The Hieroglyphics Teacher
There was a teacher named Ben who worked in an archipelago. He had his own boat and would putter from island to island, teaching hieroglyphics at the local schools. He taught at a different school every day of the week.
This was just his day job, however. His real dream was to become an alchemist. He had a small alchemy kit he carried around and when his classes were finished, he would go to a nearby coffee shop and do his experiment with a latte and a muffin.
One day, he was just finishing his last class at the school on Sunny Island when the principal approached him.
“Hi Ben, how’s it going? I’m going to need you to stay here until the end of the day from now on.”
“But my classes finish at lunchtime,” Ben said. “What I am supposed to do all afternoon?”
“Just be here. Hey, I don’t want you here either, but the superintendent said you should have been staying until the end of the day at all your schools.”
“Okay . . .” Ben said, his heart sinking. “So where do I go? I don’t have an office.”
“Oh, anywhere’s fine.”
This sounded great, but the school was so small that there was nowhere to go. Ben went first to the library. He had just set up his alchemy set when students began to trickle in. Immediately, they crowded around him.
“What’s this?” one asked, picking up a glass bottle.
“That’s Aqua Fortis,” Ben said.
“Can I drink it?”
“It will kill you in a very painful way.”
“That’s Sugar of Lead.”
“Of lead. That will kill you too.” Eventually Ben packed up his equipment. He wandered from room to room, looking for some place to sit. He ended up in a storage room, crammed between boxes of abandoned pencil stubs and the costumes from the school’s Cthulhu Day program.
“I need somewhere else I can go to work,” he thought, “like an alternate dimension.” After a moment’s thought, he realized he had no idea how to open another dimension. “Maybe I can just create some sort of simulacrum to sit here for me.” That, at least, was only magic and alchemy was basically magic.
For the next few weeks, he molded his replacement out of the best modeling clay until the fateful night when he poured the Elixir of Life into its head and brought it to life. It looked just like him, spoke in his voice and seemed reasonably intelligent. Ben still couldn’t turn lead into gold, but if he could turn clay into free time, that was even better.
The next day, he brought the simulacrum (or Ben Two, as he called it) to school with him. It hung out in the storage room until classes were over. Then he just announced loudly that he would be in the storage room and sneaked out the back door.
This worked well, as long as he could get Ben Two inside without anyone noticing. This went on for a few weeks until one day when Ben was feeling especially tired, he sent the thing to teach his classes.
No one noticed.
From that day on, he sent Ben Two to teach all his classes, while he stayed home to work on his alchemy. That was the plan, at least, although in reality he usually ended up playing World of Warcraft and eating Pizza Pockets all day long.
One day, he was walking to the store to get more alchemical supplies and Pizza Pockets when a beautiful woman ran up to him and threw her arms around him. She gave him a big kiss.
“Ben, thanks again for last night. I had a great time.”
“Sure thing,” Ben stammered. He had never seen her before in his life. She gave him another kiss and then left.
That evening, Ben was waiting when Ben Two came home. The simulacrum came in, flipping through the mail.
“I saw a woman today,” Ben said. “She said she had a good time with me last night.”
Ben Two looked up. “You saw Jenny? Why did you leave the house?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit suspicious to have you at the store while I’m at work? Anyway, you’ve gained a lot of weight. From now on, just give me a list and I’ll get whatever you need.”
“Yeah, okay,” Ben said.
“Also, don’t open any packages that come here. I’ve got some stuff going on.”
“Don’t bother yourself about it, okay? I’m out there making a better life for both of us. You’ve got your hobbies here. Just stick to those, okay?”
“Yeah, sure thing,” Ben said. He was trying to work out if this was all a good thing or a bad thing.
Things progressed as normal until Ben discovered a small wrinkle in his plan: Ben Two did not know hieroglyphics. Ben discovered this when he was looking through his briefcase and came across a worksheet.
“Hey, these sentences don’t make any sense at all,” he said.
“Yeah, I know,” Ben Two said. “I just make stuff up and tell the kids that it’s right.”
“You can’t do that!”
“No, it’s okay,” Ben Two said. “They totally believe me. It’s not a problem.”
For the first time, Ben began to feel twinges of guilt. These combined with the creeping realizations that his life wasn’t as good as it had been and created the seeds of some Grade-A remorse. He had created Ben Two so that he wouldn’t have to stay after school and could work on his alchemy experiments. But now Ben Two was teaching his classes (and teaching them gibberish) and Ben was just playing computer games and eating Pizza Pockets. Ben Two had also somehow gotten a girlfriend (something Ben had failed to do in several years) and seemed to be taking over.
“I think maybe I should start teaching my classes again,” Ben said. “I can’t have you teaching them nonsense.”
“You can’t yet,” Ben Two said. “You’re about 20 pounds heavier than me by now. People will wonder how you gained all that weight overnight.” He sat down in front of the TV and lit a cigarette.
“You smoke now? How can you smoke? You’re a simulacrum.”
“Actually, I’m the only one who can do it safely,” Ben Two said. “At least I’ll never get cancer.”
“But you can’t even enjoy it.”
“It makes me look cool.”
“But no one’s here to see you.”
“You are. Don’t I look cool?”
“No. Can I at least look at the package that came today?”
Ben Two blew a cloud of smoke into the air. “I’d rather you didn’t. I have my fingers in a lot of pies right now.” He pulled out a stack of bills in a plastic bag and threw it to Ben. “Here. Go buy yourself something nice. After dark.”
Ben went to his room. There was $500 in the bag. He didn’t know where it came from, but that nagging feeling that things weren’t right kept increasing.
Ben Two did not sleep, but he usually got restless and went out for a swim around 3 am. As soon as he was gone, Ben got up and opened the package that was sitting in the hallway. It was full of alchemy equipment and supplies—very much like something he would buy himself. But why would Ben Two want those? As he was looking through it, he realized that these were supplies for making more simulacra; it even included a bottle of the Elixir of Life.
Also, there were guns in the bottom of the package; big guns that looked designed to fit inside a body cavity. Ben took the Elixir of Life and hid it in the fridge. Since Ben Two didn’t eat, it seemed the safest place.
The next morning, when he came out for breakfast, Ben Two was waiting for him at the kitchen table. He was smoking five cigarettes at once and the air was hazy and thick.
“You opened my package,” he said.
“So what? This is my house, after all, and you bought it with my money.”
“Actually, since I’m the one working now, it’s my money. Where’s the Elixir of Life?”
“I dumped it down the sink,” Ben said, knowing this was an obvious lie. A liquid that turned inanimate objects into living creatures was not something you wanted to put into your average sewer system. “What are you going to make?”
“I thought I would switch some of the principals at the schools with copies,” Ben Two said. “They’re always making me do things I don’t want to do, like teach. It’d help if they were on my side.”
“And give them guns?”
“Why not? It seems like an obvious upgrade. I’m surprised you didn’t give me guns that could shoot out of my fingertips or something.”
“But how are you going to build them? You don’t know anything about alchemy?”
“Sure I do. I know everything you do.”
“Yeah, except that. I guess that was a glitch in the process.”
“I’m going to try to stop you, you know.”
“Okay, have fun with that.” Ben Two took the five cigarette butts and threw them into the sink. “Well, I’m off to work. I guess if you don’t give me back the Elixir of Life, I’ll have to order some more. Luckily, I know a guy who can get it to me fast.” He picked up the package and walked out the door.
This can’t be happening, Ben thought. He had to do something. But first he played an hour of World of Warcraft and had a couple Pizza Pockets.
The first place he went was the police station.
“Hi, I’d like to report a . . .” It wasn’t a crime, really. “I’d like to report a situation. There is a simulacrum teaching my classes.”
The expression of the desk sergeant was as blank as a freshly painted wall.
“It’s a magically-animated robot,” Ben said.
“…who’s teaching your classes for you,” the officer finished. Ben nodded. “And who exactly are you?”
“I’m the hieroglyphics teacher for the archipelago. But I also practice alchemy. I made the simulacrum.” The officer was staring at him in such a way that Ben felt compelled to keep giving information. “Then I told him to teach my classes for me, but now he wants to make more of these robots to replace other people.”
“And I’m worried. There has to be a law against that or something.”
Finally, the officer looked down. “Okay then, so where is this robot-thing now?”
They took the police boat over to the island where Ben’s classes were that day. Ben felt incredibly awkward as he followed the two police officers into the school and into the classroom where Ben Two was teaching. The students were watching a movie with hieroglyphic subtitles. They all gasped to see a copy of their teacher walk into the room, identical except much dirtier and overweight.
“Excuse me, sir, but this man says you’re a copy of him,” the officer said.
Ben Two stopped the movie. “Actually, I created him,” he said. “Thank you for returning him to me.”
“That’s crazy,” Ben said. “I’m obviously not the simulacrum. Do an X-ray on us and you’ll see.”
“Would you submit to that?” the officer asked Ben Two. Ben Two shook his head. The officer shrugged. “Sorry, we tried.”
“But, who would make an overweight robot?” Ben protested. This all seemed like a bad dream.
“I was curious to see if I could,” Ben Two said. “I also programmed him to believe that he was a human and I was a robot.”
The officers nodded. “Well, you sure did a good job with that part.”
“But why would anyone do that?” Ben asked, becoming almost hysterical.
“My life lacked zest,” Ben Two said in a contemplative tone.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, sir,” the officer said. “What should we do with this thing?”
“I’m a human!” Ben screamed. “Quick, watch me eat something.” Then he remembered that he had made Ben Two able to eat as well. “He can’t go to the bathroom though. Come and watch me go the bathroom!”
“Oh dear, its modesty circuits are malfunctioning again,” Ben Two said. “That happens sometimes. Just drop it at home and I’ll fix it when I get home.”
Ben was dragged off by the police, screaming, “I’m not an it. I’m a human being!”
In the police boat, the police officers poked around for Ben’s off-switch for a bit, then knocked him on the head. They dropped him off at his house and posted a guard outside.
It really was like a bad dream. He went to get some Pizza Pockets out of the freezer and heard a giggle. He looked up to see the fridge smiling at him.
Fridges are not designed to smile at all, but somehow the blocky, metal appliance gave off the unmistakable impression of smiling.
“Oh, great.” Ben said. “The Elixir of Life…”
“Yep, it spilled,” the fridge said. “The eggs are bouncing around inside me like crazy and I think the butter is crying softly in a corner. Do you want to look?”
Ben was sure that he didn’t want to look, but he opened the door (with another giggle from the fridge). The inside was a sea of activity.
Ben learned two things that day: 1. Never put Elixir of Life in the refrigerator; and 2. Given the chance, broccoli just wants to watch the world burn.
Ben opened the fridge door and immediately had to stop the eggs from hurling themselves onto the floor in some pointless gesture of bravado. The broccoli threw the empty Elixir of Life bottle at him and the butter burst into heartrending sobs.
It took a while, but he finally figured out what had happened. The Elixir of Life had expanded and burst its seal, dripping onto the broccoli. It had come to life and had started spraying the Elixir onto everything else, out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Now Ben was starving, but he felt bad eating anything that could plead for its life.
Luckily, Pizza Pockets were frozen and the food in the freezer was still refreshingly non-living. He took out the box and felt the accusing eyes of the rest of the food on him, as if he were raiding the morgue for a quick snack. He shut the fridge door.
The question now (besides taking care of Ben Two) was what to do with the food. Now that they were living beings, it wasn’t a simple matter of just eating them or throwing them away. This is why the Elixir of Life bottle came with a warning on its side: May cause the endowment of inalienable rights. Use with caution.
He decided to take a count first. He opened the fridge door and caught an egg as it hurled itself out into space, yelling, “Yee-haw!” He corralled the rest of the eggs and shut the carton lid and held it down.
In total, the sentient food included six eggs, a stick of butter, a head of broccoli, a half-empty bottle of soy sauce and an ancient box of baking soda that had been pushed into the back. It was lucky that he had not gone grocery shopping in a while.
“You can’t hold us, fascist!” the broccoli yelled at him. “We’ve got rights.”
“I know,” Ben said. “I read the side of the bottle. Where would you go, though? You’re all food.”
“So, it’s hopeless?” the butter asked and burst into tears.
“Well . . .” Ben said, thinking of the butter’s chances out on the streets. “Look, I really can’t deal with this right now. I’ve got bigger problems.” Having no other friends to confide in, he sat in front of his fridge and explained his problems with Ben Two to his groceries.
“Egg barrage!” the carton of eggs yelled in unison when he had finished. “We’ll get him good. Just throw us in his general direction.” The broccoli snorted. The butter was still sniffling to itself and the box of baking soda was apparently asleep. The soy sauce said nothing.
“I don’t know if any of that would help,” Ben said, imagining the cleanup, and the subsequent nightmares.
“I have an idea,” the soy sauce said quietly. It had a smooth voice that made Ben instantly listen and respect its opinion. “Let me speak to this Ben Two, alone. I think I can solve your problem in a mutually beneficially way.”
“Uh, okay,” Ben said, rather nonplussed by such a self-assured condiment. “Whatever you want.”
Ben Two came in at about 5:30, carrying five 24-packs of beer. He seemed to have forgotten about the incident at the school.
“What are those for? Are you having a party?” Ben asked. Ben Two looked up at him.
“No, they’re all for me. I heard today that people like drinking alcohol as a way of relaxing. I’m going to try it.”
“But it won’t affect you.”
“Well, at least it’ll make a good story.”
“Uh,” Ben hesitated. “The soy sauce wants to talk to you.” He led Ben Two into the kitchen. The fridge was whistling a blues tune softly to itself. He got out the soy sauce and put it on the table.
“Leave us,” the soy sauce said. Ben went into the living room and pretended to read, all the time straining to hear what the two were saying. After half an hour, Ben Two came in, holding the soy sauce.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll leave and let you teach your classes again. Kikkoman and me are going to go start a crime spree.”
Ben coughed. “What? You can’t do that. They will think it’s me.”
“He has no fingerprints or DNA,” the soy sauce said, “plus I know exactly how to change his face to fool facial recognition software. And we will never, ever get caught.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have been aged,” the soy sauce said, “to perfection.”
With that, they walked out the door. Ben later found out that they had stolen his boat, but under the circumstances, he considered himself lucky.
And so Ben started on the long road back to a somewhat normal life. He bought a kayak and through having to paddle between the different islands to teach his classes, he soon lost the weight he had gained. The food that had come to life soon adjusted to their new existence. The butter cheered up immensely after Ben convinced it that no one was going to eat it. Ben bought more food and the eggs guarded it from the broccoli, who had random fits of destruction at times. They all lived peacefully together, except for the box of baking soda, who expired peacefully one night.
Ben still had to stay at school until the end of the day, even when he had no classes, but such is life.
4 Comments Add yours
I’m reading this twice. Loved the title out of the gate. 🙂
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I REALLY loved this. Love the weeping butter. Could so relate.
“You can’t hold us, fascist!” the broccoli yelled at him. “We’ve got rights.” So many great lines. I think you should send it somewhere. I’m going out now to buy soy sauce…aged to perfection. 🙂
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I will admit to laughing at my own stories and the soy sauce always makes me laugh. Yes, I’ll see if I can get it accepted somewhere.