this was where studying got done, implied that things weren’t stolen. Implied that Gabe Freeman and his nearly retarded girlfriend with a horse face like Cher didn’t have sex on the new couches; he told the
m that plays were written and directed by school seniors. Burt was a big fucking melanoma to everyone at school. When he spoke to you, he made a point of being less than a foot from your face. Sherpas, the school’s student tour guides had to be constantly on call, and everyone was incredibly proud of Sam Faulkner for his openly apathetic manner regarding his visitors. Burt drank to excess at home whenever this happened to him. This made his eyes almost entirely white the days after during school days. He had a beard that came in patches and always stayed the same length. He had disgusting facial features that made him look like a troll who lived under a bridge. Burt’s eyes wandered in opposite direction of each other when they had become colored again after his nights drinking.
Burt had come in and made Irena very uncomfortable about a visitor she had the next day, and after the frightening, slobbering flirtation that the head of school had just initiated a few moments earlier, she was so unsettled that she called her mother and asked to be taken home. Her mother wasn’t in the business of obliging her wishes. She didn’t agree, so Thompson waited until the Dean of students was out of her quiet lounge office and drove her home himself instead of going to AP government. When he returned he listened to Freda, his editor and Delilah talk in loud sarcastic tones about the events of the class as he dozed off, knowing he would be woken in time for theatre.
Freda, The Editor
Freda, the student had adopted the newspaper at the start of her senior year and Louis, the faculty advisor made her editor because she used good grammar and knew more synonyms for simple words. She was also smart, almost, if not top of her class. Louis knew she was smart, but that didn’t matter. To succeed in the newspaper, you just had to be comparatively smart. Use better syntax than Doyle Rafferty, better diction than the Blonde girl who cared about not ruining her shoes doing human interest stories, but who wanted to write a fashion section, actually conduct interviews unlike Gabe Freeman’s girlfriend who just texted Lowlights and other of the boarding Girls for their opinions. There were a few ways to be thought of as smart, and a hundred ways to be thought as brilliant.
“Turn in your article, let someone else edit it, smile when you’re name is in bold under a witty headline you lie to people about creating.” Freda, the editor told every other writer. She knew expecting more than this was dangerous. She had asked Johnny Princeton to take photographs, but instead came to her with 100 words and no subject to his piece about articles.
“I don’t understand, he wrote a piece about the pieces in the paper.” Asked Louis, confused.
“No, he wrote a piece about articles, the words. ‘A’, ‘An’, ‘The’, Articles. He wrote 100 words about those 100 words because he started writing, got as far as a headline, then started writing about the headline. And it’s not very good writing, either.”
“If he’s not doing photographs, who is?”
“No one, all we have is googled pictures for the Human Rights articles.”
“Well, fire Princeton, find a photographer, and find someone to turn his piece into a comment on the detention system.”
This job fell to Thompson, who did so without complaining so he could write his own piece about how the school unfairly focused funds on sports while the theatre crumbled away. The idea came to him when Freda, his editor wrote a scathing piece about how the lousy bastards she hates suck. Of course, it was brilliantly put with interviews, examples and a stupendous argument, but the message was clear to Thompson and a few others.
“Just edit Johnny Princeton’s piece and then you can have any job you want, except photographer. I just gave that to the Apeman.”
Thompson wrote his piece and submitted it, but Freda, his editor, as editor, put hers on the front page so, of course she caught more flak. This miffed Thompson, who was hoping for a bit harsher public outcry than the one he got. If he could have provoked angry not-so-subtle additions to announcements during assembly like she did, he would have been happy as a clam.
“I want to say how proud I am of everyone who attended the last Soccer match. At this school, it’s either all of us, or none of us.” The crowd had cheered, but none louder than Thompson and Johnny Princeton. Thompson googled the comments, but to his dismay found no evidence of any famous fascist using the same words the soccer coach had used during assembly to stick it to his editor.
Johnny Princeton realized the power that came with publishing the written word. Anyone could write things, but to publish them meant you could influence the public.
Thompson began writing his own pieces more than most of the staff writers. Doyle Rafferty wrote articles, but most of the staff despised him and his articles. Melina was the second editor, so next to Freda, the editor and Louis, the advisor she was in charge, but did less work than Thompson. Melina and Freda, editors both got fed up easily with poor grammatical structuring and terrible composition about things that didn’t matter, they just handled it differently. Melina refused to work, but would have done so anyway had the writing been any good. Freda, his editor worked on, in the face of poor writing, but complained about openly as a means of venting. As Thompson wrote more and more, he was given more pieces to edit as Melina wished to be left out of the mire of poorly crafted articles. He had a frustrating time with Doyle Rafferty’s pieces, until midway through an opinion piece he stopped and raised an eyebrow to Louis.
“Why is this name highlighted?” Thompson inquired.
“I told them to highlight the names of the people they interview.”
“Very well. It says here that Jim Rowland refused to comment.”
“Move on.” Louis told Thompson to give up, just as he had. “There is only so much you can do with shit.”
During APES he was reminded of this once again. Their responsibility was now to find the ages and sexes of the many names in the obituaries.
“The goal is to be able to have an published guide to mortality rate in our area by the time you graduate. So phase 2 is to collect the ages and sexes of the dead out of the newspapers.”
Matthew had a certain nonchalance about this activity that Thompson wasn’t sure how to react to. He thought that it sounded like Matthew had done this a hundred and one times, which he had, but to him it was new.
Mary Diggorous died in the arms of the lord. Age 48. Thompson made a note. Lawrence Diggorous, age 82 died suddenly in the night. He made notes. Otero Diggorous, 33. Grainger Diggorous, 97, died with his boots on.
“Matthew, how long do we have to sort through the names of corpses?” Thompson huffed exasperatedly.
“We’ll start with 150 bodies. Then we’ll move to 450.”
“When do we stop?”
“When we have enough.”
“Because life isn’t fair!”
“You haven’t seen Sam Faulkner, have you?” Burt stuck his head in the door and then left quietly when blank stares greeted him.
Spending 80 minute periods flipping through obituaries every week was disconcerting. Thompson hated thinking about death, because it required considering infinity. While they were scouring the countless pages of the dead, Thompson looked outside and saw what looked a great many birds in flight, before realizing, it was snow.
“It’s snowing!” he said with a note of optimism.
“Tomorrow it’s going to be 75 degrees outside.” And sure enough it was.
“Can we go out and see the snow before it all melts?” The four women asked their teacher.
“It isn’t snowing on school grounds, it’s across the street at the farm. If they catch you trying to leave, you could be arrested. If they catch you on private property, you could be arrested.”
Nelson watched the divide with the addled science teacher. The addled science teacher was nearing age 80, and was struck by a car. John Brown wanted to fire him, didn’t think he could teach anymore. McAlister and the other faculty members lobbied to keep him. Eichmann spat words on John Brown’s behalf. The compromise was that the addled science teacher wouldn’t teach, but he wouldn’t be fired either. Which meant he found himself with a lot of free time all of a sudden. Nelson, seeing an opportunity as good as the one Thompson hoped for with Louis, started walking around with the addled science teacher whenever he could. Especially when he had class with his replacement, That Woman. They watched as the snow fell right across the street onto the plowed fields of the farmer no one ever saw. They seemed to stretch for miles.
“We’re never going to leave, are we?”
“we all leave,” gruffed the addled science teacher, “just depends on how. We’re all gonna get wheeled out of here. Some of us on our ass, some on our backs. What are we gonna do? We can’t stop it, we can just fight it. That’s gonna make the difference I guess. You gonna get knocked on your ass and stay that way, or you gonna get right the hell back up and do it for me?”
Nelson looked at the addled science teacher. He didn’t try to clarify his words, and he swore that if life were a book, this were foreshadowin’. What could he do? He cried. Sure he cried, the old man was dying right next to him. He’d as good as said it. What could he do? What did he do?
“‘For Sooth’ that’s a great word. What does it mean?” asked Jack, a favorite amongst the people of the lounge, while Thompson enjoyed some limited R&R in his quiet lounge.
“It was a saying, like for shame, except it means something closer to ‘have sympathy’” he guessed lazily.
“Sympathy’s Gay!” he laughed to give Maggie a raft.
English wasn’t much easier for him. Lynn became increasingly short with her students as the days passed and they had no concrete definition for poetry.
“It has a definition, it’s existed for thousands of years!” she softly pleaded with her students
“Then why don’t you define it?” said the blonde in the corner.
“Because I’m being paid, and you’re paying me.” Thompson gazed longingly down the driveway and across the street where snow was falling like rain.
“Why can’t we leave, Lynn, and enjoy what little of winter we have? It’s going to be 75 degrees tomorrow, and right now the snow falls like rain.”
“That’s poetic write that down.”
“LYNN!” screamed Freda, his editor.
All of the required work Thompson had to do became less strenuous when he started writing more and more for the paper. He wasn’t being graded, given credit or even asking Louis for a college recommendation, but he concentrated harder on his job for the paper than anything else he did. Part of his joy came from the spastic elation that hit him whenever he spoke with or received mail from Louis. The first email read:
We have a boatload of students this fall, but I'm not sure how many good stories are going to come from the group. We'll see.
Louis’s honesty, bluntness and brashness, criticisms and witticisms made life much easier to cope with as freedoms were slowly stripped away. Thompson wanted to help this man as much as he could, but found as a freelance writer, his work came in fairly inconsistently.
The amount of work he had done soon added and accordingly gone right to his head. While staying up until 2 AM one night to finish editing one of Jill Worcester’s pieces, which consisted mostly of changing verbs and adjectives to avoid repetition, he received an email from one of the paper’s staff writers. It listed everyone’s name and the nature of the articles they were all writing. Two things set him off in his nightly rage, the first being that the name Thompson had been left off the list and second was that next to the word ‘music’ was TJ’s name. He screamed and cursed back in an email, and forwarded it to Freda, his editor for a good laugh. The staff writer didn’t respond, but his editor did.
“You're still doing music. His doesn't count because it's worthless shit and anyone with a brain regards it as such. He just decided one day to write a "music" article, and since his writing sucks and he can't bring himself to do anything productive, we just allow him to continue writing articles that don't count as anything insightful. Your column is still yours“
His frustration aside Thompson enjoyed his time spent complaining about Doyle Rafferty and TJ with Freda, his Editor and Melina and most of all enjoyed editing with Louis, a job that only made itself available once in a blue moon.
Don't need any help editing. That doesn't mean all the writing is good.
The humour hit him harder than the fact that he would have to do real work that night instead of procrastinating and thus the universe was at peace for another evening.
When Thompson wrote something good, he would revel in the receipt of such encouragement from the wizened professor as
Can you say "follow up"?
This spoke louder than “good job” did from most of his other teachers. His dream was to graduate and come back and enjoy a coffee with Louis, discussing litrachure, music and the finer things. Being able to do or perform action would be more satisfying than being able to sleep for 48 hours after the ordeal that would be his senior year.
The night prior to the hushed discussion in Neil’s class, Thompson had cut his hand. The day before that, Nelson and the addled science teacher suffering from a brain hemorrhage had gone on one of their walks and returned with bones glued together with sap and tapped maple syrup. Some kids had knocked down the plastic ceiling cover off of the elevator in the large record store he worked in. It had cut him in seven different places on the back of his left hand and quickly begun to bleed. Later that night he had become itchy due to lack of shower and begun scratching himself and had cut open a pimple he thought was a mole and it began bleeding. He looked at his pillow and noticed it was bleeding and ran to the bathroom mirror. He had seen himself look pathetic in this mirror before, with his nose bleeding, face bleeding and oily. Here, his shirt off, bleeding from his hand, blood all over his shoulder and smeared on his chest. His hair, unwashed stood perfectly still in a million and
one directions. His eyes had lines underneath of them that looked defined by sharpie due to lack of sleep and were bloodshot for the same reason. This was the first time he had ever considered himself to look truly desperate. He often thought of himself this way but here he finally looked the part as convincingly as many people younger than him had perceived him.
That day, he brewed coffee for the first time in school. Some time ago, it had stopped tasting like the insanity it always had, which he, Dennis, he, Hunt, Nelson and many others had come to appreciate, but not Irena who found it grotesque, or Shilough, who never ate or drank caffeine out of self-discipline. He, Hunt had been the first to bring to light the fact that now instead of tasting like a man insane, chomping at the bit, it now tasted like the water that collected in dehumidifiers. He, Hunt had bought the quiet lounge a coffee maker for Christmas, and today was the first time they had put it to use since that day before break when Thompson had brought Christmas to the people he loved. It was a spectacle, and he loved himself and everyone who had been present, even the ones whom he hated. Except Raymond Hoobelly, whom he would never grow to like, not until the boy graduated…even then, he had his troubles. He brewed the coffee out of free starbucks grounds he had received in a care package from someone over Christmas. It tasted like ink. And piss. And coal. He hated it, but they all drank it. Thompson and everyone present drank it. He, Hunt, Dennis, Nelson, Syllables, H, Maggie, Raymond Hoobelly, Little Ben, Freda, his editor, Melina & Jill Worcester. They all forced it down, complaining about its taste all the while. While they did so, they discussed two things. The first was their fervent intention to go and buy better coffee. Irena dozed miserably as they discussed the second part. Christine, a girl in Neil’s class, that most present attended, had written a paper that was awful. The subject of the paper was how to change the media’s perception of dejected groups (women, minorities.) Freda, their editor’s idea was to go back in time and steal the bible, and print as an unpretentious, non-misogynistic, non-homophobic, non-racist manifesto. He, Hunt listed many suggestions for non-violent protests that set everyone’s blood aboil with passion. Christine’s idea made everyone stop dead and screw up their faces with dumbfounded disappointment. Her idea was to invent a hate group that hated hate groups. Many, including Maggie, who had once been Christine’s close friend told her this was illogical and would be stooping to their level. She responded violently by removing her paper from the site where they were all posted and posted a response saying that they weren’t stooping to their level, because she stated in her paper that she wasn’t. as well, she felt discriminated against, and didn’t like all the bashing of conservatives that went on during class. Thompson, whom they all considered a brilliant orator, read it aloud while standing on Nelson’s Go table. She had even posted the lyrics of a German metal song to illustrate someone else’s point. They all laughed, goggled, clucked, jumped, spat, threw their arms, shouted, joked, poked and walked out of the room as Neil’s class drew nearer. Thompson wasn’t in Neil’s class but went anyway because he liked everyone except Christine. He arrived midway
through class, with a slightly better cup of coffee in the Superwolf. He shared it with Dennis, Melina & Jill, who drank it all. The discussion that had already begun and continued until he left 10 minutes before the bell rang was ludicrous. Neil had given his class three stern talkings to, all three times had been because Christine felt uncomfortable. The rest of the class felt uncomfortable everyday they came into class and Christine hadn’t yet dropped it. the tone was hushed begrudging shame. No one cared, Neil didn’t want to lose his job, which the mere fact that he was a black teacher and hated every decision John Brown made almost made him do every other week since he had been hired three years ago. Neil was on pins and needles, and handled the situation with kid’s gloves, afraid to poke a sleeping giant, which Christine certainly was. She was rich, but hated rich people, she was intolerant, but hated intolerance, she was fat, but hated fat people, she was never sincere, but
hated insincerity and because of all of these things, Neil had to oblige her incredibly empty indignation, because he didn’t want to lose his job. Everyone present thought she was a dope, a cow, a big, empty fool. They had all independently come up with the idea to pop her like a balloon using the bass guitar, which she lugged everywhere, because they assumed she needed prove to everyone that she was musically inclined. They didn’t find it necessary, as they knew she was not musically inclined. She had played the guitar for four years and had never gotten better, she had sung since birth, fitting as she sounded like a crying baby everytime she opened her mouth to sing, and was usually accompanied by her mother and father, who insisted on singing with her at school functions, bringing along her umbilical cord. They were all abrasive, and Christine was possibly the worst of all of them. Thompson sat himself next to Jill Worcester, who stole his coffee; Neil was midsentence.
“So, we should respect ideas, even though we might now agree with them. I liken this to the time I was at the People of Color Conference. It was started several years ago so that people of color could congregate and share their experiences, deal with intolerance and feel comfortable discussing issues that impacted only them. A few years ago, white people began showing up. And it was fine because they were teachers, school administrators and other officials who were there to learn for a greater good. But then, white people, just regular people started showing up, I guess to hear about intolerance. And while many are ok with this, I discovered that I wasn’t. And whenever I found myself in activities or discussion groups where there was only one white person, it would make me happy to seem them uncomfortable. Watching them squirm there would feel good to me, and I would sit there like ‘now you know.’ and I still don’t feel bad about it, I guess.“ Neil had an anger that made some uncomfortable, but that Thompson, Dennis & Nelson found righteous, necessary and admirable. This was a man who until recently had worked in an office building; a black man with dreadlocks who opposed the war, the president, immigration policies and much else conservative. Neil was now in his element teaching but had his joviality interrupted everytime John Brown made a decision, or Christine raised a complaint about others complaining about her complaining. When Neil finished his story, he opened the floor and everyone but Christine spoke, as if through some act of poignant victimhood. But instead of finding it profound, the class was annoyed by it, because they now had to speak about her as if she had been seriously injured and waited in a hospital bed to be cured by their apologies. No one apologized, which pleased Thompson, and Neil, because the purpose of his class wasn’t to teach tolerance of ignorance, it was initially to show a choice few who shared his ideals how to turn the
ir beliefs into arrows to then douse in oil, light on fire and loose them at Rush Limbaugh, striking him in the heart, then igniting him in a glorious display of conservative fire, his mission one soul closer to being accomplished. Christine was a thorn in his warrior’s heart. She disliked Howard Zinn, political absolutism, opposed the condemnation of all republicans, and acted as if she understood the mentality of rapists, gang members, oppressed Africans, Mexicans, gays & those who needed abortions. Neil had had guns waved in his face by police officers, Christine was a rat faced rich white girl who got fat and acted pious because she felt she understood the meaning of oppression because people didn’t like her taste in music. Thompson wished to see her eaten by a tiger while her sins were read aloud to her by Trent Reznor, whom she idolized. Or anyway, she wore a Nine Inch Nails cape to school one day, and responded with disdain everytime she received a sideways glance. Last year
Thompson had announced in assembly on Friday that Monday was skirt day, and a dozen men, including Thompson, He, Hunt, Neil, Dennis, Nelson & Shilough wore women’s skirts, and answered sideways glances with knowing smiles. They knew how to act differently without making a pariah of yourself. Thompson felt the difference between he and Christine was the difference between wearing a cape and a skirt. As did everyone else in the quiet lounge.
“I think I get the rationale of why one would want to see a hate-group-hating-hate-group, but I think that it would just as more fuel for hate groups.” He, Hunt said earnestly, looking soft, but not apologetic.
“When you get into the thought of a hate group,” He, Hunt continued “and the hate behind the hate group and introduce the side of a hate
group. I don’t really know how to continue.” There was a murmur of understanding from the class.
“I guess I get the idea of trying to make other see the hate, but it still doesn’t quite sound appropriate.” Said Harmon a tall African American boy whose father had run for mayor of Trenton, and lost due to the corruption of the opposition, and whom Thompson could not find fault in or with.
“I agree with Harmon,” said Dennis, “but, it is still, to me, stooping to the level of the hate group, when you try to start a hate-group-hating-hate-group.”
“I agree with Dennis and Harmon,” Added Thompson “but the thing to keep in mind is that hate groups throughout history have always used a history of victimization and self-pity as fuel, so groups like the KKK aren’t going to respond negatively to a hate-group-hating-hate-group. They are going to use that hate group as a means for furthering their hate.”
“I Agree with Dennis and Harmon and Thompson” Said Freda, his editor. “Because one has to take into consideration that there is a complete apathy toward the opposition, in a hate group.”
“I agree with Dennis and Harmon and Thompson and Freda, His Editor,” Said Melina “but it’s absurd to think that a group who heedlessly hates will react positively to this kind of experiment.”
“I agree with Dennis and Harmon And Thompson And Freda, His Editor, And Especially Melina” Said Jill Worcester, with an heir of exasperated agreement “unless you told them first that we were going to start a hate-group-hating-hate-group for the purpose of showing hate to a hate group and seeing how a hate group reacts to hate and see how they feel about it. first of all, I don’t think they’ll care. And second, they wouldn’t agree to it. They’re a hate group.”
Neil stroked his Osiris’ Beard, his dread locks long since removed.
“I see the logic of Dennis, Harmon, Thompson, Freda, Melina, Jill, and there is certainly a lot to consider. But the point is that we are keeping an open mind.” There was a thoughtful silence
“I think you’re all rubbish.” Said Nelson with an arrogant snort.
The use of the word ‘hate’ made Thompson uneasy because of the honesty he felt his classmates they had to use in dealing with Christine. He didn’t want her to feel welcome, he wanted her to quit making them tiptoe around her fat head. He needed to sleep this off.
Russell made Thompson, Freda, his editor, Irena, Nelson and Shilough unspeakably irate. This had begun in ninth grade when Russell, dressed in baggy sweat suit, golden chain, close cropped hair, confident cartoonish face, and million dollars had introduced himself with a laugh and a swagger. Three years later, he was intolerable to all of them. Over the course of those years, he dated Shilough’s older sister, who, in the group’s opinion couldn’t decide for herself that he was a screaming motherfucker, despite his voice never reaching a certain decibel level. they would later conclude she, like Jill Worcester had terrible judgment. They didn’t mind Grundleman, didn’t think Wash was that bad; it was almost as if they chose to endure the people Thompson, Dennis, Shilough & Nelson couldn’t stand.
Russell irked and irked and irked. One night he drank himself into a stupor and began swearing at Shilough’s sister, and this made everyone there nervous and sad. Grundleman, being nearly as drunk as Russell was, took a stand
Russell took a swing at him and the others had to restrain them, including Dan, who sober would have let them tear each other apart. Alcohol made adversaries friends and friends adversaries and this made Dennis feel very awkward because everytime he would drink to excess he would come to with an unwanted friendship.
Russell also thought he was black. He wasn’t. he had money, and a few black friends, drove his mother’s car, didn’t have a real job, wore jewelry, listened to bad hip-hop, made fun of women when he wanted to sleep with them, had conservative tenets and a more than casual dislike of Thompson and his friends.
When Wednesday came around again Matthew had a new death related activity to occupy the 80 minutes of lab time he secured each week for the 5 students in his APES class. March Madness, the teacher’s aid would shred the newspapers when they were finished.
“I want you to assess the means by which all of the people in the obituaries have died and determine who deserved their fate, and who should still be alive.”
“How can we possibly make that judgment?” Thompson miserably questioned his teacher
“Someone’s got to.”
“Isn’t that god’s job?” asked one of the four women.
“I seem to recall someone else who lived in open defiance of god. He got hit by a car and now he wanders around the woods with Nelson bringing back bones.”
“IT’S A BONDING EXPERIENCE!” Thompson yelled at his teacher, tired of telling everyone.
All classes were becoming more and more maniacal in their tone. Lynn had begun fining students if they refused to agree to define poetry.
“What does it mean to you?”
“I don’t know, Lynn. It’s supposed to be abstract!” cried Freda, her editor.
“That’s Absurd.” Thompson laughed and screamed together.
“$25! Now everyone, I’m going to bring the Apeman in here, you must write a poem about him in 15 minutes, his time is valuable, and he doesn’t care for timewasters.”
He came in the door and walked with massive stride to the front of the class and slouched against Lynn’s podium while the kids all made sketches of him in verse. Burt Johnson walked in to take pictures.
“Has anyone seen Sam Faulkner, he has to tour some students?”
Thompson felt sicker by the day.
The Inspector had been called in by John Brown via Eichmann’s complaints and the pictures of Thompson and Dennis standing in open disregard for the government and the school. At that moment, Thompson and Dennis stood leaning on the same mailbox they leaned on in the incriminating photograph Eichmann kept in his desk like a loaded pistol. Thompson held the superwolf, full of coffee, Dennis held his cigarette, their poses unchanged, their faces still exhibiting their adolescent anomie as default expressions, or in Dennis’ case, legal adulthood anomie. The Inspector’s sirens broke their gaze, which had been fixed on the same bale of hay on the farm across the road that it had been in the photograph.
The Inspector’s car pulled up next to them and he stopped, rolled down his windshield and spoke through an amplified megaphone.
“I Say, have you any idea what Chyour’re doing?” said the voice, distorted due the volume of the megaphone. Thompson sipped, Dennis dragged.
“That mailbox is government property, and you shall be arrested if you continue leaning upon it. It is not your purseonal hooligan lean-to.” The Inspector barked, hurt by their unconcern. They both slightly moved their heads behind them and saw that they had, in fact, been leaning on the mailbox all day. They both shrugged slightly and stood up fully.
“Thank you. I’ll thank you not to so blatantly stand in the way of the flag.” He rolled up his window, switched off the amp, turned his sirens on and drove the rest of the way down the road to the school’s drive way and entered school grounds.
Thompson was confused. The Inspector had said the flag, but the man clearly was not born under the American flag.
The Inspector was a proper looking English chap who arrived in three-wheeled car with the siren’s wailing in English fashion. Everyone in the lounge emerged briefly to see what had prompted the sirens. A man of 6’2, 170 pounds, a perfect blue officer’s hat, perfectly smooth navy bobby uniform with three white stripes around his arm and a three bar insignia on his shoulder. On his belt hung a baton, radio, handcuffs, hat holster and mace in a leather container all secured with black buttons that did not shine on purpose. He looked about the grounds, not giving away any emotion. He finally shut his car door and walked to the lounge, ignoring the sign that would take him to the office, in favor of sizing up the rabble that had gathered.
Outside Syllables, Raymond, Maggie, H & Ethan, their large companion with little shame stood wondering who the well dressed policeman was after. He stopped at the foot of the stairs leading up the 5 miscreants pensively absorbing his countenance while the Inspector returned the gesture. After a moment’s pause he spoke to them, raising his head slightly as he did.
“I say. You children know why I am heah?” before anyone could answer he began pacing as he answered his question.
“I am heah” he began confidently “because your headmahster has become disgusted with the crdiminal behayvyour of his schtewdents. He sees the deficment of the lor evedy day and it makes him physically ill. I am hea to assess the saidiousness of the situation and do what must be done to coddect the wrongs of the schtewdent body. I simply hope I am not too late.”
Raymond spoke first, which put the rest of them at ease, because they knew if the coddection was going to begin now, it would begin with Raymond and that thick, nearly uncrackable skull of his.
“What’s wrong with our behavior?” he asked, sounding inarticulate and stupid, his hands moving in, up and down horizontally adjacent to his navel like the planned motion of a museum robot.
The Inspector climbed the stairs with symmetrical motions until he was level with Raymond, who still stood a bit taller than the Inspector. Seeing Raymond’s big dumb, childish facial features facing the clearly defined, English features of the Inspector raised a queer feeling in all present. It made Raymond seem even less developed a child than they knew him to be.
Raymond could never shut up, even in situations when all present knew it was inappropriate to speak and he had been told, rudely and politely, to not talk so much. He asked questions that made everyone uncomfortable. The question he was most fond of asking was “Why do you hate me?”
Thompson hated him because Raymond was the sort of person who asked that question.
Irena hated him because he constantly asked her questions about what she was doing and would say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ whenever he came within several hundred feet of her and would become despondent if she didn’t respond.
He, Hunt hated him because he, Hunt was too polite to tell him to go away and Raymond took this to mean that He, Hunt approved of his appearance and constant questioning.
Dennis hated him because Dennis Hated everyone.
Melina hated him because they had nothing in common, but he would still ask her what she was doing when she did not want to be bothered.
Shilough hated him because they were in the same grade, which made Raymond feel like they had common ground.
Sandy hated him because the other kids didn’t like him and she disliked hostility and inane questions, which Raymond seemed to be made of.
March Madness, the Teacher’s Aid hated him because he was always in the room whenever Raymond said something stupid and as he didn’t have tenure, couldn’t make fun of him.
Little Ben hated him because he constantly asked questions about what Little Ben enjoyed, but Little Ben wanted to seen as a figure of lackaday, working man’s mystique and he didn’t see that he could accomplish this if Raymond kept asking questions about himself.
H hated him because Little Ben would take it out on everyone in theatre tech when he was angry with Raymond and this meant his time was harder.
Ethan hated him because they were both on the wrestling team and the last thing he wanted to experience in a unitard was awkward questions.
Russell hated him because he seemed to associate with the kids in the quiet lounge, who he despised blindly
Grundleman hated him because he wanted to be mean to everyone who he didn’t feel deserved his respect, and try as he might, Grundleman could never bring him down.
Doyle Rafferty hated him because he hated Gay people, and Raymond was such
John Johnson hated him because he hated Gay People, and Raymond was such
Eichmann hated him because he hated Gay People, and Raymond was such, but he was also on the wrestling team, which challenged Eichmann’s simple, hateful brain. Sports = not Gay, but Raymond = Gay. It hurt.
Three Bags & The Skin hated him because he seemed insincere, and hatred was the cool thing to do.
Jill Worcester hated him because he showed up for every event she organized to save Darfur, and she hated pretending to ignore his faults in favor of his generosity.
Louis hated him because he was a terrible worker and asked too many questions and provided too few answers, but talked incessantly just the same.
John Brown hated him because his awkward appearance in his large brown coat made him stick out like a sore thumb around his peers, and had no choice but to remember him, and he didn’t want to remember anyone.
Matthew hated Raymond because Raymond was young, stupid and friendly.
Lynn hated him because he bothered Shilough, her son and because he never did any of the work she assigned him the previous year.
Maggie hated him because he constantly tried to strike a friendship with her younger brother Jack, whom she cared about deeply.
Jack hated him because he made his sister worry, as well he was a crashing bore.
Syllables hated him because everyone else was
Dan hated him because they were in advisory together, and he always stared at him when he made disgusting comments with Gabe Freeman’s girlfriend.
Gabe Freeman hated him because Raymond got on so well with his girlfriend, a feet he had never achieved.
Segundo and his girlfriend through proximity of tongues hated him because he hated gay people, and Raymond was such
Roebuck & Corey who had graduated last year hated him because whenever they wanted a minute alone with the few people they enjoyed talking to about humourous things or interesting music and film, Raymond would always flood them with questions about things he was purposely left out of conversation so they could discuss.
Nelson hated him because Raymond tried to act like Nelson.
Delilah hated him because he was gay, and the bible told her to.
The girls with whom Thompson had played strip Poker hated him because Raymond felt he was artistic, and they were artistic and resented his assertion that he was too.
Christine hated him because this town wasn’t big enough for the both of them, one pariah was all she would tolerate, and she was it
Johnny Princeton hated him because he was inefficient and he didn’t see any way to make a profit off of him.
The Apeman hated him because they were of similar heights and he felt potentially threatened by such a creature in his territory.
The Inspector hated him because he defied his authority with gawking stupidity.
The Student Body hated him because he was the first to open his mouth to the Inspector and had led to his eventual condemnation of the school. The Inspector found the school to be so greatly ‘in debt to Satan’ that it had to be quarantined, no one allowed to leave for fear of what these unruly brat bastards might do if let outside into the world. More than half of them did not board at school, several of them had jobs, many had obligations, divorced parents and pets. The body found this unreasonable and complained until the Inspector’s reinforcements arrived and forced them to spend their days and nights on school grounds, without complaint.
Dennis and Thompson stood miserably side-by-side, leaning on the school’s mailbox, watching snow fall 15 feet away from them on the other side of the road. Thompson drank coffee out of the Superwolf and Dennis held his cigarette bitterly. They tried to held up their arms pathetically to catch the flakes and they seemed to recede from the tips of their fingers. The snow began piling up across the street. They got angrier and angrier with every passing second. He gave up on.
Thompson returned to the library to turn in his article, and to his surprise the paper staff had deserted the room.
He walked around campus looking for signs of them and eventually found Louis in his classroom grading papers.
“Good argument, but you don’t add anything to the world. D+.” Louis had reached wit’s end when Thompson found him. “Mr. Thompson, what can I do for you?”
“What happened to the paper staff?” He flung himself down in a chair the sleeves of his sweater climbing up his wrists, his coat awkwardly beneath him.
“Didn’t you hear? Johnny Princeton bought it and gave everyone paid vacation.”
“How could he do that?”
“Well he rented out press time to the angry sports fans so they could publish their own newspaper about how great sports were. He charged them by the minute and with the money he made off of them, he bought the paper.”
“He bought the Horse’s Mouth?” Thompson croaked hoarsely.
“Don’t worry, he’s hired me as a consultant. I’m helping them with their rhetoric. We have a full page of it. Stuff like ‘Looks like Red wears green.’” Thompson looked nervously at his green sweater and frowned. “Oh and he’s changed the name of the paper, that was the first thing he did as owner of the paper.”
What did he choose?” Thompson asked desperately.
“He’s calling it the Schooner, but that’s tentative, he’s meeting with his board tomorrow while the staff is on vacation.”
“Vacation? Where did they go?”
“I don’t know. He gave them free use of the company yacht and his serving staff. And how could they turn that down? He even had a carving station. The only meat he could afford was badger; after the cost of the champagne and chandelier for the yacht basically bankrupt him, but, you know. Anyway, it sounded good on paper.”
Thompson felt disheartened enough being forced to look at the names of hundreds of dead people and fined for not defining poetry without having his one avenue for cultural criticism removed from him by Johnny Princeton.
Nelson, having completed his walk with the addled science teacher, showed up for the old man’s class. His teacher, his replacement, That Woman. That Woman drove Freda, his editor, up a wall. Nelson, Jill Worcester, Christian and all the others from that science class had taken it to be taught by the addled science teacher. What they got, was That Woman. No one had ever seen her, but her reputation more than preceded her. In fact the mere mention of her name triggered a sort of hypnotic rage among all her students. Raymond, usually easy going, flew into a full rage whenever he thought about her class. Little Ben flew into a similar rage whenever he saw Raymond and usually came close to cutting something important when no one was around to stop him. Nelson couldn’t explain what it was about her that made him so angry, nor why the addled science teacher was having such trouble remembering his name. Ask him about the Hippocampus biocellatus, he could tell you classification down to fa
mily Syngnathidae. Hate aside, That Woman taught them all they could have ever asked about mammals. They learned it good, for sure, but no one could ever recall seeing her. Pressed for a description, Nelson said the word ‘tits’. Freda, his editor could only muster hateful adjectives and end by calling her That Woman. Jill Worcester took to merely rolling her eyes and muttering Hebrew swear words. One like consequence of being taught by That Woman was that when backed into a corner or caught unawares, students would shout the names of rare animals as if awaking from a nightmare.
Irena had dreams more reasonable, yet larger and more unrealistic than any of her classmates. Thompson loved and respected these dreams and did all he could to see that she made it long enough without a complete breakdown in order to achieve these goals. Jill Worcester thought her devotion to work was unreal and was admirable of, jealous of and glad she did not have Irena’s determination.
The forced academic imprisonment was doing her worlds of good and bad. The good stemmed from space from her parents, constant access to all of her teachers and 24 hours time to be spent with Thompson, who had very much come to enjoy his role in her life over the course of two years. The bad started when she could not bathe, apply new make-up, concentrate on studying most days or continue looking into summer programs. Thompson knew this was important to her and had been looking into ways for her to get past the puritanical guards when the time came.
Irena became very emotional when the subject of expectations arose and Thompson had to fight very hard not to become angry when it did. Two years ago, he had met her. At the time Thompson had been dating a ‘hypocritical, religious cow’ and at the moment he witnessed her interest in someone else he aged 30 years and he was suddenly trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman of faith who despised him.
The first part had been all his fault, however. If he had never written a letter to this woman of faith detailing their few, innocent exploits when their three month anniversary came up, she would never have left it on the kitchen counter for her Christian parents from Arkansas to find. They reacted violently and Christianly, as was to be expected. Thompson, ever the gentlemen, stayed with her, despite their being separated for a month. Things went back to normal except for two major issues. The first was that his woman of faith now did not trust him, and the second was that she was now a woman of faith, and he a godless savage. This carried on for a year and a half before Thompson finally snapped and left her over the telephone after a visit to a prison in New Jersey for Neil’s class. She became more and more like a jilted lover than like one who wanted anything new from him. There was, to put it simply, no joy in their relationship. When, after several spells of weeping to himself, she began asking him to sleep with her; his dreams, nightmares and uncontrollable self-mutilation began.
The crying to himself came after he introduced himself awkwardly and forcefully to Irena a few daysr and his prelife crisis began. Feeling as though with his woman of faith he would never experience any of the wonders of starting a relationship again, his soul began to age and he began discreetly pursuing this other girl. Every day brought new life to him before he would return home and have his day ruined like an egg crushed by a woman of faith and her reluctance to admit her religion required her to hate gay people. She had gay friends, but believed in god. She wanted premarital sex, but believed in punishment. She disrespected her family, but believed in god. She lied, stole, cheated, ate, flirted, hurt with the force of a plague but still criticized Thompson for not believing in her god.
“I’m only 15, what the hell do I know?”
“Just accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”
“how would you know any differently if I did?” he thought, but what he said was
“I’m only 15, what the hell do I know?”
With Irena, every word he hung on like the ledge of a very high cliff and showed her things only a boyfriend should show her. New music, new films, books, ideas, politics, theories on relationships, facts about her current boyfriend. Thompson knew as he was performing such nefarious lechery that he was a bastard. Not just a bastard, but a bastard’s bastard, the kind that get lined up against walls and shot. He hasn’t been shot yet, but he felt he deserved it many a time.
he would have preferred a Gestapo firing squad than hurting his friends.
He admitted to himself long ago that he would never confront his woman of faith, that he would simply marry her and live in existential agony for all of his life before trying to change anything. It made sense, after all. Why had he fallen into her in the first place? She had a pleasant face, the kind he had thought about dating, many, Many times. She was not a skinny woman, rather, her waist was thick, her breasts large, and her arms showed the most visible signs of her weight, but Thompson chalked this up to her strengths, rather than her weaknesses. He had always considered himself overweight and to find a girl who seemed comfortable with her appearance, not being model thin was something he was proud of her for. She dressed nicely, modestly and had no obsession with make-up. She lied about enjoying music to date Thompson, but it was too late now, he thought. He would die
by her side, he had enjoyed her appearance, why not overlook her need for a family raised under god’s roof, after all, he didn’t care about it unless she made him, but low, this he did not even keep.
He hated confrontation, more than spiders and hypodermic needles fused into some kind of Clive Barker creature, and thus felt he would never come forward with his emotions, but that didn’t matter because everyone knew he was in troublesome love. His woman of faith knew, but didn’t end it because she was deadset on molding Thompson into the perfect husband. Thompson discovered her master plan when she bought him a blazer; brown, corduroy, tan leather elbow patches. He despised it, and it almost got him stabbed in the gang ward of prison that day. All he had heard was
“Yo, Inspectah Deck!” recognizing the name of his fifth favorite Wu-Tang Clan member, he turned and saw a large, angry black man with fists clenched over what he was sure was a shiv.
“it’s time for a reassessment” he assured the piss he was too scared to take.
Two days later he broke up with this woman of faith. She boasted not eating for a week, but Thompson knew better than to believe this. He did not answer the phone because if such a vile personality could convince him he needed to stay with a woman of faith for two years, she would have no trouble convincing him to come back. After he mistakenly listened to a seething phone message she left him, he wept one last time and then let himself fall hopelessly in love with his best friend’s girl
The trouble was making her see it his way. They met alone, sat in silence, sometimes, touching, sometimes, not.
The Suffering ended on December 15th, 2005 while waiting for a concert to begin.
When he got the uniform, he gave it to her.
He gave it to her so she could run and leave dictatosaurus behind and live on high in the land of progress. He watched her run in the darkness. Their paths would split, but, dammit he did it
She showed up for theatre slightly late and found the crew looking at their director, Queen McQueen, strangely. She sat next to Thompson.
“I don’t understand
” Thompson’s mouth hung open following his trailing words.
“Well, it’s really quite simple. John Brown would like all of our activities to promote a more school spirit type feeling.” Queen McQueen might have been Thompson’s least favorite of all of the people in his disfavor.
“So to meet his demands, and several of his other demands, we’ll be doing a play about the sports team. I’ve started writing it. It’s a real knockout. I cried so many times writing and reading it that my wife considered leaving.”
Some of the kids who would inevitably given roles as extras snickered at this. Nelson, threw a wrench as hard as he could and sent one of the kids into unconsciousness. McQueen nodded to his hump-backed wife and she carried the student out.
“This is imperialistic and monomaniacal!” said Thompson. He, Hunt agreed, as did nearly everyone present. Wash thought it was a good idea. A role as a quarterback was as good as actually being one. Little Ben laughed heartily as he constructed the football field set.
“You fuckers! HAHAHAHA! This is some funny shit!”
“Irony?” Asked Ethan. H and Little Ben stared him down until he closed his mouth and looked dejected. Once he walked away, they felt safe enough to talk again. Little Ben shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“What the fuck?” H nodded concurrence.
“So, he’s writing the play?” asked Shilough “that sounds…”
“Not writing, written.” Corrected Freda, his editor.
She entered with a newspaper called The Swan’s Neck. She slammed it on the table. Maggie, He, Hunt, Shilough, Thompson, Nelson, Irena, Henrik, Jack, Christian, Three Bags, The Skin, and Delilah looked at the section she’d highlighted with nail polish and blood from behind her ears.
Queer(’s) Play A Smash!
“That was fast.” Said He, Hunt, “Says I give a “rip-roaring performance as Hank, the star quarterback”.”
“Ooh, how did I do?” asked Henrik, his shirt off. Irena read aloud
“As Skip, the troubled bi-curious goalie, Henrik delivers a tear-jerking, nod-worthy, slipstreamy…”
“ew!” said Henrik
“This just gets worse as it goes.”
“The quality of the writing’s really taken a dive since Johnny Princeton hired the field hockey team to do the writing.” Moaned Freda, his editor. “They mostly sit around and talk about field hockey
“So, do we have to perform this or…?” Delilah wondered.
“Don’t you worry that god-fearing little head of yours sweetness. Just rest your head in my bosom. All religion is founded on lies and bitterness. There, there. No more tears.” The skin combed Delilah’s hair and licked the comb following each stroke. Delilah was stirred, shaken but polite. Too polite to tell the oblong girl child putting saliva in her hair to never fucking touch her again. She rarely if ever used profanity, avoided rude conduct when she could, and only twice deflected homosexual advances from the Skin. Her politeness had limits. Seeing as most of her friends were homosexuals, something that innately challenged her engrained moral code, she found herself in a world of tears and nervously shifting her eyes whenever one of her friends would talk about how much fun it is to stroke the genitalia of their same sex conquests. Eichmann too would have found it disgusting, hence why he hung a large motivational poster in his classroom with a picture of a dog helping a cat up a flight of stairs that read:
“IF IT TOUCHES COCK, IT BETTER HAVE TITS!”
Another such poster had to be taken down when McAlister noticed just how very slanted against Jewish students it was. Eichmann’s argument “They know what they did.” never made it to John Brown’s ears.
“I guess I’d better get a copy of the play and learn my lines.” Said Christian
“I guess it’d better get a copy of the play and refuse to learn my lines until three days before opening night.” Said Henrik
“That’s my boy.” Said Nelson.
“I’m not doing any such play.” Shouted Irena. “First of all, it’s completely untheatrical to simply perform the functions of a sports team for two hours on stage. Second, he didn’t exactly get the best notices here in the Swan’s Neck. Third, what the hell kind of fascistic bullies are the administrators at this school that they think they can hand down all-encompassing directives to divisions they’ve never had anything to do with. If we perform this play, I’m quitting theatre and joining newspaper.”
“You already performed it.” Said little Ben.
“How was it?” asked Henrik
“Girls're never more attractive to me than when they're filled with leftist rage.” Sighed Thompson
“You can’t join the newspaper,” Screamed Freda, her editor. “Johnny Princeton’s axed the whole staff to cut costs. He relies on freelance articles from scab ghost-writers cause they don’t cost as much as journalists.”
“He did know that he wasn’t paying anybody when the paper was run by students, right?” wondered Thompson aloud.
“I don’t think he knows where he is most of the day. He sits in an easy chair with an unlit cigar asking for drinks and the figures. I don’t know what the hell figures he’s talking about. I read him some numbers from one of my Pre-calc finals and he just nodded his head and pretended to ash.”
“sounds demeaning” Jack Laughed heartily.
“Things got worse when he asked to see what was under a girl’s sweater.”
“He owns a media conglomeration. He can’t pay one of the field hockey team to take her shirt off?” Asked H.
“MARhARLAp!” Little Ben and Ethan tried to get out a misogynistic comment at the same time. The results made Maggie, Irena, Delilah, and Three Bags creakily turn their heads in the shirtless men’s direction.
“I’m going to the track field to get in character
” He, Hunt walked out the back door.
“Anyone seen Sam Faulkner.”
Nelson lobbed another wrench and Burt slipped out the door.
“Hey, wait, what’s this other article?” Thompson looked at the other fold of the newspaper and spied a curious headline
“20 Questions with the Apeman.” Read Shilough.
“I’ve read it. He mostly talks about countering Horace Engdahl’s claim that Ryszard Kapuściński was worthy of laureate status.” Freda, his editor, waved smoke away lazily.
“No, no. The front page headline, there.” Shilough went back and read it aloud.
“Headmaster John Brown Turns Over New Leaf?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Look at the picture.” Thompson pointed to the large color picture Johnny Princeton had not taken. They crowded around and saw the picture, that of a large tower covered in barbed wire. In the tower stood three men with high-caliber bolt-action rifles and one man with a large belt-fed machine gun. Thompson read the quote below the picture.
“We hope to have some just like these. We’ve been working with The Inspector pretty closely with these education reforms. He thinks they’re all great ideas. Why? You not like them? You ever been to war, you sack of shit? How bout I kick your ass, right here, Mary!” Photo credit: The Apeman. At the bottom of the page: “Princeton Free Press, Princeton Dictator For Life”
Thompson leaned back on his chair and saw the large construction crews constructing the guard towers on the lawn. Outside, He stared up at the armed guard who was using a crude pulley to bring his machine gun up to the tower.
“Hi, there. What exactly have you been hired to do?”
“Just make sure no one leaves who isn’t supposed to.” The guard replied frankly.
John Brown strode over.
“See the new measures, do you? Maybe now you punk kids will learn to fear me and revere me.”
“Have you lost your fucking mind?”
“When I’m sitting on a gilded chair staring at my trophies and having my praises sung to me by an all white girl’s choir, we’ll see which of us will have the last laugh.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever laugh again if I ever get out of here.”
“You pinko shitbag!” Screamed Eichmann. He and John Brown slammed their chests together in mid-air and Eichmann cracked open two sixths of a six-pack. Thompson walked back to the lounge and laid his head on Irena’s lap.
“Is this headache ever going to go away? Pills just don’t seem to do anything anymore.”
“It’ll pass, sweetheart.” She spoke calmly. Shilough flipped through the newspaper between Nelson and Freda, his editor. Noticing a by-line, he spoke up.
“Hey, young alumni day’s tomorrow!”
“SHIT!” said everyone in earshot.
With the gates blocking the driveway in place and the armed guards watching on both sides, students thought twice about 3:15. School was done, assembly was about to begin, the 103 students who did not live on campus would have all instinctively skipped assembly and gone to get high in their cars, but the men with guns made them apprehensive. In assembly, the entire school packed into the gym, nervously awaiting some kind of word about the new measures. John Brown looked around jovially, sitting as he did, devilishly sideways, his posture cocked just enough to ensure irreverence. J.K. McAlister made an announcement
“Now, remember with the holidays coming up…
ok, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to stop, I think some men are searching my car with drug-sniffing dogs”
“Something to hide, McAlister?” Eichmann barked.
“Ok, John, what’s the deal with the guys with automatic weapons. They’re freaking everyone out and…”
“Oh, you’ve got a question? Great! Let’s have it. Go on. Ask your question about my way of doing things. All of you, go ahead and be the first one to ask just how far I’ve gone.” The faculty shifted in their seats. Nelson and Thompson sat aghast at this man’s audacity.
“What do you think? Huh? I got the guys with guns, and they built towers with spotlights. What orders did I give? Who wants to know? Show of hands, how many people want to know what they’re getting extra money for?” No one moved. McAlister’s eyes narrowed. Burt stood up and raised a chubby index. McAlister let his head slide into his hands and shook it as fast as he felt like.
“You know what you’re problem is. You kids don’t fucking stand for anything! Know what I stand for? ME!!!!”
Dinner that night was awkward as could have been hoped for. 200 some odd students and their teachers and the maintenance staff and a good many soldiers packed into the dining hall. John Brown’s eyes ran around inside his head as he ate and afterwards he stalked with a wide gate from table to table, purposely mishearing conversations so he could slam his fists down at each table and shout at the students and teachers for arguing with his policy. He, Hunt, Irena, Shilough, Nelson, and Raymond all sat together.
“I want to get seconds, but John Brown’s just found a bullwhip…” Shilough muttered nervously into his mashed potatoes.
“He isn’t going to do this while we’re sleeping is he?” Nelson spoke louder than his friends.
“that would be…just..ridiculous!” Said Raymond. Nelson moved in his chair upon hearing Raymond’s voice. He, Hunt, choosing silence over confrontation, changed the subject.
“Has he called anyone about this do you think?”
“I’m wondering if this is at all legal?” Shilough pondered quietly.
“I’m guessing not.” Nelson ground his teeth together after Raymond’s comment. John Brown leered over them.
“The fuck d’you just say, faggot?”
All eyes stared at the mostly untouched food in front of them. John Brown waited a minute to make sure there wasn’t a chance of anyone abusing his authority and then swam off.
“Well, it could be worse, we still have the internet, I suppose…”
“And our cellphones.”
They all looked out the window in the direction of a loud metallic clanking. Outside in the parking lot a large overalled crew was installing a metal tower with a black dish at the top. John Brown rushed over to the window like a child on Christmas morning.
“My signal scrambler. Let’s see you yardapes call for help or email your homies NOW!!!”
Nelson slapped his forehead.
“Well, there goes that.”
“He can’t do that!”
“He’s posted men with guns at every exit, I think he can do what he pleases.”
“Someone’s got to stop him, he’s like a total fascist!”
“THAT’S IT!” Nelson stood up and smacked his lunch tray against Raymond’s fingers. John Brown climbed over the table to get to the scene. He picked Raymond up by his collar to head-butt him. Nelson took the reins and smacked Raymond’s face.
“Hold Him!” Screamed John Brown. He, Hunt and Irena were aghast. Shilough’s face contorted to reflect new anguish everytime they beat Raymond. Across the room John Johnson sighed with relief. He looked over at his tablemates, Russell, Grundleman, Dan, Tits, and the women from Thompson’s Apes class. He turned and with an arrogant smile muttered
“Glad it’s not me for a change.”
He laughed stupidly as Russell and Grundleman exchanged angry stares. John Brown rubbed his bleeding fist and then shouted across the dining hall.
“You’re next Johnson, you little shit!”
Johnson stood up and ran for the entrance. John Brown stepped over the table in front of him with a massive confident gait, sending Irena and Shilough’s food to the floor. Johnson began knocking younger students to the ground in his mad dash for the exit. John Brown strode over tables, his legs appeared to grow several feet in length making his pursuit all the easier. Johnson reached the backdoor and began tearing at the handle, which would not budge, jammed shut. John stepped off the last table and landed a firm kick in his student’s face.
In the lounge, Nelson, Freda, his editor, and nearly everyone else was alternately staring out the window and preparing their corner of the room for sleep. Nelson, brandishing a knife had secured one of the two couches. The cushioned armchairs were still being sorted out. Thompson and Dennis stood outside watching the field across the street, coffee and cigarette as before. Thompson adjusted his black wool coat, Dennis his brown leather. It began to snow, this time on both their heads.
“I used to like this place.” Bitched Dennis.
“Do you have any idea just how much complaining isn’t going to help?”
“You can just fuck yourself. Where are you sleeping?”
“The lounge. I figured close to the heater. I had Irena scope us out a space. What about you?”
“I told Syllables to save me a chair or I’d cut his balls off.”
“That does sound like you.”
The lounge was full to the bursting when Dennis and Thompson marched back. Nelson briefly considered marching down to the gym, because inevitably it would be sparsely populated. Most of the athletes lived in the dorms, and those without would be spread out. Remembering the space heater in the lounge was what kept him on the sofa. The heater served as a sort of hierarchical barometer; On the two couches were Nelson and Dennis, with Freda, their editor lying between both of them hungrily imagining a cleared space; nearest the heater was Thompson, Irena, Jill Worcester, Shilough, Melina and Ana; Further out was Little Ben, H, Delilah, Christian, Maggie, and Jack; on the outside, near the windows and bathroom were Smitty, Syllables, The Skin, Ethan, Three Bags, TJ, Raymond, Gabe Freeman and his girlfriend. In the middle of the night they would attempt sex with their hands, only to be thwarted when Little Ben ordered Syllables to turn the lights on.
Thompson stroked Irena’s hair as she dozed. Shilough shifted and looked up at him through the darkness.
“We’re never going to leave are we?”
March Madness, The Teacher’s Aid
That night while everyone was asleep March Madness the teacher’s aid disappeared. Thompson became suspicious when Burt didn’t come looking for him in the hot, crowded lounge that morning. As students assembled themselves and got ready to brave 5:30, Thompson went for a walk. It wasn’t yet dawn. The soldiers poured coffee from their thermoses into their cups and drank them with their mittens on. Breath leaped from their mouths into the air, leaving a gray trail behind it. The coating on the grass was midway between frost and dew and left a moist coat around Thompson’s ankles. Across the street lay the field in silence, it’s farmer long since retired from any of his duties. It made sense that a man should want to stop his routine; his life’s calling in a second one day after witnessing something that on any other day would seem trivial. The fog lingered over treetops like smoke from the nose of a train. The forest, the whole world it seemed was on the move. Thompson wondered for a minute about whether they were moving away from this place on purpose, that everyone who allowed him or herself to be trapped here deserved to be left behind entirely. Did that mean that those who were disappeared by dangerous bureaucracy were luckier than those forced to sit through days and days of death and anti-education? Were they free or were they supposed to be there? What was more important: a reason to die or the will to survive drudgery? It wasn’t even Christmas yet. How long would they make all 200 students and 50 faculty members stay on the 90 acre campus? He bummed a cigarette and a swallow of coffee from the soldiers and enjoyed both. How long had he been standing there? Not just here this morning, but how long had he been standing wondering questions like these, completely unwilling to change or take positive action? He’d been marvelous at irreverent cynicism for as long as he remembered, was exceptionally smart, but so destructive it hardly seemed to matter. Was it not his behavior that had gotten March Madness disappeared? Or his sort of behavior, anyway? Could he be blamed for disproportionate responses to intellectual recklessness? What kind of questions were these? Was he not a 17 year old? Did his head not hurt? He took the last of the cigarette, tossed it on the road and walked back to the lounge. He didn’t look forward to graduation. He didn’t look forward to Lynn’s class.
J.K. McAlister watched in utter embarrassment as the young alumni began to clear the roadblocks. Men with automatic rifles checked the credentials of all the returning graduates. Those without proper ID were turned around, sent back whence they came on the horse they rode in on. John Brown rode out to greet his favorite returning moneymakers on a horse. Greg Nugent, the rich son of an alemaker, rolled the window of his Rolls Royce down.
“Glad to see the old place is still sparkling.”
“Don’t think for a second the fact you send me a big hunk of daddy’s money every year won’t prevent me from leaping off this horse and making you swallow a couple teeth.”
Nugent tried to laugh it off, rolled up his window and got out. He threw the keys to a Spanish exchange student.
“Don’t scratch it up.”
The young boy took the keys, got into Nugent’s car and drove into the woods to hide his prize and sell it to the highest bidder when the time came.
Dennis and Thompson watched the parade of the rich as they waved and curtsied on their way to the dining hall for their yearly speech of much boasting and false-enthusiasm.
“Do their lives get more sorted every year, or do we just read more every year?” Thompson leaned against the roof as the women passed with their purse-dogs and fake tits.
“I need a cigarette if I’m going to make it through this thing.” Dennis shook water from his head. He had run his head under a steaming faucet to wake himself up. He also thought the change in temperature might get him sick enough to be sent home. Or at least spend some time in the nurse’s office.
“who would you kill if you had a distraction and a print-less knife?” asked Dennis
“Can I have a time machine?”
The dining hall was now even more uncomfortably crowded and tense than it was during yesterday’s dinner. The tables had been mostly shoved aside, save for two, which would host a panel of the recently graduated who would spew filthy about their lives and how much college had taught them. College hadn’t taught the panel anything because not a one of them had finished four years. Nugent, the rich ale-maker’s son, had been accepted to three colleges, gone to one, had his head beaten in by dealers and sent home by the dean. Tilly, the blonde had been put into a coma after a night of drinking and hadn’t been asked back when she woke up. Her family had explained this to the school as a conflict of faith. That was enough for John Brown who had sent his invitation on a blank check addressed to himself. Seither, the bulbous nerd, had started college, gone to a party, drunk himself stupid and jealous over a recently departed lover, had slept with a man. This made him feel heterosexually incompetent, so he had quit school to join the army. Despite recruiting numbers lying at an all time low, they had refused him admission after his failure to perform a single push-up. He had gotten a job as bartender but lost it when his recently departed lover came in. He explained everything he had done for her, and she had laughed in his face. He burned the bar down. His mother’s inheritance from a deceased husband kept him out of prison. Rita was placed on the panel because the headmaster had long harboured a crush on her. She was nearing 23 and had brown hair. He kept sending her money so she would have herself surgically altered to suit his pleasure. She had taken the money and spent it on this and that, but never herself. She held out for the day he would commit violence on her behalf. There was Maddie Hoobelly who was still wearing the lingerie she had posed in back in the strip poker game Thompson had just started excising from his memory. Finally, Seagull, the black haired senator’s son, wore glasses and looked like a fetus. He used to wait until room’s would be filled with women and then begin rape jokes he didn’t know how to punchline. Sadder still that he was still alive then that he had ever lived.
“Ask them anything you want…” McAlister ended his speech
“MARCH!” Spat John Brown and McAlister took his seat.
One of the women from Thompson’s APES class raised her hand.
“If I gave you a letter to send to…college…could you send it for me?”
John Brown snapped his fingers and Eichmann snatched the letter from her hand. The girl frowned and looked at her feet.
“Do they have guard towers and belligerent dictators at college?” Thompson asked wryly. John Brown fought with the crowd to get to him but was prevented when his Horse was spooked and landed on his toe.
“Mother FUCKER!” he screamed. Nugent laughed jovially and swirled his drink, which was milk with water and salt.
“Thompson…same old kidder…let me remind every FEmale in the audience that just because I’ve gone and gotten myself a pristine education at one of the country’s finest institutions, this guy still likes to party down…!”
Crickets chirped into a microphone, which were then projected over the PA system, which Brown had just installed. Every one stared blankly at Nugent.
Burt raised a chubby finger. Nugent raised an eyebrow, then nodded, asking those around him “this guy serious?” with his eyes. Seagull spit in Nugent’s milk and then giggled like a gremlin.
“I just wonder if any of you have seen Sam Faulkner in your travels?”
The blonde in the corner asked a question through fits of laughter.
“Are there cute guys at college?”
The graduated women, with their bulging lips and surgically permanent smiles fell about themselves gossiping and gatting.
J.K. McAlister stood up and spoke, feeling and looking mightily embarrassed.
“Well, I guess, that concludes young alumni day…the soldiers will escort the richer students to the woods where they’ll be held for ransom. The poorest among you will please stop to be shaken by your feet until change falls out the bottom.”
Former School President Mike Breuning had stayed after the assembly. He found John Brown in his office as he surveyed the campus through surveillance cameras.
“Brown…I thought there was an agreement when I left.”
“the only agreements between you and your mama and playtime’s over!”
“You told me that when the school started harboring profiteers, I’d be the first one you call. I have contractors who could have done this job more professionally, yet you call some flouncing brit who wouldn’t know an Enfield from an etch-a-sketch!”
Brown tapped one of the cameras. On the screen, the Inspector pulled a red etch-a-sketch from one of his soldiers and snapped it over his knees, thrusting an English-made rifle in his hands in it’s place.
“You played me Brown! You made me graduate when I could have RULED This place!”
“You left of your own accord. We could have ruled together, side by side, but your vanity clouded your judgment…fuckin’ queen!”
“You’ll live to regret your error Brown.” Breuning backed out of the office, waving jazz hands for effect.
“You think you can stand in my way! No One Can! Not You!” He pointed to McAlister’s image on one of the screens!
“Or You!” He pointed to Thompson and Nelson grafitizing the bathroom in the quiet lounge.
“Or You!” He pointed at Johnny Princeton who fed meat to one of his guard dogs on another screen, looking old and frail.
“Or YOU!” He pointed at himself one of the screens. He had placed a camera in his own office out of increasing paranoia.
The Inspector prowled about as the rich students walked and in some cases were dragged by their hair into the woods. Maddie Hoobelly walked up into the lounge where the better part of 50 students were crammed in tight. Wearing no more than her skivvies, still.
“Who do I have to fuck to see a little fun around here?” She said, drunkenly waving her hands and nose about.
“WE’RE ALL MINORS!” hollered Nelson
“COVER YOURSELF DEVIL WOMAN! HIDE YOUR SHAME!”
“bunch a fuckin’ stuffed shirts! I’ll just make my own fun…like I used to when I still went to this school.”
She left and before night had fallen had occupied the girl’s room in the old gym with a number of other girls. They were going to run a prostitution ring if it was the last thing they did. Madame Hoobelly wore an iron glove and slapped the girls who held out on her or who fell for their johns.
Nelson searched the woods that night for the addled science teacher but could find no sign of him. He watched as the rich students were corralled into fenced areas under f
loodlights. Eichmann crossed names off lists as they stumbled in, their breath visible in the heavy lights. Nugent walked up to be counted and Eichmann smiled and shook his head.
“Well, well, well. Looks like you fuckin’ people never learn, do you?” He looked up at the guards in the towers above him.
“This guy gets special treatment.”
“Thanks, babe, ‘preciate it.”
One of guard produced a spear gun and fired. His aim true, the spear pierced Nugent’s scrotum. He fell over clutching the arrow.
“Anyone helps him take that out and I got a boot with your jaw’s name on it.” He cracked his knuckles and handed the clipboard to a nearby guard.
“All this hard work’s making me horny. Time to unwind. Let me hear a USA, faggots!” He walked through the crowd of miserable rich graduates waving his hand as if instigating a sport’s cheer.
“USA! USA! LOUDER!” He waved his hands fervently up and down, orchestrating his unwilling choir. They sang, though it hurt their throats to do so. The frost bit at them even as they shuffled to the beat. Seagull refused to sing but Eichmann wouldn’t take that.
“You think you’re better than the flag, you scrawny piece a shit?”
Seagull managed only to utter a shivering sound. Eichmann seized him by the collar and dragged him to the pond, throwing him into the freezing water. He called some soldiers over but before they could arrive, Russell and Grundleman showed up and grabbed their rifles from them.
“We got this one, coach!”
“If he tries to get out, shoot him! Until then I want to hear some white people licking old glory’s ass!”
The following day’s classes were tense. Neil had to teach his class privately in the one part of the woods where the soldier’s didn’t search with dogs. The added measures were because the Inspector had taken to making the rounds of classes making sure no one spoke ill of the crown or the flag, though he often punished people on the wrong symbol’s behalf. Tits had sung the national anthem out of key during AP Government and had been taken away and beaten nearly to death outside the classroom. When their professor had rushed out to stop them he caught a bullet in the sternum. Tits crawled towards the nurse’s office but died when blood filled his lungs along the way.
Freda, no longer his editor raised a hand and made a point softly. She held up the newest copy of the newspaper, which no longer had a title, eschewing that sort of thing for fear of seeming complacent with any one man’s idea of a selling point. The cover featured a blown-up picture of Johnny Princeton, whose power had clearly taken a toll on him.
“Just take the picture” He had snapped at the Apeman “I want the people to see the real Johnny Princeton.”
“What is the purpose of this rag anymore?” asked Freda, his editor.
“I think it’s safe to say he’s lost the plot,” Muttered Thompson
“Now, listen, I’d tell you to write op-ed pieces voicing your concern about the radical changes at school but not only have all lines of communication been severed but Princeton owns all the presses for miles and reports any anti-Brown commentary to Brown pretty much immediately. So, I’m afraid I’ll take one more question then I have to flee the country as John Brown gave me one day to ‘retire’ before he takes action.” Christine raised a hand
“Nope, no way! Anyone else?”
Christine put her hand down as Jill raised hers.
“What should we do?”
“I wish I knew. All I can say is that the answer to getting out of here lies in most of you. Christine, it’s not in you. Jill, it’s in you. Harmon…It’s definitely in you. Nelson…it’s probably in you. That’s all I’m prepared to say at the moment. I’ve gotta get going.”
The soldiers began beating through the trees and the brush. The Inspector leapt about behind them barking orders
“He’s getting away!”
“This Bird’s GONNA FLY!” Neil stood and ran through the woods. He looked back just once and shouted “If you see Shilough, tell him it’s in him, too!”
The soldiers beat after Neil through the woods, some stopping on the inspector’s orders to kick and harass the students they could catch. Neil ran, stopping against the fenced in area where the rich graduates were held captive. Thinking fast he reached in the fence and pulled the spear from Nugent’s scrotum and ran through the woods as the boy passed out, bleeding everywhere. Neil ran through the woods until he reached the quarry. The Inspector and the soldiers crowded around him.
“Got you cornered, ye bastard!”
With this Neil ran over the edge of the quarry, doing a perfect swan dive in the process and landed on the wings of a plane below. He drove the spear into the wing and held on with one hand. He saluted the Inspector with his free hand as the plane sped off.
“See you next time, boys!”
“BLAST!” Spat the Inspector.
Irena and Thompson walked down to the gym to get props for the upcoming play. The gym had started to resemble a bombed out Serbian wartime hospital. Eichmann’s bored wife was sitting at his desk when they knocked on the door.
“We need sports equipment for the play.”
“Talk to the head of the athletics department.”
“Is he not here? And Is he not your husband?”
“I don’t….know anymore.”
Thompson and Irena raised their eyebrows at this. Eichmann’s wife pointed a finger towards the bathrooms. A line of men, including Russell, Ethan, Doyle Rafferty, Grundleman and Wash, extended out the door and into the gym. Thompson and Irena pushed past the anxious men to the girl’s bathroom. Maddie stopped them by thrusting her diamond studded cane against the entryway. Her whole bodied raddled with jewelry.
“You gonna pay up, sweetheart? We got couples rates?”
Thompson simply shivered.
“Look” said Irena.
Inside the bathroom and shower stalls were each occupied by a different girl. The blonde in the corner and Mike Breuning walked into a toilet and shut the door behind them. Segundo and Lowlights disappeared into one cell even as his girlfriend protested on the other side of Maddie’s cane. Eichmann waited as Jen kicked Evan out for lack of money. She nodded her head uncertainly towards the shower stall and Eichmann entered. Gabe Freeman pleaded with girlfriend.
“But sweetie, why can’t we just do it in my room?”
“Cause I’m charging for it now. Maddie said I was empowered and so you’ll have to wait in line and pay like all the other guys!”
Irena shook her head and ran out. Thompson caught up with her outside.
“I can’t be here anymore!”
“I know…I’ll get you out of here before too much longer, I promise.”
“What about you?”
“Can’t leave before the new gym is built, can I? They’ve just allotted billions in government stipends to finish it.”
Wash was rather enjoying the comfort of Madame Hoobelly’s girls. Unlike Henrik, who never had to pay for it, Wash would bring the girls up to the dressing rooms during rehearsals. He rarely made his cues on time, and often ran on stage with his penis hanging out of his pants, but he shrugged it off and read his lines anyway.
“I admire your dedication to the part, Wash, but, really…!” Queen told him when he spilled ejaculate all over the stage.
“Sorry, folks, just getting’ into character.” He said dizzily.
“I thought jocks were impotent.” Said Ethan. At this, the boys who’d been listening through the keyhole burst in the door.
“GET HIM!” Russell, Grundleman, and Eichmann ran up the ladder to the grid. Ethan ran out of places to go. The three men advanced on him and he looked around panicked. Russell flipped a switchblade open.
“Ready to squeal, piggy!”
Ethan considered another step, but lost his balance and fell off the grid.
“When are we going to do the Javelin scene?” said Christian as Ethan fell from the grid and landed on top of his sharp prop spear, killing him instantly.
“I’ll just run my lines, some more.” Christian walked off.
“Has anyone seen Sam Faulkner?” Burt spied Ethan’s corpse and once again backed out of the room.
“How many sports schedules is that worth, fucker?” Russell demanded of Thompson.
“Bet that’d buy you some new sports schedules!” said Jack.
“Yeah! Wait…” Russell sensed he was being played, but he couldn’t discern just how.
“Come on, let’s get some a them girls pregnant” said Eichmann and they all three departed down the ladder, but not before Eichmann tipped over a box of nails Ana was carrying.
“Whoops! Got butterfingers, bitch?”
Nelson through a wrench from the grid, which pinged very near Grundleman’s foot.
“You’re next, you long-haired fucking hippy freak!”
“Ok, let’s try that scene from the top, this time, more tongue.” Said Queen, more to himself than anyone else.
It became apparent by the next night’s rehearsals that Wash had contracted a disease from his frequent trips to the Madame’s bathroom. He no longer knew his lines and often called for them in the middle of class and frequently asked his friends during meals when he was due on stage.
“We open in two days, people, I don’t want to have to keep reminding you not to drool on each other” Queen took Wash’s decreased mental faculties as a peculiar form of acting out and refused to send him to the nurse.
Thompson began writing his thoughts on the walls of the dressing rooms, occasionally having to tell some of Wash’s whores to move as they waited for him to return from falling over on Delilah during their love scene. He, Hunt, Shilough, Nelson and Freda, His editor would spend most of their time up here, wondering if the defenses would ever weaken enough for someone to get by.
“They don’t cover the fields quite as heavily.”
“Yeah, but they just flew in all that lumber and metal to start building the new gym. That place will be crawling with people soon enough.”
“Professor Lindhurst escaped somehow.”
“You’re kidding, did she escape?”
“Last night.” “No shit. Huh…well, I’ll miss her.”
“They asked her to retire, so she disappeared before they could do anything about it.”
“So there’s clearly a blindspot in the defenses.”
Mike Breuning decided a counter-operation was in order, his throne long since twice usurped. He had posted fliers in a not-so-subtle code around the school.
“Anyone looking for retribution against a certain head of school and labour whose name rhymes with and is in fact a spoonerism of Bron Jown, please meet the similarly unnamed Brike Meuning at the science classroom closest to the gym and don’t fucking tell anyone cause that’d be gay, you dog!”
Turnout was understandably small. Ten people met Mike Breuning at the science classroom, seven of whom had actually come because they had That Woman’s science class scheduled during the time of meeting. Having graduated a year ago, he no longer knew the scheduled times of classes and though he called That Woman a cunt, she wouldn’t leave and insisted they would have to share the space. Mike had huffed mightily but agreed to the compromise.
“Ok, who can tell me the noble gases?” the class began
Mike turned to the three people who had turned out to join his counter-revolutionary group; The Lions, he called them.
“Thanks for coming to this first meeting of the Lions” He said
“Who are the Lions?” Mike didn’t tell the group he planned on calling them the Lions, hence their confusion.
“That’s us. That’s what I’m going to call us when I register for a permit to conduct meetings at the union hall in town. Nevermind! Anyway, why have you all decided to join me?”
Zeke answered first.
“Oh…cause I…really dislike…you know…people.” Zeke wasn’t strictly lying but the real reason is because he hoped to get Mike alone long enough to stab him in the spine with a shiv. He’d been planning to do so ever since Mike had flattened all of Zeke’s tires as a prank before graduating. Zeke had laughed with Mike at the time, as veins pop
ped out of his forehead and had simply been waiting for the perfect time at which to get retribution. He had even bought a ceremonial sword for the occasion, which he then filed down to a shank.
“Good answer, retard! They let you out of special class to come to the meeting?”
“Good one! Thanks! I’m just happy to be here!” Zeke smiled genially as his knuckles cracked in his hand and he grew internally furious.
Mike turned next to Joseph.
“What about you, sped? Why are you here!”
“Cause I wanna get Bron Jown!”
“No, idiot, this is about John Brown!!!”
“So…we’re not gonna get Bron Jown?”
“Get the fuck out of here you fucking dipshit. I don’t ever want to see you again. HEAR ME?”
Mike looked down the line.
“What about you? Why are you here?”
“I wanna be you.” Answered Doyle Rafferty, who had indeed even started to model his hair and clothing after the former school president.
“Good luck, faggot. You know how hard it is to be me? I’m the fucking KING!!! But that’s not a strong enough reason to be here! Doesn’t anyone want to depose John Brown? You, why are you here?”
“I’m in this science class” offered a student meekly.
“Why are you here?” Mike screamed
“I’m just looking for Sam Faulkner. I was wondering if anyone had seen him.”
“GET OUT OF HERE!” Mike screamed testily
“Look, I don’t mind us sharing the space but I’m going to have to ask you to keep your little meeting at a reasonable volume, ok.” That Woman asked irately.
“And let’s ease up on the swearing.”
Mike put his head in his hand. Doyle began massaging his shoulders. Zeke joined in until Mike swatted them both away.
“Don’t fuckin’ touch me, Homos! Give me some fucking room to breath for fuck’s sakes!”
“Sorry, Mike” Doyle moaned
“Yes, sorry….ever so sorry…” Zeke could hardly wait until he could make his move. “Bide your time” he whispered to himself before turning back to Mike and Doyle and amiably posed a question.
“Who’s up for a drink and some nachos?”
“Nah, fuck that, let’s get some girls.”
Their classes were becoming fewer and fewer, but many students were now asked to attend “Hero Worship” a mandatory lecture given by an increasingly paranoid John Brown who typically recited the history of famous battles by replacing the names of historical figures with his own. J.K. McAlister caught him that morning as he left his office.
“John, can we have a word?”
“What is it, I’m off to the fuckhouse.”
“John, did you give two of your students cattle prods and then tell them to…” he consulted a clipboard “”shock the fatasses and queers if they get out of line”?”
“Is this why I’m not getting my fuck on, right now? McAlister, the winds of change can’t be stopped by stuffy policies or humanitarian faggery. Jesus, we can’t always coddle these brats. I mean, is this a school or a fucking titty bar? Which reminds me…hehem!”
“Sir, farbeit from me to criticize you…”
“CRITICIZE! SO THAT’S YOUR GAME IS IT? McAlister, I’m telling you this as someone who once called you a friend.”
“You once called me a friend?”
“You’d better retire before we retire you for you, get me?”
“let’s just say your names on a list. You’re not at the top of the list, by any means, but you ain't exactly rock bottom, either…”
McAlister stared as John backed out of the office, waving jazz hands to make himself seem more mysterious.
Wash stumbled upstairs and ran to the costume shop where his girls waited for him.
“ladies, I’m a camel and I…toast the pope…!”
They giggled, believing him silly or at worst drunk. He collapsed on a pile of silk rags as the girls removed their tops for him.
“Oh, Wash, you’re so silly!”
“Wash, when are you gonna sing for us?”
“which of us is cutest, Wash?”
He smiled blankly at the girls, his brain mostly liquid. Slowly, he passed into sleep and never woke up.
Queen burst in the door.
“Now, Wash, I can’t have you sleeping when you’re supposed to be on stage.” Christian and Delilah followed him, dressed as cheerleaders, into the room.
“Now get down there and say your lines so we can break for dinner!”
Christian leaned to Delilah and whispered
“Dinner? It’s 11:30 at night!” Delilah shrugged his comment off and approached Wash’s body.
“I think there’s something really wrong with him!”
“There will be if he ruins the debut of my show! Now I don’t care if we have to drag you down there, Wash, but you’ll act!”
Wash said nothing as he’d been technically dead for over a minute.
“Alright, if that’s how you wanna play it! Delilah, Christian, carry him on stage and let’s run his scene”
The scene went just about as well as if Wash hadn’t just died of Syphilis moments ago. They came to the love scene between Wash’s fullback and Delilah’s cheerleader. Queen stopped them and put a finger gently to his chin.
“I wonder…Delilah….when he says “I’d do lay-ups for you”….instead of kissing him…..screw him.”
“What?” She screamed. Queen responded quietly
“just….try it…..take him inside you…..see where it goes….”
“But…that’s against my religion!”
“Mine, too, but baby that ain’t nothin’!”
“I won’t have sex with him on stage! This play is about a game of football. This has nothing to do with the scene!”
“Delilah….the show must go on….”
And so she fornicated with Wash’s lifeless body three times until she put the proper feeling into the scene for Queen’s liking. She tried showering in one of the stalls when her scene was done but found Eichmann and an eighth grade girl in the stall.
“Fuckin’ privacy…much?” He demanded.
She finally found an empty shower stall and began washing herself vigourously, hoping to rid herself of both sin and disease, muttering scripture to herself all the while. Halfway through the door to the bathroom creaked open and the Skin slipped into the shower, clothes in a heap on the floor.
“What are you doing?”
“There, there, sweetie…God is dead…”
She tried to sound soothing but failed.
As Thompson and everyone else settled down to sleep in the quiet lounge, there was a desperate silence over the scene. No one had slept properly for days. A brick came soaring through the window, sending Thompson and Nelson to see if they could see the culprit. All they could see were receding figures as Grundleman shouted “Theatre Fags!” over his shoulders.
Thompson left Irena sleeping by the heater and approached Smitty.
“What’ll it be, Mr. T?”
“Smitty…you ever been in love?”
“My kids tell me it’s wonderful”
“Oh, Smitty. Always ready with a joke. They don’t pay you enough!”
“Tell my boss, sir!”
Thompson smiled and walked off. He found Jill and Melina staring out a window onto the parking lot.
“Looks like snow.”
“What the hell are we gonna do? I haven’t seen my parents in days.” Melina seemed about ready to cry.
“Don’t worry. This can’t last. The whole thing is perched on the head of a pin. If this lasts longer than a few days, I’ll eat my hat.”
“You’re going to need more than hope to avoid a felt meal.” Lynn, who’d been sitting in the shadows perhaps longer than anyone cared to think about, suddenly spoke up, the light of a cigarette illuminating her face.
“I may have a solution for you. But it’s not gonna be easy and it’s not gonna be painless.”
“I’d do anything about now” said Thompson.
“Sure you say it, but where’s the fuckin’ COMMITMENT? You men are all balls in conversation but can you fuck when the time comes?”
“We’re not talking about the solution anymore, are we?”
“Tomorrow in class, this’ll all become clear, but I have to know…can you fuck in the dark?”
“I can…do what’s required to escape, which is all I’m going to admit to right now cause your metaphors are creeping me out.” Thompson enunciated very carefully.
“See you in class, Thompson.” She disappeared before their eyes.
“Anyone else concerned that she gives us grades?”
Nelson, Little Ben and H worked on the set into the small hours of the morning. Nelson fell asleep focusing a light and woke up with third degree burns on his hands. Thompson paced around all night then fell asleep between Irena, the heater and Shilough.
When they woke up, Louis was gone. They had also disappeared Evan, but no one minded quite as much. They did know now to not sleep because they could now any of them be next. No one much fancied finding out where these people were waking up, if at all. Thompson searched all over for Louis but found nothing but a note.
“I don’t think I’ll need an editor as of now, you’ll have to write the articles yourself now. If they don’t go over well, and they fire you, come find me and I’ll see about putting you on the staff.”
It was distant and business-like enough for Thompson to cry over it until the words were awash in salt water.
Thompson thought about the man’s legacy here and his talent. Would the people who had never spent time with him, gotten over his tough-love grading to see the brilliant man, ever miss him? Could they know? what would time to do the things Thompson so appreciated? Could future generations love him and his teachings, especially if he wasn’t there to give them? How unfair, he thought.
Lynn’s class was due to start in an hour. Melina, Jill, Shilough, Maggie, Freda, His Editor, H, Nelson, Little Ben, Syllables, Irena and He, Hunt joined Thompson in drinking a cup of coffee in honor of their departed teacher. He may not have been dead but that mattered little. They were alone. TJ tried to join them, but they repelled him. He was a shadow of the rebel he pretended to be and they conceded that Louis would have found the gesture disrespectful. They drank coffee, even Shilough who never touched the stuff. If this is what you do to smart men who teach independence, then fucking come and get some from those who aren’t too old to fight with their fists and their mouths, Thompson thought. Louis’ departure, along with Neil’s and later Matthew’s meant they had to make all the decisions for themselves, now, and though he hated that his idols were forced into exile, he looked forward to biting the hand that starves.
Lynn gathered her students quietly in her classroom for an assignment was prepared for. The class was the smallest it had been all year. The women from his apes class looked tired, Maggie and Freda, His Editor looked ready for a fight. Delilah looked harried and hadn’t spoken a word to anyone since her waterloo in the baths. Tits’ chair was vacant.
“I want each of you to write an essay on positively anything. The author of the best one shall be given a soldier’s uniform so that you may escape. Leaving will not be easy. Deciding what to do when you get there will be even harder. You have 15 minutes.”
John Johnson crouched low in a back staircase when Segundo and his girlfriend found him.
“Hey, we were gonna fuck here, can you scram?”
“If I leave then John Brown’s gonna get me!”
Segundo’s girlfriend laughed genially.
“That’s just a myth, he doesn’t really eat cripples! Not that I think you’re a cripple.”
“No I mean he’s actually looking for me. I laughed when his horse threw him so he chased after me and I only just escaped. He said he was gonna eat my heart and I believe him!”
“Look, pal, I got class in a couple of minutes and my loins are ready to deploy, here!”
Johnson ran from the staircase into a field. He ran into Dan.
“Dan, you gotta hide me!”
“Johnson, I’m kinda dealing with a lot of things right now. They just made the soccer team watch Eichmann dominate one of the graduates and I really don’t feel clean.”
“There you are, you simpering clownboy!!” John Brown had spotted him. With crossbow in hand, the headmaster bounded from across the field towards his outmatched student. Johnson ran screaming towards the office.
“You’re just making me madder
Johnson ran into J.K. McAlister’s office.
“You have to hide me! John Brown’s gonna kill me!”
“What are you talking about?”
Not waiting to explain his predicament Johnson quickly crawled under McAlister’s desk John Brown, in a cape and suit burst in the door with a mob of 18th century English peasants carrying torches and pitchforks.
“Ah, McAlister, you can help us out. Where’s the heretic? Me and the boys are in the mood for a good old fashion a’witch burnin’”
“John, I’m not gonna let you do this?” John ceased laughing at a joke at the expense of Mennonites then looked to his former ally.
“Did I hear you correctly just now, McAlister?”
“I won’t let you harm him!”
“Oh, McAlister…of all the students to Roark’s drift over, I have to say even I could have picked a better one to defend. You couldn’t have picked one of those brainy kids or somebody hot like that spic…?”
“John, I’m putting my foot down. You’re not gonna hurt anyone else.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Mary!”
John stood on the desk and pinned J.K. to his chair with a bolt from his crossbow.
“I’ll BURN ALL THESE KIDS IF I HAVE TO!”
“HERE HERE!” called his 18th century peasant posse.
“Let’s go watch the gypsies dance at the Borgo pass!”
“Yeah! No…wait, we got girls here, gentleman!” John led his companions out the door, each cackling merrily.
Johnson crawled out from the desk and watch McAlister bleed from the debilitating crossbow wound.
“Johnson, I think I’m dying.”
“Hey, thanks a million, I gotta get goin’” Johnson limped to the door.
“Johnson…couldn’t you at least tell someone I’m in pain.”
“See you later!”
“Thompson, why don’t you read yours now?”
He had deliberately waited to go last as the other students read their essays to Lynn. Delilah had simply recited psalms from memory and then wandered off. He felt confident he would win, not because his story was great, but simply because he knew Lynn could trust no one with the task as she could him. He was prepared to do what was needed.
He stood and read.
The Story of Gullible and Horrible
Did you ever hear the story of Gullible and Horrible?
Gullible believed everything he was told, and Horrible was a real dick about it. When they first met, Gullible said
“Hi, I’m gullible.”
“Me too!” said Horrible
“Really?” asked Gullible, biting like a rube.
The two soon had many times, too many to count while lies were spilled like blood, like the seed of life from the tissue of life giving and ending
“Can the strongest alligator in the world bite through Gandhi’s generosity?”
“You bet your life.”
“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could perform action?”
“All of it.” the answer, sadly is 54.
For an age, that was the ebb and flow of things. Gullible would ask a question and Horrible would make him believe more than 16 impossible things before breakfast. This continued until Gullible put Horrible through a test he hadn’t foreseen.
“If I am a good person, will man be spared cruelty?”
“You bet your life.”
And he did.
Gullible bet his life (soul, heart, love, tears, guts, eyelashes, the space between his toes) that if he behaved, Man would be spared terrible cruelty forever. Gullible behaved nicely and was stabbed to death by Hatred for trying to help a woman being mugged. Horrible felt Horrible and saw it was his cruelty that had both killed his only friend and doomed man forever to unimaginable cruelty. How could man overcome it if one man could make his existence out of it?
Horrible hung himself believing it was the only way to make the world less cruel. By ending a life devoted to cruelty, he thought he would lighten the burden placed on every man.
The two were buried together by The Spirit of Forgiveness, who read them their last rights and gave only one of them absolution.
Those who believe they can guess which’s soul enjoyed the receipt of the absolution are gullible, and those who wish it on both of them are wonderful, but in the eyes of man, stupid.
If horrible dupes gullible, who will stop Hatred?
Does Man deserve to stop Hatred? Does Man swim in his cruelty?
For a moment, Lynn stopped and offered no reaction. She took off her glasses and then reacted. Her face, showing no emotion other than contemptuous indifference, opened at the mouth and gave noise forth.
“You’ll know who won when I approach you later and tell you in private, and when I do so, you are to keep this to yourselves. Do you understand me?”
At lunch, Shilough and He, Hunt asked how it had gone. He didn’t know so they ate with an air of repressed hopefulness. Maybe she was bluffing. The last line of his story had been aimed at her as well as their very violent oppressors, but he wondered if she considered this at all; had it not been a mostly empty exercise, a test more than a judgment?
Thompson walked to his car and stopped to drop his bag off and get the few shreds of spare cloth he had left when Lynn approached him.
“midnight on the fire escape.” and then she continued walking.
The men in uniforms with dogs seemed to look through him the rest of that day. Their guns had slowly converted from those of a modern American military force to those of the Russian Secret Police circa 1946. Their coats and accents had gotten woollier too. Thompson couldn’t exactly blame them, it was getting colder by the day.
Their final APES class didn’t start out that way. Thompson drank steadily and nervously from the Superwolf, but had brought along the pot just in case he ran out. The four women were on edge the whole time. Matthew seemed resigned to the stresses of living.
“Did you know that sometimes pesticides and growth chemicals sometimes make it impossible for Potato farmers to leave their houses before the harvest. They’re like prisoners. Trapped by commerce and the future of their livelihood. It’s fitting that they’re trapped with their families in the home, I think because that was who they were trying to please all along.”
“What was the point of all that death?”
“Do I have to show you the “God Doesn’t Exist” chart again?”
“I meant the studies and the figures. All those damned deceased Diggorouses detained in the dirt. For god’s sakes, man, you had us in thrall to the reaper and his drunken scythe swinging. If I read another judgmental obituary I’ll fucking lose it. So what? What on earth was the point?”
“Do you know how lawns are like tigers?”
Thompson breathed a half syllable, then considered the question.
“Do you know how lawns are like tigers?”
“I haven’t a clue.”
“They are living breathing creatures, when you get right down to it, and to try and tame it, cut its hair, give it a name and beat it with a chair and a whip or a mower. They can try to bring it to the suburbs but it’s no one’s property, it’s a man-eating tiger. Can you erase its instincts, even if you sedate it, display it for all the world. No. What does a lawn do if you turn your back on it? It grows and the weeds come and kill the flowers because that’s what it’s meant to do. What does a tiger do if you turn your back on it? It raises itself on its hind legs and pounces on you and mauls you to death. Why? Because that’s what it knows. What does a human being do if you turn your back on it? It dies, that’s what. We’re fighters, sure, but we’re not tigers. Quite frankly we’re not meant to be. Because what do we do when we face tigers and lawns? We make them bow down and accept domestication. We deserve to have weedy lawns and sometimes we deserved to get mauled. There’ve been weeds and tigers long before we decided to walk upright and carry guns and work lawn mowers. A tiger’s never changed and neither has a lawn and neither has all the rest of it. It’s we who’ve changed.”
The Inspector’s footsteps began to echo down the hall. Matthew walked casually to the door and locked it.
“And if we change so often, does the world then have to bow to each new set of demands we make? If a mother does her best to raise a child but he decides what he really wants is a Rolls Royce and Roast Bees for dinner, can she be expected to give him what he wants, no matter how much she loves him? Why should the world love humans, we’ve done nothing but cut her up like a pimp would a whore.”
The Inspector and several soldiers arrived and began banging on the door. Will ignored them even as the four girls jumped at each knock and their looks grew more dire by the second.
“So when we want it all, we want limitless economic growth and we want faster cars and bigger cities and bigger dicks and exotic pets and giant televisions and to put white men in charge! We don’t deserve those things but we keep asking.”
The Inspector began swearing and making demands through the small window next to the locked door. Matthew continued unphased
“Why should we want new means of production, more papers sold, more cars built, more people evicted to make way for other people, more schools crammed, more refrigerators built, more guns shot, more bombs dropped, more children wondering where their childhood went? Why should we want that when the only that is unequivocally true is that we all die? Do we hope to cheat death? Perhaps it won’t come if we’re a part of a certain income bracket? No…we’re fooling ourselves. We all die. So what can I do but try and make us understand how to make it a better place for our few years here? It’s selfish to think that our violence is going to make it easier for our children. We’re not alone….not yet…”
And with this he approached the door, unlocked it and let the soldiers escort him out of the building.
So while it is true that we have not spoken much on Ana Johnson, it is time to look at her and the part she has to play. If she hadn’t accidentally spied Irena and Thompson alone early on, perhaps they would never decided to continue their relationship and make it stronger. If she had never encouraged and talked so often to Nelson, he would not have become as strong and independent person as he was now. If she had not become friends with Maggie, perhaps neither would feel quite so fulfilled. If she had not caused Freda, his editor so much vex, perhaps she wouldn’t have been as venomous towards the cads she so hated and called bastards. If she had never aroused in Jack a feeling of subtle yet shamus-esque arousal, he perhaps wouldn’t swagger so, which is how the boys all liked him. She brought out the most in people, made them, in small, nearly invisible ways, more like themselves. She was, as is said of fame, what brought your personality to light. To want to take care of her is to be a caring person, to want to hate her is to be a hateful person, to want to praise her is to be a good mother or father, to want to be her friend makes you just that. So when it was that she, in full view of Thompson, hugged Irena so tightly and told her that she believed in her future, something clicked inside of him. He knew that it was she, Irena that must be given the chance he would never get again.
The assembly that day was an anti-drug comedian. Thompson and Dennis were confused beyond belief. Freda, his Editor was so appalled she decided instead to read Johnny Princeton officially sanctioned biography Life of a Frotteur or the positions I did it in.
“Did John Brown approve of this fellow?”
“You know, kids! Weed is for CHIMPS! OOH OOH OOH!”
“Dear Christ, this may be the worst thing they’ve done yet!”
“How’s Princeton’s biography.”
“so far it’s been pretty filthy. I don’t see how the man could have slept with that many women and animals while running such a conservative journal. And somehow the writing manages to be sycophantic.”
“how do you sink a drug addict’s ship? Put it in water!”
“You ever wonder what it would look like if the Terminator ever did drugs? I think it might go something like this…!”
“Lynn give you the uniform?”
“Not very funny is it, kids? Well, now you know…”
He, Hunt sat next to them, having just come from detention, which was grave digging.
“What’d I miss?”
“This is what it looks like when a turkey does L…S….D….!!!! Gobble, man!”
“oh, Nevermind. I’m dreading rehearsal. No one knows their lines and no one quite understands how to play football.”
“well, what do you expect, we’re actors!”
“Also….I feel certain that our director made Delilah have sex with a dead person. I didn’t just imagine that, did I? Because I haven’t been sleeping and….”
“I imagine that’s how he got away with it. Who knows really what we’ve seen the last few weeks?”
“You kids have been great, have a terrific day and remember…Drug Free Is The….Way To Be, you guys should have come in on the end of that and said it with me. I’ll do it again. Drug Free…”
H and Little Ben had skipped assembly to stay in the theatre and work on the set for fear of being caught by someone. Who was more disrespectful than they, after all? Beside Thompson and Nelson and Dennis, fewer people were quite so full of maliciousness.
Chris, the technical director had left earlier that day and taken his wife with him.
“I’m off to get some supplies from Finkel’s.” the hardware store. He got in his car and never came back, though no one knew if this was a decision or if he simply found something that interested him more on the drive to the hardware store. Either seemed possible and no one was mad.
The dean of students found H and Little Ben and promised not to inform on them if they helped him bury some bodies before it got dark. They agreed.
“I don’t like buryin’ ‘em after dark” said the dean.
“Can’t imagine why” snarked Little Ben
“Is that Ethan, still over there?” Little Ben and H peered over at their departed friend, stuffed under a tarp like a mound of dirt.
“Yes, well, we couldn’t’ ever dig the hole big enough and just wound up filling it with other bodies, so…” They looked from their tarpaulin-coated friend to the first on a stack of bodies, Jen.
“What’s happened to her?”
“Syphilis, wasn’t it?”
“Look, man, this isn’t a goddamn inquisition, ok, this is a school, so let’s just bury some fucking corpses, already and stop the chatter.”
They laid body after body. H had trouble recognizing a pleasant-faced woman.
“Who is that?”
“Dagmar Diggorous. She died in the arms of her family.”
“Who is that?” H mused at the hairy body beneath the Diggorous woman. This time Ben Answered,
“Nelson’s Apeman. I knew he was sick, I just didn’t know it was serious”
Nelson had nursed the apeman for a few days as it slowly withered from disease. It too had been to Madame Hoobelly’s girls, but that wasn’t what killed him. It was the erosion of civil rights that killed.
“it was beauty killed the beast” proclaimed the admiral when Nelson had left the apeman at his sick bed. He had passed earlier in the day.
“You shut your fucking mouth, Admiral!” He thought briefly about himself being the beauty of the equation but let that one go. Ana Johnson was the only one who gave him any comfort. She stroked his greasy hair and he
ld him while he contemplated the life and death of a proto-sapien.
“I think I failed at helping those who needed me most.”
“You only failed if you don’t learn from their misfortune.”
She embraced him and he slipped into her warmth like a babe repeating his stint in the womb. He felt away from it all for a moment or two. While they talked in the tech room, rehearsals continued out front in the theatre.
Henrik insisted on doing his big speech with his shirt off. Queen pretended to find the idea ‘naughty’ but let him get on with it topless.
“I just want to say, to my teammates who helped me win this trophy for our school and to the class of 2008…it’s great to be a fag!”
“Brilliant” fawned Queen.
“Have you ever been to a football match?” demanded Thompson
“No, but I think I understand the gist of it. Delilah I think I want to run your love scene again. Where’s Wash? Oh there he is, get in costume, Wash! Is this evening at the improv all of a sudden?” Christian looked guilty and carried Wash’s body upstairs to get him in costume. Joseph and the admiral helped him with the make-up and made sure to put a condom on him.
Eichmann ran soccer practice by torchlight in an SS uniform.
“That’s great kids. Remember what’s the most important aspect of the game?
“That’s correct cause…”
“White is right!”
“White Might Is Right!”
“outta sight! I thought instead of running laps, you guys could take turns licking my biceps, then we could rape this girl.”
Poor Melina looked up from her bonds. Eichmann had found her trying to use the restroom, not realizing it was now a functional harem. He hit her on the head with his Reichsfurher blackjack and tied her up. Dan looked into her face, red from crying and lack of sleep.
“Coach, I’m not gonna do that!”
“Why the fuck not? Would you prefer pinko cock?”
“No, I just need to do it indoors and I need to go first.”
“Very well. Take a buddy.”
Grundleman walked with Dan, who carried the squirming and exhausted Melina back toward campus. Grundleman held a torch.
“Ah, dude this is gonna be great. The whole year she kept on talking about how fucking smart she is and kept like bringing up facts and shit. Christ I just wanted to punt her over the wall. I like to think that I’ll be telling every smart chick to shut up by doing this.”
Dan tried very hard not to think about what his one-time friend was saying. He needed a quick fix and fast. Luckily Johnson fell out of the tree he was trying to climb for shelter.
“There he is! Hey John!”
Grundleman ran and began ringing the alarm bell John Brown had installed in the case one of his intermediaries spying one of his mortal enemies with his guard down. A motorcycle sped around the bend with John Brown in the sidecar sporting a handsome lance.
“Where is he? Oh…there’s the little shit. Maurice!” The driver put pedal to metal and soon the chase was on. John leveled his lance as they closed in on the limping Johnson. Grundleman watched with bated breath.
“Hey, Johnson! Where you goin’ why don’t you…” The lance caught the boy in the back
John Brown began to laugh as Johnson screamed and moaned, a lance in his back.
“Good hit, sir.” Said the driver
“A victory lap, Maurice. I want the world to know how great I am for killing an unarmed boy!”
Dan used the commotion to slip inside an abandoned dorm room to hide Melina.
“A Feast! I Want a Feast in My honor!” Roared John from a few buildings over.
Nelson, Thompson and the rest of them were dead tired. Simple coffee would no longer do. Dennis had fallen asleep and had woken just in time to stop a giant pair of tongs seizing him like an ice cube. The theatre was now full of very tired people, all hiding from what lay outside. Jill was no actor, but she watched the plays for fear of what went on outside. She trusted no one after Melina had
disappeared. Joseph, Henrik, Christian, Shilough, He, Hunt and the Admiral rehearsed the big game, each taking turns supporting Wash’s flopping corpse.
“Great pass, spike.” Said the Admiral breathlessly.
“….” Said Wash
“I just hope Moses was watching from the stands.” Said Henrik
“You mean the biblical figure who freed the slaves?” asked Joseph
“No, I mean my lover. Me and all footballers are gay for dudes…Queen, can we stop for a second?”
“What’s wrong? I was loving it!”
“I just…aren’t we going to get the shit kicked out of us when Brown sends his cultural arbiters around to see the play?”
“Look, I know it’s a controversial play, examining the love man has for god and football, and how no one’s ever done anything even remotely similar or as powerful but I’m a slave to my art. Delilah, are you ready for your love scene?”
Rehearsal stretched on and on. At 10:30, Thompson kissed Irena and walked out to the fire escape. Lynn was there. She presented the uniform to Thompson in a Macy’s box. He examined it while she talked.
“Listen…it’s got to be tonight. I had to create a diversion so they wouldn’t suspect my allegiance or follow me or follow you. I gave them the blonde in the corner. She’s with Segundo now, and they can only keep that a secret for so long so you maybe have a half hour before they’ve taken care of them and are back on the prowl again.”
“Have you two seen Sam Faulkner?”
The both stared down the fire steps to see Burt clad in a fur hat and babushka.
“He’s got a visitor and, well, you know how he likes to disappear…”
Lynn threw her cigarette away and grabbed a close hanger, sticking it on the telephone wires nearby.
“My covers blown, I gotta book! Half hour, Thompson. Don’t you blow this!”
She ziplined into the darkness.
Thompson charged through the theatre, stopping when he saw Ana Johnson.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“I have a way out.”
“You can’t leave us!” He stopped and his smile faded.
“Well, you could, but I sort of figured you’d bring this whole thing down.”
When Thompson looked at Ana, he saw someone who for just a minute believed in him and in that minute he believed in himself, too. He had never quite done before. He believed in his desperation, his loquaciousness, his violent urges, his love for his friends, but he had never believed himself capable of much more than complaining. Ana gave him a warm, hopeful look.
Thompson and Irena ran through the woods. Thompson had wrapped her in the uniform and kept his distance as they ran past the guard towers and floodlights, passed the prisoners, passed Nugent who had not yet died from his castration, passed the increasingly terrifying soccer practice, passed trees and the old quarry, the spots where Nelson used to walk with his apeman and the addled science teacher. They ran under telephone wires, useless thanks to John Brown. They ran by a stream and finally to the road. He pushed the cap of the uniform on Irena’s head and looked her in the face.
“You have to go and live. You have to forget about all the pain and suffering they brought upon us here and just remember everything you learned about life. Go to college and forget about the prisoners. And most of all, forget about me. Go for all of them who can’t go themselves. Go for me and make sure that this was a good idea.”
“Why don’t you escape, too. You’ve come this far.”
“I think I’m supposed to go back. The evils of that place just keep calling and I have to go back and face them before all my friends pay in my place. If they’re to die, I’ll die with them, but first I have to get a weapon to fight them.”
their last words may have been much less heroic and selfless. He may have cried, he may have begged, he may have found no words at all.
As snow fell, he stole a car by the side of the road and drove home. He ran inside his front door and saw under the tree a box wrapped and ready to be given to a son that his parents loved. His parents greeted him kindly as he stepped inside.
“Hey there, kid. We were starting to worry.”
“there’s dinner on the stove if…”
The soldiers walked in front door and carted Thompson off, the square package under his sweater.
“well, it was good to see you!”
“Shall we expect you for dinner tomorrow?”
They dragged him back onto campus. Nelson, H, Freda, his editor, Maggie, Little Ben, Shilough, Dennis, Jill and He, Hunt watched as they pulled Thompson from the back of an old jeep and lead him towards an office now used for brutal interrogation.
They looked worried until he pulled the parcel from under his shirt and threw it towards them. Nelson caught it and then they all opened it.
There in the box was the only thing Thompson had asked of his family for Christmas. It would be the last weapon in their fight against everyone and anyone: an espresso machine. Sleepless nights sailed in on a wave of black liquid made from finely ground coffee and steamed milk if they could find it. Suddenly the end seemed not only near, but in their hands. They may just pull through after all. Even as they pulled Thompson into the small office, lit only by a red light bulb. The Inspector stepped in and closed the door.
“So…you schtewdents still don’t see that all thes is for yourddd own gutt. Well, we can change that…yes we can. I’d do this meself, but I don’t like to get trash on my uniform.”
Two thugs beat Thompson without mercy. He didn’t quite care because he was certain that nothing they did could quite match the emptiness of being without the girl he’d let go. Cold from winter, wet from sweat, wet from falling snow, hot from fever, dirty from not showering, tired from not sleeping. None of that mattered. It’d hit him one last time as his friends pulled him into the lounge, but afterwards, he didn’t much care how desperate he looked or felt. He had a mission, given to him by a generation of academics he loved and respected, made clear by the face of Ana Johnson, made crystal by the last words of Irena. He slept one last time, confident that his friends would watch over him as he slept as they helped themselves to espresso, confident that if they needed to, they could never sleep again. For some of them, that was sadly true.
It was decided in the early morning hours that the feast that John Brown demanded in his honor would have to be put on if the remaining staff had any hope of keeping tenure. John Brown had filled the vacant positions with a variety of pillars in the community. Not this community specifically, but a community of puritans from 1860. The priest was put in charge of science, which made for rather tough goings. The blacksmith took over Neil’s race relationship class and the notary public ran the poetry class and finally Goody Blanchett, the town trollop who’d only become so after her husband was lost to consumption, was placed in charge of gender relations. It wasn’t long before the boys in class had put on loud music and coaxed her out of her already pretty revealing black smock and white apron with bonnet and had her dancing. Of course, it helped that a good many of the students were now soldiers who John Brown had taken out of every other rotation to make sure no one noticed that so many of his students had been dying.
The Kitchen staff worked tirelessly all day to make enough food for the banquet, which meant no breakfast, lunch or dinner for the students. The only people who didn’t particularly mind were Jill, He, Hunt, Dennis, Freda, His Editor, Nelson, H, Little Ben, Syllables and Thompson, who’d been filling themselves with espresso since roughly 5 that morning. Nelson decided what would keep him sane was meticulously painting the set. The set had been painted weeks ago, so he and Ana Johnson simply painted it several times over so that their football stadium turned from such into the coliseum, the Parthenon, the fifth floor of the leaning tower of Pisa, the bathrooms at the Louvre, and finally a rainbow-colored toad, which is what they finally settled on. Syllables brought them espresso while they worked until he simply stopped, and they never saw him again.
In exchange for a month of immunity for him and his family, Lonnie Street gave the rest of his alcohol to the soldiers (then promptly fled with his family) who were to have a USO show that night hosted by Johnny Princeton, who was doing a number of public appearance to try and raise his image among bible belt conservatives and NASCAR dads. The entertainment would be provided by Madame Hoobelly’s dancing girls, afterwards they would head over to watch Queen McQueen’s newly titled musical about sports: Balls!
Before fleeing the grounds, Lynn had considered holding a concert where the remaining students with musical talent would perform songs but had to stop auditions after TJ started singing a Dylan song and was disappeared. So instead she put Doyle Rafferty in charge of entertaining them, so he and Stefan piled a number of 51x50 amplifiers on top of each other and ran their guitars through digitech effects pedals and prepared to wow their supposedly blood thirsty American soldiers with their own brand of thrash metal. They weren’t aware that the soldiers had regressed to 1940s Russian soldiers, who had no knowledge of metal music and considered it noise as any suburban parent might.
“What noise they make!!!”
“They mean to torment us with their volume and horrible sound!”
“What if we become deaf or impotent listening to their torture?”
“They’ve been sent by the devil to eat our souls with sound!”
“Throw them in Gulag!”
“We have no Gulag!”
“Throw in bear-baiting ring!”
“We’ve got one of those!”
Stefan and Doyle were hurled into the bear-baiting arena and ran about screaming while bears on leashes chased after them.
“Wait, if you just give it a chance you’ll see the whole thing is in the Lydian scale, like most major Russian composers…AAH!!!” The bear swiped at Doyle’s feet as he grabbed the bars of his cage and lifted himself up. His excuses were simply no match for their bear.
“His puny Yankee excuses are no match for our mighty Rüsky bear”
The men guffawed heartily as the bear pulled off one of Stefan’s leg and shook it around like a dog with a bone.
“Perhaps next time you’ll play Stravinsky, little man. He was national treasure and you are western pig-dog! Watch as I laugh at your bear-related misfortune. Comrades! Let’s to the tavern! Drink and women await us there!”
Doyle Rafferty tried in vein to explain the merit of Mussorgsky as the nation’s great composer but they would have none of that. One of the men cut Doyle’s fingers off as he clung to the bar, sending him into the pit where the bear waited.
“Stravinsky has much better notion of importance of dissonance, pig dog! Mussorgsky knew nothing of irregularity!”
Even the bear had to agree.
Across the campus, John Brown stood in the cab of a crane wearing a hard hat overseeing the construction project that erupted overnight. The foundation had been laid at 6 in the morning and Johnny Princeton had showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony and to pose for the photo op and afterwards had attempted a booksigning but a group of feminists arrived at the gates to protest. Hanging his head in shame, he had retreated into his trailer to look at his collection of humanitarian and business awards, his face on the cover of Fortune Magazine, his photo of himself and the Apeman dressed in old west garb that they had taken together on a stint on the boardwalk in Atlantic City while he was trying to Moe Green the owner of the Harrah’s Casino. He cut himself a line of cocaine and told himself to breathe.
“They can protest all they want, boy-o, you’re the one with the means of production and distribution. What are they gonna do? Publish letters to the editor? HA! You own every editor in the country, Boy-o! They want to play devil’s advocate, well you got a big old shoulder, boy-o, let’s seem find your ear to whisper in! You’re a fortress, baby! A Tank! Ain’t nobody gonna tear you down!”
He stood and looked at himself in the mirror. He had gained a few pounds of paunch since his glory days and his hair was graying and falling out in places.
Outside John Brown and Pignatelli, his building advisor walked around, dodging wrecking balls and demolition blasts.
“Those dowls are in the wrong sector! What is this amateur hour?”
“You gave us 12 hours to build a gym, maybe you could cut the boys some slack.”
“Wrong again, wop! You’ve got 10 hours to build me a palatial athletic center! You’re griping just cost your boys two hours. I want all but the paint job done by 7. You get a half hour for cosmetics but I want the basketball court shiny enough to see my face when I’m making a perfect goddamned free-throw from half-court. K? I want the floors to come themselves when they see me striding over to throw the first ball of the game! Get the fuck to work, dago, or I get another contractor in here and haul your greasy Italian ass to the curb.”
“That supposed to be funny. ‘t The FUCK OUT OF HERE!”
John Brown kicked the air where his building manager just stood and then watched as a wire snapped sending two ton girders down onto the gypsy camp that had formed in the pits dug for construction, crushing most of ten families. Brown laughed as the survivors tried in vein to lift the girders off of their loved ones.
Madame Hoobelly had taken her girls out of the stalls for a day to try and teach them how to bellydance for the soldiers at the John Brown Memorial USO Show and Gym Opening Spectacular hosted by His Honor Johnny Princeton, only Winter appearance, but they were so tired and ridden with the diseases of a number of foreign countries that rehearsals were lackluster at best.
“It’s in the stomach girls, but you’ve got to feel it throughout your body.”
Lowlights collapsed into a pile of her own vomit.
“This won’t do.” The Madame sighed.
Thompson walked through their rehearsal to steal sports equipment while Eichmann was teaching the soccer team how best to subjugate the lesser races while running suicides. The women saw him and began to smile and drool. They approached him dumbly from across the gym and as they smiled seductively spittle hit the floor in great quantities. Thompson knew something was fundamentally wrong. He was bruised, greasy, dirty, disheveled, tired and wired. They weren’t after him for his brute sexuality, he knew that much as he was quite clearly devoid of any. They approached him regardless like rapacious zombies of lust pent on pinning him to the wall and taking what they pleased. He easily deflected the few that made it to him while he considered that their urge was not brought on by his presence or prowess but by instinct.
Irena’s absence seemed to fill the void between himself and the sexuality of all other girls. Suddenly it occurred to him. What if they were all attracted to him? He’d never make it through class without being violated. Every female face became that of a scheming partisan out to break in two the peace treaty signed on the zipper of his jeans. This worried him. Suddenly he could no longer trust Jill, his one-time, week-long former flame. It had ignited so suddenly before, why not again. Her smile seem loaded, her tongue the bullet and it wanted to break his skin, alright. He tried to concentrate by bringing up politics but soon Freda, His Editor and Maggie joined the discourse. He looked between the two of them as they discussed this and that, campaign finance reform and the resurgence of a modern Whig party but all he saw were two cannibals hoping to make a feast of him. They began rubbing their hands together, a cauldron filled with broth just behind them, the room suddenly a chiaroscuro cabin in the woods and these two women were eyeing like a particularly succulent bit of rabbit to be tossed into the great steaming wetness behind them. He blinked away the vision just as their loins caught fire and decided what he needed was to take a walk with a large espresso in the superwolf.
Outside he wandered out to the mailbox that had caused all their problems and found Dennis once again smoking a cigarette. They traded items and inhaled deeply of their potent filling.
“Is this legally coffee any longer?”
“Is anything legal in a demilitarized zone?”
“Evidently prostitution and unregulated construction projects.”
“Oy! Away from the fence!” a guard had spotted them and instead of waiting for results opened fire with his machine gun. The superwolf shattered in Thompson’s hands. They bled as he watched his coffee and shattered inanimate friend die an abrupt and gloriless death. Thompson wandered back toward campus, defeated once more for a time.
Mike Breuning and Zeke waited on the truss rod above the grid watching as Nelson, H and Little Ben completed the set tirelessly. As Nelson applied yet another coat of paint with a bucket of hot tar Ana had brought him, having long ago run out of paint, Mike looked through his binoculars out to the construction site where the gym was taking shape. He gave Zeke the Binoculars and then spit in his eyes.
“looks like the buildings almost done. As soon as Brown comes in here to watch these fucking Queers put on their play, that’s when we strike. Are you ready, dumbass?”
Zeke wiped the spit from his face, his eyes wide with crazed repressed fury. His whole being shook trying to hold in his anger.
“…yes….sire….we’re really….gonna let him have it.”
Thompson’s estimation of the correlation between desperation and sexuality became frighteningly clear in private in the afternoon leading up to the big show. Thompson decided it was best not to tempt himself and so after French class (which he had only attended because he had wanted to learn something, anything at very probably his last day at school. He hadn’t understood a word but the sense that the few remaining students were garnering knowledge put him at peace, even as his hands shook from drinking too much espresso) he had hid himself in the back of the dressing rooms and simply stared out at the window. Snow once again fell. By nightfall the whole place would be coated in the stuff. The ejaculate of the heavens completing its outburst all over the ashes of a Mephistophelean debt collection which would descend into the worst part of the human id unleashed. Wolves would be let out of cages to do what they would to house pets, raping the females, breaking the necks of the males whom they would feel threatened by. Then what? The forest was on fire, where could they run? Nowhere. They could hope for a heavenly emission might put out the flames, but the snow turned to harmless water resting on the trunks of dead trees before it could do anything. As much as Thompson hoped that everyone could be saved, he feared the wolves, the dogs, the forest, the whole motherfucking deal would be burnt to a motherfucking crisp. At his lowest (3:15 PM as classes were letting out, it must be said for the last time) he said “Good fuckin riddance!” At his most Christ-like (midnight plus 36) he begged for those he cared for to be spared the flames, the wolves, the judgment, the mess, the snow that would bury the evidence until later in the year if anyone ever came to exhume the wreckage and dub it a triumphant failure in the name of justice and teaching children that rebellion is futile and that if we’re to get anywhere, we need order, hierarchy, the distinct possibility of massive personal failure. We need a fringe of society to place people who failed so we might look down upon them and learn from their mistakes. We need lawns.
Meanwhile, his hypothesis proved true as suddenly fear gripped Freda, his Editor. Fear quickly turned to desperation, which in turn morphed into a kind of sublime sensual urge. She was cool and collected as she decided that if tonight was to be when they were urged to act, she would not meet it without a conquest or two under her belt. She was far from unattractive and was used to dominating others in conversation, so it seemed all of a sudden that a reallocation of her power was in order. She had experienced her transformation in the privacy of the restroom and when she emerged, there was a steely edge to her gaze. She looked about the room, taking stock of its male occupants. Raymond, Shilough, Dennis, Henrik, Christian, He, Hunt, Jack, Wash’s corpse and The Admiral all sat about miserably, dreading their final rehearsal before their debut that evening at 10:00. She approached Henrik first and propositioned him with her eyes.
“Ain’t never paid for it.” He said
“Won’t have to…but you’ll want to when you’re done.”
“I have been working awful
They walked mechanically to the costume room and were finished in six minutes.
She next cornered Joseph, who was only to happen to accommodate her, having never done so in his life.
Segundo wandered past, fighting with his girlfriend and more to prove she could, decided not only to try him on, but to do so while his girlfriend watched. When they were finished she put his girlfriend to work in much the same way The Skin had assaulted Delilah days ago. Segundo watched it happen as they finished he grew suddenly enraged. His ego could only accommodate the very faintest concept of betrayal and so the notion that someone would attempt to try it out on him was too much for him to conceive of. He began to hit her with the flat of his hands like old Hollywood heroins did to gangsters they disapproved of. Soon he hit her harder and harder and killed her as Freda, his editor watched. She got up and left him covered in her blood as he wondered if she had actually ever been real. Had he simply imagined that there would be a subservient woman who would do his bidding no matter how poorly he treated her. Suddenly he realized that the blood was his own and that he had beaten himself half to death, cut himself with glass, burned his face on the radiator. He had never had a girlfriend, just a created id satisfier and that he had simply left a cloud of smug narcissism in his wake and a trail of ejaculate he had assumed he was giving to his girlfriend. She had not been there to accept it at all and as the life drained from him, he realized for the first time as he stared into a mirror that he was not handsome and that he was alone.
Dan looked out into the empty corridor of the old dorms. He and Melina had been hiding there for a day, hoping to escape the raping, machine gun squad that Eichmann had trained out of the soccer team.
“I think the coast is clear. We might try and find something to eat.”
“Make sure you kill me before you let them get to me.”
“I think I’ll kill myself before I let them get to either of us.”
The walked down the hallway and out the door to the dining hall. The chef had only bad news.
“What do you mean we can’t eat, you have tons of food cooking right there.”
“Chancellor Brown told us that if we didn’t serve a feast big enough for every soldier in his detail he’d hang us from the flag pole and I believe him.”
“He can’t do that!”
“You haven’t seen the flag pole recently have you?”
Dan and Melina walked out to the flagpole and saw what the chef had meant. Bodies, stuffed in sacks, were hung from the flag leading to the macabre star on the metaphorical tree. John Johnson’s body had been stuck on the top of the flagpole and he sat there, dead, facing the ground, his head in the clouds.
Suddenly the machine gun squad spotted them and gave chase
“There, the defiers! Stop them!”
Dan took Melina’s hand and ran towards the old gym. Inside Madame Hoobelly was trying to fit her girls into skimpy dancer’s uniforms.
“Hey, you’ll spoil the surprise.”
“You’ll burn in hell for eternity” offered Dan as they hid in the old harem, which was an old bathroom in an old gym. Eichmann’s rabble crowded in, joined by the crowd of angry 18th century peasants, still wielding torches. Grundleman walked to the head of the column a mighty torch in his arms.
“Well, well, well.”
“Look, you’re not going to have sex with her!” Dan offered, an air of exasperation distinctly in place of any fear the mob meant to instill in him.
“Why not?” shot back Grundleman
“Because you have no right to rape people…or kill them for that matter.”
“Apostate! Idolater! You’ll burn!” The crowd hissed like snakes, preparing for Grundleman to seek vengeance on their behalf.
Dan shook his head and turned to Melina.
“I’m very sorry about this.” Dan took a step forward and kissed Grundleman full on the mouth. Another of those paradoxes began to bubble in the boy’s head as Dan pulled away from him and waited for a response.
“No….No….NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” Grundleman turned to his cohorts and looked first for an answer, then for pity. None came his way.
“Russell…this can’t be…”
“I’m sorry Grundleman….there is no salvation for you…I have to assume you’re one of them, now!”
Grundleman looked to Dan, all hope drained from his face and then set himself on fire. The peasants, the rape gang, Eichmann and Russell ran from the harem but Dan and Melina could not escape the flames. Melina offered a tired ‘thank you’ as if he had just saved her from a date with a rather awkward classmate. They breathed easy even as their lungs filled with smoke.
Queen McQueen bought a copy of Johnny Princeton’s paper from a sooty-faced street urchin for a schilling and read about the anticipation leading up to his play. He strolled up the walkway to the theatre. An irascible bootblack stopped him on the street with a smile.
“Well, Mr. McQueen the whole world is just DYING to see your newest production! What wonders do they hold for us? A lighthearted romantic fare filled with mistaken identity or perhaps a musical comedy filled with perfectly choreographed song-and-dance numbers. Oh I do like a good show, sir!”
“Oh, Pruthers, I shant give away my secrets before the curtain opens! The magic is for the stage, not the street.”
“Right you are, sir, I just never was one for surprises. Shall I give yer boots a shine?”
“I could stand a little polishing, but then…who couldn’t?”
“Too right, sir. Too right.”
Queen stopped to buy a scalding bag of candied almonds from a vendor, tipped the salvation army Santa, doffed his hat to a passing gypsy and then entered the theatre briskly, shaking his long Victorian coat of snow.
“Ah, my cast…are you folks ready to perform a feat of magic?! We’re going to make the winter blues and about a hundred frowns…disappear.” He offered jazz hands to better articulate his point.
His cast, those giants of the stage, simply stared at the floor. Those gearing to participate did not exactly share his enthusiasm. Christian and the Admiral sat on either side of Wash’s body, which had turned a shade of yellow neither liked the look of. Delilah was beginning to lose her motor skills after frequent on-stage trysts with a corpse on her director’s instruction, The Skin stroked her hair like a master to a housecat, He, Hunt and Shilough nervously smoked pipes off to the side, just getting through the day, Jack stood in the middle of a group of tailors who were in the midst of fitting him for a Nazi uniform (not everyone understood his brand of humour and he was quite excited to be seated amongst people who would not get the joke), Joseph cried in the audience, having not long ago been taken advantage of by Freda, his sexually predacious edito
r, Nelson painted with blood that Ana Johnson had drained from a cut on the bottom of her foot, she winced as she was running out of blood to give him and ways to appease him, Henrik rubbed goosefat on his skin to better bring out his muscle tone, Little Ben and H took turns cutting each other’s arms to keep them awake and make sure they could still feel, Zeke and Mike Breuning tried and failed to look inconspicuous up on the truss, Thompson paced the upstairs corridor like a half-mad prisoner of war. This was perhaps not Queen’s ideal cast, but when he looked at them he saw a group of seasoned professionals. Not because he had exorbitant amounts of trust and confidence in the group of tired and scared teenagers who were to perform his play, which amounted to a poorly scripted Roman bacchanal, he simply had a mania that caused him to see things. No one knew, certainly not John Brown when he hired him.
“My cast….my beloved cast….we are going to Knock…THEM…..DEAD!” Perhaps not coincidentally, Christian lost his grip on Wash’s body, which slid forward and hit the floor with a thud. He, Hunt shook his head wordlessly. What’s that they said about Tragedy and Comedy? He wondered
“Hunt, we’re going to run your scene next.” Said Queen hopefully.
“No, we’re not gonna do that.” He, Hunt said flatly.
Rehearsal went well. Queen though the ending lacked punch and deciding that there is no second chance at a first impression, rewrote it but had no time to rehearse it. He knew it required more extras so he asked everyone in the cast to participate, as well as Raymond, H, Little Ben and his own wife Pitch Black Hannah. Raymond was happy to be included and said yes. Queen also asked John Brown’s event coordinator if he and the Inspector wouldn’t mind participating in his revised ending as well, as honored guests. She shifted the headmaster’s schedule around and agreed on his behalf.
“This is it…” Queen said, his eyes not empty of tears,
“This will be….my greatest production yet…this will be my masterpiece.”
As he spoke the lights went on out by the new gym, which meant a lot of power all over campus was turned off. The heat in the theatre turned off. They were on their own.
The soldiers gathered in the bleachers erected around a stage in the middle of the new track field. Just beyond them stood the new gym, freshly completed and hidden beneath a tarp. The soldiers cheered wildly as a Huey helicopter circled the stage and Johnny Princeton climbed down a rope ladder onto the stage. Seizing the mic and looking ten years younger, Johnny Princeton came out swinging.
“How are we doing, soldiers? We havin a good time tonight?”
They cheered wildly and raised their plastic cups of beer to toast him. The floodlights and pale faces of the soldiers cast an impossible glow.
“I gotta tell you guys, I am psyched to be here at the Annual First Ever Privateer USO Show And John Brown Memorial Palatial Athletic Schloss and Seraglio Concert Spectacular 2006!!!!” The soldiers cheered through their cigarettes and clapped heartily.
“I gotta tell ya, I played golf with your headmaster today, and the guy spends so much time in the sandtrap I thought maybe he was thinking about buying real estate in there. What’s this guy, an old Jew?”
The crowd laughed approvingly.
“Tell you what else, the fella's stroke is so rusty I thought they had thawed out Ted Williams, put his head on some schvatz’s shoulders and he was trying to remember how to masturbate.”
They laughed some more. From backstage, John Brown very quickly got tired of the jokes at his expense.
“But seriously folks, ain’t we got a great self-imposed Autarch running things? That John Browns’ a great guy, huh? Just don’t mention his golf game, though. Guy gets madder’n the Apeman when you bring up how bad this guy is at golf.” Johnny Princeton fought tears remembering his time spent with the Apeman.
“I’ll tell you, though, someone once asked me, hey how come John Brown spends so much time putting his nose in everyone’s business?”
“I said…you met his wife?”
The crowd roared with laughter.
“The only thing the guy does worse than marriage is golf! Thanks you guys have been great. Let’s get to the first performer tonight. We got some poetry read by Three Bags.”
The crowd applauded as Three Bags walked on stage with a poem scrawled on a torn-out page of his diary.
“Thank you. This is a poem I wrote entitled “winter””
The crowd waited, smoking coolly, watching their breath condense on the air.
“Snowflake….a thousand times in my heart of cold…the black of coal and the knights of tyranny…who says who shall live or die….fireworks…”
The crowd grew restless at his poem and soon threw cans and food at him.
“GET THE FUCK OFF THE STAGE!” some shouted.
Soon the crowd grew unruly and crowded on to it and began to kick in the poet’s head like a mob of soccer hooligans. The bouncers could barely pull him out of their reach. They put him on a cot backstage reserved for Cyndi Lauper who had been tapped to perform that night but never showed up. Johnny Princeton looked from Three Bags to the bouncers.
“Aren’t you going to get him some help?”
“What Am I, his mother? Fuck!”
He died a few minutes later, choking on the teeth stuck in his throat.
Johnny Princeton moonwalked back on stage to a soundbite from “Thriller” before continuing.
“Ok, well, that could have gone better! I’ll tell you what, the last time I saw that kind of beating, I was playing golf with John Brown. Seriously folks, the guy’s a terrible golfer with an ugly wife. Hence my making jokes about both things.” Backstage, John Brown crushed a beer bottle in his hands.
“Ok, our next performer is Madame Hoobelly and her dancing whores! Ladies, take us to Plato’s Retreat!”
A half-dozen girls walked lamely on stage dressed as Arabian courtesans. While Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” played over the PA the girls threw their arms and legs limply in front of their bodies, watching them fall uselessly to their sides. When one of the girls attempted a high kick, the offending leg simply broke off and landed in front of her. The girl collapses next to it sobbing like an anesthesia attic, because she was one.. Lowlights fell over dead. Madame Hoobelly beamed with pride.
The soldiers cat-called and wolf-whistled and shouted lewd things. The girls smiled but didn’t know why they were smiling. Gabe Freeman’s girlfriend laughed and twirled her hair, pulling a large chunk of it out in the process.
The girls were pulled into the audience one by one by the soldiers until the stage was empty. Johnny Princeton ran out doing his Belushi impersonation while “Louis, Louis” played momentarily.
“Great job, girls. Ok, before we get to the final act, the big guy, the man of the hour, the guy who’s golf game is the worst in the land who married an ugly woman he now can’t stand causing me to make fun of him at public events, Burt Johnson has asked me to make an announcement. If you see Sam Faulkner tell him he’s got a visitor waiting in the office.”
The crowd clapped politely.
“Ok, so, here we go. The reason we’re all here, the man who slices before he strokes.”
John walked out from backstage and snatched the microphone from Johnny Princeton.
“That’s enough of that shit, Princeton. You wanna laugh at something, I’ll beat you to death with my nine iron.” Princeton spoke into the mic
“Such a kidder!” The bouncers dragged him off stage.
“Ok, now the moment we’ve been waiting for. My pride and glorious gift unto the world.”
The tarp was pulled off and mammoth floodlights were switched on. A square building stand there to be marveled at, though it was completely unremarkable. The flagpole had been relocated to the front of the building, so John Johnson’s body sat at the top of the pole for all to see, his hair collecting snow. To add insult to injury, there was a statue of John Brown in the front of the building. He struck a regal pose with a sword held over his right shoulder, except that he was raping a bronze likeness of John Johnson. Johnny Princeton eyed it with shock and repulsion.
“Ok, so grab a turkey leg from the banquet tables, then head inside to watch me make a free-throw. If anyone scuffs my floor I’m gonna put my foot up your ass with ice climbing shoes.”
The cast sat in the lounge awaiting the end of the demonstration so that John Brown would bring the faculty and the soldiers and the whole procession into the theatre for the final act of the evening, the play. H, Little Ben, He, Hunt, Shilough, Dennis, Jill, Ana, Jack, Maggie, Nelson and Thompson sat in a circle drinking espresso in the cold darkness while Joseph, Christian, The Admiral, Henrik, and Raymond ran lines with Wash’s body.
“What’s your plan when they get here?” asked Jill of Thompson
“Well, I don’t have to tell you it won’t be hard to bring the house down…and stop undressing me with your eyes.” Jill squinted in confusion.
“So what are we supposed to do when they get here?” asked H
“They are not going to like the revised ending…” muttered He, Hunt woefully. Thompson, indeed everyone present remembered their rehearsal, then looked over and saw Christian miming felatio in preparation for the ending, then they all quietly prepared to mourn their own deaths as no one else would.
“I’ve decided to publish S.O.S. in the free press and hope someone gets it in time.” Thompson offered hopefully. His friends stared at their cups of espresso.
“Look, I would love it if I had a plan but…” he started.
Ana looked at him and offered a quiet plea.
“You’re not going to let them win, are you? We’re counting on you!”
Thompson looked at her face and it returned to him, the belief in himself.
“No, I’m not. Let’s just make sure of one thing. When the last act begins, find each other and stay together, yeah? If we’re together…well, at least we have that. In the mean time…I’m going to think of something.” He wished he could still print a story in some paper or other but the idea of trying to publish a story in any of Johnny Princeton’s rags seemed laughably implausible.
Thompson stood and left them and approached Smitty.
“You look down, Boss.”
“Smitty, there’s just never enough time.”
“Tell me about it. I’m working a double over here!”
“Oh, Smitty…always ready with a timely quip. I’ll miss you most of all.”
“And I’ll miss your twenty percent tip. Listen to me?!”
“You’re a card, Smitty! Someone get this guy a drink!”
They laughed dryly and waved away each other’s wordless praise.
Queen bustled into the lounge and approached Delilah who stared at the wall catatonically. Her dreams of being an actress were so far away from her as she looked up into the face of her director.
“Delilah! Listen, I know you’re tired and we start in just a few minutes but I wanna run your love-scene just one more time. I feel we’re just a few tries away from getting something truly magical out of this bit. What do you say?”
Delilah stood up and considered one last time her dreams and religion. She thought she knew what waited for her. Then she shot herself in the fuckin head.
Christian, The Admiral, Joseph and Henrik looked up at Queen, all of them covered in the brain matter of a deeply hurt friend.
The skin stood over her body and shook her head.
“Not that I or anyone else believes in it, but…she’s gone to a better place…the fiery torment of a million eternities in hell. It’s a shame she wasn’t a better Christian…like me…”
“Well, that’s just great!” Queen sighed.
“Does this mean the play’s cancelled?” asked The Admiral
“No….no, I’ll just have to play her part. Boys, could you pull her out of that costume so I can adjust it to my size?”
Christian looked at her body and vomited. Thompson thought of Al Mulock and Sergio Leone.
“Christ, is nobody a professional anymore?”
Queen started undressing.
The soldiers, the rape gang, the peasants, the puritans and Johnny Princeton watched as John Brown prepared to take his free throw in his brand new gym; a testament to his power and force. The floor was emblazoned with his name and the ceiling with his face, he didn’t want students treading on him after all. Just below his name on the floor were the words “Revered and Feared”. Brown strode triumphantly to the head of the gym, facing the basket. The crowd fell silent as Johnny Princeton gave him the lay up. John Brown dribbled the ball once and prepared to make his shot. He exhaled and rose up and then a howled word from J.K. McAlister threw off his aim.
The ball bounced harmlessly off the backboard and each time it bounced on the floor was like a nail driven into the coffin of perfection. Brown stood stock still, turning his head 180 degrees to see
McAlister. Soon his body turned, following his head and the two men faced each other. McAlister walked in, his shirt stained with blood from Brown’s crossbow arrow.
“McAlister…I thought I asked you to retire.”
“Guess your aim isn’t as true as you thought.”
“That’s twice I’ve missed because of you. I don’t plan on missing again.”
“If you want to hurt anyone else, you’ll have to finish the job you could never do.”
John Brown strode over to his assistant Dean and stabbed him in the gut with a dagger.
“You haven’t killed anything.”
“I know…you’re no man. You’re nothing!”
McAlister fell to his knees and died.
The crowd watched him fall as John strode away from the body.
“Ok, let the games begin.”
Johnny Princeton walked out of the changing rooms dressed in a basketball jersey with the name of his newspaper listed as the team. His PR lady gave him a fierce thumbs up as he walked onto the court.
“what are we doing shirts and skins?”
“Yeah, cause we’re a bunch a queers who like to take our shirts, off. Fucker. Bring ‘em out.”
A few soldiers escorted the rich graduate students onto the basketball court, each of them in handcuffs.
“I don’t get it.”
“Shocking.” Said Brown patronizingly. “This ain’t your gramma’s basketball. We’re going to hunt and murder these rich fucks with swords. That’s how we play where I come from.”
“where is that?” asked Princeton earnestly.
“I come from Fucking Solebury! Let’s have us a fucking game!”
The soldiers, peasants and athletes ran at the rich kids with swords, knives, axes, fire and guns. Russell stabbed Seagull with a spear with a mighty moosecall. Seither was brought down by two great hounds who gnawed on his elbows. The bootblack jabbed Tilly with a pitchfork. Eichmann took a bite out of Rita’s calf muscle. Gabe Freeman, who had only shown up to look for his girlfriend was struck with a baseball bat and then kicked in by a bunch of greasers. The Inspector smashed in a punk’s head with a cricket bat. From across the room, John Brown spotted Nugent and rode over on the back of an elephant towards him. The crowd parted to let him pass. Nugent tripped while trying to escape and soon Brown’s elephant was on top of him, stomping on chest, breaking ribs, passing through skin, hitting the floor.
John leapt off.
“Enraha!” He cried and the elephant heeled. John bent down and reached into Nugent’s collapsed chest and pulled out his still beating heart.
Russell looked up from the body of a skinny boy, his mouth full of blood and then had an epiphany. He ran for the exit towards the theatre. The crowd followed him into the night singing “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” in unison as they marched.
H and Little Ben sat in the lighting booth, ready to run lights and sound for the play, which was due to start in ten minutes. H reached out and cut Little Ben’s arms with a file. It didn’t bug him much anymore. Both had cut each other pretty nice all that day and couldn’t be bothered to react to more wounds.
Nelson applied the last coat of paint to the set. Ana lay unconscious next to him, her blood pressure having dropped too suddenly. He dipped his brush on a wound she had cut on her wrist and stroked the stadium set. The colour was now a sickly brown with an oil base. Thompson saw her passed out on the floor and went to assist her but Maggie stopped him.
“But she’ll die like that.”
“She did it for him. If he wastes her blood, won’t that be a bigger crime?”
“It doesn’t seem right.”
“She said it was ok. She wrote him this note!”
It was a photograph that had been drawn over in crayon. Who knew what it said. Thomson only knew what it meant. Nelson licked the brush, then dropped to his knees and drank from her veins.
“That’s love, I guess.”
Upstairs, tensions were high but no one said a word, more or less.
Jill and Dennis watched the actor’s prepare. Christian, The Admiral, Joseph and Henrik were all still covered in dried blood. Shilough and He, Hunt stared at their script but cared not for their lines. Thompson stared out the window at the moon. The snow on the ground was four feet high.
Russell crept in through the fire escape, a tomahawk in his hands, his hair shaved but for the center strip, blood on his face like war paint, his clothes gone but for a loincloth. Freda, his Editor stopped him as he walked past the bathroom.
“What are you doing this time a night?”
“I’m gonna kill Thompson!”
“Why don’t you come in here and prepare yourself for battle!”
He considered it. He thought of conquering her. It would be a great honor to his chief, an adversary tamed, he would have thought. After a moment’s consternation, he walked inside and closed the door where she undressed for him. They began the act of trying to break the other in sexual sparring. Russell brayed like a horse and Freda, his conqueror, pulled a knife she had tucked into the strap of her panties and stabbed him in the chest. Russell quickly launched himself up and brought his tomahawk down, burying it in her arm. He pulled it out and stuck it in her back. He touched the dagger hanging out of his chest but quickly lost his strength. He sat down hard and the hard light faded from his eyes as he tried to live long enough to kill. He failed.
Thompson stared out the window as the mob, which looked only like the light of a hundred torches, approached the theatre, walking in from the snowstorm.
“Here they come.” He, Hunt and Shilough joined him at the window. Jill and Dennis stared out another. Maggie stopped putting make-up on Henrik’s biceps and they too came to the window. Joseph, who’d been curled up in a closet, stood too and joined Raymond, The Admiral and Christian at the window.
“when do you think they’ll be here?” asked Raymond
“Five Minutes” Said Queen as he hurried downstairs.
“We open the house in five minutes!”
The mob ascended the torch-lit stairs in unison, their steps a fateful march.
Queen’s wife brought each member of the mob to their chairs using a torch to guide her. Queen couldn’t have been happier. Mike looked down at John Brown as he entered in full SS garb.
“There he is.”
“Yes…there he is” said Zeke, eying Mike hungrily.
The actors stared out at the crowd.
“They’re all here.” Said Shilough
He wasn’t wrong. In the audience sat John Brown, the Inspector, that Woman, Johnny Princeton and his entourage, Burt, Madame Hoobelly, the bootblack, the roguish newspaper vendor, the Apeman’s widow, the reverend who taught Neil’s classes, the blacksmith, the puritan gang, the greasers, the Stasi, the Cossacks, Jack, who made a point of shaking every one’s hand and making them admire his uniform, the cast of Hell Is For Heroes, Lord Sommerisle, John Brown’s motorcycle escort, horse handler and Elephant wrangler, his shrewish wife, Sam Faulkner, and there in the front row was Eichmann, his uniform gleaning under the lights. The crowd milled about and schmoozed.
“Brown, excited to see Queen’s latest?”
“They’re always a delight.”
“There’s talk of you making a cameo, Inspector”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t embarrass me!”
“How about all that snow”
“How about all these women?”
“I was sorry to hear about your husband…”
“Did you see the way I pounded that faggot?”
“Would you mind trading seats with me?”
“Oh, not at all, sir. Rollicking good night It’s been, eh? Blacken ye boots for you?”
“Eichmann, it’s been years, how’ve you been?”
“I’m going by Colonel Judenrein these days. And watch what you say around me or I’ll send you to the gas chamber, ok? Haha!”
Thompson clutched his stomach. He had not eaten food since the day before. He was cold and feverish despite the building’s lack of heating. He felt like vomiting. Dennis handed him one last cup of espresso.
“Where do you think you’d like to be buried?”
“Out by the mailbox, how about you?”
“I want them to scatter my ashes over the Vosges Mountains near the German border.”
“You know I could have graduated early.”
The lights went up.
Queen took the stage.
“I just want to say that it’s such an honor to be able to perform for you distinguished gentleman.”
“And John Brown?” said Princeton
“Cool it, Princeton!” said Brown. After a pause, Queen continued.
“There have been a lot of last minute changes but these kids have worked very hard to bring you a play that I know you’ll enjoy. Unquestionably. This may be the last play you ever see…because it will ruin all other plays for you…” The audience had a hard time reading too much into the implication of his words because they were coming from a 53 year old man dressed as a cheerleader, with pom-poms, fake breasts and all. Eichmann stared daggers at the man, his arms folded like a map, elbows jutting like swords from a magicians’ box.
“So without further ado, I hope you enjoy our production of Balls. A Tragicomedy Musical in seventeen acts”
The Inspector looked mortified at the title.
The curtain rose and Henrik lifted weights on the set.
The audience cheered and applauded for him. Nelson still sat on stage painting a mural of blood.
“The life of quarterback….ooh…it’s a boner…”
The Skin walked in wearing only an apron
“Sweetheart, breakfast is ready…and…I know I’m your mom but I really want to fuck you.”
“Par for the course when you’re an athlete. Can we do it later, mom? The guys are coming over to practice. The big game’s this Sunday.”
“Oh…very well…I’m going to bury your father.”
“yeah, you do that.”
Christian entered stage left supporting Wash’s body.
“Hey Bro-ski, ready to practice?”
Christian dropped his pants and Henrik got on his knees.
The audience shifted nervously.
Queen stood backstage watching through the curtains.
“Jesus, how about a little emotion! This is what I get for casting younger kids in big parts!”
Joseph puked into a bucket, half out of nervousness, half out of revulsion.
Queen continued to murmur his displeasure. ”What’s he, afraid of it? Get some balls in there! Fuck it’s not going to bite you!” Joseph puked harder into the bucket, not realizing it was a prop.
Queen stepped onstage to interact with Wash’s body.
“Gee, Spike, are you ready for the big game?”
“I hear the other team is really good at balling.”
“Would you mind if I gave you ecstasy and then date raped you in the back of my car?”
Thompson spied on the performance from the second floor with He, Hunt.
“Well, he’s suited to the part, I give him that.”
“I don’t think I’m going to go on.”
“Why not? You get the best lines.”
“I guess. I just don’t buy myself as a star quarterback.”
“Neither do I, but how often will you get to say “if we can win the pennant, you can have sex with my slave,”?”
“Where did he come up with this dialogue?”
“All those years never playing sports.”
“I don’t play sports either but I know that Baseball doesn’t have a round of piss-drinking during the seventh inning stretch. It’s just kinda common sense.”
Dennis approached them.
“Have you guy seen this fucking play? That thing is raunchy! I don’t think the director knows how to play football.”
“Wait until you see what he thinks ‘the big game’ looks like.”
Ejaculate landed on Eichmann’s shoes. He stood and went looking for a restroom. He went for the exit, but the snow had blocked the door. He walked upstairs to the dressing room passed Thompson, Jill, Dennis, Shilough, He, Hunt and a few others.
“Where’s the bathroom?” he growled.
They pointed him to the back. Eichmann opened the door and saw Freda, his editor and Russell’s bodies on the floor.
“BURNING HELL!” He roared.
He reeled about and ran back towards the stairs. As he rounded the bend, Queen tripped him and Eichmann fell head first down the stairs landing concussed on the landing.
“Stop my play, will ya?”
He, Hunt walked on stage.
“The life of a quarterback…it’s murder….who wants a reach-around?” He delivered the lines without any inflection or feeling, which seemed to please the audience, who applauded. He, Hunt looked around wildly, confused, breaking character. He walked off stage in the middle of the scene. The skin tried to salvage it by dancing and scatting. The audience booed.
John Brown stood and raised the tip of the flagpole with Johnson’s limp body on the end like a scepter and pointed at the stage.
“This will stop now!”
Queen signaled Little Ben and H who dimmed the lights.
When the lights came up it was time for Queen and Wash’s love scene. Christine took center stage and spoke at the audience who squirmed just to look at her.
“I just want all of you to know that I disapprove of your hate and I’ve started a hate group dedicated to hating you!”
John Brown threw his hands up and pointed at the inspector.
“that’s great” Brown said breathily.
The Inspector stood up and walked down to the front of the stage and beat her with a large cross he borrowed from the reverend.
“How do you like your rebellion, now?”
Christian and the Admiral dragged her off stage.
Queen walked on, his arm around Wash’s body.
The audience squirmed some more.
Thompson signaled Shilough and He, Hunt. After the love scene there was only the big game.
He, Hunt, Shilough and Thompson met Dennis near a door leading up the grid. Dennis brought with him hacksaws, band saws and buzz saws. Zeke saw them climbing but said nothing. Mike watched John Brown intently fingering a silver derringer.
Maggie and Jill watched from the dressing rooms as the four of them got into position.
The lights went up and the whole cast stood in pink football uniforms. It was midnight plus 30, Christmas Day. Henrik took center stage. As John Brown and The Inspector took to the stage.
The crowd went wild. When the screaming and cheering died down, Henrik addressed John Brown.
“Coach, I know it’s tradition to wait, but I feel certain we’re going to win, so let’s dump the bucket of ice water on you now.”
The boys grabbed a bucket and dumped Joseph’s vomit onto John Brown’s head.
The colour drained from John Brown’s face and he stood poleaxed on the spot. He thought of words and actions but could find nothing. The vomit rushed to the edges of the stage. Before John could say anything Queen rushed on stage and started performing a cheer. The Skin looked on, her head bleeding from cross-shaped wounds, giving Henrik a maternal look.
Up on the truss, Mike saw his opportunity and took aim. “Now we’ll see who gets the last laugh, Brown! HAHAHAHA!” And with those last few laughs, Zeke tapped Mike on the shoulder and casually and slowly stabbed him in the face with his shiv. Mike tried to look at the wound but as it was just below his right eye, he could not see it. Zeke pushed a hand out and then gently pushed Mike off the truss and out into the audience, hitting first the grid, then breaking through the floor that the audience sat on and finally to the ground, which gave way and then he smashed on through to the rec room below. Then a vending machine fell on his chest.
Henrik stood up and delivered his last line of dialogue, the last of the play that had been written down on paper.
“Ok, Team. Let’s win this one for the little guy! It’s Great to be a jock!”
The actors took their clothes off and fell down into the vomit and began having sex with one another. The noise of their frantic coupling masked the sound of the four saws severing the chains that held the grid in place. Little Ben and H turned the lights full on and played the sounds of a marching band at full volume. The crowd didn’t know what to make of it. Queen stopped his acting and then looked to the audience.
“Everyone! JOIN US!
Everyone looked a touch scandalized by the notion. Jack stood up and loosening his tie called out “I like the way that mo thinks!”
And soon they all joined in. Soon it was only John Brown and the Inspector who stood on the sidelines watching their heated coupling. And this was no ordinary dalliance; this was an apocalypse of fucking. Vomit dripped from his shoulders as his face turned a deep shade of red.
He, Hunt, Shilough and Dennis finished severing their chains and ran to the dressing rooms. Thompson’s hacksaw broke midway through his chain and he tossed it aside, improvising. Nelson finished his painting, it was of Ana with angel wings soaring away from a prison wall.
Eichmann awoke and ran on stage, bumping into John Brown.
“It’s a motherfucking…” but Eichmann stopped when he saw the orgy. He too fell silent.
Zeke saw Thomson running and jumped down to try and stop him. Thompson looked from the advancing thug down to the writhing bundle of flesh, then to his headmaster.
John Brown slowly craned his neck skyward.
“I don’t just stand for something…I jump for it.”
Thompson jumped aside as Zeke leapt at him. Zeke landed hard on the grid, snapping the remaining chain and brining the grid, a screaming Zeke and then the roof down on top of John Brown, Eichmann, Johnny Princeton, The inspector and the whole mob. Then it all fell through to the rec room and on top of Mike’s still living, screaming frame.
Snow fell in the hole in the theatre. The roof had come down with the grid and the snow covered the whole scene. It was 12 feet deep in every direction for miles. The light bulbs and all power flickered out and soon the whole scene was darkness. A serenity fell over the grounds of the school it had not known in many a moon.
Irena started college, got full scholarships, did well on tests, planned on going to graduate school, got a job, internships and in time forgot. Forgot about the suffering, the pain, the death and sex and hate and everything done to man by force. She was working on learning how to change all that at school. Maybe. Who knew anymore. No one was around to see it. Soon, she forgot Jill, Melina, He, Hunt, Shilough and Dennis. A little later on she forgot Thompson. How else could she have gotten on to do what she did, if she did not forget the names and just remember a vague pride for trying to undo the wrongs of men all over the world. She knew she had to keep going but would not be burdened by tears every night because she remembered their faces. She had to let them all go so she could move on and make sure that whatever had happened there never happened again.
Maybe they made it out ok. Maybe He, Hunt and Shilough and Dennis and Jill and Maggie had stayed in the dressing rooms until the snow melted and walked out and never looked back. Maybe they walked through the snow and spent Christmas day at home. Maybe Thompson hadn’t fallen with the grid and the roof. Maybe he had bounded into the dressing rooms before the building collapsed. Maybe the mob was ok and changed their ways. Maybe John Brown renounced everything he once lived by. Maybe Thompson and the others went to college, too. Or maybe they were arrested trying to escape. Or maybe they never made it out at all. Maybe they were all looking forward even as death grew stale around them and closed in. Maybe they loved and accepted everyone after all, and all that hate never happened. Maybe they learned from it and changed. Maybe it was no one’s fault. Maybe Louis, Lynn, Matthew and the addled science teacher were alright somewhere. Maybe they were all together now and that was what mattered more than anything else. Maybe they were alright. Maybe