Dues Paid on Halloween, short story by Rod Marsden at Spillwords.com

Dues Paid on Halloween

Dues Paid on Halloween

written by: Rod Marsden


It was the last day Mr. Thomas Atwood would ever teach in a class room. He didn’t know it at the time. He had work for the class already on the board. Was it too much to expect them to sit down, get out their exercise books and wait for instruction?

Halloween was coming up and he looked forward to the chocolate and the time off. He needed to get away, to run in the fresh air and listen to birdsong.
Johnny had to discuss footy with Sammy. Nell had to get out a bottle of water, take a swig and spill the rest all over Stacy’s books. Then, when Mr. Atwood went about cleaning up the mess, there was the chatter about being so frigging bored.

So frigging bored? Try being a teacher dealing with this waste of time and energy and you’d have a right to say you’re bored as well as annoyed. Getting on with things, moving forward has to be a lot more exciting than telling Samantha she can’t play with her mobile phone or informing Brian it is not nice to steal someone else’s pen.

Yes, Janet. You shouldn’t do a belly dance in the center of the room. No, James. I would not prefer a belly dance from you. If I could I would take a thug like you and give you a jolly good caning, six of the best and no mistake. And, James, you are not going to be a bloody football superstar. You are not even going to finish high school.

The noise rose. Mr. Atwood began to yell for order. He promised himself he wouldn’t do so but he’d had enough. How do you discipline kids when they know they can’t be disciplined? It was a problem others had solved by being right into footy or by being so intimidating no one dared push them too far.

Anger and self-righteousness built up in him. Yet he still held back. A spider’s web of pain spread across his lungs and he could feel his heart throbbing in his head. He felt dizzy. The bell rang and he was rid of them.

He very much wanted to prove to James and his gang that he was a man by beating the living snot out of them with his fists, either taking them on one at a time or all at once. But even raising his voice was wrong. The department of education said so.

At university, Mr. Atwood had basked in the glow of idealism and hope. Now, without a girlfriend and a pest like James reminding him of the fact, he had to face the real world.

Teaching should have been a noble calling. For Mr. Atwood it felt more like serving time and, theoretically, it would be fifteen years before the sentence was up and he could retire. He just was not cut out for this life.

He started off believing in reason and dedicated himself to making his students aware of their God given potential. Reason, however, didn’t work when students, such as James, thought they had a quick get out of jail free card such as a career in sport or had the understanding that their chances of ever being employed were next to zero.

Mr. Atwood had a love of history and literature he wished to impart to others. He had had a miserable time as a kid in high school and he thought, as a teacher, he could make the experience of learning better for the next generation or the generation after that.

There was something surreal about teaching people who couldn’t see their way past dole cues, beer at the local pub when they’re old enough, and rugby league. Yet among them there were the dreamers who could get lost in art galleries and museums. Also there were visionaries who could connect, as Mr. Atwood could, with the greater universe.

In people like James and Janet, Mr. Atwood could see the inquisition, the witch burnings and the consigning of newly discovered information to a black library where it would rot forever on a shelf with other books considered to be too blasphemous to be read. At times Mr. Atwood felt he was such a book and that his library was the school and his shelf this classroom.

At university Mr. Atwood had gone in for fun runs, tennis and squash. There were, however, very few heroes that he knew of who were runners and in tennis he was nowhere near being a top athlete. He had played for exercise and had thought no more of it.

He met one woman who was attracted to him for a while on one of those fun runs but he’d never made the connection between a good workout and possibly a woman seeing him in a way he wanted to be seen.

She had long, flaming red hair and reminded him of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings he took pride in knowing about. He could see her as the Lady in the Lake, the only difference being that she was as real as the woman who had posed for those paintings. They were good days that could not possibly last.
Both James and Janet were dirty blonds that immediately reminded Mr. Atwood of Hitler Youth. At times he felt like addressing them with ‘Seig Heil!’ He thought the wearing of a swastika arm band would suit them very well.

As for the other chief trouble makers, Samantha with her pencil thin nose permanently stuck up in the air and her flapping great lips would have been at home as some poor sod’s receptionist. On windy days in the playground Mr. Atwood could hear the breeze rush through one of her ears and out the other.
Brian was a round faced clown with a button nose, thin lips and a penchant for moving things around. Maybe someday he’d become a removalist, a stage magician or a competent thief.

Nell was a wispy brunette who wanted to be a catwalk model. She was thin heading for an eating disorder. Possibly the spilling of the water had been an accident but it had to happen in Mr. Atwood’s domain.

There were the good students. Kathy was a pretty blonde who had been on the cover of a girl’s magazine that year so she had some prestige in the playground. She knew, however, that fame was fleeting and that most models planned for the day when that particular calling would be over.

Daniel was half Japanese and half British. He was also a damn fine scholar. He was good at hand ball but read too much and talked too much about what he’d read. He didn’t do this in Mr. Atwood’s classroom where he was quiet most of the time. Doing it elsewhere, however, was not a good practice. James didn’t like clever people. The P.E. instructor had recently gotten Daniel involved in cricket where he was proving to be a demon fast bowler.

Oliver, a Greek Australian kid, liked Kathy but Mr. Atwood could tell by his shyness around her that he didn’t fancy his chances with her. He wasn’t quite in her league when it came to learning but he did try hard. If he did have to have a game it was basketball. This was something James and his bully boys could sneer at.

There was always to be a James or a Janet mucking about, a Johnny forever yapping away, a Brian taking off with whatever wasn’t nailed down, and a Samantha acting all too snooty with whatever electronic device came to hand.

The Kathys, Daniels and Olivers of the world were simply going to have to make do with whatever education the toughs and the half-wits would allow them to have until they reached college or university. Then, like Mr. Atwood, they’d have their freedom.

In his mind he could see them. On warm, summer nights at a fine university they’d howl at the moon and toast with cheap wine their wonder at being so moved. They’d thank Galileo and other astronomers for the stars being suns and for the possibility of life on other planets.

A storm trooper like James could never begin to appreciate the joy of being taken on a journey in a book and only returning for meals, or listening to a lecturer put you on a raft with Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. No. Mark Twain was beyond James’ grasp.

Mr. Atwood had come to believe that such a fellow as James should spend his life at such menial labor that boredom becomes a true byword of his damned existence. His friends should desert him one by one as they discover what an evil nothing he has always been.

At university, Mr. Atwood had loved those moments when words sang to him from distant shores and men plotted before him the destinies of nations. Now, after years of wonderful study and six months of grinding work as a teacher, it was all over. He found himself on stress leave and then out of a job.

One thing he didn’t understand about most of his students was their overall attitude. He had paid his dues. He had gone through kindergarten, primary and high school with James and Janet types. He had been ten years in office learning about business then had done three years of further academic study. So why did these so-called students, with less than half their dues paid, not listen to him? He had earned their respect but he had not gained it.

At a bus stop, not far from the high school that had destroyed him, Mr. Atwood collapsed. It was a stroke. He didn’t die straight away but ended up in a hospital room on life support. For six months he hovered between life and death before his parents agreed it was time to pull the plug. Over the first week of that period of him hovering between life, and death (it was during Halloween) strange events took place in and around the hated high school.

The spirit of Mr. Thomas Atwood came to look after his own. Kathy was perplexed over a math problem when the answer suddenly sprang into her head. Mr. Atwood had never been great at that subject but, over the years, he had picked up enough to be, in this instance, helpful to her.

After school, Daniel was about to be set upon by two of James’ mates, when a trash can came flying out of the canteen, bowling them over. Half-eaten apples, that had been in the bins, then flew at their heads, sending them squealing and running for their lives. There was triumphant laughter. Daniel had been prepared to fight and get flattened but, instead, had to wonder who had rescued him from a bruising and why.

Oliver’s bus home was delayed just long enough, by an invisible foot on the brake pedal, for him to catch up with it and for him to board it.

All this was well and good but Mr. Atwood was prepared to do even more for those students who cared.

On the football field, James tripped over something unseen and landed awkwardly on his neck. He might have died. Instead, he became a paraplegic. There was mocking sounds coming from somewhere when the doctor passed this sentence upon him.

The following day, Nell went for a spill on a puddle on the playground concrete and suffered a back injury that would lay her up for a month. Thus her ridiculous dieting would have to end for at least a while. Her parents were happy about her being fed by the hospital staff even if this did not thrill her.

Brian was found to be in possession of several mobile phones that didn’t belong to him. How they got in his school locker was a mystery to him. A black mark was put on his school record and he had to return, with apologies, all the items stolen.

On the train home, Samantha was listening to music on her iPad when something went wrong with her headset. A sudden static charge destroyed her ear drums, rendering her deaf. The last thing she thought she heard was someone laughing.

Johnny, who liked to blab, mysteriously lost his voice for a whole two weeks. When it came back, he found he couldn’t talk football without feeling sick to the stomach.

Janet was hit by a car upon leaving the school and had to spend six months with her leg up in traction. Some witnesses thought she was pushed into the oncoming vehicle but no one was behind her at the time. Also, it was thought that a voice had issued the words ‘Seig Heil!’ before flesh met metal.

‘I got them!’ cried Mr. Atwood to himself as his new found powers waned. When his time was finally up, he left his body with a smile on his ghostly face. He knew there were lots worse out there than James, Janet, Nell, Brian and Johnny but, for once; he was able to save the Kathys, Daniels and Olivers. The potential book burners and goose-steppers this go around were not going to get their way. With his own mind, Mr. Atwood was able to bring justice to at least one high school classroom. The never-do-wells in this instance had to pay their dues in full and so they did.



This story comes from Rod Marsden’s experiences as a teacher.

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This publication is part 71 of 90 in the series 13 Days of Halloween