Chapter 9


After spending a weekend holed up in my girl cave, being sullen and reclusive, and watching old David Brennan episodes of Mister What—my British sci-fi guilty pleasure—come Monday morning I’m able and ready to become Jennifer Donner again. It’s nice to actually have a weekend to myself when on assignment. There have been times where I couldn’t take off at all, and those are always some of the hardest jobs.

Bethany picks me up at six thirty. As usual, she spends the whole drive talking. Turns out she went on a date with Tim Collins, the P.E. teacher I’d seen her flirting with at orientation. In addition to being more than reasonably attractive, Bethany says he’s also really sweet. As you know, sweet guys bore me, but I’m sure that kinda guy is right up Bethany’s alley. They went out for drinks at a local bar. She let him kiss her goodnight, but nothing more.

“Gotta make him work for it, after all,” she explains with a giggle.

I don’t bother to point out if he really is as sweet as she says, he probably wouldn’t have taken advantage of her on the first date, anyway.

Yet another way how Bethany and I differ. If I’m going to waste an entire evening on a guy, you can be damned sure I’m getting my nethers twixed.

No, I’m not a slut.

I just feel there’s no reason to beat around the bush, considering how relationship-incompatible I am, so might as well skip ahead to the beating inside the bush. It’s not like I go out and hook up with a different guy every night or anything of the sort. Honestly, I only go on a few dates a year, and I’m extremely selective about those few dates. It’s a win-win situation all around. He gets what he ultimately wants, without having to jump through hoops whilst balancing beach balls on his nose. And I get free dinner, drinks, maybe a movie, and meaningless, drunken sex that may or may not be great.

Plus, when I only go on one date with a guy, I’m less likely to end up killing him, which would void my contract with THEM, as well as put an end to any possible chance of a further relationship anyway.

Our first class of the day is freshman English. We won’t have the senior class—Derek Johnson’s class—until after lunch.

After I introduce myself and Bethany, I take the roll call. As I go down the list of names, I look carefully at each student, trying to discern if I recognize any faces from any of the student profiles in the case file. Being three years apart, coupled with the fact that these kids are all new to the school, none of them have apparently yet had any reason to cross Derek. Thereby, not earning themselves a place in the case file, which makes this period something of a waste of time, but necessary nonetheless in order to keep our cover.

English has never been my preferred teaching subject on Zoo Projects. Granted, I don’t really have a preferred subject, since my high school years were just about the worst of my life. English, however, is definitely at the bottom of the shit pile. I just never had any need for books. I figure if the book is any good, they’ll make a movie of it, so I might as well see it then and only waste two hours of my life, as opposed to wasting all the extra time it takes to read a book.

Sorry. Obviously if you’re reading this, then we don’t really see eye-to-eye on this matter. Then again, unless you happen to be a socially inept serial killer who kills for profit and runs screaming away from any kind of real human interactive relationship, then there probably isn’t too much that we see eye-to-eye on, so let’s just agree to disagree.

The only thing that really gets me through these English classes is: A) as a substitute teacher, I usually have a pretty detailed syllabus provided for me by the real teacher, and B) most English teachers resort to that whole ‘asking the students what they think’ technique. So all I really have to do is pass out the books, make the students read aloud to the class, and then make them talk or write about what they think. Easy enough. And since I have Bethany with me on this assignment, I can even pass off some of that group discussion nonsense onto her. I guess she actually is useful, in at least a small way.

We have two more classes before the lunch break; junior and sophomore, respectively. In the sophomore class I recognize one kid from the case file, a nerdy little guy named Anthony Hill. I recall from the file that he and Derek had become friends when Derek was in fifth grade. Derek’s family had just moved to Duluth, the last of a seemingly endless string of military relocations. There had been some sort of altercation between Anthony and a group of bullies, and Derek intervened, earning him a black eye and the loyalty of the meek little third grader he had saved.

However, sixth grade came along shortly thereafter, and Derek went on to middle school, leaving Anthony alone in the fourth grade. The two still hung out together after school and over the weekends, but it was around this time Derek started delving into his Goth phase, which creeped Anthony out, somewhat. Their friendship fell apart. Derek went on to form his Goth Gang, and Anthony became something of a loner.

You know the kid. We all do. Every class has that one kid who everyone—even the other social outcasts—picks on. The kid at the very bottom of the social food chain. I would have figured out Anthony to be that kid even if I hadn’t already read his case file. Just by the way he sauntered into class, sat at the back, and didn’t speak up once throughout the entire period. Even when he was the first to finish reading the assignment, and obviously could have contributed something useful to the conversation. He has the look of someone whose deepest, greatest wish is to simply be invisible. Having spent most of my life wanting to be invisible, I know that look all too well.

I sincerely hope there is no lingering animosity between Anthony and Derek, because I really don’t want to add this kid to the list of possible targets. His life has been hard enough already, without it coming to a premature end.

Let me be clear. I don’t always get all sentimental and mushy like this. In general, I don’t care who gets offed and who gets to be a survivor. If I did care, I couldn’t do my job, now could I? But when it comes to Phantom Kids—the term I use for kids like Anthony—it’s a different matter. Probably because I’ve been there myself, and I know if they can just survive through the hell that is high school, they might be all right. It is, however, arguable about whether I turned out okay or not, but that’s a different matter. The point is I always want to avoid killing the Phantom Kids, because I want to root for them and let them find out life can get better than what they’ve experienced so far. I don’t feel that type of remorse for the rest of the sheep I have to slaughter.

Anyway, the junior class actually has quite a few faces I recognize from the case file. About three or four of the ‘popular’ kids, as well as a few of the younger members of Derek’s Goth Gang.

The real jackpot comes with the senior class after lunch, though. Almost half of the faces in this class I recognize from the case file. Derek, of course, is there, but there’s also a girl named Tiffany Wright, who appears to be Derek’s girlfriend and informs me at roll call that she prefers to be called Tyranna.

“Tyranna? Really? Are you fucking kidding me?” Is what I want to say. “Tyranna? That’s cute!” Is what I actually say, hating myself more with each syllable. The only person who might hate me more for saying that is Tyranna, judging by the rolling of her eyes.

Sitting with Derek and Tyranna in the back corner is also Jason Martin, Jerald Alexander, William Evans, and the emo twins, Caroline and Benjamin Diggle. All fairly innocuous names for a bunch of ‘Children of the Undead,’ so they all have to correct me and inform me of their ‘Dark Lord’ names. After Tyranna, however, I was done and I don’t even bother to remember the rest, opting instead to simply refer to them as the Evil League of Evil Applicants.

On the other side of the classroom sits the Goth Gang’s polar opposites: The popular kids, or the ‘Plastics,’ as Tina Fey would call them. The king and queen of the Plastics: Christy Lee Spinner and Johnny Marlowe, head cheerleader and football captain. By default, they have to be a couple. They are so predictably cliché I want to vomit. I know from the case file that Christy is class president. Popular. Ambitious. Actually a straight-A student, which sets her apart from the stereotypical bimbo cheerleader, but that’s just about the only thing different about her.

Christy and Johnny are also the ones who first brought to light the rumor that Derek and his friends were going to go on a killing spree. They make me wish more than ever that, for once, it was the Plastics who were going to be the Herrings, and not the outcasts. But that never happens. Every once in a while, I’ll get lucky and the Herrings will be a group of kids that aren’t Goths, but it’s never the Plastics, because they’re the ones who always spread the rumors in the first place.

I digress.

Christy and Johnny are not alone, any more than Derek is. They have their own little collection of clones, consisting of Bobby Monroe, Tina Fairington, Paul Buckman, Sam Treswell, and Corral Desmond.

Thankfully, all of the plastics are quite content with their birth names, so at least I don’t have to worry about that with them. That’s one point to the Plastics. It’s a small point, mind you, but a point nonetheless.

Split down the middle of the class, acting almost as a barrier between the two extremes, is everyone else. The ‘normal’ kids. The ones who are caught up in the silent tug of war existing between the Goths and the Plastics. I memorize their names, because I have to in order to play the part of Jennifer Donner, substitute teacher, but that is all. They are the inconsequential bystanders who are simply there to witness the carnage that will begin in a few months’ time. As long as none of them are stupid enough to get on the bad side of Derek Johnson in the next three months, nothing bad will happen to any of these kids sitting in the middle ground of the battlefield.

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