By Colleen Sutherland
Morton Gallagher almost reached the office of the Glen Valley Middle School when the stream of retching green teenagers swarmed toward him, their urgency forcing him toward the exit. They pushed him out the big entrance door. He joined them at the plastic lined barrels that served as trash containers. They all leaned over and began to spew out the contents of the school lunch. Beanie Weenies, some kind of Michelle Obama green vegetable, followed by what looked like blood but was probably cherry gelatin that had served as dessert. Steam poured out of the receptacles as the hot vomit met the frigid January air. It reminded Mort of fog scenes in British railroad stations in film noir post war movies.
Morton pushed a snot-nosed boy aside he had last seen throwing spitballs in third hour World lit class. Together they cleaned their stomachs into the barrel while Mort held his substitute teacher paperwork up high to protect it. Spewing up his lunch was not part of the substitute deal and he sure wasn't going to give up payment for his day at the middle school.
The school librarian and head of the teachers' union found him there.
“Did you hear?” she called out to him. “School's being closed for the next month because of the flu outbreak.”
“I figured it would be,” Mort said.
“Well worth the cost,” Mrs Ergot said.
“Might as well finish up then.”
She followed him to his Mini Cooper. It was at the edge of the ditch on the highway. By the tracks he could see that his little car had been carried there by husky farm boys. Another prank pulled on the substitute teacher. It made him feel better about the transaction he and the librarian were carrying out.
He pulled some paper toweling out of the trunk, handed a few pieces to Mrs. Ergot and used some more to wipe off his face.
“Always a gentleman, Mort. You think of everything, don't you.”
“Well, if I want to be asked back, I have to be efficient,” he said.
He pulled out a thermos jug and poured her some hot tea and two capsules. She swallowed them down with the tea.
“It should work in about an hour," he said, and took his own capsules.
He dug out a box containing more capsule in vials. “You can share these in the teachers' lounge," he said. “There's enough for everyone."
“What about the kids?”
“They're on their own.” Mort pointed to the row of yellow buses chugging up the drive. “I hope the school bus drivers have the mops to clean up afterward. I did leave instructions about that.”
The librarian held out a brown manila envelope to him. It had been marked “Lesson Plans” with a black Sharpie.
“Nice touch,” Mort said as he plopped the envelope on top of his substitute paperwork. That should impress the principal. Thank your co-workers for putting together good lesson plans,” he added.
“I thought it was time for them to be exposed to Poe and when you suggested "The Masque of Red Death", I thought, how appropriate!”
“I was particularly glad to see the DVD of the Ken Burns documentary on the 1918 flu pandemic for fourth hour world history. If they weren’t feeling nauseous before, that got to them. Tell Mr. Peterman thanks for the good lesson plan.”
Mort handed Mrs. Ergot another packet. “Here's your itinerary. Plenty of copies for everyone You all just meet Kate from Midwest Tours at the airport tomorrow and you're on you way. You should be in Cancun by 4:00 tomorrow afternoon. I enclosed more of my cards, too."
“Great, Mort, we'll be sure to hand them out at the state teachers' conference next October."