John Turnbull, born as a last bastion on the sea of change in the idealistic hippiedom known as the 60s, started reading novels and short stories at a very early age, preferring horror and comedy. By 10 years old, after some off-kilter encouragements (to say the least) he decided to try writing his own stories. Throughout his formative teens, the stories alternately got him in a lot of trouble or earned him a lot of praise – both outcomes were viewed as signs of powerful writing. His travels and experiences from his occupations (from a professional touring musician to teaching English in Thailand to a brief stint acting in some dodgy movies, to name but a few) throughout his 20s and 30s gave him a plethora of material to draw from in subsequent writing forays. Now, at 43, John has over 200 short stories, 3 finished (but to-date unpublished) novels and 7 screenplays. With luck, exposure and representation, this body of work should soon be presented to the masses, (that’s you and me folks!)
Mr. Taenia pulled his convertible Gremlin into his allotted stall in the teacher’s lot. As he turned it off, the car shuddered. So did he. Taenia reached into his inner coat pocket and pulled out a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. He spun the cap off, took a hearty swallow of the pink melted chalk. The bottle was already almost empty, the second this week, and it was Wednesday! He was actually starting to like the taste. Taenia caught a gaseous belch in his fist and punched it into his gut with intent. Stay down, gawddamit! He glanced at his watch. 20 minutes to the start of class. He grabbed his briefcase from the shotgun seat and walked swiftly to the school’s front entrance.
He hurried through the doors and skittScience 101
ered down the hallways darting students and faculty, shoes squawking like a basketball game in progress, until he reached the heavy wooden door of a classroom – his classroom, soon to be his class. For now it was empty, exactly how he wanted it and the reason he came early. Shortly its rows of desks would be filled with the “unbound exuberant energies of High School Youth” as the politically correct called it, or “inattentive ingrates” in Taeniaese – but for now its silence was welcomed by him, embraced. Well, okay, not quite silent; nothing ever truly is. There was still the static hum of the overhead fluorescents, still the tick, tick, ticking of the electric clock centred just above the twin chalkboards. There was the animated gossip that filtered through the wire-encased windows from the smokers hanging out in the courtyard. But overall it was quiet enough, although not as quiet as early this morning when Taenia came by the school to attend to some business. Nor was it the conversation deadstop quiet when he told his parents, both professors at prestigious universities, that he was only teaching at a lowly high school. It was good enough, however, to give Taenia momentary peace of mind, silent enough to placate his inner-self. To help it rest. For a big day was ahead. He was going to accomplish what all serious teachers strive for. He was about to teach his students a lesson they’d never forget.
Taenia did a quick lap around the class before heading to his desk where he bent down and leaned his briefcase against a leg. His stomach grumbled as he did this, but this time he ignored his churning innards, moving on instead to one of the three rectangular windows that gave an unspectacular view of the courtyard. He threw a latch and tried to open one, an early autumn breeze might freshen things up, clear his head, settle things down inside. No go. He tried the second window, grunting this time with the effort. By the time he got to the third window the student smokers outside took notice of him and quickly scampered away to a different location, many complaining only semi-facetiously that it suddenly seemed colder, while leerily keeping an eye on him as if he could hear each and every word said. Rumour had it he could. Freakazoid. The word was flavour-of-the-month, sure, but in this instance seemed appropriate.
Taenia finally gave up on the windows when he noticed they’d been carelessly painted shut, perhaps during summer renovations. A coat of paint counted as that, evidently. Budget well spent. He actually felt better they were sealed. Although no refreshing breeze could come in, nothing could get out either, like perhaps an experiment gone awry.
Taenia did a final lap around the classroom, stopped in front of the lab room door. He twisted the knob. Locked. Good. The science teacher sat at his desk and bent to grab his briefcase. He snapped the locks, it gaped open like jaws of the alligator it once was. He left it open and set it carefully under the desk. He grabbed his nameplate on top of the desk by the edges. Puhh!!! – a compressed exhale of steamy breath blotted the nameplate before he wiped it even cleaner than it already was with the sleeve of his suit. Phineas Taenia it shone back at him, a name that would soon be on everyone’s lips. He placed the nameplate back on his desk near the front corner. Nope, not quite right. He adjusted it about an inch closer to the center. There, perfect. Taenia glanced at the clock over top the chalkboards and then at his watch. 11:03, they both told him. Class was about to start. Excellent. Taenia folded his hands over his stomach and gave a quick kick at the briefcase. His stomach rumbled. It was the class just before lunch and he was hungry. Lately it seemed he was always hungry.
The school bell rang, but Curt and Tom barely heard it, their feet heading towards class by rote. The two were engaged in a ritualistic puberty conversation.
“So, what went down with Nancy last night?” Curt’s virginity needed to know.
“Aww, nuttin’ man. We went to a horror flick, Teacher’s Pet. It was pretty good,” Tom revealed. “She was clinging to me every time it got scary, buried her face into my shoulder and clung on during the gory parts. Dug her claws into me sometimes like a friggin’ cat! I kept my arm around her the whole time and gave her reassuring squeezes, sometimes in some really good places.”
“A-a-nd?” Curt implored.
“We went to her house. The folks were out, some sorta bullshit banquet or something. She invited me to her room to look at a photo album and we know what that means.”
Curt didn’t really, but one can’t share everything. He prompted the story forward with horny hand gestures. Tom obliged.
“So we start kissing and stuff, but everytime she heard a car she’d get all freaked out, thinking it wuz her parents coming home. That sucked, ‘cuz I had to be home by eleven.”
“You’re lucky they didn’t catch you there, dude. Her dad would’ve kicked your ass into next week.”
“That old fuck? I’d kick his ass.” Tom claimed.
“Yeah whatever, man. More details. What does she kiss like? Does she use her tongue?”
Tom smiled. “She…” Suddenly he felt a twinge of fear rear up on his face like an unwanted zit on picture day. “We’re here.”
“Toss me a note in class. Science is so fucking boring.”
“You crazy? That Taenia dude catches everything. Remember last Friday?”
“Good point,” Curt resigned.
Tom took a pause for rebellious thought and then did an about-face. “Fuck it, let’s do it. Let’s see if we can get away with it.”
Curt gave their version of the high-five. “Yeah, man. Done deal.”
More students meandered into the class in groups of twos, threes, the occasional hoody-donning lone wolf, sitting randomly where they chose. Taenia assigned no seat order, nor took roll call. If they came, they came. Besides, everyone would be taught this lesson soon enough. The random rising cacophony of teenaged banter came to an abrupt halt when Taenia whacked! a meter stick across his desk like a crazed nun unleashing on a repeat sinner. His nameplate tipped over in the process. He nonchalantly reached back to put it upright, almost exactly where it had been before. He broke the beguiled silence.
“Would someone be kind enough to close the door.”
The students knew this wasn’t a question. Tom obliged, but only because he and Curt had chosen desks the closest to the door. Nonetheless, the catcalls arose.
“What colour is your nose?”
“That’s the only way you’ll get an A, Tom!”
The mocking ripple soon became a tormenting tsunami, then… WHACK!!! This one broke the stick, one end nearly hitting girl in the front row. She left the piece where it lay beside her desk. Taenia didn’t bother to right his nameplate this time. Instead he bent down and pulled out a biology textbook from the briefcase. He went to the page that sported a gaudy bookmark with a cartoon drawing of a worm wearing a graduation cap. The ballooned caption above it read:
“Be a bookworm and soon you’ll see.
You’ll be smart just like me.”
Taenia began to read from the exact same place he’d left off last lesson. Word for word, page by page.
A crumpled paper tennis ball bounced off Tom’s shoulder. He dragged his hand along the floor to retrieve it, maintaining eye contact with Taenia the whole time. He wasn’t going down that easy. It had but a single word, scrawled in Curt’s hurried yet legible handwriting, “So?” Tom’s thoughts went right back into last night, right when Nancy’s tongue circled his as she kissed, right where her bra unclasped. His pen drifted like his thoughts, forgetting about margins. He lobbed the response back across the aisle.
“Whathisay?” Curt horse whispered, unable to decipher Tom’s scribble. No response, Tom was lost in love.
“…Tom!” Curt whispered not quite under his breath enough.
“SSSHHHTTT!!!!!” Busted. Taenia slowly retracted his index finger from his lips and savoured the weight of fear, letting the discomfort linger until something or someone was about to break. He then let the corners of his lips creep up into something that resembled a smile. Class continued; word for word, page by page…
Tom shot Curt a stink-eye glare that Curt felt. Both knew enough to lay low for the time being. Taenia strode up and down the aisles as he continued his brand of teaching when he stopped in mid-stride and mid-sentence. He looked to the back of the class. Six eyes met and locked. Four quickly bowed out as Curt and Tom became suddenly fascinated in their desktop graffitti. Taenia shot granite out of his eyes then continued on down the next aisle. Curt dared a peek over at Tom. “See?” his eyebrows expressed. “He’s fucked,” the return glance replied.
Taenia stopped at the front of the class and stopped reading aloud. He turned to the chalkboard and wrote down questions about the chapter he’d just read – the exact same questions that were already in the textbook and would be assigned for homework. Only five weeks into the semester, and this was the steadfast routine. As a result of this monontony, Tom started to focus on only Taenia, trying to see what made this guy click. He watched Taenia constantly. He watched him glance either up at the clock or down to his watch as we wrote. He watched him absently rub his stomach. He watched his… did I just see that? Did his neck just bulge out ever so slightly? Trouble or no, Tom had to talk to Curt. Now.
“Curt,” he whisper-shouted to his friend, “I gotta talk to you. Let’s cut outta here.”
Curt needed no further prompting. He quickly raised his hand. Taenia somehow acknowledged it while still facing the chalkboards, almost as if he had another set of eyes.
“Yes…” he turned now to face Curt, “…you. The noisy one.” Names meant little to Mr.Taenia. They didn’t when he left his colleagues to explore the overseas barely-charted jungles for new plants and insect life, and they meant even less now that he was back. He was more interested in other things, like healthy, nurturing hosts, for example.
“Uh, Mr. Mesapotaenia,” Curt said, “the reason we’re talking is because there’s a Science Fiction Book Club sign-up at lunch in the cafeteria and we’re, like, organizing the whole thing. So we kinda need, I mean it’d be kinda nice if we could leave a little early to set up and… well we figgered you’d understand, being a science teacher and all… so, if it’s okay with you…”
Brilliant, thought Tom. Brilliant because it was true. Well, mostly. Sure they were manning the sign-up table, but there wasn’t exactly a mad rush of students waiting to join. Last year there were a grand total of two members: Curt and Tom. Captain and Number One. Tom had plans for promotion this year. Taenia stared at Curt a bit longer, then turned back to the blackboards and continued writing. Accepting the indifference as consent and anxious to avoid that icy glance that shrunk loins, Curt and Tom gathered their stuff and promptly left the room, closing the door as quiet as they could behind them. The rest of the class watched the pair walk out of sight through the square window that looked out into the hall. Most realized the ease of the escape and started formulating similar plans. All of them, that is, except Frank and Dillon.
“Stinkin’ space geeks,” sneered Frank out of the side of his mouth as he punched his new lil’ buddy on his padded leather shoulder. Dillon let out a hearty guffaw, knowing if he missed his cue it was sure to bring a head soaking in the shop toilet at a later date. Frank was much bigger and older than Dillon. He was on the seven-year high school plan, often bragging that, “grade ten was the best three years of my life.” His intent was to keep attending until the Man kicked him out; nothing better to do and there was always new students to bully or extort lunch money from. Not to mention the new crop of honeys every passing year. It had taken Dillon a whole summer of supplying rides and party favours for Frank to become his sidekick. It was something for a remedial student to covet, getting to hang out with the coolest of the cool. And he wanted things to stay that way. So he laughed. They were only in
this class to scope chicks, anyways. As soon as there was a test Frank was sure to drop out. Dillon knew he’d dutifully follow, even though he kinda dug science.
In hoodlum unison the duo slouched in their chairs and started chewing gum in exaggerated open-mouthed smackiness. For an added bonus, Frank lifted up a cheek and let one rip, fanning the waft towards his nose.
“Now that’s some fine home cookin’,” Frank said.
Dillon did his best to follow suit, but to no avail. He just wasn’t quite cool enough to fart on command. The whole facade said we ain’t ascared of no creepy science teacher and truth only counted in court when you couldn’t afford a good lawyer.
Taenia put down the chalk and cast a bored look towards the leather distractions.
“There’s no way I’m excusing you two, for any reason,” he said and then smiled, a twisted, crazy smile worn by, say, a rapist running amok in a convent. A smile that could haunt ghosts. Frank and Dillon stopped chewing and looked away: up at the ceiling, down to the clock (my Gawd, only twenty-five minutes gone by), out to the courtyard (need a smoke), anywhere but at HIM. Taenia’s smile slowly eroded as he picked up reading where he last left off. Page by page, assignment to assignment.
“That dude’s wigged out, man,” moaned Dillon.
“Shut yer cakehole,” Frank responded, adding a punch that stung Dillon’s shoulder despite the padded leather.
Principal Sturnic looked concerned. He stood in the main foyer talking to a custodian whose eyes were perpetually red and blurry of either lack of sleep or too much drink. Sturnic could never tell.
“So what’s the problem, again?” Sturmic asked.
“Dunno. Probably them damn kids. Someone rigged the security system. All the damn dooors have locked. Can’t seem to get them open.”
“The police called?” Sturnic knew that a silent alarm was supposed to trip in any event such as this. In theory, anyway.
“Nope,” the custodian answered, “and thaz what I can’t figger out. Once the doors were sealed the cops should’ve been here.” He took off his hat and scratched his head.
“Well that’s just fine and dandy now, isn’t it. This evening is parent/teacher conferences. Not to mention the panic and hassle this will cause when the students get out for lunch. Probably already skippers causing a stir. For now let’s keep this under wraps. You’ve got to the end of class to get the main doors open. Don’t worry about the side doors or emergency exits. If I have to, I’ll make an announcement just before noon bell. Let’s hope nothing happens between now and then.” Sturnic waited for a nod of assent before storming off. The custodian wiped the discouraged look off his face by thinking about tonight’s bottle as he pushed the mop bucket back to his office. Rye night it was, his favorite. Maybe he might crack his desk drawer to take a nip a tad early. It just might help him think about how to jury-rig doors.
Curt and Tom rounded the corner into the foyer just as the adults were finished conferring.
They saw Sturnic and immediately bee-lined to the nearest exit door. The door wouldn’t budge, despite Tom rattling the panic bar as hard as he could. Sturnic spotted them and walked briskly over.
“What’s going on here? Why won’t the door open?” Tom bravely inquired.
“Get back to class and keep your mouths shut!!!” Stunic barked. Tom and Curt about-faced and got outta there.
“What a grouch,” Curt then abruptly shifted gears, guilty of the teenaged hormones that have created one-tracked obsessions since the beginning of time. “So tell me, could you see them poking out of her shirt?”
Tom answered with a grin that could eat shit.
“How big? Pencil-tip erasers?” Curt asked.
“Knew it. Saw Nancy in that tank top last gym class. Let’s go back to the classroom and peek in from the window. I wanna stare at her and Bev,” Curt suggested. He had a thing for Bev although he still hadn’t conjured up enough courage to do anything about it.
“Yeah, good idea,” agreed Tom, still thinking about Nancy’s nipples.
Beverly and Nancy knew each other from the ninth grade, where they ran against each other for class president. The nastiness of that time was forgotten, a smear campaign still talked about. Now, they were inseparable. But still competitive. Both had a crush on Tom; unlike grade nine this time Nancy won. Beverly was okay with that. There was no way a boy was getting between their friendship. Besides, Tom’s friend was kinda cute.
Beverly passed a folded note over to Nancy that differed only slightly from Curt’s earlier one.
So how was last night? it read.
Great! He’s so gentle and shy and awkward. But you could tell he was “UP” for it, Nancy
wrote back smiling, then chewed on her pen before adding, This teacher gives me the creeps. He’s like a zombie. I’m thinking about switching to computer science. You?
Nancy’s attempt to deliver her response was stopped short when her hand hit a belt buckle. She looked up the short-sleeved dress shirt with some nasty stains on it to the laconic face of Phineas Taenia.
“Ladies…” Taenia began, deftly snatching the note, “… and gentlemen. His voice went up a notch. “Have I ever told you about the tapeworm?” It was time. It was finally time.
Curt and Tom arrived outside the classroom, ducked under the window and cautiously peered into it. Taenia was standing between Bev and Nancy and the whole class seemed to be paying rapt attention to him. What were they missing? Tom almost remembered something he wanted to ask Curt about, something about the teacher’s… but then it was gone. He scoped the hall for Sturnic and then spied on the class with Curt.
Taenia broke the silence.
“Worms are invertebrates, which means they have neither backbone nor notochord. They are classified into three phyla…” He walked down the aisle towards his desk and went behind it, facing the students. “The first, Annelida – or as we know it by, the common earthworm. The ones that smear on the bottom of your boots from the sidewalks after a rain.” Taenia quickly bent under his desk and came up with his open briefcase which he laid on his desk.
“Second, there’s Nemathelminthes, the hook worm, a creature that bores through its host’s foot, sucks blood from the intestinal wall, and lays it’s eggs in the feces of the host, waiting for the next hoof or foot.” Taenia cleared his throat roughly as if something large was lodged there.
“You ever see anything funny about the teach?”
“Yeah. Where should I start?” Curt replied.
“Like what do you mean?”
“His neck swelling?”
“Come on,” Curt countered.
“I mean it, man. I think I saw something before we left.” Tom suddenly wasn’t so sure, felt foolish. Still…
“I’ll look for it.”
Taenia massaged his throat once more and continued lecturing.
“The third phylum is the Platyelminthes, most commonly known as the tapeworm.” He pulled a leaking paper bag from his briefcase and started walking down the center aisle. His neck bulged for a brief instant, like he’d just swallowed a robin’s egg, then settled. Some of the students noticed and started to squirm uncomfortably in their seats.
“Didjaseeit?” Tom blurted in near-panic.
“Yeah,” Curt croaked, white as a wall. Both were too shocked to bother hiding anymore.
Taenia continued his teaching. And started the lesson.
“Tapeworms exists solely to eat and reproduce. They reside in the stomach of their host. A successful one can grow up to thirty feet long.” Taenia pulled a chunk raw meat from the bag, letting the bag drop to the floor. This time the bulge in his neck was the size of a softball. Now everyone noticed, even Frank and Dillon. But no one could move from where they sat. Concrete fright. Curt and Tom’s faces were plastered to the window wearing expressions of rictus disbelief. It would have been comical under different circumstances.
Taenia was almost finished his lesson.
“Tapeworms were thought to have no mouth, absorbing nutrients through the body lining. The scientific community continues to believe this.” His neck was steadily pulsing, stretching and relaxing, in and out, a hypnotic heartbeat. A snake and the charmer. No one could look away. “During my recent travels to Africa,” Taenia continued, “I had the misfortune of proving the scientific community wrong. Would you like to see how?” Frank and Dillon actually nodded.
Taenia hung the raw flesh over his head and tilted his gaping mouth towards it. A black
tapeworm with the girth of a weightlifter’s forearm burst forth from between his lips. It flapped
spasmodically two feet out from his mouth. The end of it split open into four triangular flaps, each housing many razor-sharp teeth, each snapping greedily at the meal in unison. Taenia dropped the meat into the gaping maw; the worm slugged it down like a boa devouring a rabbit. It then retracted back down Taenia’s larnyx gracefully.
“See, that wasn’t so bad,” Taenia said after giving his mouth a wipe. “But a worm of that size has quite a bit bigger appetite than that, I’m afraid.” Suddenyl, Taenia threw his mouth open as wide as it would go. The worm burst forth violently, all thirty feet of it, and landed on the front row of students. That did it, panic finally broke as everyone seemed to scream at once. Students charged for the door, packing against it too tightly for it to be pulled open. Tom’s hand shot to the handle, alternately trying to push the door open and hold it closed.
“I’ve got to get Nancy, I can’t let it out,” he babbled in involuntary contradiction.
Curt remained motionless with his face against the glass, unable to move.
Taenia sat down at his desk and chuckled while the tapeworm convulsed and shuddered, snaking its way on the floor. It opened its mouth flaps and spewed forth wave upon wave of larvae – buckets of grub bile. Rational though evaporated. Students compressed themselves tighter against the door, crushing those closest to it. The hungry larvae twisted and weaved their way across the floor and desks, searching for moist, warm homes. They crawled into shoes, up dresses, under shirts, seeking any hole or entrance in which to begin feeding. Some students started throwing desks at the wire-encased windows to no avail.
Frank was doing his best to fight back, crushing the larvae with his hands, his feet, biting the ones entering his mouth in two. A pity he didn’t pay attention in school enough to know what happened to worms cut in half. He went down quietly because his mouth was too full to scream.
Dillon sat cross-legged on the floor, resigned. The last thing he saw before five plumb
newborns entered his eye sockets was Beverly and Nancy staging a defense underneath their desks.
Nancy and Beverly were frantically fending of the mob by spraying perfume. It worked, but they couldn’t cover all sides at once. They got taken from behind, violated in places that neither Curt nor Tom had seen. Or ever would.
Curt’s paralysis finally broke. He scurried beside Tom to try and help him hold the door closed. Larvae came frothing from underneath the door crack, quickly covering the boys’ legs. Tom let go of the door and ran screaming down the hallway, a couple-hundred hitchhikers along for the ride. Many flew off him and re-attached themselves to students who’d come out to investigate the commotion.
Curt let the door go and sunk to the floor. He should have been too young to understand futility so well. But he did understand these things: He understood there were thousands, maybe millions of these things. He understood the doors to the outside were jammed. He understood that he was still a virgin. And that he would die one.
Principal Sturnic came out of his office after hanging up the phone on the superintendent. He watched students flail past him covered in what looked like pieces of macaroni. Then he noticed that the floor was moving towards him. As he formulated what he was going to say to the superintendent he was overcome.
The janitor never felt a thing because after he gave up on getting the doors open, he locked himself in his office and drank until he passed out. He dreamed of the worm in a tequila bottle.
Taenia surveyed his legacy and spoke to the very few who still stirred.
“Lesson’s over. Class dismissed.” Then he cackled and whistled for his precious to come home. Training was easy with the proper motivation. Soon it would be quiet again. When it was quiet, the queen would go back to sleep. Phineas would then be free: free of her constant demands for food, free of the pain of her trying to make herself comfortable inside him, free to think. Yes, free to think about where to teach his lesson next. Perhaps college. There were thousands of impressionable minds there. Mayhaps he’d visit his parents first.