Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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History Lesson

by Shane McKenzie

Gabe walked toward the classroom, loathing the hour of detention he'd earned for himself. All he did was pass a note. It's not like anybody died, but Ms. Gray handed out detentions with no hesitation. Gabe had a feeling she enjoyed it.

Gabe paused in the doorway and stared at the stranger sitting at the desk. He sat there, arms crossed, waiting for Gabe to enter.

Gabe usually got excited when he saw a substitute. Most of them being pushovers, just trying to get through the day without incident, he could get away with a lot more.

The man smiled, dark yellow teeth just visible under his thick mustache. "Take a seat."

"Where is Ms. Gray?"

"You don't need to worry about that. Take a seat before I make you stand."

Gabe felt tempted to talk back, but decided against it. This guy looked like he meant business. His eyebrow raised and his mustache twitched as he stared at Gabe. Not in a hurry to piss off the new teacher, Gabe took a seat in front of Jessica.

"What'd you do to get in here?"

"Don't talk to me."

"Whatever." Gabe turned in his seat and faced the front of the room. Jessica always acted like she was better than everyone. Her family had more money than they knew what to do with, and she made it her duty to let everyone know. Gabe looked over at her as she twirled her hair.

Benjamin Jones walked in, a smirk on his face as always. He stood in front of the stranger's desk and saluted him.

"Benjamin Jones reporting for duty, sir!"

Gabe laughed, trying to hide his smile. Jessica shook her head and bit her thumb nail.

"Sit your ass at a desk, now."

"Yes, sir!"

Benjamin spun on his heels and sat in front of Jessica. He turned and puckered his lips at her. Jessica stood up and moved three seats back.

"Ms. Gray is out sick. She asked me to take over detention today. My name is Mr. E."

Benjamin raised his hand.


"Can I go to the bathroom?"

"No. Now shut up and listen."

"You aren't allowed to talk to us like that," Jessica said.

Me. E stood and walked toward her. He sat down on her desk and faced the boys.

"Ms. Gray told me that she is currently teaching you kids about the Salem Witch Trials that happened in 1692. I thought we might as well continue that lesson."

"It's boring bullshit," Benjamin said, balancing his pencil on his fingertip.

"Is it?" Mr. E said. "Is it boring that over thirty people died, either by hanging or being left to rot in prison?"


"These people died under ridiculous false accusations. How would that make you feel?"

Benjamin doodled on his desk, no longer paying attention.

"I've got something here that may change your mind."

"Can you just assign us something already?" Benjamin said.

"Just take a look."

He held a book. The cover looked old and wrinkled, reminding Gabe of his grandmother's skin. The smell of mustiness hit him as Mr. E cracked it open.

"This is a very special book. I think, after you take a look, you'll feel differently."

"Does it have pictures of dead people in it?" Benjamin asked.

"Not exactly. Just bend down and take a look."

As Gabe stared at the pages, he heard Mr. E whispering. He tried to listen, but couldn't make out what he said. A sudden heaviness tugged at his chest. He tried to scream, but his mouth refused to open. Trying to turn his head to see the others, he found he couldn't move at all. His lungs refused to take in air, and Gabe felt pure panic taking over.

Darkness surrounded him.

Gabe had no idea where he was. He couldn't see the others or the classroom.

Am I dead?

Gabe touched his face, then his chest and legs. Everything seemed to be in place. He reached out and felt wood all around him.

What is going on?

He raised his foot and thrust it as hard as he could at the wood in front of him. Wood splintered and light spilled in.

"What the hell!" Benjamin yelled.

"What's happening?" Jessica said.

Gabe stood up and stared at the debris from the wooden box. Two just like it sat beside him, rocking back and forth as his classmates struggled within.

"Kick out with your legs," he said.

Mr. E stood by, eating a shiny red apple. He smiled at Gabe and kept glancing out of the window.

Gabe circled the room and touched the wall. They stood in some kind of cabin. It was like an old log cabin, the kind Gabe's parents took him too every summer. He had a feeling they weren't at the lake. The only window Gabe could see was blocked by the substitute. A single door stood at the opposite side of the room, and Gabe contemplated running through it. The sounds of shouting erupted from outside.

"Welcome to today's history lesson."

Wood splintered behind Gabe as the others broke free.

"You're gonna be in big trouble! My daddy's a lawyer and he'll have you ass in jail by tomorrow!" Jessica screamed. She stood up, crossed her arms and stared at Mr. E.

Benjamin's brow furrowed, his face a bright red. He stomped across the room and shoved the teacher in the chest. Mr. E only smiled.

"Who the hell do you think you are, huh? I'm gonna--"

Mr. E reached out and grabbed Benjamin by the throat. He pulled him close and bit into his apple. Gabe watched as Benjamin's eyes widened, pulling at Mr. E's hairy arms. His face turned a brighter red.

"You better learn to behave yourself, or you won't last very long."

"Let him go," Gabe said, keeping his distance.

Mr. E tossed Benjamin aside and peered out of the window. He smiled as he chewed, shaking his head. The shouts outside grew louder above the distant sound of screaming.

"You guys should come take a look at this."

Gabe walked toward him, his hands clenched into fists. He wasn't sure he wanted to see what was going on outside. He heard Jessica crying somewhere behind him, not coming any closer to Mr. E. Benjamin coughed on the floor, watching as Gabe edged forward. Mr. E stood aside as Gabe peered through the window.

"Ms. Gray?"

"Looks like she's in a bit of trouble," Mr. E said, taking another bite from his apple.

Jessica ran over and shoved Gabe out of the way. She peered through the window, Mr. E's yellow grin behind her. She gasped as she backed away, her hands covering her mouth. She stared at the substitute, shaking her head as fresh tears streamed down her face.

"This isn't real."

Ms. Gray stood on a stump of wood, a noose hanging around her neck. Other terrified women and men stood beside her. A large group surrounded the gallows, cheering up at them. A group of young girls stood in front, pointing up and screaming.

"What is this?" Gabe said, staring at his history teacher pleading for her life.

"She has been accused of being a witch. Can't you see that?"

Benjamin stood up and massaged his neck. Gabe hoped he would keep his calm and not attack the substitute again. Gabe knew Mr. E wouldn't stop at choking him next time. As Benjamin trudged forward, Gabe looked into his eyes and shook his head.

"Where the fuck are we?" Benjamin asked, now standing beside Gabe and Jessica.

"We are in 1692. Salem, Massachusetts. And please, watch your language. That sort of talk could earn you a day in the stocks."

Gabe looked over at Mr. E, to see if he was laughing. This had to be some kind of joke. Ms. Gray had really outdone herself with this one.

"Seriously," Benjamin said, "don't you think you are taking this too far?"

"I don't think you are taking this seriously enough."

Jessica backed away from the window, still shaking her head.

"We have to do something!"

She broke into a full run and burst through the door.

"Jessica, wait!" Gabe yelled.

"You better stop her."

Gabe ran after her, calling her name. She ignored him as she approached the crowd.

"Ms. Gray!" yelled Jessica. "What's going on!"

Many heads turned in her direction, and Gabe knew it was too late. Their faces twisted and contorted as she grew closer. She pushed and shoved her way through the mass of bodies until reaching the front. Gabe stood far enough away not to get noticed.

"Jessica? What are you doing here?" Ms. Gray said.

"I have no idea. Please tell me this is some kind of joke."

"Get out of here! Run!"

Gabe wanted to run in and help her as the crowd moved in. He knew that if he did, he would put himself in danger, and he was in no hurry to do that.

Jessica never gave him the time of day, so why should he care?

A large man grabbed her by the shoulder.

"Who is this wench?"

The group of girls backed away from Jessica, screaming and scratching at their faces. One girl fell and twitched on the ground.

"Evil!" one girl screamed. "I see the devil standing with her!"

The rest of the girls pointed at Jessica with wide eyes and trembling lips. They screamed and huddled together.

Jessica shook her head and tried to run through the crowd. The large man grabbed her and held her there. She kicked and struggled against him.

"It's the witch's spawn!"

"Take her away! She shall be tried in the morning!" yelled another man, dressed in a robe. He waved his hand and a group of men stomped forward and seized Jessica.

"You bastards! She is only a child!" yelled Ms. Gray.

"Quiet witch, or we'll burn her alive!" the robed man said.

Gabe still felt like he should do something to help them. A hand patted him on the shoulder.

"Nothing you can do now. Might as well watch the show," Mr. E said, tossing his apple core to the dirt.

"We have to help them. We can't just let them die."

"Unless you want to join them, I suggest you stay quiet."

Gabe didn't want to see them die, but couldn't move from his spot to assist them either. He watched as the group of men led Jessica out of sight, her pleading voice still audible.

Ms. Gray looked toward Gabe, shaking her head. Her cheeks shone with wetness, her lip quivered.

"How do you feel about this boring lesson now?" Mr. E said, holding Gabe in place and facing the gallows.

A smiling man kicked the stumps from beneath their feet, and the ropes grew tight. Their feet dangled and kicked as they struggled for air. One older woman died instantly, but Ms. Gray was not so lucky. She writhed, clawing at the rope, the crowd jeering.

"Oh my God," Gabe said as he watched her feet slowly stop moving. "We have to get out of here."

"The lesson isn't over yet."

A group of men charged the door to the cabin. Benjamin's voice echoed through the courtyard.

"Get your fucking hands off of me!"

"Oh no," Gabe said as he listened to the assault.

"Looks like our friend Benjamin is a witch, too."

The men carried him out, his hands shackled. He screamed at them, cussing and struggling to get away. Benjamin tried to call out to Mr. E and Gabe, but they just watched as the men dragged him away.

"Where are they taking him?"

"Probably to join your other friend. They will have a trial, and in the end, he will be hung just like your teacher."

Gabe's stomach dropped as he stared at Ms. Gray. Her sightless eyes still locked in his direction, her body swinging in the wind.

"What about me? What are they gonna do to me?"

"That all depends, Gabe."

"Please, you can't let them get me. I'll do anything, just get me out of here."

"We could always continue our history lesson with a new subject."

"Okay, sure, anything. Let's just get out of here. Please!"

Mr. E led Gabe back to the cabin, where he pulled out his fleshy book. He gestured for Gabe to come closer.

"Where are we going now?" Gabe asked. He glanced out of the window and got one more look at his teacher. He didn't care where, he just needed to leave.

"Let me ask you a question, Gabe."

"Anything, let's just get going."

"Are you Jewish?"


© 2009 Shane McKenzie

Bio: Shane McKenzie lives in Austin, Texas with his fiancee and three dogs. He works for the police department taking emergency calls (a natural source of story material if there ever was one) and is co-editor at House of Horror e-zine. Shane's stories have appeared in Flashes in the Dark, New Flesh, Twisted Dreams, and Liquid Imagination and in the anthologies Mausoleum Memoirs, Creature Features, and Elements of Horror.

E-mail: Shane McKenzie

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