Wednesday, January 2, 2013

After Los Angeles: The Kid's Tale (Get Up, Get Happy!)






The car screeched to a halt, a stop made all the more dramatic by the car ahead. It had no brake lights. None of them did.  This should have surprised no one.

Least of all Babz.

She flicked the butt of her cigarette at the blacktop of injustice. This is bullshit, she almost said.

When the provisional authorities had directed driverless cars onto the faster highways, the so-called "unwashed masses" and their obsolete models used the remaining ways out of the city. All lanes went one direction, but not all evacuation routes were easily traveled. For most, the escape from L.A. was a parking lot.

Babz rolled up the window. The exhaust from idling gas-engines filled up the car if she didn't. She heard one thousand brakes groaning under the tension, seemingly in complaint, joined by a few horns and yelling - with occasional music.

She would have liked to hear some music, and she missed her car and its supply of mix-tapes gifted from her cousins. Gone, gone, gone. Alas. Like her poor departed car, there was nothing but a big hole where the electronics belonged in this car. She looked inside and remembered. Even if she could have played music, she wouldn't have rocked. After the last few hours, everyone needed their rest. Her too. But someone needed to drive this motherfucker.

A boy popped his head between the front seats, nearly scaring Babz. So much for his nap. Chavo was his name. His mother slept in the passenger seat. Monica might for a long time.

-Tell me a story.-

Babz looked at Chavo, safely taking her eyes off the road. Not like they were going anywhere. He must have been 16 or so. The glasses he wore made him seem older. His demeanor...she could have mistaken him for a young adult. She'd only known him and his mother for a week. From what she'd learned in that short time, precocious would've accurately described him.

-You tell me a story.-

He spoke so quickly, she guessed he'd already made up his mind.

-I want to hear more of your stories. Mine are boring.-

Babz laughed. She didn't see the interest in stories about culter jams or firefighter riots, but she wasn't a teenager, so she didn't know what went on in his head. She had a good idea though. He'd told her a lot.

-You told me a good one. About that teacher you used to have? The one who set your school on fire. What's his name? Mr. Mitchell? Michaels?-

She tried to think back to the stories of this teacher. Distraction arrived in mid-thought. A flock of helicopters began to rise over the San Fernando Mountains, in the opposite direction of all-outbound traffic. The Front.

-We don't really know if he started that fire. My friend Antonio....-

Babz recognized his sudden silence. He'd said enough. She would have to try again.

-Tell me the funniest thing you can think of.-

Chavo bit his lip, began to talk, the whir of helicopter blades washed his voice out for a minute. When Babz finally heard him, the traffic began to crawl.

She soon noticed a fallen VisionCloud, crashed in the middle of the freeway, its bent aluminum frame a charred, black skeleton. National guardsmen in their urban civ-corps greens waved flashers around the wreckage. The traffic obeyed. They had to. Everyone in L.A. no longer had any choice. Except for those in the widening Front. They'd made their choice.

The VisionCloud imager still functioned, and it dutifully strobed a series of channels. The messages might have been deaf-n-dumb abeyance, but the channeled syntax was in error.

Babz laughed inside.

<<<...Remember kids>>><<<...don’t forget...>>><<>><<<...VOTE!>>>

***
whatsup mister mack! yo, this is ur fav AND BESTEST student, Maia. I kno i shuldnt be on ur computer, but whatevs. lolz. Im doin' it cause i heart you, brother man.
jus wanted to say, whatsup?! and dunt B all thristy, yo.
like ur jacket BTW.
luv, Maia
FUKDACULTZ

***



Mr. Machellis closed the document, looked to see if anyone had seen him read Maia's note. The students in the class worked on everything but their assignments. But not one looked up to witness the guilt on his face, how he enjoyed these personal moments, and why his colleagues shuffled out of his way, disapproving of his popularity with the student body.

Maia sat in the back of the class in a pod of desks. He'd wanted to separate her from the loudest members of her crew, but she's protested. The front of the class was for the Chinese kids, she'd said. Better for her to be safe in the back. Too bad it was her voice all the time in class. Loud and in front. Her crew proved just as impossible to dislodge.

He'd looked up in time to see 40+ kids put their electronics away, but one student had waited, and shot a hand up when he looked their way.

-Kevan?-

The kid who'd nearly blown off Mr. Machellis' hand with a dry ice bomb in a cola bottle - Kevan.

-Can I go to the bathroom?-

Mr. Machellis knew the answer before he asked it.

-What have you accomplished today?-

Kevan never blinked when he talked to him. There was something dead serious in his mannerisms, a watching for a moment. Some unknown moment.

-I'm done with everything.-

Most teachers would have doubted Kevan's words. Not Mr. Machellis. He'd known Kevan was ahead of everything else in class. Easily bored. If Mr. Machellis didn't attend so-many mandatory school professional development meetings, he could have differentiated the lesson for Kevan's advanced skills. There must be a cola bottle and a smile for the young man to blow up somewhere in the world.

-Go. And make sure to grab the pass. Mr. Rico will bust you.-

Kevan was at the door before Mr. Machellis had even finished his sentence. The door - halfway open.

-Someone stole the pass.-

True that. In a perfect world, every class would have had a bathroom pass. But, if one thing could describe Pete Wilson Academy, it would be the amazing ability of students to "lose" bathroom passes. Mr. Machellis no longer had any. Again. He'd thought if he made the pass large enough they couldn't lose it. Somehow, they'd managed to "lose" the giant skeleton that had substituted as the pass.

-Go. Take something from the class.-

Kevan didn't blink.

-Like what?-

Mr. Machellis shrugged. Kevan grabbed a chair and dragged it into the hall. The class now had another bathroom pass.

Another hand went up and Mr. Machellis thought of dread - dread for the future. Not in so many ways as to really fear the future. In Mr. Machellis's estimation, the future was set. No changing that now. The up-and-ups had made sure of the inevitable conflagration long ago. When they'd first seen the wear and tear on the engine that generated wealth, they'd promised to use the remaining horsepower to get them the hell of there. Other planets, ho!

He was ranting...

-Mack!-

The smartest kid in the class acted as if his place was at the end of the line. But at this age, standing out got you a beat down, or something worse. Not that Javier cared. If the stories were true, his father had been tossed out of a sky-jail. Treated worse than a culter. But Javier was just a child and the authorities ignored that. In their opinion, the border (The Border) was everywhere.

-Don't yell at me, commander. You're not in the Marines, yet. What's up?-

-What's up? What's up?!-

The class of 40+ laughed in preparation for another round of humiliation. Mr. Machellis's race, Javier's face. Laughing.

-Gotta pee, man.-

-Can't.-

-Can't?-

-Javier did you all of a sudden get stupid?-

-Why you gotta be like that?-

-Wait till Kevan comes back.-

-He ain't coming back.-

-He will.-

-Trust me, he ain't.-

-Then I guess you can't go.-

-Fine. Can I get some help from Ms. Gee. It’s for our project on the elections.-

The joys of youth. To hope.

-There’s not going to be any elections. What’s more important, though, is you don’t want my help.-

-No. You just called me stupid.-

-Don't act stupid.-

-I'm leaving. And there’s going to be elections…this is America.-

-That’s exactly why there won’t be. Because this is America. Besides, no one even knows what the Constitution is, anyways. It hasn’t worked since…-

-Whatcha taking about?-

-Nevermind. Grab the pass and...-

-What pass?-

All the while the ambient sound of students-not-working had turned into the sound of intent eavesdropping - ear hustling, they called it - all of which Mr. Machellis heard. Painfully. So, the need to compromise forced his hand.

-Grab something from the class.-

Javier took an overhead projector. Glad he didn't need it to teach. Kids said it was too damn bright!

A shuffle of books and some exasperated breaths were huffed underneath some talking in the back of the class, then...

-Why you let them do that?!-

Maia. She'd turned around in her seat, her dark hair tied into a bun, leaning over her seat and maniacally chewing gum.

-Turn around, do your work...-

One of her crew slammed her text book closed. Queenabelle. For a second, Mr. Machellis realized it wasn't the text for this class.

-Mack! You have to be a teacher.-

-You have to be a student.-

Maia popped her gum.

-Damn! You gotta be stricter.-

Queenabelle joined.

-Beat their asses if you have to.-

Maia...

-You can hit kids, you know...-

Mr. Machellis had to laugh at that one. She was always good for a laugh.

-You're right. I should. I'm going to start now with you two!-

He locked eyes with Maia. The brown marbles of her eyes moved back and forth. She smiled.

-Stop it. Stop doing that!-

Queenabelle said something wicked under her breath. Mr. Machellis could tell. The cluster of seats in front of her had laughed, and pointed. It went on and on and on. These days, the insurgency started in the back of the class.

-Someday, after you graduate, I will tell you all about this job. But for now, you've uneducated and you got nothing. So shut up.-

Mr. Machellis noticed that a table group of students had started to play cards. He didn't even want to know if they were done. Maia's crew must've noticed. They went wild with mad gesticulations of their hands, making noises of disgust and a general contempt for society. Or the class culture - hard to tell.

Queenabelle was the crazy one, so too the rest of the gang. Like Raelynn with the switchblade smile (or were those her braces?), or quiet little Sameerah, always in search of attention, ready to shake off the nice girl label. He feared for that one most of all, even with Maia's steady watch.

-So, you're going to let...Eli and the nerds play cards like they have nothing else to do? WTF?!-

Queenabelle could make the abstract jumps of thought that Mr. Machellis had no doubt she'd blow out of her head with the newest methamphetamines by her sweet 16th. So much for the next generation of geniuses.

-You need to be consistent with your discipline, Mack.-

Raelynn sharpened her teeth, and Regina learned from watching her.

They'd won.

-Go. Go for a walk!-

In unison.

-A walk?-

-No - A RUN!-

Maia pointed at the door.

-With what pass? Comeon! Be smart!-

Mr. Machellis had some fun with this, and he slammed down his fist.

-Take anything! I don't care! Just go! Leave!-

Four screaming girls flew out of the door. In each of their hands: a chair, a potted plant (dead), a poster of the periodic table.

And his laptop computer.

The card-playing table of kids turned towards him. Jillian with green hair turned meekly.

-Why do you let them treat you like that?-

Just then the door opened, and in walked a student. Late. Andres. He looked as if he'd slept in his clothes because he had. In a car, no less.

-Why do you even bother coming?-

Some kids laughed. It was a cheap joke to make, but Mr. Machellis really meant to ask, for no one except for himself. The only pity lay with even needing to ask it at all. Why did they bother coming?

As custom dictated for students who habitually missed class, Andres [without even taking his seat (he didn't know where it was!)] asked to use the bathroom. Mr. Machellis waved to the door. Go. Andres grabbed the homework tray and left the room.

After a while the class seemed deserted, except for the kids playing cards. He heard a student tell the others not to worry. Machellis never did anything.

Then, the phone rang. Sweet mercy? Or a curse? A student by the wall grabbed it, ignored Mr. Machellis's directions (Say student speaking please.) No, they said something else. The teacher wasn't there.

He finally got out of his chair, reluctantly, at that, and grabbed the phone.

He saw the 'academic director' before he heard her. Out the window, across the yard, she stood by the fence next to the street. A Marine Osprey ascended over the nearby Bay. Do or die.

-Mr. Machellis, can you tell me why most of your class is at Get Up! Get Happy!?-

He could see the green and red convenience storefront from the window. Actually, the full name of the store ended with 'Go to Sleep, Stay Happy!' but it was the AM, and everyone was well trained by the etiquette of the advertisements. Time to stay 'up.' But happy? Nigga, please...

Embarrassment flushed his ruddy cheeks. The AC-EX, Ms. MacBurgermeister, hadn't embarrassed him, no. His class barely had any students, and they'd taken nearly everything for use as bathroom passes.

At least they wouldn't be tardy.


***
The teachers's breakroom. Behind closed doors and the sign that read Staff Only, the room appeared exactly as the mildest of imaginations could visualize. But it didn't matter. The students believed teachers sat around and talked about their students. When asked, teachers would always deny it. But the students were right.

A small little couch and some plastic chairs, with some teachers hovering around the one microwave, made up a dreadful atmosphere where most of the teachers hovered around that one said microwave in the hope they could get in, get out, quickly, quickly, quickly. The ones that couldn't brave the waiting game had been eating P&J sandwiches for most of the year in their rooms.

The teachers ran into one another, leaned on counters. None really sat down, they just waited to go. Their conversations turned on a dime about students. Questions about this kid, that guy. How he or she was doing in your class, too.

You seen Andrew?
Oh, yes, Mr. Clare finally showed up.
So angry....
He walked out of my class.
Really? He stopped showing up for mine.
Told me he's through.
Through?
Says everyone's on his case. Says no one will leave him alone.
Well, I tell you what, he's ruining his friends who are trying to work hard in my class.
Angry, never seen someone so angry.
He's broken...
Broken?
Broken...he lost his father you know, gunshot...

***












Mr. Machellis sat behind a locked door, contemplating his next bathroom pass. He had half a mind to say no more restroom privileges. The other half called him stupid for the thought.

He ate his peanut butter and pickle sandwich, looked at his computer. The desktop. He knew Maia would return his laptop any minute now. He'd given up counting, and read a few stories on a local intra-net. Stories of car bombings near the Grand Canyon. News about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the national elections. The Raiders were moving back to Oakland for the third time.

Knocks on his door.

-Go away.-

He turned down his player. The kids didn't need to hear a song called "I Should’ve Done Acid With You."

More knocks, then a head looked through the window next to the door.

Mr. Borah. The great white hope.

Mr. Machellis got up and opened the door. There might have been a student at his door if not for the shirt and tie, and the shoes - clean the kids called them. Mr. Borah had a smooth face that a razor had never touched. He also had a crew cut, the same one he'd made the entire basketball team get too.

-I came to update your grading files for the progress reports on School Loop's parents' page.-

That made no sense to Mr. Machellis. None at all. He could sort of, maybe, remember some of that strung along syntax, but he got an error message each time the statement attempted to give him a command.

-Come right in, Mr. Borah. The computer is all yours.-

Right when he said it, Mr. Machellis realized he'd left a news story up on his computer. The site. Small Wars Journal. The last story he’d read was still up. Interesting things about Montana, these days…

Mr. Borah strode into the room with the world on his back. And it was. The Academy's mathematics scores lay in his hay-baling hands. He walked unlike any twentysomething Mr. Machellis had ever seen. An old college basketball injury, my white ass. He sure had no problem getting in Mr. Machellis's chair, closing some windows, and opening a new intra-net tab, until his fingers moved over the keyboard punching in commands on the teacher's page.

-They're still looking for teachers to perform for the talent show, you know, Mr. Machellis.-

-Don’t think so…-

-You'd be surprised what it can do, when kids know they can laugh at their teachers.-

The statement made Mr. Machellis grow cold. He needed no help eroding his authority figure status. The kids got his jokes, alright.

-I take it you're going do an act.-

-Oh yes, play some country tunes. Some songs from my old band. "The Mile High Caucasian Boys and Their Mighty Petting Zoo."-

Thank whatever cruel gods the kids with their cults spray-painted on NGOs. Mr. Borah faced the computer and could not see Mr. Machellis nearly erupt in laughter. He struggled to contain his outburst, and bit his bottom lip. It was all he could do. And it wasn't enough.

He started laughing.

Mr. Borah turned at the first sound of laughter, looking perplexed. Mr. Machellis thought quickly on his feet. Teaching had given him the practice to lie in a hurry.

-It’s just, I was thinking. Something I read….-

Quick, fool! He struggled to get it out.

-It’s just these damn…loonies…who are dropping out faster than our kids…-

If Mr. Borah had worn glasses he would have adjusted them.

-I don’t get you, Mr. Machellis.-

Of course, you don’t!

-Your gun loving cousins, Mr. Borah. Doing what Americans do. These…gun-loving dissentiontists, free-statists…The ones going up into the woods. Turning on, tuning in, dropping out. Counterculture 2.0.-

Mr. Borah looked back at his computer monitor. There’d been something he’d seen, something he referred to.

-Where I grew up, school wasn’t like this…-

He tuned out Mr. Borah’s paean to the lost days of his youth as a farm boy in Idaho. A civilization, gone with the wind.

When Mr. Borah was done with his struggle, Mr. Machellis ran with the opportunity.

-Well, we adapt where we can. We’re Romans pissing and moaning about Germans wearing ‘pants’ in the Senate. ‘No good American would wear pants. Civilized men wear the toga.’-

Mr. Borah looked sick in the pants, confused, and a little lonely, lost in the urban jungle.

-You should talk to Ms. Walker, about Romans.-

Mr. Machellis remembered a passing reference, and an outburst of laughter almost escaped him. What did the kids mean by “Roman?” Something about small penises…

The phone rang. Saved. He walked over through the storm of his thoughts, some which took the long-legged look of Ms. Walker, and grabbed the phone. He heard her voice before he saw her form across the play-yard. A Marine Osprey whirled angrily out of the base on the near horizon.

Ms. MacBurgermeister stood on the blacktop, in the middle of the hopscotch square, her shadow lording over a hundred frantic games of tag.

-Mr. Machellis, can I see you during your prep?-

He might have fallen in love with the subject of history, but he’d ended up married to the bitch of administration. Not literally, of course. But that was teaching. Teaching a subject you liked, but turning into a surrogate parent for doomed children.

Mr. Machellis hung up the phone. He understood Ms. MacBurgermeister’s rhetorical devices, but he wasn’t a quitter.

-The door should lock behind you.-

Mr. Machellis exited the room to the sound of Mr. Borah’s plans to leave for the homeland….All the Caucasians were. Good riddance.

***

Whasup, mr. mack?! Maia here, with the latest news, checkin in – what’s gud witya bro?
Alrite. Saw ya talkin. Straitup mackin, dawg (thirsty aint ya?)
Thats cool.
Brother, man, so what DID miss. Macdonald’s want from you? U n trouble? How cum its always the kul teachrs who git in trouble? Imean comeon bruh? There all cool wit Mr.Boring…Borah, my bad.
See ya 7th, fosho.
KULT of the FLY can suck mahdick.

***


There were representations, and then there were representation of a mood, a certain time, a feeling that this sudden, random example fit the feeling in a person’s gut. And America by the 21st century had proven, if anything, that it’s “gut” made the decisions.

That much Mr. Machellis knew. You didn’t have to read a trade journal on some intra-net site to get a good idea where all this was going.

The great fear.

Mr. Borah’s previous reference to Ms. Walker reminded him that some of his female colleagues belonged to the best class of the species. Ms. Walker was one of the friendlier ones. Not too young like the charter schools liked to hire, nor too old and a reminder of the causalities of the wars the nativists had fought against public school teachers.

Ms. Walker belonged to the few and the proud. Not the ones at the nearby Marine base with their devilish Osprey whirling mad over the school grounds and the rest of the Island. No, she belonged to the group of reform minded educators. The ones who’d started the Academy and even offered up their own first-born to endure the first year of the charter. Not even the most committed reformers would’ve done that.

Mr. Machellis always enjoyed the cross-collaborations with Ms. Walker, and it was one of her overhead transparencies that he thought of now. An image that, if anyone thought of the current age of pedagogy, perfectly suited the current state of mind. Burned bright into his brain with the lights turned off, the photocopied quality a slapdash effort right before class. For that too evoked the mood. The rush, the bleary dawns, always one more step behind. The futility of a lifestyle, no longer sustainable, unless one could keep up with the 80 hour work weeks.

Not the men in this picture. A statue of them from the late Roman era. Four men in the togas, huddled together. Arms draped over each other for protection. They almost formed a square with their formation, the crowns of their heads small and insignificant. The tetrarchs of a vanished empire, besieged from within and without.

***




The image of the Diocletian’s Tetrarchy accompanied his own fears, as 1st period rode as a horde into class and sacked his Friday joy. The imperial purple must have felt this beleaguered in the end. For every brilliant class such as 7th, its opposite took form on the schedule. For three long months the 50+ kids of 1st continued to ignore him. After the long fruitless struggle, he’d differentiated their lessons to the point of never talking to them. Germans on the frontier you couldn’t ignore. This group preferred it, for now. The Aurelian Wall held.

Plenty of worksheets and journals and learning stations and group work meant he just had to facilitate. And little interaction with the students allowed him long periods to think about other things - his meeting with Ms. MacBurgermeister, for one.

-Thank you for showing up for your performance evaluation, Mr. Machellis.-

-Thanks, I’m the boss.-

Ms. MacBurgermeister’s office faced the northwest quadrant of the Island. His noon prep on the rotating confusion they called a schedule took place after lunch on Fridays. Therefore, the slits of office windows faced the late noon sun. She’d put her desk in front of the spectacle, the glare in the eyes of whomever beheld the glory. Stilgar of Dune Messiah couldn’t have done it better.

Mr. Machellis further sucked in his gut, as he parked his rear in a chair, barely able to see her. He held his hand above his eyes.

-How are things going in your classes?-

It was trap. He’d learned quickly in three months that she didn’t want to hear good news. There was none to report.

-Pretty bad…-

…and when he finished his laundry list of demands for more support, she belabored him with the already tired point of the lawsuits that confronted the district within a district (imperium a imperia?), all from his expulsion of the SPED students from his classes. The head of SPED had advised him to send them to her. When the parents complained and started a lawsuit, the SPED teacher promptly threw him under the bus.

They still had bussing.

-Mr. Machellis…-

He felt her windup, and relaxed his gut, relieved even as it bulged against the starches of his shirt. No use looking like mister sexy pants now.

-…Do you know what I saw when I looked in your class the other day?-

-What period?-

He couldn’t see her face, but he knew from the silence that great displeasure stewed across from him.

-…well…-

Wishing well, can’t you tell? He’d asked a very good question. Depending on the class, the time of day, and whose parents had gotten themselves out of bed and gotten their children to school, it really depended. The question remained…

-…doesn’t really matter, Mr. Machellis. Now, here at the Academy, we have things in place. You took over 6 classes, which I admit that were a lot, and we thank you for jumping right in…-

She sounded now as she swallowed her own puke. The bile must’ve boiled up from her gut to say that. So appreciative.

Please continue…

-…and so, what we’ve tried to do here is…is put the kids into groups. For group work. So they can work with their peers. And you’ve changed that, by breaking up the clusters, and sticking them into rows, all facing one direction.-

-Sure. I did. I did it because the spent more time looking at each other then up at me. So I put them in rows so they face one direction. The front of the class. That’s where I do my lectures…-

He smelled the bile before she spoke.

-I thought we decided there would be no lectures?-

One way to identify passive aggressiveness was through the use of questions by a speaker. Asking - when you wanted to tell them.

He let the matter go. No lectures. Agreed. It made sense. After all, the day they hired him the original teacher had just walked out of the class. Dissention was timeless. He still decided to stay in-country, and by doing so that meant a job. Any job. He’d gotten a degree in history. The first class he’d ever taught? Middle school science. With barely any credentials - the school in non-compliance with the Original Californian standards – they’d agreed upon his hiring that he would give no lectures.

No lectures.

Well, he could remember that day well. After his interview, they hired him on the spot. 15 minutes was all it took. How desperate they’d been that day. Ms. MacBurgermeister and the rest of them.

All huddled together like Diocletian and his fellow tetrarchs.

The sun arched just a little lower into the sky, the blinding light dimmed a little by a passing Osprey, or just dimming naturally with age. It’s hour done. He could see her face now. Severe and pinched and sexy in that Alaskan governor kind-of-way. Before secession.

-…Mr. Machellis…here at the Academy we believe in this thing called ‘Tribes.’ Your seating arrangement is a defiant…-

Shot across the bow!

…is a defiant gesture…-

Hellsyea!

…a gesture that you haven’t read the charter, which, I don’t know why a teacher hasn’t read…-

He’d love to tell her how he never had the chance to read 300 pages of educational reform drivel. Other things launched into his mind.

-I really don’t know how wise it is to encourage kids to get into these… ‘Tribes’…given that middle schoolers are already learning to be cliquey, that they’re learning that their friends since elementary are ready to turn on them and make fun of them – betray them, really – all without rhyme or reason. These ‘tribes’…also fly in the face of the obvious. Don’t forget that many of these kids have families who are not homeowners, so it’s not unusual for any of them to join the gangs that mark their territories, shoot each other up. And we’re encouraging ‘tribes,’ amidst the backlash by neo-Nativists…the youth cults and their riots…the Mandate Acts for christsakes…-

Oh dear, he’d lost before he’d even begun to fight. Never bring “Christ” into a conversation with a Catholic.

-Mr. Machellis, you forget what I did on the Border before it became…the MZ
…-

She stood up out of the sun, next to a picture on the southern wall. Some brown children in a frame. Her looking younger. Sexy town. She did, he’d give her that. She must’ve also have known of the riot to come.

-…and I feel like I don’t have to tell you anymore about how I’ve felt about your teaching.-

-You’ve never once seen me teach…-

-Students have told me enough. Enough to know that you are punitive with your tests. That we’ve never felt confident with your teaching, so much so that we’ve never allowed you to give a final grade below a B. Lastly, because you were so quick to discipline and run kids out of your class from Day One…-

Mr. Machellis thought of the dreaded “Year Zero.” Whether Futurist or from the killing fields of Pol Pot, revolutions hated the people it claimed to save. Even in the field of education.

-…we took away your ability to give referrals. We felt it was necessary that the kids feel that they had a classroom again and instruction again, after losing Ms. Washington.-

Yes, and in the pursuit of that goal they’d made sure a new teacher could never take over.

The sun’s glare returned with all its anger. Blinded by the light, lit up like a douche. He was the douche. Bag. Douchebag.

-I know you majored in history, Mr. Machellis, so I hope you use this time to…do some research…on the urban city children. For the risk of sounding like a Harrison Republican, knowing what the ‘urban heart’ wants to learn most in class is the thing this nation must learn. Think of this as an experiment. With the possibility of resuming the postponed presidential election for the first time in months, maybe that can be your ‘in’ with these kids. Maybe you should put it to a…vote.-

Mr. Machellis couldn’t have agreed more with the ghost of the AC-EX in his head.

As 1st period rolled out of class with their plunder, he prepared for the last class of the day. Excitement time. He was a science teacher and it was time to do an experiment. Elections would begin.

***




The car picked up speed and Babz got that feeling she got when the traffic didn’t stop. The open road. The incompetents must have found a way to break the deadlock up ahead. Most likely more highways went just one way now. North. Out of the Great State of Greater Los Angeles.

-So how exactly did you get to hear all of this?-

Monica stroked her son’s head, stuck between the two front seats. Chavo answered.

-I told you. Tony. He got on Mr. Machellis’s computer. Found this shit. All from this girl named Maia.-

Fucking creepy teachers. Most likely, nothing happened however. Still. They’ll take your soul if you let them.

This nearly ruined her love for the highway. The traffic however. It was still heavy. She’d still needed to keep a watch on the lazy driver that’d forgotten high speeds.

Babz looked at the hole where the radio should’ve been. Entertainment area console hole.

-What happened to your radio anyways?-

Monica’s eyes shot open and looked at Babz. She basically asked Babz not to ask any more questions. That definitely happened a lot since she’d met Monica.

Chavo though. He loved to show people what he knew. All the time.

-You really don’t want to know.-

Babz had heard enough of this story. Monica and Chavo had lived in the MZ. They’d run away from something, as they all did now. Except this time, the rest of Greater Los Angeles joined the escape.

-What are you guys talking about?…hey…-

The traffic surprised her. It’d come to a standstill. As it should have, she guessed. But the seriousness of the stop…up ahead.

Some lights. Men with flashlights. They walked through the traffic.

Babz didn’t know who to guess was on their way. But Monica had, and she pushed Chavo down in the seat.

Babz took this all very seriously.

-What’s going on?-

She saw the spotlight before the sound of the helicopter’s bladed arrival. Light filled the inside of the car. If the helicopter overhead had found something, Babz couldn’t tell. She couldn’t see anything. Blinded by the light…

The air rose not only with the chopping of blades, but the sounds of boots. Right towards the car men charged, and the speed of light arrived before their shouts.

Rapidly (Rapido!) men in civic-corps gray ordered them out of the car. Guns drawn. Babz could see that much, thank you. She threw up her hands. Monica told Chavo to get up.

Hands reached into the car and opened their doors. Babz felt herself thrown to the ground by rough hands. With her eyes full of the light, she looked at the men in oranges. A whole lot of them, standing over her. Security soldiers and Diversionaries, fine. But these Stormchasers in their orange jumpsuits?

Babz and company had fled the war. She feared the true size of the MZ. The one to come.

One man with firefighter orange stepped forward. A stormchaser-investigator lanyard hung around his neck, and he spoke beneath a thick black mustachio.

-I’m Investigator-general Narses. You’re all to come with me immediately for questioning.-

Babz didn’t have an answer for that one.












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