Cue the maniacal laughter…..
My first major publication has occurred in a short-story Halloween anthology.
Here is an excerpt from one of my two short stories in the anthology:
Annalie Perch had been a part-time professor now for 20 years. “Adjunct” was the dreadful word typically used to describe Annalie’s occupation:
ad·junct ˈaˌjəNGkt/ noun: a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.
An unessential part, well, no one could say it was a career choice, but it paid the bills in a barely sort of way, and kept Annalie from one of her least favorite things to do, being stuck at a random desk in a random office for 40 hours per week, where even pee-ing or eating were done on a measure tight schedule because the main thing the desk surfer was paid for was keeping his or her butt attached to the seat for as long as possible. The seat, paradoxically, usually had wheels attached, as if to further taunt the occupant with the forbidden mobility. So, though the title offensive, the pay low, the work take-home, and the hours odd, Annalie had yet to figure out another way to pay the bills and keep free, able to move. When she stepped outside after an hour or two at the podium (where she stood, moved, talked, and pretended she knew what she was doing), she was on her own until her next gig. She hopped into her car, and motored, maybe to coffee, maybe to her favorite plant store, maybe to the next podium, maybe to her bed, but she was free, and at any time she could make a wrong turn, on accident or on purpose, and get lost, and escape, and no one could stop her; there was no boss in the office by the door to ask for one last thing, or to note when she came and when she went. For all of these things, Annalie was very grateful.
And perhaps it was that gratitude that kept her late after class, pretty much every class. There was usually a line of students wanting to ask her questions, and Annalie never knew if it was because she was sort-of faking it, so in her teaching style she was a bit vague and dreamy, making some students need clarification, or if it was because they just wanted one teacher who knew them, knew their faces and their names, and cared if they showed up. Whatever their reasons, Annalie was happy to be there for them, and with them, clarifying, empathizing, hanging-out.
Tonight it was almost 11:30 when the last girl left. She was one of the many K girls, Kierstyn, Kailyn, Kristy, Keegan; Annalie was pretty sure this one had been Kiley, telling Annalie her tearful story of having been diagnosed with ADHD, and Annalie had spent no little time trying to prove to her that she, Kiley, or was it Kirsty, was not her diagnosis. “You’re going to do just fine, and I know, because you’re already doing fine, here, now. You’re a very good student.” Annalie had a lot of affection and sympathy for her, hugs had been exchanged a few times, so the time got away from them both, making it very late when little Kleenex finally wiped her face with Annalie’s tissues and went home.
Then Annalie had to pack up herself and get out the door. Tonight she had been teaching in the distance ed. room, so she had to shut down the system that broadcast her to the other two students at the remote campus: the phone, the many screens around the room, the cameras, and the sound system. As usual she did this all, and began then to erase the boards and pack up her own things. And, as usual in this large, old, musty, sound-prooofed room, the damn system phone started ringing. There was a glitch in the coordination on the other end, so even though Annalie turned everything off, the other system, 80 miles away, turned it back on, and tried to start up again. Next the room fan would respond and come back on, and the doors to the room, double doors in the far right corner, heavy, wooden, and swing-mounted, like church doors, started shooshing back and forth about two inches against each other and the frame. Each time this happened, and tonight was no different, Annalie jumped about a foot. Yep, heart was still working. Good to know for a person without health insurance. That was her standard joke. Then she would run over to the command central and push the “hang-up” button, and the whole works would shut down again, and the overhead lights would re-dim to walking lights only. “Christ, what a pain in the ass,” she said as she walked back to the last board she had been erasing. She heard a whirr sort-of sound above her head, and her neck snapped back. One of the cameras above her was moving, searching for a person to focus on. “Fuck!” she said, and ran back to the command station desk. She quickly pushed all the shut-down buttons again, before the phone could start ringing, and then ran over to her bag, slammed the lid on her laptop, yanked its cord from the wall, and started shoving it into her bag. The doors did a shoosh again. Annalie froze, and stared at them in the dim walk light, looking for a shadow or form of a person. There was none. In the opposite corner from the door was the command desk. Annalie’s eyes shot left; no one was there. She jammed her cord into her bag without really looking at it, and started shoving books in on top, telling herself to calm down and hurry up at the same time. There was a whir. She stopped. She waited. She peeked under her brow, up at the ceiling. Whirrr! All 6 little cameras started spinning like mad in their little trapezes, searching for a person. “Fuck!” Annalie said. She shoved her chalk into the bag on top of the books, grabbed her little pack of tissues and her sweater from the chair, and ran for the door. Just as she went out the double doors of the room the phone started ringing, but this time through the speakers, loud. She looked up and down the dim halls. The building was empty. Her heart was pounding. She could see her car outside, under one of the light poles in the parking lot. It was alone. “Maintenance or the cleaning man can deal with it tomorrow,” she said, sprinting toward the glass door to the lot.
She reached her car. There was no one behind her. Unlike the doors to the room, the double doors to the building had opened because she had hurled herself into the panic bar, and closed behind her swiftly and with an audible click. She was safe. She pushed the button on the ignition key and the hatch popped open. She threw her bag in and slammed the hatch. She ran to the driver’s door, flung it open and threw in her purse. She grabbed the lever to flip the seat forward, and scanned the back seat for any psychos hiding there. She saw no one. She flipped the seat back and jumped on it; she slammed the door against herself and hit the lock button on the arm. She put her key in the ignition, turned it, and put on her high beams. There was no one in front of the car. She put on the interior lights and twisted around, checking again for psychos in the back, or the hatch; there was no one.
She buckled in and pulled from her spot and out of the little faculty lot, then she turned and went back in. She headed for the distance ed. building. She sat there, with her high beams boring into the glass doors of the building, about 25 feet away across the grass between the lot’s concrete frame and the walk to the doors. Inside she saw… nothing. No movement, no figures in the dark, no glitter of eyes looking back at her. The broadcasting room was soundproofed, and so had no windows or access to the outside. If it was going flaming bonkers mad in there, she couldn’t tell. “God bless the janitor!” she said, and slowly turned her car around, and left the lot again, winding her way through campus to the exit. When her wheels hit the road it was just midnight, November 2nd.
The whole world was black whenever she left this campus at night. Because it was in rural Maryland Annalie always made sure she had a full tank of gas before she went to school; the nearest station was 23 miles away. The nearest town was farther, and both were off the main road, which was itself a mere two-lane affair with a grassy median that was usually littered with carcasses of deer, coons, and cats. Luckily, at night, she couldn’t see the dead things. She couldn’t see anything, really, except to tell if the corn in a particular field was still there or not. The corn farmers let the corn dry out before they harvested, so it either stood in the fields like dead saplings, or, after cutting, left little dried stumps like stubble across the ground, giving it a post-apocalyptic look in either sense. Because it was so light, it reflected the high beams while the rest of the landscape just soaked the light in, like raw wood soaking up paint.
The GPS said it was 1 hour and 45 minutes to home, said it was cold, 47 degrees, and painted a little purple line to lead her to her bed. Annalie turned on NPR, as usual. She lucked out on an interesting interview show. John Hockenberry was interviewing an author who’d just published a compendium of religious holidays. “And so tomorrow is All Souls Day, as you said, but you put in here that it is also called Defuncts’ Day?”
“Indeed. That was the name given to it by Pope Stephen the VI, and by all accounts it had to do with him digging up his predecessor and putting the corpse on trial.”
“Well, how do you mean?”
“He, Stephen, decided that the dead who had died in while out of favor with the Papacy, or God in general, would not even be given the dubious blessing of going to Purgatory to work through their sins; no, rather they would become ‘defuncts,’ because, dying without giving proper due to The Lord, they were no longer relevant to God, so why would God waste effort torturing them in Purgatory when they were really not-functioning souls according to His doctrine?”
“In other words, Stephen thought that Purgatory was a punishment, but one the wicked had to earn?”
“Undeniably. To be sure, he was not a nice man, nor a very beloved Pope.”
“Wow, so, was there no recourse for sinners during his reign?”
“Well, Stephen enjoyed money, as much as he did power, and people could buy indulgences for the lost, just as had always been the way in the church.”
“So the poor people became the majority of the defuncts?”
Annalie’s eyes stared wearily at the glowing lines on the edges of the black road, flicking up to check the purple trail on the GPS. Hockenberry’s voice was so soothing. She might have to switch to the rock station.
“Well, you’d think so, but one could always trade a person for an indulgence.”
“You mean give a son to the priesthood?”
“No, I mean donate yourself, or your wife, or your child, give a person, in the literal sense, to the Pope.”
“What would the Pope do with a person?”
“Enslave him or her perhaps, maybe prey on the sacrifice sexually, maybe take out his frustrations in torture, maybe simply murder the person, give the blood to The Lord.”
“Oh my God!” said Annalie, reaching for the dial, “the freaking crazy Catholics!”
“Oh John,” said the speaker, “this was not limited to Popes, in my book we have hundreds of religious observances all over the world, from China to Quebec, that involve some form of human sacrifice to redeem a family member who has died out of favor with the tenants of the time. It’s usually, of course, been daughters who were sacrificed, or a very young son, people known to be kind-hearted, those willing to take on others’ pain.”
“That’s fascinating, and so…”
“OMG, I am falling asleep John!” yelled Annalie. She twirled the dial, but there was nothing but static. She tried to find her way back to the NPR station, but that, too, seemed to be gone. “Shit! How long have I been in this fucking car?” She looked ahead at the road while turning down the volume on the static where John Hockenberry had been. She could see lights ahead. That was good. Lights meant she was coming into Ellendale, and close to home. The light grew closer. Annalie took off the cruise control and let the car slow down, because all the little towns in Delaware had speed limits of 25. It was odd, though; this looked to be a fair amount of lights ahead. Ellendale usually had only the light from the fire department, and the sign from the Southern Grille. Annalie kept squinting. It was a lot of lights. Her eyes darted back to the GPS. Still on the purple line. It said she had, still one hour? To get home? That couldn’t be right if this was Ellendale. The lights were collecting the fog around them, taking them out of focus, but then, like that, she could tell what she was looking at. That wasn’t Ellendale. It was the goddamn school!
Want to know what happens next?
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