SUCH IS DEATH

Submitted into Contest #198 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional teacher.... view prompt

36 comments

Fantasy Inspirational Friendship

Andrei dreaded the thought of preschool.


“Why can’t I be like Grandpapa? Grandpapa never went to school. And he’s always talking about the old days and what a great time it was to be dead.”


“They didn’t have preschool when your Grandpapa was a pup. You’re fortunate to be dead at a time when there’s education available.”


“No, I’m not."


“Andrei, things have changed since Grandpapa’s time. Your father and I want only what’s best for you and we know the Institute of Terror and the Supernatural is it.”


“But I won’t know anybody.”


“Think of all the friends you’ll make.”


“Do I have to?”


“Yes, little bat, you do.”


“I won’t like it.”


* * *


Raven Grimbaldi checked herself in the mirror. It was her first night teaching at the preschool of the Terror and Supernatural Institute, coined TS Pre. 


Raven had recently received her Certificate of Self-Control from the Association of Zombie Conformity and Gentrification. She had subsequently been approached to head up the zombie wing of the prestigious preschool. 


This was a position she’d aspired to since joining the ranks of the undead. She saw potential within the zombie population. Her pet project had been curbing the mob mentality zombies are born with. Raven herself had never been a follower and she relished the notion of leading her community into a new age of acceptance and opportunity, if only they could be taught to think for themselves.


She had just enough hair left on her scalp to fashion into a twist she tied with a scarf. The last time she’d attempted makeup, she’d almost lost half a lip and an eyelid, and so opted for a natural look.


“Guess it’ll just have to do,” she grinned. All things considered, she was well put together.


* * *


“Are there really going to be zombies in class, mama?”


Count Constantin and his wife, the alluring Countess Agrippina, were accompanying their young spawn, Andrei, to his classroom.


It had taken the mention of zombies being in attendance for the little vampire to take an interest.


“No, dear. The zombie children will be held in their own area.”


“That’s too bad.”


The Count’s eyes flashed.


“No, it’s as it should be! Never forget, Andrei, zombies have despicable eating habits, barbaric, and very little finesse or self-control in general. You don’t want to acquire bad habits.”


The Count hesitated a second before he continued.


“Unless, of course, it’s a nun.”


Andrei put a hand over his mouth and sniggered. 


Following a carefully timed beat, they both said, “They’re supposed to taste divine!”


The Countess rolled her eyes, then knelt to look her offspring in the eye.


“Promise, Andrei, you will not quote your papa in class.”


Andrei grinned at his father, tiny fangs shining.


“He’s pretty funny though.”


“He can be, I suppose,” the Countess allowed, as her crimson eyes betrayed a subtle twinkle, “but not always appropriate. Promise me?”


“And no fraternizing with zombies, Andrei, they’ll only make you look bad,” the Count added with some authority, while giving Andrei a wink.


“I promise.”


“Good little bat.”


* * *


A full moon always marked the first night of preschool. This was traditionally a time of raised spirits and the anthem howl of resident werewolves was fitting welcome as families made their way up School Hill.


The school grounds boasted a monstrous haunted oak where vampire children could hang for their naps. Ghosts enjoyed the tree most during recesses when they would play vaporize and go taunt or musical branches. 


Little witches could use their broomsticks at recess but had to wear electric collars so they wouldn’t fly outside school zone. Most witches preferred to free their kittens from the Black Kitty Kennel anyway, so it was of little concern.


Zombies were confined to a heavily fenced and guarded area. The school was the first willing to take on the troubling terrors. Modern thinking was close proximity to general population may desensitize and help instill in the children some modicum of control.


* * * 


The TS Pre faculty pit was buzzing.


Principal Blackwell was about to deliver his annual address to the faculty and staff.  He focused two of his eight eyes on the group gathered before him, rubbed his singing antennae together for attention, then began.


“Another turn of the hourglass and here we meet again. Welcome all to TS Pre, to our returning staff and a special welcome to our new members.  


Here to oversee the Feeding Station, we have Abby and Martha Brewster. These lovely ladies in lace come highly qualified for the position and we look forward to sampling their wares. 


Now let us welcome Raven Grimbaldi, our most recent new-hire, who will oversee our pilot program, Zombie Destiny, a how-to guide. Mz. Grimbaldi comes to us having recently attained her Certification in Self-Control.  


Now, I trust you’ve all prepared well for this maiden step into the academic and social advancement of our young charges. I trust you all will follow the curriculum approved for your classes and will serve them well. 


Remember our motto: A potentially great evil is a terrible thing to waste. 


It is time now to use our best efforts and prepare Les Enfants Terribles for the vast realm of terror and supernatural wonders that await!


Report to your classrooms. Good luck.”


* * *


The death knell tolled evening recess following Andrei’s initial class of introductions and instructions,


His classmates filed out of the classroom and scattered in all directions, anxious to explore their new playground.


Andrei didn’t feel like getting to know the other kids yet. He’d never been without family nearby and it was beginning to bother him. He walked a short way and, as he came to a corner of the school building, he deftly ducked behind.


He looked to see if he’d been followed, and then stopped.


It’s not like I’m hiding anything. 


“Who you hiding from?”


Andrei bristled.


“I’m not hiding!”


He turned to see a kid about his age alone behind some fencing. He had spiky hair, pinprick eyes with dark shadows. His clothes were well-worn but he displayed a disarmingly killer smile.


“What are you smiling at?” Andrei demanded.


“You tell me.”


Andrei hissed, exposing his fangs. He struck a threatening pose, or so he thought.


“You got anything else?”


“Not really. So what have you got?”


“You couldn’t handle it.”


“Bwaahahaaa! Try me.”


“Can you keep it to yourself?”


“There is nothing I cannot do!”


“Cut the drama, please. You sound like you’re acting.”


“Oh, well then, yup.”


“Wanna sit?”


“Should I?”


“Up to you.”


The boy behind the fence sat. 


“I’m Andrei, spawn of the Count. . .”


“Stop! Andrei. That’s all I need.”


“You?”


“Rene.”


Andrei sat.


“So, you know I’m zombie, right?”


“I thought so. I’m vampire, even if you weren’t impressed.”


“You weren’t bad actually. I like to mess with dead heads. That’s just me.”


“So why aren’t you’re with your . . . others?”


“Same as you.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“We’re different.”


“I never said anything about being different.”


“You don’t have to. Takes one to know one.”


Andrei glanced down at his perfectly manicured fingernails.


“And just what is it you think you know?”


“Well, I’m a new breed. Took me a while to figure it out." 


Andrei studied the boy. He appeared earnest.


“So, what are you?”


Rene looked around, then lowered his eyes and whispered.


“Vegetarian.”


“You are not!”


Rene looked Andrei right in the eye. Then Andrei whispered.


“So am I.”


Just then the knell tolled. Recess was over.


“I better get back.”


“We can be a little late the first day. I want to hear how and what you feed. You look good.”


“Maybe a couple more minutes.”


* * *


Back in Raven’s class, her zombie kids were being secured to their desks following the break.


“Children, children! This has been explained to you time and again. Unless and until any of you show a sign, anything, that supports the notion you possess any degree of self-control, the chains must remain while you’re indoors. There’s no sense getting emotional about it.”


One of the larger students screeched and pulled one of his chains with a clenched fist.


Cccrrrraaaaack! 


A small fissure opened in the floor as the chain to a wrist cuff threatened to break free.


“Class, Mz. Pestilentia is in charge while I’m gone. Show her the same polite courtesy you’ve shown me.”


"Er, Raven. . .?"


"Blackwell demanded I report anything to him directly. I'll hurry."


With that, Raven flew out the door.


On her way to Principal's office, she passed several windows that overlooked the fenced area of the playground. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye; an instinct said not to ignore it. 


There, in a tiny alcove near the corner of the building, hidden from most angles, she could see Rene, one of her students, seated close to a vampire child. They appeared to be talking music; she could just make out muted singing and chortling.


Raven watched another few seconds, then smiled. She turned and headed back to her class.


At the door, she saw Pestilentia on top of her desk in sort of a pleading posture.   


Raven, with new resolve, entered.


She took a moment. Several chains had been partially dislodged but not one child was loose. She got Pestilentia’s attention and made a motion. 


She then sang a lullaby her mother had sung to her back when she was mortal. She modified the lyrics to fit her audience.


“Hush, my zombies, peace attend thee,

All through the dark

Guarding demons I will send thee

All through the dark.

Detached zombie limbs are creeping

Hill and dale with life’s blood seeping

I my dead one’s crypt am keeping

All through the dark.”


Gradually, the throng settled, the protests ceased. Pestilentia came down from the desk, walked over and touched Raven’s arm.


“Looks like nap time. Well done.”


“We need music in here. I'll see Blackwell about it.”


* * * 


“Wanna meet back tomorrow?”


Andrei didn’t hesitate. 


“Sure. You know, I was thinking.”


“What?”


“It’s weird. We shouldn’t even be talking.!”


“Yeah, I know. My dad says vamps are privileged, high-maintenance snobs who don’t even realize their blood’s not blue.”


“My dad says zombies are low class, slovenly parasites with nothing but bad habits.”


“That’s only if they’re nuns.”


Andrei smiled, delighted.


“They’re supposed to taste divine!” exclaimed the two.


Following muffled laughter and mutual shushing, both boys snuck back to their classes. 


* * *  


Raven sat at her desk, waiting for the last student to be unshackled and escorted away prior to releasing the general student body. Parental brooms, phantom-driven hearses and haunted coaches were already choking the long winding road up the hill to school property.


Rene waited patiently for Mz. Grimbaldi to tell him why he’d been held back, though he had an idea. Finally, she approached Rene’s desk and sat facing him.


“So, how was your first day, Rene?”


Rene grunted the usual zombie response. He even produced a string of drool out the side of his mouth.


“You don’t need to pretend, Rene.”


The young zombie froze.  


Rene jerked his head towards Raven and gave her a zombie, huh?


“Would you like to know how I knew I was different?”


Rene raised an eyebrow.


“Oh, same as you, probably. I just knew. I see myself in you, Rene. That touch of humanity is hard to mask. I couldn’t hide it, so I decided to cultivate it.”


Rene pulled a thread on his frayed shirtsleeve.


“How did you get others to believe you?”


“You can’t, not really. They either do or they don’t. I just want you to know you’re not alone.”


“I feel like I’m letting my family down.”


“Have you tried talking to them?”


“All I get is, what are you, a snooty blood-sucker? Stop pretending to sound like one.”


“Well, I’ll help if I can. I know what you’re going through.”


“Thanks. I sort of feel better.”


“You looked happy at recess.”


Rene startled, then raised his eyes to meet Raven’s.


“Oh.”


“We don’t need to discuss it right now. I just want you to know I’m here if you need anything, or just to talk.”


“What if I sound like a snooty blood-sucker?”


“Let me share a little secret, Rene. Vampires aren’t any bigger of a deal than we, and we’re not any bigger of a deal than they.”


* * *


The zombie and the vampire spent every recess together laughing and goofing around. Raven kept an eye out and exercised little diversions when necessary so the friendship wouldn’t be discovered.


She realized it was only a matter of time before it would be. Raven was lost as far as what, and if, there was anything she could do about any of it, including her own culpability.


* * *


Time passed.


One night, recess had begun but Rene wasn’t at the fence. Andrei took a seat and waited.


Minutes went by.


Andrei sat listening to the other monster children screeching and screaming. He was happy he'd made a friend, even if he was a zombie. Andrei was understood, maybe for the first time.


Andrei’s thoughts distracted him just long enough for a gang of zombie kids to gather behind him. Several began screeching.


“Wwwhaaooo wwwuuaaiiiiiiin fooouuurrr?”


Andrei flew from his seat.


A zombie pointed at Andrei and screamed, a piercing, ear-shattering siren. One by one, as the others joined in, the sound was soon deafening.


Some windows did shatter and all monsters scattered.


Andrei quickly turned to leave, just as Raven came up to him. She grabbed his shoulders.


“Are you all right?”


Andrei nodded.


Raven stood tall and faced the fence.


“Class! Silence!”


The group, hearing the voice of their teacher, quieted. They slouched back into raggedy posture, waiting for more instruction.


“Back to class, everyone! Now!”


“You're Mz. Grimbaldi.”


Raven smiled.


“And you’re Andrei.”


“Rene told me a lot about you. Where is he?”


“Come with me, unless you’d rather not.”


“I want to.”


In Raven’s classroom, the children were back at their desks being loosely shackled.


When Raven entered with Andrei, the room took on a low, unsettling rumble. She had prepared for this.


“Class, I am pleased to see how controlled you all are – now. This is good!”


The rumbling lessened, and then ceased altogether.


“You are in command of your thoughts and your actions. You are good!"


Without knocking, Principal Halverson burst into the classroom, all eyes wide with panic. He looked around the quiet classroom.


"Principal Halverson, you're exactly on time!"


Halverson kept his voice low and steady, obviously a chore for him.


“What was that terrible shrieking? All of School Road could hear! Half the student population and all of the faculty went for the shelters. What have you to say?" 


“My plan is working.”


Halverson’s jaw fell. 


“Explain.”


“As you know, the goal of this class is to instill self-control. For that to happen, certain factors need to be addressed. Let's call on one of our students. The first step to self-control is . . . Rene?”


Rene stood to the side of his desk.


“Acknowledge your weaknesses.”


“Excellent, Rene.”


Andrei, who’d been hiding under Raven’s desk, peeked over the desktop upon hearing Rene’s voice.  When Rene saw him, he grinned his great grin. Andrei wiggled his fingers.


This time there came not a rumble but an explosion, from Principal Blackwell.


“A VAMPIRE? In the same classroom . . . oh, now you’ve gone too far! This was never approved, this never crossed my desk! Do you have any idea what the ramifications can be of something like this? I mean, blending . . .”


“When you're finished, I’d be happy to explain - again.”


Red-faced and huffing, Blackwell gestured for Raven to try. 


“You have just observed a young zombie exhibit what I consider great potential for earning a Certificate of Self-Control.”


Blackwell wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.


“That’s all very well for the boy . . .”


“It certainly wouldn’t harm the school’s reputation. And you, as principal, I imagine would be quite celebrated."


Blackwell looked in dire need of a chair. Pestilentia provided him one.


"You have also seen for yourself how well my class has behaved in the face of several disturbing outbursts.”


“But what have you to say about THAT?”


He pointed to Andrei, who was merrily spinning around in the teacher’s chair.


“Well now, isn't the best way to test self-control to be in close proximity to that which tempts you? We’re fortunate to have a volunteer who has agreed to help during recesses. His assistance has been invaluable.”


Principal Blackwell swallowed.


“This is Andrei, son of Constantin and Agrippina. I think the Count and Countess should be applauded and Andrei awarded special credit.”


Blackwell had no idea what to do. 


“Mz. Grimbaldi, I will leave you now. But one last thing. Just what was that apocalyptic caterwauling that started all this?


“Nothing really. It’s good now and then to let them howl a little.” 


Principal Blackwell stared at Raven another moment before mumbling something about “modifying the handbook” and “commendations for breaking the rules” as he teetered out the door.  


* * *


“Rene, may I see you at my desk for a minute?”


Andrei returned the chair to Raven. She sat, gathered the two closer and whispered.


“We’re very fortunate, boys. The plan worked beautifully. You shouldn’t have any trouble during recesses now, but no one can say how the future will go.”


“Mz. Grimbaldi?”


“Yes, Rene.”


“Did you really mean. . .”


“Every word. You have some cultivating to do but, with guidance, you can do it.”


“Hey, Andrei, what would your papa say about me now?”


Andrei smiled.


“Small bites, Rene. Small bites.”


May 17, 2023 19:51

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36 comments

Zack Powell
02:19 May 26, 2023

Monster preschool? Yeah, the heck why not? I love the concept here. Fresh and fun. I think the strength of this piece is that it's contemporarily relevant. I find the best Fantasy stories usually say something about the world in which we live, and I think it's a great message having two kids from different monster "races" coming together to form an unlikely friendship. There are some historical overlaps that we can see (the segregation of the zombie children, the way that the different monster groups talk about the others), but the friendsh...

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Susan Catucci
12:51 May 26, 2023

Wonderful comments, Zack, I'm smiling now too. There's so much joy in coming up with an idea (within constraints) that does what you want it to and actually gives others some pleasure, and something to think about. You hit all those nails dead-center. A thousand thanks.

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Graham Kinross
00:32 May 26, 2023

“Unless, of course, it’s a nun.” Murderous dad jokes, awesome. If the school from Wednesday had a preschool attached I imagine it would be like this. Grim and funny is a great combination.

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Susan Catucci
00:45 May 26, 2023

What's not to love when you're practically raised on horror classics contained within Tales of Terror and the Supernatural and everything Addams Family. It has to start somewhere. (and, if you're lucky, it will continue to live on in one form or another.

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Graham Kinross
00:51 May 26, 2023

Did you watch Wednesday on Netflix?

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Susan Catucci
01:04 May 26, 2023

Indeed, I did. The dance seems to be most remembered - and for good reason; it's a really good hook - I appreciate keeping something so beloved alive. I'm not sure there's many vintage acts, like Addams Family, that has undergone so much transformation over such a long time and still appeals.

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Graham Kinross
02:11 May 26, 2023

I think the premise of it lends itself to reinvention and I liked the Cameo role for Christina Ricci. Jenna Ortega really nailed the role, I’m looking forward to season two. Who was your favourite character?

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Susan Catucci
16:34 May 26, 2023

Thing. I've had a soft spot since the very beginning for this thing that manages so much with so little. Where is the rest of him? No one knows; he's just one of the Addams Family mysteries. The whole production for the series, I thought, was top notch. Jenna Ortega was/is a perfect Wednesday. This is really a great time for media of all forms: books, movies, music. Now, if I only had more time . . .

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Michał Przywara
21:30 May 23, 2023

Ha, a hilarious premise! The title set things up nicely, and the story delivered. Of course, under the funny, it pretty quickly hits some hard, ugly points. Almost right off the bat we have undead-based racism, which is exacerbated by an actual physical fence segregating the students. There's themes of individuality and of being different, versus conforming. There's fairly aggressive re-education of children for their own good - though given it's zombies, maybe there's merit in that :) It's a fun story which nevertheless manages to hit s...

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Susan Catucci
23:01 May 23, 2023

You nailed it, Michal. There are times I feel it's necessary - or at least fun - to exaggerate to make a point. Just the thought of both zombie lore and vampire, in the same space sort of striving for a similar end but utilizing very different methodology, it's obviously brewing a hotbed for debate and who does it best, etc. Yes, I had fun with this. Happy you enjoyed, Michal, very!

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Delbert Griffith
13:15 May 19, 2023

Love it, as you know, Susan. I think the little vampire and the little zombie make an engaging pair. The educational stuff is realistic, so you throw that into the supernatural mix and you have one heck of a fun tale. Lots of great lines in here, and the last sentence is stellar! Great stuff, my friend. Another nice piece from one of the best writers on this site. Cheers, my friend!

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Susan Catucci
15:53 May 19, 2023

Before I thank you profusely for your generosity and great guidance, Del, I want to give credit where it's due. I'm not a professor of anything - except maybe for the absurd - so your input is always invaluable and you're obviously teacher-material because of how well you convey stuff. :) I just hope I had the principal enough of a withering puddle of academia when he leaves the zombie classroom. Now, that was fun! And, with all of our blended thinking, I'm really, really happy with how the tale turned out. A million thanks back your...

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Delbert Griffith
17:34 May 19, 2023

You're a jewel and a class act, Susan. All the way.

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Mary Bendickson
22:03 May 17, 2023

Kibbles and bits. Nothing cuter than tiny zombies and vampires unless it is the title.

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Susan Catucci
22:09 May 17, 2023

I have to tell you, Mary, the title came to me while I was driving and I laughed out loud like a lunatic! Gems that drop from the sky! I'm glad you enjoyed the visual aspect to the story. Just how adorable would Andrei and Rene be together. sigh Thanks, as always, Mary - looking forward now to reading yours!

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Lily Finch
21:46 May 17, 2023

"Raven had recently received her Certificate of Self-Control from the Association of Zombie Conformity and Gentrification. She had subsequently been approached to head up the zombie wing of the prestigious preschool." - told with professionalism and sounds convincing on a believability scale. Well done. "Blending...." Principal Blackwell "Remember our motto: A potentially great evil is a terrible thing to waste." - This is hilarious since it usually is a mind. LOL and you are talking about zombies. Excellently done. I liked the "my dad...

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Susan Catucci
22:04 May 17, 2023

I can always count on you, Lily. This is great stuff. I posted this sooner than I wanted because I have oral surgery in the morning and could be out of it for a couple days, not that you could tell the difference, but I just read again and made subtle changes. Your thoughts are always appreciated! I'm anxious to read your gems after this. We'll be conversing more! love it. :)

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