Title: GIRLS! Post Your Selfies Here!
Copyright 2017 JACKTHEAUTHOR
The most difficult day a classroom teacher can face is the Day of the Empty Desk. Once upon a time a student took ownership of that desk. A student whose future beckoned greatness. A student teachers looked at and thought ‘Leader’, ‘Harvard’, ‘Success’. A student well-liked by adults, peers, and cliques.
And then in the middle of the night the principal sends a text to his staff.
‘Kylie Brenner has gone missing. We will have an emergency staff meeting in the morning. Afterwards, counselors will meet with Kylie’s six teachers.’
Carol Clifford knew what that meant. Kylie Brenner was in her first hour.
Day of the Empty Desk.
It had happened early on in Carol’s career once before. First year she taught. Four senior boys on the varsity baseball team in a horrible accident. She had one of the boys in her second period class. The students arrived. They filled in their seats until the desk assigned to the boy was left empty.
It’s impossible not to look at the empty desk. More attention is directed at the empty desk than if the student who occupied it was sitting there.
Carol rolled over in bed and pushed all of her lesson plans to the back of her thoughts. For the next few days, she would be the Nurturer.
The next morning she joined her colleagues in a space once called the Electronic Communication Center. ECC for short. The room dreamed up by an educational think tank promoting ‘distance learning’. Off-planet students could interact with those on-planet. Drop fifty to sixty students into a dimly lit room with a cinema sized screen to watch college lectures or minor surgeries or interviews.
Good plan, billionaire guru. It was just a larger version of what they did with the screens essentially embedded in their palms.
Carol sat with people from her department. Their principal introduced them to a stern looking man named Arno Mack, a detective.
“Good morning,” Detective Mack said. “More like ‘tough morning’. Late last night the parents of Kylie Brenner were awakened by what they thought was a lightning strike on their yurt. They said there was an earthshaking boom and bright, blinding light outside their windows.”
A woman notorious for interrupting speakers lived up to her reputation. “I’m no scientist, but doesn’t the flash of light come before the thunder?”
“We’re not taking questions, Katherine,” the principal said.
“The Brenners felt something was not in sync. All of their alarms were going off. Appliances began operating. Entertainment systems blared. They went to the connected yurt to get their children out of the house. That was when they discovered Kylie was missing.”
Detective Mack pushed a button on the display screen on the lectern. The video screen lit up. They stared at the title page of an app called PoutFace. Coral pink background with a lavender Emoji style face of a pouting girl.
“The Brenners found their daughter’s phone on her bed with this app loaded on it. We believed it is linked to a sudden spat of other missing person cases around the country.”
Kylie’s face appeared on the screen. It shrunk as selfie after selfie of other girls slid across in row after row filling the screen.
“Can’t the Department of Inappropriate Digital Conduct shut it down?”
The principal reminded Katherine to hold all questions until the end.
“Girls sixteen to twenty-two are encouraged to solve complex math problems. For every hundred points they earn, they get to post a picture of themselves.”
“Who sees these pictures?”
“Katherine, please see me in my office at the conclusion of this meeting.” The principal’s face reddened.
Detective Mack continued. “The app is sponsored by Galaxy JX. The aforementioned DIG-C is investigating the developer on that end of the case. Now I think we all know the kids are much more techs savvy than a good many of us in this room. Most of us grew up using phones that came with iOS1270 installed.”
Many in the room laughed and nudged one another.
The principal held up his hand for order. “Keep your ears open. Let us know if the kids say anything about PoutFace.”
The principal quickly interjected. “Please don’t start asking your classes all at once. Also, remember district protocol is to not speak to the press.”
“Yeah, Katherine,” one of the coaches said.
Carol talked quietly with her emotional department members. The woman always took it harder than their male counterparts. The first bell of the morning rang. Conditioned to the cue, everyone filed out of the ECC.
Carol found a few students outside her door. Some were on their phones catching monsters or texting. Two girls talked quietly. They stopped as Carol approached. She offered a comforting smile to the girls.
“Miss Clifford,” one of the girls said.
“Yes, Ashley?” She unlocked the door then turned to the girl ready to comfort her.
“Antigone’s act of civil disobedience is similar to what football players do during the national anthem, right?”
Blindsided by the question, Carol thought about it. “Well, civil disobedience is usually in response to an unjust law.”
“But it is a form of protest.”
“And they’re protesting against the government, right?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Ashley turned to the other girl. “Told you.”
“They are protesting against an unjust law, Ash.”
“No, Selena. They’re protesting against an unjust system.”
The two girls went into the room.
Grief could be a tricky beast to snare. Of course, there was no indication Kylie Brenner was dead. It hadn’t even been twenty-four hours since she went missing. Why was it called that? What happened to ‘disappeared’?
Carol went to her desk. Students filed in and took theirs. They began to fill up with laughing, spirited students. Three desks remained empty after the Start Bell. They belonged to Kylie Brenner, perpetually absent Sarah Middleton, and perpetually tardy Gianni Guido. Carol finished taking attendance. She looked up from her computer at a chatty class. She was just about to call for their attention when someone knocked at the door. Carol crossed the room and opened it. Gianni Guido stood outside her room.
“I swear I was here on time but…”
Gianni turned his head and sneezed. “About my allergies? My eyes swelled up from all the mold in this school. Principal Landon wrote me a pass.” He handed it to Carol.
“Your eyes are pretty red,” Carol said. “You sure it’s from mold?”
“What are you asking me, Miss Clifford? I’m drug free. I took the pledge.”
The class laughed.
“No. Sorry. I thought maybe you were upset about—” She stopped. The class was staring at them. No one noticed Kylie Brenner’s empty desk.
“Being on time,” Carol said. “It ruins your almost perfect streak of being tardy.”
She led the class in an impromptu discussion on civil disobedience and assigned a Quick Write journal entry. The discussion never turned to Kylie Brenner and no one wrote about her in their responses.
By lunch the mood of the morning dissipated. Even the teachers had stopped talking about Kylie Jenner.
“Hey, where’s Lila?” Carol asked the people she routinely ate lunch with in the lounge.
Katherine bit into her sandwich. “Sometimes she eats in the math office. Did you need her for something?”
“I wanted to ask her how her coffee date went with that guy she met.”
“I didn’t hear.”
Another teacher cut in on the conversation. “I want to know what Landon said to you.”
Katherine laughed. She and the other woman broke off into their own conversation. Carol quietly got up and left the lounge.
The math office was on the second floor. Carol took the stairs and turned the corner almost stepping on a cellphone. She picked it up. The screen lit up.
The math office door swung open. Lila Hobbs stared at her. Then her eyes widened.
“Is that my phone?” Lila asked. She patted the pockets of her jacket.
Carol held it out. The screen flashed. A single word appeared.
A thunderous explosion rocked the second floor. Lila Hobbs flew backwards into the wall. Carol felt herself fly up into the air. She went through the ceiling. Through the sky. Through something not quite the stratosphere or space. She went through time. When she stopped she was at the top of a ramp of a vast arena. Below her were hundreds of thousands of young women. They were all wired to egg like machines.
A three fingered hand took hold of hers. She looked down at a short humanoid with an egg shaped head. It looked at her with egg shaped eyes. Although it had no mouth, she heard it say one word.
Her head filled with the innocuous thoughts of new adults.
‘OMG! This place smells like a pig pen!’
‘I knew this guy. He was totes cute.’
‘I so need a pumpkin spice latte.’
The humanoid’s voice returned to Carol’s head. ‘Our people had hoped to make contact with your planet. Through monitoring we discovered the female of this age group had a propensity for performing high level calculations which led us to believe they ruled your world.’
“Some think they do.” Carol’s voice echoed through the arena. All the voices silenced. Then, from deep in the sea of lost girls came a single voice.
Carol put a hand over her brow to shield her eyes. Kylie Brenner pulled away from the egg shaped pod which seemed to sigh in a grateful manner. Kylie came up the ramp.
“OMG Miss C! How did you get here?”
The humanoid said the equivalent of ‘excuse me’ in its native tongue. Carol turned to it.
‘You want me to take them home.’
Carol used her teacher voice.
“Ladies. Disconnect immediately and form two lines up this ramp. We’re going home. Some of you will be making a stop in our home town but at least your families will know you’re safe.”
The egg shaped pods turned out to be other small humanoids. They huddled in the center of the arena exchanging horror stories in their own language. Carol thought some laughed. The noise in her head ceased when the humanoid released her hand. It walked her to an egg shaped window. Its three fingers swept over a series of egg shaped lights.
“Ladies,” Carol began. “You have been given a great opportunity. When you return–”
She had wanted to tell them not to waste what they learned from the humanoids but it was lost in their sudden vaporization.
By the time they returned to the school, all any of them wanted was a pumpkin spice latte and their phones.