In the Classroom

by Darrin Rodgers

In the Classroom


Darrin Rodgers

Madness is a serpent, paralyzing her prey with fear. She does not bother herself with concern over her victim's understanding, she does not weigh herself with the burden of empathy. She is an insufferable predator, as relentless as the passing of time, as tireless as death itself. One morning a man named Roger Hill awoke, pressed hard upon by this Beast, and she came to him without warning or herald.

His first big clue that all was not right came when he lifted his head from the cold flat smooth wooden surface of a school desk, like the ones he used to sit in as a boy. As if his own head were not enough reassurance, he reached down and made tactile contact with his hands. Hmm, he thought, still too groggy for a more articulate declaration. This was not the soft fluffy white pillow he had laid his fortyish head down on the night before. He ran a hand over his bald head, to determine if indeed it was still his head, or someone else's. Well, it seemed to be his, as best as he could determine. He looked down at himself, and noticed with a considerable degree of embarrassment, that he was still in his pajamas. He and his wife had a matching pair- a long sleeve blue and white striped set she bought them for their first anniversary. He also noticed that he was sitting in the desk attached to the desk top. This in itself made perfect sense, that the desk and the desktop would have a connection, only he remembered going to sleep the night before in his own bed. His soft, warm, horizontal bed. What on earth was he doing sleeping in a school desk? Or more immediate, what was he doing waking up in one? There was just no cause for it at all.

The people sitting around him in similar desks were a mystery too. Men and women, some attractive, some not so, ranging in ages from early twenties to at least early seventies. Or at least the old lady in the light purple dress with the dark purple flowers looked to be pushing seventy. All smartly attired and professional, and not one of them in pajamas. He remembered going to bed with one person,-his wife of nine years. He had gone to bed in the same pajamas he found himself in now. He had kissed this one person, his wife Lorena, before going to bed. Now here he was in what appeared to be a classroom full of strangers, all of them looking straight ahead, eyes at a half squint in deep concentration, determined to face some unspoken of but common task at hand.

Roger looked from person to person with no idea what that task might be, or how he had ended up in this pale green classroom with these people. He didn't understand any of it, and could not bring himself to even speculate the nature of his dilemma. Perhaps it was something as simple as an honest mistake. He would point out to whomever was in charge that he had been brought here by accident, they would have a good chuckle, and he would be on his way.

The chuckles would have to come later though. He turned his head slowly and tried to find someone who looked like they were in charge, but no one stood out. He spoke aloud but in a quiet, almost apologetic voice. "Excuse me, can somebody help me? I know this sounds crazy but I have no idea how I got here, wherever here is. I really should be going."

The class answered him in silence. He tried again, and this time he was more specific. "I've got to get to work. They're expecting me at the bank." Somebody at the back of the room coughed. "The bank. Where I work. Where I need to be. Hello?"

He remembered something about injuries and accidents- its always a better idea to single out one person to go call a doctor than it is to just yell to the crowd, get a doctor. He turned to the woman in the row across from him. She was a fairly attractive woman in black slacks and a silk red sleeveless blouse. Her hands, Roger noticed, were resting primly on top of her desk. Her lips were slightly pursed, almost frowning. Something made Roger wonder if she had been bred just for the purpose of sitting at that desk.

"Excuse me, Ma'am, could y-"

"QUIET!!!" she screamed at him, she of the prim hands and pursed lips, and the rest of the class turned to stare at him as though he was the one making the scene. "The Teacher will be here any minute! Do you want him to think I'm cheating?"

"I'm sorry I did-"

"I SAID SHUT UP!!" She stopped, then began to sob, her voice hitching and catching in a quick steady rhythm that sounded like someone on crack with the hiccups. After a few deep breaths and considerable effort at regaining her composure she managed, "You're going to ruin everything."

Roger was dumbfounded, not knowing what to say. He deeply contemplated if he should say anything. From the scowls he received from the rest of the class, he could expect the same sort of reaction from them as well. He wisely discerned that silence was not only golden here but life-saving as well. He turned back in his desk, determined to keep quiet. Another student, a six-foot four three hundred pound student with fists like granite came to the woman's side.

"You okay little Lady?" he asked her but he never took his eyes off Roger. When Roger met his stare, he held his gaze until Roger was the one who looked away.

"I'll, I'll be all right Gus, thank you ever so much for-"

She never got to finish that statement because the Teacher walked in. Actually, he couldn't say for sure, but Roger had a creepy feeling that he had been standing in the same spot the whole time. Nobody saw him, Roger suspected, until he wanted to be seen. He wore a charcoal pinstripe three-piece suit and stood in black spit polish black leather shoes. Very professional, very prideful of self and work. All except for his eyes.

There was nothing behind them. Roger looked, but the more he tried to see the more a blank soulless empty thing devoid of any sentience stared back. A thick glossy string of drool ran over thick lips and down a smooth chin hanging from a slack dangling jaw. He made no attempt to wipe it away or to acknowledge it. Roger doubted the man, if that's what he was, noticed or cared.

He was so distracted by the pathetic awful ghoulishness of the man that he nearly jumped out of his seat when the test hit his desk. An 8 x 11 inch sheet of paper with six questions- three fill in the blank, one multiple choice and two short answers. The absurdity of his being here in this place at this time seemed to have escaped his mind at the moment, and he picked up his pen to answer the first question.

My name is_______________.

What is my name? He repeated the question to himself. A simple enough inquiry, the answer to which he was fairly confident.

So why didn't he write his name down and get on with the next question, then? If it was supposed to be so easy, why did he feel so unsure? "Because Roger Hill was supposed to wake up next to Lorena Hill, but he didn't. Its what Roger Hill does every morning for nine years. Its an essential part of his regular morning routine, to wake up in the same place next to the same person." He thought to himself, "This morning was different, and Roger Hill did not wake up next to Lorena Hill." He thought some more. "Or maybe he did, and maybe I'm somebody else. Or maybe I am Roger Hill and whoever was supposed to be here is sleeping with my wife." A deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, a momentary respite of head clearing. He decided to read some of the other questions.

The next question was as unpromising as the first.:

This test is about __________________.

Well, to that he had no idea. "This test is about the biggest load of crap I've come across, that's what it is," he thought. He didn't even know about this class or this test or any of this until a few moments ago. For him to know what this test covered was absolutely ridiculous. He couldn't even begin to guess. He read the next two questions with the same regard.

___________________ is the title of the textbook for this class.

I am writing my answers with

A) a pen

B) a pencil

He scribbled a quick little circle on the upper right hand corner. His writing tool was a smooth black plastic utensil with a tiny silvery button on the top, and a golden nipple-shaped tip at the bottom from which blue ink flowed. The same logic that told him he was supposed to be Roger Hill also told him this was supposed to be a ball point pen, but who could know for sure? Certainly not him- a man who wonders about his own name can't be too reliable in the Common Knowledge Department, now can he?

It was the next two short answer questions that really disturbed him, though.

Don't you know anything?

Followed by

Then why are you wasting my time?

The only thing for him to do now was to write something, anything , in the blanks. At this point just writing the letter x was better than a blank. The pen made its way back to the top of the paper, and he was determined to mark his x. But before he could write his x he saw something else on the test that he was positive hadn't been there before, and now he knew, like he knew no other fact, that he had lost his mind. In the right hand corner of the test was a minus sign preceding a numeral 8 on its side. There was no explanation for it, no way for his mind to comprehend it, but the test was a done deal. Final Judgment had come and Roger Hill was found wanting

"Negative Infinity?" He said this out loud, not caring who heard. "How does somebody make a negative infinity on anything?"

"Well it certainly helps if you're infinitely stupid," someone answered him, and the rest of the class laughed. The voice went on. "Mr. Price, Sir?" The Teacher's cadaverous glance turned to the speaker. "I think got ourselves a winner here. Or not, as the case may be. Can we go ahead and get this over with? I got another test next period I'd kinda like to study for."

The rest of the class murmured in agreement, and before Roger could ask what was what, Gus of the granite-grip grabbed him by both arms and lifted him out of his seat. The Teacher's desk was being cleared off- other students were brushing papers and books off the top.

"What are you freaks doing?" he demanded. "Get your hands off me!" he kicked and squirmed and tried to head butt Gus behind him, and the class laughed all the more.

"Well, he's about as puny physically as he is mentally!" one of the girls crowed, bringing peals of laughter from the others. Even the Ghoulish Teacher with his slow dullard eyes was smiling.

Realizing he couldn't fight, he tried talking to them. "Could someone at least tell me what's going on?" He turned his head from side to side, looking for answers in the crowd of unsympathetic faces.

"Sure," the old lady in the purple dress told him without raising her voice. "You failed the test. You die." There was much nodding in agreement, much solemn looking around from one student to the other. "The one who brings the grade average down bites it."

"What? That's crazy! I'm not even in this class! This is sheer utter madness!" he impotently protested.

The Teacher spoke for the first time, and his voice was hollow, like the sound of a still wind blowing over an abandoned grave. "Funny thing, Madness. You think you've got her domesticated, tame and "understandable" with some warm safe definition. There she sits, all boxed up and wrapped pretty with a pink little bow to give to your kid for Christmas under the tree." He stopped there as though he anticipated he was going to be interrupted, and he was right.

"Well, no, you weren't in this class," A voice from behind Roger, another female voice, talking to him slow and deliberate, like a bad reader, or like one talks to someone who is mentally challenged. "but obviously you are now. After all you did take the test, Mr. Hill."

"This is insane! Let me out of here now!" Hill screamed, as if screaming would add credence to his authority. Sadly for him it did not.

The Teacher continued; he seemed to be in lecture mode. "Imagine your surprise when he opens the box and the beast you thought you'd tamed is gone, replaced by a harmless little neutered puppy, peeing everywhere and stinking up the living room, and the real beast- the one you thought you had so cleverly tamed- is still on a banzai blitzkrieg rampage headed for the next idiot who thinks he has all the answers."

Roger had no idea what the Teacher was going on about and at this point he didn't really care. He thought it best not to argue the finer points of giving madness a textbook definition and stuck to the more immediate situation. "But there must've been some sort of mistake! A- a case of mistaken identity! Something..." Gus lifted him high in the air now and slammed him down hard and fast on the desk, like something out of a pro wrestling match. He lay there too stunned to yell or cry, or maybe too aware that yelling and crying would make no difference, and two other men came and held him by his feet.

Not that they really needed to, as the wind was out of his sails. One of them suggested it was a job better suited for the ladies.

They had the audacity of waiting for him to regain his breath, as they gave him no regard as far as being any kind of threat was concerned. Finally, he did begin thrashing again- thrashing like a live fish on a hot skillet, flopping and pulling and twisting his body with every ounce of strength he had. He tried screaming for help, and his tormentors thought this was hilarious, and many of them, between shrieks of gut busting laughter, yelled, "Help! Please, Somebody!" And they drowned out his pitiful wails for mercy with the derisive mocking cries of their own.

The Teacher again, droning on. "Don't be too hard on yourself if you've failed to break her. She is a wild untamable beast; she will not succumb to the reins of your understanding."

"Please, I've got money, you can have it," he sobbed.

The Teacher, lecturing ever onward. "Because once you understand her, you pull her teeth and snip her claws. You rob something from her. You rob her strength, her heart. Once you understand her you have turned her into something she is not, and passionately wishes never to be- Rationality."

"Money, please take it, there's more," The voice speaking was shaking and wet with tears.

"Well how about that, trying to bribe us," a voice, male, from the back of the room. "I do believe that's against the rules," and more laughter, if such a thing were possible.

The Teacher was not done giving the lecture. Roger chided himself for not listening before- if he had, maybe he would have done better on the test. "Madness and Rationality go together like night and day- dawn or dusk tease you into thinking you can have both, and for a flit of a moment you do, but not for long. Its one or the other, and if the elusive nature of Madness leaves you fumbuddled, that, my friend, is sweet nectar and honey to her. Madness feeds off of and cannot be bothered with your lack of understanding." Then he clapped his hands as if to change the subject, and continued in a more jovial tone, as if he was about to ask if anyone wanted to play Monopoly. "So, as fun as this is, we do need to get on with the killing already. Is everybody ready?"

There was a general consensus among those present (with the notable exception of Mr. Hill of course) that everyone there was ready to get on with it.

"Does everyone have their paddles with them?" the Teacher asked his eager class. As if from thin air, every student raised their hands, some right and some left-handed, holding a large wooden paddle. Some of the paddles were of the standard school type, two feet long, six inches wide, two inches thick. The ones of that design all had holes drilled in them to facilitate their aerodynamics. Others, though, were decorated with such extravagant extras as barbed wire, nails, and broken glass glued to the area of immediate impact. One even had a few nails pounded through from one side to the other. They were coming for him now, and as much as he continued to struggle and whimper, he could not get away.

He was allowed one tiny respite from the madness, however, and it was actually a deeper form of madness that gave him this relief. Before his newfound classmates fell upon him, the ceiling above him opened and he saw the faces of angels looking down on him from Heaven. He didn't know if the class saw what he saw; they turned and looked as he did, but it may have been mild curiosity at the final fading hope of the doomed. But this was not some idle eroding fantasy, he told himself. They were here to rescue him, to set him free, to make the world the way it was before Madness crept in and crushed the flower of sanity that had once bloomed so beautifully and sweetly in the world .

Or so he assumed, because even though he reached out and called to them, they simply laughed and turned their attention back to more celestial affairs. And then the class turned its full attention on him.

A few moments before, prior to the Heavens opening up, the three angels cruised the Heavenlies on a tiny roller-coaster track in a black roller coaster car big enough for four people. Two of the angels, Pete and Henry, occupied the front seat, and the angel named George sat in the back. Angels wear faded blue jeans, tennis shoes, steel toed work boots and snake-skin cowboy boots. They wear Rob Zombie T-shirts, TOOL T-shirts, and some angels even smoke.

"Cousin Cletus's Carnival of Carnage, huh?" George derided. "well I guess they gotta have a coupla goofy rides for us to poke fun at.

"That's the thing about these Podunk hick little carnies," Henry griped. "Every now and then you get these really stupid rides that make no sense. At all."

"That was about the fakest looking load of garbage-" the angel George started, then cut himself off, unable to think of a good closer to his own sentence.

"I so do not get any of, well, pretty much any of this," Pete the angel agreed, his chin sinking into his hand. Then he straightened up and smiled, thinking of another ride they had been on. "The Cannibal Kitchen was at least cool," he beamed. "Anybody wanna go back to that after this?"

"Sure, why not?" Henry answered. He noticed, and wondered if his friends did too, that the woman they boiled alive in the Humanary Stew skit wore the same pajamas the man below was wearing. Cheap carnie inbreds can't even afford to buy different wardrobes, to give their shows variety. "How's that sound to you, George?" He was looking straight ahead, and when he turned around to ask again he yelled in shock at his friend. "George! What are you doing??" But by then it was too late. George had already hurled the brick that he pulled seemingly from out of nowhere at the one-way mirror that covered the classroom display. For some reason, the glass did not shatter, but the brick did manage to puncture a hole in the ceiling. George, Pete, and Henry looked down into the classroom, and the class looked back up to them. The man on the table seemed to be - no, he was- reaching out to them, eyes begging, fingers splayed as if he were trying to make the bones of his hand rip through the skin. The Class turned to the angels, some of them smiled, and then they turned back to the man on the table.

"Oh man, look at that," George whispered when he could find some semblance of a voice. "This stuff is real! They're really gonna off the poor guy!", he mouthed through the "O" of horror in the middle of his face. His friends looked at him, their own mouths gaping above eyes wide with terror.

Then George burst out laughing, and the moment of horror, for him at least, had passed. "What are you guys, stupid? Its obviously some weird artsy-fartsy theatre thing. Gee, you guys are dopey."

They waved one last time to the man stretched out on the table, and then they were gone.

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