Back to School
By Michael Haynes
Laura and her twin older siblings came home to find their mother holding postcards with this year's teacher assignments.
"Who'd we get?" asked the twins, in unison.
"Jackson, you've got Mrs. Coe. Julia, you'll have Miss Hamilton." The school had wisely never put the twins together.
"Lucky!" Jackson said. "I'd much rather have Miss Hamilton than Mrs. Coe, whoever she is."
Julia rolled her eyes. "Naturally! Half the school knows you have a crush on her."
"Oh, yeah? Then why's your face getting all red?"
"Enough," their mother interjected, stopping the tiff before it could escalate to a tussle. "Laura, you have Mrs. Riley."
Laura's mouth felt dry, a contrast to her eyes which were starting to grow teary.
"Now, Laura, I'm sure it'll be fine," her mother said.
Julia put a hand on Laura's shoulder. "She's a good teacher. I had her for second grade, too."
"Wasn't that the year she died?" Jackson asked.
"Yeah. We had a sub for, like, four weeks. Mister Walker. He was the worst!" She looked back at Laura. "But you'll like Mrs. Riley. She was cool."
Laura doubted that. She'd wanted a living teacher, not a dead one. Second grade was going to stink.
The first day of school arrived and Laura's siblings walked with her. They lived farthest from the school so they started alone, but other kids joined along the way.
"You got Mrs. Coe?" One of the boys asked Jackson. "My mom said she's a zombie."
Anna Garrett, an eighth-grader, piped up. "I wish we didn't have zombies in our school. My dad says the reason we have zombie teachers is because they don't want to give up their jobs even after they're dead."
Another of the older students replied. "Yeah, well, my dad says we only have zombie teachers because they're cheaper and don't get health benefits."
The two debated the topic disinterestedly for a few minutes before letting it drop.
Soon, the pack of kids was at the edge of the school grounds. Laura reached for her big sister's hand.
"You'll be just fine, Laura-kins."
Laura scrunched up her nose at the pet name.
"Mrs. Riley was just as good a teacher after she died. You'll see. Give her a chance."
Jackson didn't like Mrs. Coe and let everyone know it at dinner. "And not 'cause she's a zombie. She's just mean. I bet she was mean even when she was alive."
"How was your day?" their mother asked Laura.
She shrugged. "Okay, I guess." Surprisingly, it had been. You could tell Mrs. Riley was dead, of course. She didn't move quite the same as a living person. Her breathing was infrequent if she wasn't talking and her skin color was off. But she didn't smell bad, or really look all that strange.
And she seemed like she might even be nice. But Laura wasn't ready to admit that just yet.
Julia chimed in, praising Miss Hamilton. "We're doing a science fair in the class, and for our writing journals Miss Hamilton said we could write whatever we wanted! It doesn't have to be poems, or about our summer, or something she says — anything!"
Jackson hurled a bread roll at his twin. She snatched it from the air and took a bite, grinning.
"Mrs. Coe gave us writing journals, too." He glowered. "But we have to write about our day, every day. Even weekends! Like it's a diary or something. She said self-examination was important."
"That could be interesting," their father said. "You might enjoy looking back on it when you're older."
"Whatever. I'll just make up a bunch of stuff. Watch out, Laura, you're gonna come down with pneumonia soon. I should be able to get several entries out of that."
"Mom," Laura whined, "Jackson's being mean to me!"
"Alright kids, cut it out and finish your dinner." Their mother stood up. "And Jackson, I expect you to be truthful in your writing journal."
His mother's back turned, Jackson dared to roll his eyes and mouth "whatever" again.
Weeks passed and everyone settled into a routine. Even Jackson now only complained about his journal when Julia called it "his diary."
Laura swung lazily in the yard. A few raindrops still clung to the grass. Laura smiled, remembering the pleasant surprise of a full recess earlier in the day.
They'd just gone outside when it began raining. Not a downpour, just a slow steady rain. Still, she figured they'd go inside for quiet indoor recess. But Mrs. Riley patiently stood and watched the class play. Apparently, zombies didn't mind getting wet.
It wasn't the first time Mrs. Riley had surprised her. Last week everyone was outside for a school-wide track meet. Frankie Hill from Jackson's class was teasing Laura. He asked why she was at school if she had pneumonia, and would she die soon, and did she think she'd become a zombie or just be dead?
Laura tried to ignore him, but he kept picking at her, and began crying. Mrs. Riley saw what was happening and pulled Frankie aside.
Laura certainly hadn't been expecting to see Mrs. Riley bare her teeth at Frankie and growl. At least, that's what she thought she saw, but she wouldn't think that teachers — even zombie teachers — could act that way. Maybe it wasn't really a growl, maybe just a snarl. Either way, Frankie left her alone after that.
In fact, Laura couldn't think of anything with Mrs. Riley as a teacher which hadn't been just fine.
She kicked harder, swung higher. The end of October was soon. She wondered if Mrs. Riley would like a Halloween present. Laura had given other teachers Christmas presents, but maybe Halloween was a special day for zombies. She'd have to ask her mom about that.
Laura kicked higher still, felt the crisp air rush by her skin, and burst into laughter. Who would have thought having the living dead for a teacher could be so much fun?
About the Author
Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. He had over 25 stories accepted for publication during 2012 by venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Daily Science Fiction. His website is: http://michaelhaynes.info/
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