A collection jar rattled in my eye-line, yearbook photos pasted on the outside. I saw my brother, the gleam of a camera flash in his eyes. The charitable student withdrew his jar once I looked at him.
“Oh. Sorry,” he said. “Guess you don’t have to.” He offered to my Pack. “Anyone else?”
I reached for his testicles and squeezed. Mr. Charity squealed, dropped the donations, and scampered. My Pack laughed. They collected the earnings and offered the coins and cash to me. I shook my head. They fought over ways to divide it.
The morning announcements invaded: “Grieving Together will be meeting at 2:15 today in the auditorium…please place your vote for the monument by Friday…remember that members of Student Senate will be around all week with donation tins…proceeds will go to families in need of funeral funds.”
“You sure you don’t want?” one of my girls said, raising her fistful of green.
I growled and knocked her cut to the ground. She didn’t protest when the others lapped it up.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s kind of nice they’re doing it, right?”
First bell rang. We lagged behind the studentry plodding toward the school’s front doors like USDA Prime Beef en route to slaughter. They smelled of cigarettes, spearmint, and sweat. Cloud cover forced smells and noises to linger, unable to escape the world on a jet stream of blue sky. The acid slurp of indigestion hit me, seeing the blood and gobs of flesh marking their clothes. No tide could kill the stains.
The ceiling of Homeroom seemed a few inches lower than yesterday’s ceiling. I sprawled on my graffiti-stained desk (“M+J”; “Fun Noodle”; a semi-automatic.) The Pack collected desks around me.
Second bell rang. Students’ talk frittered around the absence of our teacher, Mr. Warner. Not one for tardiness.
Mona Simm leaned across the aisle. She was low-cut tops and berry gloss. Her mascara turned her eyelashes into claws. “You didn’t say anything about Mr. Warner, did you, Emma?”
“Say anything about what?”
“He’s not here. Please, tell me you didn’t. I was just venting.”
“No. I didn’t.”
Her shoulders drooped in relief.
“I ate him,” I said.
I bared my teeth. “I what you asked me to. Be grateful.”
Two of my boys whisked her to an outlying desk before she played the drama card.
“What if something happened to Mr. Warner?” a girl in the front row asked, her fingernails frayed with teeth marks.
A student next desk quieted her, eyes checking me. Everyone knew about us.
Mr. Warner, flannel and vinegar breath, was a subscriber to the proverb: “those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, fuck their students.” He didn’t fuck them well based on the amount of tears shed by his moaning concubine, Mona Simm. I found her in the bathroom yesterday, bleeding tears, decided to do her a favor and ate him.
Perhaps they had an available slot to mention him at the memorial service. But probably not.
Nurse Bloome entered and announced Mr. Warner’s absence (undiscovered death,) and her temporary substitution (a welcome break from scrubbing cots in her office, brown leather covers slick with the refuse of dead and dying.) Mona collapsed to her desktop in tears. Nurse Bloome offered a cat-embroidered handkerchief and a pat on the back.
“Does anyone else need to cry?” she asked the class.
They answered in fidgets.
“That’s not a knife, is it, Mr. Brown?” Nurse Bloome reared over Brown’s desk. He handed her the plastic knife paired with his bagel breakfast. “This,” Nurse Bloome raised the knife and the class flinched, “is now against the school’s safety policy. Only spoons, children.”
She stowed the knife in her pocket. “As you know, the memorial service is tomorrow evening. The school wishes everyone utilize the time in between for relationship-building. What has occurred in these halls will not be a monument to death, but to the bond of mankind. We are going to do a trust exercise. I’ll pair everyone, and each pair will share one secret. That person will be your Trust Buddy from now on.”
“I already have two other Trust Buddies,” someone said.
“Lucky that you have three now, isn’t it?” She smiled. Her eyes targeted me. “Ms. Tennes, I think you’ve missed the other exercises we’ve done. I’m happy you’re here for once.”
I growled low in my throat, setting an appointment to eat her. Her smile died. She gripped the knife in her pocket.
“Let’s pair you all together, yes?” she said.
My partner was Mr. Charity. He crossed his legs.
“So.” He gripped his stickered notebook (“Fall Out Boy”; “No Blood For Oil”; Elmo with a bullet hole gracing his furry tomato forehead.) “What’s your secret?”
I kept silent and he confessed to pissing himself on that day.
“Your turn,” he said.
My teeth grew beyond my lips, my tongue agile as a spider. I leaned forward and pressed my mouth to his ear. “I’m a werewolf.”
Piss dribbled down his chair like lemmings on a suicide run.
“Stay in your seat, Ms. Tennes.” Nurse Bloome’s ammonia perfume swarmed my nostrils.
I swiped her fanny-pack zone. Shreds of flesh, like veined, purple sirloin, splattered the floor. I wanted to taste her, but there were too many stares to make it enjoyable.
“Let’s go,” I called to my Pack.
The school walls, yellow, pockmarked, covered in memoriam photos (I saw my brother again,) were thin as plywood compared to our arching talons. The tiles, white, cracked, littered with black streamer, were only a layer of paper towel, a shredded victim under muscular, bowed legs. The teachers that tried to stop us were humans evolved from rats and moles, hiding under desks and jumping from windows. They couldn’t stop my break into the outside world. I bade the Pack remain, maintain our territory.
Our hideout was a small grotto one-hundred leaps through the woods at the back of the school. Used condoms, bullet casings, and Lucky Strike cigarette butts were bequeathed to us in the will and testament of the rebels burrowed here before.
Mr. Warner’s personals lay scattered over the musky ground. His torn wallet, college ring (Lapis, circa 1996,) a patch of his black hair. I plucked it from the ground like a proffered appetizer and threw it back.
“Excuse me.” Mr. Charity, notebook held before him, pants dripping.
I growled. He backed a step.
“Don’t mean to interrupt,” he said, “but I wanted to know – is what you told me true? I mean, do you think it’s true?”
I observed his pores, trembling lips, sweat, his ragged breathing. The stench of urine disturbed the air.
“Want to find out?” I said.
I lunged before he could answer. His blood tasted like saline and dirty bandages. Maybe there would be a spot to mention him at the memorial service. But probably not.
I washed clean and returned to school. I needed my Pack. We would prowl the streets. Now. This place was a cobwebbed sarcophagus, riddled with bullet holes and the gash of self-made explosives. The crumble would come any day now.
I crossed the school’s front lobby. Mr. Warner stood there, coffee in one hand, cane in the other.
“Ms. Tennes. Would you come with me, please?”
Bullet-long fingernails dug into my palms. Blood dripped. I cast for the scent of my Pack. They weren’t near.
I followed Mr. Warner into an empty classroom. He closed the door and limped to the teacher’s throne. He set his cane down. Its handle was a duck’s head.
“Have a seat.” He motioned to one of the thirty student desks (iron maidens.)
I sat. I tried to extend my claws, growl. I tried to remember that Mr. Warner was dead.
He drew a Codeine from his pocket and downed it with a sip of coffee. “I’m sorry I missed our class. I was attending to the memorial service. Nurse Bloome told me you walked out.”
He waited. I didn’t answer.
“I know you’re mad, Emma, but I was trying to help. It can’t be easy to summarize your brother’s life into one speech. I thought you might need assistance. That’s all.”
He paused, expecting.
“You are going to the memorial service, right? And your parents?” he asked.
He sighed. “Must seem like you’re a completely different person now. I understand that. Everyone at this school is feeling inhuman right now, and that’s natural. If you want, I’ll speak to the principal and see if someone else can read for you.”
“Are Tom’s parents coming?” I said.
He cleared his throat. “No.”
“Were they arrested?”
“They didn’t notice the artillery in their kid’s closet. Isn’t someone going to be responsible?”
He dragged on his coffee. “The school decided not to mention Tom at the service.”
“His parents can speak instead of me,” I said. “I want to hear their thoughts.”
He clicked his tongue. “No you don’t, Emma. They wouldn’t tell you anything useful.” He sighed again.
I tried to pick out the genome of his lunch on his breath, but my nose was no longer canine. His eyes drew to the window in the classroom door. Mr. Charity peered in, mouth prodded open by his tongue. Mr. Warner opened the door.
“Donation?” Mike held up a new collection in, a paper cup with “FUNERAL FUND” written in Sharpie across the front.
Mr. Warner crushed a dollar inside and nodded down the hall. “Get to class.” He shut the door.
“That’s my Trust Buddy,” I said. “He pissed himself.”
Mr. Warner sat with a groan. “We all did things that day.”
I met his eyes. “I told him I was a werewolf.”
He stroked the duck’s head on his cane. “Why would you tell him that?”
“Because I’m not human anymore, like you said.”
“Kill those destructive thoughts right now, Emma. Do you understand? That’s the wrong direction to head in.” He engulfed the duck in his fist. Blood ran between his fingers. I saw him without scalp, without legs, his beating heart twitching in my hand.
“Do you understand?” he repeated, louder.
I wanted to sever his head from his neck with claws sharper than chef’s knives. I wanted to sip his blood slowly, let his flesh fester in my acid bowels.
“Emma,” he said.
I stood. “Tell the school werewolves don’t make speeches.” I moved to the door.
“You’re all right, Emma, aren’t you?” he asked.
I slammed the door behind me. I ran. The school’s front doors shattered against my fists. I coursed the parking lot, wrenching concrete apart. I threw cars and students from my path. I entered the woods. Nature watched my transformation: paws scooping dirt, fur catching wind, teeth dripping spit.
The school’s heartbeat followed, no matter the distance. Its soul wailed. I held the sound close. Inside.