Mr. Lancer shuffled through the scores of disappointing essays once more, just checking to make sure. There were always a few students who turned the assignment in late, or never at all, and Daniel Fenton had once again missed an assignment. Mr. Lancer wasn’t sure if it was simple laziness that prevented the boy from succeeding or not. He had seen the bruises, the dark bags under the thin, pale teen’s eyes. He had also seen that utter look of exhaustion since around the mid-point of freshman year when the ghost attacks had really ramped up.
Mr. Lancer had done what was expected and appropriate of him as a teacher to help Danny. He had made multiple calls home, and still did, he had doled out every punishment the school had in the system, he had even talked to the boy personally every now and again. But nothing seemed to help or do the trick. It wasn’t an at-home problem, or at least not an obvious one. Mr. and Mrs. Fenton had also remarked about the strange bruises and tiredness over the past year and a half. They wanted to know too but were deeply wrapped up in trying to solve the Haunting of Amity Park, because maybe ghosts were the root of all of Amity’s problems.
Mr. Lancer, like any other teacher, knew about most things that happened in the school, much more than the students ever realized, especially since he had been a high school teacher for the past 20 years. He had seen countless cases of high school relationships gone awry, bullying, shading, club initiation, and even fight clubs and gangs. But nothing quite like the case of Danny Fenton. He heard the rumors spread in his classroom and in the halls, the teachers were almost more tuned into the local gossip than the students were.
Mr. Lancer had definitely heard the rumors about Danny Fenton that haunted the halls like the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
The ghosts had taken after the football team and decided Danny was a good punching bag. Danny was just dreadfully clumsy (this was certainly true the first part of freshman year). Danny had some sort of disorder where he bruised easily. Danny was in some sort of fight club. Danny was hurting himself. The list went could fill a book comparable to Les Misérables. Even then, those were the tame ones, and some of the ones Lancer had confronted Danny about personally.
Then there were some of the odder ones. The ones that powdered Danny himself, not just his injures. Ones that questioned his humanity, which Lancer regarded as ridiculous. Rumors about how injuries Danny walked in with in the morning were gone by lunch. Another girl swore she saw Danny stick his arm through his locker. A quieter boy claimed he saw Danny vanish into thin air in the boys' bathroom on the second floor. Danny’s skin was cold as ice. Danny’s eyes glowed. Danny had fangs. The list also went on for ages with this one. There was something off about Danny Fenton, something more than the typical Fenton ambiguity. The reasons for these odd sightings claimed anything from human experimentation to contamination, to guessing Danny was an alien. Ghost, however, was off the table. His parents were ghost hunters, surely, they would notice if their own son was a ghost, or possessed by a ghost.
Mr. Lancer pulled out another paper, where he decided to start grading. He slowly began to sift through the same essay written over and rephrased 160 different times. The lamp on his desk glowed a pale yellow, which reflected off of the windows on the one side of his classroom. The oncoming storm of black clouds had turned the glass into grim mirrors. A dim, quiet room full of empty desks, sometimes filled with the noise of teenage life, felt like a forgotten, almost liminal part of the world, a forgotten fragment, like the empty halls of a school often did.
There was a knock on the door, quiet, almost nervous. Lancer looked up, grateful and irritated for the distraction.
“Come in,” he called out, and in walked Danny Fenton.
“Hi, Mr. Lancer. Sorry I came here so late, but I managed to finish that essay, so I thought I might at least attempt to turn it in,” Danny explained, sheepish and most certainly out of place.
“Mr. Fenton, I’m moved by your dedication to this essay, though I’m sad to say it might not help your grade much, but the effort is appreciated.”
As he spoke, Lancer saw the acceptance of failure in Danny’s eyes, and his heart panged. The boy was expecting another lecture and hung his head in shame and embarrassment. Mr. Lancer knew this wasn’t the face of a boy trying to fail or rebel, Danny grades were an unfortunate sacrifice for something else. His heart panged, though there wasn’t much he could do, nothing he hadn’t already tried.
“Thanks anyway, Mr. Lancer,” Danny said sadly and went to leave.
“Mr. Fenton, I could grade it for you right now if you’d be willing to wait a moment. I could give you pointers as well for your next essay while I’m at it,” Lancer offered, and Danny stopped.
“Absolutely, Mr. Fenton.”
Mr. Lancer looked down at the essay, scribbled down in messy, rushed handwriting. It looked like it was done in two parts, the second half noticeably more messy and less focused. While barely legible and perhaps a bit rushed, it was a complete essay using quotes with sound reasoning and an adequate thesis statement. Mr. Lancer used a red pen to annotate where he could, but there wasn’t as much red ink on the paper as some of the other essays in the pile (Dash Baxter’s essay almost had more red ink than black). He handed the essay back to Danny and glanced towards the window, the storm getting ready to break loose from the crowd.
Then he paused. There, in the window’s reflection, he could see himself, the pale-yellow circlet of his desk lamp, and Danny. Only Danny’s reflection had bright neon green eyes, so saturated in color that nothing in nature could hope to compare. Mr. Lancer discreetly looked back towards Danny, who had pale blue eyes, just not in the reflection.
Danny looked up once he was done reading the annotations, confusion, and surprise on his feature.
“Are you sure this deserves a four, Mr. Lancer?” Danny asked, handing the paperback.
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with it outside of a few things,” Mr. Lancer accepted the paper, “You do just fine when you actually submit your work, Mr. Fenton.”
Danny almost seemed to glow at the light praise. Perhaps he did.
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer,” and Danny Fenton scamped out of the classroom.
Mr. Lancer let out a long sigh. Picture of Dorian Gray, what was he going to do with that boy?