Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from October, 2020.
I. Father-Lasher, n.
Grayson locks his car; its beep travels over the empty parking lot. He walks toward the school, shrouded in thick fog. His lanyard wraps around his fist as he puts his keys in the pocket of his raincoat. His steps don’t echo, and he thinks about that when he looks up at the flag, already risen, hanging limp against the pole in the windless, predawn sky.
II. Garboil, n.
“Good morning, guys! Just give me a sec to click the record button, since that is something adults do. “Al- right. To- day, we’re going to need our handy, dandy notebooks for our entry task— I’ll share my screen, so you can read it there. “It’s so weird talking alone in a classroom, you guys. Like, I know I’m talking to all of you, but I’m just so conscious of the fact I’m the only one in here, ya know? “Sorry, anyway, I’ll give you a minute to write your response to the entry task.” He jerks his head over his left shoulder, holds it there for a few seconds, turns back to his computer, blinks slowly several times. “Did you guys hear that?”
III. Deleatur, v.
It sounded like a gasp, a desperate attempt at breath— right behind him. The chat fills with students saying variations of “no” and “what.” He looks again. Must be the heating system; he writes a note to put in a work order at lunch.
IV. Hore, n.
The district prioritizes HVAC issues, so a maintenance worker arrives that afternoon. He shows up as Grayson packs his laptop. A lanyard, polo, and mask with the district logo, denim pants and work boots. “Grayson Chapman?!” he exclaims as he puts his toolbox on a nearby desk. He gestures at himself. “Bryan Lloyd. Ms. Olson’s English class in 8th grade? We worked on that poster project for the Giver together?” Grayson puts his mask on. “Bryan! Oh man! How have you been?!” “Oh, ya know, getting by. Tons of HVAC work lately between the virus and the wildfires.” “Ugh. No doubt.” Grayson shakes his head. “Oh! Ms. Olson still teaches here! Still has her old room too!” “No way! How old is she?!” “No idea, but she looks EXACTLY THE SAME!” They reminisce and joke as Bryan inspects the HVAC system of Grayson’s classroom. “Yeah, dude, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s filthy in there, for sure, but I don’t see anything functionally wrong with it.”
V. Schlep, v.
“Nothing? Really?” “Nothin. The building’s 20 years old, so there’s just a ton of dust in there. What the issue you had?” Bryan asks, flipping through forms on his clipboard. Grayson stammers, “Uhh it was like a gasp, like it sprang a leak or something.” Bryan puts the clipboard down, pokes a pipe with the end of his pen. “Yeah. I don’t see anything that would cause that sort of thing.” “Huh,” Grayson nods. Bryan packs up his tools, waves goodbye, says he has another job across town. After zipping up his backpack, Grayson squats by the vent on his way out of the classroom. A dull wave of static. Even. Regular. There’s an ache in his back as he climbs down the stairs, his backpack heavy.
VI. Dictitate, v.
A message from Nevaeh, a student who missed the live lesson that morning: “hey mr. c sorry I missed class today. I had to help my sister get set up in her class and her computer wouldn’t load teams right. I went to watch the video for your class and there’s something weird with it. It won’t play right.” Grayson follows the link on his class’s page, the video loads. He hears himself talk about notebooks and the entry task, then it skips. “… so conscious of the fact I’m the only one in here— I’m the only one in here— the only one in here— the only one in here— the only one in here— the only one in here—"
VII. Junk, n.
A dream: high noon salt air cloudless sky a boat 360 degrees of ocean the only one onboard clouds spiral sky darkens wind rain a sudden familiar gasp He wakes up. His shirt soaked in sweat. His lungs empty, his ribs heave as he searches for air.
VIII. Fun, n. and adj.
Next lesson ends with a game of Kahoot! to review vocabulary related to colonial America before a test. An upbeat jingle plays as he reads each question, announces each success. The chat scrolls quickly— ggs and emojis. He barely registers the blurb announcing a new student joining the Teams meeting.
IX. Perlage, n.
It’s not there when he scrolls the chat back up. The blurb is gone. The name isn’t there. Was it really there? So familiar. Why her name?
X. Water Thief, n.
That’s where the recording of the lesson, which eventually gets uploaded for his students, ends. For Grayson, however, the lights went out. The faces of his students froze as the internet died, the screen dimmed. The gasp again, followed by crying. Quiet sobs from someone behind him, under his desk, which he stopped teaching online lessons from after a week when his legs got antsy. He crouches to look, soft pops from his sore knees. Nothing there. The crying stopped. The lights come back on.
XI. Ethnobotany, n.
A memory: Eighth grade. Winter. Grayson wears an AC/DC shirt under his band uniform. A bouquet of poinsettias strategically hidden behind his backpack and trombone case in the corner of the band room. Going to ask her tonight. The concert ends, and the mob of teenage, tuxedoed Santas pours back into the band room. High fives and unclasping cases fills the air. Grayson puts his trombone away, clasps the case shut, takes a deep breath. He looks over his shoulder, spots her. Now or never. He picks up the poinsettias and walks across the crowded room.
XII. LOL, v.
Grayson steps back from his empty desk, hesitantly sits in his chair. He shakes his head, laughs. “Just hearing things,” he says to himself. “Probably just need more sleep.” He looks at the tree line outside his window. His shaky fingers type her name into a Google search. The top result, an obituary. The blinds shutter. A laugh. H er laug h.
XIII. Coddy-Moddy, n.
He jumps from his seat, grabs his jacket and backpack, runs out of the room fast and wobbly as a starved seagull. The door bounces off the wall, swings slow to a stop before closing. the keyboard clacks in the empty room opening a new tab to edit the description and viewing permissions of the recorded lesson the link copied pasted onto the class’s website a sigh floats over the screen and modem as they shut down
XIV. Nyctinasty, n.
A memory: Poinsettia leaves bounce frantically across the band room, red with embarrassment. They hesitate, stutter, then lean forward, their earth shifting under their feet. A silence. They wince, look up in time to see a crater open, laughter erupt like a geyser. They turn away, bump against giant pillars, fall into a dark room that crinkles under their weight.
XV. Participation Mystique, n.
The morning after, Grayson locks his car, stands in the stillness of the parking lot. “It’s nothing. Random coincidences. Possible the blinds just fell on their own— they’re old and janky. Just overly stressed between “teaching, grading, preparing for conferences. Your brain just filled the silence. Not sure why her voice though. Probably just a random memory.” Cloudless sky. A breeze flows by a nearby streetlight, cuts right to his bones.
XVI. Grand Coup, n.
After three books fall off the shelf during lunch— The Hate U Give, Looking for Alaska, Wintergirls— he spends the night searching “curses,” “ghosts real,” “how to get rid of ghosts.” Grayson devises a plan: He will politely— but firmly— ask the ghost to leave.
XVII. Pravilege, n.
First one in the building, Grayson disarms the security system, walks up the stairs to his classroom. His key sounds extra loud unlocking his room’s door. He places his backpack in his chair, keys on his desk, then clears his throat. “Good morning. I understand you may have some unfinished business to take care of, but I must insist that you leave my classroom to do it. There’s a lot of work that I need to do to help my students, and I just can’t get it done with you here. Please leave.” faint sound of velcro ripping two eyes open on the whiteboard his phone dings in his pocket siri’s voice says you think im really just gonna leave because of some random bullshit rule you read on the fuckin internet “Heather. Please.”
XVIII. Art Mobilier, n.
A memory: “So, how’d it go? What’d she say?” “I don’t really wanna talk about it.” “Oh no. That bad?” “… She laughed in my face.” “She what?” “She laughed. In my fuckin face.” “That bitch.” “I know. It’s fine.” “It’s NOT fine, man!” “No, it’s alright. She sucks anyway.” “Yeah, I bet she does. That slutbag.” “For real, though. She’s probably done it with like half the dudes on cross country team.” “You think people realize what a whore she is?” “Definitely not. I know I didn’t until l was out of her spell... We should help people see her for what she really is.” “Yeah! Like start a MySpace group or something?” “Yeah! And we could like take the pictures from her profile, edit them to show what a whore she is, and send those to everyone too!” “I’m on it.”
XIX. Blue Law, n.
after what you did you really think you can just ask me to leave and ill just comply like its that simple how fuckin dare you insult me like that why should you get to dictate the ground rules for my trauma you asshole my business does not need to fit into convenient boxes for you why can’t you see five goddamn feet away from yourself
XX. Slobberhannes, n.
grayson’s encounter with heather ends as quickly as it began He stands in his quiet classroom alone. That night, between matches in Overwatch, he mutes himself so that Stephen and Jim don’t hear him debate with himself as he orders an EMF meter on Amazon.
XXI. Woodhenge, n.
The EMF meter arrives on Saturday. Grayson reads the manual twice on Sunday. He enters his classroom Monday morning, hyperaware of the meter sitting in his backpack against his hip. The desks, once in neat rows spaced six feet apart, sit fishbowled, inner and outer circles. Cautious steps along the wall; eyes glued to the desks until he gets to the whiteboard, now eyeless. a pale translucent head rises from the floor in the middle of the fishbowl
XXII. Anxiogenic, adj.
floating above the desks now the figures arms raise their fingers extend like spiderweb on a breeze a mouth yawns open revealing a spiral that spreads wide the web entangles graysons arms as the vortex envelops him you a girl sits on her bed head cocked mouth agape laptop on a throw pillow in front of her the screen flashing with notifications in multiple applications she stares at a page for a group with her name in the title next to word whore she rhythmically clicks the refresh button and the number of members grows each time cannot a girl sits alone at the corner of a table in a crowded lunchroom neighboring tables overflowing with two students in each seat she looks up occasionally as someone approaches the table before quickly turning a different direction escape a girl stands in front of a fulllength mirror analyzing her body molecule by molecule pausing only to turn to her laptop refresh a discussion post in that group where she learns about another feature of hers someone finds inadequate what a girl does crunches on a bathroom floor while the shower runs counting and cursing between each rep the ceiling encased in steam you a girl sits at a crowded table with people sharing stories with exaggerated arm movements and scooping macaroni and cheese out of a large serving platter in the middle of the table she sits with her shoulders hunched hands between her knees holding the ends of her hoodie sleeves over her wrists her eyes steady distant various side dishes meticulously scattered mixed together across her plate did a girl falls asleep on the floor by her bed returning to where no pain lands
XXIII. Brightsmith, n.
Back in the classroom. Sweating. Panting. He stammers, sobs. “Heather, I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand. I was just a dumb kid— I had no idea. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. Please, I’m sorry— I— I’ve spent years trying to become a better person than I was back then. I’m so, so sorry. Please believe me— Please. God, I’m so sorry. I realized way too late how much of an asshole I was— I swear. I’m sorry. Oh my god, I— Heather, I’m sorry. Oh god—“ He curls into a ball at the foot of his desk.
XXIV. Noodge, n.
“I’m better now. I’m better now. I’m bet- ter now. I’m better now. I’m better now,” Grayson says into his hands, knees to his chest. the figures spiraling maw ripples wavers with a chuckle the webs constrict into short arms the pale intangible shape of hair restricts from ringlets pulled back into a ponytail into a short shaggy cut that puffs out above the ear the arms wrap around the torso as the chuckle becomes a laugh holy shit youre so fucking easy i cant believe it
XXV. Kannywood, n.
Grayson grabs the crucifix hanging around his neck, holds it to his chin, begins praying the Hail Mary. you really think god is going to help you now god didnt help you before and they wont help you now its bonkers that you would have even tried to pray away the greatest prank ever pulled and now you act like youre above it like you never even did it finding god doesnt erase everything you did
XXVI. Fankle, n.
Grayson looks up from his clasped hands mid-verse. the voice a familiar timbre His hands split, palms fall to the floor. the face a reflection in a decadesold mirror He lifts a hand, tentatively runs his fingertips over his cheeks and nose. what is there something on my face
XXVII. Smartful, adj.
Up on his weary feet. “I— I don’t understand.” for real is there something on my face you gotta tell if I got shit on my face “Are you— me?” ugh i hate it when there’s shit on my face so goddamn irritating “But I’m not— dead? Am I dead?” no one said youre dead bro so fuckin dramatic “But you were— her? She wasn’t—“ naw that bitch wouldnt spend her time haunting you “So then— was that… her life… just a trick? oh no all that happened i was there it was fuckin hilarious
XXVIII. Garbageology, n.
“How can you say that? There’s nothing funny about someone killing herself.” oh come on dont act so superior “I— how dare you? I would never—“ ugh shut the fuck up you haven’t changed at all your targets did Grayson furrows his brow, mouth agape. god i become so dense holy shit you wanted heather dead you hated her for what she did to you for what she made you feel sure you never said it out loud whatever dont bother giving me any of that shit i was there i know the thoughts you had i know the hate that flowed in your bone marrow sure you dont wish death on people who wrong you anymore but you havent evolved at all hate groups or billionaires whatever you still watch the news and mumble about the president youve sighed and groaned and wailed at the ceiling asking why he couldnt have died by now im trash youre trash just fuckin accept it
XXIX. Zeppelin, n.
“No way.” He slowly shakes his head. “I’m not that person anymore. “I’m not you. “I recognize the terrible things I did, I said— I own all that. “I have changed. “I donate to charity. I work extra hours to help students. I run clubs for kids who don’t fit in. “I’m better now.” a pause a smirk a chuckle the figure evaporates slightly with each laugh creating a pale cloud that grows darker every inch it crawls across the tiled ceiling the laugh grows deeper echoes off the trembling walls its nice you think that
XXX. Fairy Godmother, n.
the cloud gathers envelops the fluorescent light dangling from the ceiling above his head in its black fingers small pops like knuckles being cracked as the cloud wrings it a spiral grows from the middle outward exposing the gnarled casing for the fluorescent light at its center grayson feels a gust grow in the room rustling his clothes dismounting the student artwork on the walls fingers frigid as warmth is pulled out of him he watches his skin turn gray as dry concrete labored breath sweat eyes heavy ribs rattle with every heartbeat dark muffled sound a bright light sparks in the center of the ceiling. a beam intense as the sun. the saber swings up and down left and right, dissipating the cloud, killing the wind. Grayson pants, gray hand on his chest. a new figure stands on his desk, the beam of light reaching out several feet from her right palm. it retracts as she balls up her fist, stares at grayson over her shoulder. it’s her. heather.
XXXI. Question and Answer, n. and adj.
Grayson’s legs wash out with a wave of relief. He props himself up with one arm, feels his heartbeat with the other to make sure it’s real. He laughs— loud, gasping, wheezing laugher. “Oh my god, thank you! Thank you so much!” she turns, still on the desk. her arms straight at her side, fists tremble. “But why? Why did you come back here to save me?” she steps forward, flows off the desk like a waterfall onto the floor. “I just don’t understand. I was so terrible to you.” her eyes are gray fractals, her gaze intense, unblinking. “I’m so sorry, Heather. I would take it all back if I could.” she places her hand on his chest. its warmth spreads like spilled coffee. “I don’t deserve your help. I—“ she opens her hand. the beam of light goes through his hand, his chest, his back, into the floor. she leans in, her face close to his. “fuck you. your blood is mine.” she leans back, balls up her fist, watches the light leave his eyes. she sighs, a weight taken off. waving her left hand counterclockwise, the artwork remounts on the walls, the lights ungnarl, the blood soaking into the carpet evaporates, his wound closes. she leaves his corpse on the floor, his hand still on his chest, eyes wide with fear, surprise— a plausible facade for a simple conclusion that whoever finds him will believe.