I knew what they were up to. That’s why I came prepared. All the other teachers – my so called colleagues – had given up the effort of trying to punish and redeem the two worst behaved students of the senior year. For the entire duration of their high school career, let alone the last semester, Alex and Eddie have been disgusting examples of what it means to be a student at Green Willow High. In my class alone, they regularly turn up late, hurl abuse directed at my face, my mother and my wife – who according to them must now be a seasoned lesbian – throw spitballs in class and deface my whiteboard with crudely drawn reproductive organs; all acts carried out regularly. Unfortunately for me, their above average grades have always kept the two out of severe trouble. To say I detest them, is an understatement. Which is why I took it upon myself to catch them in the act of what could be their greatest defilement yet.

The night was that before Senior Graduation. An event stemmed with gladness and jubilation, was set to be ruined by inane pranks planned by the two idiots. I’d received a tip off from one of their classmates (whether the individual was bribed is neither here, nor there) that they were orchestrating a disaster so devastating, it would certainly bring shame upon the entire school. In my good sense, I couldn’t allow it to happen. So I willingly decided to spend the night at the school to prevent any misdemeanours and apprehend the two would-be criminals. However, the night didn’t go exactly as planned.

For any of us.

***

I checked the time on my dashboard: 7pm exactly. Like I said, I had come prepared. Cluttered across my car were a pair of binoculars, a flashlight, notebook, 3 pens, my iPhone and a GoPro borrowed from my neighbour’s daughter. This was my final opportunity to catch these two miscreants and have them punished for good. The other teachers saw my efforts as futile and spiteful. And they were right. Even if I did catch the two of them, there weren’t enough days left in the semester to deliver an effective punishment. Even so, to see them miss graduation would have made up for the years of torment.

A sound caused me to lift my gaze upwards. It was the janitor knocking on my window. He was dangling some keys in front of his face. I let down my side window and he gave me the keys. We shared a nod of acknowledgement. He was the only other one who believed in my cause. At least so I thought, until he asked me whether I’d not rather go home and see my wife. His quip surprised me. Being the janitor, it had been his sole responsibility for the past eight years to clean up every mess made by Alex and Eddie. That alone most likely sufficed for half of his work hours. And the mess usually, ‘stuck’. I thought he wanted to see justice dealt. I was wrong. Exactly as I had originally thought, I was alone in this pursuit. Well then, so be it, I thought to myself. I rolled my window up as fast as the muscles in my arm could allow. The janitor just stared at me shaking his head. No sooner, did he then leave me to it.

It only took 30 minutes for me to realise that being left alone in a car, with the impending nighttime darkness surrounding you, is quite terrifying. So, slightly earlier than I had planned, I made my way into the school. I had never actually been inside the school past 7pm before. This was an entirely new experience. It felt like an entirely new place. The familiar halls filled with laughter and gossip, were silent. The sun-soaked bleachers stocked up with bodies, were empty. The computer rooms lighting up the walls with pixels and light, were dim and lifeless. It was like an illusion. The school didn’t feel like school at all. It felt and appeared like a vessel, waiting to be filled. It dawned on me that I was just simply inside walls and doors; not a place of education.

***

I had set up camp in my classroom. I teach English at Green Willow High. Words have been a passion of mine ever since I’d learned how to read. Something about books and how they transport you into someone else’s world fascinates me. So I decided to devote my life to teaching others my passion. I take my job very seriously, which is why I cannot tolerate misbehaving, which is why I had such a prevalent issue with Alex and Eddie. Alas, it appeared I had chosen a good night to instigate their high school demise. I heard a sound of laughter coming from not too far away from my class. It was definitely them. The laugh possessed a stupidity and simple-mindedness about it. Much like how Alex and Eddie are both stupid and simple minded.

I did think to myself, What am I doing here; is this really how a 48 year old man should be spending his evening? To be honest, I was partly driven by curiosity. Alex and Eddie’s proposed plan of destruction was so diabolical and complex, I wanted to see if they actually had the smarts to even begin to pull it off. It was an extortionate, extravagant total waste of human resources and time. Like I said, such a scheme would bring shame upon the school. So I just had to catch them.

Upon hearing the laughter again, my heart began to race. I had a two-step plan for catching them in their shameful acts. First, I would record some footage of the delinquents in action on the GoPro, then confront them about it. I grabbed the GoPro in my hand and silently made way for the door. I was careful whilst opening and closing it to ensure not a sound could be heard. This was quickly getting intense. Years spent watching Murder, She Wrote could not have prepared me for my own tale of suspense.

But, the sound of their laughter became fainter with every step I took. Initially, I’d thought the pair were situated next to a set of lockers one right down from my class, way down the other side of the hall. As I peaked round the corner, I heard the laughter start up again. I jolted my body back behind the wall so as to avoid detection. But then I realised, the laughter that was sounding was too familiar. It sounded exactly like the laughs I’d heard one minute previously. I waited for another minute and sure enough, the laughs died down then started up again. Somewhat annoyed, I made way for the set of lockers and discovered a cheap Bluetooth speaker stuck to a locker with tape. Underneath this, laid a picture of myself sitting at my desk in my classroom with the clock in the background circled twice in red. The time shown was 8.14pm. It was 8.17. They were showing off. Within me, a beast awakened from its long and patient slumber and let out a ringing roar. Sanity and dignity left me in a moment. My countenance appeared akin to a wild animal failing to catch its prey.

I took multiple breaths to calm myself, snapped a picture of the picture on the GoPro and began to make way for my classroom. However, when I turned around, my gaze was met with a shadowed, hunched figure. Floodlights from outside casted a darkness around the figure so I couldn’t quite make out what it was. It remained standing there for some time. I was perplexed as to why it didn’t speak or move. It just was. I was more dazed by it, than it was by me. Then it dawned on me. The thing 30 feet in front of me was not human. What gave it away – the number of legs: four. The mane around its neck: full-bodied and wild. And the roar which followed: full of depth and full of volume. There was no doubt in my mind then. In front of me stood a lion. And no sooner did it roar, did it start to charge towards me.

My legs couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. The lion had none of these issues. It continued to race towards my flesh and bone, roaring and gasping as it did so. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, as the beast took a pounce, my body hurtled itself towards the ground. As my frame dove, I felt the warmth of the lion’s breath scrape across my forehead. It tossed into a heap, sliding manically for another 20 feet before hitting a set of closed doors. Immediately, I shot up, leaving the GoPro and started to run. I wanted to run straight for the exit in front of me, but I knew the lion would catch up before I could make it. So I made a sharp turn left back towards my classroom. I could hear the thundering of a 350lb predator chasing after me. Now my heart was really beating. This was the most exercise I had ever done in my life: to run away from a lion.

“OVER HERE!” Shouted Alex.

I recognised the voice. He was standing not too far away in front of me, holding open one door to the gymnasium. His chest was puffing, his face looked terrified; much like my chest and my face. Eddie was in the background waving his hands in his general direction. Spotted fools. I turned my head around once more to see the lion, unrelenting in its pursuit. This was obviously somehow all their fault. I continued to run, unrelenting in my efforts to escape death. As I stepped foot in the gym, Alex and Eddie took hold of the open door and slammed it shut. Moments later, the lion slammed its body into the doors, almost forcing them open. Alex only has a feeble frame – very bony and very skinny – so he was almost flung from the door. It was Eddie with his fuller, heavier body that saved us. The two unwavering in idiocy idiots, motioned their necks towards a set of beams right next to me. I grabbed them and together we slid them through the door handles. Given the weight and pressure being exerted on those beams by the beast outside, we had only bought ourselves seconds. Alex and Eddie grabbed their bags and started running towards another exit on the other side of the gym. I followed, past the bleachers, noting the moon in its full light through the wide windows. Once we reached the other side, we heard a shatter of glass and wood. The lion had made its way through. Hurriedly, we ran through the exit, down the back entrance of the gym and into the changing rooms. We remained cowered in a corner for a little while. The lion was nowhere to be seen or heard.

I focussed my gaze on Alex and Eddie. To be honest, I was horrified that two of my students would go to such an extent to wreak such a havoc on my evening. I know that we engage in the occasional hilarity and banter at my expense, but this was too much. This was grounds for murder. The anger that had found me, could not be quenched.

Then Eddie started to speak.

“I don’t know why you’re staring at us man, this wasn’t our fault. We don’t know where that thing came from!” He wiped off some sweat from his protruding cheeks.

I restrained my intent to repeatedly strike my students and let out a muffled yet audible groan.

“Did we not just save you from the thing?” questioned Alex. “I mean, what the hell, do you really think we’d try to kill you? And with a freaking lion… I mean, we were in the gym, I heard a roar, then saw you running, so opened the door. I could’ve just let you die man, but I didn’t.” He swept his jet black hair away from his eyes.

“Well, how kind of you!”

I was boiling with a vile rage, however, their statements did leave me curious. The plans that I had been informed on about their proposed vandalism of the school did not mention any wild animals. Then I remembered the look of terror on Alex’s face when he held the door open for me at the gym. You just can’t make that up. In all my years of teaching, one thing I’ve developed is a knack for knowing when my students are telling the truth. Much to my surprise, that evening, I concluded that I was being told the truth.

“Okay then, I believe you.”
“Just like that?” asked Eddie.
“Well, the circumstances are extraordinary. Besides, I don’t think between the two of you, that you possess the brain power to pull something like this off, at least, not without killing yourselves also.”

They laughed. I subtly let out a muffled chuckle.

“Dude, lighten up! Why you gotta be so uptight all the time?” said Eddie.

It’s true. I was uptight. Both reasons were sitting either side of me.

“Okay then, let me ask you a question. Why do you constantly misbehave in my class?”
“Because you’re so tightly wound, it’s funny to see you crack!”

Well, that settled that age-long query. After that no-one really said anything for a while. It was a combination of the marauding animal warranting our silence, and the tangible awkwardness of the situation. I was happy with the silence, but Alex decided to speak.

“So, how’s the wife?”
“Not a lesbian,” I replied.

They laughed. This time, I felt more inclined to join in with their laughter. Perhaps that’s what prompted Alex’s response.

“Mr Michaels with the jokes! … Sorry about all that by the way.” Eddie nodded in agreement. This was the first time I had been addressed by either of them by name.

“Apology accepted.” I held out my hand for them to shake, but Eddie refused, saying,

“Nah, like this.” And put his hand in front of him in the shape of a fist. I proceeded to grab the fist with my palm and shake it, vigorously.

“Close enough.”
“What are we gonna do about this lion?” asked Alex. “Like, how are we gonna get out of this alive?”

I asked them how they were able to enter the school in the first place. Much like me, the janitor was involved, except their situation included financial bribery. Both sets of keys given to us were however, useless, as they only worked on the entrance doors which were now the farthest away from us. Contacting anyone outside the school was also not an option. The entire grounds are a known black spot, so no calls or texts could be received or made. There was only one place – the science block – which had a strong enough signal in the whole school. Even then, it was a bit of a stretch.

(This was the first time I had regretted the fact that the windows in our school were designed so that when opened, a body could not slip through, even on the ground floor. The quality of teaching has never warranted such drastic measures anyway.)

“The science block,” I suggested after a while. “From there we can make a phone call to the local authorities.”
“It probably escaped from the zoo. We should call them too,” added Eddie.

Quickly, we got up on our feet. A plan was in action. We scoured the changing room for anything we could use to defend ourselves. Eddie spotted two baseball bats propped against a wall. It was all we could find.

“I’ll take one, Mr Michaels you take the other.”
I stared at it, not knowing exactly how a few inches of wood would successfully defend us against a 350lb lion.
“Come on, it’s all we got!” he said. He held out the bat in his hands urging me to take hold of it. I grabbed it and starting swinging enthusiastically.

Alex was already by the door. He opened it cautiously and motioned us to follow him. By now there was barely any light amidst our surroundings. It was unnerving knowing that if we bumped into something in the dark, it could potentially destroy us all.

“Does anyone even know the way?” Alex whispered, as we shuffled along.

There was silence. The darkness causing us to lose our bearings.

“This is literally the worst night of my life.”
“This is karma,” I said, instantly regretting it.
“Karma? Karma? Jheez, dude, we never tried to kill you at least! Remember that!”
“Shut. Up,” said Eddie. “I don’t want this to be last thing I hear before I get eaten.”
“No-one is gonna get eaten man. Don’t worry we’ll get out of this.”

We continued shuffling in the darkness. Naturally, we had adopted a stance whereby one of us was looking out from each corner, with all our backs against each other. Eddie was out looking forwards, whilst myself and Alex took a side each at the back. Alex had grabbed a fire extinguisher from one of the hallways. But with his skinny, bony frame, I wondered if he could actually use it effectively.

It wasn’t long into our death mission when I started to hear some strange mumblings. I was startled initially, but these noises were quiet and faint, so I knew it wasn’t the lion. It was Eddie, he was whispering something under his breath.

“Eddie, are you alright?” I asked.
He continued mumbling.
“Eddie.”
More babbling.
Eddie!” Alex almost shouted.
“What!? I’m praying to God.” Alex seemed taken aback.
“Dude, I didn’t know you were religious.”
“Well, I thought now would be a pretty good time to start.”

Alex nudged me in the elbow and made eyes over at Eddie. We shared a laugh.

“Well, you’ve got a lot of time to make up for!” I added.
“Mr Michaels, again with the jokes!” Alex said, putting his fist for me to bump. Again, I grabbed the fist and shook it, vigorously.
“I’m gonna rock with that,” he said, smirking.

We didn’t hear a response from Eddie. In fact, we didn’t hear anything from him. No whispers, no comebacks. Then he came to an abrupt stop. Myself and Alex bumped into him, causing us to lose our group stance. We turned round and discovered the reason for Eddie’s silence. Then we too, fell silent.

Behind the set of locked doors in front of us, stood again, the lion. Except this time, it looked more ravenous. The moon beaming in its light through the windows behind, subtly lit up patches of red around its mouth. Something or someone had been torn apart by this beast. Clearly, this hadn’t satisfied its appetite, as the lion now looked steadily at myself and the boys. There was a distance of around 30 feet between us and the jaws of death.

“Do we know if anyone else was here?” I asked. But my question got no response. Alex and Eddie stood motionless, speechless, right in the middle of the hallway. The lion could see that we were not going to be much of a fight, so began its charge towards us. I had to think quickly. I decided running away wasn’t going to be an option again; we were too lucky the first time. The only thing I could think to do was sacrifice myself for the sake of my students. I refused to let one of them do the same for me. They didn’t look like they were about to anyway.

So I pushed the boys out of the way, grabbing the fire extinguisher out of Alex’s hands as I did so. They remained in shock against a set of lockers. It didn’t take long for the lion to reach the door. And once it had, much to my surprise, I discovered it wasn’t locked at all. Only shut. The lion broke through the door with such power and strength, it broke and was left partially open. The beast was startled for a while, the blood around its mouth all the more visible. It sounded another roar, this one louder and fuller than the other. There was so much power in this shriek, small chunks of meat and saliva came flying out of its mouth, onto me. It was as if the lion had marked its next victim. But I would not embrace my death so easily. I swung the fire extinguisher towards the lion, actually causing it to pace a few steps backwards. However, in doing so, I had let go of the only defence I had.

“MR MICHAELS!” Eddie shouted as he threw his baseball bat in my direction. As I caught it, I felt the weight of the beast collapse on top of me. Its paws first clenching my shoulders, before the rest of it fell on my body. The lion took one more mighty roar before snapping its neck down towards my head.

Luckily, I had anticipated this. For a split second, between my living and my dying, miraculously, my right arm broke free from the lion’s paw’s clutch and placed inside its mouth, the baseball bat. My hand narrowly escaped its teeth. I knew I had only brought myself seconds at best, but that gave me enough time to yell,

“RUN! RUN! RUN!”

But they wouldn’t. Something about the horror of it all, glued the boys to their positions.

The baseball bat started to crack. Frays of wood came flying out of the lion’s mouth. My hand held on to what was left. But soon there wasn’t anything to hold on to. The lion, now for whatever reason somewhat weary, once again lifted its head for another roar – this one much tamer than the two before – but then, collapsed in a heap on top of me. My body escaping its teeth.

Almost immediately, I heard the running of footsteps. My head was being crushed by the lion so I couldn’t see anything that was going on.

“Quickly, help me move this off him!” said a woman’s voice.

I presumed it was the boys she was talking to. Next thing I know, some hands attempted to grab the underbelly of the beast and move it off me.

“Is he alive? Oh my goodness, sir?” said the woman again.

I muffled some noises as loud I could.

“Oh my gosh! Sir! You’re gonna have to try and shimmy out,” she said straining. I shimmied, the hardest and fastest that I could. My head was the first to escape, quickly followed by the rest of my body. Slowly, I staggered to my feet.

“AND HE STANDS!” shouted Alex, raising his fists in the air. “That was insane! You totally saved us!”
“Mr Michaels are you okay?” asked Eddie.

The woman started talking loudly into a walkie talkie. I can’t remember what she was saying. I noticed a long gun strapped to her back. She was wearing a polo shirt and cargo pants, branded with the name of the local nearby zoo. I assumed she had subdued the lion with sleeping darts, and just in time too. Once she stopped talking into her walkie talkie, she looked at me, bewildered. She had a smile on her face and was about to say something when the smile faded away. Her gaze had found my right shoulder, which conversely Eddie was also pointing to, covering his mouth. I looked down towards the shoulder and discovered a blood-ridden, clawed mess.

Then I passed out.

***

It turned out the lion did actually escape from the zoo. One of the staff had failed to ensure its enclosure was properly secure before closing for the night. CCTV captured the lion calmly walking out and then it followed the 4km road leading to the school. The zoo and the police weren’t entirely sure what led the cat to the school in particular. Someone joked it was curiosity. Seeing as I actually almost was killed, I didn’t find that particularly amusing. A small-scale investigation was held through the night and into the following morning, right before graduation. There wasn’t much to be discovered, apart from a large pile of refrigerated meat that had vanished from the canteen’s kitchen, explaining the blood around the lion’s mouth before we had our final encounter.

Unfortunately, due to my shoulder injuries, I missed the graduation as I was held in the hospital for observation. My wife and I live-streamed the event from my hospital bed. Much to my surprise Alex and Eddie were kind enough to pay me a visit afterwards. They presented some flowers and a box of chocolates as well as an oversized greeting card, reading ‘Get Well Soon!’ My wife, being allergic to almost every kind of flower and chocolate, whilst loathing greeting cards of all persuasions, hated everything. It’s safe to say she didn’t get on with Alex and Eddie. It was a little awkward.

I didn’t get on with them either. Until I learned that for whatever reason, I would risk my life to save theirs.