“Hey, long time no see, Mr. C! I thought you quit?” One student (Michael? Mikey?) said as he walked into class.
“No. Just had some… uh… personal matters that took priority. Family business, you know.”
“Oh damn. Something happen?” He asked with genuine concern.
“No, no. I mean…” I really should have put more thought into my excuse, “I’d rather not talk about it, if you mind.”
“Yeah, no sweat. Well, welcome back.”
The only reason I was coming back into this school was that I had run out of sick days. Somewhere around the last Christmas break, I’d decided that teaching just wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what it was I wanted to do with my life, but I’d had enough of noisy, disobedient children. I’d had enough of ‘teaching to the test’. And I’d had enough of this boring, small town where nothing exciting ever happened.
It was the last week of classes. A bad time for a math teacher to be coming back, but whether they had me or the substitute, it was all the same material from the book, the same problems, the same methods. Honestly, if they were going to have math taught in this way, they could program a robot to do it.
That was the longest conversation I had the whole day, not counting the argument I’d gotten into with a Miss Tabitha Hutchings about the proper way to solve Sinusoidal Functions in the AP Calculus class in the middle of the class while I was doing my best to help them review for a Final I hadn’t had much of a hand in teaching them.
By the end of the day, I just wanted to pack everything up, get home, and start looking for a new job. If I was being honest, it probably wasn’t the school. It was me that was the problem. Sure, I was good at math. I’d graduated with honors. I could talk about the implications of if N = NP for hours. For heaven’s sake, I’d wasted a solid three years of my life studying the Fröberg conjecture!
But I was straight up garbage with regards to teaching the subject. I’d just never learned to see the work from their perspective, and when it came to something as dense and unfamiliar as math, that meant that most of my explanations and advice were damn near useless. Of course they’d start to tune me out.
As the students of the day’s final class finished filing out of the classroom, there was a buzz in my pocket. I took out the phone and checked the message.
Remember, I need to see you in my office after school.
From Louisa Barbour.
I felt my stomach clench. I’d skipped two weeks of school without giving more of a reason than “I need some time off”. I wasn’t going to tell them I used that for a vacation down to Florida that ended up with me spending most of my time in the hotel room, followed by another week inside my own house getting caught up on the past fifteen years of video games. Apparently, there was a Baldur’s Gate 3 now. And it was using the Fifth edition of Dungeon and Dragons? When the hell was Fourth edition?
But even before the last two weeks it was obvious to me at least how much I’d been phoning it in. Of course the rest of the faculty would notice. Sure, I was going to quit at the end of the year, but the psychological pressure of being fired first wasn’t something I was looking forward to. I didn’t know why Louisa was handling this, though. Must be a new policy. Or maybe...
“...maybe it’s about something else entirely,” I muttered to myself as I walked down the emptied out halls.
I was running through excuses and arguments in my head as I opened the door, and then promptly forgot everything as soon as I stepped inside.
The last time I’d seen Louisa, and every other time besides, she was always wearing her school resource officer uniform, the one with the bulky vest. Today, she was wearing a buttoned-up shirt with three of the buttons gone. The fabric was stretched tight enough that I could see the outline of her purple bra underneath, and for the first time, I realized that Louisa was stacked in a way that made porn stars world famous.
“Have a seat,” Louisa’s voice wasn’t angry, but I wouldn’t say it wasn’t annoyed either.
Ah crap. I’d been staring. How long had I been staring? It was like she’d hypnotized me with those knockers. Were those real? Had she had work done while I’d been gone? Or had she been hiding them all this time and I’d been none the wiser?
Goddamnit, stop thinking about those tits, man!
I took a seat, gave Louisa the best smile I could manage, “So, ah… you didn’t mention exactly what you needed to see me about. Something I can help with?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Nao. It’s nothing major. It’s just that you missed a rather important staff meeting about some new policies we’ll be adopting next year, so I just need to fill you in real quick,” Louisa said with a smile that made me audibly sigh with relief.
“Oh. Haha. Is that all? I was kind of worried because—gack! What the hell?!”
Out of nowhere, she’d grabbed what looked like a canister of pepper spray and squirted it right into my mouth! The taste was absolutely awful, whatever it was, but it wasn’t burning like pepper spray would. I wanted to ask Louisa what it was, but that thought and my body seemed disconnected. My whole mind and body seemed to be divided, like I was a passenger just watching the events unfold, sitting still in my chair passively.
“Sorry. No one really deserves this, but believe me, I don’t have a choice, Nao.” Louisa said with a sigh. Her voice sounded strange. Deep and distorted, each word coming out of her mouth like a recording played back at low speed.
Very slowly, she opened up her drawer, took out a sheet of printed paper, held it up in both hands, cleared her throat, then started to read.
“Mr. Canon can do whatever he wants at this school.”
What was this paper about? Why was she reading something as basic and obvious as that to me after hitting me with the spray? Come to think of it, the fact that I wasn’t saying any of this out loud and her voice was distorted and the world seemed to be playing out in slow motion… was there some kind of drug in that spray?
“This school is lucky to have Mr. Canon.”
Well, duh. Of course the school was. Why was she reading out a list of basic, undeniable facts? Hold on though. When exactly did these things become true? I don’t remember thinking the same thing yesterday. Or any time before that.
“Teachers, students, and everyone else under the influence of Serenex should be obedient to Mr. Canon.”
Now that I was listening for it, I was sure of it. The things she was saying were becoming true as she was saying it. Which didn’t make sense. I mean, the thing about everyone being obedient, that made sense. But the fact that it only made sense when she said it… something was wrong about that.
“You will tell no one not under the influence of Serenex about Serenex—ah, that’s this mind control drug I just dosed you with—or about anything strange going on at the school.”
Oh. Well, there you go. Serenex was a mind control drug. I’d been dosed with it. She was controlling my mind. Whatever I heard while dosed, that became my new truth.
Was that what I really wanted?
“Taylor Stern is—ptuu! The fuck!? How did you—”
Louisa had been reading through that list slowly and carefully, making sure she enunciated every word precisely and didn’t mess it up in the slightest. She’d left the canister of whatever that was... Serenex? She’d left it on the desk. For some reason, she hadn’t considered that I’d grab it and spray her right back.
And to be honest, I hadn’t planned on doing that. I still felt lethargic. The world was still hazy and distorted, and moving my body felt like I was stumbling around underwater. But those first words she’d said to me...
Mr. Cannon can do whatever he wants at this school.
That was me, Nao Barry Cannon.
Somehow, I knew that whatever she had been telling me was the absolute Truth, as fundamental as two plus two being four. No, even more fundamental than that, since two plus two equaled ten in a base 4 number system. No, these things were as True as the concept of zero itself. I could do whatever I wanted at school. And as I listened to her, I knew that what I didn’t want was for her to give me any more rules. I’d heard of Serenex before, used in riots to keep people docile, but this felt different. She’d said it was a mind control drug. Plus, when I’d told her to shut up, she’d done just that.
What the hell had happened in the week since I’d been away?!
I reached out to grab the paper, see what was written down, what else she’d been about to program me with... then promptly crumpled it up into a ball and tossed it in the bin. Whatever Louisa had told me rang as true. Scarily true. Who was to say that reading it wouldn’t have the same effect?
“Louisa, I’m going to let you talk again. Until this drug wears off of us, though, you’re only going to be able to answer my questions. Short and to the point. And since you’re the expert on this shit, you’re going to make sure you avoid fucking with my head any more than you already did. Nod if you understand.”
Her face was completely smooth. No fear, no anger. Nothing. But she nodded.
“Good. Let’s start with the questions then. Why did you spray me? What is going on at this school?”
“And what does Taylor Stern have to do with it?”