BETWEEN BELLS: A Tale of Two Series

As the final strains of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” played on keyboard-set-to-fife-music faded away and her class remained frozen in freeze-frame, Miss Bliss turned to Belding and said, “I think it’s time.”

Belding nodded glumly and agreed, “The apocalypse occurs tomorrow morning.”

“Not for everyone,” said Miss Bliss, folding her arms and moving her eyes sadly across the sea of multi-ethnic hairstyles and Amazing Shirts. “For some of you, there is still hope.”

“But Hoosierville will be destroyed, and JFK with it,” said Belding.

“And the old Carrie Bliss estate,” agreed Miss Bliss, “but what are buildings? Brick and mortar and dated floral wallpaper. The 80s are almost over, Mr. Belding, and Hoosierton is lost, that’s true. Must we all be lost with it?”

Belding considered the final words of the resurrected president’s speech. “We could set aside a small parcel of land from the demolition site and inter the extras and even the principal cast members who don’t make it out.”

“Haha, principal cast members,” Miss Bliss chuckled.

Belding smiled with quiet pride. “I didn’t even plan that one.”

“It was good of you to make it. I love puns and especially puns about murder.”

Belding put his hand on her shoulder. “I know.”

After a moment of reflection, he wondered, “How will we decide which ones get to leave?”

Miss Bliss sighed deeply. “I don’t know. Zack, obviously, because we’ve actually met his father, and after me, he seems to be the closest thing to a protagonist this series has.”

“I’m loath to take him, but you’re probably right,” Belding said. “Lisa? It just seems right, considering the diversity she brings.”

“And she’s really blossomed into a beautiful young woman,” Miss Bliss agreed. “She and Zack will probably only get prettier with time. Screech, on the other hand…”

“Will probably grow up to eventually look sort of like Seth Rogan,” Belding offered. “But we’ll need a nerd. We can’t just have a cool dude and a ditzy chick and no nerd.”

“Screech is not a nerd,” Miss Bliss said pointedly. “He is a dweeb.”

Belding pulled out his Pocket Guide to the Uncool Person Hierarchy and scanned a few pages. He folded the guide and replaced it in his breast pocket. “So he is.”

“You’ll still need him,” she offered.

“Oh, certainly. He’ll provide invaluable comic relief to the new series,” Belding said, chuckling as he thought of the times Screech had fallen down and been ridiculed by peers and faculty alike.

“His lines are the best lines,” Miss Bliss said stoically. “He deserves this.”

“And he’s never been in trouble!” Belding remembered. “He’ll be a wonderful foil for Zack.”

Miss Bliss almost spoke, but decided it wasn’t worth it to remind Belding that Screech had gotten two weeks’ detention for trying to postpone her midterm by releasing his pet rats on the school. It had almost cost her Teacher of the Year, and it wouldn’t do to bring that up again. Not now, when Belding was about to leave the hermetically-sealed bubble of Hoosierford and enter into the wild, un-inoculated world of Actual California, where it was very unlikely he would ever again be named Principal of the Year.

“Mylo heard through the pipes about a magician friend of Cosmo’s who owns a diner in Bayside,” she said instead. “He can give the students a safe place to hang out after school. I don’t think they’ll be allowed to stay in the classrooms for as long as they want anymore.”

Belding nodded. “I thought you didn’t trust Mylo’s intel,” he teased.

“The pipes connect to Actual California, Mr. Belding. I trust his intel as far as it concerns the world outside of Hoosierburg.” Miss Bliss frowned suddenly, remembering. “Mr. Lyman said he took the children to see historic sites around the school.”

“So?” Belding shrugged. “I mean, apart from taking them into the woods beyond the south fence, which is almost definitely some sort of safety violation, I don’t really see what the big deal is. If we get sued, who cares? The apocalypse is tomorrow morning!” He chuckled, expecting Miss Bliss to chuckle, too, but she remained impassive.

“The south fence backs to the woods that border Actual California. What if one of them saw something or heard something…? Why did we put the school so close to the edge of the bubble? What if one of them had escaped…?”

Belding grasped her shoulders in his useless principal hands and turned her torso to face his. “Miss Bliss, it didn’t happen. None of the children suspect anything. How could they? And even if they did, most of them are going to be turned to ash tomorrow when they implode the bubble. There won’t even be Hiroshima shadows. It will be as if they never existed.”

Miss Bliss sighed, then met Belding’s eyes. “It will be as if I never existed.”

Belding pulled her to him and embraced her as a father would embrace a teenage daughter who didn’t respect him at all. “I’ll save a copy of the issue of School Days magazine that ran your Teacher of the Year story,” he promised.

Miss Bliss broke away from the embrace (the first time she had ever done so in her classroom) and turned to look back at freeze-framed resurrected Abraham Lincoln. “Tell Cosmo’s magician friend to erase their memories of Hoosierdale but not of me,” she said with what Belding would later call bravery when he related the incident to Mrs. Belding during the intermission of The King and I.

“I’ll see that it’s done,” he nodded, then turned to look at the students. “Will you help me move their freeze-framed bodies out to the hay cart so I can transport them to the Hoosier Dome?”

Miss Bliss smiled. She thought of crying, but it would be harder to carry 400 lbs of adolescent dead weight with tears fogging up her glasses. “It would be an honor.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Belding sat in the small control room in the basement of the Hoosier Dome. Seated near him were Screech’s parents with their list of talking points, Lisa’s parents (whose presence Miss Bliss remembered to prepare for by removing all of Lisa’s make-up before loading her onto the hay cart), and Peter Morris. Strapped upright in three identical, windowless hyperbaric chambers were the freeze-framed bodies of the children. As he opened the roof of the Dome and set the control room whirring in preparation to blast through the 50-yard line and out of the bubble, Belding reminded the parents one last time, “You and your children have lived in Bayside, California, for their entire lives. You have never been to Indiana. You know nothing of Indiana besides its postal abbreviation. You know nothing of a tiny, imitation-Indiana town manufactured and inhabited by parents disgusted with the glamorous, sun-kissed, southern California lifestyle. You have raised your children in the Heartland, and they are good people, except for Zack, but the 80s are ending soon, and we can’t escape the Information Age forever. Hoosier City will be destroyed tomorrow morning. Bayside will be and has always been our hometown.”

The parents nodded seriously, except for Peter Morris, who had been pretending to be listening but had actually been discreetly touching himself through his front pocket while staring at the story about Carrie Bliss in the copy of School Days magazine that Belding had left on the seat next to his. Peter Morris would miss Carrie Bliss almost as much as he would miss his real first name.

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Originally published at on August 2, 2013.

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