The Haunted Institute: A-Sample Chapter

Monday mornings were typically a drag for students at the institute, as for most people after a weekend. It took some students a good part of the morning to warm up to the new learning week. Cloudy skies and an early morning drizzle added to the gloom as students tried to warm up to the new learning week.

Dan sat in the front middle of the class as the teacher, Mr. Alexander Malee, discussed network protocol disparities from various vendors. He was a highly vocal and dramatic teacher who liked illustrated teaching with diagrams and real life demonstrations. He was also obsessive to a near compulsive fault, and often repeated himself while scanning the faces of his students, interpreting every sign of diminished attention as due to his faulty lack of clarity in teaching. Some students liked him for making learning easier, but some, especially the bright ones, were irked by his manner, finding him rather tedious and obnoxious.

But Mr. Malee was given to a pleasant attitude, and found amusement in anything serious, funny or ridiculous. His sense of dramatics was instant and unpredictable. He was known to suddenly get students to posture or join limbs in bizarre positions to make a point, or to alter his voice distinctly to imitate six different people in a conversation. Often he got carried away in engaging descriptions of case scenarios and forgot about lesson time. Lesson bells didn’t register well with Mr. Malee. He often forgot about time in such moments and ran into other teachers’ time slots, forcing them to stand politely outside the door waiting for him to quit. Some students had discussed on and off various ways of making Mr. Malee pay attention to time schedules and quit his obnoxious methods of teaching, but none had ever agreed on how such a complicated task could be accomplished.

Such was a time, when Mr. Malee was imitating difficult conversations among network users of various protocols, through the open classroom door rushed a white, furry and long-tailed mouse and stopped abruptly a foot away from Mr. Malee’s shoes. He was busy imitating the fourth network customer when a sudden blurry movement caught his eye. He saw it just before it stopped dead, running right at his feet, so when he jumped up onto his table, he had not quite calculated his landing. He yelped loudly, skidded on his books on the table and flipped the whole thing over. Teacher and table crashed to the floor, his face ending just an inch from the mouse’s nose, which now had a mouth open, the jaws working up and down. The fright and terror was complete for Mr. Malee, for the creature had not only attacked him, but was now threatening to bite his face as he saw it. A small, but clearly audible voice was calling his name repeatedly, saying, ‘Can we quit now, Mr. Malee? Can we quit now, Mr. Malee? Can we quit now, Mr. Malee? Please Mr. Malee?’

The fear for his life increased as he scrambled and raced to the adjacent open window and attempted to jump over the windowsill, confusion and terror etched on his face. He had one foot over the windowsill, looking over his shoulder at the miniature goblin, when he saw it suddenly turn and race back out the door it had come through.

The students were hysterical with amusement, some of them jostling to the front of the classroom, some shouting and pointing at the hilarious furry thing, and most laughing their heads off at the strange scene of Mr. Malee scrambling to climb out a window to get away from a talking mouse after crashing with his whole show to the floor. He saw it disappear, as the students laughed and chattered, some of the girls squealing and wailing hysterically with amusement.

He brushed chalk dust off his clothes and started, wild-eyed and tentatively, toward the door, then stopped, his jaws slack and his eyes blinking as if to clear off a blurred image of a bad daytime nightmare. He stared slack-jawed at the door for a moment in a stooped crouch, as though ready to spring for the window again should the marauding goblin come running back in. He wanted to say something, ask questions, understand what was happening, but realized he would only appear more confused, naive and out of control, like a little boy afraid of horned toads.

His terror and embarrassment were complete and more than he wanted to express. There were too many questions in his mind, but who to ask? And what to ask? He had never heard or seen anything like it in his life. A talking mouse! And one that new his name as well!

He righted his desk and picked stuff off the floor as students continued laughing to stitches.

“Where did it go?” was all he could think to ask after a while, attempting to compose himself and appear unperturbed. He wanted to eject a bit of humor with a few words, or a dramatic explanation to save face, but his nerve was gone. He wasn’t laughing or smiling as he often did in amusing situations. No one answered him, for no one apparently had an explanation for such a strange thing. A talking mouse? And one that called him by name, of all things! And it had a complete fury body and a wagging tail!

Daniel Tango stood and volunteered to find out where the mouse had vanished to. He stepped just outside the door and looked up and down the veranda. There was no sign of the mouse. He looked in the drainage along the edge of the concrete pavement but saw nothing. Other students crowded about outside, but none seemed to have noticed or be interested in anything unusual around the classroom entrances. “It’s gone,” Dan announced, returning to the classroom.

Alexander Malee was eying him curiously, almost suspiciously, as if Dan might pronounce the second coming of the mouse, or as if he had conspired with the mouse in its incursion. He finally gathered his books, stepped out to the verandah tentatively and walked away without saying another word.

The buzz and chatter in the class immediately increased in volume as students went into more excited discussions, everyone talking at the same time. Everyone had a question or something to say about the matter. What was that? Where did it come from? And where did it go to? Some hurried out to look outside, and hurried up and down the verandah, unbelieving that the mouse had actually happened and disappeared. What in the world was that anyway? Had anything like that ever happened in the world?

The next teacher came in and looked at the students curiously as the excitement lingered. He resisted the urge to ask what the buzz was all about and started into his lesson. It took most students a while to refocus and catch up with him, their minds still trying to analyze the bizarre trick mouse or whatever it was, that rushed in to ask Mr. Malee to quit, then ran back out the door.


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Augustus Douw

Author, blogger and literary researcher.

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