Monday, January 28, 2013

Listen Up

The assignment was simple. All they had to do was come up with an accurate set of instructions for putting together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That was it. Of course, Mr. Harris knew how this would go, and he stood behind his long table grinning that stupid grin. It was the grin of a man who felt oh-so clever in the company of the considered dolts. He'd tilt his head to one side and stare at a student's page with bright eyes that seemed to scream as they sparkled: “You're an idiot, you know. You're an idiot. I know it, you know it. Should we let them know it?”

“Time's up,” he nearly sang as they tall hand fell over the bold number two.

Tommy Hughes groaned from the back row while Vince Rush muttered “Hang on. Hang on.” as the pencil burned across his page. Even the students who had scribbled lists between blue lines seemed antsy. Their eyes were wide, their brows seemed to sweat. Only Carlos Moreno was calm. So calm he seemed ready to sleep.

Typical Carlos, thought Harris. The teacher considered calling on him first, just to make him look a fool right off the bat. But he decided against this. Carlos was one of those students. The ones who seem to know everything without ever touching a book. The ones who can plant themselves firmly face down on their desks and drip drool to the floor, but always answer correctly when called on and never score lower than a 96 on any single test. Mr. Harris was familiar with those students. It was always worth savoring the moment that they break.

So instead he called on Angela Simmons. She was the type of cheerleader who made sure everyone knew it, wearing her uniform every third day. Today was only the second day, but her legs were no more covered as they popped out of a pair of too-tight short-shorts. To compliment this, she allowed her bust to juggle freely in and out of her not-quite-a-shirt.

She whipped around, splaying her crispy brown hair through the air like a helicopter. “Um, I didn't do it.” Her head bobbed in the typical “Like, duh!” motion. The one that makes the TV women look like chickens. Her lips were left half-open as though they'd been snagged between her front teeth. Why she did this, Harris would never know. He supposed it, too, came from television.

Normally the girls like her weren't very fun. They didn't allow themselves to wander into his games, largely because they didn't allow themselves to wander into academics. Typically they'd do everything in their power to steer clear of it. What good are books at the top of the pyramid? But Angela was special. She'd clearly been the smart girl at some point in her life, and decided not to care when she landed in high school and learned she wasn't so special. Even with her lips stuck open and her nose crinkled back like a feasting swine, her eyes shimmered with disappointment. Harris felt his heart leap.

“Alright, well how about you, Tom? You think I can make a sandwich?”

The jock pulled the paper up to his nose. “Okay, so first you gotta grab the bread.”

“Alright, grabbing the bread.” Harris smirked as he scooped up the entire unopened loaf. He wasn't sure if Tom would even realize how stupid he was, but it sure made Harris happy to prove it.

“Now you gotta spread the peanut butter on the bread.”

Harris pretended to frown as he looked at the jar of peanut butter with the red cap screwed on tight. He scratched his head, shrugged, then grabbed up the jar and ran it over the bag full of bread.

“I don't think I'm doing it right.” He sounded disappointed.

Tom lowered the paper and peered over the top. He groaned as his teacher continued attempting to spread the peanut butter. Harris saw the boy flush, and his stomach fluttered.

“No. Not like that,” said Tom. “You gotta-” he started to get up.

“Whoa no no no. Sit back down. No physical demonstrations, remember?” Harris smiled wide and placed the items back on the table. “Do you want to try it again, or should we pass on the buck?”

“Pass it on.” Tom slouched behind the desk.

“Alrighty then.” Harris scanned the room, but he already knew who he wanted. It was time for Carlos to feel that sinking feeling. As though the whole world were rising up around him, and there isn't anything he can do but sit down and cry. Harris lived for moments like this. To pull the rug out from beneath some unsuspecting, allegedly brilliant student. And there was something about Carlos especially that made him easy to loathe. Harris was never quite able to put his finger on it, but he didn't really care. All he knew was that he wanted to make the boy hurt. “Carlos, how about you?”

Carlos, whose head had begun to loll back, snapped to attention at once. “Sure.”

Harris smiled, flashing his teeth. “So should we start?”

“Yeah,” said Carlos. He didn't touch his paper. Not that it would have done him any good. He hadn't written anything. “First step, pick up the bagged loaf of bread by the neck.”

Harris continued to smile, but was now nodding. He did as instructed, grabbing the bag by the throat.

“Now check to see if the bag is open. If it isn't, it's probably held shut by a twisty tie or one of those plastic clamp things. Tell me which one it is.”

The teacher looked at the bag, then back at Carlos. “It's a twisty tie.”

“Alright.” Carlos stared at him intensely. Intensely for Carlos, that is. Harris met his tired eyes, and instantly the air grew cold. He felt his smile fade as an uneasy feeling crawled up his spine. He was going to lose. He could tell. He was going to lose to this miserable excuse of a person. This overweight, unsmiling, pompous sack of flesh. It infuriated him. How could Carlos always be so calm, and so relaxed? How was it that he never flinched, never twitched, never asked a question, never showed any sign, not just of not understanding the material, but of not having known it prior to entering the room.

No! I can't let him win! I can't! I-I never lose! There it was again, that feeling. Carlos was so easy to hate.

“Grab the end of the tie with your thumb and pointer finger, then twist in the direction the tie appears to turn. If that doesn't work, go the other way.” The instructions pulled Harris out of his stupor. He followed them to a tee, then looked at Carlos and nodded.

“Now get rid of that freaking thing. Just get rid of it. Don't even move, just whip it in a corner or something. Just get rid of it.”

Tom snickered as the twisty tie launched towards the chalk board. “Why'd you make him do that, Moreno?”

“I freakin' hate those things.” He didn't smile, but his voice wavered with humor. Then it was all back to business. “Pinch the bag at the opening and open it wide. Then reach inside and pull out two slices of bread.”

Harris frowned. He couldn't pick out any obvious flaw in the boy's directions, although by now he was far too sullen to think straight. Instead of pulling apart the words as he had in the beginning, the same sentence kept repeating in his mind: Defeat Carlos Moreno. Defeat Carlos Moreno. DEFEAT CARLOS MORENO!

Carlos leaned over his desk and peered at Mr. Harris. “Are you with me so far?”

“Yes, yes, please go on.” Harris tried to sound casual. He flicked his hand for emphasis.

“Good.” And for the first time in one-hundred and twenty-three days he smiled. “Now this next part is going to sound a little strange, but I need you to listen very carefully and do everything exactly as I say.”

“Yes, of course.” Harris widened his eyes attentively.

“I need you to spin in a circle three times chanting: My body is yours.”

The teacher raised an eyebrow. Fumes began to rise inside him. How dare he! How dare he try to humiliate me! But his eyes flitted over the class, all of them watching with bemused, expecting faces. He had no choice. To deny was to surrender. And I will never surrender.

“My body is yours.” He said, twirling in place. OCD kept his feet in the same tile. “My body is yours. My body is yours. My body is yours. My body is yours. My body is-”


The demon peered out from behind Harris' eyes. He made Harris grin, and then a full smile, and then split him open from ear to ear. His hungry gaze swept across the room, taking in each of the glistening, pretty students. Then they fell on Carlos.

“Well done, my pet.” The voice gurgled out from Harris' throat as though it had fought its way through mouth wash. “I knew I was right to trust you.”

“Thank you, sire.” Carlos stood and bowed humbly. He, too, was grinning ear to ear. “Please, enjoy the feast. I have already locked the door.”

Enjoy it he did. And Harris did, too.