The first of the prose lessons is to write a story about a substitute teacher from a first person perspective.
Maybe I was still asleep and dreaming and the reality of the ringing phone was bleeding into my brain. I answered it instinctually, without thought. If I had full control over my actions, I never would have answered it without checking the caller ID. As a sub, all our job calls come through the automated messaging service, calling in an esoteric order the catalogue of subs until someone replies with the Star-1-PIN to accept the job. The service is always the same number on the caller ID and is usually the only number that ever calls me so early in the morning. I never would have answered it if I had seen the number on the caller ID, and the simple name “Frayser School.” I expected the sweet recorded voice of the automated system, but the voice on the other end was all too human.
“Mr. Bierce?” the voice asked hesitantly, for I had yet to speak.
“Huh? What? I mean… Yes. Speaking.” It took me a moment to find my civil tongue. I glanced at the clock. It was 6:45. Sub calls started around 6. I finally looked at the caller ID and stifled a groan. 45 minutes – I had to be at the bottom of their list. Or there was a late call-out.
“Mr. Bierce, this is Alexis Blessebois from the Frayser School. We are in dire need of a substitute. Are you familiar with us?” Her voice was prim and proper, if a bit melodramatic.
“Y-yes,” I stammered, still waking into a dark sense of dread. When the Frayser School asked you to substitute, you couldn’t say no. It was frowned upon the same way that burning the American flag was frowned upon, or not having your ZX vaccine scar was frowned upon.
“If you could get here at eight, we would greatly appreciate it, Mr. Bierce.” She sounded genuinely grateful. And she was more pleading than threatening. Maybe the school wasn’t as bad as everyone said.
“I’ll be there.” I kept my voice level.
“Thank you,” she replied as she clicked off the line.
The Frayser School was established by the government a few years ago as an experimental school for students with disabilities that resulted from the ZX plague. There wasn’t much fear of the plague anymore, except maybe for infants. The vaccinations weren’t available until they were about six months old. Of course, normal precautions were still taken to guard against the bloodborne pathogens that the vaccine wasn’t strong enough to defend against. All teachers, including substitutes, were trained on these precautions, though it tends to all be common sense these days. It’s just a part of every day life. If you didn’t have a ZX positive family member, you at least knew someone who did.
From the outside, the school looked just like any other school. Though I got there late, a few minutes after eight, I didn’t see any parents dropping off students or any buses yet arriving. I went to the office. The door was locked, but when I knocked it was answered quickly.
“Hi, I’m Rome Bierce. I’m sorry I’m late.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Mr. Bierce. I’m Alexis Blessebois. We spoke on the phone. Please, come in.” She seemed in a rush, speaking quickly, glancing furtively up and down the hall and shutting the door before I had even walked all the way past her. She snapped the deadbolt home and ushered me to some chairs in the corner. She picked up some papers from the edge of a table and we both sat down.
“You’ll be filling in for Mery Morrow, in her speech class. This is the curriculum.” She handed me the papers and I glanced down at them.
“When will Ms. Morrow be returning?”
The woman paused, considering. “She may be in the school later today.”
“Okay. I’ll get through what I can. Is there anything I should know about the class? How to approach things?”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine. Everything is there in the paperwork. We try to stick to the letter of things. This is an experimental school, after all. You’ll find an evaluation form in there that will allow you to record your observations and any suggestions you might have.” She placed her warm hand on top of mine where it was resting on the papers. She looked at me intently and held my eyes for perhaps a little too long before shaking it off and removing her hand. “Well, you should get to class. I think the students will already be sitting at their desks when you get there.” She handed me a paper map of the school and gave me directions and pointed out the locations of the restrooms, cafeteria, teacher’s lounge, and went over some of the general policies before walking me to the door. Before unlocking the deadbolt, she paused. “One last thing. If you find the behavior of the students to become unmanageable, press the blue button on the intercom and we’ll send assitance.”
They say hindsight is 20/20. I’ve tried to think back over what I could have done differently in that classroom. It was habit again that caused the problem as I turned my back on the students to write my name on the board. Even if I was prepared, there would have been no way that I could have hit that blue button to get help, and if I had hit the button, that they would have been able to do anything. Lying here in the infirmary, the only solace I have is knowing that tomorrow, I will be there at the Frayser School in that very same speech class.
As a student. Another victim of the zombie plague.