Mrs. Thrailkill is a Chain Smoker


The lights are dim. The room is filled with cigarette smoke.‭ This isn’t the counseling office, I think to myself, it’s the back room of a pool hall. ‬The other kids are sitting next to me and giving me questioning looks as they fill out their questionnaires.

What did we do wrong? they’re no doubt thinking.

‬I cough‭. Secondhand smoke’ll kill you worse than smoking the actual cigarette, but Mrs. Thrailkill doesn’t seem to care. She just sits there watching us squirm, smiling crookedly, a smoldering butt in her hand. The ashtray on her desk is overflowing.


One of the others is trying to get my attention.‭ ‬He’s fat,‭ ‬wearing this ridiculous-looking T-shirt that has “Empire Slam” printed on it. Underneath, a basketball player is slam-dunking his own head. ‬His name’s Ernest, as I recall from when Thrailkill made us all shake hands. (Beside him,‭ ‬the bodybuilder boy with the accent and the jogging suit girl are sitting quietly. The girl is sneaking glances at the boy,‭ ‬but he doesn’t seem to notice.)

‭“Yeah?” I whisper, trying to look buggered.

“What’s this mean?” Ernest asks, and points to one of the questions on his worksheet.

I glance down at the paper, recognizing the question about going steady. “These things are for kids who are older than us. Just put ‘yes’ if you’ve been dating anyone for more than a month.”

“Oh.” Ernest snickers. “I knew that.”

I can tell he’s lying, but I don’t say anything. I’m trying to breathe as slowly as possible, trying to pretend my lungs aren’t being smoked like a Christmas ham.

After several minutes of silence, we turn in our worksheets. Mrs. Thrailkill slides them into a folder.

“Let’s be honest, shall we?” She folds her hands on the desktop. “You four are in over your heads. In deep shit.”

Did she just say the “s” word?

“Good grades might have gotten you here, but if you’re going to stay, there’s going to have to be some sort of adjustment. Academics are no substitute for a natural evolution of social skills that can only be acquired through incremental leverage against your peers—but seeing as how you’ve skipped past your middle school careers, we’re going to need to use alternative measures.”

“What are you saying‭?” ‬asks Jan.‭ “‬Are we,‭ ‬like,‭ ‬autistic or something‭?” He seems genuinely concerned, though he somehow does it without once looking Thrailkill in the eye.

She smiles, takes a drag from her cigarette. Oh, the upperclassmen are going to eat you up! her expression reads. “No—although that is a charming scenario.”

Eva pipes in: “Then…you’re saying we’re‭, um, socially-challenged?”

“In a way, yes, though it’s not of your own doing. You’re intelligent, privileged in the academic sense. But you’re also much younger than the other freshmen. They can’t help but look at the lot of you as junior siblings, lackeys, nuisances. You’re either going to get in the way, or you’re going to be ignored completely. In the adolescent world, there is no middle ground. So, yes, in that sense, you’re socially-challenged.”

Ernest laughs nervously and shakes his head. “Did you call us in here just to scare us?”

“I’m not telling you anything you wouldn’t find out on your own if given a few weeks to bumble around here at Boca Linda. My job is to prepare you, to prime you, to alleviate any false assumptions regarding free blowjobs in the boys’ restroom.”

Did…did she just say blowjobs?

“Hmf,” Ernest snorts. Half amazed, half grossed-out.

Thrailkill pauses a moment, looks us over, amusement playing across her weathered features. I think she’s waiting for one of us to say something—but just as I clear my throat she finishes her cigarette and says, “I have an idea.” She picks up a ballpoint pen and scribbles something in her notepad. “Do you four have Internet access at home?”

We all nod.

‭“Good.” She turns away, starts rummaging in her file cabinet.

“God damn,” Ernest breathes into my ear—a disturbing feeling considering we’ve only just met. “She’s just like everyone said. Worse, even.”

I push my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “You think it’s legal for her to be smoking in here?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. ‬I heard she has‭ five‭ ‬husbands,‭ ‬and they all live in her garden shed. She‭ keeps them locked up, and she feeds them table scraps once a day.‭”

“That’s obviously an urban legend,” I whisper.

Ernest shrugs.‭ “‬I thought having a chain-smoking guidance counselor was an urban legend too,‭ ‬but here we are.”

I look at Thrailkill again.‭ ‬She looks like a man-eater. Must be six feet tall, with a formidable bone structure that’s held up well considering the fact that she must be approaching sixty.

She faces us again.

Eva is caught halfway to asking Ernest and me what the hell we’re whispering about.

We straighten, mouths shut, palms tingling.

“I have a homework assignment for you,” says Thrailkill.

An instinctive groan escapes Ernest’s mouth.

“Rest assured, Mr. Goodale, it won’t affect your dinner schedule.”

Eva smiles, shoots Jan a knowing look (which he misses).

“Your assignment, children, is to spend half an hour chatting with each other online. I want you each to learn five useful facts about your companions, and I want you to write them down. You can make a list or do a paragraph including what you’ve learned. You’ll turn this in when we meet again tomorrow.”

I glance at the others, trying to be nonchalant. Ernest is annoying; he acts like he’s already friends with me. Jan just looks like he’d rather be anywhere else than here. Eva is kind of bug-eyed, but cute (I wonder how she answered the “going steady” part of her questionnaire?). I don’t see how we’d ever have a reason to spend a single minute talking to one another, much less thirty minutes. But that’s the assignment, and Mrs. Thrailkill is already handing us our hall passes and telling us “good day.”

We leave the counseling office; a cloud of acrid smoke follows us out, hovers over our heads as we exchange screen names.

“How did you like Mrs. Thrill-Kill?” asks Ernest.

“I can’t believe she’s our counselor,” replies Eva.

“I can’t believe she’s a counselor—period,” I say.

Jan nods, plays with a rogue thread on his sleeve.

We look at each other a moment. I know I want to say “goodbye,” or “nice meeting you,” or something like that—but I don’t want to sound too friendly. So, I nod, wave, and part ways with my assigned partners, my predetermined friends.

My social life has been handed to me; I don’t know if I should be relieved, or if this is the start of something truly awful.

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The Guidance Counselor from Hell


You can kiss your respective summers goodbye.

Because it’s the first day of school.

Which means it’s the first day of the end of your lives, my little ones.

Even at this early morning hour, this preliminary juncture, the worst is obvious: forced smiles on swollen faces, looks of uncertainty and alienation clouding bright eyes, expressions of anger and resentment directed at seemingly oblivious mommies and daddies—“You wretched bitch! How can you just leave me here?!? I was an eighth grader! I was at the top of my game! No one stepped up to me, I was a god!”

And now you’re shit. Toilet scum. Barnacles clinging to the underside of a social Titanic, cursed to begin the hellish uphill climb that is high school. You don’t want to be here. Sure, you’ve heard the stories of blowjobs behind the bleachers, smoking in the restroom, cheerleader slumber parties, midnight raves—but you know as well as I do, my little darlings, that you shall be denied any of the more heady adolescent pleasures. You four are the exceptions, the anomalies, exiles, outcasts prematurely ejected from your previous schools because of three painful commonalities: you’re twelve years old, you’re gifted, and you’re freshmen here at Boca Linda High. You’re terrified, shaking in your sneakers. Without proper guidance you’ll spend the next four years of your lives leaning on your various crutches in a vain attempt to scrape by.

Let’s start with you. Theo Smole. Brown hair, brown eyes, glasses, short and compact, darling—for now (puberty almost certainly has a few cruel tricks in store for you). You’re the smart kid, aren’t you? You look smart. Smart and worrisome. Worrywart. That’s what you are. Worried about your first day, your first grade, whether or not the cafeteria provides vegetarian alternatives to chicken-fried steak and cheeseburgers. You’re wondering if you’ll have to share your locker with a putz, if you’ll have to shower naked with the older, bigger boys after each and every goddamned gym class. You’re worried that despite this being a smoke-free campus, I have a full ashtray on my desk. Well, the campus may be smoke-free, but this room is my domain. Has been for thirty years. Know why? Because I get the job done. No beating around the bush in my office.

Moving along: Ernest Goodale. The fat kid. Curly brown locks, perennially matted—hat hair. You’ve got girth, I’ll give you that, but I doubt it’ll do more than earn you a barrage of fat jokes as you struggle to convince everyone you’re merely “big boned.” You’re looking at me with a carefully-trained expression of detached contempt, as if you’ve got better things to do besides sit in some old hag’s smoke-filled cave while she picks you apart piece by piece. The sad part is, you don’t have anything better to do. You’re twelve fucking years old. Between school and Internet time at home (most of which you no doubt spend gaming or masturbating to free adult site previews), there’s nothing going on in your life. Too old to be amused by kiddie pastimes, too young to be of interest to your female peers. And you’re fat.

Jan Kounicova. The foreigner—and the poor kid, from the look of you. Tall for your age. Everything slightly tattered—even the hairdo, with its frizzy-not-spiky, 99¢ Store blond dye job. I’ll admit, you’re a looker, with those broad features and cute muscles of yours. If you had an ounce of self-assurance (and if your parents could afford it), you’d make a good football player, or maybe a wrestler—but you can’t keep eye contact for more than three seconds at a time. You might fit in with the jocks except for the fact that you have a girl’s name. I don’t care if it’s “John” in Brno; in America, Jan is short for Janet. Get used to being a closet jock.

Eva Taylor. The girl. Blond. Ponytail. Jogging suit. Brand new sneakers. Pretty and petite, albeit noticeably bug-eyed. Like Jan, you’re athletic. However, where he probably got his physique out of necessity, walking four miles to and from school everyday, it’s obvious you’re the product of teenybopper parents raised on an abundance of fresh salads and 24-Hour Fitness memberships. Valley girl in the making, not yet annoying, as you’re still flat-chested and conservative with the makeup. Could go both ways once the boys start to take notice, though. I’d say there’s nothing outright wrong with you except that you’ve suffered the grave misfortune of being lumped together with the Runt Squad. Obviously it’s of vital importance to your parents that they keep an open channel between themselves and their daughter’s educators. Goddamned socialites.

So, yes, children, it’s the first day of school, and I, Mrs. Rebbecca Thrailkill, am your guidance counselor.

God, I’m going to need another cigarette.

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