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Mr. Lane was our Math teacher in high school. He didn’t stand out in any way, and his lessons weren’t particularly interesting. He was just always there. Always there in his usual button-down shirt and pants, earnest in his hope to interest us in algebra and isosceles triangles and what-not. Seldom was he successful though.

But we all knew he was a kind man. Mel went to him when she found out, at fifteen, that she was pregnant. She didn’t want to have an abortion, so he helped to arrange for the baby to be put up for adoption after it was born. He helped out Brandon when his deadbeat dad just upped and left him without a word, letting him stay at his place for a while until the county found him foster parents in our town.

From what we knew of him, he was unmarried and had no family to speak of—his parents were dead and the one sibling he had, a brother, had moved to Canada years ago and not bothered to stay in contact.

He had a dog though, and the day it died was the only day any of us could ever recall him calling in sick. That was just the sort of man he was.

So imagine our surprise when the police arrested Mr. Lane in our final year. Apparently it was only us kids who had no idea that was coming. Suspicion among the adults had been mounting for some time, especially after the disappearance of Evelyn, the fifth kid in two years to go missing without any explanation, and without eventually being found. They were all from our school, but in different classes.

The one thing they all had in common? They had Mr. Lane as their Math teacher.

When interrogated, he confessed. He brought them to the wooded area near the school where four bodies were found buried. For some reason or another, he refused to reveal where Evelyn's body was hidden, though he admitted to killing her.

All the same, the prosecution had more than enough evidence to proceed to trial. It made the news, of course, but it wasn’t really considered sensational enough to be featured on the front page. There were no lurid details to be savoured by the public, much to their annoyance. The voices in his head had told him to do it, he said. He was sentenced to a hundred and twenty years without any possibility of parole.

Justice was done, the convicted murderer faded from the public consciousness. Evelyn’s body was never found, and Mr. Lane died in prison barely a year into his imprisonment, beaten to a pulp by a fellow inmate whose niece had been one of his victims.

But some things just refuse to stay buried in the past. Around a decade after the death of Mr. Lane, teens started disappearing again, but at a brisker pace. “Ten Gone in Two Months!” the headlines of the local paper screamed. Even the national newspapers took an interest this time, for there were dark whisperings of how evil never really dies; old Mrs. Graham in fact swore she saw the spectre of the long-dead teacher-turned-murderer—in the very same woods where he had previously hidden the evidence of his crimes.

The hard-nosed detectives at the police department weren’t as inclined to believe that the missing persons were being spirited away by a—well, spirit—though, and they investigated every case thoroughly and tirelessly, and soon enough they got a lucky break.

Late one evening, a state trooper pulled a car over for a busted tail light. He was just about to let off the driver with a warning when the tiniest cry could be heard wafting from the boot. The driver must have heard it too, for he floored it immediately, hurling the officer to the side. The ensuing high-speed chase involved at least five patrol cars and a helicopter, and it wasn’t long before the suspect was apprehended.

Name of suspect? Brandon Hicks. The very same Brandon taken in by Mr. Lane after his dad had abandoned him. In the boot of his car the police found his latest victim, Brenna Taylor, thankfully still alive. When pressed on his victim count, he proudly declared: Sixteen.

Eleven in the recent two months, not counting Ms. Taylor. One of them had not been reported as a missing persons case due to her history of running away from home.

And five more from a decade ago. Including Evelyn, whose body was never found.

The police was skeptical at first, seeing it as a deliberate ploy to throw them off balance. But when they found the skeleton of Evelyn Burrows in a remote spot at the local quarry—just as Brandon said they would—they began to sit up and take notice.

The truth shook the town to the core. Ten years back, Mr. Lane confronted his young charge after he had found one of Brandon’s shirts, bloodied and muddied. The youth broke down and confessed, and begged his teacher not to give him up to the police. For some reason, he agreed. And when things came to a head and he was arrested, something in him made him decide to be the willing scapegoat for his student.

The townsfolk all shook their heads in disbelief at the revelation. No one could understand why Mr. Lane would do anything like that. Brandon himself offered no explanation.

Brandon Hicks eventually was shut away for a long, long time. And after a while, the whole incident faded from memory, an ugly stain on an otherwise clean history the town was eager to forget.

But I still think about it sometimes. The man who had never called in sick his entire life doing so for the first time when his dog died. The one living thing he had as a friend.

I think Mr. Lane was a lonely man. A very lonely man.

May he rest in peace.



Credited to prolix