The kids all just stared out, not really seeing anything. Toby was familiar with this face. He’d gotten used to it as a substitute, going over times tables and getting the kids to understand photosynthesis. They didn’t really hear him. They weren’t really in class, but staring outwards, day dreaming about space and wizards or princesses and whatever else they felt was more important than the practical things, the real things.
Slamming the 25-pound catfish onto the long lab table startled them a little. A couple jaws dropped.
“Alright, c’mon guys, wakey wakey,” Toby said. The kids’ attitudes didn’t change much.
The classroom was cold. Outside the windows everything was dark. The lights in the back of the room were off to reveal the work Toby set to work on. Tonight the kids would learn by watching, and then doing. If it worked before, it would work again. It was all about having the right message. If you have good intentions, why would anyone want to stop you? And why would anyone suspect the sub?
“I know you don’t like regular schoolwork, so I came up with a surprise for the lesson plan, but don’t tell Mrs. Miller!” Toby told the kids, lightly shushing them with his gloved fingertip. “I’m going to teach you practical skills, like preparing your food, that way when you’re older and out there on your own, you’ll know how to feed yourselves.”
The kids seemed a little confused.
“Has anyone ever seen their mommy or daddy clean a fish before?” Toby asked.
One of the boys, Gregory Trotus, looked from side to side at the other kids, and raised his hand. Toby pointed the long serrated knife at Gregory.
Gregory slowly put his hand down.
“Mi-mister S,” he mumbled, “Can we please go? It’s cold in here, and scary.”
“Is that how you all feel?” Toby had his feelings hurt like this before, something that stemmed back to when he was their age. It had become a passion of his to impart his knowledge onto children, and teach them to understand what he had to offer. But after months of subbing, the heartlessness of kids taught him that they didn’t care.The other children nodded in anxious agreement.
“Well, you kids have done a number on my heart, you know that? You’re just gonna sit, and watch, and maybe you’ll learn something. You’re all fish that I’m guiding through these dark waters.” Toby gestured to the outer walls of the sealed shed, referring to the outside world. He was obviously angry, and he realized he frightened the kids
even more. He didn’t mean to, but sometimes you had to put a little fear in the kids to make them listen. Toby knew that.
“I’ll run through this quickly to give you an idea of what to do. Make sure you have a clear workspace. You want to have a bowl,” he paused and lifted the bowl on the table so the kids could see.
“Then you take your knife, and cut from the dorsal fin on the back, to the one at the tail end of the fish. Then you grab pliers, and peel back the fish skin, take your knife again, and make a cut from the fish’s butt all the way up to its neck, pull out all the guts, and drop them into the bucket here.” The entrails made a wet flopping sound as they hit the bottom of the bucket. “After that, you just have to rinse the fish off.”
Toby cleaned up the fish, placed it in the bowl, and put it into the cooler behind him.
“I told you guys I had a surprise,” he said, walking to the other side of the table and turning on a lamp to illuminate a sheet-covered mass atop the table. He grabbed the end of the sheet and yanked it back.
“It’s Mrs. Miller!” the kids shrieked.
Indeed, it was. The naked corpse of the children’s school teacher lay on the table, growing blue and cold. The kids started scrambling up to their feet and pounding on the wall and locked door behind them, deafened by their own screams. They could scream and cry all they wanted, it didn’t make a difference. It never mattered before. No one was on campus anymore. Even the janitor had ended his shift and gone home hours ago.
“With people, it’s really the same process as the fish,” Toby said, unmoved by their continued screams. He proceeded to skin the woman, gut her, and dispose of the scraps. He then lowered her into the large rollaway cooler behind him. The kids gave up on escaping halfway through the routine and instead stood still, watching Toby’s every move.
When Mrs. Miller was in the cooler, Toby turned back to the table and grabbed the knife. The kids shuddered.
“Now, which one of you wants to go first? Melanie, why don’t you go first, you’ve been the closest thing to well-behaved today.” Toby held the knife out to the girl, handle first. “You see, you’re all fish swimming in a pond that’s too small, and there’s just not enough food for all of you. Someday, this is what it’s going to come down to. Gregory, why don’t you lay down on the table for Melanie? You’re the one who wanted to leave so badly.” He patted the blood-smeared surface of the table for Gregory to lie down.