Blackboard Galaxy | Audio***Read by the Story's Author
By Sarina Dorie
As a child, Sarina Dorie dreamed of being an astronaut/archeologist/fashion designer/illustrator/writer. Later in life, after realizing this might be an unrealistic goal, Sarina went to the Pacific NW College of Art where she earned a degree in illustration. After realizing this might also be an unrealistic goal, she went to Portland State University for a master's in education to pursue the equally cut-throat career of teaching art in the public school system. After years of dedication to art and writing, most of Sarina's dreams have come true; in addition to teaching, she is a writer/artist/ fashion designer/ belly dancer. In addition to showing her art internationally, she has sold art to Shimmer Magazine for an interior illustration, and another piece is on the April 2011 cover of Bards and Sages. Sarina's unpublished novel, Silent Moon has won Romance Writer of America awards, and she has sold her short story "Zombie Psychology" to Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and "Losing One's Appetite" to Daily Science Fiction. Her piece, "A Ghost's Guide to Haunting Humans," won the March Whidbey NILA Student Choice Award.
Now, if only Jack Sparrow asks her to marry him, all her dreams will come true.
By the last period of the day, I was just about ready to strangle one of the middle school students in my Earth studies class. As I looked up from helping one of the giant Denebians with an essay in the back of the room, I tried to keep my voice low and calm. "Snorg, please stop kicking your neighbor. Open your i-Textbook to the chapter on Earth geography. We're going to have a quiz on this at the end of the week."
"Does this look like a face that cares?" Snorg Jr. asked, loud enough for the entire class to hear. He gestured dramatically to his face--or lack of--in this case.
Considering Alpha Centaurians didn't develop faces until they were sixteen, his head was a blank green mask without a nose, hair or ears. A simple slit made up his mouth, and his five eyes lay beneath a thin film of skin he could see through, though they remained invisible to others.
This was only my third day at Orion's Intergalactic Academy, and thus far I'd managed to avoid using the laser sedation gun on the students or call in Blurble, the detention supervisor.
When the quadrant's school district had hired me in order to prove they were an equal opportunity employer, Principal Toggs had laughed. "You humans aren't even half the size of a Debenian male and they expect you to work with students here? We'll see if you last three days."
I'd show him. (And for the record, I actually was exactly half the size of a Denebian male, the smaller of the sexes on that planet.) So what if this was my first job off of Earth? Teaching about human culture was my passion. I'd applied to Orion's Intergalactic School District for the last six years straight and finally I'd gotten the job. Only, I hadn't imagined the principal would make me sign that waiver which said I was willing to devour students who got out of control.
I told him, "Humans can't swallow something their size or larger like Alpha Centaurians can."
All five of his eyes stared at me with mocking amusement as he said, "The school district won't hire a teacher who can't eat out of control students. If you want a job in OISD, you need to be able to swallow students whole."
I could barely swallow my horse pill sized vitamins in the morning. How could someone expect me to swallow a student?
I clutched the contract, trying to reason with him. "But you do understand the school district is asking something that isn't humanly possibly?"
"I don't make the rules. I'm just filling their quota of hiring diverse lifeforms," he said. "Are you going to sign that contract or not?"
That was the moment I'd been faced with going back to Earth and teaching language arts and social studies for the rest of my life, or I could lie to the school district and have my dream job.
Fast forward five days later: as razor sharp fins emerged from my middle school student's skin, I wondered if I had made the right decision. Then again, maybe I didn't have to eat my students.
The laser sedation gun was in my desk on the other side of the room. If I dove for it, I might be able to get there before Snorg exploded. Literally in this case, as teenage Alpha Centaurians were sometimes known for puffing up and bursting their excess flesh from their bodies when they grew angry. Their ecto-cells were so acidic it could injure carbon-based life forms like myself. Toggs had assured me that this rarely happened among Alpha Centaurian youth, and none of the students at this school had a history of exploding.
It seemed I was misinformed.
If I used the gun, I would lose the respect of the thirty alien students in the room and discipline would be a struggle all year because they would all know I couldn't swallow them. Or I could hope my classroom management techniques could diffuse the situation.
I used what teachers on Earth called a "one foot voice." "Snorg, so far today you have complained non-stop about our Earth lesson. I think you need to take a break, work on something else, and come back when you're ready to learn."
"Make me," Snorg said. His green skin faded into blue. Bad sign.
I inched toward my desk. Three rows of students separated me from the sedation gun.
The rowdy class quieted to a hush. The only sound in the room came from the back where an oblivious student tapped away at the keyboard of an iTexbook. The aroma of bacon wafted through the air, a sign the Crystaloid species of students were nervous. They were most likely waiting to see if I was about to devour Snorg whole. Or perhaps they wondered if I would turn the disobedient student to stone with my gaze, as such abilities were rumored possible among humans.
If only that were true. I continued toward my desk, the space between me and the sedation gun stretching into an exponential distance, my chest tight with anxiety.
Marna, the Alpha Centaurian student who already had a one hundred and eight percent, despite it only being the third day, raised her hand. When I ignored her, she whispered. "Mrs. Brewer, it's his time of the year." She said it like I was supposed to know what that was. I definitely didn't recall anything about a "time of year" from the books I'd read on teaching intergalactic youth.
Marna went on. "You need to eat Snorg before he explodes. It's okay. Our math teacher did it once this week with Snorg already."
Snorg's skin changed to a deep blue, then purple, growing puffier by the second. The other students shrank back. Watching him out of the corner of the eye, I tried to casually stroll closer to my desk, hoping the Crystalloids couldn't hear the thundering of my heart. I couldn't show any fear. I needed to get Snorg out of the room before he hurt himself or anyone else. Surely there had to be another teacher nearby who could swallow him whole.
Snorg crossed his four arms, walking in front of me, blocking my path to the desk. Laser sedation was no longer an option.
I was going to have to use my best teaching skills to save myself and the class. I tried to recall something I had learned about alien culture to help me, but I could barely think straight. I had studied about each of the seven species at the academy, but my brain couldn't recall any important details about Alpha Centaurians at the moment other than yelling in their culture was a taboo and a sign of immaturity.
"Ms. Brewer, hurry," one of the students in the back whispered.
I inched around Snorg, toward my desk. "Um, eating other species really is against my religion."
The Alpha Centaurian students hummed like flies in the back. I think that meant they were distressed. Unless that noise was coming from the Denebians, and if that was the case, they were giggling.
"But you have to! If you don't eat him soon, he might explode everywhere and it could take months for him to regenerate," Marna said.
Snorg's voice came out a gurgle. According to the books, that mean he was pretty close to exploding. "She isn't going to eat me. Look how puny she is. I bet she can't."
In another sixty seconds, Snorg would turn red and start to release toxins in the air that would incapacitate the Denebian hydrogen-based species in the back. Then he would probably shred me to bits with those pointed fins and possibly injure the other students when he exploded.
Crap! Think, I told myself. An idea came to mind, but my bluff was only going to work if they hadn't learned about human biology from last year's teacher. "It's not that I can't. I just choose not to after what happened to the last student. It still breaks my heart when I think about it."
The tapping of the keyboard in the back of the room stopped. Apparently what I had said was more interesting than the idea of another run of the mill swallow-and-regurgitate-a-student-having-his-time-of-the-year.
Taking the bait, one of the students asked, "What happened?"
I took a deep breath, trying to bury my fear. "Humans don't regurgitate their young. First of all, we can't swallow food whole. We have to take bites. What goes in our stomachs breaks down into even smaller pieces, becomes absorbed in our bloodstream, and the excess passes out as excrement."
"That's disgusting!" Marna said.
"She's lying." A flicker of green flashed across Snorg's face. His fins stopped growing. He swiveled his head toward one of his friends. "The digestive fluids in the first stomach are far too alkali to break anything down. Right?"
"I think humans only have one stomach," a fuzzy Crystaloid said in the back.
"That's right. No one can live through a human's stomach acid. I'll have to show you a video on what human gastric acids can break down when we get to our lesson in Earth biology." And boy, was I going to be ever selective about what I taught them regarding human biology.
By now I had reached my desk. I pulled open a drawer. The laser sedation gun was there. Instead, I picked up my red flowered scarf, half frayed from getting caught in the hover bus's door that morning.
I held up the scarf for all to see. "This was from the last girl I ate. I try to keep this scarf with me as a reminder that she'll never return from my stomach." I sighed overdramatically. "But it's hard for humans to control themselves, especially when they don't finish their lunch." I glanced, none-too-subtly at the half-eaten apple on my desk.
Snorg's complexion faded into his normal green tone. The fins receded as he backed up toward the door. "I don't want to become a big, pile of yuchtec. I promise I'll be good. I'll go to my math teacher next period and ask him to swallow me. Or I could go to Blurble right now. Whatever you do, please, just don't eat me."
He looked at me, back at his friends, then made a dash for the door and slammed it behind him.
I sat down in my chair, my wobbly knees no longer able to keep up the effort of standing .
Ha! Take that Principal Toggs; I'd made it through day three. Now only 120 days until "winter" vacation.