Sheldon was furious. Struggling up the dark hill towards the parking lot where his bald-tired beater was resting, he cursed the class he had just stomped out of.
“Who do they think they are?” he muttered, ignoring the tall, dark and wind-whipped trees that swayed menacingly back and forth.
“Creative writing, my ass!” he yelled out as he reached the green Gremlin. It was his only mode of transport now that mother’s Cadillac had died an ugly death.
“They can go to hell!” he screamed as he yanked open the drivers side door, chucking his large bag inside before collapsing on the front seat. Pulling on the door several times, it gave a final creak-pop before closing. As he sat there and listened to his labored breathing, he tried to rewind the rage. But the memories of the last couple hours only ramped the anger back up, one notch at a time.
The class had begun well enough- it always did- which was usually a bad sign. It meant that something bad, some sort of letdown, was sure to follow. He had shown up early so he could work on the draft, the quiet of the empty room keeping him focused. Opening the dark green duffel bag he’d hauled around since his early release from the Guard in ’88- they said he was too interested in demolition- he pulled out his writing “tools”: a large bundle of occasionally blank pages he’d thriftily retrieved from the office recycling bin; an assortment of colored pens and pencils; a dark brown 62-ounce Big Swig tankard filled with grape soda; a smallish round mirror propped up by a tin stand (so he could focus on himself and how his “writer’s face” was coming along- the furrowed brow, pursed lips, the intense look of concentration- all signs of the writer in his element, possessed by the muse.)
After pulling out some food items and other odds and ends, Shelly would settle down and start to write- profusely. Page after page would fill with hastily scribbled words- and just as many crossed out or erased lines. If you asked him where it all came from, he would just shrug and mumble something, push his sinking horn rims back up his nose, then start writing again. To him, quantity was quality. But as one fellow student had observed, upon hearing a classmate gamely defend Sheldon’s voluminous output: “Inspiration may come in streams, but so does diarrhea!” as the class roared with laughter. Shelly would always try to ignore the taunts, the slights, and even the occasional compliment. Since he didn’t trust anyone in the class these days- except the teacher- all comments were suspect. One by one his fellow students would filter into class, taking seats a few chairs away from him, some of them making polite remarks to him- but then turning to others for real conversation. Sheldon would try to return to his work, but the distractions increased until he surrendered to the noise. Setting down the pen, he would produce a well worn straw and slowly imbibe the heavily carbonated grape elixir as he stared off into space- waiting for HER to arrive.
Ah, Miss Usher. His writing teacher would enter the doorway, then sweep to the front of the room, setting her book bag and purse quietly on the large wooden table, then carefully sit down and prepare for class. Smiling at each student, her lovely pale face and long, thick, raven-black hair filled Sheldon’s eyes and heart with peace. Miss Usher- the thin but pretty 30-something who was his only friend in this class, the only true writer amidst a room full of hacks and talentless brown-nosers. Only she understood how deep Sheldon’s talents ran, even though she was too polite to acknowledge his profundity in front of the others.
She started the class by asking for a few students to read selections from their drafts. Sheldon would shuffle through his ink-stained archives for just the right excerpt. As the minutes passed and the inner tension built, his right leg would start doing the bounce. Grape soda intake also increased, as did Sheldon’s internal air pressure. Within minutes he would unconsciously start emitting small belches, spaced a minute or two apart. While his moustache did its best to muffle them, the noise was unsettling to those within earshot. For the rest of the class time, these belchlets were a constant companion, not too loud, but there nonetheless. And on one of those rare occasions when he managed to laugh, the subsequent giggles were punctuated with short and rapid “soda barks”, a phrase coined by one of his long-suffering classmates. As for the present, this evening’s class had been particularly difficult, and Sheldon left early, determined to not return until he had built the perfect story.
Sleep that night did not come easily, Sheldon’s dreams filled with disturbing thoughts and images: stories that would never come together, their disembodied parts floating around in his mind- then nagging at him to finish them. Ideas for new tales, all inspired and perfect, but with no overlying concept of structure to hold them together. Thousands of pages all filled up with nowhere to go. It was a literary Frankenstein. Sitting up in bed, and drenched in a cold sweat, Sheldon searched for an answer. “There has to be a way to put it all together!” Then he got an idea.
Wind and rain lashed the darkened classroom windows as Sheldon made his entrance, duffel bag in tow. Arriving a mere five minutes before the start of class, he sported a flowing purple robe with large upturned collar. Unsure how to react, some of the students giggled and others whispered, while the rest maintained a stunned silence, unsure whether an untoward reaction on their part might cause him to go postal, or simply explode in an ugly rage. As classmates looked on, Sheldon set down the big bag and began the ritual unpacking of items. After a few minutes, Miss Usher appeared and swept to the front of the room, her windswept hair looking unusually radiant,. Settling in, she called roll, pausing as she glanced up at Sheldon.
“My, Sheldon, your attire is stunning this evening. What is the occasion?” Not accustomed to this much attention from the teacher, his face flamed on as he struggled to answer.
“It’s ah—I’m dressed in uhhm-“
The class waited.
“I wanted to uh- add atmosphere to my prose this evening.”
Eddie, one of Sheldon’s harshest critics, piped up.
“Prose? On the farm we used to call it fertilizer!” his comments sending the class into hysterics. Miss Usher called the room to order.
“Please. I think Sheldon looks very dashing.” Shellie’s face turned a deeper shade of red than before, as Usher continued.
“Now- we have much to do this evening and little time in which to do it. If you will please bring out your final drafts and prepare to share passages from each with the class. Remember that your final grade depends on how well you have polished your work.” With that, she called the first student, who stood up and nervously began sharing her work. Sheldon pulled out his creation- the final draft- and struggled to keep himself under control. His right leg bounced into overdrive with anticipation. The class would be amazed with this, his crowning work. It was alive!
45 minutes later it was Sheldon’s turn to share. Taking a long last gulp of grape soda, he closed the tankard, placed it in the duffle bag, then stood and announced his work.
“I will be presenting, for your pleasure, an anthology of musings on the subject of love and romance.” At this, a moan erupted from several areas in the room. The teacher asked for silence and Sheldon continued.
“My first selection from this cornucopia will be…”- and off he went.
At first the class was amazed at his diction, conciseness and depth of emotion. Shellie was at the height of his powers. And with each word he spoke, his confidence rose. And with each increase in his confidence came a stronger and stronger identification with the subject matter: romance. He felt as if he were falling in love. But with whom?, he wondered. No! Could it be? Miss Usher?
As he continued on, he stared with increasing frequency at his teacher, occasionally forgetting his lines as the furtive glances at her features began to wreak havoc with his thought process. On and on he went, his voice rising and falling in cadence, regardless of the subject matter. And what strange subject matter it was turning out to be.
As thunder and lightning flashed and crashed outside, he shared a love poem about his hamster. Then came an ode from a schizophrenic to her bottle of medication. After a particularly disturbing passage describing a mortician’s feelings about his work, one girl burst into tears, jumping up and knocking her chair over backwards on her way out of the room. The rest of the class was getting restless as well, but the heightened emotional tone only emboldened Sheldon further, and he continued speaking, by this time getting the feeling that Destiny was calling. He would soon need to take the path that romantic fate had cast for him. The next reading he launched into was a love poem dedicated to his mother, but written from the viewpoint of Norman Bates. As he finished it his face felt flushed.
The class was speechless- some of the students amazed at what they had just heard, while the majority were in an advanced state of shock. A pealing crack of thunder broke the silence as Sheldon prepared for his final selection. As he announced it, Miss Usher interrupted.
“Sheldon, thank you for those unique words. Next student, please-“
“You’re very welcome, Miss Usher, but I have just one more to read for you- Uh, I mean, the class”. At this, the students erupted into nervous giggles.
“It’s okay, Norr-mann,” Eddie said in a mocking tone. Another burst of laughter.
“Tis an ill wind that bloweth- and so doth thou!” a mocking pirate voice croaked from the back of the room. Starting to get upset, Sheldon felt a gas bubble working its way to the surface, and as he attempted a witty retort, all that came out was a thundering belch that made him cough and gasp. This sent the class into hysterics, the laughter loud enough to be heard outside and down the hallway, 100 feet away.
Sheldon could see that he was losing control of the audience. It was now or never. Dropping his papers, he climbed onto the table in front of him and shouted, “This is all I have to give to my beloved- MYSELF!”, and with a leap he dove forward onto Miss Usher’s table, the resulting weight causing it to crash to the floor, along with her laptop, papers and books, as scattered screams escaped from the throats of the more high-strung women in the room.
For her part, Miss Usher had been knocked flat on her butt, and as the room quieted down somewhat, Sheldon struggled to his feet, sidestepping the smoking laptop as he reached down to help his beloved teacher to her feet. In a state of shock, Miss Usher allowed him. For a moment all was still, but her close proximity to Sheldon was fanning flames of involuntary passion that caused him to suddenly pull her close and plant a grapey kiss full on her mouth. A muffled scream escaped her defiled lips as a shocked and now upset Sheldon pulled back about a foot, the sudden emotional turmoil forcing another gastric tsunami to the surface.
As he looked into her eyes one last time, Sheldon barely had time to utter a quick “Sorry” before another grape-scented blast of putrid and fruity air hit her full in the face, accompanied by an involuntary spray of saliva. Miss Usher fainted dead away, and the stunned class watched Sheldon gently set her down on the smashed desk, his moving lips quietly repeating the words, “Im so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Walking slowly to his desk to collect his things, he noticed that a few of the students were starting to mutter things about him, while others rushed to the front of the room to look at the mess.
“Good going, Shakespeare” Eddie snarled.” You just destroyed the laptop with all our grades and records on it.”
Other students began looking at him, their eyes filled with rage as they realized what he had single-handedly done to a semester’s worth of work. Survival instincts kicking in, Sheldon edged toward the door, then slipped out of the room.
He was halfway down the main hallway by the time the class came to their senses. As he headed for the exit to the parking lot, duffel bag in tow, he heard a rush of footsteps behind him, Eddie’s mocking voice resounding through the halls. Knowing he could never outrun them in the open, he took the first door he found, into the administrative building. On and on he ran, first through the blue room. Then the purple. Then the green, followed by orange, white, violet and finally the crimson-colored exit door, behind which was a ladder leading to the roof hatch. Jamming the tripod legs under the door, he struggled up the rungs, duffel bag slowing his flight as he reached up and pushed open the hatch, getting suddenly drenched by wind-driven rain. Thunder and lightning boomed and flashed across the black sky as he crawled away from the square opening and gained his footing, strong gusts pushing him this way and that.
The roof was a vast and dark morass, the occasional air conditioning unit or roof vent jutting above the shadows. Which way now? Sheldon wondered, desperate but almost out of options. Even now he could hear them pounding on the blocked door below. Heading for one of the four roof edges, he stumbled into venting and ductwork, barking first one shin, then the other as he cursed his fate. He was halfway to the edge when he turned to see one- no, two or three figures emerging onto the roof. One of them was carrying a sort of lit torch, the flame sparks carried off by the wind as the rest of the class appeared. Making one last mad dash, Sheldon made it to the end of the roof and looked down, then behind him. Here they came, advancing across the roof but slowed as he had been, by the hidden obstacles. Down went Mark, cursing, as the others stopped short to help him up. Then Eddie tripped and face-planted, moaning. Sheldon looked down again, vertigo weakening his knees as he found what he believed to be the right spot, some 20 feet farther along, toward the roof corner.
Here they came. Sheldon could wait no longer. Hoisting his tankard high in the air he shouted, “Here’s to you, brown-nosers, narcissists and poseurs. Oh, self-deluded ones, may you rot in Hades!” And with that he downed the remainder of the tankard, tossed it over his shoulder, and let loose a mighty, gut-shaking belch before letting himself follow the drink container over the edge. It was another minute or two before the first of the throng arrived and peered down, waving the torchlight into a half-full dumpster.
“Where the hell did he go?”, Mary and Jane said in unison.
“Dead”, said Raymond.
“If only”, mused Edgar.
Ernest, saying nothing, tipped his flask back for one last shot, as Nathan looked on disapprovingly and Walt merely took in the scenery.
Miss Usher, hands a little shaky on the wheel, eased out of the school parking lot, but not slowly enough to avoid hitting the last speed bump too hard. She winced as a muffled moan emanated from the trunk.
“Sorry!” she shouted.
“It’s okay, Miss Usher. Thanks for the lift.”
And off she drove through the night, wondering where she should start looking for another teaching job.