Fiction — “Once there was an empty classroom”

During the day, the door remains unlocked—the lights flicked on by a sleepy department head and flicked off by a custodian whose back vac makes her a ghostbuster.

A general lack of students keeps the air icy and free of the muck-must of human bodies, a scent corrupted by cheetos and the cheese of feet, although the room occasionally feeds on students looking for a place to study, romantic couples with forged hall passes, and, once, a red-nosed assistant principal who napped by the cabinets.

Some grease and wet spray still lies on the carpet.

Since classrooms have no natural predator, the room sits, and sits, like a forgotten box of baking soda in the fridge. Its stomach grew between Science classes and a weedwork of wires and pink-feather insulation. Feeding on rats.

Now the stomach sits, hungry.

There was a man once. The first pang of its profession came with the appearance of a bearded teacher. Shaggy, shortsighted as a bear with spectacles, the creature lumbered through the door and fell on the desk.

The room waited, hoping the teacher would attract others.

But the teach hid there, received his paycheck, watched for enemies at the door, put up posters that read, “You never fail until you stop trying,” and “It’s okay to not know but it’s not okay to not try.” Perhaps he operated under that mantra of bibles and baseball movies—if you build it, they will come.

No one came. The room ate the man, absorbed his funky odors. And life returned to the humdrum of air-conditioned lungs.