(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
“Guess I was wrong,” Cassidy mutters as she stands in the classroom doorway.
The smiling woman at the blackboard waves for her students to enter, her glasses reflecting light onto the poster-covered walls. Her red skirt goes down to her ankles and the matching jacket is perfectly tailored, the buttons polished to a distracting shine. Sitting behind the large desk, the teacher continues to beckon without a single change to expression. Even her simple haircut seems locked in place until an oscillating fan causes the ebony tresses to billow out at the sides. As if realizing a mistake, the woman claps her hands and hurries to a locked cabinet. She pulls out two bags with Cassidy and Lloyd’s clothes in them, a dry-cleaning tag dangling from each one. They are placed behind a divider for privacy and the teacher goes to take them by the hands. She is slightly caught off-guard when Lloyd puts a large pumpkin in her arms, but it is hard to tell because her smile never falters.
Cautiously walking across the room, the pair do their best to avoid staring at the oddest thing in the room. Behind the seven rows of tightly packed desks is a large cage with an adult polar bear inside. With very little room to move around, the animal snorts and growls while hungrily eyeing the newcomers. It rears up and bangs on the ceiling, which shakes with every powerful blow. Scraps of shredded clothing and shards of bone are on the floor, revealing the polar bear has been fed a steady diet of human. There is fresh blood dripping from its mouth and a splatter on its chest, but the recent meal has done very little to calm the predator. It continues to snarl and call out, its complaints getting louder when Cassidy and Lloyd disappear behind the two dividers. The animal finally calms down when the teacher slaps a large ruler on a desk, the metallic end sending a spark into the air.
“I am Mrs. Klein and I will be working with you today,” the woman says as she returns to her desk. Picking up a piece of paper, she takes a minute to read her list, which is really detailed instructions on how to act like a teacher. “As headmistress of the reeducation department, it is my job to get you onboard. Mr. and Mrs. Custer see promise in you, so I am being held accountable for your progress. That means I am holding you accountable for whatever happens to me. Everyone is accountable for everyone else. That is how this place will work. Yes, that sounds about right. Now, please take your seats and we will begin.”
“I have so many questions,” Lloyd mentions, his voice strained as he tries to squeeze into a small chair. Noticing that he is being ignored, he raises his hand and waves it until Mrs. Klein points at him. “As I said, I have many questions. Yet, I think one is more urgent than all of the others. What’s up with the polar bear?”
“Polar bear?” Mrs. Klein replies, looking up at the animal. She fixes her glasses and scratches her head for a second until her eyes rapidly blink. “Oh, I almost forgot which room I was in. Most of the others have black bears, but this one simply wandered in one day. These animals were drawn to the building for some reason, so we’ve locked them up. I suggested shooting them, but Grymer claimed to have a use and suggested this. Did you know polar bears are mammals?”
“This better be a bad dream because I can’t take much more of it,” Cassidy groans as she puts her head down. The teacher’s ruler strikes her on the back and she sits up, which causes her knees to hit the gummy underside of the desk. “I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what’s going on here. We were approached with a job offer to be assassins. I don’t see how reeducation will work to get us to change our minds. Unless the goal is to drive us insane, but there are two problems with that. One is that I wouldn’t be any good as a lunatic. The other is that you don’t want to make Lloyd any crazier than he already is.”
The serial killer emphatically nods his head and holds out a note that he scribbled when nobody was looking. “She’s right. I even have a doctor’s note saying the same thing. Also, I have whatever allergy will get me out of gym class. You know this is real because it’s barely legible and the signature has doctor at the front of it. He even spelled it out for you to make sure it was clear.”
“In that case, I will have to send some people to handle your doctor because he has no accountability here,” Mrs. Klein responds before tearing up the note. She looks around for a garbage can, but it is too far away, so she drops the pieces into an empty desk. “My purpose is not to make you weaker, but to make you stronger. Your reeducation will focus on reminding you that Mr. and Mrs. Custer are here to help. There’s nothing else to believe and this program is so easy that even an idiot can run this place without losing their accountability. All you have to do is keep the numbers up and people will know you’re doing well. Those who fall below the mark will be removed.”
“You mean fed to one of the bears,” Cassidy bluntly states. Looking at the animal, a chill runs up her spine at the way it stares back. “Surprised the local Guardians haven’t raided this place yet. What are you doing?”
Mrs. Klein ignores the question as she writes her students’ names on the blackboard and hits a button on her desk. With a groan, the strip of floor beneath Cassidy’s row moves back and the polar bear smashes the nearest desk when it gets within reach. Being one spot closer to the animal, the mercenary feels a lump in her throat and does her best to sit straight. Making eye contact with Lloyd, she tries to think of a way to send him a message, but all he does is shrug helplessly. Clearing her throat, Mrs. Klein hits another button to send the serial killer’s row back and bring him even with Cassidy. The smiling woman picks up the pumpkin, which has broken on the bottom and spilled seeds on her desk. Opening a window, she tosses it out and wipes her hand on a curtain while something explodes outside.
“For every answer that you get wrong, you will move closer to the back of the room,” Mrs. Klein explains while she pulls out her notes. She gives up and tosses the pages into an open drawer before sitting at her desk. “I will let Mr. Tenay go first since he brought me such a nice present. This will be easy since it’s to see where you will be placed when real classes start tomorrow. What is the capital of Tallahassee?”
“That’s a city,” Lloyd replies with a laugh. He grips his desk when it moves back a space and the bear growls at him. “Florida! I think. Keep in mind that I spent a long time in prison, so I didn’t get to learn much. I mean, the only other answer I can think of is the letter ‘T’ being the capital of Tallahassee.”
“Both of your answers are correct,” the teacher declares, her unwavering smile growing a little bigger. Taking a candy out of her pocket, she tosses it to Lloyd, who pretends to put the slimy orb in his mouth. “Part of your reeducation is to think outside of the box, but not so far outside that you forget Mr. and Mrs. Custer are in charge of the box. Now, let’s attempt a history question, Ms. Last Name Here. Where was Johnathan Custer born?”
“The United States of America,” Cassidy confidently declares. She tenses up when Mrs. Klein reaches over the buttons, but relaxes when the woman grabs her list instead. “I know I’m risking one of my chances here, so I’m apologizing in advance. These questions are sounding more like puns and brain teasers. Would I have gotten in trouble for saying Johnathan Custer was born on Earth?”
The black-haired woman nods her head and gets close enough to gently tap her ruler on the mercenary’s desk. “Oh, that would have been fine too. You have to understand that it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong here. As long as you’re confident and accept your accountability, I will let you pass. Unless you say something ridiculous like Mr. and Mrs. Custer are bad people or dogs are better than cats. I refuse to let such foolishness into my classroom. Now, we’re going to have a pop quiz.”
With a happy skip in her step, Mrs. Klein heads for a trunk in the corner and takes the key out of her bra. She takes her time pulling out two car batteries and jumper cables, the clamps covered in rust. Cassidy and Lloyd are about to rush for the door when the teacher finishing wrestling a grenade launcher out of its container. It is unclear if Mrs. Klein is crazy or stupid enough to use a destructive weapon in such tight quarters, but the nervous survivors refuse to take the chance. They manage to remain calm even when she puts a car battery next to each of their desks and sets the acid-dripping boxes on camouflaged screws. A droning hum shakes the floor when the sparking units lock into place, the sound stopping as Mrs. Klein attaches the jumper cables. Tiny sparks fly until she gets the positions right, her suit getting singed along the sleeve. Gently handing her students the other ends, she flicks a switch on the underside of the desks, which causes them to rattle. She smiles at how Cassidy and Lloyd’s hair start to rise due to a mild charge running through their seats.
“You will get zapped for every wrong answer and if you don’t finish on time,” Mrs. Klein declares while she goes back for the tests. Thumbing through the thick stacks, she casually splits them in half without seeing if they are complete or not. “I will give you an hour and there will be no talking during this. All bubbles must be filled in neatly, but you are allowed three sloppy marks since accidents happen. I see that you’re unsure what to do with the cables. Mr. Tenay will attach them to his testicles while Ms. Last Name Here, due to her not having such anatomy, will clip them to her nipples. Now, where did I put those pens? You can’t take a test without something to write with.”
“I think I saw them roll under the polar bear cage,” Lloyd replies while he stares in horror at the jumper cables. He taps the clips together, which causes them to spark and sizzle. “I think my outies just became innies. You know, I get the feeling that you’ve done this before, which brings up a question of hygiene. We really don’t want to put something on our bodies that hasn’t been thoroughly sanitized. Think I see a burnt hair on this one. So, how about we do recess until these things are cleaned? Hello?”
For the first time, Lloyd notices that Mrs. Klein is not by her desk, so he looks around to see that she is approaching the polar bear cage. He swiftly smacks Cassidy in the shoulder to get her attention while the smiling woman wanders in search of the pens. Neither prisoner has the urge to shout a warning, so they calmly wait for the inevitable. Even the polar bear seems to be confused by its tormentor’s actions, but the animal is not foolish enough to pass on such an easy meal. With a growl, the predator reaches out and grabs Mrs. Klein, who shrieks in surprise while continuing to stare at the floor for any sign of the pens. She is pulled through the bars where the white-furred beast gnaws on her head and shakes her around, the motions too restrained to snap her neck like intended.
“Time to get out of here, Lloyd,” Cassidy says as she scrambles out of her chair. She takes another moment to watch the violent attack and be thankful that she is leaving. “We can take the elevator right down to the basement. Then we’ll fight our way out as usual and figure out what to do next. Would you stop laughing and move?”
“I can’t help it,” Lloyd gasps while wiping tears from his eyes. He manages to stand and staggers after Cassidy, but has to stop and catch his breath. “It isn’t even that she was so stupid that she fell for the lie. Just look at the way her legs keep kicking. I don’t care if I’m a bad person for finding this funny. They just keep going like she’s running away instead of getting eaten by a fucking polar bear. Come on, kid, you’ve got to admit this is hilarious. It’s like something out of an old cartoon, but with more blood and guts.”
“You really are sick,” the mercenary replies, her lips twitching as she fights the urge to laugh. Taking a deep breath, she finally lets out a giggle, which rolls into a barrage of chuckles that makes her stomach ache. “Why are they still going? Do you think she’s still smiling? Geez, this is just proving that we don’t belong in civilization ever again. We should probably go before someone checks in on her and . . . goes to get a mop. You are such a terrible influence on me, Lloyd.”
The serial killer gives a shuddering bow as he struggles to say, “You’re welcome.”