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Pencils

a fiction piece by Muriel Mackie, Freshman Marketing Major

 

And with a deafening snap, a cheap #2 pencil clatters to the ground. Splintered haphazardly across light green linoleum, the utensil’s previously conjoined counterparts seem to mimic fresh roadkill. You can almost see broken bones pressing against sagging flesh. You can almost smell it.

Seven feet above this disaster, long rows of bright fluorescent bulbs shine nicotine-white, glazing a small, stuffy room with a brittle, greasy glare, illuminating rows of shuffling, multicolored heads who are unaware of snapping pencils. Well, a few directly in the vicinity notice upon commencement, but the incident is dismissed immediately. Directly to the right of the wreckage and the heads and the lights, large windows are protected by half-closed blinds. Walls made of pitted brown stone stretch past on either side donned festively with colorful maps and posters, their splendor currently smothered by large sheets of brown, industrial-sized construction paper, the kind that's just too thin to draw on but perfect to hide meticulously informational diagrams of the Silk Road. No matter: no one ever looked at those posers anyway.

Someone coughs, someone else scratches their brow unnecessarily. The colorful, quietly fidgeting heads who don't care about snapping pencils are thinking very hard. Nails are chewed, unbroken pencils make tiny, overlapping circular motions, feet cross and uncross. In long rows, students attempt to reorganize their fate.

Seated at this operations’ stern is a noiseless teacher, waiting with droop-eyed resignation at her plywood desk until a lazy hand is raised on a bent elbow. Slowly, she lifts her leg from its position over top the other and walks towards the pupil in question, thinking all the while of her shoes, which are new, and which squeak on the light green linoleum. They consume her mind until she reaches the hand in question and disperses a miniscule amount of her education by defining the word "pronouncement", and then she is walking back to her desk and the shoes are back.

Feet cross and uncross. Dry lips are wet, a yawn stifled. The room, continually almost quiet with nervousness, holds a kind of self-preserving apathy that clenches every student with chords of iron. Backs shift, bright lights shine hard. Through their papery prisons, diagrams of long-dead conquerors listen quietly for the tone to change, for something to break the doldrum. Then, like all other times in history, something does. Marco Polo watches expectantly from his veil. Inexplicable and entirely unprecedented--the whine of a mosquito.

A slow, strange disturbance, it starts near the center of the class and to the left, hardly noticeable, disregarded as background noise until it's unintentionally heard, like the humming of a refrigerator. First, a buzzing in the backs of their heads, a small, barely registered buzz that only the most paranoid seem to notice, but it is a buzz that does not cease, that grows and builds incrementally upon the silence of the room and anxiety of the children and boredom of the teacher. Slowly, the sensation of oddity creeps up on the students, works its way into the walls; even Marco Polo is scratching his head. Eyes slowly tick over, looking for the source.

The teachers' brow knits, her lips part slightly. She turns her chair marginally to the side as though to get up, but doesn't, just turns her chair and knits her brow and looks confused and apprehensive, observing the sound, the low, whining hum rippling a crescendo throughout the room. Her movement is innocent enough, completely insubstantial, a motion that makes no claims, but it's enough. All those students who had been watching her, trapping her in their peripheral vision, they see her attention shift, and that's enough. They follow her uncertainty like ducklings, bowing to her paper will. The mosquito becomes louder, entices those colorful heads to glance at their desk mates, to begin looking for answers for some nondescript problem. Why is this so difficult, why is this so odd? Why isn’t the answer revealing itself? Why is this nondescript? The teacher mouths an unspoken question, the student’s heads swivel faster, trying to glean any information available until eventually, eyes cease their wandering. Like birds pecking at roadkill, like fruit flies drifting past rotting produce, curious, confused minds find rest upon what must be the mutinous mosquito, what must be this thing upending the hushed status quo.

Not too far above the wrecked pencils, still not attended to though it happened almost five minutes ago, someone is shaking. Someone is trembling at their desk, and the mosquito buzzes incessantly through the stale air. Yes, here is the hive, here is the disturbance.

The teacher stands up, walks in quick, mincing steps over to one particular desk where a girl sits, quaking with steadily increasing ferocity. Two clenched, white fists are glued atop her desk, the most minimal amount of blood oozing from each palm as nails dig into pale, slippery flesh.

"Leslie? Leslie, what's going on?" The teacher whispers conspiratorially, crouching on the balls of her feet. "And back to work, all of you!" She adds slightly louder, realizing the rest of the class has otherwise abandoned whatever was occupying their attention spans earlier and are staring captivated at the unfolding situation.

The mosquito is now an all-encompassing drone, a siren's screeching wail. The girl continues to shake, her palms continue to steadily bleed, slowly becoming more and more violent until she's rattling her desk and her chair and everyone in the room has both given liberally their undivided attention, and instinctively moved away, fear pricking their hearts though no one would dare admit it.

Ms. Lance places a poorly manicured hand on the shaking girls’ shoulder in an attempt to defuse the situation by leading her out of the classroom, deciding internally that despite being at a loss for ideas, she'd rather avoid getting scolded for not doing something soon enough. But the girl does not move despite the hand, she instead continues to tremble, clattering her desk against that putrid linoleum floor with an egregious cacophony alien in the typically tediously quiet classroom. All the kids continue to pull away from the epicenter of confusion like oppositely charged magnets, removing themselves as much as possible from this fearful development. There is nothing but whispered silence from the children as they watch this creeping spectacle with shell-shocked devotion, unable to look away as Unknown’s long, wet fingers drape down their backs for the first time in their short, protected lives.

Ms. Lance places her arm around the girl’s shoulder, hoping somewhere in the back of her mind that she won’t get in trouble at the end of this debacle for touching a student. "Leslie, let's go to the nurse, okay? C'mon now. Back to work everyone!" Neither of the teacher's directions are heeded, and a small part of her is annoyed for being disrespected despite the dire circumstances. Suggestion ignored, she tries gently coercing Leslie out of her chair, but to no avail. “Back to work!” she snaps in vain as more physical pressure is unavoidably exerted on the young girl, then more, then even more, until she is gripping tightly with both hands to Leslie’s bicep and wrenching her from her desk onto watery feet. Surprisingly, the girl remains upright despite her relentless shivering which rollicks her to and fro in a terrifying fit of bizarrely contained spasms. The teacher begins herding the girl towards the classroom door, giving tart orders on the way.

"Stay seated. No talking. C'mon Leslie, let's go, c'mon let--I said stay seated!"

And then the pitted door opens, and the procession departs, leaving the pencil behind.



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