The Deadly Fields of Autumn
A merry ringing of bells followed me down the halls of Marston High School, its volume increasing as it grew nearer. It conjured images of sleigh rides on a snowy night and balsam fir trees and heaven-sent glitter.
I turned at the intersection of G and H Halls, and the bells turned with me.
“Hey, Mrs. Ferguson, you’re going to be late to class.”
Jocelyn, one of my juniors, gave me a saucy grin as she caught up to me. Every tiny silver bell on her green sweater jingled. Ah, the source of the ringing.
That garment was a fantasy creation. The winter scene of my imagining, it was decorated with about a hundred silver jingle bells. To complete her holiday ensemble, Jocelyn had attached several bells to her headband. She couldn’t move without jangling.
“So will you,” I said.
“But you’re the teacher. You’re not supposed to be tardy.”
True, and I liked to be in my room before my class arrived, especially when that class was fourth period American Literature Survey. I pictured chaos, the day’s lesson erased with ‘Witch’s Room’ written in its place, and possibly a burgeoning fight.
The door was open.
I should have remembered to lock it this morning, when I hung my coat in the closet and joined the rest of the faculty at the annual Christmas breakfast in the cafeteria.
Too late now.
About half the class had taken their seats or were wandering around the room. Some stood at the window watching the snow fall. They were quiet, and that set a huge red flag in motion.
They were never quiet. Something was going to happen.
I took my gradebook and a shopping bag from the Nutcracker Sweet out of the closet. I had a Christmas present for all my students: malted milk balls in individual red and green wrappers. To conform to the school’s rule banning food or drink in the classroom, I planned to hand them out five minutes before the end of the hour.
The bell rang, and the rest of the class sauntered into the room. Quietly.
Because this was the last day before Christmas vacation--or winter recess as the administration preferred to call it--I had chosen a Christmas-themed short story by an American author rather than the next dry selection from our textbook. Printed copies lay ready on my desk, one for each student.
“Okay, class,” I said.
Weird. Unreal. I didn’t have to tell them to quiet down multiple times.
“There’s a Christmas theme in today’s story,” I said. “When we’re through with the reading, I’d like you to tell me what you think the theme is in one complete sentence.”
Excellent, I thought, Way to take the fun out of reading a holiday story.
Briana her hand. I noticed the green streak painted in her long blonde hair--and the smirk on Will Holloway’s face.
Jocelyn turned in her desk, and the bells jingled.
“We… That is, the class, would like to make a—er—a presentation.”
“A presentation? What kind?”
While I waited for enlightenment, she drew a package from behind her desk, a Christmas present wrapped in shiny gold paper and tied with red velvet ribbon. She walked to where I stood and handed it to me.
“You don’t have to wait until Christmas to open it,” she said.
“Open it now,” Will said.
Several voices began a chant: “Open it now.”
I was at a loss for words. Kids in elementary grades often gave their teachers gifts at Christmastime. While the practice wasn’t unheard of in high school, it was rare.
“We wanted to make it up to you for all the trouble we gave you,” she said. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
“I’m so--touched. Thank you all.”
I sat at my desk and untied the pretty ribbon. Inside a gold box nestled a bottle of perfume with an intriguing name, Anticipation.
“How wonderful!” I said. “I love new perfume. I can’t wait to try this.”
“It’s supposed to smell like roses, jasmine, vanilla, and other stuff,” Jocelyn said.
I glanced at the stack of papers on my desk, the Christmas story I’d planned to read today. Principal Grimsley would have approved wholeheartedly of it. For that precise reason, I changed my mind.
“I have a present for you, too,” I said. “For the rest of the period, you can feast on malted milk balls and just visit and look out the window.”
Let Grimsley stay away from my room. In the spirit of the season, I abandoned my plan for the hour and passed out malt milk balls instead of stories.
The cafeteria ladies, exhausted from preparing Christmas breakfast for the staff, weren’t serving lunch in the cafeteria today. The three afternoon classes had been rescheduled for the half day, thereby moving my fourth hour to the first period’s place.
Maybe that was why they were so subdued today; they were still sleepy. Or maybe it was because of the surprise present. In my one remaining class, I let my students play a blackboard game. Then during my conference hour, I did nothing more strenuous than gaze out the window at the falling snow as I’d let Fourth Hour do.
It turned the acreage outside the classroom, which was school-owned property, into a sparkling winter wonderland. There were rumors that a herd of deer had moved into the area, making their homes in the thin woods. I hoped they were true.
When the last bell rang, I left my gradebook and schoolwork securely locked in the closet, took my present, and met my longtime friend and fellow teacher, Leonora Brown, in her room next to mine.
She’d set a white knit hat with a tassle on her blonde hair and was buttoning her long red coat. “You have present, Jennet! Did Santa pay a visit to our hall and miss me?”
She was incredulous. “From your class from hell? You’re serious?”
“I’d better find another name for them.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“Yes, I’m glad I brought candy,”
Leonora locked her door, and we hurried out to the parking lot. It was practically empty, most of the teachers having already left.
Two inches of heavy snow lay on top of my Ford Focus. I started the engine and the windshield wipers. Working together, Leonora and I cleared the car, and soon we were on the freeway heading north.
“Just think,” Leonora said. “Ten whole days of sleeping in. No schoolwork, no stress, and it’s going to be a white Christmas.”
Leonora, newly married, was especially looking forward to more time with her husband, Deputy Sheriff Jake Brown. As I was with my husband, Crane.
“Jake and I are going to have an old-fashioned Christmas,” Leonora said. “We’re cutting our tree down tonight, and tomorrow I’m baking fruit cakes.”
“I have high hopes for this vacation,” I said. “I really, really need the rest.”
The snow continued to fall all the way to the Foxglove Corners exit. Inside the car, it was quiet as Leonora dozed and the windshield wipers swished back and forth, sending the snow flying back to the sky.
For me, it’ll be time of peace, I thought. Peace and quiet.