School Spirit

“Do you have Jesus in your heart?”

This is an unorthodox question for a job interview. But, Oakmont Private High School is the only school in the state hiring a Varsity basketball coach.

So, yeah, sure. Today, in an old meat packing plant converted to a schoolhouse — twenty miles of corn in every direction — I have Jesus in my heart.

“I am so glad to hear that,” says Miss Sarah. The principal is in her late twenties, maybe a couple years older than me, raven dark hair falling down past her shoulders in languid, effortless curls. Great big hips, hugged by a thin August skirt. She’s my type, once you get past that whole Bible thing.

During the interview, I learn there are eight boys old enough to play Varsity basketball, so it’s gonna be just like Hoosiers. Only if, you know, Gene Hackman was just building his resume for a couple of years before coaching at a real high school. A public one, in a city. Hopefully with a lot of tall, not-white kids.

Miss Sarah tells me I’m going to have to teach these little freaks too, which is fine, I guess. I blew out my patellar tendon in the second round of the NIT three years ago. So I’ve been on plan B for a while. I can fake it well enough in front of a classroom. She tells me I’ll be teaching Science.

“So is that physical science? Biology? Anatomy?” I wink at her. Like a douche.

“Just science.”

“That sounds great.”

“Now, just so you know, there is wickedness in those textbooks. Do you have any reservations about removing pages?” Her leg brushes mine under the table.

“None at all.”

*

The kids. Before I even put my car in park the first day, I know that they’ll wear the denim skirts and the skinny ties, that they’ll skimp on the deodorant. But what I don’t expect is just how much they treat me like shit. In my experience, Bible kids love a grown up telling them what’s what. But these kids are always fucking with me. When I tell one kid to sit down at the start of class, he calls me an “apostate.”

I knew the word from my GRE studies. “You know, Jebediah, you have to forsake something to be an apostate. And I’ve forsaken nothing.”

He laughs. Loud, braying ha-ha-has, all the way down to the principal’s office. Two hours later, his parents come to pick him up, and I can hear him still laughing in the parking lot.

Jebediah never comes back to school.

Which sucks. He was kinda tall.

Three weeks into the gig, in the middle of a lesson on the solar system that can only be described as “significantly abridged,” I turn from the chalkboard and see a set of the little fuckers smiling at me. Too wide. Like they have too many teeth.

“What’s funny?” I ask.

“Saw yer Youtube.”

After I blew out my knee, I threw up all over the baseline. ESPN 2 didn’t flip to another camera after it happened. Last I checked, I had 4 million views.

I’ve learned to shrug and smile at this. “Make sure you click ‘like’ on the video, kids. That way more people can see it.”

“Lord taketh away,” the kid says.

Yeah, well, isn’t he supposed to giveth something too?

*

Two hours later, I’m paging through a chapter on dinosaurs, trying to figure out if I can live with myself if I teach it Flintstones style.

Miss Sarah saunters into my hot, smelly classroom. She’s wearing a sleeveless white blouse that she’s sweating through. I think she knows what she’s doing.

“Rough class?”

“Not too rough. Just sitting here, thinking about the worst mistake of my life.”

“You’re wounded lamb, ain’t ya?” She sits in one of the student desks. Her skirt rides up, revealing thick, muscular quads that defy any attempt at description.

“Lemme ask you something. You’re Miss Sarah. But…” I tap my ring finger, gesture at the rock on hers.

“I’m married to Jesus,” she says.

“Yeah? Is he the jealous type?”

“You have no idea,” she purrs. “Do you know what you need?”

“Lemme guess: Jesus.”

“I was gonna say a beer.”

I toss the textbook in the trash from eight feet out. Nothing but net.

*

Miss Sarah either goes to tanning salons, or spends a lot of time outside without clothes. She’s just gold all over. She’s an aggressive, vocal lover, and I worry that the management of the motel I’m living in is going to call the police. She bites and chides me, and screams her release, digging her fingernails into my shoulders.

At 3 am, four hours from opening bell, I drift into an exhausted, delirious rest.

“You’re done?” she pouts.

“Oh my god, you’re a crazy woman.”

“Lord’s name in vain.”

“Uh-oh. Two demerits.” I say. And then I’m asleep.

She’s gone when my alarm goes off at six. I get showered and take a stunned inventory of the hickeys, bruises, and scratches.

When I get to my car, I find it stuffed with hundreds of apples. Each with a single bite taken out of them. On some apples, the bites are small, like a toddler’s mouth made them. Others are nearly bitten in half.

I’m an hour late to school. When I get there, I almost keep driving, back across Indiana to my parents’ house in Cinci. Start over. Start temping.

But I show up to 1st period anyway. Basketball’s my world. And I don’t know how to do anything else.

*

No one’s here. Like, no teachers. No kids. Just the oppressive reek of burnt coffee from the teacher’s lounge wafting through the halls.

While I wait in the classroom for anything to happen, I’ll hear a skittering in the hall. Like a mouse.

But bigger.

At this point, I’m about 30% sure I’m gonna get wicker-manned.

I use my classroom phone to call an Athletic Director from a nearby school. He’s already told me “no” to playing my team in November, but I just want to hear someone else talk, even if it’s to tell me to get bent. A small dose of disappointment might be just the trick to restore some reality to this creepy ass school in the middle of nowhere.

The AD’s phone rings on the other end. And seconds later, I hear a cell phone vibrate down the hall.

Oh fuck.

It occurs to me that I haven’t talked to anyone that Sarah hasn’t told me to talk to in a month.

I drop the phone, let it dangle from the wall.

Trotting into the dark hallway, I see something crawling on the ceiling, then dart into an empty classroom. It’s the size of a seventh grader, and it leaves behind that same virulent strain of body odor they all have.

Something ice cold slides into my kidney, and I crumple to my knees.

Miss Sarah speaks over a scratchy intercom. I don’t remember this building having an intercom system. Her voice is impassioned, stern, resolute. “He tells us to cut out the wickedness of the world. And in return? He gives us holiness.”

I hear thousands of children singing a church song. Something worshipful and bold — about angels pouring out of the sky and charging into glorious battle.

Black fire dances through the empty hallway toward me. And whatever punctured my kidney stabs me again. And again. Over and over. My lung collapses, and a horrible, bloody, flatulence rips from my back.

I roll over, but no one’s there. When I look up, the entire student body and faculty are standing on the ceiling, upside down like bats, shoulder-to-shoulder all the way down the hallway that somehow stretches on for miles.

For light years.

Sarah stands in the middle of that press, nude and raining blood down on me.

“Help me,” I whimper. I don’t know to whom.

“No one’s going to help you, little lamb. Not even Him. Especially not Him.”

She taps her wedding ring.

And in a great cacophony of shrieking hymns, Jesus enters my heart. On a wave of teeth.

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