I was warned to expect chaos. We stood just outside as she told me that few returned alive and even fewer came back coherent. I said I wasn’t afraid, and she didn’t even bother to stifle her laughter. Nonetheless, I entered fearlessly. Intense eyes watched me with curiosity I could feel. I walked in front of them and stared right back. My master’s first lesson: Assume your life is in danger at all times.
Without turning, I wrote my name on the chalkboard behind me. “My name is Mr. Lipsplitter,” I said while writing. “I’ll be your substitute instructor for Transnational History.” I glanced down to put back the chalk. In the instant it took to look up again, all thirty students had disappeared from their seats.
Substitute Educational Warfare wasn’t my dream career. I’d visited the pavilion to learn something impressive and to convince my wife to let me move back in after numerous failed apprenticeships. As I wandered the length, a shabby gray tent with an old man dozing outside kept catching my attention. After a dozen passes, I finally went over to him.
“Your sign promises unheard-of wealth. That true?”
“Sure,” he said without moving. “Never heard of anyone getting wealthy this way.”
One down payment and six weekly sessions later, I was indeed poorer, and my wife had changed the locks. So I had taken my practice mat down the road in search of every village with a sick instructor and untamed children.
Looking above the empty desks, I could see each student floating silently under the ceiling, breath held and muscles rigid. Their voices exploded as they descended, wide arms revealing tomes, wands, and sizzling magic. I wasn’t worried. My master’s second lesson: Everything is a weapon.
I flipped the yardstick hanging beneath the chalkboard into my hands just as the students pounced. Swinging the stick up into the spine of one student’s tome, I closed the book on his nose, while taking the feet from under a husky girl wreathed in blue electricity with the other end of the yardstick.
Every skill I’d learned so far became necessary against the blur of neon magic and unearthly spells. The yardstick survived nine more students, sending the last flying between rows of desks as his fireball charred the stick brittle and black. I went to my knees, avoiding a torrent of icicles ringing against the chalkboard, and was showered with cold droplets. One of the students’ tomes had tumbled to the floor. I sent it flying, and the book snapped a pair of wands before crashing through the window.
I rolled to avoid ghostly green roots shooting up through the floorboards, blocked jabs from enchanted fingers and kicks from school-issue boots. Reaching the door, I pulled myself up by the handle as a wide-eyed girl charged, with orange light streaming out of her fists. Snatching a feather pen from the nearest desk, I wrote a careful, precise “F” between her eyes. She stopped to rub her forehead, long enough that I yanked the desk up underneath her, kicking it back into place with her sitting.
Four boys ran at me in a single line. I wrapped my arms around them and tossed the wriggling bunch all the way into the last row of seats. The students groaning on the floor I picked up and deposited into chairs, sprinting to avoid bolts of lightning that cooked the air as they passed.
From the back of the room, I was relieved to see all but one seat occupied by students gasping for air and rubbing sore limbs. On the instructor’s desk sat a boy I assumed to be the ringleader, slightly shorter than the others but undoubtedly powerful. I could sense the magic crackling beneath his skin.
This was my turn to charge, darting between desks as he casually flicked a storm of indescribable colors and shifting shapes. Just as I cleared the front row of seats, one of his spells made a nest in my chest and sent me skidding forward on my face. I made no effort to stop, but slid underneath the instructor’s desk. The ringleader looked down at me, smiling. I turner over, smiled back, and heaved the entire desk into the air, ignoring the protests roaring from my blackened chest.
He brushed the ceiling and landed gracefully, only to stumble out of the way a moment later as the desk came down in a splintering storm. Taking advantage of his surprise, I clamped my hand on his arm and guided him to a seat in the first row, just as the headmistress stepped inside.
“Are you doing well so far, Mr. Lipsplitter?”
The question didn’t seem to require an answer, considering she could see the obliterated desk, shattered window, dripping floor, and singed walls. With a final look at the quiet array of rumpled students, she shrugged and left. I patted the ringleader on the head, brushed the char off my tunic, and made every effort not to limp as I walked back to the chalkboard.
“All right, students. I have the lesson your instructor left you to complete. Let’s begin.”
Previously published in Fabula Argentea’s first issue, Sam Barnhart lives and writes beneath a merciless Atlantic sun. He extends an apology to all the substitute teachers whose jobs were made difficult by his attempts to magically disintegrate them.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH Every Day Is a War:
Holy Harry Potter, Batman! This delightful piece reminded us how much we loved the classroom antics of the Harry Potter books and movies. Nostaglia and flash fiction at their best.