pay no attention to the corpse in the back
“Pay no attention to the corpse in the back.”, said the professor, as we entered his classroom.
That’s how my second term Biology class started. I was in University, fresh off my winter break and mourning end of a good holiday season. I had stayed on campus and spent my time getting drunk with my buddies. The fun was over, and it was time to get back to studying. I had looked up my bio teacher, Mr. Blackburn, on Rate My Professor the night before, y’know, to know what to expect. His reviews were underwhelming: the guy was apparently a total bore. Students said he was monotone, never joked, and never cracked a smile. That’s why I was surprised at the state of the corpse in the back of the room. Mr. Blackburn didn’t strike me as a funny man, but I guessed he must have had a bit of a devious streak in him.
The body had been placed behind a row of discarded tables and broken chairs. It sat on a sturdy wooden crate, wearing a civil-era uniform. There was a sombrero on its head and a pine air freshener dangled around its neck like a lame gangsta medallion. Again, I didn’t peg Mr. Blackburn to be the kind to joke around. Maybe the old coot had grown a sense of humor, or maybe he’d lost his marbles overnight. Either way, this being Biology class and all, I figured the body was there for a reason other than giving us a good laugh. I squinted and examined the corpse. It looked old. I don’t mean it was decomposing, mind you. Heck, it was so well-preserved that it didn’t even emit an odor. I mean the person it used to be was an old man. Its skin was shrivelled up and mummified-looking. Its arthritis-ridden arms stretched out at sinister angles that reminded me of tree branches in the dark. I looked at its face and saw its mouth and eyes were wide open, giving it an appearance of shock and terror. Man, must have been a rough death.
Mr. Blackburn started the lecture. He certainly lived up to his reputation…and by that, I mean, I fell asleep after ten minutes of hearing him drone on and on. In fact, I can’t recall a single lecture that didn’t end with me dozing off.
After class, the other students and I exchanged theories about the corpse and why it was there. Over the next few weeks, we started to notice that someone, presumably Mr. Blackburn himself, changed the body slightly between classes. Trying to figure out what the prof had done to it became our new pastime. Sometimes, its arm had been repositioned, other times, it was several feet away from its starting position. Even its eyes could, at times, be spotted looking in a different direction. The corpse became our creepily awesome mascot. Whenever Mr. Blackburn caught us looking at it; however, he would clear his throat to draw our attention to the front, and repeat what he had told us on the first day:
“Pay no attention to the corpse in the back.”, he’d say slowly, his voice colder and harsher.
It was weird, because he had this gleam in his eyes whenever he told us not to look at it. I swear, it was like he was taking pleasure out of knowing we were peeking. He had the exact same look a toddler has when he drops his trousers in front of a group and lets loose on the carpet, knowing he’s doing something wrong but relishing the moment anyways. There was something off about Mr. Blackburn.
One snowy afternoon, Cynthia, a really hot chick that sat across from me, dropped her pen. It rolled to the back of the class and stopped right between the corpse’s feet. She sighed loudly, looking more annoyed about having to get up than frightened to approach the body. Now, I’d been pining over Cynthia since the start of the semester, so it was only natural that I turned my head to check out her fine behind as she bent down to pick up her pen. She suddenly shrieked like a harpy, and I knew exactly why.
“HE’S STILL ALIVE!!”, she yelled, confirming my suspicions.
The class erupted in laugher, assuming she was playing some sort of trick. I knew better: I had seen it move, too. Its foot had twitched ever so slightly when she reached for the pen. I even saw its contorted fingers barely outstretch, as if trying to grab her but not having enough strength to do so. I overheard someone making a joke about the stiff trying to check out her rack. I was too freaked out to respond. Cynthia threw the pen at the body and ran out of the classroom, frantically dusting herself as though there were bugs all over her. The class erupted in indiscernible chatter. Upon hearing all the commotion, the teacher stopped his lecture. He calmly turned his attention to the corpse, and then to the rest of us.
“Class dismissed.”, he said, in a calm and unaffected tone.
Mr. Blackburn straightened his papers, collected his things, and calmly exited the classroom without another word. His nonchalance seemed to put the room at ease. Had the other students seen what Cynthia and I had seen, I’m not sure they would have left the room cheering about their good fortune. I overheard someone say the teacher had probably rigged the body with electrodes or something to cause it to jerk. I wanted to check, because I wanted it to be true. Still, as the mass of students barrelled towards the door, I felt compelled to follow and leave with them, like a mindless lemming. In hindsight, I regret not examining the body before I left.
The next day, the corpse was gone, and it wasn’t the only thing missing: Mr. Blackburn didn’t show up for class. The old man never returned to school. No letter of resignation, nothing. The police was eventually called to investigate, but found no traces of him. After an internal investigation, the school discovered that massive amounts of powerful anaesthetic and embalming fluids were missing from the storage room.
As I passed through the hallway near the Dean’s office a few days later, I saw a plaque with the pictures of all the school’s faculty members. Whoever it was that had been teaching our Biology class for weeks wasn’t Mr. Blackburn. No, wrinkly old Mr. Blackburn looked a lot more like what we thought was just a corpse in the back.