It’s funny, even though I graduated high school twenty years ago, getting called into the principal’s office still makes me nervous! I mean, I hadn’t even started working at Rosemary King high school yet, so logically, I knew that I couldn’t have messed up yet, but a part of me feared that he had gotten a hold of my track record as a substitute teacher so far and planned on recommending me to get fired! I couldn’t let that happen! Even though I didn’t enjoy my work at the moment, I had to keep it so I could prove myself to Lilith! If I couldn’t keep any other job except for my old sales position, then her accusations would prove correct and she’d never come back! I suddenly felt guilty for not making more of an effort to do well here, and I hoped he would give me another chance to do better…
A student sitting next to me in the row of chairs outside of the principal’s office stared at me judgmentally, and I realized how silly it must have looked to see an adult acting so nervously while waiting to see someone who’s supposed to be their peer! “How’s it going?” I asked as casually as I could, hoping to make up for the scaredy cat image I portrayed. I don’t think it worked!
“Not good!” he answered. “I got sent to the principal’s office!”
“Oh, right!” His reply made me admonish myself for opening with that line. “What’d you do?” He gave me a hard stare, and I quickly realized that I may have broached on an overly personal subject, so I apologized, “Sorry if I crossed a line! I was just curious!”
The boy seemed a little surprised I was engaging in a normal conversation, and I surmised that he probably got yelled at a lot. Based on his punk attire, I guessed that he was a frequent visitor to this room. It would explain why he didn’t show any nerves for being there, unless he was just really, really good at hiding his feelings! He shrugged and then admitted, “Coach Jackson wanted me to do a chin up, and I said no. Then he was like, ‘Come on, everyone else is doing it! Why don’t you?’ Then I told him, ‘You’re not doing it! Come on, Coach! Lead by example!’ Then everyone was trying to get him to do one, and he got mad and sent me here.”
I snickered at that, but then I remembered I had a position of authority over him, so I put on a more serious face and advised him, “Listen, kid, adulthood is full of doing things you don’t wanna do! You can be defiant as child, but if you try that when you’re older, you won’t get very far! So, if I were you, I’d get used to it! You would have been better off just doing a chin up, it beats getting in trouble with the principal!”
“Oh please!” the boy scoffed at my pearls of wisdom. “Adults have total freedom! You can do whatever you want!”
“Ha! If that were true, do you think I’d be here right now? Does it look like I’m enjoying myself at the moment?” I shot back. He couldn’t argue with that, and I smirked at my miniature victory.
A Hispanic man in his late fifties popped out of the office and queried, “Connor Fenmore?”
I jumped slightly at his abrupt appearance! I almost forgot why I had been summoned there! “Yes,” I confirmed.
He invited me, “Come on in!” My nerves returned to jangling as I followed him inside.
He had a very fatherly smile, and his glasses were rounded in a way that reminded me of this cartoon owl from a television commercial. He wore a checkered sweater vest over his dress shirt, and nothing about his visage suggested that I should feel intimidated right then, but I still felt edgy! He introduced himself, “Hello! I’m the principal here, Manuel Palillo!”
“I know! I mean, I suspected as much with your name on your desk! Unless someone just stole your seat!” I tried to laugh in a nonchalant way, but it came off way too squeaky to get Principal Palillo to buy that notion! He paused for a few seconds, but it felt so much longer! Whatever bad news he had for me, I just wanted him to get it over with! He opened his mouth finally, and I braced myself for the worst…
“Chocolate?” He held out a small bowl of fun-sized bars for me.
I felt utterly confused by this gesture. I still expected him to scold me for something, not be kind to me! “What?”
He chuckled, “It helps you relax. I was nervous my first day of teaching high school too, so I know what you’re going through!” Given my backstory, I sincerely doubted the truth of this, but I appreciated the sentiments behind that statement. “They’re children, but they’re beginning to think like adults, so it’s a little daunting! But based on your interaction with Colin, I think you’ll be able to handle it just fine!” He saw the surprised expression on my face, so he went on, “He’s consistently getting sent here for his attitude, and none of us have been able to get through to him! You haven’t even started yet, and you’ve already been a lot of help! Thank you!” He gave me a very warm grin, and I got flustered enough that I think he actually made me blush! I didn’t know what to say, I certainly didn’t want to admit that I bumbled my way through that! Luckily, he offered the bowl of candy to me again. “Eat! It’ll make a huge difference, trust me! When I was a kid, my mother used to give it to me whenever I felt uneasy, and it always worked, so now I pass this bit of knowledge to nervous teachers and students. Well, the good ones anyways! Eat!”
I could relate to childhood memories providing a source of comfort, so I gladly accepted one of the chocolate bars. As I munched on it, he piped up, “See? Better already, huh?” I couldn’t speak with a mouth full of food, but I nodded vigorously. “Good! Now, we need to talk…”
As soon as he conveyed that phrase to me, I immediately began choking! No one who says that ever seems to have good news to share! He gazed at me in concern, so I assured him, “I’m alright.” It sort of felt like a lie because my emotional health was questionable, but it was true for my physical health anyways!
“What were you told about this assignment?” he inquired.
“I’m filling in for Ms. Bronagh, who teaches British Literature,” I reported. “They asked me if I was okay with a longer assignment, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ They told me if I could stay here for a couple of weeks, so I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ again. I know she has a lesson plan I can follow, but that’s about it.”
Principal Palillo informed me, “Ms. Bronagh had a massive heart attack, and she needs open heart surgery.”
I stated, “Open heart surgery? Recovery won’t take a couple of weeks! She’ll be gone for at least month!” He seemed a little taken aback by my insight on the subject, so I let him know, “My dad was a surgeon.”
“Ah! Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. How does your schedule look for the next thirty days or so?” he posed to me.
“My schedule? I…” Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I liked taking it day by day because I could always say no if Lilith came back and we decided to leave town, but taking a month long assignment would make this gig feel more permanent! I got anxious again, so I requested, “Can I have some more chocolate?”
He handed the bowl to me and assured me, “I understand it must feel scary on your first day of high school to make a decision like this! You don’t even know if you’ll like it or not! But it would save us a lot of trouble to have the same person the whole time! We’d appreciate it if you tried it for a while, and if you don’t like it, we can find someone else. But if you’re a good fit, it could be more of a permanent stay. So, what do you say?”
I mulled if over for a minute, and his benevolent nature made me finally relent, “I can probably do it the whole time, and if anything comes up, I’ll let you know right away.”
Principal Palillo beamed. “Excellent! The school secretary is watching them right now, so you can take over once second period starts. When you tell the class what happened to Ms. Bronagh, just remember that If any of the students seem overly upset, you can send them to our grief counselor. If you have any problems, just give me a call!”
I thanked him before I headed out, and as I walked towards the classroom, I wondered what exactly I had gotten myself into. On the surface, it seemed like a normal gig, but somehow, I got the feeling I was now committed to something not mentioned on paper…
As I waited outside of Room One Three Nine, a part of me hoped that when the secretary came out that she would love it so much that she would beg me to let her take over this subbing gig! Just when I was inwardly practicing my gracious acceptance of her proposal, she opened the door with a very frazzled look that made it plainly obvious that I would not have that kind of luck! “They’re all yours!” she grumbled as she hobbled out. That didn’t bode well for me! As I took a seat at the teacher’s desk, I just hoped that my experience would have a better outcome than hers!
The class slowly trickled in, and no one seemed particularly excited to be there that day. I tried looking on the bright side of the situation and thought that at least if they were bored, they would be less likely to cause too much of a ruckus! Once the final bell rang and everyone was seated, I stood up and introduced myself, “Good morning, class! I’m Mister Fenmore, and I’ll be your substitute teacher for the next month or so. Unfortunately, your teacher had a heart attack and has to have some pretty extensive surgery, so she’ll be gone for a while.” A few students grew concerned to hear this, but no one appeared to have gotten very distraught, so I didn’t bother to mention the grief counselor! Instead, I went straight to the lesson plan. “Okay, according to this, you guys read the first act of Hamlet, and now we’re gonna discuss it.” I had hoped that this alone would spark a lively discussion, making my job super easy, but no one reacted. I hid my sigh as I opened up the textbook. “Alright, question one: What is the overall theme of the story so far?” Nobody made a move let alone supplied an answer! “Come on, someone knows the answer!” Finally, one girl raised her hand, so I called on her, “Yes?”
“It’s boring!” she opined, which prompted laughter from her peers.
“Okay…” I know I read this play in high school, but I didn’t recall enough of it to know whether or not that assertion had any merit. “I think the book meant the characters and stuff. How do they feel?”
Another student took a stab at it, “I think it’s, like, smart ‘cause they talk in Shakespeare language.”
I knew that wasn’t the right answer, but Ms. Branagh didn’t write down what the correct response was, so I didn’t know how to redress that. I supposed that she had read Hamlet enough times that she had a plethora of expertise on it, and I could understand her not writing down any notes, but I really wished that she had because I felt a bit lost right then! I decided to just move on from that one, “What’s Hamlet’s relationship with the other characters?”
“I thought Hamlet was where the story was set!” a student put in.
“Really? He has lines in the play! Did you think that his castle was talking to everyone or something?” I challenged her.
She reacted with a shrug. “I dunno! Maybe!” It grew harder and harder to hide my groan, and I knew that I was about to embark on a very long month!
After the disastrous period two class left, I tried to scan over the play so I could have some better ammunition for the next group if they pulled off the same stunts. I had barely started skimming when, all of a sudden, the room grew very cold! I glanced up, thinking that a window had opened up, and what I saw put me into total shock! First of all, this classroom didn’t have any windows. Secondly, and more importantly, the source of chilly breeze seemed to emanate from a very strange kid! He had extremely pale skin and wore all black, including a cape! He had his blonde hair in style I don’t think anyone has used since the Great Depression, and it looked like his eyes were red colored! The iris, I mean, not like my eyes being red from a lack of sleep. My first thougth was perhaps he had just started celebrating Halloween a little early, but the more I stared at him, the more I started to second guess that! He had some facial features that made me believe he was much older than the other students, and his mouth protruded in a way that made me think he had larger than normal teeth. You probably figured out already that I had just met my first vampire, but I had no idea at the time that they existed outside of works of fiction, so I hadn’t reached that conclusion yet! I couldn’t figure out why a sane person would dress like that, but eventually, I just figured he was some kind of ultra-goth. I certainly didn’t realize how much havoc this person would create…
“You are not Ms. Bronagh,” he asserted to me with a thick Eastern European accent.
“No, I’m not!” The bell had rung without me knowing it. I had gotten so transfixed by this strange “child” that I hadn’t paid much attention to my surroundings, but I quickly snapped myself back into place. “My name is Mister Fenmore, and I’ll be taking over your class for a while. Your teacher is undergoing serious surgery, so…”
The strange student lamented, “So sad when blood is spilled like that!”
Seriously! This dude walked up dressed like Dracula, and he grew excited about the prospect of blood! He wasn’t even trying to hide his vampirism! I had a huge suspicion of his true nature, but my mind still didn’t accept such a ludicrous notion! I theorized that he was putting on an act to build up some kind of image with the other students, so I chose not to engage with that behavior. I began the lesson, and this class had almost the same reaction as the other one! I thought that strange “kid” might have shown some interest in Hamlet since he appeared more mature than the rest, but he didn’t even glance up when I mentioned the death was involved in the play! As the class wrote their final thoughts on Act One, I did their attendance based on their seating chart, and I saw that his name was Damon Karro. I made a mental note to remember that. While he hadn’t actually done anything to pose a threat, his odd demeanor was notable enough that I felt as though I should keep an eye on him! Wouldn’t you keep a lookout with someone so weird and creepy around you?
The bell rang, and while normally I would jump at the chance to go on my lunch break as quickly as possible, not wasting a minute of my free time, my curiosity got the better of me this time. I didn’t know how much trouble he could cause in a crowded hall, but any small fact I could gleam from his actions would have helped me put this puzzle together that much sooner! When I stepped into the hallway, I saw something totally unexpected…