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~~~

Stephen Eddington, history teacher at the Archer-Oswald Academy in Willoughby, Ohio, woke abruptly to the sound of shattering glass from down the hall. He dismissed the sound, assuming he’d dreamt it. His nightmares had been so vivid and he was just relieved to be awake. Stephen sat motionless at his desk, staring past the partially packed cardboard box and out into the dark and silent classroom. As his heart rate settled and his disorientation lifted, Stephen remembered how he ended up here, falling asleep at his desk, rather than going home to his wife. He simply couldn’t face her yet; he wasn’t ready to tell Claudette what he’d done.

And there it was, that loathsome gun of reality loaded with consequences; the fatal blow, like a bullet to the brain, as the memory of last night came crashing home.

Stephen looked at his watch. The incandescent glow revealed that it was 3:30 am.

Damn, I should be home sleeping. He regretted the thought immediately.

He removed his glasses from the front pocket of his tired-smelling dress shirt, wiped the sleep from his eyes, and put them on. He sat back in his chair, running fingers through his one-length brown hair which sat just above his shoulders (what his older students considered ‘hip’ for an old guy). Stephen stared at the dozen empty desks illuminated by moonlight pouring in through two large windows. Those desks, once filled with eager minds and youthful hearts, now simply mocked him as if to say, “Please teach us how to lie and cheat and throw our lives away, Sir… we’re ready to learn.”

Stephen stared at the cardboard box full of his personal belongings. It too, mocked him. In a fit of frustration, Stephen pushed the box off the desk.

What did that accomplish, you idiot?

It was the second time he’d asked himself that question since seeing Nicole several hours ago.

Stephen wanted to blame it on the alcohol, but he hadn’t been drunk. He wanted to blame it on Nicole, but she was just a seventeen-year-old girl, using her sexuality to mask insecurities.

He stood up and paced the classroom. When he neared one of the windows, Stephen looked down from the second floor at the neighboring dorms that formed a neat circle around this end of the campus. He looked specifically at Nicole’s dorm and shook his head.

“Should have let her walk back,” he scolded himself

As his eyes began to lose focus, Stephen caught his ghost-like reflection in the window pane. He knew there was no point in denying the truth any more. Before he’d done it, Stephen could safely tell himself any lie he wished to mask his longing for her.

~~~

Nicole had set her sights on him at the beginning of the school year, flirting with the young history teacher at every opportunity, both in and outside of the classroom. On several occasions she had hinted that they should get together after school while teasing him with provocative gestures that made it easy to fill in the blanks.

Stephen had been bemused, even flattered at first, but Nicole’s advances continued, starting to make him uncomfortable as she made sure her clothing revealed more than was acceptable, but only in his presence. When it got to the point when his eyes started lingering longer than they should, he’d decided to put an end to it.

After class one afternoon, Stephen had called her aside. “Nicole, this behavior needs to stop right now. If you persist, I’ll have no choice but to turn you in to the headmaster and you’ll get kicked out of here.”

His threat had only fueled the anger of the young woman. “I know you don’t mean that, Stephen.”

“Stop calling me that. It’s Mr. Eddington… your teacher.”

She’d flashed him a devious smile. “Whatever… Mr. Eddington… but you know you want me.” She’d turned around smugly and walked away, making sure his eyes were glued to the ass shaking beneath her checkered uniform skirt.

And the little temptress was right, of course, he did want her.

Shortly after, Stephen had her transferred out of his class, unwilling to go into details with the headmaster who trusted his judgment. From there, Stephen simply avoided her on campus as much as possible.

As luck would have it, Nicole had eventually met someone and everything seemed to work itself out.

Then last night happened.

Stephen had gone out with some of the faculty to celebrate another teacher’s birthday. What started off as a pitcher of beer turned into rounds of shots. Working on pushing a decent buzz past the point of no return, Stephen had gracefully bowed out at 11:00 pm, and departed.

He took Mentor Avenue from the bar, past the Great Lakes Mall, and headed home. That’s when he saw an attractive woman walking in the opposite direction. At first, all he saw was cleavage dressed in a raunchy looking tube-top. The girl’s long brown hair hid her face from view as he slowed down to remember he wasn’t dead, just married. When he’d realized too late that it was Nicole, she’d looked up and spotted him.

She had smiled and waved in acknowledgment as Stephen pretended not to see her and drove past. He looked in his rear view mirror and noticed that Nicole had her arms held open wide as if to say, “What the fuck, Chuck?”

Nicole was one of the boarding room students who lived at the school full-time during the school year (at a high tuition price) who were allowed to enjoy some free time on the weekends. Usually rides to and from the school were provided by those in charge of each dorm. Nicole had apparently missed her ride back. If only he hadn’t slowed down, he could’ve just kept going. At least, that’s what he told himself now.

The staff would frown on me for letting one of our own walk home by herself late on a Saturday night, he’d reasoned.

With the sad excuse firmly in place, Stephen had turned around and offered Nicole a ride back to the school.

She had leaned in generously on the passenger side before getting in, reverting back to her flirtatious ways. “For a minute there, I thought you were still mad at me… Mr. Eddington.”

He had been immediately uncomfortable, especially when he felt a bulge rise in his pants. Without looking at her, he’d said, “Come on, get in. You shouldn’t be out walking so late dressed like that.” He hadn’t meant to snap at her—but enough was enough.

Nicole had laughed at Stephen’s discomfort as she got into the car.

Stephen had quickly driven away, wishing the school were already in sight. It was a long five minute drive.

Nicole started blabbering away that she’d missed her ride because she was hanging out with some boys she’d met and one of them liked her friend Tina, another student from the school. Then Tina got mad because he was staring at me like it was my fault! Tina got mad, we fought, we made up… blah… blah… blah. Stephen couldn’t care less about the drama as long as her attention wasn’t on him.

Nicole got quiet as she realized they were almost to the school. She then hissed, “Oh, shit! I can’t go back wearing this! Miss Lions will have my ass.”

“Watch the language please.”

Miss Lions was the teacher watching Nicole’s dorm this weekend. By reputation, she ran a tight ship.

Nicole had reached into a small tote bag and pulled out another set of clothes. Then, to Stephen’s dismay, she’d reached her arms across her chest to remove the tube top.

“What the hell are you- don’t change in here!”

Nicole stopped, shook her head, and laughed, “No one told you to look. Just drive, if this bothers you.”

Stephen thought she was teasing him again until Nicole removed the tube top. He’d turned just in time to see too much. “Shit.”

Nicole grabbed a white button down blouse from her bag, placed it around her shoulders, and feigned embarrassment. “Mr. Eddington! Were you just staring at my tits?”

“Stop playing games, and put your damn clothes on!”

Thank God, there’s the school, he’d thought. I don’t need this tonight.

The Mentor Avenue entrance was coming into view. When Nicole noticed it, she had smiled wickedly, and then reached over and grabbed Stephen’s crotch.

He’d almost lost control of the car as he drove past the entrance to the school.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Nicole had answered by quickly unzipping his pants and placing her head in his lap.

~~~

He stepped away from the window and started pacing again. If that had been the end of it… if Stephen had stopped matters from going any further… albeit, they were bad enough…

But he didn’t.

Just the thought of what followed made him a nervous wreck. Stephen ran for the waste basket and vomited.

“Now that’s just perfect.” He started to laugh, which turned into tears while he held on to the rim of the waste basket.

He forced himself to relive the rest of it. There hadn’t been much, but it was enough to destroy his world.

~~~

Stephen had pulled into the back of a used car lot. He and Nicole had moved from the front seat to the back and for two pathetic minutes, he’d done the unthinkable.

When they had finished, Nicole surprised him and said, “Get off me!” She got out of the car, quickly got dressed, and then sat back in the front. “I want to go home now,” she’d commanded.

Stephen, feeling awkward and disgusted with himself, pulled his pants up and then got into the driver seat. He refused to look at her, but felt something needed to be said before driving back.

She beat him to it, “You never should’ve had me kicked out of class. That was uncalled for,” she said, buttoning up her blouse.

Stephen was confused.

“You can’t treat me like shit in school… and then turn around and fuck me. What am I supposed to do with that?”

“Now wait a minute, Nicole. Let’s back up-”

“No, you wait a minute, Mr. Eddington! You don’t get to talk down to me after what we just did, so spare me the ‘I’m the teacher, you’re the student’ crap!” She looked on the verge of exploding. Nicole took a deep breath and finished, “Just take me home.”

Stephen had no idea what to say. He started the car and drove.

After a long pause, Nicole had asked, “Are you going to tell her?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your wife… are you going to tell her about us?”

“You little bitch!” Stephen was surprised by his own outburst. Nicole had hit a sensitive area. It took all his strength not to reach over and slap her. “First of all, you’ve no right to talk about my wife! Second, there is no ‘us’!”

She’d turned to him and met his angry gaze. “’No right’? Are you fucking kidding me! What… am I your dirty little secret now?”

“You’re being over-dramatic. We made a mistake… that’s all this is.”

“That’s all I am to you… a fucking mistake?”

Stephen saw that this was going nowhere. He’d tried to calm down. “I’ll drive you back and we’ll talk about this tomorrow, when we’ve both had time to let our heads clear. Okay?”

She’d folded her arms stubbornly. “I don’t see that we’ve anything left to say to each other. She’s going to find out about us whether you tell her… or I do.”

He didn’t want to slap her anymore. Stephen had wanted to choke her, driven by pure desperation. His hands were shaking on the steering wheel. Is this what madness feels like?

They drove in silence all the way back to Nicole’s dorm.

He’d put the car in park and stared at her. “Nicole, I’m sorry this happened. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

She’d refused to look at him. “Yeah, you’re going to be sorry, alright.”

Stephen took a deep breath and asked, “Nicole, why are you doing this?”

She’d looked out the window, tears falling from her eyes. “You’re so… stupid!” Nicole got out of the car and stormed up the dorm steps.

This is over, everything’s over, Stephen had thought, defeated.

He had sat there for ten long minutes before deciding to hide in his classroom for the rest of the night. The alternative was going home and watching Claudette’s face change when she saw right through him to the horrible truth. He could never lie to her.

It doesn’t matter. I’ll have to own up to this. There’s no way I can keep this quiet and expect to live with myself… no way.

He had decided to blow the whistle on himself. It was the least he could do to make things right. Stephen was convinced that he’d rather lose everything than be under the control of an awful secret, in the hands of an irrational and vindictive child.

~~~

Stephen picked up the overturned cardboard box and began picking up his belongings.

The plan was simple. He would pack up his things over the weekend, while most of the students and staff were away, avoiding unwanted questions. He would turn in his resignation letter after his last class on Monday. He would have to take his chances and wait to see what Nicole would do, but he hoped his resignation would be enough to satisfy her. If not—there was the possibility of prison.

He had no idea how to face Claudette. The prospect of telling her the truth terrified him.

We haven’t been able to have children… there’s that at least. He felt a flood of depression wash over him at that sad thought. Claudette had a condition. They’d found out two years ago after seeking a physician when she began having severe migraines. She’d had a physical that ended up revealing her bad ovaries. Since then, they’d entertained the idea of adoption, but that was only to give his wife a spark of hope.

There’s nothing stopping Nicole from getting pregnant, ever think about that, you idiot! You better pray she’s got a mother who’s thought about that and put her on the pill.

Before letting his frustration get the better of him, Stephen walked over to the closest desk facing the window and sat down. The moonlight caught the surface of the desk, illuminating years of old doodles, catch phrases and names etched with ancient lead on old wood. For a moment, Stephen simply read the meaningless banter and smiled. He loved his job, loved being a teacher—hell, he used to be good at it, before the rest of his life went to shit. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

If only I could take back this one mistake, just this one-

Stephen slammed his fist on the desk.

The sound of another window shattering from down the hall brought Stephen back to the present. No dream this time, someone was definitely nearby.

Vandals? he thought. Stephen looked at his watch: 4:05 am. A little late for vandals.

It wouldn’t have been the first time. Kids from the public schools occasionally played pranks on the snobby, over-privileged rich kids.

Stephen stood up, intending to turn on the lights, but stopped when he heard the sound of multiple footsteps running past his classroom door.

“What the hell?” he said, a little unnerved.

Choosing to remain hidden in the dark, Stephen dialed campus security on his cell phone. There was no answer.

That’s odd.

Archer-Oswald Academy maintained a small staff of security officers who monitored the campus twenty-four hours a day from an office in the administration building. Two officers watched the campus at night, one monitoring security cameras and another on foot patrol around the dorms and major classroom facilities.

Stephen jumped as one of the large aluminum trash cans was tipped over from down the hall. The cylinder rolled loudly for a few seconds before finally coming to a crashing halt against a wall.

Bold little shit-heads! Stephen was becoming agitated for allowing himself to get spooked.

Deciding that enough was enough, Stephen turned on the classroom lights, becoming more annoyed as the overhead fluorescents stung his eyes. He opened the classroom door, and shouted with his best authority-figure voice, “You kids better be out of here before the police arrive! You’re going to be in big trouble if I catch you!”

He was greeted by a suffocating silence as he stepped out into the dark hallway. To his right, Stephen could just make out the shape of the overturned trash can. Farther down he saw the EXIT sign illuminated red just at the head of the stairs that led down to the first floor. To his left, the hallway disappeared into the darkness where it eventually met an intersecting hallway that led to other classrooms in the science wing of the building.

Stephen found it strange that he’d not noticed the abandoned feel of the building when he’d first arrived, and blamed his inattentiveness on his encounter with Nicole.

His decision to come to his classroom had been impulsive and he’d wanted to be somewhere safe and familiar. But with the lights out and the school void of all the business of the day, it was anything but comfortable.

During daylight hours, soft yellow walls and modern-looking decor lined the hallways with high concave ceilings. Auburn and white checkered tiles on well-buffed linoleum reflected the sharp appearance of the school. Along every wall, there were large campus posters, logos and banners that were displayed proudly. By day, the halls spoke of academic perfection and heritage. But now, everything resembling a lush, scholastic environment was swallowed up in shadow.

Stephen became increasingly aware of how alone he was in this strange, new dark place. Well… almost alone.

From the first floor came a loud, animal-like scream that reverberated down the vacant hallways. Stephen could not recognize adolescent pranksters in that scream.

“Get… get the hell out of here, you punks!” he shouted toward the first floor staircase.

He immediately regretted opening his mouth.

Stephen heard the sound of many feet running up the stairs.

~~~

Next Episode 3-2

Previous Episode 2-4

~~~

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~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 3-1: A Higher Education” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Comments
  1. Jesse says:

    Nice start for this chapter. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out for Stephen!

    Liked by 1 person

    • sscherr says:

      It’s a lot of fun reading comments on these early chapters. Gives me a chance to remember how it all started. Poor Stephen. After this chapter was written, I was tempted to title it, Stephen’s Very Bad Day… lol.

      Like

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