The School on the Fens (23)

By: Robert Waldron
July 13, 2013


HILOBROW is proud to present the twenty-third installment of Robert Waldron’s novel The School on the Fens. New installments will appear each Saturday for thirty-eight weeks. CLICK HERE to read all installments published thus far.



The day before our scheduled Professional Day another Badger letter appeared in our mailboxes as well as in teachers’ lounges, warning the faculty to steer clear of the Nexus Program, labeling it as a ruse for union busting and watering down the school’s standards.

Farrell went nuts when he found the letter lying on his desk; such infiltration was baffling because his secretary Mary was a Cerberus if there ever was one.

The next day the kids were dismissed at eleven, and we remained for our usual department meetings. Mary’s voice came over the PA system to announce that all teachers were to report to the auditorium for a general meeting at eleven-thirty sharp.

In the teachers’ room, unwrapping his breakfast bagel, Ed said, “I talked with Tim about his story.”

I looked up from reading Melville.

“It was a story based on fact,” Ed said.

“What facts in particular?” I asked.

“Tim is gay and the boy was his friend.”

“Are you surprised?”


“He say anything else?”

“Is there more?”

I shook my head. Tim had obviously not related his sexual encounter with Farrell. I was pleased that Ed was matter-of-fact about Tim’s sexuality, a non-judgmental attitude that confirmed my respect for him.

“He’s obsessed with Ivy League. I fear if he’s not admitted, he might harm himself.”

“Ed, let’s both of us keep a close eye on him.”

He nodded and picked up Badger’s letter, reading it when Maria and Jim walked in. Looking up, Ed said, “Who’s this Badger?”

“It’s the best-kept secret in school,” Maria replied.

“Farrell thinks it’s one of us,” Jim said. “That’s a laugh!”

I had often thought, however, that Maria might be the Badger. She was rational, cool and clever and understood the mire of Farrell’s mind better than anyone else. She once remarked that the best way to drive a tyrant crazy was to shoot from the bushes — which was exactly Badger’s modus operandi.

The auditorium was dark except for a dim light from the newly installed wall sconces. Farrell and his administrative staff stood huddled at the front of the hall. The Twins lugged the podium down from the stage to place it in the middle aisle.

Incoming teachers sat at the back of the hall as far away from Farrell as possible, but Farrell angrily waved them to move forward, and they quickly moved up front. He was flipping keys in and out of the palm of his right hand. Maria arched her brow as if to say this meeting might prove very interesting. Ed saw our exchange, “He’s on the warpath, isn’t he?” I nodded and warned him that sitting with us would not advance his career at Classical.

“But you’re my friends,” he said, as if I had spoken heresy. Maria and Jim smiled approvingly.

At a signal from Farrell, his administrative staff of three assistant headmasters and nine heads of department disbanded (Maria referred to them as Rell’s gang) and sat in the front row. The Twins knew their place and sat in the second row. Farrell thumped the microphone several times before speaking,

“I said to be here at eleven-thirty,” he said, glaring at the stragglers rushing to their seats. After everyone was seated, he continued, “I’ve completed our first preliminary meeting with the New England Accreditation Board who are evaluating our school next year. As you know, it’s been ten years since our last accreditation. They’ll examine and evaluate every aspect of our school, from budgeting to academic standards.

“I want the process to go as smoothly as possible and will soon announce the names of the members of our steering committee to be comprised of eleven faculty members. Every member of the faculty will choose the sub-committee he or she wishes to work on. Forms will be placed in your boxes tomorrow, and they should be completed and passed in to your head of department the following day.

“I foresee no problems with our accreditation. Although one Boston high school has recently lost its accreditation, we’re not in jeopardy. I’ve devoted the last ten years to maintaining our excellent standards, and I can confidently say that Classical is still America’s first and best secondary school.”

There was applause from certain quarters of the hall, especially from the front rows.

“But something greatly disturbs me.” He raised a piece of paper. “This letter from the so-called Badger.” There was some snickering.

“I’m not amused! Such adolescent behavior is unbecoming for a professional staff. It’s aimed at hurting people, and I’ll not allow it! We’re here to educate the children of Boston, and nonsense like this letter won’t be tolerated.”

There was some nervous shuffling of feet and clearing of throats.

“If these letters don’t stop, I’ll launch my own investigation, and when I find out who’s behind it, I’ll recommend termination.” There was scattered applause.

Ed whispered, “This is incredible.” He didn’t realize that the hall’s excellent acoustics allowed most of the assembly to hear him, including Farrell.

“You have something to say, Mr. Horgan?”

Without hesitating Ed stood up, “Yes, I said I find this unacceptable.”

“What exactly do you find unacceptable?” Farrell said.

“Your verbal abuse of this faculty.”

People gasped.

“Sit down, Mr. Horgan. Seems you’ve lost control of yourself.”

“I’m in complete control of myself.”

I pulled his sleeve to sit him down, but I was proud of him. Maria leaned over and squeezed Ed’s hand.

“You’re new to Classical and you have a lot to learn about how to conduct yourself. You may sit down.”

“I know how to conduct myself,” Ed said. “I treat all people with dignity and respect and quite frankly I don’t see much of that around here.”

Stunned silence.

Ed sat down, and Farrell attempted to resume the meeting, but he was so furious that Murkin had to take over.

Later, in the teachers’ room, Ed was greeted like a hero. Norma embraced him, “Darling, you were wonderful! Of course, you know you mightn’t have a job next year.”

“I knew it when I stood up,” Ed said, “but I’m glad I did it.”

“Me too,” Jim said, patting Ed on the shoulder. “Someone shouted, ‘Where are the strawberries’?”

The allusion meant nothing to Ed so Maria summarized The Caine Mutiny.

I had thought Farrell might mention Nexus at the meeting, only later to learn that he had already planned a special presentation for the faculty sometime after the Christmas break.

I had to figure out my own strategy — and soon.


Stay tuned!

ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”