Cult Illustration #45, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.




There were only two weeks left in the school year and Ms. X was getting the dwindling and much sought after jobs somewhat mysteriously, at least in her imagination. She theorized that teachers took a liking to her skills or perhaps it had something to do with the regular offerings she made to her special wealth and prosperity vessel, a ceramic pot holding a large lifeless conch shell halfway submerged in sea water.


Lately Ms. X had added bits of seaweed plucked off the beach and cigar shaped Mangrove seeds that sprouted and grew in Bonsai fashion. She dug up Glasswort, a leafless plant with cylindrical stems filled with salty gelatinous juice. They grew abundantly on the coasts of the inlet several miles from her home. She would gather them, roots and all, to drape over the conch. She liked to say prayers, floating her hands above the aquatic garden, with conductor like flourishes, her head cocked up, jaw slacked, eye lids fluttering. She would whisper for a steady flow of money. Out of the expanse of her yearnings to this vessel, teachers would greet her at school and ask if she could sub for them. She did little things for big people.


She sat in the high school Teacher’s Lounge during her one hour break. Usually she was called upon to take over someone's class during this break so that she worked 7 hours without rest, dealing non stop with the stress of disciplining a bunch of belligerent beasts as she saw it, for a fraction of the pay that real teachers made.


When she was not called, she sat there observing the cast of characters who used this space to gossip, snack, photocopy worksheets, or use the few chunky old computers that butted up against the walls on one side of the large room.


A man named Casey Paisley sat down at her table smiling and greeting her as if he had known her for some time. He was a tall physically commanding gentleman, maybe 10 years older than her. He seemed affable to Ms. X and handsome with gray sparkling eyes, but the way that he looked at her revealed a designing mind working it all over and through her. Ms. X knew what he was doing but she had no way of knowing his intent. Too many things were going on in his mind, she could see that. He talked loudly because he was nearly deaf and he refused to wear a hearing aid, but that wasn’t the part that put her on high alert. There was something urgent and dreadful about him.
 “Have you taken the Sub Assessment?” he asked her
“Yes.” Answered Ms. X reminiscing for a moment about the way she aced it with the help of a young woman named Jerry, who cashiered at Cody's Corner, the little country store located at the intersection of two rural roads near Ms. X's cabin.  She enlisted the twenty two year old to sit next to her and take the on-line test in exchange for a divination session.  It would have been impossible for Ms. X to pass it on her own. The questions confused her even though she knew the material well and integrated it into her teaching style on a regular basis.


Jerry was an over achiever in her high school days and knew how to take tests with ease, particularly multiple choice. It was of no consequence if she studied the topic or not. Ms. X had labored over the manual for months and still became befuddled by the test questions and the time limit for selecting answers and the tricky wording. She was reduced to swearing fits and sweaty palms both times she tried it on her own. The third try would be the last before one had to pay $300 to take the exam again. Each attempt yielded new questions or altered versions of the old questions. Her second score was lower than the first and so she found herself in a cesspool of bewilderment with the only consolation being that there had to be a way to cheat. There is always a way to cheat on a test. With Jerry’s help, she could have gotten a hundred percent but the woman convinced Ms. X to take a lower score, miss a few, lest she be found out. 

The Sub Assessment was a requirement for employment and had to be completed before the end of the school year. So, this is what Casey Paisley is about, thought Ms. X. He is nervous about that test. She had an altruistic nature, if nothing else, and putting someone at ease was one of the few possessions she could call her very own so she launched into a commiserating tone, pointing out the simplicity of the test provided one is a good test taker. She continued even though Casey seemed to be distracted. He was looking through her. He did not hear what she was saying and she knew it. He mumbled something about his failed attempts and how confounded he was by the whole mess.  She had no way of knowing that he had already enlisted two students to take it, at school, and they both failed.

“Do you have children or grandchildren?” asked Ms. X softly because there were teachers at the perimeters of the room quietly performing their mundane tasks and there was a woman, a few seats away from them, gazing in their direction while gumming a baloney and white bread sandwich.

“What?” asked Casey not able to hear her. She had to keep asking the question louder and louder until he finally understood but then he couldn’t fathom what his children and grandchildren had to do with the assessment.

“Have them help you,” whispered Ms. X.
“Have them help you,” she said a little louder.
Ms. X took out a piece of paper and jotted down the words, even admitting that she had someone help her this way but Casey insisted on talking loudly despite their audience, asking her who it was that helped her. Ms. X put her finger to her lips and eyed him in a severe way. He stopped then for several moments and looked her deeply in the eyes, sizing her up again and she knew it.
Then he launched into a monologue, taking Ms. X back to the days of his youth, and though she was not sure she wanted to hear about it, she felt relieved that the topic was changed.  As he progressed in his story, she became intrigued. He told her about his youth at the University in California where he was studying 6 different languages. He loved it. He was going somewhere and then he was drafted into the Vietnam War. He was told that he could pursue his language studies for the army but was taken aside a few days before leaving for graduate school and told that he was an excellent marksman and from that point on, he would be a sniper.
Her uplift turned sour, but she kept her pleased expression not wanting to offend him. Secretly she wanted to know how many people he killed so she could deduce the affects on his life – the way that death’s failures haunted him. She wanted to hear about the disasters he suffered so that she could know something privileged and spiritual. But the only disaster he would proffer was the loss of his hearing due to constant target practice, without ear muffs.


Then he related one of his favorite stories which occured during the cold war with the Soviet Union. He was posted in a guard tower on the west side of the Berlin Wall. Looking through his rifle scope, he would spy the enemy guards in their towers on the opposite side. They were snipers too. In fact they spied on each other through their rifle scopes. Casey laughed about the way that one of them stroked his chin in mock sign language, meaning you need a shave! It was funny. There was no need for foreign languages at all.

Ms. X had her opinions about war and killing and they weren’t patriotic at all. The idea that someone was ordering the bloody sacrifice of hundreds, even thousands of people, seemed to her a huge occult ceremony. Authority of this nature repulsed her. It was an opinion that always irked the Guru when he got wind of it and he would strike out accordingly, putting her in her place. Despite his reprimands, she persisted in her contempt for mass human sacrifice, though quietly.


Curiously, she felt no conflict within her own philosophy. It was okay for her and the Foundation to sacrifice because it involved animals and they were bred for the fact. They were food. One doesn’t eat people. Yes, she knew what it was like to kill things, but to kill things for her religion was superior to killing things for power or greed as she saw it.
She never put the two together but once she came close. An acquaintance from Pakistan told her what it was like to be trained as a soldier in his country. He hadn’t the stomach for killing so he was forced to kill chickens with his bare hands until he was able to kill without conscience. His tale was innocent, he did not know that Ms. X was a chicken killer too, and she did not reveal this fact.


She wondered if the soldiers had trouble eating chicken after that. This was her own experience. The nasty smell of unkempt poultry stayed in her nostrils far too long, and later when she tasted chicken, the smell came back. To kill birds, though, as a prerequisite for killing people, she turned it over and over again in her mind for a while but when she could not find a comfortable fit, she threw it out.
The first chicken that Ms. X killed was actually a small rooster and she was pressed to do it with her bare hands. The wife gave her a tutorial first about grasping the head, stretching out the neck just a bit and then twisting the head again and again. One had to keep a hold on the head or the chicken would untwine itself, fast, fighting for life. Twist and twist and twist in one direction until the neck bones snapped and then yank with all your might. Off it pops! The wife could hold a large rooster by the legs in the left hand, tucking the bulk of its body under her left arm, and with the right hand twist and pull off the head in a gracefully choreographed motion. She had a special technique where she could rotate the head with the fingers of her right hand and just as effortlessly jerk it free. Blood flowed marvelously for the wife. It took Ms. X all her nervous strength, and anxious will, and both hands to pull off a very little rooster’s head while the wife held the body taut.
After a year or so, Ms. X was ripping heads reasonably well and she acquired the knife ceremony so that she could progress to bigger animals with better results. Feeling proud and powerful, she yearned to train others as she had been trained but that was out of the question. Even when the wife was inundated with clients she would not allow it. Ms. X comforted herself with the thought that she had not yet ascended to equal the wife with her sleek maneuvers and so it was best to remain a help mate for the most part, showing off her killing skills once in a great while when the wife was feeling generous. Then, an opportunity opened up due to the fact that the Guru loathed travel and the wife was bound to stay by his side.


There was a need for someone to travel to other cities where the client base was burgeoning. To maintain their distinction as the premier couple in this philosophy the Guru and his wife had to form an outreach program for their growing industry. The Cincinnati clan was hampered by distance and time. Initially, clients made a week long trip to Florida for indoctrination but they could not take time off as often as needed to study the sacrificial rites. They wanted dearly to possess true priesthood through the art of sacrifice and so they got together and asked the Guru for assistance. Ms. X was granted permission to travel to Cincinnati with the intent of tutoring them and as their liaison she would work with small groups guiding them through their first sacrifice.

While on her teaching travels, she gained a certain confidence in her abilities, though she couldn’t quite extricate herself from the knowledge that she had never seen anyone actually graduate from the master-student relationship cultivated by the Foundation. She was, indeed, lucky to have had a long leash, for if the Guru and his wife had witnessed her teaching style, they would have revoked her authority completely.  
Once when Ms. X was tutoring a woman, 10 years her junior, to rip the head off a hen, she burst our laughing in uncontrollable fits. It had begun quite officially, with Ms. X slowly, deliberately outlining the steps but somewhere along the line the correct twisting and snapping was not done appropriately even as Ms. X cheered her on convincingly. The initiate, dazed and confused, pulled and pulled on the neck as it stretched and stretched until it was a foot long but still intact making the creature look like a cartoon character. The hen was dead. Ms. X composed herself for a moment, took a knife and sliced the head from the snake-like neck. One single drop of blood fell. Ms. X burst out again in freakish laughter.
“You made a tourniquet!” she whooped and doubled over in abandon.
Casey brought Ms. X up to date on his post war days when he started a scrap metal company and it quickly expanded into a multimillion dollar business. With his free time Casey pursued sports and became a skilled golfer and tennis player. He loved sports so much he elected to become a high school teacher so as to become a coach to young athletes. He sold his business and moved to Florida where golf and tennis are year round big. He played, and coached for a while until he retired and then, needing a community, he got back into the system by subbing.


He held special, well paid assignments where he would work with the senior athletes destined for college. The young guys had one great obstacle: they could not pass the mandatory test for college admission so Casey would tutor two or three of them at a time, teaching the test. He earned just as much as the real teachers but he worked half the amount of time with only a handful of students. It was an extraordinary set up and Casey Paisley was proud as a new father. In what appeared to be a spasm, he shook some papers from his brief case to show Ms X the passing scores his boys achieved.

He shined brightly over it, but then began the sad part of his monologue: his wife became ill with cancer. Here Casey indulged Ms. X for a while in the hellish details of her treatment. As a result, she was in a cross-your-fingers stage and it was driving him insane. It seemed to Ms. X, at this point, that he really was a little crazy. Her mind was wandering again, wondering if it had anything to do with his trade as an assassin.


She tried to focus on his ever shifting story, even as he seemed to jump and start in his seat with each new addition. Now he serenaded her with the impending calamity, just imagine your spouse of some thirty years, suddenly leaving you. He would not use the word dead. He went on about his anxiety, insomnia, indigestion, his hands waving, his head bobbing and Ms. X was drawn in, hooked, yearning to help him in some way.  She wanted to do a reading for him and his wife, and maybe a few rituals, but the only help he wanted was for her to take the Sub Assessment for him.


He dug into his brief case and whipped out the business card of the Chaplain at the hospital, gushing about how miraculous this holy woman was; he couldn’t have made it through his wife's illness without her. Ms. X knew she had no chance, he had his guru, but he needed Ms. X to do the test. He offered her $200, which she declined but it was all too much and she gave in. He handed her his own card and he scratched down his user name and password, thanking her profusely even before she accomplished anything.
It was time to go back to class. Ms. X watched as Casey Paisley rose to his feet and greeted the other teachers, moving jerky and fast, gregariously giving them news about his wife. From one to another, he passed his woe around. But the teachers would just nod and respond dryly, “oh” or “uh-huh” and turn their backs as he passed in his nervous way. This seemed a bit odd to Ms. X and she could not get the image of this strange, overly social Substitute Teacher out of her mind.





© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved