The following is a bit of flash fiction I’ve had in a notebook for a while. Since yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day and because I just gave my last final of the semester, I’m sharing it. I hate to explain myself because I know good writers don’t, but I’ve never claimed to be a good writer. See, zombies are hopeless. The obsession with zombies in media is a reflection, in my opinion, of a desire to write people off, to excuse violence, to refuse education and to say some people are worthless. My world view is a little bit more hopeful. All of history has been a march of progress and of people becoming nicer. Why anyone would think that we are spiraling down into hell on earth is beyond me. I don’t buy into Armageddon or end days, and while I might joke about zombies, it bothers me that people want humans to start eating/shooting at each other like that. Yes, I realize the irony in that statement in the midst of all the wars and shooting and probable cannibalism around the world, but it takes hope to grow hope, and I think a little more criticism of the genre would be helpful.
The Zombie Teacher
Ms. Keeling of PS 31 was in her 14th year of teaching occasionally snotty, often tardy, but mostly decent 16-year-old human beings when the Big Event happened. The first morning that it became apparent that the end was upon us, she watched the reports on the news stoically, brushed her teeth, filled a thermos with coffee, and tidied her hair. The bus was much less crowded, and for the first time in years, she was able to get a seat, even after the bus driver watched her warily. She smiled at him kindly, and he smiled back once he noticed the silver apple pin in her lapel. A teacher, he thought, maybe she hasn’t heard. But this is the city, and bus drivers don’t talk to passengers, so he simply drove the same route he’s driven for 21 years. When the teacher got off the bus, he watched her, wondering why she was still going to work after all that had happened. Surely the schools would be closed. Buses always run because people have to get places, but schools, schools shut down for snow and terrorists, field trips and broken water pipes. Surely schools close for zombies too.
Ms. Keeling was used to being the first teacher in the building, so the eerie silence didn’t alarm her. She was also used to the whoops and howls of the 700 or so teenagers who began to trickle into the building even at this early hour every day, seeking a warm place to stay and a kind face to talk to, so later, when the hoards would break into the building, she wouldn’t hear them. Ms. Keeling was uncharacteristically behind on her lesson plans. She’d stayed up late to finish reading a novel that she planned to book talk to her students, and lesson plans had gotten left behind. She’d winged it before, taught by the seat of her pants, crafted marvelous lessons out of thin air, based on a question or an idea or even a student who was staring out the window, but her principal was determined to see his teachers doing valuable, state-mandated, approved lessons each day. She needed to get them in before he decided to fire her. He’d already threatened a few times that semester after she started a seditious untested poetry club. The principal had been a part of the school for seven years. He, of course, knew everything.
As she was scribbling something about fostering critical thinking under a note about arguments and nonfiction texts, the principal burst through her door. Principals shouldn’t carry shotguns, she thinks. He looks puny, like the gun will knock him over if he fires it, and there is blood on his hands. Well, she thinks, that’s been there a while.
“Come with me if you want to live!” He had seen to many action movies, has punctuated with too many exclamation points. “It’s the end of the world!”
“It always is,” she said, and returned to planning her week.
“I’m here to save you!” She mentally marked out the offensive punctuation.
“How do you expect to survive?” She held up her grading pen.
“Even mindless hoards need education. In fact, I’m sorry, I’m being rather hyperbolic today, but they always have.” He tried to pull her out of the seat, and she stood, placing her hands on her hips and looking at him over her glasses, “Out, out damned spot.” She giggled. The principal, who slept through Macbeth in school, thought she must have gone crazy. He wipes his bloody hand on her chalkboard. His plan was to save himself and as much of the world as possible from the zombie hoards, but he didn’t see Ms. Keeling’s first period class making their way down the hall. The morning bell masked his screams.
“Good morning, class.” said Ms. Keeling, separating a few students who were attempting to bite one another. When one of them turned on her, she gave him a stern look. “Have I ever tried to bite you, Taylor?” They shuffled into their usual seats as she took a quick visual roll call. Only 4 were missing. Only 4 students still fully human. Oh well, she thinks about the class she had in her 1st year, all of them on parole, all of them on drugs. All of them learned something. She wrote out the new rules for her students on the board, carefully going over each so that students knew what was expected of them in this post-apocalyptic world. Each pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled them out in the same handwriting they had when they were children.
The news stories will say to cut off the head or destroy the brain, kill the zombies. Ms. Keeling will say “nonsense.” She will say, “Look, this is progress. See.” She is right, of course, for there is something there. The men who come in Kevlar with automatic weapons will think oh god, if only for a moment, and maybe they will put the guns down and join the students for a lesson or maybe they will fire anyway, but this is Ms. Keeling’s story, so we will end it where she wants to end it: in a productive classroom.