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Image by Harry Shelton
I hadn’t shut the door or taken attendance when one of the students asked, “Mr. Riley, have you ever seen a UFO?”
“I’ve seen lights in the sky, but whether it was a bird, a plane, or Superman, I don’t know.” Some giggled, but I knew better than to tell them that I knew they were real, or the news would spread like stage four cancer, and I’d be out a job at the prep. school, union or not, because they can always find a way to get rid of who they want. Truth is, I’d seen a UFO once when I first started teaching at a school in Ruwa, Zimbabwe. Other teachers and many students who were outside at recess had seen it, too. The leaves had shimmied on the trees, and dust rose from the ground. I raised the window but heard no noise. When I saw the kids running toward the stand of trees, I saw the silver saucer and the aliens, just like I’d read in sci-fi magazines. They were gray with spindly arms and legs and had large black eyes. I’d read aliens communicated telepathically, so I had quietly begged to be abducted like Elijah or the hundreds of thousands of others throughout time, but I hadn’t experienced the classic symptoms afterward like missing time or gaps in memories. We had been hushed by the administration and law enforcement, and the media chalked the children’s accounts up to mass hysteria.
I had, however, often felt like an alien because of teaching seniors who were more obsessed with their grades after the fact and wanted credit repair, a do-over, or some heavenly extra credit but had no interest in learning what they’d done wrong. They seemed more interested in who might fondle who under the table at the prom dinner, who they might take for classes at a college or university depending on which faculty members had chili pepper marks next to their name at ratemyprofessor.com., or which fraternity or sorority they would join based on keg history, which famous legislator had been involved with the Greek organization, or who might go easier on them in court. They were also interested in what reward their parents might bestow on them for their graduation milestone for being dutiful and showing up for twelve years–a new car or trip to Europe.
I was more interested in their graduation, not because of “No Child Left Behind” but because the philosophy most of the teachers felt was more accurate–“Leave Teachers Behind”. The only problem was that there was always another class behind the one leaving where someone would get caught swallowing someone’s hydrocodone prescription in the restroom with cupped hands full of water or masturbating in a stall and sending sperm swimming through sewer lines with no hope of fertilization, proving once again that everyone gets laid whether it’s who one wants or not. After all, Atlanta Rhythm Section’s “Imaginary Lovers” always consent. No Title IX or sexual harassment worries there.
“Remember your summaries on Mesopotamia are due tomorrow,” I told them. “So, spend your time wisely working today in class.” My words fell among the deaf. Laptops were open to Solitaire games or music videos on screen, people whispered, and some ate high protein-low carbohydrate bars and washed them down with sugar and caffeine-laced soft drinks. I knew tomorrow I might get some summaries plagiarized from Google links, the modern World Book, and the rest wouldn’t bother, but they’d pass and graduate because that was the unwritten policy that left no child behind, caused graduation rates to soar, and caused higher education remediation to increase.
I wouldn’t be the lone alien stranded in this classroom much longer and crossed off the days on my desk calendar and in my lesson planner. I had one more year to go before retirement, and I looked forward to leaving this world behind and moving onto something else. When I closed my briefcase, pushed the wooden chair under the desk, and turned off the lights, I walked down the hallway and outside. I thought I saw something block the sun and reflect light, heard a faint whooshing sound, and saw a dust devil in the distance. I hoped the aliens had finally returned for me after all these years and dropped to my knees, put my briefcase down, and folded my hands pyramid-style to pray they take me, but I heard laughter and realized some of the students were flying a drone in the parking lot. I figured they were spying on the girl’s swim team at the pool.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine. nilesreddick.com