HiLobrow is proud to present the second installment of Robert Waldron’s novel The School on the Fens. New installments will appear each Saturday for thirty-eight weeks. CLICK HERE to read all installments published thus far.
The following day over the PA system, Farrell curtly ordered all seventh-grade teachers again to report with their classes to the auditorium at the beginning of the fourth period. Students were instructed to sit in the same seats that they had occupied the day before. “Mr. Duncan, why’s the headmaster so mad?” asked Nancy Egan, a bright, blue-eyed girl from East Boston.
I shrugged my shoulders.
Along the way to the auditorium, I ran into Ed Horgan with his class.
“What’s this about?” I asked.
“Hope it’s not what I think it is,” he said.
Students nervously filed into the aisles to stand in front of their seats. There was some scrambling, some students forgetting their row and seat, but in less than ten minutes four hundred sixies had assembled.
Today Farrell stood not in the middle aisle but on the stage behind the lectern with its carved panel depicting the school’s symbol of Romulus and Remus suckling a she-wolf.
He placed his hand over his heart and led the students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Afterwards, students silently stood, their attention fixed on Farrell. Looking around and satisfied by the atmosphere of anxiety he had created, he said, “You may be seated.” He waited until the hall was so quiet I could hear my students breathing.
“Yesterday, I expressed my hope that each of you would succeed at Classical and become torchbearers of our high ideals of excellence.”
He stopped to sip water from a glass — a dramatic gesture, prolonging the suspense.
“Take a good look at this assembly hall. The windows are new, the drapes are new, the carpeting is new, and the ceiling is newly painted. The chairs you’re sitting in have just been restored. They don’t make mahogany chairs like that any more. The renovation of this hall cost over a million dollars.”
Some students gasped.
“It’s come to my attention that one of you has vandalized a restored chair by scratching his initials into it. I know the aisle and the chair, and now I want the culprit to stand.”
There was much rustling and turning of heads, but no one stood up.
“You know who you are. Stand up.”
At the back of the hall, a blond boy stood. It was a member of Ed’s class.
“Your name?” Farrell barked.
“Scott Feeny, sir,” he said, his face drained of color.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Scott Feeny, sir.”
“You vandalized the chair in front of you?”
“You have anything to say for yourself?”
“I’m sorry.” He broke down weeping.
Farrell allowed a brief coda of silence, ample time for everyone to stare at Scott who suddenly collapsed into his chair. Ed rushed to him, tossing Farrell an angry glance.
Having accomplished his goal, the humiliation of a student along with terrorizing the others, Farrell dismissed the assembly. They now understood, not in an abstract way but in a very real sense, that he possessed absolute power at Classical High. His performance also served as a warning to the new teachers: “If I can be this cruel to a kid, imagine what I’d do to an adult who crosses me.”
To Farrell there were only two kinds of teachers at Classical: those loyal or disloyal to him. Whether or not you were a bad or a great teacher was unimportant. In fact, most of those he promoted to administrative positions were lazy, ineffective classroom teachers — as he had been — but they had proven their loyalty to him.
ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks in 2011; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, published in limited-edition paperback in 2011; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these appeared in the 2012 collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”