Fantasy Horror zombies teaching high school

Classroom of the Living Dead

By James Van Pelt
Oct 9, 2019 · 575 words · 3 minutes

From the author: Apocalypses, like politics, are all local, and who you are will give you a different experience of the end of the world than anyone else.

            They came for me on a Monday morning when I was too exhausted to hear the backdoor caving in.  Only when their hands were on me did I realize that all was lost, but the dead didn’t consume me.  They dragged me out of the house, shambled the three blocks to the school, holding me tight in their rotted hands, shuffling in that loose-limbed, broken way that they had, until they’d pulled me up the stairs, through the front doors with their glass knocked out, down the hall strewn with books and abandoned back packs, until we came to my room.

            Here, too, windows were broken, and the venetian blinds hung askew.  Morning sun slanted through the uneven slats.  They pushed me toward my podium.  I clung to the top, sick with fear.  When would they kill me?  Would I become like them?

            They stumbled against the desks, former students, all of them: Daniel, who used to play his guitar at lunch; Lisa, with her pierced lip and blue-dyed hair; Landon, who read manga and drew big-breasted girls in the back of his notebooks, all my students.  They bumped into the chairs, moaning low in their throats, until they were sitting, a terrible parody of the class they once had been.

            What did they want, with their white-washed eyes and bruised faces?  They looked at me, blank-faced, but ravenous, expectant, somehow.  Hands gripped the sides of their desks.  A breeze stirred a loose paper on the windowsill.

            Finally, Joselyn, a girl who used to look like she ran a brush through her long, brunette hair a thousand strokes before she came to class, raised her hand, her hair a knotted mess, now, her blouse, torn and stained.  She raised her hand and waited.

            “Yes, Joselyn,” I squeaked. 

            She opened her mouth, and for a while nothing came except a strangled gasping, until she forced the word:  “Braaaiiins.”  Her hand dropped with a thud.  “Braaaiiins.”

            “That’s what you want?” 

            She nodded.  They all nodded.

            Was this what remained, after they died, after they reanimated?  A desire to continue, to be a little bit of what they once were?  Was it all habit?  Would the athletes head to the gym after school to make layups?  Would the marching band tramp across the field, their tuneless instruments, dead in their grips?

            Joselyn said, “Braaaiiins,” a third time.

            I found a marker in the desk.  What could be more surreal, but who was I after all?  The world had ended.  The apocalypse had arrived.  Still, I was who I was.  They were what they had become.

            I turned to the board.  “Today, I will show you how to diagram sentences.”  I wrote on the white surface.  I drew lines and made connections and spoke the arcane language of grammar.  When I faced the class again, they were silent and attentive.

            “Braaaiiins,” someone in the back groaned.

            By the time the sun had traveled to the horizon, I’d filled the board and erased it a dozen times.  It didn’t matter what I talked about.  They didn’t answer questions.  They didn’t move.

            But they let me live.

            Tomorrow I think I’ll teach literature.  Some Dickenson, some Poe.  Tomorrow I’ll teach to the dead and for the moment pretend that the world will go on.

            Tomorrow they won’t have to drag me to school.

This story originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction.

James Van Pelt

An interviewer asked the author if he wanted to be the next Stephen King: he said, "No, I want to be the first James Van Pelt."