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I pulled into the parking lot at a quarter to eight. The place was deserted. I could choose any spot I wanted, even the one closest to the door. I pulled in. I didn’t bother to check that I was between the lines.

The brick building looked closed. Like an abandoned warehouse. A tattered blue sign still hung, leftover from the last time school had been in session. It had survived years of sun, rain, and snow. Welcome back!

I wanted to flick it off, but what would be the point?

Ten other cars. That was it. Too few, I thought. Too few kids still thought of themselves as students. Maybe that had been the point.

Just one hallway was lit, but it was enough to indicate that someone was inside. I followed the lights, passing bare trophy cases, locked classrooms, empty lockers flung open. The door to a classroom was open near the end of the hall. A man sat at the teacher’s desk reading a book.

I gave the door a knock.

The man’s head swiveled toward me.

“I’m here for the first day of school.”

A smile stretched over his face.

“Great, why don’t you come in? Sit down?” He didn’t get up or gesture. Sat there smug and comfortable. “We’ll start in a few minutes.”

*          *          *

It was a great idea at first. We all dug it. They weren’t gonna do jack shit, those politicians. They weren’t gonna lift a finger to help us, to save the children. So what could we do? We could boycott. We could stay home. We could shut them down. How do they like us now?

Five hundred dead by May. They said it wasn’t the guns. It was mental health. They said it wasn’t background checks. It was mental health. But then we said fine, do something ‘bout mental health. And they said they couldn’t. ‘Cuz where do you start? It was mental health.

So we said that’s it. We went on our summer break and didn’t come back.

No more dead, no more fools, no more scary shot-up schools.

Sunshine turned to snow turned to rain.

The politicians were wise to our ways. They knew we were playing into their hands. If kids weren’t in school, they had to work! A few parents said waitaminute, but not enough. Not enough said waitaminute to matter. Go to school and get credit. Or go to work and get a waiver.

We didn’t get that we had been outflanked. We still thought we had a play. So we kept up our chant.

No more thoughts. No more prayers. No more students dead nightmare.

They chipped away at us. Athletes went straight into development leagues. Skipped school. Tax breaks went to companies taking on apprentices. Skipped school. One by one we got drafted to the rat race, enticed by opportunity.

I stopped the chant.

I said, fine, I’ll go back.

*          *          *

The bell rang for homeroom and the man shot out of his chair and began writing his name in broad block letters. Mr. Stevens.

I’d been joined in the room by the remaining students. Twelve scattered across a room of empty desks.

Mr. Stevens turned and handed a paper to a student in the front row. The attendance sheet. He returned to the front of the room and dove into a session on English literature.

“Today, we’ll be reading Harrison Bergeron, a short story that shows us the error of forced equality in society. Maybe some of you remember our country’s struggle with affirmative action, equal pay–“

I raised my hand.

“When are we going to get our schedules?”

“There are no schedules anymore. I’m the only teacher left in the school, Mr. Daniels.”

“But what about computer science. Will you be teaching that?”

“No more periods. No more teachers. No more electives left to feature.”

Thomas Viehe

Thomas Viehe prefers pop over soda, loo over toilet, fall over autumn. He lives with his wife and dog in a remote part of the country, Washington, D.C.

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