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Adi wasn’t happy. Hands on her hips, she stood in front of Professor Diepger and glared. For the last few minutes, she’d been trying to get him to re-grade her paper. He stared back, his irritation obvious in the way he raised his eyebrow.
“I’m sorry, Professor Diepger. I still don’t understand why you felt you had to correct this sentence.” The appellation stuck in her throat. He was the only tutor that insisted on being addressed with his full title. Most teachers were on first name terms with their students, many of whom weren’t that much younger than the staff.
Diepger pulled himself up to his full height, towering over Adi’s diminutive figure. She rolled her eyes internally. She hadn’t been intimidated by posturing for a long time, especially not by some dude who barely knew his subject.
“Miss Gutseel, I corrected the sentence because it is wrong. Do you really think badgering me is going to make a difference to your grade?”
Adi ignored the last part. She knew she was a good student but it wasn’t enough. The grade wasn’t the issue. She was upset because she knew she was right. Adi had been raised bilingually and spent her youth in Germany. She was completely fluent and her teacher was being unfair to her because she was better at the language than he was.
She took a deep breath and tried again. Maybe she’d get through to him if she was a little more conciliatory.
“Look, surely we can agree that there are various interpretations of the text. ‘Innerer Frieden’ und ’Seelenfrieden’ are both expressions of the same state of mind.”
Diepger stared at her. It was obvious he wasn’t used to anybody challenging him. His eyes narrowed.
“Miss Gutseel, you seem to think you know everything about the language.” Adi had a sinking feeling that his icy expression veiled his temper. She wasn’t surprised when he suddenly hissed, “Let me tell you something. You’re the student and I’m the teacher. I grade you the way I see fit.” He seemed to want to say more but then turned towards his office. His contempt was dripping off when he said, “If you’ll excuse me now….”
Adi was speechless for all of two seconds. This had gone beyond an academic argument about language. Heat was rising in her cheeks and her pulse was hammering in her temple. Damn it, shut up, shut up, don’t take his bait. She knew she’d better be quiet and walk away. But before she could do that, her temper took over.
“Excuse me again, Professor Diepger,” she shouted at his receding back. Adi hesitated for a split-second before continuing, “I DO know everything about German, given that I grew up speaking it. That’s more that can be said about you, isn’t it? I doubt you’ve ever even left the U.S., judging by your accent.” As the words left her mouth, she knew she should have tried harder to keep them inside.
Diepger stopped walking and just stood there. His whole body tensed, then slowly turned towards her. Adi shrank into herself. Holy crap, what had she just said? Where had that come from? She paled and waited for Diepger to explode. She couldn’t believe she’d spoken to him like that. It was completely out of line and there was no taking it back.
She stammered, “I’m…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…,” before she was interrupted by an icy reply.
“You meant it alright.” Diepger had turned around and was walking back towards her.
Light falling in from an overhead window threw his face into shadows while streaking into Adi’s eyes. She frowned. For a second she thought she saw movement on the teacher’s shoulder. She shook her head. Only a trick of the light surely. But then it moved again and this time, Adi remembered when she had first experienced this.
When she was four years old, an old woman had been sitting outside the local supermarket in Frankfurt, begging. It had been late winter, the sky a thunderous dark gray, the sun struggling to push watery beams through the dense cloud cover. The poplar trees shivered in a gust blowing straight down from the Taunus forest, north of the city.
It was a miserable time of year to be sitting on the ice-cold ground and Adi didn’t understand why the old woman didn’t just go home and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. She’d asked once why some people were out in the cold, and her mom had tried to explain that they were less fortunate.
“Mom,” she said, tugging on her mother’s dark-red wool coat. “Mom, can we give her some money so she can buy a hot drink? She looks so cold.”
“You’re a good girl,” her mom said, smiling at her. Adi liked being called a good girl. She happily skipped towards the beggar woman to put some Deutsch Marks into her paper cup. But when she got closer, she saw a snake wound around the beggar’s neck.
Adi stopped and stared. She’d never seen anything like this before. She remembered a large snake in one of her fairytale books. She was of course a cursed princess and even as a snake, very beautiful. She had a crown on her head and her scales shimmered gold and green. Adi loved that story and her mom had read the book to her from cover to cover several times now.
The beggar’s snake was nothing like the snake princess. Green and brown, its mottled skin hanging off in flakes. Adi hid behind her mother’s legs but the animal looked straight at her and its forked tongue seemed to taste her in the air. There was something malevolent about the snake, its eyes black and lifeless.
When the old woman smiled and thanked Adi’s mom, the snake suddenly tightened its coils around her neck. Her face turned red and she gasped for breath.
Adi’s mom asked, “Are you okay? Can I help you?”
The woman replied after a flurry of coughs, “I’m fine, this comes and goes.”
Adi knew the beggar was not aware of the vicious animal around her neck. As they walked on, Adi felt the snake’s stare between her shoulder blades and she shivered, clinging onto her mother’s hand.
Adi didn’t know why the play of shadow and light aroused those memories in her. She nervously watched Mr. Diepger stalk towards her with an air of anger, maybe even fury. Adi stepped back in the face of his cold expression until her back hit a wall and she couldn’t retreat any further. The man stood close enough to her that she smelled his strong after-shave, cloying and pungent. Like wet dog mixed with eau de cologne. Yuck.
He knew he was intimidating her and he liked it. Towering over her in his curry-colored tweed jacket, his eyes flashing with anger and yes, triumph, knowing she couldn’t get away.
“MISS Gutseel, how dare you. Don’t you challenge me like that again. I don’t care if you are right and I am wrong. You’re the student and I’m the teacher. I can have you expelled from my class and I won’t hesitate to do so if you ever fall out of line again.”
He smirked as he made it clear who held the power. Some movement drew Adi’s eyes to his left ear and this time, she saw it clearly. There was something on his shoulder. It looked like a small twisted monkey, the hatred in its eyes as it glared at her mirroring that of the teacher’s.
“Look at me when I speak to you,” Mr. Diepger snarled at her. Adi’s head snapped back but her eyes kept darting to the side to take in the creature. Its fur looked like it had fallen out in patches, its paws twisted and bent, topped with sharp nails. Adi’s eyes widened when the monkey opened its mouth to hiss at her, showing sharp stained teeth in the process.
“Are you on drugs, Miss Gutseel? Is that the excuse for your behavior?” she heard the teacher ask quietly. When she looked at him again, his mock-concern barely covered his disdain. He clearly thought he was onto something. Good thing then that Adi didn’t do drugs. Not illegal ones anyway. She had been forced to take anti-depressants as a child but not for many years now.
“I’m sorry, professor Diepger. I shouldn’t have said that,” she mumbled, her head bowed. Maybe this display of her fake submission might calm him down.
“Damn right you shouldn’t have. And don’t think I’ll forget this in a hurry either,” he replied. Then he turned around and walked towards his office.
Adi felt compelled to look after him. The creature had turned its head all the way around, staring back at her. In the dark hallway, it looked just like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. Adi shuddered and her hand flew to her neck, rubbing her wolf medallion.
The monkey’s claws were digging painfully into Diepger’s forehead, and he groaned in pain and rubbed his head. The animal’s eyes were still fixed on her, shining sickly yellow. It cackled, then turned around to resume its ride on the teacher’s shoulders.
When the door banged shut behind Diepger, Adi exhaled a breath she felt she’d held for an eternity. Her eyes still wide with shock, her hands shaking with delayed shock. She tugged on her necklace the way she had done ever since she was little.
This was real. She had seen the monkey with her own two eyes. Or had she? When she was a child in Frankfurt, she had seen animals and monsters clinging onto people. She had been sure then as well. But she’d learned with professional help that they were in her head, that those creatures weren’t real and never had been. So why was she seeing them now? She took another deep breath, then turned around and found herself face to face with a man.