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The Professor

reading glasses sitting on a stack of books

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

I’ve been described as a negative little man—a wormy sort. Yes, I’m relatively short in stature—with tiny glasses adorning my face. My hair sprouts out of my scalp like grasslings, and I tend to recoil from any amiable interaction. 

This, of course, shifts when I’m in the company of my students. Their presence conjures an alternate persona in my mind. My mind: now, that is not reflected in the mirror. I possess a rather sharp mind, despite my lack of physical appeal.  

I can be full of wit and charm—that is, whenever a coed enters my class. My charisma emerges, and I transform into the most gregarious of characters. Those shy, awkward freshmen become entranced, and I no longer resemble the reflection in my mirror. My audience becomes enchanted by my grand performance.  

The university has given me a year’s contract for the Fall and Spring semesters, and I am renting this little room at the top of an old nineteenth-century  Victorian home. My landlady, Penny, is a bit inquisitive, but I’m quiet and I keep to myself and my books. I have a doctorate in psychology, have published several academic articles, and taught at a variety of universities around the country. I took this position as it was my only offer this year. 

I move around a lot. I am only able to stay in one place until I feel that it fulfills my sense of order. It is just that I require a clean organization to things in life. 

I have a daily regimen that contributes to this obsession for purity. I am compelled, for example, to regularly examine my face in the mirror searching for any blemishes or imperfections that may need to be disinfected from my skin. And when I see another’s face with the slightest inconsistent coloring, a mole, wart, or birthmark—I believe it was referred to as a devil’s mark in seventeenth-century  Salem—I am disturbed by its sight. I can hardly bear to continue to have a  conversation with one who appears to have this type of hideous deformity. 

Fortunately, my room is a clean environment of bland furnishings. It resembles a monk’s cell. The room is absent of any accent pieces, designs or patterns, save one. My landlady has had all of the walls painted antiseptic white,

which allows me to focus on my Salvador Dali print, Face of War. The painting serves as a constant reminder of my mission to cleanse humanity of its ugliness. 

As I look upon the portrait, I am repulsed, yet fixated on the wrinkled layers of skin on the portraits forehead, the creases of flesh that fold between the eyebrows, and that expression of sheer horror that emanates from the painting. In his work, Dali reveals the moral imperfections that most people cannot see. Thus,  he spurs my ambition to perform my work. 

Sometimes I hear the whispers of Dali advise me. Between the moments of sleep and awakening, I often hear these faint whispers educating me on good, evil,  and our human notion of time. 

Allow me to clarify. I believe that I have been give a predetermined fate: to purge the world of sin. How, might you ask, do I determine who needs to be sacrificed for this cause? Well, I have a reference book, The Malleus Maleficarum,  written by two fifteenth-century Dominican Friars. The text actually explains how to identify the wicked, and then how to annihilate the evil from the individual. I  rely on this text as a manual for my life’s purpose. 

The painting, The Face of War, is a symbol for my mission. It serves as a  reminder of how individuals have suffered and died for others, and the work that continues to be done to fight in the battle against evil. The painting demonstrates the torment that a living being must experience to transcend this evil temporal world, to allow space for the good of humanity. 

As I examine the painting, the three faces emerge—the family I murdered in the car. I can still see the loose skin hanging from their skulls. About a month ago, I was in the process of looking for lodging in this small town when I surprised the three stealing a car. I knew they were stealing it because the younger of the three was the lookout, and he was trembling with fear—fear of being caught, but not fear of me. 

Naturally, I immediately recognized my responsibility in this moment.  These three, father, mother, and son, were immoral; they were stealing, an offense to both God and man. Once I threatened them with alerting the police, I instantly had control. You see, when can create fear and intimidation in the souls of your subjects, you have complete power over them. It is how I can mesmerize a room of students, and it is how I got the little family to agree to drive me to the restaurant.

It was late, and I knew that the restaurant’s parking lot would be isolated for hours. I needed the time for a proper vivisection. I carefully carved the filthy defects from their bones, and I specifically recall feeling an incredible surge of triumph as I methodically removed the lesions from their faces. Once I had conducted the ceremonial purification, I escaped into the night. I was never a  suspect. I mean, who would ever suspect a bookworm? 

Now that I’m a tenant in this little room, I reminisce about my incredible accomplishments of ridding the world of its human impurities. I continue to gaze into the infinite faces within faces in the Dali painting, and I know that I must finish my work here. I will know when I see my next victim, their markings will guide my destiny. 

It wasn’t very long until I saw her. Her auburn hair shrouded her head and shoulders, thick and protective. She was a living, breathing piece of alabaster art, but she tragically had a face spoiled by these infinitesimal freckles. I knew I could help her eliminate her deformity. Poor girl. She lacked the confident walk of her peers, keenly aware of her hideous diseased visage—pale translucence with nearly invisible signs of malevolence. 

As I pace in front of her class, I begin the process of intimidation. It is so simple. I start my first lecture by informing the students that half of them will fail, and absences will only increase their risk of failing. To a group of young freshmen, already nervous in leaving the comfort of their familial homes, this is a terrifying notion, but it is very effective in a gaining their full attention and perfect attendance. 

My words spike their anxiety and heighten their sense of vulnerability. It is what we call in the psychology discipline, Stockholm Syndrome. And, listener, if you are unfamiliar with this nomenclature, I would be delighted to provide the definition. Stockholm Syndrome, which incidentally, is not found in the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is a clinical way to describe the affection that hostages feel for their captors. 

I would suggest that is a subconscious coping mechanism for survival. If the victim submits herself to the kidnapper or kidnappers, she may have a better chance of living.

In the classroom, this translates into nervous students pandering for the professor’s approval. There are times when I feel the same incredible exhilaration when I look into the captive faces of my students, or my victims. 

Several years ago, I had young man in one of my classes who clearly lacked college level writing skills. He was always waiting outside of my office, eager to seek my assistance during my office hours. He had a access to tutors and well educated family members who offered support, but he knew that it was I who would ultimately be the judge of his work. Terrified of failing, he would long to spend more and more time with me. 

One late afternoon, as he was reading through my edits, I noticed a small dark mole to the left side of his nose. I was simultaneously transfixed and repulsed—much the way we all slow down on a roadway to see a splattered carcass rotting. In this instance, my spirit writhed, full knowing, of what I had to do. 

I sat with my student late into the evening; all of the other professors had gone home. It was so very easy to close my door, lock it, and grab the marble bookend. It only took one hard blow upon the back of his skull to render him unconscious. I removed the plastic lining from the trash can, laid it under his head, and began to flay his cheek. 

This all took place in Oregon. I had fulfilled my obligation to humanity in the Northwest, and now it was time for me to continue my quest in a new region of the country. As I said before, my life is transient and my spirit pulls me to places and people that need to be exorcised from the population. 

And now I have been directed to the Redhead Aphrodite’s. She would be easy prey, with her crippled self-esteem. It would only be a matter of time when she would begin to experience doubt in her writing skills, she would seek out my assistance, and her destiny would be sealed. 

When the timing was right, I arranged to meet her outside the library one evening. While I awaited for her arrival, I heard a whispered chant guiding me. Once she positioned herself in the foyer of the library, I signaled for her to join me in a poorly lit corridor near the book shelves. 

Once I managed to get her well hidden, I revealed the glimmer of a very sharp instrument to scare her into submission. I stuffed her mouth with a handkerchief, and pulled the tape around her head. I then wrapped the tape around her wrists, behind her body, and I then pulled out my kit full of pin needles. 

Allow me to digress and provide some historical context. In the seventeenth century, magistrates would use needles to prick the suspected devil’s marks on the flesh of a suspect. If the heretic felt no pain from the prick, then it was proof that he or she had a pact with the devil. As I gently inserted the first pin into a freckle on her face, she didn’t even flinch—this was evidence that she indeed had be marked by Satan’s hand. Again, my instinct had been correct. I felt such satisfaction then as I knew I had fulfilled my moral responsibility to humanity, once again. 

After she expired, there was a sense of relief from her body; she was finally, at peace, and I had made her that way. When I returned home, I entered my room, only to feel a strange suffocating feeling. Every piece of furniture seemed to aggressively angle towards me. The walls were bearing down on me. The Dali painting began to tilt as the room trembled. 

I escaped into the bathroom and shut the door. I felt safe in the sterility of the white porcelain room. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and to my horror, I saw one small brown speck of blood on my face, I wetted a washcloth with hot tap water and bleach, and began to scrub my face, over and over, but I couldn’t remove the red mark from my skin. 

I pulled out my kit full of needles, and began to pierce the mark, in an effort to remove it. Then I glanced up at the few sparse pieces of hair that stuck out from scalp, and I realized that they too needed removing. 

I began ripping one hair after the next, only to reveal another. I obsessively pulled at every little grassing popping out of my head; I felt the air being sucked from my lungs, and fell to the floor. Then the knocking began—that incessant knocking! 

As Penny burst into the room, I could hear the piercing sound of her screams. She froze with fear as she saw me on the floor covered in shredded skin dangling from my bloodied face. I had become the scourge; I had become the blemish. 

I am the human embodiment that I set out to extinguish!