You want to know a secret? Most of psychology is nonsense. I should know; I make a living teaching it.

Freud, for example, didn’t do a single experiment to prove his psychodynamic theories. He was just some creepy old perv projecting his fetishes onto everyone else. Humanism is the same thing as psychodynamism, but with a thin coat of wishful thinking on top. I mean, come on. Maslow tried to tell us that sex was a basic need on the same level as food and water, as if anyone’s gonna seek out a roll in the hay before shelter and security. There’s some scientific basis for the behaviorist and biological schools, of course, but if you admit that stuff like that is the truth, then you might as well admit that life is nothing but senseless horror, so I won’t.

Here’s a case study for all you armchair psychologists out there. Rachael Winslow, proud owner of the biggest rack in the senior class of Lake Town High, turns 18 one fine Wednesday. After school that same Wednesday, she calls her mom to tell her she’s staying out with friends for the night. 20 minutes later, her psychology teacher finds her leaning up against his little olive-green sedan, come-hither eyes set over a coy little smile that just screams “I’m legal now, baby.” They go back to the teacher’s place together, and I don’t think I need to spell out happens next.

Okay, sure, so the school’s got rules against teachers fraternizing with students, including legal-age students, but it’s not like an actual crime’s been committed. Okay, sure, so the teacher’s got a wife, who loves him very much, but she’s on that mission trip to the Balkans right now, and you know, sex is a basic need. That’s what all the leading psychologists say, anyway.

Anyway, so they go to school the next day like nothing happened, arriving about 16 minutes apart, and Rachael decides to spend the night at her teacher’s place that same Thursday and Friday, too. Come Saturday, the poor, worn out psych teacher isn’t expecting a visit from Rachael. But he gets one. Or, at least, he gets a visit from part of her, in the form of one of those great, big, barely-legal tits nailed to his front door, which he discovers on Sunday morning when the cops come pounding on his door. The other tit, along with the rest of Rachael, is found cold and stiff in a dumpster outside a gas station.

All right, all you would-be-Freuds, psychoanalyze that. What the hell was this killer thinking? What the hell was Rachael thinking when she decided to bring this hell down upon this particular teacher, as opposed to any other adult male in a ten-mile radius? What the hell am I thinking—and in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m the psych teacher in this case study—when the cops tell me that I’m not under arrest, but I have to come with them for some to answer a few questions? When the cops find out I teach psychology, and they smirk and ask me to give them a profile of the killer just like in those crime shows on TV, what the hell exactly am I supposed to tell them?

I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell them, but I’ll tell you what I do tell them.

“Uh, look, I mean, uh, see here, I didn’t- you know, I would never—”

The cop holds up his hand and tells me to please be quiet. It’s probably for my own good; I’m about as smooth as extra chunky peanut butter.

“Calm down, mister,” he says, “You’re not under suspicion for anything just yet. The way I see it, you probably entered a sexual relationship with Miss Winslow, some ex-boyfriend found out about it, and he killed her over it. It happens that way sometimes. Actually, it happens that way a lot.”

“Whoah, what are you,” I stammer, “I would never, I’d never!”

“What’d I just say? Calm down,” says the cop, “She was over 18, wasn’t she? Whatever arrangements you’ve got with your wife or your job are your business; as long as everything was legal, it’s not my job to tattle on you. Just answer the question. Were you smashing this chick, or not?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Good,” he says, “See? That wasn’t so bad. That’s all we wanted from you. You’re free to go now.”

I’m getting up to get the hell out of there, but the cop apparently changes his mind about letting me go.

“Ah, hang on,” he says, “Just one more thing. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but we think it might be helpful if you’d draft up some kind of profile on the killer. Not just because of your profession, of course—we’ve got profilers of our own—but because this guy is probably a student at Lake Town High, might be someone you know.”

“Sorry, man,” I tell him, “I don’t know anything about this guy.”

“Wanna know something about him?”

A TV hangs on the wall on the far side of the room. The cop picks up a remote and hits a button on it. The TV comes to life and shows me a blurry image of a girl smoking outside a gas station.

“Security cam footage from last night,” explains the cop, “Check it out.”

He hits another button, and the film rolls. Rachael—who I didn’t know smoked—is definitely the girl in the video. There’s nothing particularly interesting about the film; she’s just sort of standing there. Then, from the corner of the screen, a billowing, white figure emerges.

“Is that a guy in a sheet ghost costume?” I ask.

“Oh yeah,” says the cop, “Keep watching.”

Do I need to describe every little detail? The ghost sneaks up behind Rachael, reaches around her with a great, big butcher’s knife, and slices. Fade to black, cut to credits, end of film.

“What do you think?” the cop asks me.

“Geez,” I tell him, “I don’t know. That’s insane.”

“Well, you can take your time thinking about it. If you come up with something, you can just get back to us about it,” says the cop, “Now, just one more question, and then you can go.”

“Okay,” I say, feeling pretty anxious to get the hell out of here.

“How exactly is it,” he says, “that a guy nailed a tit to your door last night, and you didn’t hear it?”

That’s a good question. That’s a damn good question. So good, in fact, that for just a second, I’m almost accusing myself of the murder.

“I don’t know,” I say, “I guess I must have slept through it.”

The cop shrugs, and says, “Yeah, I figured it was something like that. It happens that way sometimes. Anyway, that’s all I got for you right now.”

So I go home and spend what’s left of my weekend in the company of my good friend Jack Daniels. When I get to work on Monday, I’ve got a splitting headache for some reason, so instead of teaching my classes, I just put on a movie—the one about the mental patient who thinks he’s an alien—and I tell the students we’ll talk about it after we’re done with it. In the meanwhile, I get to spend all day in the teacher’s lounge just pounding back water and popping aspirin like candy, only dropping by my classroom once every 40 minutes to restart the movie. That’s Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday all taken care of right there. On Thursday, we’ll have our little discussion, and on Fridays I always just let the kids screw around anyway.

Come Friday night and I decide not to spend the weekend drinking this time. There’s a message on my answering machine from the cop, asking me if I still want to do that profile. I call him back, but he doesn’t answer, so I leave a message on his answering machine explaining that I was a little too shaken up to do much writing this past week, but I’d like to do it this next week. I spend the night sprawled out on my couch, sipping a beer that tastes like piss, ignoring my decision not to drink, and watching some trashy TV show I’m not really paying attention to. The home phone starts ringing, but I see it’s my wife calling and I let it go to the answering machine. She tells me that she loves me, she misses me, and that the mission trip has been extended another month. She won’t be back ‘til summer. I grab another piss-beer. Somehow, I manage to fall asleep, and then it’s Saturday morning. No tits on my door this time.

I stir a pack of instant coffee that tastes like dirt and pesticides into a cup of hot water. Then I crack open my laptop and sit down to get something written. It ends up reading less like a profile and more like a suspect list, because I’m a high school teacher, not a profiler. At the top of my list is Gerald Dipazzi, who I’m pretty sure was Rachael’s boyfriend last year, though I don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing. Gerald is one of those aggressive little shitheads who like to slam passing freshmen into lockers for no reason. To be fair, I did the same thing at his age, but I’m an adult now and I’m not supposed to find stuff like that funny anymore, and anyway, I don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing. What I do pay attention to is the fact that Gerald happens to be taking my third period class, which he usually spends drooling on his desk. He’s not exactly my star pupil.

Before I know it, it’s Sunday night and my weekend is over. While I’m trying to sleep, I see a guy in a sheet ghost costume hanging out at the foot of my bed, but I’m not worried about it. It’s something called a hypnagogic hallucination, which is actually normal for people who are almost asleep, and which I’ll be teaching my first, fourth, and sixth-period classes about in three weeks.

Gerald isn’t in class on Monday. This sufficiently distracts me to where I tell all my classes to write a short essay on that movie from last week, and I sit at my desk and attempt to write some kind of profile on Gerald. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’ve absolutely never done anything like this before. Back when I was running a practice—back before that practice went belly-up and I figured “hey, those who can’t do, teach”—I’d sometimes make little write-ups on my clients’ mental states. You know, for ease of reference. The problem is, mapping out people’s mental landscapes after they’ve paid for the privilege of baring their souls out to you is one thing. Pinning down a guy you probably haven’t spoken three words to ever is entirely another.

“Wants to fuck his mother,” I type. Then I erase it. Fucking Freud.

That night, I get a call from that cop. I don’t have anything, so I just mention that Gerald Dipazzi was an old boyfriend of Rachael’s who I knew to be a fairly aggressive guy. He doesn’t seem to mind that what I’ve given him doesn’t qualify as a profile at all.

“Yeah,” he tells me, “We’re tracking the Dipazzi angle. Funny you should mention him now; his parents say he left home last night and never came back.”

“Geez,” I say, “Really?”

“Yeah,” he says, “It happens; some guys try to skip town once the cops come sniffing around. Anyway, he’ll get found eventually, and when he does, we’ll find out for sure what happened. Thanks for the tip, man.”

On Tuesday, all the students and staff members gather in the gym for a memorial service for Rachael. There’s hardly a dry eye in the whole school, except for mine for some reason. I just keep staring at her poor, teary-eyed mother weeping down there on the polished wood and I just keep thinking, I boned your daughter, lady. The night before she died, I boned her.

If I were giving myself therapy, I’d tell myself that I’m struggling with intense guilt, but I’m not. I’m really not. In the first place, Rachael was a legal adult who could make her own damn decisions. In the second place, my wife is never around, and it’s not my fault that I’ve got needs. In the third place, how the hell was I supposed to know some psycho in a ghost costume was gonna come and off the damn woman? Really, I’ve got nothing to feel guilty for.

The memorial service takes all morning, and the school decides to honor Rachael by giving the students the afternoon off. I decide to take advantage of it by grading those essays I had everyone write yesterday. Everyone interpreted the movie pretty much the same: the mental patient had dissociative fugue; that is, multiple personalities plus running away from home. Everyone gets an A. Good job, everyone. Good job, everyone but Rachael and Gerald.

The rest of the week passes by in a sort of haze. I spend all day giving lectures so bad they’re almost putting me to sleep. I spend all night imagining sheeted figures tapping at my windows, and I dream about slashing Rachael in the throat, over and over and over again.

Friday rolls around, and I’m just letting the kids do whatever they want, when one of them raises his hand for some reason.

“Yeah?” I ask him.

“Uh, sir,” he squeaks, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but, um, it kind of smells in here.”

Sounds of agreement fill the air. Apparently my classroom has stunk since Tuesday. I take a couple of sniffs for myself.

“Yeah,” I say, “It does kind of smell in here.”

A few more sniffs draw my head down toward the bottom drawer on my desk. I open it.

Oh shit.

Crumpled up there in the drawer is something white and red. White bedsheets stained all over with something dry and dark, dark red.

Oh man, oh geez, I’m thinking, He didn’t skip town at all. He left this here. The motherfucker’s been here.

“Uh, sir?” comes a squeaky voice, “What is it?”

I slam the drawer shut.

“Nothing,” I say, “I don’t know what that smell is. I’ll bring in some Febreze on Monday.”

On my way out of the school, I see one of those posters designed to discourage students from smoking, and I decide to pick up a pack of cigarettes on my way home. I try out smoking for the first time that night in my kitchen, but it tastes like trash, so I stop and throw the pack in the trash. Actually, everything tastes like trash. My piss-beer, my frozen pizzas, and even a simple glass of water all get discarded as soon as they touch my lips.

I remember the sheets I found in my desk today and decide that it’s probably wise to let the cop know. I grab his card from my wallet and punch his desk’s extension into my phone.

“Hello?” says the phone.

“Hey, it’s me,” I say, “Listen, Gerald Dipazzi never left town. He’s still here. He left his costume in my desk at work—”

“Ah, hang on, hang on,” says the cop, “Listen, ah, you probably don’t wanna hear this, but I know Dipazzi never left town.”


“Yeah, ah, see, it’s like this,” he says, “We found him a couple hours ago. Near as we can tell, he’s been dead since about Sunday.”


“Don’t freak out, man,” he says, “Just calm down. Is that costume still in your desk?”


“All right. Don’t touch it,” says the cop, “I get off work in about three hours, and I’ve still got a ton of paperwork to go through, but I’ll come look at it tomorrow. Sound good?”

“Yeah,” I say, “Sure.”

I decide to end my night early by ingesting a big handful of various sleeping pills. It tastes like trash, of course, but it gets the job done, and I’m out cold in about five minutes.

It’s three hours later now, and never mind what I said about that sleeping pill overdose getting the job done. I’m groggy as hell, but definitely awake. My friend the sheet ghost is in the room again, but I figure it’s another hypnagogic hallucination and ignore him. That’s a mistake. The ghost grabs my shoulder and yanks me out of my bed. Some hallucinations can do that, but not hypnagogic ones, and anyway, I am absolutely not sleepy anymore.

Oh, fucking man, I’m thinking. We’ve all seen this movie, and the creepy old guy never, ever survives, I’m thinking, even though I’m still in my thirties, which seems way too early to be getting killed like this.

My friend the ghost is making spooky “ooooh” noises and flapping his arms around, causing the sides of his bleached-white costume to billow and furl like the world’s noisiest tapestry. There’s so much movement going on that I almost don’t notice the giant kitchen knife in his hand, but I catch it when it reflects a glint of blood-red light from my obnoxious digital alarm clock and haul ass out of there.

Next thing you know, I’m a grown man running down the street in his underwear from some guy in a homemade Halloween costume. Thank goodness, though, that Lake Town’s a fairly small town, and I don’t have to run for very long before I see the police station.

All I’ve got to do is get in there, I’m thinking. Once I’m in there, I’m safe, I’m thinking.

But my thinking is wrong. Dead wrong, to be precise.

I’m almost to the glass doors when the ghost himself bursts out of the police station and plunges his knife into my chest. I’m blacking out on the ground.

When I come to, I guess I haven’t been out very long, because it feels like I’m still laid out on the pavement, and I’m pretty sure those are cops I hear talking, so I must still be outside the police station. I can’t tell for sure, though, because somebody has laid a white sheet over my face. The cops must have thought I was dead, but I’m not, so I start trying to get this sheet off of me.

“Hey! He’s moving!” someone shouts.

“Relax,” says a cop—my cop, if I’m hearing this right—and someone starts pulling up the sheet, “He’s done for.”

The sheet comes off, and I’m looking into the cop’s face.

“Figures,” he says, shaking his head, “You tried to get me right when I said I was getting off work.”

I can’t really understand what he’s talking about, but I see the ghost standing just behind him, flapping and oooh-ing.

“Total mental breakdown, it happens that way sometimes. You psychopomps would probably call it a dissociative fugue or something,” the cop is going on, completely unaware of the danger just behind him, just shaking his head. “Senseless fucking horror.”

I don’t know what the hell he’s on about, but I see the ghost. I want to point him out, and I try to shout out a warning, but I can’t move, I can’t talk, and it’s getting cold out here. The ghost is here, out where everyone can see him, but nobody’s looking. You’re all in danger, can’t you see?

Doesn’t anyone see him but me?