“Anti-social behavior is a trait of intelligence in a world full of conformists.” ~ Nicola Tesla
Fergus Chesed strolled around the empty office that Ouray High School gave to him while he began the implementation of the most backward and cruel disciplinary program the high school might ever face. There were rules, even laws, that prohibited what he really wanted, but his intention was to put his program into motion and then insert his ideas for punishment as inconspicuously as possible. His real vision would slip in at certain appropriate times. To say that Chesed was evil, snubbed the corporeality of his mangled self. Piaget and Kohlberg would agree that something went haywire in his moral development. He could not discern between passion and compassion, good and evil, and the overall empathy required of a decent human being. This was a man who loved to inflict physical pain when he believed it was needed and that impulse drove him. Discipline to him was retaliatory, not principled, and the drive to employ it was getting worse. Support of learning while adjudicating justice was included in his program outline, but he never put it into practice.
This morning he was meeting with a student who, in his estimation, lacked any proper sense of decorum. The story was that she pushed the envelope every chance she got and was outspoken and disrespectful. What bothered him the most was her supposed ability to perceive, almost know things that she shouldn’t, and it was his conclusion that she was hacking into emails or stealing sensitive material from somewhere. Today would be his first personal contact with her and he scoffed at the stories of her abnormal abilities. She was all his, and he was going to scare an admission out of her. Get it done, Fergus, or feel the pain.
Rosie Aislen was a square peg not caring to fit into a round hole. She heard what other people were thinking, and she had no desire to interact with others. Communicating with kids her age was something she was never good at, despite her fondest wish to have friends she could trust. However, her strength was the independent spirit passed on to her by her mother, and sometimes that left no room for puffy, squishy hugs and kisses. Her existence was living each day reading people’s minds, and when she divulged the private information she gleaned through the utilization of her talents, it quite simply freaked people out. It was no picnic for her, either. Sometimes those personal and imperfect images shivered her timbers and she wanted nothing more to do with people.
Her sense of fashion didn’t inspire confidence in her mental state. Big heart shaped glasses sat pronounced on her face, which was framed by a wild mop of curly dark hair streaked in Kool-Aid blueberry blue. She wore overalls over a
t-shirt rolled up from the cuff revealing cockish socks and celebrated by a pair of crocs. This ensemble seldom changed, except at times when her mother deemed it necessary that she wear dress clothes, which always involved a fight over the kind of dress pants and blouse she would wear, and seldom ended with her wearing any other shoes but her crocs.
Rosie was tentative about this meeting with “the Cheez.” She had only seen him from afar, and every filament in her supercharged sensorial essence sent warning signals that he was not to be trusted. Taking her final steps, she tripped through the door to his office, losing one of her crocs.
“Ms. Aislen, are you okay?” Chesed looked over his readers at the uncomfortable student who stood before him.
“Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?” Rosie looked him square in the eyes while she slipped her shoe back on and fixed her book bag that had slid down her arm hitting the floor.
“Well, sit then.” Isn’t she the defiant little piece of shit? Chesed moved over to Rosie and settled himself on the edge of his desk just close enough to cause uneasiness.
“Do you always label the students under your control?” Rosie wasn’t going to put up with being called names.
“What are you talking about? Have I labeled you, Ms. Aislen?” Unbelievable disrespect. Little does she know what’s coming.
“What’s coming? What do you have planned for us little pieces of shit?” Rosie spit the words back at him as she glared at a baffled Chesed.
“Um, I… uh… let’s get right to the point. You’re here because you have a reputation in the school among the staff … um… and faculty for disrespect and speaking out of turn. Those are characteristics that are not going to be tolerated.” Chesed’s original purpose for this meeting had diminished. I’m sure I didn’t say those things out loud, …did I?
“No, you didn’t.” Rosie slunk down in her chair resolved to destabilize his arrogance.
Chesed’s face blustered. He was knocked off his game. “Just, just report to Room 120 after school today, and don’t be late.” Cheeky little hellion.
“Indeed… cheeky.” Rosie smirked and picked up her bookbag to go. Get it done, Fergus, or feel the pain. She jolted at the strong threat that emanated from a place buried deep within Chesed’s brain. He grabbed her arm hard in frustration and squeezed. He was unhinged, and Rosie had engineered the desired outcome she wanted. “Hey, ouch, you’re hurting me! Let go! Help! Someone, he’s hurting me!” In a low whisper Rosie said, “You’re lucky I don’t report you.”
Chesed released his grip and gave her a slight push. “Don’t forget. Room 120 immediately after school.” She has no idea what I’m capable of. It’s just a matter of time for her and those other intolerable shits.”
Rosie left the room realizing that “the Cheez” was unstable and the enemy of every kid at Ouray High that was a little bit different. This was a conflict where she needed comrades to fight along with her. Her next class was English, and Tony Mengele was in it. He was back after making war with his monsters. Without a doubt he was sure to have been invited to Chesed’s soiree in Room 120. After that, she had history and Jack Shelby was in that and it was a forgone conclusion that Jack was issued an invitation. They both would be formidable allies.
Tony made his appearance in English like a guy who had been away on sabbatical; which had only been for three days, but all the same his presence was missed. Rosie caught his eye and motioned for him to come over.
“What’s up, Elton?” Tony couldn’t miss the chance to needle Rosie. She was deliciously insane.
“Missed you, Doctor. You fighting demons?” Rosie knew of Tony’s pain. She heard the voices talking over each other in his head. It was so bad that she barely made out Tony’s own thoughts.
“Yes, psycho, if you must know and how you know I don’t know.” Tony’s face was handsome with a touch of sad.
“It’s a gift, man. I keep telling you. I’m sure you were asked to join the ‘unbearables’ in Room 120 after school?”
“Yeah. What do you know about this guy? He kind of creeps me out and that’s saying something.”
“I know that his plans for punishment don’t stop at weekend community service. His intentions are malicious and self-gratifying. He’s driven by… I don’t know… there’s something wrong in his head and we need to stop him.”
“What do you mean ‘we’?”
“Us! All of us, starting with you, me, and Jack.” Rosie’s eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Yeah, you know we’re up for it.” Tony knew that Jack would be thrilled to upset the status quo, but more so to put a stop to the harassment of kids like him and Tony. “Talk more after class?”
“All right, people. Get in your seats. It’s time to rock prose and poetry.” Frankie Cedric was the coolest teacher in school. Her heart for kids was worn on her sleeve and a nuisance to every other teacher and administrator in the building. She was the champion of those who were challenged by the state of their lives and gave hell to adults who crossed her or judged kids who couldn’t help the way they were or how they were forced to live.
“Hey, Ms. Cedric. What do you know about ‘the Cheez’?” Rosie interrupted.
“Hand up next time, Rosie. Well, I understand that he has been sent by the District to handle behavioral problems. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. He’s not what he seems, that’s all.”
“How do you know that?” Frankie bit her tongue because she knew of Rosie’s delusion of thinking she could read minds and she didn’t want it getting out of control, nor did she want her class hijacked by a conversation that would wind up with insults hurled at Rosie. “I think it’s important to give him a chance. So, let’s do that. Now, back to our lesson on prose. Each of you handed in your own attempt at writing prose, and there is one that is simply wonderful. I asked the writer if I could read it to you in class and he/she agreed, so long as I didn’t divulge an identity. So, here it is:
You don’t really know me. You think you do, because of all the things you’ve heard family and friends say about me – about my character or lack thereof. But if you did truly know me, you would be disappointed in the people you trust. Their opinions and their psychological assessments of my mind might be proven wrong and they, in their imagined perception of me, would melt and shift from safe to cruel and this would cause you distress. So, no, you don’t truly know me. If you did, you would see my kind heart and my love for all things. You would appreciate the untapped brilliance that needs a special kind of can opener to finally let it out. You would forgive the things I do or don’t do triggered by the tight wire act I travel in order not to fall into deep depression or a pool of unimaginable anxiety. If you wanted to truly know me, you might trust that I am decent and good, and it is the others who paint me with a tainted brush.
The room fell silent. The class didn’t know who the writer was, and it hurt them collectively because their anonymous classmate just put them all to shame for overlooking the unacknowledged suffering that person felt, and it begged the question, were they one of those people who underestimated the “brilliance” of the individual who wrote that piece of prose?
Frankie broke the silence. “So, what is this person saying?” Everyone remained quiet. “Come on, now. Let’s talk about this.”
“I think it demonstrates how deeply a person can be hurt by those who can’t possibly understand the debilitating pain of depression and anxiety.” Tony knew this all too well, and since he wasn’t the one who wrote it, he could expound on it.
“That’s good, Tony. Who do you think the writer meant when referencing ‘the others’?”
“You know. The others. People who run things. The man – they think they know why you act the way you do, but they don’t know anything. They just judge before knowing everything.”
“Excellent, Timmy.” Frankie was shocked at this response from a student who never uttered a word. Timmy Ballard was the quiet kid with autistic quirks no one knew anything about besides herself, and she was elated to at last see a piece of him. “People who are on the outside looking in. Those who don’t have any acquaintance with mental challenges like depression and anxiety. People who, like Timmy says, are in authority.”
“Why is that, Ms. Cedric? Why don’t people care enough to know more about mental health problems?” A girl from the back of the room spoke out, which started a chain reaction of questions from the class.
“Okay, okay, stop. Listen, this is one of those subjects that is coming out into the open now. In the past, society put it in a closet, locked it up, and threw away the key. But, as an evolving people, we must look at how it is hurting our civilization and how we can make it better.” The subject of Social Behavior Disorders was Frankie’s premier interest. She examined and scrutinized every peer reviewed research article on the subject. Students labeled with one or more of these disorders were treated abhorrently by teachers and bullied by fellow students, and her goal was to bring about a program where teaching them was a positive effort, not a chore.
The class moved on to other textbook prose, but the idea presented by the unknown writer clung to everyone’s conscience and raised the level of social awareness and injustice. This was more than true for Tony and Rosie, but specifically the unknown writer who walked away from class with a renewed sense of hope. Her point had been made, and people were touched by her message.
Sasha Volkav was proud that the meaning of her prose was received loud and clear. She had experienced more than anyone imagined, and it had taken its toll. Suffering in silence, she searched for every chance to be “normal”, but it continually escaped her grasp. For how could someone neglected, beaten, and raped by the people who were supposed to love her be normal? Mistrust was nurtured in her and no one was granted entrance into that safe place created by her frightened inner child. The worst was that her environment had not changed. The beatings were not as frequent, but the emotional and verbal abuse persisted. This prolonged emersion altered the way she perceived reality. She was ashamed and lacked hope and reacted with negative and destructive behavior at any seeming thought of criticism. Sasha was unaware that she suffered from more than depression and anxiety, and her undiagnosed disorder would kill her if not caught in time.
The day before last, Sasha threw her lunch at another girl who complimented her clothes. Sasha was certain that there was denigration in that girl’s uppity inflection. Something in the girl’s tone suggested offense, and Sasha went off on her screaming her pain from the bottom of her broken soul. Because of this outburst, she was also invited to Room 120 after school.
Down the hall, Sasha saw “the Cheez” hassling Timmy Ballard. “Look at me. Look me straight in the eyes. Do you know who hid this cheese in my office?” Someone had hidden an open package of limburger cheese in Fergus’s office as a prank and it stunk to high heaven. Because Timmy was the weakest link in this chain of delusion, Chesed chose him to interrogate.
“Back off. I don’t like it.” Timmy was struggling to free himself from Chesed’s grip.
“You little reprobate! Look me in the eyes like a man!” Chesed was holding on to Timmy’s shoulders and Timmy refused to make eye contact and was wriggling trying to get away.
“Hey, get off him!” Jack Shelby charged at Chesed from the room across the hall.
“Get back to your classroom, Mr. Shelby. This is none of your concern.”
“The hell it isn’t. You can’t treat students like this. Get your hands off him.” Jack’s hands were an arm’s length away from grasping onto Chesed.
“What’s going on here?” Frankie came running down the hallway from the teacher’s lounge.
“Stay out of this Ms. Cedric.”
“He’s hurting him, Ms. Cedric. Timmy didn’t do anything.” Jack backed off but was not going to let Chesed get away with this.
“Jack, go back to your classroom.” Frankie nodded at Jack and gave him a calm and reassuring look. “Mr. Chesed, let me speak with you in private.”
“No, this is not under your purview. I suggest you go back from where you came.”
“I have important information for you. Let Timmy go and let’s talk about this privately.” Frankie was not going away, and her calm and reassuring voice made Chesed lessen his grip. As soon as he let go, Timmy shot down the hall as fast as he could.
“Rats! Now he’s gone. See what you did?” Chesed’s reaction was that of a petulant twelve-year-old. He was rattled. You didn’t get it done, Fergus. Now, you will feel the pain.
“Come with me into your office where we can talk.” Frankie nudged his elbow to get him to move towards his office, but he pulled his arm away as if repulsed by her touch.
Once inside, Frankie closed the door. “Mr. Chesed, you must know that Timmy Ballard is a sensory challenged child. He has been mainstreamed because of his high mental function, but he still has physical issues. He hates being touched, or having someone invade his space, but especially he doesn’t look straight into anyone’s eyes. Have you not read the records of the students you target?”
“Target! You think I target students? They just rise to the top like heavy rocks in a field. My job is to deal with the troublemakers, and that’s what my program will do.”
“Well, if you don’t know, the kids you have earmarked for your ‘program’ all have mental health issues. They are either severely depressed or have issues from some form of trauma.”
“You are such a cream puff. Do you really expect me to buy into that crap? How do you know that they aren’t making it up? Like that kid, Tony Mengele. He missed three days of school with the excuse that he had an episode of severe depression. Really? Three whole days of depression, and he has a track record of long absences. Who does that? And what’s Jack Shelby’s excuse? He’s just a smart mouthed juvenile delinquent whose misplaced his brilliance. Then there’s Rosie Aislen, what’s up with her? Their disrespect cannot go unpunished.”
“Both Jack and Tony suffer from bipolar disorder, but there can’t be a formal diagnosis because they are too young. I also see that you have included Sasha Volkav in your program. That girl lives in an abusive home and her outbursts are intolerable, I know, but she needs the appropriate help not further abuses.”
“Abuses? Is that what you think of my program? It will provide much needed structure to these kids who think they can behave whatever way they want. How do you explain Rosie’s disrespect? Does she have a disorder, too?” Get it done, Fergus, or feel the pain. GET IT DONE! His heart was pounding against his chest.
“Rosie is a different story. Her IQ is off the charts. All I know is that if you speak to her with honesty and respect, you will get it in return. You haven’t even tried.”
“You’re wrong! And if you think this little intervention of yours is going to change the nature of my program, you couldn’t be more wrong. I know what kids like this need.” By this time Chesed’s brow and upper lip were moist with perspiration. His voice shook. “They need structure… and… and they need discipline, and that’s what I’m going to give them.”
“By treating them as if they are criminals? By punishing their behavior before fully understanding what it’s about? Your program is teaching these children that their peculiarities are illegitimate. Instead of teaching them how to accept their differences and how to use them to their advantage, you are reinforcing an idea that they are criminal deviants.”
The voice within was relentless… GET IT DONE, FERGUS, OR FEEL THE PAIN. His heart raced. Fergus had to escape his persecutor. “Yes, well, if the shoe fits… now, if you will excuse me Ms. Cedric, I have a meeting with the superintendent.” He stumbled quickly out the door.
Frankie left Fergus’s office with the redoubtable understanding that something was damaged in him. There was no time to waste. Her next move had to appeal to the top of the food chain. She made her own emergency appointment with the superintendent.
The bell rang signaling lunch. Rosie had only begun telling Jack about her encounter with Chesed. “Rosie, come eat lunch with Tony and me.” Jack wanted to finish the conversation started prior to the struggle between Chesed and Timmy.
“That works. I’ll meet you guys in the cafeteria after I hit my locker.”
Jack met up with Tony on the way to lunch. “Did you hear?”
“About Chesed attacking Timmy Ballard. It was ridiculous. He found the cheese we hid behind his bookshelf and cornered Timmy for answers.”
“Did he hurt him?” Tony was distressed thinking that their prank turned into something that hurt someone.
“Well, I don’t think Timmy liked it very much. Chesed had him by the arms and was trying to get him to look at him. Timmy just squirreled out. If it hadn’t been for Ms. Cedric, I think I might have punched Chesed.”
“Well, thank god for small favors.” Tony secretly thought that Jack went looking for trouble and was relieved when his impulses were thwarted. “What happened then?”
“I don’t know. Ms. Cedric and Chesed went into his office and closed the door. Oh, by the way, Rosie is meeting us for lunch.”
“Did she corner you?” Tony laughed at the image of Rosie tackling Jack as soon as she got to history.
“Yeah, she did. Strange chick, but crazy smart.”
“Crazy, for sure, but we’re not ones to talk.”
As they neared the cafeteria Rosie joined them. “So, what do you guys think?”
“You know. My plan.”
“What plan? Rosie, you may be able to read minds, but we mere earthlings don’t have those powers.”
“Damn, I didn’t speak them?”
“No, you didn’t speak them.” Tony couldn’t help but think Rosie was cute in her weird and fantastical way.
The three found a table to sit. Rosie pulled out a brown paper bag filled with a lunch that consisted of a beansprout sandwich, sliced cucumbers, and the yummiest looking frosted chocolate brownie. Tony and Jack looked at each other in amusement and Tony said, “Uh, we’re going to get our toxic and high fructose corn syrup laden – but consistent lunch, now.”
“Sure. Ga’head.” Rosie fought to speak with her mouth full of beansprout sandwich. When they returned, she had just finished up her brownie and was ready to relay her plans to trip up Fergus Chesed. “This is what I think. His intention is to get us alone on the weekends to make us clean the school, but he has pain infliction on his mind. He’s got this nagging underlying phrase that’s always there. There’s a problem, guys, I know that for sure.”
“How can you tell?” Even though Tony was taken with Rosie, she confused Jack.
“Look, I know that I come off as a crazy person, but I do have a gift that allows me to see into the minds of other people. Chesed hates kids. He calls us ‘little shits’ and has some plan rolling around in his brain to ‘make us pay’.”
Tony tried not to laugh. “Like what? I mean what could he do that wouldn’t get him fired on the spot. Rosie, he can’t lay a hand on a kid.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. He wasn’t specific. That’s why I think we need to force his hand. This morning when he had me in his office, I irked him until he grabbed my arm and squeezed it like it was in a vice grip. See, I have bruises.” Rosie showed her arms where Chesed had assaulted her. “When I called him on it, he shoved me away. I’m telling you; he wants to hurt us. It’s almost like he can’t help himself.”
“So, what exactly is your plan?” Jack was anxious because of Rosie’s bruising, but still unmoved.
“We goad him into acting on his malevolent instincts. Then bam, he’s toast!” Rosie sat back as if she were Joe Lewis landing his final punch on Max Schmeling.
Tony chuckled. “And what if that doesn’t work?”
“But it will!”
“But what if it doesn’t?” Jack asked.
“But it will!” Rosie was getting irritated.
“Rosie, there is no guarantee that your plan will work. If it doesn’t, we could be looking at further detention for lack of respect and torquing an administrator. They always find something.” Tony wanted to believe in Rosie’s delusion. It made him feel as though there was something whimsical out there, and not just terrorizing creatures that creep in the night.
“I have to admit. Chesed really went after Timmy pretty hard. He could have hurt him.” Jack remembered the skirmish in the hallway.
“Okay, look. I get that it’s hard to believe in my gift. It’s weird. What if you guys just follow my lead? Can you do that?”
“Like you will read his mind when we’re with him and you will tell us what he is thinking?” Jack was skeptical.
“Okay, you got me.” Tony loved feeling silly.
“Wait a minute.” Jack was still unsure.
“It’s all good, man. I promise.” Tony smacked Jack on the back. “Come on. We gotta go.”
They broke up to go to their next class pondering the possibilities. Rosie felt as though she had made some headway with Jack and Tony. She liked them both, and she appreciated them. There weren’t too many people who shared her level of intelligence. Even though she still had the superior mind, they both kept up and that meant everything.
Tony believed that Rosie was the only person who truly understood his misery. She just seemed to know what was going on in his brain, and that was relief for his weary soul. He wanted to believe in her gift, and more than that, he needed it to be real. When he was with her, he felt normal, and he craved normal.
Jack, on the other hand, didn’t identify with that kind of erratic reasoning, but he did believe that there were powers in the human brain that had not been discovered yet. He sure as hell didn’t understand his, so, who was he not to believe in Rosie? She may very well possess some superior psyche.
Meanwhile, Frankie met with the superintendent of schools. Her meeting was scheduled right after Chesed’s. They just missed each other, and that was good for Frankie, because there was no need for Fergus Chesed to suspect a challenge from his obvious and most formidable critic. Besides that, Frankie’s danger hackles triggered whenever she was near him. He just invoked sinister.
Frankie easily convinced the Superintendent, Donna Hefley, to let her propose to the school board an alternative course of study for students with behavioral disorders. Hefley was never quite convinced that Fergus Chesed was the right person for the job. His spotty employment record and his ambiguous dismissals left her uneasy. Unfortunately, he was hired against her advice by a conventional school board intent on employing someone who didn’t require a higher salary. So, Frankie’s proposal was the chance Donna was looking for to lessen his authority. Besides, she knew of Frankie Cedric’s devotion to kids with social behavioral disorders and knew she had been working on this class design for a while now. She also shared Frankie’s belief that kids who were tagged with a label symbolizing a social disease, needed a separate course of learning and believed Frankie deserved the chance to execute it.
Also, Frankie suggested that since the students Chesed had chosen to participate in his program all had behavioral disorders of some kind, his program be put on hold until after her presentation to the board. Afterall, most of these students would be incorporated into her new course of study. The superintendent agreed. Frankie had taken her first step toward a new teaching model for students who had been misunderstood for so long. This was her dream to establish the concept that kids with these kinds of conditions needed freedom to explore their own abilities. Chesed was going to hate it.
Upon her return, Frankie discovered that school had let out for the day and she realized that she possessed the only written directive from the superintendent to postpone Fergus Chesed’s program until after the next board meeting. Even the principal had not seen it, so Frankie’s first stop had to be the principal’s office to inform him of the change in schedule. This would take some time, so the students were left in Chesed’s care in Room 120 until Frankie could get to them.
As they gathered, Rosie, Tony, and Jack were the last to arrive and saw that their comrades were all students with some form of psychological issue. Timmy Ballard, Sasha Volkav, Caleb and Trudy Ziegler, and the dark and foreboding Brady Moreland had all been invited to Fergus Chesed’s meeting. In the front of the classroom stood “the Cheez” looking at his watch and pacing. Get it done, Fergus, or feel the pain. When they took their seats he said, “When we meet this Saturday, I expect you all to be here on time. There will be no dawdling on my time.” Stupid brats! The real discipline is coming.
“Hey, you guys.” Rosie whispered to Tony and Jack. “He just called us stupid brats and has a plan to hand out what he called real discipline.” Jack and Tony played along with Rosie, but it all was so weird.
“Ms. Aislen! You will be the first to be given retribution for speaking during class. Come here, please.”
Tony and Jack froze in their seats. What was Chesed doing?
“Come here, now.”
“Why? What are you going to do?” Rosie sensed his dangerous insanity.
Nothing you imbecile! What I’d like to do is tan your backside with a wooden paddle! “Just come up to the front of the room, now!”
“Where is that wooden paddle, Fergus?” Rosie called him out. The rest of the students were flabbergasted at Rosie’s response.
“Wha… you… get up here.” Get it done, Fergus, or feel the pain. Chesed walked over to Rosie and grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the front of the classroom. While he dragged her, he twisted her arm behind her back.
Jack and Tony were on their feet getting ready to free Rosie from her abuser.
“Mr. Chesed! What do you think you are doing?” Frankie finally made it to Room 120 with the bad news. “Release her at once!”
Chesed unhanded Rosie and stepping back he said, “Ms. Cedric. What are you doing here?”
“I have just come from Superintendent Hefley’s office. She has signed a statement retracting your program until after the next school board meeting. After what I have seen here, I wouldn’t hold my breath for it to go forward.”
The entire group of students murmured joyful relief. “We’ll see about that!” Fergus Chesed stormed out of the classroom and the students gathered around Frankie in gratitude for her help.
“Rosie, are you okay?” Frankie put her arm around Rosie’s shoulder.
“I am. Thanks to you. I told you guys he was up to something, but you are non-believers.”
Tony beamed, “Not anymore. You have a firm believer here.”
“I’m sold.” Even Jack was impressed with Rosie’s ability.
Frankie was comforted that Fergus Chesed was foiled, but now she had to convince a conservative and skeptical school board that a comprehensive and unorthodox program could move these students forward and enhance their ignored mental acuities. The pressure was on, but she had no intention of failing.