Flash fiction by sci-fi writer, Brandon Layng.
The damn meds aren’t working, he thought. And it hurts to think.
Every little sound gnawed on his brain. The chalk in his hand, with its tiny scratching on the blackboard as he wrote the assignment. The kid in the back, with the glasses, who wouldn’t stop snickering. The prissy bitch in the front row popping her gum, until he turned and stared at her, then the bubble disappeared.
“You okay, Mr. G.?” The kid asking is a stoner, he’s finishing chewing a chip while talking. Crunch. Crunch. “Looking a little pale, man.”
Tom Gusakis had taught high school English for twelve years and he’d never, N-E-V-E-R, wanted so badly to shove a sharpened ruler in a kid’s heart as much as he did right then. As if the reek of marijuana wasn’t enough to make Tom gag, the dopehead never stopped eating.
Pop! “Tchya, like you’re sweating all over,” said the bubblegum bitch. Pop! “Eww. It’s like totally gross.”
He would have given her a withering stare, if his eyes hadn’t clamped shut with a spike of pain. He hated that girl – with a passion. She treated every sentence as if it deserved a simile. She had no idea what a “simile” was (he’d given her a fat zero for that one on a pop quiz a week before) and she dressed like a valley girl from a horrible nineties flick – which had probably been the worst decade of Tom’s life. He’d gladly pay the football team to gang-rape her and leave her for dead; if he could have afforded the cost.
What is wrong with me? he thought. I don’t normally allow myself to even think this way.
“Like, oh my God. Don’t puke. ‘Cause then, I’ll like puke too.”
You live in rural Ontario, for christsakes. Like get a clue.
He might have laughed his ass off at his own joke, except he was fighting tears of agony. His brain spun in his skull.
Dr. Pankerton called them – the munching in his head – cluster migraines. Tom called them, The Munchies. Crumpled, sharp-toothed, balls of tinfoil waking up inside brain-case to tear off another chunk of tasty grey matter.
Pop! Crunch. Pop!
Seeing their teacher distracted, the majority of the class picked up threads of their own private conversations. Never underestimate the self-interest of the teenage mind.
Something inside his head let go. Relief flooded down his neck along his spine, a liquid warmth relaxing his muscles as it went, and ending around his groin. His bladder released. He ignored the embarrassing dampness growing along his pant legs. Being free from the pain felt too damn good. The chalk dropped from his hand and fell to the floor.
The students took a full two minutes to notice Tom was no longer standing at the front of the class. They were completely silent; no talking, no chewing, and no bubblegum popping.
The stoner checked on Tom, dispelling the hushed atmosphere by chewing a chip on the way. The kid had the munchies bad and a teacher flipping his gourd in the middle of class wasn’t about to ruin his appetite.
Tom laid sprawled on the floor, his head resting on a red silk sheet unfurling slowly from his head. His skull was fractured into a jigsaw puzzle, strips of scalp holding it together and his brain was gone. Around him, crumpled balls of tinfoil were scattered on the floor.
“Did Mr. G. have a heart attack, man?” a guy called from the rear of the room.
Stoner squinted, glancing from the body’s chest to the head. “Uh, I think someone cooked his brain like a baked potato and ate it.”
Surprisingly, the stoner had aced the simile question. He popped a chip in his mouth as a reward.
There were nervous chuckles.
“Shouldn’t we, like, call the principal?” said bubblegum girl.
“Whoa,” said the stoner. He leaned forward for a closer examination.
In tandem, the balls of tinfoil turned to face him. After a few seconds it occurred to the stoner, they did have faces; depressions where eyes would be with angry brow ridges.
“You guys looked pissed,” he said.
Then they opened their mouths, their pointed teeth separated to reveal a hungry darkness within them.
Principal Halpern entered the classroom, first noticing each student held their head in pain, as if they were all suffering from headaches at once, secondly, he saw Tom.
The students’ screaming had brought him running down the hall, nearly denting a couple of lockers on the way. A silver ball glinted as it arced through the air toward his face. It was his turn to scream.