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Authors: Lincoln Michel

Upright Beasts

BOOK: Upright Beasts
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Copyright © 2015 Lincoln Michel

Cover art © Matt Leines

Cover design by Nadxieli Nieto

Book design by Connie Kuhnz

Author photo © Andrew Owen

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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CIP INFORMATION

Michel, Lincoln.

[Short Stories. Selections]

Upright beasts: stories / Lincoln Michel.

pages cm

ISBN 978-1-56689-419-7 (eBook)

I. Title.

PS3613.I34515A6 2015

813'6—dc23

FIRST EDITION
|
FIRST PRINTING

Acknowledgments

Some of these stories appeared in the following journals: “Our Education” in Electric Literature's
Recommended Reading;
“If It Were Anyone Else” in
NOON
and
Pushcart Prize
XXXIX; “The River Trick” in
Unstuck;
“Little Girls by the Side of the Pool” in
Hobart;
“Almost Recess” as “The New Game” in
Everyday Genius;
“Our New Neighborhood” in
Watchlist
: 32
Short Stories by Persons of Interest
(OR Books); “Filling Pools” in
BOMB Magazine;
“Hike” in the
Collagist;
“The Deer in Virginia” as “The Deer of Virginia” in the
Oxford American;
“Halfway Home to Somewhere Else” in
Connu;
“What You Need to Know about the Weathervane” in the
Harvard Advocate;
“Lawn Dad” in
Midnight Breakfast;
“The Soldier” in
PANK;
“The Head Bodyguard Holds His Head in His Hands” in
Indiana Review;
“The Mayor's Plan” in
Mid-American Review;
“Routine” in
Monkeybicycle;
“Everybody Who's Anybody” in
New Orleans Review;
“What We Have Surmised about the John Adams Incarnation” as “John Adams” in
Forty-Four Stories about Our Forty-Four Presidents
(Melville House); “Getting There Nonetheless” in
Story;
and “A Note on the Type” in
elimae.

For the abyss. Thanks for always gazing back.

CONTENTS

UPRIGHT BEASTS

Our Education

If It Were Anyone Else

The River Trick

Little Girls by the Side of the Pool

The Room inside My Father's Room

Almost Recess

Our New Neighborhood

NORTH AMERICAN MAMMALS

Filling Pools

Hike

The Deer in Virginia

Halfway Home to Somewhere Else

Some Notes on My Brother's Brief Travels

What You Need to Know about the Weathervane

Things Left Outside

FAMILIAR CREATURES

Lawn Dad

My Life in the Bellies of Beasts

The Soldier

The Head Bodyguard Holds His Head in His Hands

The Mayor's Plan

Colony

Routine

Everybody Who's Anybody

MEGAFAUNA

What We Have Surmised about the John Adams Incarnation

Dark Air

Getting There Nonetheless

Acknowledgments

A Note on the Type

UPRIGHT BEASTS

OUR EDUCATION

T
ime passes unexpectedly or, perhaps, inexactly at the school. It's hard to remember what semester we're in. Several of the clocks still operate, but none of them agree on the time. Construction paper murals obscure the windows. Consequently, the sun rises and falls in complete ignorance of those of us attending the school. Many of us participated in the decorations in some lost point of childhood. A few of us still have dried glue underneath our fingernails.

In the room I sit in now, the windows are covered with a glitter-and-glue reenactment of the colonization of Roanoke by Sir Walter Raleigh. Outside the window, who knows?

In my spare time, I write notes for an assignment on the state of my education. I've always believed that I was destined for somewhere better. In my hidden heart, I hold hope that my essay is the key to my escape.

My classmates laugh at me, even my second-closest friend.

“You'll never turn this in,” he says, grabbing my notebook. “There will never be anyone to accept it!”

“Leave him alone,” Beanpole Paula says.

“Of course you defend him,” he says, winking at her from beneath his self-cropped hair.

Beanpole Paula gives my second-closest friend a sharp shove. His shirt bears the logo of a rock band I've never
heard. When he smiles, I see his braces are discolored from vending machine candy. What's his name? Either Tommy or Timmy.

Obviously we no longer learn anything, or, perhaps more accurately, we learn many things, but not the things we were meant to learn. We learn about love and pain and friendship. A few of us even learn about fornication, mostly from afar (twice I've snuck behind the bleachers with Carmichael, a small and sickly boy, to watch the more muscular students tear off each other's pit-stained gym uniforms). History, mathematics, and biology are subjects lost to another time. Most of our textbooks have been repurposed for fuel. There is an ongoing fire in the back corner of the cafeteria.

I myself only own two books, novels long past their stamped due dates, which I keep tucked underneath spare clothes in the back of my locker.

Much of our hushed hallway discussion concerns the teachers. Surrounded by the pale orange lockers, we utter nasty words. We whisper out of habit. There are no teachers to overhear us. The teachers are all dead. Or else they are disintegrated. Or in hiding (but from whom? from us?). All that is known is that the teachers have disappeared, and the teachers' lounge is barricaded from the inside.

After the lunch bell, I hurry back to the front hallway with Beanpole Paula. We have an armload of chicken sandwiches, pockets filled with fries.

“That was close,” she says. We slap hands in celebration.

Paula is almost six feet tall and walks with her back hunched over. I find her awkwardness endearing. She is currently my
closest friend. We know our arrangement might end tomorrow, so when we smile at each other, there is a conspiracy in the air.

“We make a good team,” Paula says, pressing a sandwich to her mouth with both hands. “Let's always stick together.”

Then Timmy or Tommy interrupts us, rounding the corner with a half-eaten pizza slice.

Randal, two years our senior, maintains that the disappearance of the teachers is a victory for the students.

“This school only ever existed to beat us down and prepare us for a world in which we were powerless. Homework is indoctrination. Education is a cog in the machine of the ruling class.”

Tommy (or Timmy) cheers him on enthusiastically. “What can you learn from teachers and tests? They're old fogies with old ideas that fossilize your brain.”

Beanpole Paula and Carmichael, on the other hand, are distraught over these developments.

“What if the teachers have gone in search of better students?” Paula says. “What if we have been left behind?”

Despite beckoning from both sides, I don't enter the debate. I cannot say what the lack of faculty means. But if the teachers do return, I need to be ready with my paper. I want to believe that if they come back, I will be chosen to graduate to a better place.

I keep the assignment folded in my back pocket. I don't remember when I received it, but it's my strongest proof that our teachers are coming back. The sheet of paper says,
In your own words: a
)
what is the goal of your education, and b
)
how far are you, in your mind, to achieving this goal?

The top left corner lists the period, classroom number, and teacher from whom the assignment supposedly came.
Second
period, room 17, Ms. Lispector.
I hold the assignment close to my face and try to remember her. I see an older woman with dyed black hair and a blue ankle-length dress, but the image is as blurry as a bigfoot photo.

“Do you like her?”

Beanpole Paula's eyes follow mine as they survey the globelike behind of Lydia Pill.

“I don't even know her,” I say.

“That wasn't the question.”

In my memories, Lydia and I sat next to each other in sex ed. We were paired up for several projects. Now, as I watch her body cross the room, my mind conjures up the faded diagrams and illustrations on the pull-down posters in room 201. I try to visualize those impossible organs hiding behind her clothes. I begin to sweat.

Lydia is walking hand in hand with Clint Bulger. Bulger is, or I suppose I should say was, the captain of the football team. We're most afraid of Bulger and the other jocks, who, having cordoned off the basketball courts and adjacent locker rooms, have access to softball bats and hockey sticks.

“I don't know,” I say, watching them stroll by without even looking at us. Lydia's golden hair sways between her shoulder blades in a thick ponytail.

“I knew it,” Paula says loudly. She grabs her own hair. “I know everything. I have terrible powers.”

“What's wrong?” I say, turning to Paula. She looks very sad. I place a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Then her forehead wrinkles, and I realize that she isn't sad. She is angry. She twists my arm around my back and pushes me off the radiator. I struggle, but Paula has leverage and pins me to the linoleum with her long limbs.

BOOK: Upright Beasts
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