Cult Illustration #34, 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.



Trick or Treat, or Maybe Both



If anyone, or any monster had ever wished to break down a society, truly crush it from within, their fancy is fulfilled. It is here.



Ms. X had been perusing the internet the morning that she accepted Ms. Herring's Exceptional Student Education class, fondly known as "ESE". She had extra time, so she indulged a YouTube post.


It was rated five stars, recommended by one of the alternative news websites. She clicked on it and saw a middle-aged man giving a heartfelt plea to the populace, to keep Chinese made Halloween candy containing milk powder, away from all children. He recounted, tearfully, the past summer when over 50,000 Chinese babies and toddlers were poisoned by ground up melamine scrap. Some died and many had kidney failure. The melamine was put into China’s milk and formula products by certain companies because, chemically, it boosts the protein content, or at least the appearance of protein. The exported candies, he claimed, were tested by many other countries and then banned because of the toxin present in damaging doses. His premise, which he muttered between sobs and camera stops, was that our own government was protecting itself from the fall out due to elections or something like this, though, Ms. X could not completely understand the logic. Here was the important part: the poison was slow moving and the children’s kidneys could fail years later so that no one would ever know why. Ms. X was completely sold. The man had asked everyone who viewed his video to send it to others, to tell others, to offer assistance in testing the candies which he held up in front of the screen, chocolate skulls, monster cakes, pirate’s gold coins, and a Hannah Banana fudge CD. He asked for whistle blowers to come forth, he asked for miracles, and Ms. X was ready to deliver.


On the Subfinder, she clicked on the computer screen, volunteering to go to the class of Especially Special Education, as she referred to it. Here she would share this fateful trick on their Halloween treats with the half grown up, hard to deal with kids. They would be thrilled by such a diabolical plot against them. They were at the age where this would be exciting stuff, something new and dangerous and very tempting. She imagined them, all eyes on her in rapt submission, as she described the dark portent lurking in each chocolate skull. She googled kidneys and printed out medical information so she could explain the gory details of kidney failure. She would have the kids stand up and make two fists, the approximate size of their kidneys, and then she would have them wrap their arms behind their backs and place the fists on the lower part, so they would know where their kidneys were located. And she would have to explain that not all Chinese people are bad but like every place in the world, there are some bad people. She would definitely have to make that clear!


She hurried and readied herself and all scrubbed and dressed in clean clothes, with her packed lunch and brief case full of ephemera, she bundled into her car and was off. When she got to the school and entered the assigned room she was greeted by two women, one short and one tall and they were her helpers. Ahhh, what a relief, two women in the room, two women who knew what was going on and how to do it. Ms. X was getting excited. She asked the tall one, what age?


“Kindergarten to 2nd grade. They’re Autistic,” she said apologetically.


“Okay, just let me know what you want me to do and I’ll do it,” said Ms. X knowing from the Sub Manual that this was the appropriate course of action, though she was inwardly very disappointed that she could not share her gruesome Halloween story with them. That would be inappropriate but maybe, she mused, these two women would like to know. They roused her from her reverie, informing her that she was welcome to sit in the corner and read or use the computer to surf the net, implying that she would be useless in this classroom. More accurately, this was the domain of the real teacher and to keep things routine, she should take her seat there. Undaunted Ms. urged them to let her help. They gave her a sympathetic look but said nothing.


A pudgy red-haired boy was escorted in, and the short woman told him to go and say hi to Ms. X. He had a sweet round face, the color of white porcelain all aglow with a secret smile. He looked at her with green jewel eyes, approached with outstretched arms. She was sitting in a chair, right at his level and so they embraced. She felt him energetically and there was a strong connection, very warm and loving which surprised her. She had an image of Autistic children from television, the kind that are incapable of meaningful human contact. She knew there were degrees, but the boys embrace confused her, as did his ability to talk and answer questions.


Seeing this sentimental exchange, the short woman instructed Ms. X that the child was unpredictable and apt to bite, drawing blood.
“Just so you know. I never let him touch me.”


Ms. X was suddenly seized with a sick kind of fear that she did not like and she worked on it right away, stubbornly wresting herself from its grasp but it took a little while longer than usual. The short woman continued talking, as if the boy were invisible.
“His father always beats his mother. That’s what he sees.”


Ms. X disliked the woman immediately. Next, a short very fat brown boy entered the room with a loud, melodious greeting. He was round like an exercise ball, his cheeks fat as ripe mangoes. His sweet smile and gentle but huge presence impressed Ms. X. The short woman pulled his hooded sweatshirt off, which was two sizes too small, and as it was wrought from his torso, his t-shirt came too, exposing his great belly.


“This one stinks,” said the short woman as she stuffed his sweatshirt into his book bag, “His parents smoke heavily and drink heavily too. I just can’t stand the smell of him. Say hi to the lady . . .”


“Hi, what’s your name?”
“Ms. X, what’s your name?”
He looked at her with joyful brown eyes and a happy heart.
“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir.” he would say each time he wanted Ms. X’s attention.
“He says that to everyone,” intoned the tall woman.
“I’m a ma'am. Can you say, excuse me ma’am?” asked Ms. X.
“Yes, sir!”


One by one, the rest of the boys arrived, eight in all. The short woman took turns having them use the bathroom, three in all wore diapers which she changed. Ms. X was glad not to have to do that job and she greatly admired the short woman for doing it. She learned each of the boys’ names and she could see that they were all capable of conversation except one. The boy who couldn’t speak had been brought to school by his grandmother and she had forgotten to give him his drugs and so he was groaning and growling like a worried puppy dog. His hands constantly fluttered in front of his mouth and face, so agile it reminded Ms. X of an Indian dancer performing sacred hand gestures. He came up to Ms. X, his face close to hers as she was sitting. He babbled and puffed out bits of air. Ms. X took his face in her hands and looked deeply into his eyes and he suddenly became still. His gaze was innocent and acutely intelligent.


“You are a good boy,” she said softly and repeatedly and in those moments he communicated back to her with shining content eyes. Ms. X felt that it would be a good day at school.


Soon it was time to go get breakfast. Ms. X took off with the short woman and six of the boys. The tall woman called out to her, “You can stay here if you like,” craving quiet adult company, but Ms. X was not going to shirk her duties.


“Oh no, I will help,” she called back as she trailed away with the small boys, following them because they knew where to go. The short woman walked lazily in the rear, not caring if the boys raced ahead or twirled as they ran. Ms. X tried, unsuccessfully, to reign them in. The short woman had a bit of a following among the cafeteria staff, stopping to talk with several as Ms. X managed the menagerie.


Breakfast was “to go” and it consisted of cake and chocolate milk. Back in the room, Ms. X and the tall woman ripped open the cellophane packaging on the cakes, opened cartons of chocolate milk, stuck straws in them, and placed napkins on each desk. One little boy dropped his cake on the carpet and it exploded into chunks and crumbs. Ms. X located a hand broom and dust pan to brush it up but the tall woman said it was better that she didn’t, since there would be a lot more to do in the end. Ms. X hesitated and then complied. Soon the red haired boy was on the floor picking up the bits of cake and eating them. The round boy had finished his and was helping himself, stealthily, to his neighbors’ cakes.


The short woman screamed at him and then addressing Ms. X, commented that he always ate too much and then he would vomit.


Computer images were projected onto a large movie screen, showing puppet characters singing. The boys sang along as it played over and over again in an endless loop. At each conclusion one of the puppets gobbled down a cookie but it really just flew all over the place. The boys laughed and screamed loudly, pounding their desks. Ms. X was amused, until she realized that they did this over and over each time the same way, a strange kind of laugh that wasn’t a laugh at all. While observing them, she heard the round boy sing so beautifully that she was smitten by his talent. He was not a savant, just gifted. When she told this to the two women, the short one conceded that he wasn’t autistic at all, just difficult.


The tall woman, who had vanished for a few minutes, burst back into the room and began rushing around. She quickly told Ms. X what to do. First, work with two of the higher functioning students, and then she would be eased into the others. She slammed four containers on the tabletop in front of Ms. X. They held gummy candies, salty corn chips, and crunchy onion rings.


“Just give one at a time, as a reward.”


Thankfully they did not offer milk chocolate from China, noted Ms. X as things whirled around quickly. She worked with each boy, first getting them to focus on their flash cards, and then cheering them on as they correctly responded, and then rewarding them with a chip or a piece of candy.


The boy who couldn’t speak with words became louder, his yips and barks so annoyed the tall woman that she periodically shrieked his name like a Screech Owl. The sound of it made Ms. X jump. As he wandered out of his seat, one or the other of the women would grab him stiffly and force him into his chair. When it was Ms. X’s turn to retrieve the boy, she spoke to him kindly and pointed to his seat. He obliged and sat down, all the while staring with large brown eyes and Ms. X knew that he understood.


Noticing her technique, the taller woman tried to explain.
“He’s MR.”
“What’s that?”
“Mentally retarded – he is profoundly mentally retarded. He can’t understand anything. It’s okay, you can just guide him around, like I did.”
“Force him?”
“No,” she chuckled, “guide him.”


As the minutes swept by, Ms. X saw how the women were scurrying around the room grabbing the students and reprimanding them with harsh words. It was hard to tell the women from the boys, their movements seemed so similar. Their loud commanding voices forbade them to bite or pinch or hit, which the boys did in between quiet moments of conciliation. To thwart the snag of the tall woman, one little boy leapt into Ms. X’s arms like a baby monkey and she held him like a mother monkey.


“He is so spoiled,” explained the tall woman as she ducked away to pursue another.
“Excuse me Ma’am. Excuse me Ma’am,” said the round boy to Ms. X.
“Wow,” said the tall woman, “that’s the first time I heard him say that!”
The round boy, who was not really autistic, just difficult, took Ms. X by the hand and led her towards the door. She playfully submitted.
“Let’s get outa here,” he said.
Amused, Ms. X was formulating her response, but already they were next to the door.
“C’mon, let’s get outa here,” he continued in his grown up voice.
The short woman jumped in from the rear, heading off this liaison.
“Oh my god, is he playin you! Look how he's playin her,” she shouted to the tall woman.


Ms. X wanted to say, “No, he's not playin me,” but the short woman kept on with her ridicule so that Ms. X found it useless to respond. There was never a moment for explanation in this world, just constant jabs and yanks and threats and treats and shouting.


Recess was just a few steps outdoors to the playground. The boys raced out the door ahead of the women and began to climb up the bars. The short woman shouted not to go down the slides because they were wet. Ms. X was the first to inspect the slides which retained pools of rain water. The round boy slid down and was soaked and now the drama of his disobedience played out with the two women helpers, allowing them to describe how ignorant his parents were. Ms. X was their audience but she was more concerned with catching a little freedom out in the sun, and watching the boys act like boys, delighting in their play.


Lunch time arrived and it was Ms. X and the short woman off to the cafeteria/auditorium with all eight boys. The place was full of bobbing brightly clad children, a deafening roar reverberated in the cavernous structure with no place to go. Ms. X could feel the waves of nauseating turbulence wash through her body. It dwarfed her small charges and constricted them so tightly they became quiet and docile. They sat like lambs at their table, round frightened eyes darting nervously. The tall woman suddenly appeared with stacks of foam trays filled with food. These were set out and the ladies went about unwrapping things and opening cartons of chocolate milk. One boy had a lunchbox which he opened. Ms. X saw that it held a bulging bag of chips and a can of soda.


In just a few minutes the round boy had managed to finish all his food, but there were pools of bright orange liquid in the foam partitions of his plate. Ms. X was sitting next to him, watching with interest as he began to suck it up with a straw. The short woman saw this from across the table and her face turned ugly and she raced around and yanked the straw from his hands. As she trailed off, the round boy stared at the foam plate for a few seconds and then tried to scoop the liquid up with his fingers. When this did not work he lifted the plate level with his face and deftly drank it from one corner.


It could not have gotten any louder in that place, at least Ms. X thought, but she noticed a change in the timber and then a squall unleashed it’s fury rising from below, bouncing off the ceiling, and descending on the masses like a tornado. Ms. X turned and saw the stage with its heavy blue curtains drawn to a close, but for two life sized card board figures poking out at the audience. They were a couple from the new and popular movie musical “Gradeschool”. The frenzy continued as an adult, lurking behind the curtains, would switch them with other characters from the production. The noise went through her like a roller coaster ride and Ms. X began to feel woozy. The boys started howling and screaming too. It went on for a disturbing several minutes until one of the teachers hopped on stage and disappeared behind the curtain. The figures were removed. When she emerged, she faced the audience and gave a shrug and pout as if to say, “I wonder what happened to your fun?”


Back in the classroom it was time for more flash cards and treats. It was not so easy this time – Ms. X thought they were probably too full – but the round boy was trying anything to get more chips and this did not include giving correct answers.


It was time for health class. The higher functioning boys would join normal children for a session with a young man who would impart knowledge about health. Ms. X was allowed a half hour break. She found the closest exit and emerged into the warming sun. She walked to her car and reclined on the seat for a little nap.


Once back on the job, the tall woman asked Ms. X to pick the boys up from health class. A mass of children surrounded the young man in the hall. He was clearly a hero, hansome, fit, and strong. The boys ran to Ms. X as soon as they saw her. They carried sheets with dancing skeletons, which they had colored. She began to praise their artwork when the man called out to her that they were very well behaved. Ms. X called back, “Thank you!”


Back in the class room the sub was refreshed but not too keen on the closing hours of this Especially Special Education. The two women helpers were clearly spent. They laid out sugary drinks and the same greasy snacks for the boys plus apple slices perfectly preserved in cellophane bags. Ms. X marveled at their fresh appearance. The puppet characters were projected on the screen and the same song began to play over and over. The boys settled in for a few minutes with their snacks and song, but that was all. They were not buying it this time and they began to mill about the room, not exactly hurting anyone or anything. However, it was imperative that they be shoved back into their seats lest they get a taste of aimless liberty. This went on for a while but then as if cast with a spell, the short woman took a seat, dumbstruck, watching them but not really seeing them. The tall woman was responsible for writing all the details of their behavior for the day into spirals. She sat scribbling feverishly, sometimes asking the short woman for ideas.


Ms. X decided to take the lead. She was prone to smiling at times, just to get the emotional boost from the physical act. So she smiled as she coaxed the boys back to their seats but things were beginning to climax and the boys started to rebel. The red haired boy was about to bite the sub when he suddenly noticed that she was not one of the regulars. He looked up at her surprised as she rubbed his back. The boy who could not speak started to pinch her with his sharp nails until she rubbed his arm and soothed him. Ms. X smiled at the round boy, telling him to stop taking the other boys’ treats, especially from the red haired boy who might start a fight.


“You shouldn’t laugh at him,” scorned the short woman. Ms. X felt anger towards the little hussy but ignored her and went about her task totally seduced by the future, when she would be free.


“You probably won’t want to do this class again, it must have been the worst for you,” said the tall woman to Ms. X when she finally finished her paperwork.
“No, it’s the same. It’s the same as an eighth grade math class. This was a good day for me.”


The woman looked puzzled but there was no time for explanations as they both started picking up the room in between their pointless discipline of the treat-drugged kids. But Ms. X had already decided not to leave her sub identification number or any kind of note. She was sure that the two women had forgotten her name as they never said it once. It was better left unsaid. She did not want to come back even though she felt that she knew each boy now, as it seemed a whole year had been condensed into a six and a half hour day for her. The boys had made her very sad, very happy, very frustrated, but not angry. She was free.


And then she realized that whatever it was that she wanted so deeply, to be this earth woman of the woods, wise healer, respected elder -- a woman able to alter the illusion that she and her fellow travelers were all trapped in -- it was all true. As if living in two worlds, she was all of these things, and none of them at the same time. It made a very quiet path, nothing at all what she had imagined. Nothing at all like the wife and the Guru with their renown and wealth. It was what she was, and would be. She had at this very moment realized this truth, a truth only in some oblique dimension that no one else could see and even she saw it blurry, through the narrow lens of her loneliness.








© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved