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“Teaching Them Happiness,” by Joseph Dante

rope noose with hangman's knot

After the first suicide, Mrs. Loomis was determined to teach her class happiness. We’ll talk about our passions, she thought. What makes us feel most alive. At the very least, let’s get some thunder in these clouds.

Her students stood up one at a time. She asked them to be completely honest with her.

“I want to have sex with as many girls as possible,” Jack said.

“I want to kill as many boys as possible,” Lana said.

And so on. A whole day of this complete honesty and somehow Mrs. Loomis refrained from reprimanding any of her students. After all, they’d only done what she asked.

After the second suicide, the school brought in a grief counselor. Memorials weren’t enough. The regular school counselor wasn’t enough. This greying woman with an enormous mouth made everyone gather in a circle, throwing around terms like closure and coping mechanisms.

Mrs. Loomis wasn’t a religious person, but she still believed suicide was a very selfish act to commit. “Suicides not only cause grief, but often cause more death around the victim,” she told her class. “It becomes infectious, like a disease.”

She made them write essays about how else selfishness can spread. Maybe this dissection would suture their softer parts that’d come apart, would make these deaths seem even more real.

After the third suicide, Mrs. Loomis became terrified. She wondered who the next victim would be, if it could be her. She read about pacts and tried to understand what could convince a hundred people to jump in front of a train at once, or serve arsenic from a punch bowl.

This time, she had her class write essays about how they’d spend their last day on earth. Despite the change in topic, it was still more of the same. Having sex as much as possible, discovering what it’s like to kill without consequence. All that naked hunger, the pulse becoming the body.

Mr. Loomis tried to reassure his wife. “Don’t despair,” he said. “It’s probably just a phase. Like my dreams in high school of training for the seminary and believing something made the heart grow fonder, but it certainly wasn’t abstinence.”

 Was she supposed to laugh? The hallway mirror only reflected her perfectly blank expression.

After the fourth suicide, Mrs. Loomis thought more about the apocalypse. She always thought it’d be a lack of resources that’d bring about humanity’s downfall, probably an environmental disaster. But could it possibly end like this instead? With a suicide epidemic? In bed at night, she pulled her husband closer.

One morning, Mrs. Loomis found an anonymous message under her door as she was walking into her classroom. It read: You are your serotonin, signed with a drawing of the appropriate molecule. She tried to match up the message with her students’ in-class essays to figure out who may have written it, but nothing seemed a good match.

When she reported her discovery to the principal, he simply dismissed it. “You aren’t special,” he informed her. “Many other teachers have received the same message. Rest assured though, Mrs. Loomis, anyone else who tries to kill themselves will be immediately expelled.”

Again, she thought. Was she supposed to laugh?

After the fifth suicide, Mrs. Loomis circled around the school a few times. She saw the serotonin molecule everywhere she went. Did catching the culprit even matter? Would raiding the den stop the howls?

It was not long until a girl came into class with the molecule tattooed on her wrist. Mrs. Loomis stared too long at the fresh ink as she was passing back papers. The girl turned around, clearly feeling the stare a mile away.

Mrs. Loomis found herself in front of the class, nearly shaking. “Have I taught you all nothing?” she blurted out. It was loud, but expected. There was no surprise in their faces.

The newly tattooed girl was quick to confront her. “You need to understand,” she said, “it’s a symbol. Surely you, as an English teacher, can appreciate multiple interpretations.”

A sigh came from somewhere. A bit of silence. Not long after, the students went back to their assigned reading.

After this long-awaited outburst, Mrs. Loomis began to imagine appropriate deaths for her students. Jack would asphyxiate himself in an intense moment of self-pleasure, dying before ever having an opportunity to finally lose his virginity. Lana would slash her ample arms, one cut for each boy not properly killed and tossed into the canal behind her house. The hallway mirror showed Mrs. Loomis more and more wrinkles until a smile formed. A smile almost turning into a laugh that had threatened to bubble up since the very beginning.

She wrote on the board the following day: You are your self-prophecy. No molecule, no signature.

At her desk were copies of her newest assignment for the students: Write, in detail, how you would kill yourself. Record the entire process. As always, creativity counts. She made it worth 50 percent of their final grade.

As soon as suicide turned into work, they’d stop. That was her reasoning. Who’d get tattoos then? Where was the romance in that? The cryptic notes? The principal agreed and gave her the go.

Her fingers formed a steeple. Treating these young people like porcelain dolls or bombs with countdowns, Mrs. Loomis thought, seemed to imply that breaking or exploding were just endings. That we could only have danger as signs before the exit.

She waited for the bell to ring.

About the Author:

Joseph Dante is a writer from South Florida and currently serves as an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. His work has been featured in (or is forthcoming from) The Rumpus, Best Gay Stories 2015, PANK, Pear Noir!, Corium, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology.

Image Credit: © dule964/ Dollar Photo Club

“Helping the Detectives,” by Christine Brandel

Crime Scene Sketch BW

Dear Detectives,

If you are reading this, it means one of two things: I’ve been arrested or I’m dead.

If I’ve been arrested, you’d damn well better have a search warrant before you go nosing around my private business. Instead of reading any further, just have a good think about yourself and your life choices, you fascist pigs.

If I’m dead, however, I’d like to help you out. I don’t mean to imply that you’re incapable of doing your jobs, though I confess I don’t have much faith in the police (see Par. 2). I’m just saying I don’t want to end up a name scribbled on a cold case box hidden away in your station’s basement.

First, we need to decide if my death was the result of natural causes, suicide or homicide. Have you found me crumpled on the floor underneath a tall ladder, my body bruised and covered in white paint? There’s your natural cause, my friends. Would you mind taking a minute to look up and admire the ceiling I managed to get to before my fateful fall? Thanks.

Otherwise, the causes aren’t likely to be natural. I am super duper fit and have no family history of anything bad at all, except narcissism, which is annoying but not fatal. On a day-to-day basis, I am ever so safe. The electrics and other utilities in my house are regularly tested and maintained. My emergency plan for bad weather is foolproof (I’ve done a trial run and all). If I’m dead, it was a human—not fate or a terrible accident—that killed me.

Suicide or homicide? Well, at this point, I can’t be sure. But there’ll be obvious clues. Most suicides don’t leave a note, but you know what? I’m not like most suicides. The letter you’re holding in your hands should be evidence enough to the fact that I love the sound of my own voice. If I’ve topped myself, trust me, there will be a suicide note. It shouldn’t be difficult to locate. You’ll find a sealed envelope on my desk or, if I was feeling particularly dramatic, clutched in my right hand. Pry it away from my pale, stiff fingers, and your case is solved. Of course, a clever murderer might just be trying to fool you. Don’t be suckers. Any spelling or grammar mistakes in the note? If so, I didn’t write it. I wouldn’t be caught dead including typos in any suicide note of mine.

If you’re still not sure, you’re probably thinking you need to talk to my closest friends. Here’s where you’re going to hit a roadblock. See, I don’t have any closest friends. I don’t any friends. I guess that’s partly why I’m offering you this help. I know that the police, despite your being fascist pigs, have a heavy workload, and I’d hate to be a contributing factor in your own premature deaths by stress-induced heart problems.

Check the calendar on the kitchen wall for a date with a red circle around it. Move ahead twenty-one days. If my time of death falls within that week, there’s a chance I was suicidal. I once wrote a story called “Helping the Detectives” about my own demise; find the file on the computer and note when it was last edited. If it too coincides, well, maybe I was feeling preoccupied by thoughts of my own mortality. See if you can find the final image ever recorded of me—you’ll want to look at the security tapes at the gas station up the road (fast forward to an hour before closing time the night I died). Enlarge it and focus on the eyes. Do they look as empty as the eyes of the corpse currently toe-tagged in your morgue? If so, suicide’s looking better and better.

If not, I’m afraid you’ve got a homicide on your hands, gents and/or ladies. Who did it? Obviously, I can’t tell you, but I hope I can keep you from barking up any wrong trees. I’ve got three ex-husbands, but don’t bother trying to finger one of them. All three were nice enough chaps but each took the money and ran, so there’d be nothing to gain from bumping me off. I was never that important anyway. None of them would risk his now prosperous life just to rid the world of me.

Workplace motivation? No. I’m a coatroom attendant at a restaurant. I work on my own, and the patrons don’t acknowledge my existence. I doubt even good detectives like yourselves could describe the face of the last coatroom attendant who hung up your jackets. Being inobtrusive is in my job description, for Christ’s sake. No work interaction led to my slaying.

Alas, I’ve really got nothing in terms of solid leads for you. I mean, in sixth grade, Bobby Lee threatened to tie my body to a tree and leave me to the grizzlies, but I’m sure that anger has subsided by now. Besides, I think I read in some alumni newsletter that he succumbed to cancer a few years ago. Survived by a wife, three kids and a brand new grandchild—how he found even one person to love him, I have no idea. I flipped the bird to a guy who cut me off on the freeway last week; I didn’t get the license plate number, but he was driving a blue hatchback. I’m sorry, I’ve just never been into cars, so I can’t give you the make or model. I was in the right lane, driving only a little above the speed limit, so if he came after and killed me for that, be sure the prosecutor trying the case drives home my stellar record behind the wheel to emphasis I was an innocent victim.

I’ll be honest with you: the perpetrator is going to be a stranger. I know you don’t want to hear that, they’re the hardest cases to solve. But there’s just no one who knows me well enough to want to kill me. That’s why I keep my house so incredibly tidy (I bet one of your officers has already commented on this). It’s the only other thing I can think to do to help you. There will be no fingerprints anywhere in this house, save mine and my landlord’s (you’ll have his on record from a drunk and disorderly arrest about eight years ago). If you find anyone else’s, you’ve found the killer.

I hope I didn’t die naked. If I did, would you mind keeping that detail out of the papers?

Thank you.

About the Author:

Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. In 2013, she published her first collection, Tell This To Girls: The Panic Annie Poems, which the IndieReader described as a “well-crafted, heartbreakingly vivid set of poems, well worth a read by anyone whose heart can bear it.” To balance that, she also writes a column on comedy for PopMatters and rants and raves through her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss) at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.com.

Image Credit: © Kreatiw / Dollar Photo Club