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The New Instructor (A Halloween Story)

“The job’s yours if you…well, if want it. Do you want it?” James Keane asked. Keane was the head of Northwestern Michigan College’s Communications department.

“Yes!” I said, not pausing to consider his odd tone as I accepted my first teaching job in higher ed. “Returning to Northern Michigan has always been a dream of mine.”

“Oh, thank goodness. It’s been a hard position to fill. We’ve been looking for a replacement for – let’s see now – almost a year. But I’m glad you’re not scared off by all the…superstition and such.”

“Ha. No. I’m not superstitious. But, I’m sorry. What is this all about? Why has the job gone unfilled?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard? Well, I suppose you should know if you’re going to be working in, uh, that classroom. Dr. Susan A’Claus, the woman you’re replacing, left under extremely bizarre circumstances.”

“I heard she retired.”

Keane looked at me with unsure eyes. “Uh, no. Well, I don’t know. Maybe. The part of it that we do know is…” he shuddered, “very disturbing.”

“What happened?”

“At first we thought she was just stressed out. She began to act, um, erratically. She seemed frazzled. Also: ah, this is uncouth to say, but her skin became so pale you could see cobwebs of blue veins covering her face. It scared her students. We didn’t say anything to her, because, well, her appearance otherwise was very professional. But she looked, increasingly – and I mean this in all earnestness – like a ghost. Then one day she told me there was a bloody eye outside her window. Watching her.”

“Whoa. Okay.” I laughed uncomfortably.

“She even mentioned it, with great effect, and received with much consternation, at a department meeting. She was still holding it together in the classroom and with office hours, so we didn’t worry until, well, she started talking about the kids…”

“Her students?”

“Yes. She rushed in here one day, tears streaking down her face, and told me her  students had been staring at her intensely when, all of a sudden – and her words still haunt me – their eyes started bleeding. To appease her, we checked the carpet in her room for blood. Of course, there was nothing there, but that didn’t stop her from emphatically insisting it happened every Friday at precisely ten o’clock. She said they were trying to drown her soul in darkness.”

“Oh gosh,” I gasped. “So what happened to her?”

“We don’t know. We told the kids and the media she retired, but – and please, don’t repeat this – we have no idea. None. She just disappeared.”

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    Despite Keane’s story, I took the job. I loved teaching immediately, although I also found it to be incredibly difficult. I was at work sixteen hours a day – including weekends – just to keep up with the workload. Still, for the first few months, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Despite my lack of down time, and growing paleness from never leaving my classroom, I was happy and content. I appeared to be working at a normal community college, in a normal classroom with normal students.

Oh, if only it could have stayed that way!

On a sleepy morning in late October, I arrived at school early to grade my students’ Halloween essays before first hour. Outside my window, the wind threw crimson leaves from an elm tree into the darkness beyond the reach of the nearby streetlight. I sighed, exhausted and overwhelmed by the work stacked before me. The absence of life in the room sent a shiver down my spine. For the first time since my meeting with James Keane, I thought about Dr. A’Claus. Where could she be, I wondered?

BUM, BUM, BUM.

What was that noise? I got up from my desk and looked around. Ah, the heater. I chuckled to myself; that thing always bangs when it turns on. Yesterday, one of my adult learners, Dan Thompson, said it sounded like someone was trapped inside, asking to get let out so they could go drop the class. Everyone laughed at the joke, even me, although I recognized the joke was in part at my expense.

It was cold at my desk, so I walked over to the heater to warm myself. While I looked down at the warming coils, the knocking got worse.

BUMBUM, BUMBUM, BUMBUM.

That really doesn’t sound right, I thought. Maybe I should call the office manager.

Then, as quickly as it started, the knocking stopped. I walked back to my desk and returned to my grading, forgetting the loud heater and the mysterious fate of Dr. A’Claus under the weight of my teaching responsibilities. Ten minutes later, a sharp wail broke the silence.

“WWEEEENNNNE!” the heater yelped.

I jumped, my chair tumbling behind me. Even in my darkest nightmare, I could not have imagined what I saw next: dark, thick blood poured from the register and rushed towards me across the carpet. The knocking started up again, only louder and more erratic. Dan Thompson’s joke now seemed prophetic; the noise sounded like a person desperate to escape. I ran from the room, down the hall, and out into the parking lot. Standing next to the Dennos Museum, I looked up.

Sitting high in the dark sky was the bloody eye. It looked at me as if it knew my every thought. I could not turn from its gargantuan stare. It claimed me as its own.

I returned to my classroom as if summoned, expecting to find blood still pouring from the register. Instead, the only thing disturbed was my overturned chair. Trying to put the noise, the blood, and the eye behind me, I picked up the chair and sat back down to my work.

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   It was the Friday before Halloween and my talented but demanding composition students poured into the room. I had promised to show them a scary movie as a reward for completing their essays. More obedient than usual, the entire class sat with the same taciturn posture and stared at the blank screen in front of them. I turned off the lights and pressed play, then sat behind them to pour over an insurmountable mountain of argumentative papers from my afternoon class.

Everything was going as planned until the picture abruptly stopped and the room fell into darkness. Strangely, no one complained. My students were so quiet. Impossibly quiet. I looked at the clock, hoping class was almost over so I could simply excuse them. Ten o’clock. Still a half hour left. I decided to investigate.

The moment I stood up, the television roared back to life, emanating a green aura that ripped the classroom from darkness. On the screen, staring from the otherworld, was Dr. A’Cluas. She looked similar to the pictures I had seen of her, but her face was shrunken, her eyes bulging and vacant, and her once light hair now grey and thin. Blood dripped from her rotting teeth.

“Dr. A’Claus” the students said in a dull, welcoming voice.

“Hello, my lovelies,” she said from the glow of the television set. “It is time.”

The heater started up again, this time so loud the windows rattled. I turned and saw blood again pour from its vents, flooding the floor and covering the students’ shoes in crimson.

I tried to tell the class to stay calm, but I was too terrified to speak. My students, still sitting quietly, turned to face me.

I screamed. Their eyes glowed bright white, their pupils missing. Slowly, they stood up and walked towards me. From the television set, Dr. A’Claus gurgled her command: “Da mihi somnum sempiternum, et magister!” she spoke, her eyes rolling back into her skull.

As they neared, my students’ eyes poured blood, dripping down their faces and soaking their clothes. With no escape route, I stood frozen in fear as they descended upon me. I looked out the window and saw the bloody eye, welcoming me into its service as my soul was drowned in darkness.

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