Mr. Thompson wasn’t the nicest teacher. He gave us too much homework. He kept us after school if we were a minute late to class. He always drank a strange bubbly, smoking liquid out of a pitch-black goblet that made the room smell like a haunted house.

He also dressed weird too. He was always wearing a dark cloak over his suit and muttering an ancient, guttural language to himself.

His eyes were big and yellow, and they would bulge out whenever he was angry or frightened or laughing. It was never clear what subject he was supposed to be teaching, since on our schedules it was spelled in mysterious old runes that burned your eyes if you looked at them for too long.

When he read to us from the textbook, sometimes the weather would get really stormy outside, while other times students’ faces would turn into skulls. It wasn’t uncommon to walk into his class and see him holding balls of fire in his hands or huddled in the corner talking to an unseen spirit and promising things like his “undying loyalty” and “the hearts of pure souls.”

Even when the lights were turned on, it felt like everything in his classroom was covered in a dark, heavy shadow that was always watching you.

One time, I forgot my backpack in his classroom and came in after school to grab it. He had the class pet out on his desk. It was a lizard from somewhere in South America, but it always creeped me out because of the way it never blinked and stood on its hind legs and seemed to be able to read my thoughts when it stared into my eyes.

They were having some kind of conversation, but I couldn’t hear any of it over the lizard’s laughter. I grabbed my book and got out of there. If Mr. Thompson caught me, he was liable to keep me after school, washing his orbs.

When I applied to college, I asked Mr. Thompson to write me a letter of recommendation. He gave me a ten-foot-long scroll that said I was “a promising alchemist” with a “proclivity toward the Forbidden Arts not seen since Grotho the Vapid.” I included it in my applications to Huxley College and Damfino University, but after both schools evaporated into clouds of smoke, I stopped sending it places.

After my first year of college, I went back to my old high school to walk around and revisit it. Where Mr. Thompson’s classroom had once been was now just an empty hallway. I couldn’t even find where his door had been. I guess they must have done some renovations in the months since I had been there.

Weirder still, none of the other teachers even remembered Mr. Thompson, but one of them did say he got a cold chill that ran down his spine every time he walked down that hallway and he could sometimes hear tiny, cursed voices speaking in an odd tongue.

Another told me that when she walked down the hallway, it seemed to stretch on and on into infinity. At the very far end, she saw what looked like a large, blue flame burning eternally. Huh. Weird.

When I think back on my high school years, it isn’t the jaded teachers just there for the paycheck that I remember, or the guidance counselors who barely helped me, or the coaches who overworked us. No, it’s the teachers like Mr. Thompson, who treated their vocation like a calling. Who gave their lives to teaching. Who inspired me to achieve my highest potential and permanently turned my face into a human skull.

Thank you, Mr. Thompson.

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