Mummy Face
Kaitlin McGuire
The hot fluorescents shocked my pupils, making them constrict to their smallest possible size. I had grown accustomed to the dim, hazy light that shone foggily in the halls, like it had, I'm sure, for the stretched eternities before today. The main office was like its own hub of light, as if it
were the only bulb on a string of Christmas tree icicles that had decided to hold out as it lay abandoned, for the year, in a dust covered box in the attic. Everyone here seemed awake and lively, dancing around in harsh shimmers and buzzes that were the stark, cheap lights. It was almost as if they thought they deserved to be in a well-lit area, protected from the dark shadows that were high school pubescents.
I chanced a glance back through the poster-laden glass windows, a way for officials to monitor and organizations to advertise. My eyes shot past a salmon flyer, notifying uncaring minds of the approaching sign-up for Homecoming decorations, and met the hordes of beings just outside. I watched as feet danced around the sharp burst of white light radiating out from the wall of windows. They treated it like the plague, or maybe it was a similar situation to that scene in Ghost Busters, "Don't cross the streams." Each footstep teetered dangerously on the edge of life as we know it, stopping instantaneously, and every molecule in our bodies exploding at the speed of light. Heaven forbid a poor soul should stumble into the ectoplasmic goo that was the fluorescent outline. This morning, however, I seemed to be the victim sucked into the vortex. The sacrifice given in exchange for a decent lunch, although I'm not sure that was remotely possible, even with a handful of the willing.
My gaze shifted to the green frame of the eyeglass that revealed the whirlwind of adolescents and followed it past the rainbow assortment of papers and yellow, grimy tape residue stuck to the pane from years past. Avoiding the yellow embalmed walls that reminded me of putrid vomit, especially with the plastered chunks and bumps that ran through it, I found my vision once again focused on the shortening line of pupils in front of me. All of us "diligent minds for molding," as our principal liked to say, had been waiting on our course schedules for practically half an hour now, although it felt far longer. I reached long pianist fingers up to my round cheek, smoothing over the apple to check for the aging signs of wrinkles that must have started folding in on my skin through the wait. Finding none, I vigorously scrubbed at it with my left palm just to be sure. A curdling sob caught my attention as a small, raven-haired girl was buttressed by friends supporting either side of her.
"I can't have him. I just can't." Her voice ached with misery and contempt as she trailed off in another choked sob.
The amount of emphasis and poison she threw into that one pronoun was painstakingly harsh. It was as if this one being would be the destruction of her entire world. Her world, as she knew it, had just stopped spinning clockwise and suddenly thrown her off balance as it hightailed into reverse.
"Come on, Sarah, he can't be as bad as they say," a blonde, with dark roots sprouting up, attempted to give Sarah a reassuring smile. I cringed at how her attempt at comfort turned into one of pity as her lips grimaced into a firm, straight line, instead of the alleviating gesture she had intended.
The smaller girl wailed and covered her face behind clenched fists, one of which held a crinkled-up sheet of stark white paper. I read the name just as it escaped her lips in a bubble of despair: "Grinshaw."
Poor girl. If everything they said about the man was true, she didn't need to worry about going to class . . . ever. Sarah was going to fail, come wind or high water.
I watched her cross the threshold back into the dark abyss serving as our main hall before my name boisterously vibrated off the pasty walls: "Maggie."
I twisted my neck around so sharply that I could have sworn I heard it crack. Could you give yourself whiplash just through an innocent visit to the office? Hastening up to the overly large linoleum and cheap wood divider of the waiting room and actual offices, I splayed my hands on the cool top, each finger spread open into a "V," as the same stark white slip was slid slowly into view by stubby, sausage-fingered hands.
Had I been smart, I would have preserved all the pity I had given to the raven-haired Sarah so that I could wallow in it myself. The same grim name taunted me from the tight lines of the schedule.
First period, home room: Grinshaw.
Dear God. I ripped the ghastly paper from underneath the hog's hand and rolled my eyes up to meet hers as I whipped around. I knew it wasn't her fault or even remotely under her jurisdiction. That didn't stop me from giving her a glare melting with distaste and angry spite. What a horrid woman, sentencing people to their deaths. She didn't even seem bothered by it. She was the executioner, hardened by the harsh reality that was life and her duty to destroy it.
Her blood-red lips curled into a sinister grin as she twiddled her fingers at me and cheerily voiced, "Have a good day."
Have a good day. I mouthed the words as I stormed through the door, bobbling my head from side to side as I mimicked her sickeningly sweet voice to myself. Slumping into a seat in the cafeteria, where the air was tainted with the scent of whatever mystery we were going to be forced to choke down, I smoothed the destruction of my own world down onto the blue and white marbled plastic.
The name glared up at me, ridiculing me. I tried to read the rest of my courses, tried to grasp what the letters said and what the words meant. My eyes were reading them, but the only picture engrained in my mind was that of the first block, an ink stain slowly seeping over everything, left in the clear water by an ominous octopus. My heart clenched as I kept hearing the name whispered over and over in my mind.
"Grinshaw. Grinshaw. Grinshaw."
I suddenly began to recall every horror story I had ever heard cautiously whispered through the gossiping corridors. They started out innocently enough each year and gradually grew into monstrosities.
"He gave me a D on myterm paper! I worked on that for ages and even asked for his help!"
"Grinshaw gave us a pop quiz the first day."
"He must be a century old."
"I heard he eats spiders and flies for breakfast."
"Some say he rose straight from the grave."
"His eyes are red, thirsty slits that penetrate your very being. His hair lays flat and greased into a short tangled mass at his shoulders, so bony that they protrude through his menacingly dark clothing. Clothing that is far too oversized to properly fit a skeletal demon."
"His coffin is right in the back of the room, behind the dying curtains."
"Chrissy Smith showed up to class the first day and never went to any other classes the whole day. Didn't show up the next day, or the day after, or the day after that. Went missing she did. She never came out of the room when the bell tolled."
"Some call him The Grim, he's part of all the horror stories and monstrous villains."
"Steals the life from you."
"Slim chance you've got of making it out of the tenth grade if you've been dealt The Grim."
"I've got The Grim" left my lips in a petrified whisper as I furiously used my black pen to scratch The Grim over the typewriter font of my doom’s name.
I jumped in shock at the startling screech of the warning bell followed by the scraping of chairs and slapping of shoes on tile. Numbly I followed suit and left my chair, joining the masses as they marched forward.
I felt the dimly lit school was meant to further depress those of us shuffling toward the foreboding black door waiting for our fresh flesh to mingle with its brass handle. Its dark wood swirled in rings, revealing jeering jack-o-lantern faces. One of which seemed to be screaming in terror with eyes like a deer in the headlights: a past student, forever stupefied within the wood grain.
I knew I'd passed the point of no return when the blood in my veins ran to ice. I could feel it rushing through my body, giving me tremors. My entire being was covered in the raised flesh of goose bumps as my hair stood on end. It was as if the static cling in the air had suddenly picked up tenfold, and the heat and happiness had been sucked from this dead end. The janitor leered at us as he glided past us with his wide-mopped broom. The broom he was using to haul our warm, fuzzy happiness away with him. I could feel it being slowly stretched from my soul. It was like pulling up the sole of your shoe after you’ve stepped in some fresh gum that has been sitting on the blacktop in the scorching summer heat. A slow peel that leaves you feeling cold and cynical. There was a unanimous intake of breath from the group of us just before the handle was turned and the door creaked open in forewarning.
I choked on the century of dust that fell around me, sparkling and glinting in the beams of light let in through small cracks in navy curtains. Although the ceiling lights appeared to be on, they were remarkably dull. I felt as if I was suffocating in the dank, dingy dungeon of a medieval castle. I shivered one last time as my body sank into a frozen, tangled lump of what should have been a metal chair.
There was no sound. No one spoke, no one breathed. Complete silence. I had the feeling I was in a panopticon prison. None of us knew if we were being watched, but we could feel it, or thought we could.
Alexander, a small mousy boy I knew from last year sneezed quite suddenly, and a girl in purple horn-rimmed glasses squealed.
"Allergies," he mumbled.
The silence finally being broken, albeit uncomfortably, someone in the corner spoke up, "Do you think he died?"
My eyes rotated in their sockets: "He's already dead. One of the undead. Dead for a millennium and a half."
"That's not possible!" Eloise Muncing half shouted from fright. "There's no such thing."
A deep, resonating laugh came from the back of the room. It vibrated through its owner’s ribcage and came out low and menacing: "Don't be so sure, Eloise."
Everyone froze and held the giant gulp of dust-filled air they'd breathed in. It could have been their last, and it was impure. As he strode into my line of view, I saw his greasy mass of hair and oversized clothing. The rumors were true.
His bones seemed to protrude in every direction, jutting out at the clavicle and cutting into the large collar of his mangled sweater. Each elbow stuck out at odd angles as he positioned his arms across his chest. The skin of his hands was stretched so tightly over his finger bones that it was like a skeleton wearing an expensive peach-colored silk. I dared a glance at his face as he limped over to his high-backed leather chair.
I thought back to when I went to the museum in fourth grade for the Egyptian exhibit, the one with all the old artifacts from the pyramids at Giza.
"Mummy face," glided off my tongue in a low whisper.
The skin of his face was pulled just as tightly as that on his hands, except here it wasn't transparent. You couldn't see the traces of white through it. His cheekbones bulged out and then suddenly depressed into dark caverns underneath, giving him a pinched appearance. Like when an adult tries to make a child laugh by pursing their lips and sucking their cheeks in to resemble a fish. The lips and teeth even had that same pinched, cut off appearance. Like all the fat had been sucked from his face as he decomposed. I stared at his form the entire class, engraving it onto the stone of my mind.

"No, that isn't logical."
"No, what's the correct phrasing."
"Now let's think about this, shall we."
"No."
". . . no."
"Do you know when that happened?"
"Tell me the right term."
I rolled my eyes in frustration as my face contorted into a permanent frown: "Christ." I wouldn't call the last week of whatever we in this class managed to do "surviving." We clung to anything and everything, hung by our teeth, hanged ourselves in the gallows. Anything we said was wrong, the correct answer far from reach, and we never got it. When we didn't know it, he didn't tell us or even lead us to it. Not even a glimmer. We were done, forced to move on, no response other thanĀ  the resounding "No" ringing through our ears.
"I've kept track of how many times he says 'no' in a class," Sarah whispered beside me.
I glanced over and noticed tally marks filling up the left margin of her notes: twenty. Twenty 'no's in thirty minutes.
"Ridiculous," I grinned as I flipped the pages of my history book, trying to place where Mummy Face was reading from.
"Three hundred ninety-three," she pointed a manicured nail at the bottom of her musty book.
I nodded and flipped back a page: "What is he reading? That's not even in the book." I looked up puzzled at the notes he was writing on the board and scrambled to get them down before he erased the whole thing in one swift motion with his wing.
Sarah shrugged, "I just take notes. Doesn't help much with studying because I can't look back in the book, but at least it's something."
"Something that does nothing," I challenged.
She nodded her concession and frowned around the pen cap that balanced precariously on her lips.
"Have you talked to your parents about The Grim?" Julian Russel nudged me in the rib.
I scowled and rubbed my side as Mummy Face waved the chalk in a flourish, animatedly telling us about some empire we had no time period for. "Of course I didn't talk to them about old Grinshaw."
He looked disappointed.
"I yelled to them about him. All they had to say was 'we're sorry your history teacher is a demon that sucks the life out of everything and ruins your entire day. We wish there were something we could do, but you're going to run into people like that your whole life. Just do your best.' Right," I grunted out in a hushed hurry, my blood beginning to boil.
"Same with mine. Said I was over-exaggerating the situation and needed to focus on my school work and not so much on disliking the teacher. If I do that everything will be fine, and I'll get my A." He shook his head in annoyance.
"Maggie, your answer for number twenty-eight?" Mummy Face's voice came to me in that sickeningly sweet, fake voice.
I straightened my face and clearly answered, "The Depression."
His expression resembled that of calculating pity and the thought "what a stupid idiot." I couldn't stand it. This room was the great depression.
"No, what's the right answer?" Mr. Grinshaw questioned again.
I tried to reason through my answer and explain how I came across it, but he was having none of it. My way or the highway. He might as well just have had a sign posted somewhere that read, "Unless your answer is in my exact phrasing, prepare to be wrong. All the time and every time."
If I had started keeping tallies, like Sarah, of the amount of times I swore profusely to myself in this class, I'm sure I could have devoted an entire college-ruled notebook to it.
Since I had given up attempting to answer, Grinshaw turned back to the board and continued to write, not providing us with the correct answer.
Everyone's shoulders slumped in disappointment at the abysmally shrinking possibility of receiving even one correct term for the test on Wednesday. I cringed and shrugged apologetically at my classmates. A giant sigh left the lips of everyone in the classroom. We had given up.
"You'd think he intends to fail all of us," Julian hushed out as he violently dug his pencil into his paper of nonsense notes.
"Don't be silly, of course he does. What kind of teacher would he be if he willingly aided his students and gave them answers instead of unsolvable, ridiculous riddles?" I bit out in retort.
Julian just took another jab at his scribbled mess of incomprehensible history terms.
I had stopped paying attention to the raspy drone of the mummy. What use was paying attention if I weren’t going to understand any of it anyway? He might as well have been writing his native-tongue hieroglyphs on the board. At least that way we'd have pictures to entertain ourselves with. I felt the sharp elbow belonging to Sarah as it pushed into my side.
"Ouch," I silently hissed out. "What's your deal?"
The corner of her mouth opened slightly to push out a forced, whispered "he knows."
I frowned and scrunched my forehead up, squeezing my left eyelid down, "What?"
I watched her in confusion as her pencil scratched all of the words on the board onto her once-empty paper. "What are you doing?"
Slowly her eyes rotated in their sockets to look at me from the corner. They grew in size as she subtly nodded toward Grinshaw at the board. Following her nod, I glanced at the dark board. His skeletal form had ceased to write scribbles of chalk, and he stood, bony arms crossed, ready for burial. All you need is the embalmers, I thought smugly. As my eyes moved up to his leathered face, I realized what Sarah had been trying to say.
His beady, abysmal eyes were no longer washing over the crowd of students. Instead, they were daggers stabbing directly into me. My body instantly stiffened as I inhaled harshly.
"Will you see me after class, Maggie?"
Although he framed it as a question, I knew better. I nodded, "Yes, sir."