back to school
What is the High School Bomb?
The High School Bomb is a bomb that, when it goes off, will send almost everyone within its blast radius back to high school.
How does the High School Bomb work?
The High School Bomb operates through a controlling residue. The residue coats each victim and forms a membrane that then contorts the body in the various acts of high school: forming cliques, making friends, attending pep rallies, etc. The High School Bomb does not interface with the mind directly, though watching as you helplessly proceed through a manufactured high school reality can have dire consequences for your mental health.
The High School Bomb does not affect those younger than high school age, nor does it affect dogs. Everyone else is there for the High School Bomb’s taking. Therefore, you may find yourself playing the role of a bully with your grandfather as your partner in crime and your father as the target of your maltreatment. And so you will watch from deep within yourself as you and your grandfather take hold of your wriggling father and deposit him wholly into a locker.
What should I do if a High School Bomb detonates near me?
After a High School Bomb detonates, there are approximately four minutes before the residue can seal. Proceed to the nearest shower or garden hose and wash for at least forty-five minutes. The preemptive application of vegetable oil to all areas of exposed skin will slow the residue’s seal but not cease it entirely. (Vegetable oil is recommended only due it its low cost relative to other oils. Any oil will do. We do not, however, recommend oils branded as High School Bomb preventative oil. This is simply a standard cooking oil in a clever package. We know because we have fried eggplant in it.) Do not, after being coated with the High School Bomb’s residue, roll on the ground. Doing so will only add dirt and detritus to the membrane, which may affect your popularity at the high school.
Where will the actual high school be?
A high school will grow from the point of detonation. The initial structure will be complete within three hours of the explosion but can take nearly two weeks to fully mature.
Will it resemble my own former high school?
Perhaps, but it is not likely. For example, unlike traditional high schools, it will be untainted by graffiti. This is because the high school is a living organism; to etch one’s name or the name of one’s love interest into its wall could cause bleeding or nerve damage. Thus, the high school, communicating with the membranes via undetectable sonar, will curtail any impulses towards vandalism. All actions within the high school are dictated this way. While the membranes control the body, they only carry out the orders received from the high school. Some have compared the relationship between the high school and membranes to that of a great general and his or her soldiers. Others say the high school is more like an overbearing mother, the membranes its dutiful children.
Are there teachers, classes, athletics, clubs, etc.?
All high schools created by a High School Bomb will function in a way that parallels, at least partially, a normal high school, and all of them will feature a long period called “shop class.” Issues often arise, though, given that the high schools are living things with varying levels of intelligence. The shape of its classrooms, the length of its class periods, the size of its teachers—all of this is at the individual high school’s discretion. You might find your high school is spherical in shape, and everyone’s dropped pencils are forever rolling across the slanted floors towards some center point. You might find that the high school has forgone teachers altogether, that gibberish will materialize across its chalkboards as if from nowhere, and that your membrane (if it has been deemed by the high school that you are a diligent student) will copy each nonsense character into a notebook shaped like a star. You might find a high school that sends out buses that move by way of hundreds of tiny legs rather than wheels. While studying the phenomenon of the High School Bomb, we successfully infiltrated one high school where we discovered something disturbing: several of the students walking the halls appeared to be corpses, their skin pale and rotting, their eyes blank, their movement stiff as controlling residue battled rigor mortis. Over the course of our study, we began to notice that they, the dead students, were all on the “football team.” Attending a practice, we saw immediately what had happened. The high school understood the basic principle of an offensive and defensive line collapsing against each other, but little else. Thus it had improvised a feature to the game wherein the player at the center of the fracas would be buried. The players were all dug up at each practice’s conclusion. Since the membrane, unlike the body underneath it, did not require oxygen to survive, the players rejoined their fellow students in the halls.
Why is shop class the one consistent element?
Shop class is where the students build the High School Bombs.
If High School Bombs are built in a high school created by a High School Bomb, who made the first High School Bomb?
This is something nobody knows. There is a theory that a physicist created it in order to relive his glorious high school years and things got out of hand, but this is easily refuted, given the unlikelihood that someone who grew up to be a physicist would look back on high school with fondness. More likely, there is an “original high school” somewhere: an organic living high school like those created by the High School Bomb that grew on its own, passing as a normal high school in all ways but its shop class. In this way, the High School Bomb is perhaps not a bomb at all, but a sort of egg.
How can the High School Bomb be stopped after it is detonated?
To stop a High School Bomb is difficult but not impossible. You cannot rely on the children. The first thing a living high school does is send a bus that will take them to a far-flung pond or river, where they will collect water samples and examine them under microscopes in perpetuity. Nor can you rely on the dogs. While not rounded up, they are of little help. They cannot be trained for the occasion of a High School Bomb as the scenario is extremely difficult to simulate in an obedience class environment. Furthermore, attempts to do so have led dogs to attack normal high schools and students. Truly, the only hope lies with the oiled and washed survivors. If you do manage to remove the residue before it can seal, do your best to assimilate with the rest of the students. Follow them, talk when spoken to, never interrupt, go to class, go to practice, act as if you are one of them. Don’t try and signal to others that you are free. Their membranes may sense the strangeness of your behavior and send an urgent message to the high school, which may in turn call for your expulsion. Instead, keep a low profile and look for the principal’s office. The principal’s office is where you will find the high school’s heart. We are not speaking in metaphor: beyond the door marked ‘principal,’ you will find a room filled with an enormous beating heart. Wait until nighttime, when the students are at home asleep—the membranes need time to rest, or else they might tear—enter the office, and stab the heart, preferably with something long and sharp, so it pierces fully through. This will kill the high school, and without its commands, the resting membranes will stiffen and eventually crack, freeing your friends, your family, your community.
What happens to the dead high school?
Herein lies the problem. The high school, when killed, will collapse: not fall apart, but implode into a cocoon roughly the size of a compact hatchback. And given that the principal’s office will be somewhere at the high school’s center, whoever kills it will not have time to escape. In other words, those who are able to withstand the High School Bomb’s initial blast will be the ones trapped forever in high school. It is the fear of this outcome that drives so many blast survivors to simply assimilate with no plans for an uprising, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “the phantom membrane effect.” And without any predators, the living high schools will thrive, creating and sending High School Bombs across the world until the whole planet lives in a perpetual state of high school.
Will there be a cafeteria to serve food?
Yes. It will not taste good, but this is the least of your concerns.
Sean Adam's "Back to School" can also be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 4.
Sean Adams is a graduate of Bennington College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His stories have been published in journals and magazines such as Bennington Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Normal School, and MidAmerican Review. He is currently working on a novel.