Excerpts & Short Stories

Death of The Hollow Men (A Sci-Fi Short Story) 

I teach a Science Fiction Literature class to seniors, and one of the students who knows I write challenged me to craft a dystopian story. I was hesitant, like Kurt Vonnegut, because I don't like labels, and sci-fi clings to authors long after they've abandoned the genre. Regardless, it is a good assignment for myself, and will showcase good modeling when the students will be "forced" to do the same assignment later this semester. Don't judge too harshly...


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot was partially right.  By the time she did go, most were actually begging- “Just die already.”  We couldn’t kill her off quick enough. Who needs Earth with thousands of inhabitable planets waiting with neon vacancy signs and untapped natural resources dying to be utilized by a superior species?

Problem is, Earthlings no longer personified superior. By the time Information Modification Chips (IMC) took the place of education in late 2138,  we thought we had mastered the inequality of genetics. Don’t understand Elliot’s The Hollow Men?, there’s a chip for that. But nobody wanted poetry chips back then. The rage was all for advanced bioengineering, hypothetical mathematics, and anything that would help build the infrastructure that would make interplanetary travel possible. 

They never quite got there. Neither did we. We’ve been orbiting Earth for two years now.  It’s 2189, and I’ve been commissioned to write a history of the Earth during the IMC years. (I’m more a reader, than a writer, but then, there isn’t a writing expert on the ship, so this is what you get). 

The same science that perfected the delivery system of synthetic information into the frontal lobe of the brain via a small forehead opening, was also its undoing. The misinformation chip movement--either the work of rogue countries, despondent anarchists, or religious zealots--ended up poisoning the minds of 99% of the population. 

At first, bio-delivery doctors made quick work of recognizing bad information chips, and reeducation was a fairly painless process. Recurring migraines were the most common complaint. The World Information Group (WIG) also set up a task force to eradicate the misinformation producers. It was a swift and brutal reaction that showed very little humanity--administering lethal justice to the suspects on the spot.   

Many of the remaining Natural Learners; holdouts and the elderly, vocally denounced the monstrous treatment of suspects. WIG called “listening session” to hear their complaints, and used the opportunity to try out a new reeducational delivery system that used a high frequency wavelength rather than a direct application to the brain opening portal, to stream information. The protestors must have suffered the most incapacitating migraines of all time. This system flooded the brains of the protestors, literally melting their brains. WIG was wholly satisfied with the results. 

This wasn’t the first time overloading had caused massive deaths. Just like after the death of the great Chip testing martyrs of 2120, WIG reformulated the information dosage to a biologically acceptable rate, and soon, world mandated information was being “downloaded” at night, and people were waking up rested, alert, and smarter each and every day. 

The average IQ swelled to nearly 200. Chips no longer just provided knowledge, but also behavioral modification training. Stability Chips solved disorders. Breeding Chips took the romance out of courtship. Parental Chips took the place of parenting. Developmental Chips accelerated the process of childhood; the average child was ready for the workforce at age 11. It was a brave new world, were suffering could be alleviated with a Chip. 

Of course, the best Chips came at a price. And overloading could still be fatal if one tried to revolutionize himself overnight. Still, discount Chips, black-market Chips, and even misinformation Chips flooded the market places. WIG limited the number of Chips to 100 behavior Chips and 100 knowledge Chips, in an effort to regulate the playing field. It was not strictly enforced. The Haves were still the Haves. 

And yet, they acted less and less like humans. They grew tired of jobs and positions, and bought new chips to master new jobs. Nobody really stayed at a job longer than a year before they felt bored. Creativity also suffered. People had the wherewithal to do the jobs, but innovation stagnated. There were no great advancements ten years after the IMC reformation. Only the very rich could afford the creativity and problem solving Chips, and many never installed them (hoping instead to sell them back at a great profit because of their rarity).  

Regardless of the inequality and lack of ingenuity, productivity and population soared.  Forests were cleared for the best modified crops. Buildings were built taller, cities expanded into counties, and countryside turned to sprawl. Great strides, however, were made in environmental practices, and fossil fuels were eradicated and yet the Earth was still sick. The best minds got smarter, and yet they couldn’t solve this riddle. 

Biodiversity suffered. Only the crops with the greatest bang per square inch were maintained. Science controlled nature for the good of all.  For a little while, it seemed that 50 billion people could thrive with only 4% of the surface devoted to food production. 

But then the Earth rejected the modified grains. Old crops, however, wouldn’t grow either. Quickly a new generation of learners were installing Agricultural Chips, trying to capitalize on the disaster. But the Earth had been poisoned by progress, just like their brains would be. 

Panic, not WIG lead to the eradication of the rest of the Natural Learners, besides us. We 200 were protected by WIG as a sort of test group, in a 500 acre Eden-like setting. Born naturally, without aid of Chips, we were all self-learners. We, of course, could use information stations, books, and archived media to find knowledge…but we were clearly behind the rest of society. There was no portal to our brain, even if we tried.  Socially, however, we were clearly superior. We protected our own, while they cared little for each other. Individualism was key “out there,” while we knew we needed each other to survive. The few WIG employees who monitored and studied our behavior often laughed at our primitive ways. They aren’t laughing now. 

Natural Learner communes were the first to be raided. 
Starvation “out there” led first to the destruction of the last Natural Learner fortifications, and later destroyed protected parks and forests, then zoos and biodiversity gene universities, and lastly to cannibalism. Nobody, except the top brass at WIG knew about our facility, so nobody seriously ever challenged our Eden enclosure, at least before we left the surface. We had prepared, in any case, for the chaos. 

With no food, and rampant crimes against humanity, WIG had no other choice than to eliminate large portions of society. The Passover update killed millions in some cities, billions in some regions. Food was plentiful. Panic grew worse. Someone created the Survivalist Chip, and it became the most sought black-market Chip.  Nobody was sure if it even worked. 

It did, and it didn’t. It blocked the Passover update, but it had a delayed side effect of near continuous migraines. Chips were sought to treat migraines, but none were effective. 

The smell of decay couldn’t even overpower the migraines. People stumbled like zombies, bashing their heads, slicing open their arms, trying to redirect the pain.  Biodelivery doctors could only remove part of the Chip, which rendered the patient susceptible to the Passover update, which meant death. Debilitating migraines or death that was the choice. Most eventually chose death.  

That last 1% would stumble the Earth in search of peace, and find none.

We 200, had studied religiously. Everyone a different subject area, to make him or her valuable to whatever it is we might need as a society. Law, ethics, order, government, psychology, physiology, agriculture, social Darwinism, spirituality, physics, child development and on and on. 

We also studied Chip manufacturing, and electromagnetic wavelength spectrum, and genetic mutations, and crop failures, and espionage, and civil unrest, and interplanetary space travel. Some might say we planned this. Some could say society necessitated this. 

I say they earned it. 

Most of our success has to go to the forty or so members of ours who headed the World Misinformation Department (WMD) who were able to infiltrate WIG and use its systems to disseminate our agenda. 

We sacrificed Eden. We poisoned the Earth, for the good of mankind. We knew she would recovery, eventually. We have plenty of provisions aboard our ship, Mutiny, as well as a museum quality collection of flora and fauna. We will recreate the world, in our image. Until then, we can orbit the Earth and watch her like gods from above. 

What is my specialty, you ask?  Stories through history. Literature and History. And because I had a certain propensity to recreate stories and events in modernity, the 200 chose me as a sort of ideologue, or master planner, for this revolution. 

My favorite stories?  Noah’s Ark, The French Revolution, Animal Farm, Planet of the Apes…I’m also a sucker for anything dystopian. 

I do so wish I had somebody to share this love of literature with, though. I sometimes think my comprehension or interpretations might be lacking. But, to err is human…(I believe there’s more to that proverb, but I never can remember).

They were hollow men, who cheated humanity. They did not deserve Earth. So we, the last remaining humans, eradicated them. Every revolution is ugly in it’s time. We’ll see how history judges us. 

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
This it the way the world ends
In pain and carefully calculated.  

(Book Excerpt) If You Could Change One Day (From Life in the Happy House

James Jim Belushi Mr. Destiny
You liked it.  Even with
Jim Belushi, right?
Similar to James Belushi, I too, have a baseball memory that I would like to redo.  I took a five pitch walk in the ninth inning in a deciding Little League game for first place.  Both batters after me struck out (which they commonly did).  I feel responsible for not even attempting a swing.  Like Mr. Destiny, I felt I could've changed fate with one wave of the bat.  Instead we got third place, my only lifetime trophy.

But this failed opportunity dwarfs in comparison to the one situation that I was an active participant in that haunts me to this day.   A day I failed at being a human.

The following is an excerpt from my first novel; and a true story (except that in real life inanimate objects don't speak out loud).  This story takes place in the fourth chapter, but the only pertinent background information for this mini-story is that I was out for an early morning jog. (Yes I can run, even with my weight issues).

Extremely worn out running shoes
Okay, maybe not this worn out.  
Turning the corner onto a narrow side street my ankle went left as my body went right, compliments of a morning shower’s residue on the mossy street lane.  I careened to the ground, more bruised by my own stupidity than by the impact of gravel into my palm.  I re-laced my worn $35.00 Nikes and hinged my ankle up and down to see if it was sprained.  It was fine. 

“You fat slobbering idiot,” the road roared in laughter.  “Look around, your neighbors just saw you for what you are, an uncoordinated unworthy lout.”  

Vandalized classroom messy
Just another day in Mr. Wood's Art class.  
I looked around.  A few young grade-schoolers looked at me from a fenced gate, more concerned with my well-being than with adding insults to my injury.  “When does it hit us then,” I thought, “is it third grade or fifth or seventh that we crumble to the societal demands of cruelty.”  

My own moral degradation hit a low point in eighth grade.  We were in art class; the teacher Mr. Wood wasn’t the brightest of fellows, and his dog and father had both passed away that year—details our class reminded him of, cruelly, unsympathetically, almost daily.  Our class was unrelenting in its inventive mischievousness.  We punctured all the oil painting pints with a compass point, letting them bleed rainbow colors on the floor below.  We broke other classes clay sculptures after they cured in the kiln, leaving only fragmented mugs and armless figurines and ashtrays that wouldn’t hold ash (why did they teach us how to make ash trays anyway?).

In this devilish class was a very annoying girl, a “well-actually” girl.  The kind that would raise their hand and say, “well actually, Mr. Wood, the correct way to hold your watercolor brush is technically…”  She would butt in on conversations, was way too book smart for her own good, and she had the misfortune of sitting next to a group of  my impish friends.  We developed a mutual      
Alex Trebek belittling angry jeopardy
Oh, I'm sorry, the correct punctuation is "Well Actually"
not "Well Alex-tually," like you vindictively said.  That's
going to cost you $1000 and a spot in Final Jeopardy.
hatred of her dissimilitude, and stooping to a brief moment of pure unadulterated cruelty,  someone created a secret classroom club devoted to her mockery.  I designed a patch.  It was called the 4F-Club.  As for what it meant, it was merely a sophomoric acronym, each of the four ‘F's were descriptive adjectives of her persona.  One stood for “fat,” one for “four-eyed,” one was a harsh expletive, and one was a slang term for sexual preference (even though I didn’t know then what that word meant).  In fact we knew nothing about her.  I don’t even remember her actual name.  I cringe when I think of our callousness (understand that this was truly group mentality, and in middle school, group mentality is to cling to the lowest common denominator). 

One day, this poor pathetic girl, this girl who never did anything wrong but not learn social conformity skills early enough, saw me creating another patch.  At this point maybe 13 kids in the class were wearing the badges of dishonor.  I felt apart of something when another classmate I barely knew would ask me to craft them a new patch.  Like I was some grand scoutmaster. 

She looked me straight in the eye, and asked, “What are these badges, and why is everybody wearing them?” 

I looked up, instantly my quick wits were coming up with some stupid anecdote, some harmless lie as to not face this confrontation, but another student named Joey simply peered right back at her and deadpanned, “It’s a club devoted to you, or rather the hatred of you.  It stands for the ‘fat, four-eyed…”  I was astonished at Joey’s sadistic honesty; and I was dumbfounded. After an awkward moment I 
Ugly glasses
Even hipsters can't make these glasses look good.  
caught her soul staring back at me through 1/8” thick cheap lenses: there was no distortion through the convex glass.  We killed her.  I saw her die right there in front of me.  She looked at me, and said without saying, “I…I…I can’t believe you would do this…I can’t believe you would spend so much time…to make a fool of me.”  Then without saying a word, and before the beginning of what must have been hours of tears in the bathroom, she turned and walked out of the classroom. 

I wonder how long she looked at me.  Was it 5 seconds, a tenth of a second; was it a single frame of film in a movie?  I don’t know, but it is ironed on my retina.  I killed her.  I was a part of her death.  Maybe she got over it that day, maybe later that year, or maybe never.  All I know is that look.  The look of someone who just lost everything.  Job must have had this look after Satan took everything.  Maybe parents of kidnapped children.  Perhaps only one in a million people might experience this emotion, and I caused it.  I probably put this girl through years of therapy, and I can’t even remember her fricken name.  I wanted to apologize to her.  I wanted to go cry with her.  I wanted to shred up my patches; I wanted God to smite me.  But I just stood there while Joey laughed.  I don’t think I moved the rest of the period.  She didn’t return to school for a few days.  When she did, she was sullen and robotic.  She looked drugged, and unhuman.  I tried to go up to her, to say sorry, or something, but how does one approach someone they emotionally raped?  How do I apologize for slapping her soul?  I didn’t have words strong enough to break through the walls she had already constructed.  
Nelson and gang Simpsons bullies
Bullies are rarely this recognizable.  It's often words
much stronger than "Ha Ha" that truly damage souls.  
The fall of man is often portrayed through moral excess, debauchery like a Roman orgy, but all one must do is spend a day in a middle school (public or private, religious or secular) and watch the true results of original sin.  That is the one event I want over in life.  For years I prayed for forgiveness for me, and later when I truly understood empathy, I cried and prayed for her.  Prayed for healing for her.  Prayed she could move on.  I didn’t need forgiveness; I needed to know she was okay.  But shortly thereafter we moved to a different state.  This was in 1993, the internet was still in diapers, and even if I wanted to know her name, I wouldn’t be able to find it.  I forgot my friends and enemies at old schools, but I don’t forget her face.  I don’t know her name, but I know her face, and I watched her die.  God, I hope she is still alive. 


Summoned to the Principal's Office (a Short Story) 

William Henshaw had just lost the respect of his class. 

teacher yelling at student on phone with earbuds in with megaphone
OMG, like this teacher is totally rude and stuff. 
He let himself get offended when a student didn’t like his favorite piece of all time, Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and lost his composure in only the fourth week of class; he still had fourteen more with this specific group of uninterested illiterates.  They weren’t illiterate, of course, nor were they uninterested in learning, just that they were easily distracted by the myriad of entertainment sources that life in 2012 offered.  Whether that was the cleavage of Mikayla in the back row, the bizarre tics of Cameron, the autistic kid who probably shouldn’t be in a normal classroom, or the newest viral video secretly watched on a smart phone in a purse or under the desk, away from the glazed eyes of Mr. Henshaw who was currently extolling away about the exquisite prose of Mr. Fitzgerald.  

Nathan Mitchell, instead of reading along with the class, was watching the video clip that would exceed 20 million views by the end of the week, when Mr. Henshaw lost it.  Nathan read the first few paragraphs of the story along with the classroom, and was immediately bored.  Settings in Paris in the 1930’s, and French words like “chasseur” meant nothing to Nathan, who had no greater dream than having 30 thousand twitter followers, and maybe being an ESPN anchor. 

Nathan tried to conceal his laughter.  But the video had everything a man wanted: violence, an attractive woman, and a hilarious payoff.  The violence was a low budget MMA fight, set in some small city venue with maybe 300 drunk fans loudly cheering.  The arena was basically an old boxing ring, and the fighters were guys in decent shape for their late 20s, but by no means professional fighters.  The one lucky roundhouse kick that knocked out the guy in the red trunks, and the ensuing chaos afterward, was the only highlight of the entire evening for those who paid the eight-dollar admission fee that evening.  But online, the clip had been edited down to twenty seconds of sparring, before the consciously fatal kick landed on the jaw of the guy in red trunks.  That alone, could’ve made it a decent online video, as the guy’s head is blasted to the right, and then instantly he belly flops onto the canvas.   The fact that his top left lateral incisor tooth and root, along with saliva and blood, were all dislodged and ejected in a wonderfully parabolic arc clearly captured by the HD video being shot by a fan’s iPhone 5, made it immensely better.  Then the tooth took an almost vaudevillian or Family Guy-ish move by landing square on the chest of the girlfriend of the now unconscious and recently de-toothed man in red trunks. 

 top Front incisor tooth with root
The Tooth Fairy
is also a meth
dealer.  Good way
to get adult enamel.
The girlfriend, wearing a new prom dress from JCPenney meant for someone ten years younger, but equally as alluring, had already won the most important prize in her itinerary:  Most beautiful woman in the room.  The wife of the lucky roundhouse kicker looked tired and aged and was disinterested in her husband’s violent hobby, she wasn’t even in the top third of “lookers” in the room.  The girlfriend, on the other hand, used every punch, every grapple, and every lull in action to scream encouragement to “her man.”  Of course, she wanted each scream to bring the attention to herself, as she danced and shimmied, and gesticulated wildly in every conceivable way to show off her figure and her $180 dollar dress.  The dress was even lower hung than the skimpy outfits she wore to her job as a receptionist that had gotten her fired after repeated talks of her attire’s inappropriateness.  She exceled at inappropriateness since her days in middle school.  Attention, like she was currently getting, was exactly what she craved on an everyday basis.  Perhaps it was this, which attracted the tooth to her.  Like some sort of carnal enamel magnetism, it found the spot directly above her cleavage and lecherously slid down the mammary canal where it lodged itself at the base of her leopard print push up bra.

Her initial dumbfounded look was gold, but it was her hysterics afterwards that made the video an internet sensation.  Like a child thinking a spider had landed on them, or like a hiker unexpectedly finding himself swarmed by bees, the girlfriend frantically swatted at her body while shrieking, and every muscle which normally made her face an attractive site was turned inside out, distorting in inhumane ways only Jim Carrey could fabricate.  The “get if off me” dance was like the Ickey Shuffle and the Gangnam Style horse ride combined in double time. 

In a way only live video can prove, it showed that the girlfriend was uncaring towards her boyfriend, probably unbalanced, and falsely beautiful.  Eventually the tooth falls to the floor below, and she makes no effort to collect it and save it for the dental surgery “her man” would no doubt need soon afterwards; no, instead she wipes the saliva/blood off her boobage, and with mascara tears forming at the edges of her painted face, she quickly rushes out of the arena in an attempt to save what little face she has left. She never checks on her boyfriend, who is still out cold.   

Nathan, caught when his laughter betrayed him, and now trying to save face himself but also impress the class, said, “Sorry, Mr. Henshaw, it’s a funny clip, maybe we could show it on your projector at the end of the class.” 

“I’m not showing any stupid ass YouTube video now or ever, Mr. Mitchell.  Bring me your phone and you can get it back at the end of the day.”  Henshaw immediately regretted the harsh tone and the A-word escaping his mouth. 

Maybe it was the mild expletive, maybe it was the fact that Nathan’s parents had recently separated, maybe it was not having breakfast, or that he was benched in the second half of the latest varsity football game, but Nathan decided today, as a junior in high school, that he had enough of this high school’s stupid rules. 

“No can do, Henshaw, I got important calls coming in today.”  Nothing was further from the truth.  Nathan received or sent maybe fifteen texts in a day, but none were of any more importance than, “txt me when u get online for COD 2nite!”    

“Mitchell, you can bring me your phone and wait outside the class, NOW, that’s not a request, that’s a command, mister. ”

“Man, I said I’m sorry, okay.  I’ll read your stupid French Babylonian story and we’ll be cool, okay.” 

Henshaw knew better than to escalate the situation.  Directly challenging a student or getting into a verbal altercation never ended good, even though Henshaw was vastly more intelligent (or so he hoped) then his student base.  He should’ve just given the class a homework assignment, and while they were preoccupied with this task, walked over to Nathan and quietly let him maintain his pride while still facing the consequences of direct insubordination.  Nathan wasn’t a bad kid, he was just a now cornered kid who had already crossed the line and was seeing how far he could stretch it. 

But Henshaw took it personally, this attack on his favorite author, his favorite piece of all time.  The passages in Babylon could convert any kid to a reader, he thought.  The prose could inspire a generation of new writers, who could pen the emotional complexity and interpersonal dynamics that convolute and substantiate the life we all live in.  Kids would see that, if they gave the story a chance.  Having Nathan challenge not only his authority, but diminish the genius that Fitzgerald’s story is by watching an inane viral video?  Not today! Thought Henshaw.  Maybe during Steinbeck, or Hemingway, or Salinger, or poetry, or grammar lessons, but not during my hero’s forgotten masterpiece!  This deserved a sociological diatribe!

Eddie Murphy Adventures of Pluto Nash horrible movie poster
No comment needed.  
“You want to know what’s stupid, Mitchell, are students like you, who think you know something about life, ‘cause you saw it on the internet.   You think these dumb videos are art, or some lame band’s lyrics are poetry, but they’re all crap, Mitchell. They’re worse than a bad Eddie Murphy movie, and contain less intelligence than all the guests on the Jerry Springer show combined.  Whatever video you hoped to show me, will fade into oblivion in a month, and yet, this masterpiece by Fitzgerald will still be here, proving how far we as a society have fallen in creativity, intelligence and literary beauty.  Because of your generations reliance on reality television instead of literary masterpieces, your generation will never be able to write anything better than a decent episode of Two and a Half Men, and that, Mitchell, makes me sad, and pisses me off at the same time.  This (holding the photocopied Fitzgerald story) is art, what you were watching is graffiti.  A disgusting addition to a civilized society.  So give me your phone, Mitchell, and decide if you want to be an appreciator of great art, or if you’d rather be a hoodlum supporting graffiti!”

Mitchell, thoroughly red in the ears, adrenaline pumping and emotionally charged, only heard the words “stupid, and hoodlum.”  Mr. Henshaw, this wholly average, almost 40 teacher had just called him a dumb punk.  Mitchell wasn’t used to this.  He was usually a good kid, rarely involved in the misdemeanors taking place in and out of school, and yet he had just lumped together with the drug dealers, skanks, and gangsters who profligate around certain corners of the school campus.  And it ticked him off.

“Well, here you go William,” Mitchell sardonically said as he tossed his $400 dollar phone across the room (which thankfully Mr. Henshaw awkwardly caught).  “I’m going to check and make sure you didn’t look up porn with it when I get it back!”  And then, because he had never before had a melt down in class, had never been this emotionally charged, he just stood there.  He knew it would’ve been cooler to nonchalantly storm out of the room, but the fear of further worsening his punishment stopped him from making any kind of move.  Even though he had just committed a

“What did you say?”  Did this punk kid just call me a porno addict; was he implying that I’m some kind of pedophile?  “What did you say, you stupid son of a bitc…”  Henshaw stopped himself.  Or he thought he did, he hoped he did.  The class was silent; this wholly embarrassing exchange had only taken one minute.  A minute that normally Henshaw would use to wrap up the lesson, remind kids of upcoming homework, or chit-chat about the upcoming game or dance; for in those last seconds before the bell rings, in depth instruction is not possible.  So he too, having said too much, stood awkwardly silent. 

Neither had ever been in a standoff.  They would’ve made horrible gunslingers; the fear both were portraying was visible even to the most socially inept student in the room.  Then a hooded boy in the corner, headphones on, oblivious to any of the excitement of the last few minutes of the class period, started throwing his backpack on, knowing that within seconds, he would be free of another torturous teacher.

Brrrriiiinnnnngggg      Brrrriiiinnnnngggg. 

Saved by the bell: those two loud annoying monotonous tones, which predictably propelled the herds of students into the halls. Yet, for the first time in his 12-year career, Henshaw’s class stayed glued to their seats.  There was still unfinished business in the classroom.  But then another kid threw on his backpack.  Freedom was more important to some than a potential gunfight.  He along with the head-phoned kid made their way out into the already packed hallway. 
And then, for what seemed like eternity, nothing.  Finally, Mitchell, not willing to fight, despite the insult he was dealt, forced his body to move.  He grabbed his belongings, threw them carelessly into his backpack and left the room.   The rest of the class followed after, whispering in awe the scene they had all just witnessed.

The Xeroxed copies of Babylon Revisited lay scattered across the desks.  A few had carelessly fallen to the floor in the chaotic hustle of students out the door. 

It was instantly quiet.  6th period would be starting in a minute, and Henshaw had no students coming in, it was his prep period.  He slumped down to his cracked pleather desk chair and exhaled.  It seemed like forever since he had taken a breath.  His heart was racing; his blood pressure was through the roof.  What had he just done? 
Martin Luther King Jr MLK poster Integrity  character foundations influence
What teacher doesn't have an MLK
poster in his or her room?

His shocked expression turned to ironic smirk as he found the poster of Martin Luther King Jr. near his desk with the title: Integrity.  He forced himself to read the subtitle:  When your character is built on spiritual and moral foundation, your contagious way of life will influence millions. 

Henshaw suddenly wanted to cry.  Why today?  Of all the difficult kids, and hairy situations, and heightened emotional exchanges of hormonal kids; why had he chosen today to retaliate and say those thoughts he had always had, yet had always easily held in check?  Where were you Dr. King, ten minutes ago?  This philosophy of integrity that he had worked so hard at emulating, was gone.  Poof, like that, he was a hypocrite.  The exact kind of teacher he hated when he was a student.  Holden Caulfield would’ve called him a phony. 

And what about his job?  Surely it wasn’t in jeopardy.  It’s not like he touched a child.  It’s not like he hit a kid, or said something sexually inappropriate to a kid.  His union would back him, if it came to that.  He wasn’t a new teacher.  He had tenure.  That stupid kid!  No, the student wasn’t stupid, it was just a stupid exchange of emotional beings, and Henshaw had briefly lowered himself to their maturity level. 

Henshaw felt the familiar pangs of anxiety.  It’d been so long, he almost forgot the fear, the millions of thoughts flooding the mind overloading the body and causing it to quake.  He deeply inhaled and exhaled again, like he did in college before he gave a presentation.  He was a teacher now, he gave presentations everyday, thousands in a year, but that old fearful sensation was never that far away.  Right now it felt like he had never beaten it down. 

Surely he would be summoned by administration.  Oh how he wished he had been more supportive of the newest batch of principals.  He had already outlasted four head principals, three moving on to whatever greater roles existed for that ladder climbing species, and one to a sudden heart attack that knocked him into retirement.  All four had been friends of William’s.  Or as friendly as a working relationship of employee and supervisor can be. 

But William had stopped trying to impress all the new faces that just kept rolling in.  He holed up in his room, and studied the curriculum, trying to become the best teacher he could be, while ignoring the social political aspect of his job.  The new Athletic Director didn’t know him, as he gave up coaching girl’s basketball years ago, nor did one of the vice principals.  His bi-annual review was coming up, and he had only briefly emailed the new Head Principal, James Cladwell, as to when he would be available, it was their only source of communication in the first four weeks of the school year.   Henshaw had also stopped voluntarily signing up for committees: like the curriculum committee or the literary committee.  He was tired of wasting his time talking, arguing, creating, changing, motivating, presenting, accommodating, and negotiating and then not seeing anything significant really change.  The only thing he could directly impact was his own classroom.   Plus, he was no longer a new teacher, his family, his daughters were growing up, and he wanted to actually be there for their growth.  But now, as a teacher who wasn’t heavily inundated into the current school culture or brand, one only concerned with events inside his own classroom, he realized he was an outcast.  He was expendable. 

Did he have any allies of importance in the administration?  Surely, his department head would vouch for him, but who else would have anything positive to say?  He was merely an average teacher.  A few students had come back and visited him, a few told him he was their “favorite teacher,” and he was generally liked by the teaching staff, but would anyone, past or present go to bat for him? 

He couldn’t rely on the 5th period students.  They were there, they knew the truth, and they would mostly side with Mitchell.  Someone probably recorded it on his or her phone as well, as this generation of kids were always savvy about documenting socially awkward situations.  Both Mitchell and Henshaw were in the wrong, but Henshaw was the professional.  He, like all teachers, was held to a higher moral standard than almost any other job.  Again he looked at the Integrity poster.  He had always shown such great judgment, but today, he just cracked.  He let it all, 12 years of teaching frustrations, build up, and got offended over a stupid short story, and he cracked.  Maybe it was time for a vacation.  Maybe they would put him on administrative leave.  A vacation, though, is a positive.  An administrative leave, especially if the local media, or if the students found out, would be a blight that would follow him his whole career. 

All I did was call a kid stupid and mildly swear at him.  That’s all.  This stuff happened all the time in the 70s and 80s.  But William knew it was different.  Teachers today don’t get away with anything.  It’s guilty first, innocent later, forgiven eventually, but never forgotten, regardless of guilt. 

Nuns with guns black and white angry vengeful rifles
St. Mary's Catholic High School faculty photo 1946
He remembered how old retiree teachers of bygone eras would sometimes eat lunch with them in the lounge, sharing stories of a different time, when you could call out feminine boys as “queers,” or give two kids a pair of boxing gloves to “settle the score.”  Henshaw never liked these stories.  He wasn’t jealous that they were virtually free to do whatever they wanted in their classrooms with very little oversight by the administration.  Instead he got mad at how some of them were spineless in stopping racism, or bigotry, or belittling kids with mental deficiencies.   How some could care less whether the “dumb” kids learned anything.  Of course, he was stereotyping them, they probably weren’t all bad…

The bell ending 6th period interrupted his thoughts.  His last class of the day, Freshman English, would be starting, and William hadn’t done a thing with his 50-minute prep time.  He had sat, nervously predicting his next chess move, if he wasn’t in checkmate already, and hadn’t come up with anything.  His best hope was for a stalemate. 

The first few freshmen started filtering in. 

“What are these packets on the desk, Mr. Henshaw?  Is this what we’re doing today?” one of his still unknown acne faced adolescents asked.  Freshman always wanted to know what the agenda of the day was, so that they could respond to the teacher’s answer, whatever it was, with a groan. 

“What?  Oh, no…uh…we’ll just pass those forward when class starts.” 

Henshaw looked at his lesson plan for Freshman English and decided to scrap it.  Too much interaction. 

The bell finally sounded, and the least mature, and most easily distracted of all of Henshaw’s classes finally calmed enough to listen to their teacher.  “Guys, I’ve got a splitting headache, so please turn to page 456, and read The Most Dangerous Game silently and answer questions 1-8 at the end of the story.”  (Loud group groan).  The idea of not talking through Game usually would sadden Henshaw, since it was one of the few highlights of his freshman curriculum (as young boys love its violence).  But today, Henshaw didn’t care, and neither did the students.   Probably half the class didn’t read the story, and many were openly copying the smart kids’ answers.  The class was verging towards anarchy by the time the last bell rang, signaling the end of the school day.  The freshman noisily made their way outside his door, and the silence again befell the room.  Another fifty minutes of time to build a strategic defense, gone.  Any minute now, Cladwell would waltz into his room with a scowl on his face, and questions that needed answering. 

He tried to breath it out at his desk, but the anxiety wouldn’t let him sit still.  He made his way to the men’s room, relieved himself, and then lost his lunch all over the urinal.  He quickly flushed away the evidence, but seeing the orange bile swirling next to the deodorant cake made him heave again.  It had been years since William had thrown up. 

Afraid it might happen again, and not wanting to face students or faculty, he locked himself in a stall and sat hoping the world would stop whirling around him.  He had no idea how long he sat there when the secretary’s voice interrupted his thoughts.  The partially muffled intercom voice said, “William Henshaw, please report to the front office please.” 

William lurched forward and turned toward the toilet opening.  He tried to vomit again, but there wasn’t anything left in his system.  He thought about leaving for home, but he still was technically supposed to be on campus for another 30 minutes; eventually, it would catch up with him anyway. 

The two hundred foot walk, past colleagues’ rooms, the library, the counselor’s office, the campus security wing, the janitor happily waving to him, and various students either greeting or ignoring his presence, before he reached the office lasted an eternity.  He could smell the bile on his breath, and he thought he would be sick again. 

When he got to the office door, he saw Nathan Mitchell standing there impatiently.  William pushed the door open unsurely.  The secretary smiled at him, and said, “I believe you have something of Mr. Mitchell’s?”

William looked up and saw Principal James Cladwell emerge from his office and perch himself at his doorway. 

“What? I have what?”

Student's mean text to teacher iPhone message
Exactly why I don't give out my
cell phone number to students. 
“My phone Mr. Henshaw, can I have it back now, please?”  Nathan said, with a sly grin. 

“Oh, uh, yeah.”  Henshaw fumbled around his pockets and found the phone in his front pants pocket.  “Here you go.”  He shot a questioning look at Nathan, but saw nothing but the fading grin. 

“Thanks…”  “Oh, and I accidentally took this, your story, here you go.” 

William reached out and took back his Babylon story, and thought he heard Nathan say something else, but was too focused on Principal Cladwell’s gesture waving him into his office, to hear it clearly.  He made his way into the office like a beat dog. 

“Sit down Henshaw, I’ve been meaning to have you in here for a heart to heart for some time, and then, when Mr. Mitchell came in here…”

“Look, before you say anything, he had it coming.  He was watching a YouTube video on his phone during class and when I asked for his phone, he got sassy with me.  I asked twice and he started getting insubordinate…”

“William, relax…”

“No, that kid, I wasn’t calling him stupid, I was saying his generation is stupid, and who knows, he might be stupid himself, but he just kept needling me, and I didn’t mean to call him a son of a bitch, or a hoodlum, or stupid, but he was calling me a porn addict and a boring old…”

“What did you say to him?”

“Well, I’m sure he already told you, I’m just giving my side of the story…”

“Your student, Mr. Mitchell, came in here saying he wasn’t paying attention in your class, and you called him out on it, and he realized you were right.  He said that story you taught today was really good, and he thought you were a really good teacher, and he wanted to apologize to you for using his phone in your class, but you weren’t in your classroom after school.”  “What are you talking about?  Are you telling me you cussed out one of our students, William?”  “Because, that…

But William, now, wasn’t listening.  He had just noticed the blue ink scribbling that defaced his copy of Babylon Revisited: 

F. Scott Fitzgerald Babylon Revisited scribners book cover
Read my review of
 Babylon Revisited on Goodreads.com 
Mr. Henshaw.  I’m sorry for what happened in class today.  It was more my fault then yours, and I realize why you got all angry.  I’m not a bad kid, really. I read this story during my math class, and you were right.  It’s a great story about maturity and forgiveness after a lifetime of making the wrong choices.  My life is really crummy right now, and I think I took that out on you. I’m trying really hard to make the right choices.  You talk a lot about integrity and I think we both kind of sucked at that today, so for my part I’ll try and be a better student.  Sorry again, Nate.
P.S. Sorry I just “graffitied” this copy by writing on it. 

William, tears in his eyes, looked up at Cladwell, and interrupted him, “I uh, I have a ton of sick leave, would you okay some time off.  I think I need a vacation to get my priorities straight.”  How long had he been correctly analyzing complex literature, and now, in real life, he couldn’t even recognize good characters anymore, even when they’re right in front of his podium. 

“I’m glad you said that, cause I was going to recommend something very similar.  And when you get back, I’d love to have a real conversation.  It’s about time we got to know one another, William.  And also, I think you’d be perfect for this committee I’m setting up on education reform.”

Bart Simpson writing on chalkboard "I will not swear at students"  “Yeah, okay.  I was just thinking I needed to get involved with people again.”

“Not now, though.  Get out of here.  Take your wife to Paris or something and get your head on straight.  But by all means, go find Mr. Mitchell and apologize, I don’t need his angry parents in here cussing me out tonight.”  

Yes, all roads do lead to Paris.  Of course, on his teacher’s salary, William would probably have to settle for Paris, Texas. 


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