“Hey, Mr. Thomas, look at what arrived! It’s finally here!”
I proudly held out ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking to our physics teacher.
“Oh, that’s a good one. Did you already read it, Steven?”
“Only the first chapter, but man, it’s so interesting! You read it, too, right?”
Mr. Thomas gave a short laugh.
“Of course, I’ve read everything by Hawking, a brilliant man.”
“So, I wondered about something. What exactly do you think black holes are? I mean, like where do they come from, and do you think they lead anywhere?”
Mr. Thomas started to answer my question. It soon developed into a half an hour banter about astrophysics. I absolutely loved the topic. Ever since I was a little kid, I’d been fascinated by the night sky, stars, and planets. The shelf in my small dorm room was filled to the brim with books on the topic and various science-fiction novels. You could say, I’m a bit of a nerd.
My teacher really seemed to be happy that one of his students took such an interest in the subject.
It wasn’t common for the students of this boarding school. It was no secret that the school focused heavily on sports and athletics. The rest of the curriculum was more or less a necessary evil.
It had been a few months ago when I first approached Mr. Thomas about white dwarfs after class. Ever since that day, he seemed to welcome our talks. From that day on, I always talked to him on Wednesday afternoon when my last class was physics. My questions were never related to the topics of the class. Instead, I usually spoke to him about whatever book I was currently reading.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not well versed or knowledgeable about the subject, but I guess he liked my curiosity. We usually talked for at least half an hour, often more that before I made my way back to the dorms.
That day we didn’t talk much about my new book since I’d barely started reading it. Mr. Thomas urged me on, though, and told me that chapter four would give me a whole number of questions. He said he’d be happy to answer them as best as he could.
On my way to the dorms, I saw many of the other students outside. They were already preparing for their extracurricular activities and various sports clubs. I couldn’t help but frown. It wasn’t that I hated sports, but I guess I just wasn’t into them. Thanks again, dad, it was a great idea to send me to your old school.
Once I was back at my room, I threw my backpack down, took out my book, and continued reading. I’d barely read a single page when I heard someone at the door. There were a few swift knocks before the door was pulled open.
Facing me was Mr. Richter, the stout, heavy-set dorm mother. She put her hands to her hips and frowned when she saw me on the bed, holding a book.
“Steven! Why don’t you ever go outside? I bet you’re the only one in who’s in his dorm room at this time of the day!”
“Mrs. Richter,” I started a bit annoyed, “I told you, I’m not into the whole sports thing. I’m going to track once a week. Right now, I just want to read my book.”
The woman’s frown seemed to deepen before she sighed heavily.
“Well, whatever boy, I tried. It’s all I can do,” she exclaimed, throwing her hands into the air.
When she walked away, however, I could see the small smile on her face.
For the rest of the day, and most of the following week, I buried myself in Steven Hawking’s book. I absolutely devoured it and spent most of my free time locked away in my dorm room, much to the annoyance of my friends Erik and Martin.
Once Wednesday had arrived, I had stacks upon stacks of notes and questions. I couldn’t wait to talk to Mr. Thomas.
I was pins and needles all day. There were so many questions. Hell, so many things I didn’t understand.
After the lunch break, it was time for physics class. As usual, I didn’t pay too much attention in class. Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Thomas is a great teacher. It’s just that I either knew most about the topics we discussed or wasn’t interested in them.
While Mr. Thomas explained how transistors and transformers worked, I looked through my notes again. There was no way I’d have enough time to discuss all of them with him today. So, I spent most of the class going through my notes and picking out the few questions that gave me the biggest headache.
When class ended, I walked up to our teacher right away. He simply stared at me as I approached.
“What is it?” he asked in a somewhat monotonous way.
I looked up, a bit surprised at the tone of his voice.
“Eh, about the book, I started, “I read it twice already. It’s really amazing, I don’t even know where to start!”
He said nothing and kept staring at me. I felt a bit awkward and quickly continued.
“So I’ve got a few questions and was wondering if you’d help-”
“What questions?” he cut me off without the slightest change to his voice.
“Well, it’s about chapter four, it’s really… tough, just like you said. I don’t understand the Uncertainty Principle at all. Like what does it even mean?”
“It’s the concept that precise, simultaneous measurements of some complementary variables, such as the position and momentum of a subatomic particle, is impossible,” he recited. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, I mean, I read that, but what does it actually mean? I don’t get it!”
“It means that the precise, simultaneous measurements of some complementary variables, such as the position and momentum of a subatomic, is impossible.”
I gave him a strange look.
“You said this already, but what’s meant by measure-”
“Well, I don’t know, the other questions juts go more into this, so-”
“Good. Then that’s it.”
With that, he turned away, started to clean up his desk, and put away his teaching materials. I watched him, not just a bit confused.
I was about to ask him once more, but before I could, he left the room. I looked after him, unsure of what was going on. I murmured a goodbye, but that too was ignored completely.
I watched as he walked down the hallway to his office, wondering what the hell was wrong with him. Guess he must have a bad day or something.
The next day I’d already shrugged off his weird behavior. God knows, teachers probably had a lot to deal with anyways.
Once classes for the day were over, I decided to try talking to him again. Maybe he’d got a few minutes to speak to me today.
When I knocked at the door to his office, I got no reaction. I tried to see if anyone was inside, but the stained glass made it impossible. I knocked again, this time a bit louder.
I was about to give up when I saw movement behind the door. Moments later, Mr. Thomas opened it.
I opened my mouth but didn’t get to say anything.
“Classes have ended for the day. Students should make their way to the dorms for their extracurricular activities,” he blurted out almost mechanically.
“But Mr. Thomas,” I protested, “it won’t take long, really, I just wanted to ask you-”
“Classes have ended. Students should make their way to the dorms or their extracurricular activities,” he said once more, this time in a slightly harsher tone.
He looked at me for another moment before he closed the door right in front of me.
I was left speechless about what had transpired. This was not normal at all. He was usually so friendly! No, this wasn’t like him at all. There had to be something wrong with him!
Once I was back at the dorms, I tried to convince myself again that I was putting too much thought into it. Who knows, maybe he was going through a rough time. Hell, perhaps he’d grown tired of my constant pestering.
It was the next day at school, though, that I noticed something.
On my way to my next class, I saw him down the hallway. There was something off about the way he was walking. It looked almost mechanically as if he was trying to mimic the way the people around him walked. Yet, somehow, he didn’t get it right. It looked as if each of his steps took him a tremendous effort. Was he sick?
During my next physics class, I noticed that it wasn’t just his way of walking. As I watched him closely, I noticed more details. The way he held the chalk, and the way he talked, it was slightly different, too.
Did I imagine it? For some reason, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was strange. As I continued to watch him, it felt as if he was trying his hardest to act like he usually did. It felt as if I was watching a completely different person.
There was a constant, slight twitch at the corners of his mouth. His eyes seemed a bit too wide and dim. Everything about him was a tad bit off, or, I thought, almost right.
When he turned towards the class, and his dim eyes focused on me, I shivered. They weren’t just dim, they were emotionless, almost entirely empty.
As he explained something to the class, I realized what was wrong about his way of speaking. It was the way he pronounced the words and lingered too long on certain vowels.
That day I didn’t approach him after class or even looked at him. Instead, I walked past him without so much as saying a word.
It was at the start of next week that I noticed he wasn’t the only teacher that was acting strange. There was our English teacher, Miss Marx, as well as Mr. Flach, the homeroom teacher of class 9B, who both behaved the same way.
Right as my friend Erik passed me, I elbowed him to get his attention.
“Dude, what the hell?” he complained.
“Hey man, look at Mr. Flach,” I said to him, pointing at the teacher who was striding down the hallway ahead of us. “Don’t you think he’s acting kind of weird?”
“What? The hell are you talking about, dude? First, you say you’re busy reading your dumb books and now-”
“Look at the way he’s walking!”
“So? He’s probably on his way to his next class.”
“No, I mean, how he’s moving. The way he steps forward and moves his legs, look how jerky they are. That’s not normal at all. Look!”
Erik gave me a confused look.
“Dude, are you into him or something? Why are you watching his legs?”
“Fuck off, Erik! There’s something strange about him, don’t you see it?”
“Alright, dude, I’ve got no freaking clue what you’re talking about.”
“I’m saying there’s something on with some of the teachers!”
“Yeah, no shit, as if teachers ever acted normal. Flach’s a freaking douchebag, that’s what’s going on.”
“Jesus, I’m serious! I’m telling you something’s going on!”
“Yeah, whatever, maybe you shouldn’t read so many of those weird books,” Erik said, shrugging.
I gave him a frustrated look before I walked off.
All throughout the school day, I talked to my friends and classmates. In French, I spoke to Gabriel, who pretty much told me I was acting weird. Martin, in history class, called me an idiot. They both said I had to be imagining things. There was no way, though, I knew what I’d seen.
It was at the end of history class that our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Wolf, called me over. I was a bit apprehensive, but I hadn’t noticed anything strange about her. She said she’d seen act nervous all throughout the class and that I’d talked to Martin in an erratic voice.
“So, what’s the matter with you, Steven? Did anything happen at the dorms? Are you being bullied?” she asked as she led me to her office.
“No, that’s not it, Mrs. Wolf.”
She opened the door and motioned for me to step inside. My eyes followed her, and as she put down her bag. For a moment, her arm twisted backward into a weird angle as if the joint had popped. I stared at it, shook my head and blinked. Everything was back to normal.
“You can talk to me, Steven. I’m your teacher,” she said, turning to me and giving me a warm smile.
I stared at her anxiously. Had I just seen that? The way she talked and her behavior was as normal as could be. There was no sign that anything was wrong with her.
I fought with myself for a moment before I told her that I thought something was wrong with Mr. Thomas. As she listened, she paced through her office. Each one of her steps led her closer to the door. It felt almost as if she was trying to position herself between me and the door.
“But why’d you think something is wrong with him? Those… accusations are completely groundless, Steven.”
As she said this, her eyes were probing me before she took yet another step towards the door.
“Mrs. Wolf, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to help you, Steven, that’s all.”
She reached out towards me and put her arm on my shoulder. I could feel the nervous twitch of her fingers before she pressed down on it. For a moment, her eyes grew wide, and her face jerked towards mine.
“I’m your teacher, after all.”
I cringed back, and in a surge of panic, I dashed past her. I almost threw myself from her office, straight into a group of passing students.
“What the hell are you doing, idiot?” one of them yelled at me.
I ignored them and quickly turned back towards the office. For a moment, I was afraid to see Mrs. Wolf come after me, but she was just standing there. She eyed me with a mixture of curiosity and annoyance.
“Get some sleep, Steven. And if you’d be so kind, at least close the door,” she added sarcastically.
Her eyes were still focused on me as I went back to close the door. Apart from the stern look she gave me, nothing was wrong about her. Almost nothing. I could’ve sworn that she hadn’t blinked once during the whole time.
As I walked off, I couldn’t help but wonder if I imagined things. I’d been on edge all week. The way she’d acted though, that arm of hers. Shit, I didn’t know anymore.
During the lunch break, we were all ushered outside as usual, and I soon found myself talking to Erik again.
“I told you, you’re making things up! You need to get out more.”
“Ugh, that’s what Mrs. Richter says all the time,” I said with a frown. “But fuck man, the way she moved, her face, it was all so creepy. And what about Mr. Thomas?”
“Fuck if I know, maybe he’s tired of your stupid questions?”
“Yeah, fuck you too.”
“Seriously, man, you’ve been pestering him about your weird books for months. God knows I’d be sick of it by now as well. Don’t know why you’re even reading all that shit.”
I was about to snap back at him, but then I sighed. Instead, I ate my sandwich in silence. My thoughts still lingered on Mrs. Wolf, Mr. Thomas, and the other teachers.
A sudden loud noise made me look towards the construction going on at the west wing of the school building. I frowned as I stared at the scaffolded part of the building.
“Man, shouldn’t they be done with their stupid renovations by now?” Erik mumbled next to me.
I nodded. It had been months, but there didn’t seem to be any progress at all. What the hell were they even doing? Had the school run out of money or something?
As lunch break came to a close, my thoughts still lingered on the teacher’s behavior. I almost didn’t notice the small Asian girl that approached me and bumped right into her.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean-” I started, but she cut me off.
“We have to talk,” she whispered and gave my arm a slight pull. As I followed her into the building, I wondered what the hell she wanted from me. For a moment, an idea popped into my mind, and I frowned.
Once she’d lead to a small side hallway, she started talking again.
“Ehm, so,” she started in a low voice staring at her feet. Oh god, what the hell was this?
“I heard you talking to your friend. You were talking about the teachers, right?”
“What?” I asked, now clearly confused.
Once more, she shifted around uncomfortably, trying her hardest to avoid my stare. “You said their behavior was odd, right?”
Wait a second, this was not a confession, wasn’t it? Could it be that she’d… “Yeah,” I started, “I mean, I don’t know what it is, but some of them have acted strange, haven’t they?”
“Oh my god,” she pressed out, staring right at me for the first time. “You noticed it too! I thought I was the only one!”