|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Practice Makes Perfect
The Voice In Jack’s Head
‘Ah, so you’re finally here. I’ve been expecting you, y’know. It’s really about time you’ve showed up.’
Jack, who’s been sitting in the unilluminated suspension box for no less than seventy minutes, is a bit confused at this. He’s been existing in this state for what feels like days; he almost forgets what the glow of sunlight feels like, what colors are. He knows that he’s a human, but he can’t picture what a human looks like, how a face is composed, how they manage to walk upright on two legs without toppling over like an especially emaciated and lanky giraffe would if it attempted the stunt. The voice he just heard is also coming from inside his head, which is definitely… different.
“Uhhhh,” he says out loud, startled by how thunderous his own voice sounds inside this cocoon of solitude. “Who are you?”
“NO TALKING!” Missus Logem screams, her voice coming through as a dull roar from the other side of whatever material this veritable tomb is made of.
Jack opens his mouth to apologize but decides against making another noise, lest he further jab at the bear with his stick. ‘It’s okay Jack, it can’t be too much longer. You’re not hearing voices, just hang in there buddy.’
‘I heard that, y’know,’ the other voice says in a whimsical tone. ‘You’re right Jackson Monta, you aren’t crazy. And that’s a damn cryin’ shame. Some claim that you ain’t shit if you’re not some type of crazy. Others say one must be at least a little bit crazy to get somewhere in this treacherous world of ours. Me? I say roll the dice, see what happens. And it just so happens that I’m talking to you now. Howdy.’
Jack is very lucky he didn’t eat a big lunch before the assembly, because it would be ejecting itself in torrents out of both ends of the uninterrupted intestinal tubeway between his cheeks and his other cheeks if he had. He feels his stomach churning, rumbling, tossing, rolling over, wrping itself around his esophagus out of frustration and fear. Sensory deprivation syndrome? Guilt-induced madness? ‘Did I go into a fugue state during that assembly and take so many drugs that I don’t remember?’
The voice in Jack’s head bellows a hearty laugh. ‘Goodness no, my child, you’re much too beta for that. Listen, you can hear me. I can hear you. You can hear you, and I can hear me. All four of us are about to hear this message: and the both of us are about to hear this message: the flying wombat with a cap of mush’ has touched down in the brush.’
Jack doesn’t think nor say any words in his thoughts after that. He just starts counting, reciting his numbers from zero up to one hundred, then one hundred one to two hundred and so on and so forth. When he gets to four hundred twenty, the voice laughs and says, ‘Nice.’
Jack of course stops counting after this, believing he’s somehow lost his mind and that the grip his hands held on the frozen ledge of reality had melted the ice, sending him plummeting deep into the chasm of brain-born voices on a fall that will never stop until he hits rock bottom and starts talking back to the phantasm. This evidently makes the voice sad, because the next time it speaks, it does so in a significantly less jolly tone.
‘Look man, I didn’t mean to make you sad. I just needed to tell you about the suited man and I was trying to be all poetic and weird. I’m a little aut– I mean, artistic. Oof. What’s the difference, right? Anyway, keep your eye out for him, okay? I’ll tune out of you now. Byeee,’ the voice says, drifting off into what sounds like a light case of tinnitus melded with television static. The gray noise drifts off to silence and Jack is alone in his murky blackness once more.
A moment later, the bell tolls.
Jack steps out of the suspension booth, his consciousness dazed by the light; everything looks like he cranked up the saturation in Pictureshop. It feels like years since the last time he stood, the last time his brain translated the photon-based information his eyes are contracted to supply it with. He stands still for a short bout and just takes in the action of the classroom, watching as hardly a quarter of the other booths hatch his fellow classmates. He sees a couple golf stars named Tod and Todd, Plug still draped in his dress-code-breaking custom wifebeater, the D&D club’s dungeon master Zoey Sigfreed, his friend Dakota with whom he runs track and cross country, Billy, whose eyes are beet red, probably from crying, Zane Bucknick; good ol’ Zane Bucknick, I’ll tell ya. Jack wonders to himself if this a lot of students for one suspension session. Did he just get swept up with the crowd? Or is today actually a light day, a day where the real student criminals come out? It’s always the quiet ones you’ve gotta watch, as they say, although the louder ones are obviously better primed to explode.
Jack makes a beeline to the gymnasium, diving underneath the tsunami of students pouring over the bridge, all eager to get to their lockers and pack up their many backpacks, purses, fanny packs and satchels so they can get to the busses before the drivers get impatient and leave in precisely two and a half minutes from right this second.
The Last Rodent
Scurrying amongst the untied shoelaces and rubber soles of these students is the sole surviving escapee of the pack of rats that is now properly educated about drug use; all of his brothers, sisters, cousins, and children were either recaptured or squashed in the auditorium during one of the multiple commotions that overtook the adolescent human population. His name is Squeakers III, and he’s the only rat left.
The last rodent bobs and weaves through the dancing forest of human legs, leaping over untied shoes and occasionally grabbing on to a dangling backpack strap to swing over large distances. Once Squeakers III reaches the end of the bridge, he jumps up into the faux planter and digs into the burgundy woodchips until he finds the secret passageway the original Hoffman High free-running rats built generations ago. It’s filled with spiderwebs, dust, and the souls of dead rats passed, but Squeakers III presses on regardless, wriggling, climbing, and falling his way through the utterly hamster-tubeish passage until he pops out in the school’s weight room, a repurposed autoshop loaded with state-of-the-art workout equipment.
Squeakers III climbs a wall-mounted electrical wire, runs over top the two gigantic garage doors, and then carefully slides down a high-tension wire on the other side, leaving his paws charred from the wire burn. Squeakers III doesn’t feel the pain though; he doesn’t feel much of anything as he touches down and slowly approaches his target. It’s right there in front of him, the way out: a small crack between the cinderblock walls and the doorjamb, a choice custodial oversight that will continue to be overseen for years to come, if not decades. Squeakers III confidently takes his time approaching it, knowing that nothing can stop him. There won’t be any humans in here for minutes – he could probably squeeze in a quick nap if he was so motivated.
A gust of fresh outside air wafts through the crack and slithers its way into his nose, tantalizing Squeakers III’s olfactory bub more than a combination of bad milk and good cheese. The elders of his pack have told legends of rats who successfully escaped, the brave few who bested the school’s rodent detection forces and breached the walls of containment to make a life in the outside world. They all promised to come back for the rest of the rats, but nobody ever has. Squeakers III will be the first; he promised his grandmother so before she died. He held her paw when she went – this is his duty.
Suddenly, Squeakers III is picked up by a thin and bony hand.
“Hey there, little guy. What are you doing in here?” says the human’s mouth, precariously positioned between a bushy mustache and an all-too-aesthetic soul patch. Squeakers III tries to make a commotion and worm his way out of the captor’s hand but it’s no use; he’s been captured, the latest prisoner of a war that will never end because one side doesn’t even know they’re fighting it. Any struggle will just make his ensuing death more painful, and Squeaks knows this, yet he struggles away. These humans, these damned hairless apes… when will their reign of terror end?
The man takes the rat outside and carries him into the woods on the other side of the West Wing’s parking lot. He climbs up on a low rock and releases Squeakers III, then watches with a smile as the little thing disappear into the thicket.
Squeakers III climbs to a tall rock that overlooks the asphalt valley and watches the scraggly human walk back to the school. With a tear in his eye, he thanks the higher being and then bounds into the forest to start anew.
The scraggly man, his long and excrutiatingly unkempt Einstyle hair bouncing with every step he takes, rounds the corner of the West building and climbs up to the Hoffman Athletics Plateau. He finds himself a spot on the memorial bench that overlooks the track and places the ankle of his left leg on the knee of his right, sitting in wait for what comes next. Soon after, he notices a frail child coming up the grassy knoll behind him. The student is wearing a nylon white t-shirt and black running shorts, but at first glance he appears shirtless.
“Hey Coach,” Jack chimes, approaching the bench.
“Hello there Jack, I hope you’re doing well today,” says Coach, authoritatively shaking Jack’s hand and putting him at ease. “Do you know where Coach Scoompa is?”
“Uhh yeah, I think he’s in the West Gym.”
“Excellent. Hey, when the rest of the team gets out here, get ‘em together and warm up, two laps on the track. Then circle up and start stretching. I’ll be back before you’re done.”
“You got it, Coach.”
Coach jumps up, clicking his heels in midair like a leprechaun before making his way towards the breezeway between the schools. Luckily the flow of midday traffic has ceased and the driveway is clear of illegally moving vehicles, giving Coach a gratuitously open road to traverse. Down the way, Coach sees none other than Lonny Ghost AD smelling some of the wilted roses that failed to grow out of the bushes planted in the courtyard underneath a dishwasher exhaust valve. Coach waves at Lonny and Lonny notices, quickly blocking his face with his hand and walking away in the opposite direction. Unfortunately for Lonny, the direction opposite Coach is the same direction as the school’s cooking classroom’s exterior brick wall. By the time our AD gets the taste of ancient weathered clay out of his mouth, Coach is inside the West building searching for Scoompa. In retaliation, Lonny Ghost AD ventures into the East building and begins to search for a reason for being there.
All of seven seconds pass before Coach is approached by an old man in a dusty tan policeman-turned-security guard’s outfit with a shining plastic badge slung over his breast pocket. The officer takes a single step back and eyes Coach up and down, optically searching his body for any offensive apparel or possibly concealed weapons of mass destruction.
“Hi there, buddy,” the officer sternly croaks, putting a hand on the stun gun strapped to his left hip. “I’ve never seen you around here before, I’m going to need to see some eye-dee.”
Coach’s brain powerwalks directly into a gray breezeblock wall gilded with cement stained charcoal black. The resulting deadpan expression on his face makes The Shocker’s few remaining hairs stand up on his head, as if the static electricity from the upcoming taser strike was leaking out of the gun and into his body.
Staring down at his pocketless running shorts, Coach starts patting and slapping where the pockets would be on his upper thighs and ass like a Caucasian putting on a hambone knee slap concert. When he’s done with the dance of his ancestor’s conquerors, Coach looks up at the officer, a sturdy foot and a half shorter than himself, and says, “Well would you look at that, these pants don’t have any pockets. I guess I left my eye-dee at home. Sorry, guy.”
The officer, wearing a nametag that says Dinkelbop, puts his other hand on the black grip of the pistol holstered to his right hip. Although he looks like he’s about to bust a macarana hip shake, the gesture comes off as entirely threatening to Coach’s well-being.
“Is that so?” the guard growls, the sheer throaty husk of the vibration sending the soundwave on a trip out an open window in the nearby Custodial Closet turned Teacher’s Lounge. The echo ricochets into the forest, landing in a small mammalian ear and disturbing a rat from its slumber.
Squeakers III stretches his legs and darts from the safety of his new burrow, fearing an incoming bobcat or mink attack. From the perch of an old oak tree who’s beginning to lose feeling near his roots, a pregnant freckled osprey watches from a branch, invisible in her shroud of sprouting spring leaves, prepared to strike.
The osprey hasn’t eaten in days. A family of bald eagles moved in on the opposite shore of the reservoir from her a week ago, and grocery shopping has been something of an ordeal ever since; she doesn’t want to point feathers, but it’s not like all the prey suddenly packed up and moved to Topeka. She opens her wings, fans them in a display of her dominance over the rest of creation, raises her shoulders, and leaps, divebombing through the air and shrieking the war cry that spawns the nightmares of thousands of living beings every nightfall. The prey ducks under an exposed tree root and the osprey banks away, flying up to a different branch, one of a tree as limber as she is sturdy.
These events physically can’t happen here one year in the future because this patch of forest will be an extended parking lot with a private driveway running between the high school and the nearby Kwik Chek miniature market. The student body will vote against this massive landscaping project, but the Administration will push it forward anyway, more than happy to pay for it with the then-recent and unrelated cutting of the school’s security cameras and video surveillance classes.
Where Are We Going
Officer Dinkelbop stares at the alleged homeless man in front of him, watching the seventeenth century savage of a man stare blankly into space. When a drop of drool falls off his lip and splatters on the floor, making collateral out of the Officer’s new leather loafers, the line is drawn.
“I said you’ll need to be coming with me now, son,” the rent-a-cop scolds, the grip of his pistol leaving an imprint in his callused and unwashed hands. Then, almost with a smile, “Or are you going to make this difficult for us?”
Coach rapidly shakes his head, bringing himself back to reality and knocking an empty bird’s nest loose out of his hair. It falls to the floor and shatters into dust and small fragments of years-old dry rotted wood. The Officer follows it with his eyes, arching his brows as if he’s surprised when it dusts, keeping the same sturdy scowl he’s been wearing since he pulled one of his wife’s moldy armpit hairs out from between his teeth when he woke up this morning.
“Sorry,” Coach says in a mumble, which Officer Dinkelbop takes as disrespect. “I uh… zoned out for a second, I guess. Where are we going?”
‘Where are we going?’
Those words, that string of phrase…
‘Where are we going?’
They resound inside Dinkelbop’s head, bouncing off the spiky interior walls of his skull’s cavity like a small caliber bullet dancing on titanium.
‘Where are we going?’
Suddenly darkness enshrouds the light. The walls of the building dissolve around the unsuspecting Officer Dinkelbop and a divisive, howling wind tears through the economically viable fabrics his clothes are made of. He’s stranded in the middle of a dense forest, surrounded by a storm of chaos and the annoying pitterless patter of rain splashing on his unprotected face.
“Where are we going?!” someone shouts into the maelstromic mayhem around him. Then, the awful metallic puh-DING of a bullet piercing a helmet. “NNNOOOOOOO!!!”
Gunshots relentlessly bounce back and forth from within the gaps between the trees towering on either side of Dinkelbop; in front of him he can make out a figure, a man crouched down behind a stack of overturned barrels waving his arm. Officer D, carrying his trusty N-16 two-round burst rifle with his initials etched into the grip and a killcount carved into the stock, runs encumbered through the mud and slides behind the cover. If there were any rations left in his general issue backpack that he was wearing this whole time, they’d be completely ruined.
“Eleutorio!” the man shouts, embracing the Officer in a muddy hug. “You’re alive, I can’t believe it! We’re going to make it out!”
At first Dinkelbop doesn’t recognize the man, but then it dawns on him like the rising sun that illuminates the rescue boat heading to the shores of the whatever foreign beach the US army has been instructed to invade today. It’s Queso, the Queso, Dinkelbop’s old bootcamp training buddy. Ah, they were the best of friends; they tore down so, so much pussy in all those towns and villages they paraded through during the Vietnam war. How could this be though? Eleutorio hasn’t seen Queso since… well, since he…
“Dink!” Queso calls, his voice the squeal of a frog underneath the cyclonic blades of this lawnmower of a storm. “Don’t pass out on me amigo, si? ¡Todavía me debes cuarenta dólares por esa prostituta hace una semana, ah hah ha!”
Dinkelbop flashes the sly smile of a twentysomething man with a half-baked plan. He ducks down, crouching past Queso to take a grenade from the belt of the fallen American soldier behind the barricade with them. He rips the pin out with his teeth, chucking the pineapple over their cover and into the trees where gunshots seem to be hatching from egg sacs dangling from the tree bark five feet off the ground. The rain stops as the bomb arcs through the air, Eleutorio and Queso sharing the same thought: ‘Woah.’
The explosion is accompanied by an acapella screaming section the Vietcong must have prepared in advance, because it matches the tone of the grenade just perfectly. Then, all combat ceases; either everybody in the jungle had to reload all at once, OR the grenade took its job of scaring up some semblance of passage through this forest to dumbfounding new heights. The pair stand up and look around – not even a waver in a leaf of a fern. Time itself has become a translucent cube of ice.
Queso puts his arm on Dinkelbop’s shoulder. “You did it, jefe! We’re going home, I’m going to see my family again! My wife, my daughter, my new son who was born after we shipped out. Everyone Eleutorio, because of you, my friend. Mi hermano.”
Dinkelbop smiles, his chest feeling warm with the glow of camaraderie and friendship. He bends down to pick up his rifle, flicking away a particularly runny splotch of debris sticking out of the gun’s barrel, and stands back up to see a crazed Vietcong with one missing arm violently stabbing Queso in the neck.
“NOOO!!!” Eleutorio screams through the geyser of blood that spouts out into his face, raising his weapon and attempting to tickle the trigger out of being jammed. When that doesn’t work, he leaps at the squinty-eyed assailant, removing his 1911 Colt .420 from his holster and digging a grave into the man’s forehead with the barrel.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO QUESO?? I’LL KILL YOU Y’FUCKIN’ SOULLESS BASTARDO!”
Coach, on the receiving end of Dinkelbop’s saliva-riddled spew of screaming, isn’t quite sure how to react. It’s not necessarily the raving that throws him, or the gun pressed into his head, nor is it the weight of this creature that suddenly tackled him. No, it’s the man’s eyes – those empty pits staring down at him from mere inches away. It’s how lost they are, how deep and dark the blacks are in contrast to the browns; how bottomless, as if the brain behind them is seeing something else, like it was plugged into a different body – no, a different reality – entirely.
After about five more seconds, Coach grows tired of whatever it is that’s going on right now. He simultaneously slaps the gun and the outside of Dinkelbop’s wrist in opposite directions, sending the weapon skidding across the hall. He underestimated how much body weight Dinkelbop was putting behind the firearm though, so when Dinkelbop falls, our skinny runner’s body of a man catches Officer D’s forehead with his own. Their skull plates audibly crack against each other through two very thin layers of skin with a knock to make William Eggshell from the hit series Cracking Bad shiver in his lab coat. Both dip into darkness and lay sprawled out on the floor for more than a couple minutes.
Officer Dinkelbop wakes up first.
Struck with a case of short-term amnesia, Dinkelbop swivels his head and tries to figure out what happened. One minute he was talking to this suspected homeless guy, and now he’s on the floor with the vagrant laying out cold beside him. He reaches for his hip and finds that his pistol isn’t there. Panic sweeps over him as his eyes do the floor around him. He locates the piece against the wall, the shape of the thing forming a triangle that makes Eleutorio smile. The recently unretired man stands up and walks over to get a hand on his gun, and as he bends down, his stomach churns and gurgles as if someone removed the stopper from a warehouse’s slop sink. The gatekeeper inside his ass then lets the dogs out, unleashing a cloud of gastrointestinal flatulence so close to having a color that a sliver of his already brown pants is dyed a shade darker. Dinkelbop beds his puppy and slowly stands, giving the disturbed air time to settle out. The worst part: it doesn’t even smell.
When all’s quiet in the Western Wing, Coach wakes back up. The Officer is standing over him, weapon safely holstered, with his arms folded. He doesn’t look mad, not at all; just disappointed. So very disappointed.
“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing in the school, kid,” Officer Dinkelbop says, offering Coach a hand to stand up.
“You haven’t asked,” Coach replies, taking the officer’s hand and pulling himself to his feet. He tucks his wispy, gaunt, afro-ish hair back behind his ears to look clearly at the old man in front of him, taking in how truly weathered he is. “You just demanded that you see some eye-dee, which I don’t have because my pants don’t have any pockets. And,” Coach says, flicking the Officer’s lanyard, “these things are stupid and cost dollars.”
Officer Eleutorio Dinkelbop is not amused by this long-haired homeless rat flicking at his school-issued-and-paid-for red lanyard, thank you very little.
“I’m here to run the kids,” Coach continues, not picking up the hint. “The distance kids on the track team. I think I’ve seen you around here before, but we’ve never met. Name’s Coach; Running Coach.” Coach holds out an open hand to Dinkelbop, who accepts it with a surprised face.
“Eleutorio Dinkelbop. But you can call me Officer Eee if you ever see me around here in the future. Listen,” he says, letting go of Coach’s hand and turning his body away from Coach to look back at him over his shoulder. “You’re going to need a visitor’s pass from the Main Office if you want to stay. It’s the rules. I don’t make ‘em, just follow ‘em and get paid to enforce ‘em. I can escort you there now.”
On the inside, Coach’s eyes roll out of his body and onto the dusty hallway floor. From there, they continue rolling along until their moist, loamy surface picks up so much dirt and grime that Coach can no longer see through them and he grows a new pair of eyes. On the outside, though, Coach smiles and nods along with the dude the school’s Administration pays to carry a gun, mirroring the old man’s microexpressions to return Dinkelbop’s certain shown level of respect.
“A’ight. Lead the way, dawg.”
As the newfound friendship travels towards the Main Office, all the Officer can think is, ‘Why do these goddamned babosos make it so hard for me to keep the order around here?’ a sharp contrast to Coach’s, ‘Why do these goddamned baboons make it so hard for me to do my job around here?’
They walk outside and cross the driveway, Coach looking over to the track and seeing his team finish their second warm-up lap. The kids shrink to the size of ants by the time Coach and Officer E reach the Main Office’s outside door in the front of the school. A lifted muddy pickup truck drives by the school going much faster than the legal school zone speed limit and Coach’s hair flies everywhere; of all days to forget a hair tie, today just has to be the day.
The Officer notices this and, embarrassed for Coach’s sake, presses the doorbell to move things along. After a few beeps, a raspy sound comes out of the speaker.
“Hello?” in a staticky grovel with a slight uproar going on in the background.
“Hello there, this is Officer Dee. I have that uh, thing you called me about here.” Officer E looks Coach in the eyes – not at the thin, emaciated, wacky wavy inflatable strand flailing hair follicles, but at his eyeballs – and nods, offering him a little smile. He then returns his attention to the box. “I’ve determined he needs a visitor’s pass.”
A moment of silence as the voice in the tiny box contemplates the meaning of all this. Then the door clicks, the box offering not even a growl of validation.
Officer E, after putting on his school-issued gold-rimmed pilot’s sunglasses, opens the door for Coach and motions for him to walk in first, which the young public servant thanks his elder for. As soon as the door seals behind them though, the air inside the building begins to move.
An Ideal Coach
“You know what, Bessy?” says Lonny Ghost AD, walking down the band hallway towards the Main Office with his Secretary, Missus Savahge. “It’s hard for a high school’s Athletic Director to find good coaching staff these days. An ideal coach is somebody who you can treat like your Daddy and they’ll act like it right back – a hard worker who’s never had anything handed to him, whose dedication and perseverance never falters and always leads him to the right answer. A man of age with a youthful face reciprocally matched with a salt’n’pepper hair style, whether it be a beard, mullet, arm and leg hair, what have you. A man who always knows what to say and when to say it, but also how to say it; a man with such a masterful grip on the inflection of his voice that he could yell you to sleep with a bedtime lullaby. A grown man who knows whEN TO SWITCH FROM HIS INSIDE TO OUTSIDE VOICE.”
As he’s saying this last sentence, Lonny Ghost AD realizes that he accidentally started yelling at some point, garnering stares from the color guard flag wavers who flunked out of the matching band and are now holding an afterschool bake sale in the hallways to raise money for their sad, non-athletic, and strictly recreational little club.
“You know Bessy,” Ghost continues once they’ve cleared the confectionary parfum of air-stale breads and store-bought cookies, still in their original Entedmen’s boxes, “back in the good old days, one’s last name matched their career. You make shoes? Great, your name is Alexander Cobbler. A baker? Fine, you go by the name of Drewey Ovenmitts. The one in control of an entire high school’s athletic program? Absolutely, you carry the nomenclature of Lonny Ghost Ay-Dee, Ay-Dee of course standing for Athletic Director,” he explains to Missus Savahge, the Athletic Director’s Secretary that was hired here before he was. “Today, humans just don’t carry this tradition anymore; names get to mean whatever they want to mean. Little Timmy Williamson? He’s not the son of a William, or a Will. Not even a Bill or a Bobby, it’s absolutely ridiculous!”
They round the corner nearest the Main Office and, taking this into account, Lonny continues with, “How is one supposed to be expected to appropriately hire a man for a job in this day and age when that man – or woman, technically – could have a name that doesn’t act as a descriptor of their talents? Today’s world is just backwards, at least as far as Lonny Ghost Ay-Dee sees it. And I see the world in flying colors!”
Lonny Ghost AD stops dead in his tracks when he sees Running Coach, the boy’s hair looking as messy and ungroomed as Rainfort’s mop, standing in the doorway of the Main Office in the custody of the school’s security guard. Just standing there, clogging up the most important bowel in the entirety of the school! Like a dirty volunteer assistant coach is supposed to be inside with the real staff!
The AD is about to approach him and correct this social faux pas when suddenly, Coach turns and waves at him with a smile. Lonny Ghost AD almost literally peels an entire banana and throws it into the wall.
“Ahh, hhhhii there Runster,” Lonny Ghost AD says with a whine before he begins to chuckle. “Run-Man, heh, Running, Run-Man Runster the Running Runster, ah-hehhehheh-heh,” he snickers to himself. Then he notices the school’s new security guard, Officer Dinkelbop, has been staring at him for quite a few seconds now.
“Ah! Hello there, Officer! Your name is… Es… Elu… Eduardo? Yeah,” Lonny Ghost says, confirming this memory of remembering a memory as correct. “Yeah, Eduardo. How are ya?”
“Eleutorio,” a pause, “is my name; you’re thinking of my twin brother, sir,” said whilst making over-the-top-of-his-sunglasses eye contact with Lonny Ghost AD. “And I am doing quite well. I was patrolling the halls, you see, and I got a call about this human being. He looked homeless so, be–”
“YEAH!” Lonny Ghost AD then cuts in, using his outside voice. “That’s what it is, he looks homeless! Bessy!”
Bessy Savahge, the Secretary To The Athletic Director, who had zoned out playing a coloring game on her smart phone, stands at attention. “Yes, sir?”
Lonny points to Coach. “He looks homeless! That’s his look, the homeless look. That we were talking about before? Remember?” He nudges her with his elbow a few times, as if trying to nonverbally convey a message. “ReMeMbEr?”
Missus Savahge’s face shrinks down a few sizes and she shoots Lonny Ghost AD a look of bewildered confusion. “No, no I don’t Lonny! I don’t know where you’re getting this hogwash.” She turns to Coach and smiles, “Hello Coach, how’s the team doing?”
Coach smiles back and nods. “We’re doing well, championship coming up this weekend. The kids are excited.” He turns to Officer E and nods at him before continuing with, “Now, as my new friend Eleutorio was saying.”
A patch of body hair on Lonny Ghost AD’s left leg deroots itself and jumps, daintily drifting towards his shoe while bouncing off the interior of his pant leg. He feels every second of it.
“Yes, as I was saying,” Officer E continues, straightening the taser holster on his hip with showmanship. “He looked homeless so, being myself, I approached and attempted to handle the situation. It began to escalate, but…” he trails off.
Eleutorio looks to Running for validation and gets it in the form of a nod, giving him the strength to continue. “It got a little ugly at first, I will not lie, but we came to an understanding. He just needs a visitor’s pass for today, no problemo.”
“Speaking of which,” abruptly from one of the Office cronies, a surprisingly youthful lass named Astrid Brooks, “if he can just fill out this sheet then I can get everything moved along on our end.”
Astrid holds out a clipboard with the sheet clipped to it and a pen that’s attached with what appears to be a shoelace and no less than four different brands of tape. “Or, is there somebody I could call?”
Eleutorio stands aside, giving the stage to Coach. He takes the clipboard and holds the pen in his hand but writes nothing, choosing instead to smile.
Then, “Yeah, you could call Coach Scoompa… OR!” as he turns to face Lonny Ghost AD. “Mister Ghost, can’t you just sign off on my being here?”
Lonny nervously laughs, taking a half step back and rubbing the back of his head just below the budding bald spot.
“Wheeeellllll I don’t, I mean,” he trails off, rapidly looking back and forth between all the faces in front of him. All these staring, overwhelming faces… so many faces, just like… like the barbecue. Sally. Her dad. It, it was just a handshake, he was never meant to smell… and now everyone’s staring at him, watching. They’re always watching. They’ll never stop watching.
“I-I um, I don’t have everybody’s schedules memorized aaaand, I meeaaan, it’s reeeeaaaallly not my responsibility tooooo…”
Lonny had started to slowly walk backwards as he spoke his jibberish, and he is now out of the hearing range of the rest of the group. Unbeknown to him though, Miss Brooks had already called Coach Scoompa, and everybody stopped paying attention to Lonny the minute he started backpedaling. She takes the clipboard and pen back and apologizes, surprised that nobody has yet mentioned to her that Coach has been employed by the school for four years now as a coach of both cross country and track, and that all of this has been entirely unnecessary.
Just as they’re all laughing about the redundancy of it all, Coach Scoompa rounds the corner with steam coming out of his ears like his brain was brewing a hot cup of coffee. He intently ignores Lonny Ghost AD’s presence as he passes him by, Lonny wincing as if he’s about to catch hands. As Coach Scoompa approaches the group, his demeanor entirely changes, giving off a happier and more open aura.
“Hello Missus Savahge, Miss Brooks. Officer,” Scoompa says with a smile, nodding and shaking everybody’s hands individually. “Coach,” Scoompa says before letting go of Coach’s hand, “I heard you were looking for me. Let’s walk and talk, I gotta get to the New Gym.”
Coach looks down at their hands, still locked together in a shake, Scoompa’s feeling almost buttery. “Sure. You’re still holding my hand though, this is kind of weird.”
Scoompa nods. “Agreed, it is.” He drops Coach’s hand like a ravioli into a boiling pot of salted water and turns towards the door. “Shall we?”
Coach wishes the Secretaries a pleasant afternoon and follows Scoompa outside. As the exterior door closes, Astrid motions for Bessie to come into the Office. She looks over at Lonny and sees him curled up in a ball on the ground, mouthing words to himself.
‘Sweet, he’ll be a few minutes,’ she thinks as she walks in.
In a whisper, Astrid asks the AD’s Secretary, “We have a cross country team here?”
Scoompa and Coach walk out into the breezeway and across the driveway, both looking towards the track to see the kids circled up and stretching, only a handful of legs currently touching the ground.
“Nice,” Scoompa says. He then begins stressfully rubbing his eyes. “I tell you man, this shit with Leonard really has to stop.”
“It’s getting that bad, huh?”
“Dude!” he throws his arms up and looks up at the sky with wide eyes. “You have no idea. I just had a meeting with him and Ghost about the cross country program next year. Like, about who’s going to take over and whatnot.”
“And I, the volunteer assistant coach who does all the work and doesn’t get any of the credit or salary or respect, wasn’t invited?” Coach interjects snottily without a hint of surprise. “Shocker.”
“Yeah well, you know. He’s your head coach for the fall, he’s gotta be the one to bring you into that meeting. That’s just how it works here.”
They walk inside, using Scoompa’s Dean-tier keycard to enter. In the foyer, hanging on the wall opposite the staircase leading to the senior lockers, is a display of this month’s Athletes of the Month. Four out of six of the students are cross country runners that Coach had, and still enjoys, the pleasure of coaching.
“I know, this isn’t the first time it’s happened,” as the doors lock shut behind them with a menacing chucc. “Anyway, what about the meeting?”
“Right. So Ghost brings up the fact that Leonard’s Supervisor doesn’t think he’s putting enough energy into his teaching job. He constantly loses homework, intently skips over the Holocaust lesson during the World War Two chapter, forgets to grade tests, stares inappropriately at the boys for too long, falls behind teaching his own curriculum. That he wrote. You know, garden variety Thenure shit. Last year, more than half of his class failed his final. More than half, dude. So Lonny brings up the possibility of handing off the program to you or I so Leonard can focus on his teaching career. Just as I’m about to implore him to give it to you, are you ready?”