Matthew Rossi

The Headmaster


It’s—what?—the end of summer and with it, the end of your free time. The Academy asked if you would help with orientation, and you said why not? You’re in a generous way. It’s no big favor. You have the day to spare, and anyway here’s your chance to glad-hand the new people, to chat up the girls.

They open as always with lunch. It’s a good spread the Academy has set up. What’s that, corned beef sandwiches over there? That’s the stuff. You grab a wedge and set to chatting up a pretty girl. Her name is Mandy. Klein. She says she’s majoring in art, and you say, “Ain’t we all,” like it’s a joke, even though there’s no punch line to speak of. She laughs, regardless. You’re nervous, but you shouldn’t be. You are a rising Senior, a handsome fellow, and she’s laughing at your non-humor.

Mandy says she wants to get at something deeper than just visual art. She says there’s a secret part of everyone’s brain that forces us to act outside of our personal will. “It’s like we all have a secret cabal operating in shadows in our brains,” claims Mandy Klein. She says that’s her ideal audience, the collective body of our personal shadow cabals. You say that’s fascinating, though you don’t know what she means.

A woman you have never seen announces that lunch is over and would everyone please head to the Old Library for the opening speech. You follow the crowd into a side room where an exhibition of East Asian art is displayed in glass wall cases. Folding chairs have been set out in neat rows facing an enormous Buddha head. It’s taller than a man, carved of red marble. Everyone gets a seat. The woman says, “Wait here. The headmaster will speak with you shortly,” then departs through a curtain at the back of the room.

You are, let’s be honest, terrified of the head master. Everyone in the room is, even if they don’t know it yet. To break the tension, you make a pun to a cocky looking freshman in a crisp Oxford shirt that the statue is the head-master. He doesn’t acknowledge you, so you say the joke louder. He ignores you again. You think You’ll rue this impertinence, sir, but keep it to yourself.

The headmaster arrives when everyone is about dying of boredom. His head is exactly like the Buddha head, but smaller and wearing a body. The headmaster hesitates. He leans into his microphone. Everyone leans in. You remember your orientation, what a mind fuck it was. You’re excited to see what they have planned for this year. You’re practically out of your seat. You say, “Any second now,” to the cocksure freshman who ignored you.

What comes out of the headmaster’s mouth is a single note of pure music. You think it has to be a sound effect. Your brain can’t fathom this sound as part of nature. It refuses to remain strictly auditory. It presses steadily into you. You cannot bear it. Across the room, Mandy Klein’s face speaks volumes of ecstasy. Something shifts inside of you. Your thoughts become blood and pour from your ears to the floor. It pools with the rest, with those of the man next to you, with Mandy. They coalesce into a handsome man, naked, who rises into the welcoming bosom of the headmaster. You think you know the man, but really you don’t. Without really speaking, the headmaster says, “This one is the best of you. Observe him and do what he does.”

Later, you reconstitute yourself with wine in the rotunda of the Old library. You need drinks to replace the lost blood. The handsome man, the one you helped make, walks the room’s perimeter like a caged thing establishing its territory. You think, I need to eat his heart to gain his power, but that is a crazy thought and you abandon it for sanity. Instead, you find Mandy Klein sitting behind a column near the door, her legs pulled to her chest. You sit next to her, place your hand on her shoulder. You think, This is not me making a move. At the touch of your hand, a valve opens in her. Tears well up, she shudders from somewhere deep. You think, Any moment, now. You have no need to be nervous.