It Came Upon a Midnight Clear | A Short Story

Bruno_Piglhein_-_Star_of_Bethlehem.jpgMr. Schimizzi stacked the exams and the Scantron sheets into a neat pile and locked them in the drawer of his desk. The previous year, Laura Little had lost her job because she left exams on her desk for a minute or two, some student had stolen one, and every junior in the B day classes, with a few exceptions, had gotten 100% on the Midterm. The cheaters hadn’t been smart enough to get a few wrong, just for appearances’ sake. While Schimizzi hated the district-mandated midterms, based as they were on the absurd state-mandated Common Core tests, one had to play by the rules in this day of the curricular Thought Police in the state and federal Departments of Miseducation.

A girl, Krysten Kingsley, had lingered behind at her desk after the bell rang. She was taking her sweet time arranging stuff in her backpack. She zipped it up and approached her English teacher.

“Could I talk to you, maybe? In private?” she said.

“Sure. Let’s just step out into the hallway.” There would be kids milling in the hallway. Mr. Shimizzi had taught long enough to know not to spend any time  alone with a student. High-school students were volatile emotionally. They could easily make up and even convince themselves of the craziest things. And they could turn on anyone, on a dime. One day they were believing that the boy they talked to for five minutes after the Lacrosse game was the one they had been fated to love from the beginning of time. Three weeks later they were collecting all the dog poop and roadkill in their neighborhood and putting it into that boy’s locker. After ten years of teaching high-school kids, Schimizzi was surprised that most made it out of the high-school years alive and sort of sane.

“I need to talk to you in private,” she said.

“Uh. OK. We could meet in the cafeteria after school.” There were always students in the cafeteria after school, waiting to be picked up.

“In private, Mr. Shim,” she repeated. She pursed her mouth. Her dark eyes were wide and hollow, dazed and sorrowful. He’d seen those eyes before on his sister, weeks after their young brother had been killed in a stupid random auto accident.

“We can find a place away from the other kids to talk.” The cafeteria was cavernous, with an assembly stage at one end of it. They could sit there, next to the stage.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you OK, Krysten? Do you need to see a guidance counselor? We could meet with Ms. Labov in her office.”

“No. NO.” she said. “The cafeteria’s fine. Right after school?”

“Right after. 3:15.”

“OK. Thanks, Mr. Shim.”

The cafeteria, fortunately, was relatively quiet because Ms. Mantle, the AP, was standing by the door to the pickup lanes. The kids lived in terror of Ms. Mantle, whom they had nicknamed The Mantis.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“Why would I think you’re crazy, Krysten? You’re, like, the smartest 11th-grader at Marysville Academy, or in all of Marysville. Maybe in all of Ohio.”

“I bet you say that to all the kids, Mr. Shim.”

“Only to the ones who read Herman Hesse and Kurt Vonnegut on their own for pleasure.”

“Hippie parents, Mr. Shim. They hooked me up with those guys.”

“No one reads anymore.” He sighed deeply.

“I do, Mr. Shim.”

“Yes, Krysten. Gives me hope, kids like you. So, what’s up?”

“Mr. Shim. I, uh. This isn’t easy to talk about. But you’re like the coolest teacher here, and I don’t know who else. . . .”

“It’s OK, Krysten. Tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m late.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I missed my period.”

“Oh. Wow. OK. This is not something you should really be discussing with. . . . How long?”

“Almost two months now.”

“Have you talked to your parents about this?”

“God no.”

“This sometimes happens, Krysten. It could be a dietary or medical thing.”

“I’m always really, really regular.”

“Well. I don’t want to alarm you or anything. Could be minor. Or it could be fairly serious. But I’m not the one you need to talk to about this. You need to speak to your parents. Or a guidance counselor. Or both.”

“I can’t. They wouldn’t believe me.”

“Believe what?”

“You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t think you’re crazy, Krysten. You can talk to me.”

“I’ve never, uh. I’ve never been with a, a boy. With anyone, uh, like that. I don’t even like boys.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Not the not liking boys part, though I can understand how some of them might make you feel like that. I mean. Good. Maybe. So there’s something else going on. I don’t know much about this, but as I understand it, lots of things can cause girls to miss their periods. Stress. Not eating.”

“Mr. Shim. I’m pregnant.”

“But if you’ve never, uh. If you haven’t . . . Krysten, that’s not possible.”

“I took a test. One of those things from the drug store.”

“Krysten, tests can be wrong. There’s such a thing as false positives.”

“Mr. Shim, you know a lot. But you’re not a girl. I know it. I’m pregnant.”

“OK.”

“I have to tell you about something. I have to tell somebody.”

“It’s OK, Krysten. People make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world.”

“Mr. Shim. I am not lying to you, damn it. Sorry.”

“No apologies needed.”

“I was abducted.”

“My God, Krysten. Who? A relative? A stranger? Kids from school?”

“I woke up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t move. It was really, really scary. And then I could see that there were these, these creatures, all around me. Big eyes. Long, spindly necks. Greys. They were definitely Greys. They had three fingers on each hand.”

“Krysten. Come on.”

“Look, Mr. Shim. I am not freaking lying to you. Forget it. I’m leaving.”

“No. No. Wait. Tell me. Please.

“And then I could feel myself being lifted. I was like, suspended, in the air. And I remember the window was open because the curtains were flapping in the wind. And the next thing I knew, I was in this little space, all bluish, and there were like machines all around, and weird little lights. And the Greys were there. They were doing something to me. That’s all I remember.”

“Wow. That’s, uh, quite a story, Krysten.”

“It’s not a story.”

“I meant, that’s pretty, uh. . . .” He almost said strange. “Amazing.”

“So I woke up in my bed, and there was this picture in my head, from a dream I was having. There was this bright light in the sky, only it wasn’t a light. It was a spaceship. And there were people on a hill, in robes, watching it, like in the Bible. One turned to me and said, “You have been chosen.’”

“Krysten, I know this all seems really weird to you. But there are explanations for this. Really. Relax. Let’s think about this. When you dream, Krysten, your brain creates chemicals that paralyze your body so that you don’t move around while you’re dreaming. It’s an adaptation, to protect you. This is what happens in sleepwalking. If people are dreaming but the immobilization hasn’t happened, they get up and walk around, acting out their dreams. OK. So, sometimes, people wake up a bit, during their dreams, and they find that they can’t move. But they are only partly awake. They are still partly dreaming, and the brain makes up a story to account for the paralysis. That story uses what they know about. When this happened to people back in ancient times, they thought it was demons, like a ghostly hag riding them. That’s where the term nightmare comes from. From people thinking they were being ridden, like a mare, in their dreams, because they felt this weight on them, like they couldn’t move. You see? There’s an explanation for what happened to you.”

“Mr. Shim. This wasn’t a dream. I was there. It happened.”

“Krysten, what were you reading about the time you had this, uh, experience? Kurt Vonnegut, right? The aliens in Sirens of Titan. Or maybe you saw a movie.”

“It wasn’t a fucking dream.”

“There was a professor at Harvard, John Mack. He interviewed hundreds of alien abductees. They all thought that their experiences were real. He wrote papers about this. They weren’t lying, he said. They just didn’t understand what their experiences actually were.”

“I understand what this experience actually was.”

“Krysten, you need to talk to your parents. And see a doctor. If you are in fact pregnant, you need to start getting prenatal care. And if not, you have to figure out what’s going on with your body, what’s. . .”

“I know what’s going on with my body. Please, please. You can’t tell anyone about this.”

He couldn’t promise her that. She was a minor. He had a legal responsibility to report such matters. In loco parentis. “What are you going to do, Krysten? You do understand that you need medical attention, right? You need to find out what’s really going on. Give me that.”

“Yeah. I do. I will, Mr. Shim. Thanks. Look, I gotta go. My ride’s gonna be here.”

“I know this all seems impossible, Krysten. But it’s going to be OK. Really.”

“Yeah, thanks. Thanks for listening, Mr. Shim. I’ll figure it out. Have a nice holiday.”

Krysten didn’t finish high-school at Marysville Academy. The kids said that her parents shipped her off to stay with an aunt in Gaufh Hill, between Allentown and Bethlehem. She had the baby. There were pictures of her and the baby, they said, on Instagram. She named him Christopher Yeshua Kingsley. No one ever figured out who the father was, but there were lots of stories about this. People tell stories. Some of them even true.

Copyright 2018, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Art: Star of Bethlehem. Bruno Piglhein (1848-1894) [Public domain]

For more short stories by Bob Shepherd (and essays on the reading and writing of fiction), go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/short-stories/

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