art by Tais Teng
by James Van Pelt
"Miss Linderman," said the voice--it sounded like the principal's secretary--"there's been an accident. Two of our students were killed driving home from a haunted house. Cathy Jackson and Melinda Cranford."
Miss Linderman held the phone tight in the dark room. On the dresser, her clock's red letters glowed 2:59. "If you think you'll need a substitute, I can arrange one for you."
"No, I'll go in. It will be easier on the kids if I'm there. They were in my afternoon Literature and Composition class."
She hung up but didn't fall asleep. She watched the clock instead until it was time to get up for school.
When fifth hour came, kids filed in almost solemnly. Pushing was half-hearted. Laughter sounded too shrill and cut off early. Quietly, students walked around Cathy and Melinda's empty desks a bit wider than would be normal, and when the bell rang, they lapsed into silence.
Miss Linderman busied herself marking role. Nothing in education classes prepared her for students' deaths, but in her twelve years they had happened like the tolling of a relentless bell that rang every other year.
This year took two. Cathy and Melinda made the death class roster a total of seven. Seven young spirits snuffed out. Seven memorials in the yearbooks. We will miss you, Harper. The class of '02 celebrates Gracie's irrepressible spirit. Two years ago the message read, Trey is gone but not forgotten. Miss Linderman could see the white doves released at graduations they never attended.
She didn't want to look up at her class. Today was Halloween. She was afraid she'd see familiar faces, like she did every Halloween. The faces that expected her to lead them, to teach them, perhaps even to save them, but all she had to offer was grammar, literature, and an encouragement to write better. On Halloween especially, on a holiday about death, she wished to give them more.
The Halloween day was never like any other day for Miss Linderman. Twelve years ago, also on Halloween, she lost her first student; the first of seven, and it hit her just as hard today.