Pseudopod 108: The Teacher

By Paul G. Tremblay

Read by Mur Lafferty

Days and weeks pass without another special lesson. We’ve had plenty of time to waste. Our first term grades are good and we lose ourselves in the responsibilities of senior year; of college recommendations and applications and social requirements.

On the first day of winter term the TV returns. Mr. Sorent doesn’t have to tell us what to do. We pull our chairs in tight and put away our books. Mr. Sorent says, “Lesson two, gang.”

There is a collage of clips and images, nothing in focus for more than a second or two, of car accidents. The kind of stuff some of us saw in driver’s ed. The images of crushed and limbless and decapitated bodies are intercut with scenes from funerals, and there are red-eyed family members, the ones who never saw any of it coming, wailing and crying and breaking apart.

01
JThavens
September 18th, 2008 5:42 pm

This was great.

02
September 18th, 2008 8:46 pm

Agreed. Totally Great.

03
otakucode
September 19th, 2008 6:05 am

VERY interesting story! A very different kind of horror than the usual, a slow melingering dread that simply pervades the entire piece, all the more horrific because the happenings are absolutely unremarkable. What happens to the teenagers in the story happens to all teenagers.

A class such as the one in the story really ought to be taught, I would think around junior high or middle school age. Around 10 or 11 years old children have what psychologists call their Existential Moment. The moment when they realize that they, and everyone they every knew or will know, is going to die. It ushers them into adolescence, the time when they can feel everything with a sensitivity and intensity that makes it baffling for them how adults carry on in a world with so much suffering. Prior to modern times, adolescents were exposed regularly to things that helped them develop emotionally. Now, they are mostly sheltered and prevented from being exposed to such things. I believe this is extremely dangerous and abusive. Similar to how if a child is not exposed to speech before the age of 5 they can never, not with any amount of training, EVER learn to speak, I believe we have produced and are producing another generation of emotional and sexual cripples.

The human brain grows as other things in the body do. If it is left to atrophy, it loses first tone and then loses ability to be used at all. During adolescence, the brain is primed and more than ready to adjust to all of the realities of life. Death, disease, terror, abuse, love, passion, sacrifice, euphoria, life. They can learn all of these things but ONLY through experience. Adults treat fiction like it is reality and act as if seeing a few movies with some love scenes in them inform an adolescent how to be a passionate, loving person. That’s not true. They have to experiment with it and experience it. And they have to do it before they reach their early 20s when their brain stops being so plastic. If you’ve not developed a completely mature sense of independence, a completely mature emotional life with relationships of intense love and intense hate with real people, of being hurt and being protected, a completely mature sex life with understanding of the complex relationship (and lack thereof) between sex and love, between physical pleasure and strong emotional bonds, etc… if you haven’t developed all of that BEFORE your early 20s, you will be crippled for life and will never be able to develop such sophistication. For a long time, society gave adolescents enough freedom that they took care of these things themselves. Now, adolescence is much like this story. Go to school, come home, get online. Rarely, go on a date and even as a senior in high school be so afraid of sexuality that you break up with someone because they’re moving too fast (instead of discussing it with them, etc). No independence. No relationships deeper than the most superficial. No experience with death, tragedy, etc unless it is thrust upon you and then usually in the form of a flat 2D image that the brain does not process the same as reality. I think we, as a society, are crippling our younger generations for the rest of their lives and leaving them unable to deal with tragedy or deal with their own emotional or sexual life. How are they supposed to learn the benefits of resisting the temptation to cheat on someone if they haven’t had a relationship intense enough to have an idea what they would destroy if they did? How does anyone expect them to be able to deal with real problems if they never, when they are best able to deal with it, taught how to live a normal life when surrounded by misery?

Anyhow, great story. Sorry for the rant, but I’ve recently talked to some adolescents who are far too old and far too inexperienced and immature to deal with the world and they have almost no time left at all for their brains to develop their emotional and sexual centers and I know they’re going to end up crippled for lack of intense experiences (the only way that the human brain develops). It’s very disheartening.

04
September 20th, 2008 1:55 am

Proud to have been the one to originally publish this story at ChiZine.com.

Paul’s a fantastic writer.

Brett

05
David
September 20th, 2008 1:02 pm

Great to have you back Mur, really miss you on Pseudopod! Interesting story, I enjoyed the steady changes in the students and the obliviousness of the adults around them. I figured the teacher would turn out to be some kind of demon who fed on their hope (or something like that), especially the way he gradually changed throughout the year then suddenly morphed back into his old self at the end.

Not sure what to call the ending, seems like it was pretty open to interpretation. Otherwise, good story looking forward to many more!

06
Changwa Steve
September 21st, 2008 4:02 am

I am not sure what to think of this story.

Is the teacher introducing the children to cold reality, or is he showing them how they can avoid facing evil and death by refusing to grow up?

Or is he simply giving them the choice?

07
Kenneth
September 21st, 2008 7:37 pm

I had this teacher. Six months ago, I was sitting in his AP history class, his “special class.” He had given up on teaching, grown out a ragged beard. He pointed at things with his curtain-puller, he had posters up everywhere, and he was the young, cool teacher. One time I skipped class just to talk to him–I never skipped class. He slipped me a note that said I had been “making up a test.”

When I heard this story, I got irrationally angry at him, my teacher and the teacher in the story. I asked myself, “How could he show those things to kids with whose education he’d been trusted?”

This story could not have been scarier if he had been a grief-sucking demon, or if one or more of them had committed suicide. This story struck me like no previous one has (having me commenting here for the first time). Thank you, Mur, Alasdair, and Mr. Tremblay. That was really chilling.

08
Sephri
September 21st, 2008 10:48 pm

I don’t really understand where all the praise is coming from. Don’t misunderstand me, the writing was good, but the story itself… didn’t really grab me, at least from a “fear” aspect. It was more a nihilistic coming of age story (with occasional social commentary) than a horror tale.

Also, the frog scene, didn’t serve much more of a purpose than to show that the narrating character had seen some ugly things happen in the world. But not much beyond that.
It just showed up like a unwanted guest and left with out making any real impact on the story.

The story isn’t without merit, of course. It did make me reflect on the relationships between teenagers and authority figures, and the unfortunate mindset that some of my group shares. But overall, not a particularly provocative horror story.

09
phignewton
September 22nd, 2008 11:25 am

i thought it was promising.. but then it sort of trailed off without the cathartic release of shock and blood letting.. which was i suppose the point, there is no point… we grow up and discover the narrative is something created by ourselves in a tenuous struggle to maintain personal identity.

10
Mississauga Mike
September 22nd, 2008 3:33 pm

I found this quite disturbing. Well done.

11
September 22nd, 2008 4:39 pm

Must say that this hit me at a gut level. Kinda like a sonic boom resonates through your internals. The horror isn’t the tentacles under the bed, but the world at large, and there is Nothing you can do about it.
And Alasdair had a wonderful wrap up at the end, something, I for one, need to hear once and awhile, for forging along the road less traveled, while far more terrifying, is ultimately more rewarding. At least, for those of us that need to travel it, it’s not for everyone. Nor would I recommend it to everyone, that road.

12
Raving_Lunatic
September 27th, 2008 4:04 am

What a story that was. Disturbed me quite a bit, and I have a feeling the teacher is just evil. The ending is fantastic.

13
September 27th, 2008 1:09 pm

This was an enjoyable one, but I couldn’t help but see the the teacher wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. That would of course be because I’d just seen the movie adaptation of V for Vendetta. And I think it’s a fair visual slip. This has some of the same flavor as Fight Club in the way the teacher changes the student.

14
Jittery Wombat
September 27th, 2008 10:48 pm

Great build up! Had me hooked. The ending was violence provokingly bad. It makes me want to replace the author with the kid flying into the wall.

15
yicheng
September 29th, 2008 12:28 pm

I agree with Sephri. After 3 seperate listenings, I just don’t “get” this story. I don’t think enough explanation was given for why all the honors students turn into trouble-makers. In fact, lots of other plot elements seem to happen inexplicably. A young teacher would be risking his career if there were even rumors of him talking to any of the students about sex, abortions, or showing them videos from Faces of Death. Having been an honours student (4 AP classes senior year) and recently tutoring them, they just don’t all of a sudden turn bad like that without something happening in their personal life (drugs, divorce, mental illness).

16
October 4th, 2008 9:17 pm

Meh. Boring. Goes on too long and goes nowhere. I’ll beat Spork to the punch to point out it’s not horror.

17
Spork
October 11th, 2008 8:42 am

Meandering, boring, and irritating. Not horrific.

18
October 17th, 2008 9:48 am

Wow… I thought this story was absolutely terrific.

Not your standard horror fare, but thought-provoking stuff… and very impressive in how utterly it sticks to the ‘show, don’t tell’ adage. It simply shows you what happens, and leaves you to read your own meaning into it. Reminded me a bit of Raymond Carver.

Beautifully read, too.

Thanks to Pseudopod for the listen. Keep ‘em coming! :-)

Ali

19
Sgarre1
October 17th, 2008 8:30 pm

Interesting story. A bit too calculatedly obtuse (and, as a Robert Aikman fan, I love me some calculated obtuseness) as it makes one wonder if there is a specific viewpoint or just some observations. But obviously a deeply felt work and that counts for a lot in today’s world of writing…

I would have liked better to read it on the page, as it was a bit murky and unfocused as an audio narrative. Also, I wonder if there’s an age factor at work here as it seemed a story that would have more impact on a younger reader.

Good choice by Pseudopod, et al.

Thanks for listening.

“The audience’s shock of recognition is essential for punk art to operate successfully; images which merely evoke only surprise or shock are ultimately useless at conveying a vision of anything (this is why punk rarely employs nonsense or generally absurd forms). The audiences must be made to feel somehow that the images they are being exposed to, no matter how distasteful, surreal, or ugly, are speaking to them in a shared (if twisted) vocabulary.”

Larry McCaffery, “Cutting Up: Cyberpunk, Punk Music, and Urban Decontextualizations”

20
Quentin
October 21st, 2008 6:45 pm

I thought both reading and the writing were great.

But I am not sure if it horror. I know it’s dark but not horror.

21
PK
December 9th, 2008 10:14 pm

That was way more interesting and thought provoking than most horror. One story like this can cancel out a hundred lame vampires and zombies.

Still don’t know if I can say I liked it, though…