|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
A SMAK To The Face
“Oh yeah? Says who?”
Mister PrinciPal’s forehead is bubbling with thick, girthy veins. “Says me, young man! Your Principal!” as his lungs fight for air. “I am your authority and I am entitled to respect! I refuse to be spoken to in any other manner!”
The hippie, who kind of looks like Jesus Hernandez now that he’s on the stage and illuminated by a spotlight, makes a kissy face and winks at the elderly man two back-talks away from a school-ordered anger management class. “Well I guess I’m your worst nightmare Bubba, because I’m not even a student here.”
The crowd of students goes wild – except for Jack Monta, of course, who’s face is as red as Mister PrinciPal’s, albeit for very different reasons. Most of the teachers have left at this point, holding the doors shut from the outside to contain the mob of adolescents trying to escape the sweatbox. The hippie finally made his presence known to Mister PrinciPal, distracting the latter into chasing him in circles around the stage and the first row of seats. Mister, nearing the status of octogenarian, completed a whole lap and a half before his bladder convinced him to stop running.
“You’re… not a student?” PrinciPal mutters as he gasps for air. He makes eye contact with the hippie’s hairy knees, scandalously visible through the holes in his jeans. His face tint fades from a red to a fleshy pink, and one of the seventeen bulging veins sinks back into his forehead. With an excited tremble in his voice, PrinciPal says, “My humblest apologies, I was not aware. Do you happen to have a visitor’s pass, my good man?”
The hippie cocks his head sideways, confused. “Uh… no, my salty dawg. What’s a visitor’s pass?”
PrinciPal’s eyes widen approximately to the size of the hippie’s pupils. He removes a small whistle from his pocket, the mouthpiece dented with toothmarks, and places it between his dentures. All the commotion in the auditorium, the rampaging students attempting to escape, the barricades of teachers, the scrambling Administration, the small pack of rats that escaped from the school’s fashion and perfumery hallway and somehow managed to find their way into the sweaty hellscape that is the anti-drug assembly, everything comes to an icy pause the moment the whistle is blown. The sound that shrills through the air does so at such a high pitch that any dog in a three-mile radius would love to storm into Glauria Wolffe’s upper-class chocolatery and just start eating, but all the students can hear it. The gray child starts bleeding out of his left ear; not even his advanced necromancy practice can get him out of this one. Even the hippie, who has a constant, unyielding ringing in his ears from all the Psychedelics he eats on a daily basis, finds himself on a whole new level of dazed and confused.
PrinciPal lowers the whistle with a denturey, almost vicious smirk on his face and starts to giggle like a husky kindergartner who just got finished throwing a tantrum to get their parents to buy them a chocolate bar at the liquor store. “If you, sir, are not a student, and you do not have a visitor’s pass, well…” His voice suddenly gets low and raspy. “…then that must make you…”
On the catwalk above, Vice Principal Verschwatz drops the tuna melt sandwich in sheer awe. His wrinkly hands grip the railings of the suspended walkway so hard his knuckles turn white. ‘No, Mister, you can’t…’ he thinks to himself, tears running down his cheeks.‘But… but yet you must.’
In an all too dramatic snarl, Mister PrinciPal utters the magic words, “… a school shooter.”
The lights in the auditorium cut out and at least fourteen different girls, seventeen if you count the prepubescent freshmen boys, shriek into the inky blackness like screech owls around Skunksville. The sound of glass shattering echoes through the void, and four long, ropey objects slap the floor around the hippie in unison. The hippie’s purple irises begin to glow as his night vision kicks in, allowing the boy a two-second lead on the eight SMAK officers descending into the auditorium through the skylights via high-tension ropes. They grab the students on the stage, using their earlobes for leverage, and launch them back down into their seats. The school’s private para-militants then surround our tie-dyed mass of unwashed hair in an octagonal circle, their SR-15 rifles aimed directly at his head. The spotlight illuminates the stage and the room freezes.
Mister PrinciPal, suddenly draped in a dirty priest’s outfit, coyly creeps onto the stage and walks a circle around his armed men.
“You see children,” he says to the crowd, “this is what happens. This man, draped in his ridiculous and slightly homoerotic clothing, with his long, unkempt hair and clearly delusional state of mind, is the result of doing drugs.”
PriestiPal then turns to the hippie, smiling not with his mouth but with his eyes, and says, “Tell me, Flower Power; what drugs do you do? If you confess your wrongdoings to me, you can still have the chance to redeem yourself!”
In the crowd, an innocent-looking blonde girl named Isabelle suddenly perks up with interest in what the hippie has to say. She isn’t the only one, either; a good quarter of the auditorium’s student population is paying more attention right now than they have in all their years of attending the public school system, even when it was overseen by the government of the once United States of America. Jack Monta isn’t included in this quarter, of course; he’s busy trying to figure out how to sit on his neck. Or, even better, how to hide inside the auditorium seat altogether. There’s got to be a zipper on the cushion, right? Somewhere in the back?
The hippie smiles back entirely with his mouth, his eyes busy scanning the SMAK officers. They’re tall, looking mighty meaty in their battle-ready bulletproof armor. Thick, fibrous, densely packed on an atomic level, as it were; just one of them would be difficult to move through, to move at all really, but eight of them?
“Well,” the hippie starts in a low voice, taking in silent deep breaths through his nose, “in high school I was a fiend for caffeine and sugar; on the daily I would down at least four of those tallboy cans of Creature Energy concoction by the time we were all stuffed into that stanky cafeteria. When was lunch back then, nine ay-em? Anyway, after I graduated, with flying colors I might add, I took to drinking alcohol to get my kicks, but the taste made my tongue want to shrivel up and decompose into goop, so I put it away. Smoked cancersticks for two months too, didn’t like them either, but shortly after thah–”
“Ah-HEM!” Mister PriestiPal chokes out, dislodging more of that green substance from the craters in his esophagus. The spotlight shrinks and focuses on him, then, “Perhaps you didn’t hear me, young man.” He turns to the crowd and says, “If he even is a man,” before turning back to face the hippie. “I said what drugs do you do. Those aren’t drugs, those are completely socially acceptable stress relievers and energy boosters. Next you’re going to say a prescribed pain pill is a drug, I mean come on. I know it’s hard for your dry rotted brain to keep up, but please, answer the question that I asked you, don’t waste everybody’s valuable time. We only live once, you know.”
The hippie doesn’t hear any of that, as he was busy calculating the ratio of ear hair to scalp hair on Mister’s head. For every follicle topping his dome, there are exactly five and six-sevenths of a hair popping out of his ear canal. Neat.
“Oh, it’s my turn to talk now? Word. Shortly after I exhausted all of my socially acceptable alternatives, I tried smoking Cannabis. I was atop a mountain at midnight, the lights from the Old York City skyline casting a haunting glow into the night sky; I could almost see a single star. A friend named Tyler – in fact, I think his sister is sitting in the crowd today, hey if you are – he and I made quite a habit of burning the bush on the mountain’s top during that summer. Anyway, following that night I began smoking Cannabis every day of my life. Since then I’ve chewed ‘Shrooms, dropped eL-eSs-Dee, trained my brain to excrete Dee-eM-Tee on command… there’s some other stuff too but I won’t say, the aliens only wanted me to talk about so much,” with a flicker of his eyebrows.
Even Jack is propped up on the edge of his seat at this point. The hippie just… he did it, he answered Mister PriestiPal’s question without a hint of shame, without even a dash of regret. Usually if somebody on the receiving end of that question says anything that Mister doesn’t want to hear, they’re rewarded with the opportunity to practice saying it to themselves over and over again in a dark box for a class period. Not this time though; Mister requested and Hippie delivered, with free shipping no less. No signature required.
The teaching staff rush to the front of the auditorium and link their arms, forming a wall, a border between the stage and the seats, save for Doctor Phanny, who’s still up in the booth stuffing popcorn into his tiny mouth with one grubby little butter-coated hand and holding the spotlight steady with the other. Isabelle, sitting one row in front of Jack, turns around and excitedly whispers, “Dude!”
Mister PriestiPal is rendered speechless for a moment. His eyes, completely glazed over, are locked on the hippie’s gay, smiling face. Finally he chuckles, the spotlight returning to him.
“You see, children? You see what happens? This man… this poor, mentally ill boy, he thinks doing drugs is okay. He thinks breaking into a public school’s anti-drug assembly to talk about drugs is okay.He not only thinks that aliens are real, but that they talk to him, that they chose him out of the eight billion humans on this planet to communicate with. He thinks he’s special because he did all these… hueh, all these drugs.”
PriestiPal turns to the crowd, soaking up all that teen attention like a cigarette company did with its TV adverts in the good ol’ days. “Do you see what happens when you trade your life for drug use, guys? This, gang, this is exactly what I and my co-workers here at Hoffman High are trying to teach, nay, are trying to warn you about! This man, this poor, lost soul, is a sick puppy. He’s a farm animal, a horse with a broken leg that just won’t heal fast enough. And me? Well, I’m the responsible farmer, and I’m going to put him down.”
PriestiPal turns back to the hippie, still surrounded by stoic yet slightly impressed gunmen. “Troops? Everyone listening? On my command, deliver this roach eater to the almighty Father above.”
“Wait!” the hippie calls out in a purposely high-pitched voice, hoping to grab PriestiPal’s attention.
Continuing with his pre-puberty voice, Hippie says, “Before your boys here shoot me and give me the bloody, public execution that I so obviously deserve, may I do a magic trick for the crowd?”
PriestiPal sneers, the power visibly coursing through the bulging veins on his forehead. “Well, what kind of a man would I be to not honor the last wishes of Hell’s newest tenant? Because that’s where you’re going, I hope you realize, you’re going to Hell itself. The Devil will have to construct a whole other ring for you, young man, for all the knuckleheadedness you’ve gotten into in your life.”
Members of both the school’s cross country running team and track long distance team shudder at the mere mention of the K word. Coach Thenure’s salivation gets kicked up a notch; it wasn’t what he thought his legacy would be built around, but it’s still a legacy.
“I know, Mister. Can I call you Mister?”
“Yes, Mister is fine, young man.”
“I know that I’m going to hell, Mister. But I figure, maybe, just maybe, one last act of community service will shorten my stay in those fiery pits. Maybe this magic trick will make up for all that I’ve said by bringing some joy into the hearts of these children instead of the obvious fear and ambivalence I’ve inspired in them thus far.”
In the border wall, Miss Palkokane leans over and whispers to Missus Smily, “You know, I’ve never seen the children so calm and attentive before.”
“I know!” Missus Smily shouwhispers ecstatically, shaking her fists underneath her chin. “Did you get any orders by the way? I have five for us to fill by Friday.”
“Well,” booms Mister PriestiPal, “I’m admittedly not sure what ambivalence means, but it sure sounds right, given the context. Sure, whatever your parents called you on the day you cursed this world with your birth, perform your magic trick. We’re all very excited.”
The visibly seeping armpit stains in PriestiPal’s unwashed white priest’s robes, now soaked dangerously close to transparency levels, are exposed to the crowd when the man waves his arms, signaling the SMAK officers to lower their weapons. All eight of them take a step back, expanding the circle to accommodate a humble human’s final act of redemption. A single bead of sweat drips off PriestiPal’s left earlobe and lands on his shoulder. It proceeds to spill down his back, linking up with his spine and leaving a trail all the way down until it disappears into the forest of knotty gray hair between his ass cheeks.
“Lovely!” the hippie sings. He rubs his hands together before shaking them out, relaxing his muscles and loosening up the joints. He then throws ninja hand signs at a blurring speed, making the creators of the popular animated show Noruta wet themselves from continents away.
“What?!” PriestiPal yells out. “He’s making gang signs! It was a ruse! Guards, ready your weapons!”
The guards ready their weapons.
Hippie finishes his display with his palms flat against each other, his thumbs pressed against his chin as if he was praying really hard. Mister relaxes for a second, his tension immediately returning when the hippie’s hands move away to reveal a small cancer-free stick protruding from his mouth. He winks at a frozen Mister before turning to the crowd and showing them the stick. With a snap of his fingers, a small flame spouts from the tip of Hippie’s right pointer, ushering a hush over the crowd. He brings the flame to the end of the stick and ignites it, inhaling with a force somewhere between that of a uranium-powered vacuum cleaner and a very motivated bottom-of-the-pyramid cheerleader until the entire thing is reduced to a worm of ash. Then, he exhales a massive cloud of smoke that swallows him whole, giving the auditorium the distinct odor of burnt skunk.
Mister finally breaks from the trance of the magician’s mystic incantation. He shouts, “FIRE!!!” his voice cracking like that of more than half of the freshmen except creakier, as if you were opening the swollen wet basement door in a foreclosed house. It’s actually even more similar to the song the overused door hinges sing when patrons walk into a local watering hole called Chip’s, the very song just heard by a certain ex-professor of biology.
Eight assault rifle magazines are unceremoniously emptied into the looming cloud, the shell casings raining down on the stage like a metallic hailstorm. One moment cacophony, the next, silence. The teachers have all ducked down in cover. The students are hanging on the edges of their seats. Verschwatz is passed out on the catwalk, his face married to the tuna melt, the juices seeping into his craterous face pores. Mister PriestiPal stands with his hands clasped behind his back, staring into the chaos, waiting.
A thud pings from inside the smoke cloud.
Across town, the once Professor Kronkle is drinking gin to the thought of humans actually not believing in dinosaurs. He shakes his head before taking one last swig out of the lead crystal whiskey glass and slamming it down on the generous tip he left on the counter for the barkeep, who is disappointingly not a man named Chip. To his right, an elderly man dressed in Rockette dancing garb from the annual Frequency City Music Hall Christmas Celebration Show is passed out on the counter, his dentures slowly falling from his mouth; nothing but a gooey arm of glue holds them in suspension. Kronkle walks outside and leans on the planter that’s dangling for dear life by the windowsill, his body blocking the view of the street from inside the bar. He pulls a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of his pack and puts one in his mouth, then chuckles as he rolls the filter around in his teeth. With his lighter with a picture of a lighter on it, he ignites the cigarette and takes a deep drag.
The gunpowder-scented smoke wafts up and clears to reveal… an empty stage, save for the smelted lump of metal projectiles that’s sitting on the stage’s laminated wooden planks. The SMAK officers scream, one of them fainting.
In the crowd, Isabelle Portman feels a tap on her shoulder. She looks to her right and sees the hippie sitting next to her with his right leg craned over his left, a small cup of chicken nuggets held in his hand.
“Hey Iz, tell Tyler I said hi.”
Hippie then turns to Jack, winks at him, and stands up, drawing the cup of nuggets back and launching it at the stage like it was a water balloon filled with piss during that one senior day prank the Administration used as an excuse to ruin the tradition for everybody. The paper cup smacks PriestiPal square in the liver spot on the bald spot spanning the vast majority of his head, almost knocking him unconscious; he turns around just in time to see the hippie dip out the back doors of the auditorium, his raised middle finger and the noise, “Bah-boo!” the last thing to leave the room.
Isabelle spins around and gawks at Jack, her mouth hanging open just waiting to catch a fly. Jack shakes his head, averting his gaze from Isabelle’s crystal blue eyes. She’s about to say something when an oily freshman boy is thrown into her, breaking her chain of thought.
All eight SMAK officers come bumrushing through the crowd, trampling teachers and tossing aside any students unlucky enough to be sitting in their way. They file out of the auditorium and begin a manhunt through the labyrinthine linoleum-floored halls of the high school.
The interior of the auditorium, meanwhile, turns to absolute bedlam. Freshman are being used not only as human shields, but as projectile weapons, the athletes on the spring track throwing team hurling them like javelins at the approaching horde of mad teachers. Saliva, mucus, tears, elbow grease, foot juice, and a plethora of other bodily fluids go flying everywhere; a slight vaporous haze of human excretion begins to float on the already hazy air. The teachers who weren’t steamrolled rush to the exits, snatching the half-handful of students who managed to escape with the SMAK officers by the collars of their shirts and dragging them back inside. Mister Daniels, after taking one last swig, domes a kid with an empty whiskey bottle, ninety horsepower no less. Before long everyone is seated, and some semblance of order returns to the assembly.
Mister PrinciPal, back in his school attire, a white with gray polka-dots button-down shirt tucked into brown slacks with loafers to make your great uncle roll over in his grave, steps back onto the stage. He kicks aside bullet casings as he approaches the podium, taking out another cup of coffee from the interior shelf. He also reaches into his pocket and pulls out a flip phone, taking no less than three uninterrupted minutes to send a text message. Then he taps the microphone a few times, the thumps ricocheting off the walls of the auditorium like pinballs. As he’s finally about to speak, he gets interrupted by Janitor Rainfort walking out on the stage.
Rainfort, today being his first day on the job, is taken aback by the gigantic crowd in front of him. This is the first school he’s ever worked at, and his father, a burly lifelong farmer type who spent so much time outside that the back of his neck was permanently singed a scarlet red color by the time he was twenty-three years old, had him drop out of America’s education system at the prime age of six to work the fields. Assuming that this is a test and that the students are going to judge his janitorial abilities, Rainfort dons his broom and makes a show of sweeping the shells into a pile around the metal lump in the center of the stage, doing so with the efficiency of a master sweeper. PrinciPal stares at him with cold, dead eyes whilst the student body goes absolutely, unstoppably wild.
When the shell casings are all piled up, Rainfort escorts them behind the curtain into a five-gallon pail he uses as a portable garbage can. After doubling back and scooping up the lump, he then carries the bucket out to the hallway and dumps its contents into the actual garbage can, which has wheels on the bottom. A full two minutes later, when PrinciPal’s employee tracking device indicates that Rainfort has returned to the other building, he grips the stand of the microphone.
“So, Billy, would you be so kind as to continue your riveting explanation of that very fashionable shirt you’re wearing today?” accidentally phrased as a question. PrinciPal must be getting tired.
Billy, hidden amongst the sea of slightly traumatized hormone carriers, says nothing. Up in the projector box, Doctor Phanny Tasia begins to have heart palpitations. This is unacceptable, totally out of left field. Why won’t Billy say his lines?! Missus Kriegmiester almost used Doctor Tasia to demonstrate the castration technique that farmers use on piglets for pulling Billy out of his environmental science class every day for the past month; the boy missed tests, quizzes, a succulent leaf dissection lab – the absence really drove a stake into the relationship between Billy and The Krieg. At one point, he was her favorite student; she even offered to let him use her shower last year when a hurricane knocked his electricity out for two months and his body odor overpowered the formaldehyde stank that was coming out of the pregnant sharks and their unborn children that the students dissected in marine biology class. All that sacrifice can’t be for nothing, Doctor Tasia can’t let Billy fall through the cracks like that. He refuses.
Doctor Tasia pulls a small remote out of his pocket and presses the test button. A very small, hardly noticeable collar around Billy’s neck vibrates, causing his heart to skip a beat. Billy’s mind is sent a’spin in anticipation of another visit from Mister Shockie.
‘Please, anything but Mister Shockie.’
He fishes out his index cards and, upon landing them, realizes they were the target of a stray loogie during the commotion with the hippie and the public high school’s armed para-military security force. Billy, dyslexic as it is, is going to have some trouble reading the blurred ink.
Tasia shines a laser pointer down on the index card to get Billy’s attention. Billy notices and instinctively slaps at the dot like a cat would, but then he remembers that he’s a human and he follows the dot to its source, his eyes locking with Tasia’s before noticing the remote being held up for all to see. The sweats begin, Billy’s armpits leaking more than the drinking faucet outside the girl’s locker room in the East Wing of the school, which is exactly twenty-seven years, thirteen months and one day older than the West Wing.
“S-s-s-sss… so the Dee, uh, the Dee stands for Drugs. The Oh… for um…” a whimper, “the Oh stands for Ob-Ob-Obstinance. The… aRe, I mean, the Pee stands for… Perrrseh… Persecution. A-a-a-a-and the eeE stands for… for… I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE! I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT DAY IT IS, THE, THE DRAMA TEACHER, H-bluhzzbertabnf.”
Billy is cut off when he suddenly begins to tremble, as if a low-voltage electric shock was triggered to take a tour through his body, starting at his neck and moving down to the rubber soles of his shoes where it would bounce back until it escaped out his ears. How odd.
Fortunately for Billy’s social life, nobody is paying attention to him. The cliquely diverse group is practicing their newly discovered ability of telepathy, the gray child and all his cousins who all live in the same mansion are practicing their necro’ skills on one another, the skateboarders are passing a note back and forth debating whether or not Mister PrinciPal is, in fact, a dinosaur, and the rest of the students are logging precious time on their various social media outlets.
All except for Jack Monta, who’s trying to discretely make a phone call to his older brother without anybody noticing.
Just when Billy’s mouth starts to overflow with foam, the collar disengages, and he’s allowed to gather himself.
Mister PrinciPal gives a nod of approval to Doctor Tasia before returning his gaze to Billy. With one bushy caterpillar of an eyebrow raised, he asks, “What does the eeE stand for, now?”
“The eeE stands for Education, which is what the faculty and Administration of Hoffman Regional High School specialize in. I have a question though,” Billy says, once again going off script. Mister PrinciPal’s seventeenth vein pops back out on his scalp, but Billy continues anyway, the electric shock making him feel some sort of way. “Are we not going to acknowledge what just happened? With the armed guards and the guy with the long hair they fired upon and all that?”
A shard of glass coated in what appears to be the charred remains of a crow falls into the auditorium through the skylight, landing directly on PrinciPal’s head. It doesn’t pierce the skin of his scalp, fortunately for our geriatric grandmaster, but it bounces to the stage and shatters, drawing the attention of all the children trapped in the auditorium.
“That’s right,” Mister PrinciPal answers, “we do specialize in Education here at Hoffman Regional High School. Well, there you have it, kids. Drugs are bad. You must Obstain from using them or else you will be Persecuted to the fullest extent of not only the school, not only the voluntarily enforced law, but of God Himself, in all His bearded and Caucasian glory. If you follow the Education you received here today, students, you will all go very far in life. Always remember: sober livin’ is Dee-Oh-Pee-eeE, play with drugs and you’ll Dee-eye-Eee!”
The lights in the auditorium turn back on and a fuzzy recording of a military bugle plays from the speakers.
Speaking out of rhythm with the tune, PrinciPal continues. “This has been your anti-drug reinforcement for the year, I can’t wait for next year’s assembly! Harbingers, I officially decree your annual Hoffman Regional High School Annual Anti-Drug Assembly and Knowledge Seminar to be over! Everybody has exactly five minutes to get to your fourth block class or else you will get an automatic in-school suspension, no exceptions. We know how you kids like to take your sweet time getting to class after these assemblies, but it won’t be happening today,” said with a healthy dose of finger wagging. “Have a bless-ed day! Get it? Bless-ed, as in education?”
I think they get it PrinciPal, what other choice do they have? Confetti cannons lining the ceiling of the auditorium all pop off at once, raining down little scraps of multicolored paper for Janitor Rainfort to clean up later on in the day. The two Vice Principals, one of whom smells uncannily like uncanned fish and melted cheese, walk down the aisles between the seats with thatch baskets in their hands, asking the students for small donations. The ones who fork over some cash are allowed to leave the auditorium first, getting a two-minute headstart on the race to their next class. The remaining students, or how PrinciPal described them at the last staff meeting, the financially challenged members of the student body, have to wait until the Vice Principals complete their rounds before they can all get up and all try to leave at once, inevitably leading to a traffic jam.
Jack checks his pockets and finds them completely empty, not even a ball of lint inhabits the inverted bunny ears in his pants. Looks like he’ll be running to class; nothing a track long distance runner can’t handle. In front of him he sees Isabelle take a five-dollar bill out of her purse, fold it up and put it into her bra to hide it, his head-brain absolutely spinning at the sight. Then she turns around in her seat and Jack pretends he wasn’t looking.
“So that might have been the best anti-drug-whatever assembly I’ve ever seen. What the hell was Sam doing here? How did he do all that crazy magical stuff, dude?”
“I have no idea. I tried calling him a bunch of times, but he won’t pick up his phone. Maybe the SMAK guys caught him.”
She gives him a strange look. “I hope not! He needs to teach me some of those magic tricks!”
“Yeah, well…” Jack mumbles, looking down at the floor. “I’ve never seen him doing magic tricks at home. It would probably be for the best if he got caught.” He looks up at Isabelle and locks his murky brown puddles of disturbed mud with her pristine sapphires. “You know, so he doesn’t get into any more trouble.”
Isabelle rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I guess. You don’t really want him to get caught though, do you? He’s your brother, Jack.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, his voice devolving into a mumble as his eyes return to the floor. “He sure is.”
Isabelle turns back around and starts gossiping with her friend Kaysie, the pair exchanging shrieking chimp noises until the Vice Principals are done extorting the children.
The remaining (and evidently poor) students are funneled out of the auditorium quickly and efficiently by the teaching staff. Each one of the teachers is equipped with an extendable steel-fibre baton, ready to administer a love tap to any student that wants to dillydally around in the auditorium. Jack, never too fond of love nor its various taps, heads immediately to his locker. Conveniently located right outside of the auditorium in the band hallway because of a logistical error that none of the Secretaries wanted to admit fault to, he puts his combination into the lock and goes about retrieving the supplies he’ll need for his next two classes. As he’s opening the flimsy metal door composed more of paint than alloys, he notices Billy opening that one really narrow door in the hallway that nobody’s ever seen opened and walk in, but he pays it very little attention. Only two minutes are left before the suspensions are handed out, and Jack’s class is on the entire opposite side of the school.
As he’s digging, Jack plans out his route for getting to his next class. The skybridge between the two wings will probably be backed up with traffic – it’s a favorite spot for the special education children to get into brutal altercations with their handlers, and the average education students usually like to stop and watch. His only other option would be to take the scenic outdoor route and dodge traffic whilst crossing a paved driveway that’s marked NO VEHICLES PERMITTED by at least thirty signs. There’s a good chance the doors to get inside the West Wing will be locked too, which will hold him up even more.
You see, last year the school’s cafeteria was broken into by a student and all the freshly baked chocolate-with-white-chocolate-chip cookies were stolen before the first lunch period. Not only did the school Administrators immediately stop the production of said cookies, but they took the budget that was supposed to go to the arts program and repurposed it to have an over-the-top security system installed in order to prevent such heinous acts from happening again. All the doors providing entrance into the school now default as locked, requiring a keycard to get inside. None of the students have one of these keycards, of course, and more than half the time the swipe doesn’t work for the teachers. Only the Administration and the Administration-appointed Deans have reliable entrance into the halls of Hoffman High. It’s for the best, obviously, regardless of what the snot-nosed students might think; if they find themselves locked out during the day, it’s probably for a reason.
Shortly after installation, the students wised up and started to let each other inside, even if they weren’t closely acquainted with one another. In retaliation, Mister PrinciPal got on the school’s daily Morning Show to set the record straight regarding the fiasco: if any student sees a teacher locked out of either of the buildings, they are to immediately open the door for said teacher, even if it means they’ll be late for class, or else they’ll be suspended for a week. If a student is caught letting another student into either of the buildings, however, they will be yanked out of their next class and expelled without a chance of readmittance. It seems harsh, but it’s really not; the students might unknowingly let a school shooter or a drug dealer into the building, after all. Better to be safe than sorry; too much liberty is dangerous without strict security to enable it.
To ensure that all offenders are properly punished, the school’s Administration also opted to install refurbished security cameras, burning the woodshop and autoshop budgets on not only outdated camera technology, but also on an entire four-year curriculum of classes to teach the students how to monitor said cameras. That’s where Jack will be heading next, as soon as he finds his gym bag, and his surveillance textbook, in his locker.
Five of these classes run each day, one for each block, to ensure the cameras are constantly monitored. The class is very difficult to get into, having only twenty open slots rather than the usual forty-eight seats the rest of the classes in the school offer. Luckily for Jack, his Guidance Councilor Monty “The Don” Saulino has connections throughout the school, and he was able to secure him a spot during the fourth block, right after lunch.
The textbook issued to the students lucky enough to get into a surveillance class is just a blank hardcover tome that’s used to keep a handwritten log of the activity captured by the cameras during the day. None of the footage is saved because the school doesn’t have the physical room for the hardware required for that kind of storage space.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Why not just save it in the cloud?’ Well, the developer of cloud storage technology lives out in New Manhattan, and the software just isn’t available for the majority of the world’s publicly funded institutions. There are rumors that the US government successfully developed a version of it in ‘010, but following the collapse, all Gruncle Fred’s intel was seized by private firms and foreign powers. Fret not – Terry Telascopesaplenny, host of the popular VidTube channel TerryTeam20, is on the case; it’s only a matter of time before old Gruncle Fred’s graverobbers are exposed and brought to justice so private innovation may be made public once more.
Anyway, at long last Jack hooks his copy of the blank text, which is more than three quarters of the way filled at this point in the school year, and reels her in. Each locker is equipped with an interior printer so the Office can automatically send any and all pertinent information in printed form to the students without any accountability for lost information being traced back to the school. This originally resulted in massive amounts of papercuts among the students, but at this stage of the game, the hands of the average cell of the student body are so scarred and callused that paper can’t cut through them anymore. This built-up resistance is convenient for Jack at the present moment, because his gym bag evidently got knocked off the hook it was hanging on this morning, so he has to go scuba diving through roughly half a fathom of paper to find it.
With less than a minute to spare, Jack finds the drawstring sack and drops his textbook inside of it, slinging the bag onto his back with a thud that shifts a couple of his vertebrae an immeasurable number of units out of place. He quietly slams his locker shut and takes off down the hall, heading for the bridge. As he passes by the narrow doorway, he pretends he doesn’t hear the faint sobbing that’s doubtlessly coming from Billy, who will likely have to repeat his Junior year for the fourth time after today’s performance at the anti-drug assembly. Speaking of which, Jack never got a hold of his brother – he pulls out his phone and sends no less than forty text messages at spam-tier speeds, putting his phone back into his pocket without expecting an answer.
Most of the Hoffman Harbingers are already securely in their classrooms when Jack is vaulting up the stairs to the second floor of the East Wing. He bangs a left and crosses the bridge, doing his best to avert his gaze from the handler being pinned down by an autistic student with a larger build than the school’s top varsity wrestler. If he pretends not to see it, he doesn’t have to report it, and the handler probably deserved it anyway. As Jack passes by the faux planter that marks the end of the bridge, he notices a smashed handheld taser and reaffirms his suspicions.
Down the hallway and through another hallway to monitor class he goes, but just as Jack is about to cross over the threshold into the classroom, the bell rings. He freezes – that can’t be, he’s never been late before. The teacher, busy checking his email at his desk, writes out an in-school prescription to be filled during a portion of fifth block and holds it up in the air, waiting for Jack to take it from him. Our boy drags his feet into the room and grabs hold of the slip, his eyes watering as he reads it.
On the date of today the student named is to serve an in-school suspension of seventy-five minutes, to be completed during block 5 . If this suspension is not filled, s/he will be assigned to pool cleaning duty during the next thunderstorm.
Jack takes his seat between two students who are engaging in a riveting conversation about which of their classmates they want to share a sleepless night with. Jack’s presence seems to dissuade them though, for they stop talking the minute he sits down. ‘They must not like me very much,’ he tells himself as he boots up the computer and writes his name into the suspension slip.
The next eighty minutes of Jack’s life are fairly uneventful. After pressing play and watching nothing happen as the paused feed fast-forwards to catch up with reality, the only activity captured on his monitor is a SMAK officer sneaking off campus, probably to get a slushy from the nearby Kwik Chek. By the time the bell rings and class is dismissed, the officer still has yet to return; Jack pauses the feed and packs his things, noting the SMAK officer’s disappearance in his textbook. He wishes the teacher a good day and is denied acknowledgment in return.
Jack checks his phone once he’s out in the hallway – no answer from Sam, how surprising. He walks down a stairwell and has a door opened into his face on the bottom floor by a senior who’s wearing sunglasses that make him look like he’s blind. He isn’t, of course, and the absolute orangutan of a young man spends a good minute bent over laughing at the sprawled-out Jack.
“Watch where you’re going next time freshy-freshman, I’m walkin’ here!” Oran Gu Tan proclaims, slapping the floor with his palms in a show of dominance. “You’re lucky it’s not September, otherwise I’d have to Freshman Initiationate your ass!”
“I’m a junior,” Jack grumbles, wiping a drop of blood from his nose, which he notices is now slightly askew.
“I doubt it!” Oran trumps before bounding up the stairs three steps at a time.
Jack dusts himself off and proceeds to the gymnasium. The hallway is packed with muddy-shoed teenagers, approximately half of which are drenched head to toe in a sweaty odor, the other half sporting a coating of Hatchet body spray, bitter temptation flavor. The Suspendee worms his way through the crowd and walks through the heavy wooden doors of the gymnasium, but Teacherman is nowhere to be found, so Jack walks over to the bottom seat of the oak bleachers and sits down, placing his bag next to him.
“Ayo Jack! Getcha’ass up, boi!”
Jack looks over to see none other than Plug Houkkachuki, the first in the running for the senior superlative of class clown in next year’s yearbook.
Plug’s not actually his first name, nobody really knows what it is; that said, if you need something, Plug is the name you scroll to, by hand, on your uPhone. Alcohol? Talk to plug. Fake ID to buy alcohol yourself? Plug’s the man. Answers to your test next class? You’re the outlet, he’s the Plug. A tutor so you don’t need to cheat on your next Latin exam? lug-Pay. A toy or electronic device of some sort to keep you entertained during your most boring classes? P to the Lug. Drugs? Well, Plug probably knows a guy for that, don’t ask him though. Drugs are bad, remember?
Jack stands, not even two seconds after he sat down, and walks out to the middle of the gymnasium to converse with Plug. He’s wearing silky reflective basketball shorts and what was once a white t-shirt that clashed with a pair of scissors to become a wifebeater. That’s to say, he seems to have already chanced into gym clothes… although, he’s wearing skater shoes, so maybe not. ‘I’ll ask anyway.’
“Hi Plug. Are the locker rooms already open for us?” Jack asks.
“What?” Plug returns, taking a half step back. “No son, this is how I drape myself, pause, on the reg. Get it together Jack, you’re falling to pieces.”
Jack looks to the floor and, thankfully, doesn’t find any pieces of his body piling up below him. “Oh. My bad. What’s up?”
“Oh, well, you know, I was in the–”
Jack flies three feet through the air and crashes on his shoulder, a common symptom of being bodied by a charging football player.
“YOOOOO did you,” fit of laughter, “did you see that kid fly?? Jesus Ache CHRISTMAS it was like a muhfuckin’ reindeer,” fit of laughter with infrequent choking, “oh my Gooooooood!”
Jack, after popping his humerus back into its socket, looks over to see Chad Lambert, Hoffman High’s number one on a good day and number seven on a bad day running back, doubled over laughing with Plug standing next to him looking intentionally unsure about what just happened. Plug walks over and helps Jack up, dusting him off. Jack wants to say something to Chad, but the dude must have smelled the girls from the last class walking out of the locker room because he’s nowhere to be found.
Plug offers, “Well that was… that uh… that happened.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, rubbing his shoulder. “Chad’s a friend, he uh… so what do you want?”
“Well I was in the assembly today, like everyone else, and like everyone else, I wanted to know if I could have Sam’s number so he can teach me some of those magic tricks.”
Over Plug’s shoulder, Jack sees an unarguable thumb of a man with a two-sizes-too-small white nylon collared shirt stretched over his flabby body waddle into the gym. Ah, Coach Bambino of the golf team, at long last. Jack excuses himself from the conversation by saying, “Excuse me,” and walks over to greet his teacher.
“Coach Bambino, I have a suspension, so I won’t be able to stay for class today.”
Bambino closes one of his eyes and stares Jack up and down. “Yeah all right… go get changed, give me fiddy-tree push-ups, get unchanged, and then, you can go.”
Jack stares at him for a few seconds, his mouth hanging just open enough to catch a no-see-um. “Uh… okay.”
Jack turns from the triumphantly smiling Bambino and walks out in the hall to the boy’s locker room, gripping the wobbly handle protruding from the rusty steel door. The handle turns but the door is firmly locked. With a sigh, Jack returns to his teacher, harboring a sandfly who’s expertly hovering in the airspace that lies between the top and bottom jaw of Jack’s slightly open mouth. Poor bastard, Jack doesn’t expect a thing.
“The d-crunch-oor’s locked.”
Jack spits on the floor between himself and the anthropomorphic thumb standing in front of him. He sees half of a fly twitch in the small puddle of mucus and saliva as the rest of its life (and remaining bodily fluids) leak out. Jack feels nothing at all.
“Oh…” Bambino says, also watching the fly squirm. “Uh, fuck it, you win this round. Get out of my gym,” the last sentence said after Bambino already started to walk away. He approaches a small gathering of the more attractive females of Jack’s junior class all smiles and starts making small talk.
Jack goes to retrieve his bag only to realize it now sits atop the bleachers. He thinks about asking Coach Bambino for some help, but then decides the bag will still be there at the end of the day and he can just come and get it later. Bagless, our young hero leaves the gymnasium and traverses the hallways once more.
The Hall Monitor
On the way to the suspension room, Jack is stopped by a hall monitor that towers over him like a… tower. A bulky tower though, not just an average skyscraper. Hoffman High doesn’t have any real hall monitors because the Administration didn’t want to pay to have the sashes or ticket pads made, so they just let the special ed kids make their own sashes with crayons and wander around the halls during class time. It certainly gives the handlers a break, bless their souls.
The special ed kids, being not in these words segregated from the rest of the student population, don’t usually mingle with the rest of the students, but this guy looks strangely familiar to Jack.
“Yew thaw meh beet up da badman in tha sky, dint yew Jakk,” the hall monitor says whilst chewing on his hair.
“Uh, what?” Jack starts.
His memory then kicks in and he realizes that this is Ponsy, the special ed kid he saw on the bridge, the one laying the beatdown on the handler. Upon closer inspection, Jack sees the kid has a light burn mark on the side of his neck, right where the jugular vein would be if his insides were out. Jack wonders how the hall monitor knows his name.
“Oah yew kniw.”
“Can I uh… can I help you, buddy?” Jack asks innocently.
“Hmph!” Ponsy grunts before passing Jack, willing a chill down his spine. Ponsy tries to be kind to the mortals, they don’t make it easy for him though; it’s like they lack a seventh sense or something. How sad it must be.
Jack resumes walking down the hallway, then up a flight of stairs, then down another hallway until he reaches the suspension room. It looks like a normal classroom from the outside, but on the inside, things take a turn – in place of school desks there are these little wooden booths, rather outhouse-like in structure, just wide enough for a desk and chair to fit inside and just tall enough to house a sitting student.
“Kid, you’re late,” wretches the suspension watcher, an ancient reanimated golem by the name of Missus Logem.
Jack checks the clock on the wall and sees that there are still seventy-seven minutes left in the block, making him distinctively not late for his punishment. “Sorry Missus Logem, I’ve never been here before. Where do I sit?”
She gurgles, drawing a large pocket of snot out of her nose and swallowing it whole. Without breaking eye contact.
“Sit in any booth that doesn’t have a student in it. Gosh, do I need to hold ya fricken hand? What is this, kindergarten? What are you, a lost puppy?” She dislodges a small piece of meat that’s been stuck in her teeth since yesterday’s lunch and starts chewing on it. “What is this, beef?” Jack apologizes profusely and finds himself a booth. He opens the splintery wooden door, the light from the classroom’s blinking fluorescent bulbs offering him a glimpse at his desk. It looks to be about fifty years old, the metal basket beneath the chair almost entirely corroded to the point that it’s not even attached anymore. Jack ducks in, wedges himself between the chair and the desk, and shuts the door.