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Mr. Cranberry

Fair warning: This story is gross. Some people don’t want to read gross things, and my wife is one of them. If I asked her to read this story without telling her that she shouldn’t be eating while doing so, I would be in big trouble. There are no ghosts or demons in this story; this is a horror story about…hygiene of all things.

Remember the scene in Stephen King’s “Stand by Me” with the pie eating contest? The one where a kid named “Lardass” vomits, causing everyone else to join him? Well, with all due respect to Mr. King, this story tops that one by a long shot…and worse…this one is true. Readers, I wouldn’t dare make this up. I will try my best not to push the envelope and make it gratuitous, but I don’t have to; this story wrote itself, or rather…Mr. Cranberry wrote it for me.

Spoiler alert: There won’t be a spectacular twist at the end of this…or a moral, or something equally dramatic. I considered turning this into a sort of fictitious horror story, using the real Mr. Cranberry for eighty percent of the story and then making him a monster in the end…but nothing “fit”. Nothing beat the truth. In short: this story is what it is.

I’m going to go ahead and just say this one is only “based on” a true story though, because peoples’ memories differ, mine could be flawed, and because if “Mr. Cranberry” (not his real name) is still alive I would hate for him to hear his horrible story retold in such a public fashion. If we’re friends on Facebook, or Reddit, or whatever…let’s keep the poor man’s name a secret, okay? I did an online search for him a while back and found nothing; but that could just be a deficiency in my detective work.

I can’t tell stories, at least face-to-face. I’m the kind of guy that starts talking, gets to a certain point and then says, “Oh, wait, I forgot to say…” and it’s all downhill from there… I wish I had the storytelling skills of my father Ed, or my brother Garth…or my friend Scott…but I don’t. Even without this particular skill however, I’ve told this particular story many times over the years, and even if I do screw it up I still hold everyone’s attention without fail. If you went to the same Junior High School that I did, during the 1979-1980 school year you will remember too. It’s impossible to forget.

Duval Junior High School (not the real name of the school) doesn’t even exist anymore. The city built a middle school in another part of town back about twenty years ago. Now the building I’m writing about houses different city departments and is no longer a school at all. The building taught seventh and eighth graders (only) during the years I attended. It’s an old building, built in 1905 and has four floors; three above ground and one below. Mr. Cranberry’s room was in the basement, and he taught English.

He was (still is?) a large man with a pot belly. The top of his head was bald, yet he grew his graying hair long, about to his shoulders, or just above. The hair was greasy in general, and he wore sweater-vests oftentimes. My thirteen-year-old-self estimated that Mr. Cranberry was in his early forties.

On top of all his faults, the poor man had Tourette’s Syndrome, a malady that causes the afflicted to blurt out repetitive involuntary noises and suffer physical tics. As a bunch of thirteen year olds, it was very hard to stifle laughter when a large man Like Mr. C would suddenly bark out a series of high-pitched beeps in between words…but if we ever did make that mistake we learned very quickly not to ever again, because Mr. Cranberry could be mean.

It was the late seventies (or perhaps the very early eighties at that point), and the hallways of the school were full of students wearing “Van Halen II” and “Aerosmith Live! Bootleg” t-shirts as they made their way to their next class after the bell rang. The rules were different back then; political correctness was years away and teachers could still grab kids by the arm…hard, if they wanted to. Mr. Cranberry took things a step further; he owned a plastic hollow bowling pin, and he would use it against us.

If you were one of his students and spoke out of turn, you would get the bowling pin. He’d just bonk you on the head with it. It was not only humiliating but it could hurt too, especially if you saw it coming and tried to dodge. If you did that you might catch the corner of the bottom of the pin, and that son-of-a-bitch hurt. Those were the days, and he got away with it.

His desk was on the back wall of the classroom as you entered, but he arranged the students’ desks facing left to right in straight rows. We were seated in alphabetical order, and lucky me, I ended up right against his desk. The way he taught encouraged discussion, and in order for me to see most of my classmates I would have to sit sideways, my back to Mr. C. That left me open to blind-side bowling pin attacks. I was very careful not to speak out of turn.

As he was an English teacher, we had weekly vocabulary tests, and there are some words I will never ever forget. One was “acne”, and I know what you’re thinking; everybody knows the word “acne”, of course you’ll never forget “acne”…well, I remember it for a different reason than you do.

Mr. Cranberry would assign the vocabulary words at the beginning of the week, and test us at the end of the week. Mondays were all about discussing new words.

“Who knows what ‘acne’ is? Anyone?” said Mr. Cranberry.

We took our time, formulating responses in our heads carefully so as to avoid “the pin”. A few hands went up, and of course, many if not all of the young teenagers in the room already knew what acne was. Easy enough; on to the next word, right? No, no, no…the lesson had just begun.

Mr. Cranberry pulled his shirt off entirely, exposing his hairy chest and belly. If I recall, he wore a polo shirt that day, it might have been his soccer coach jersey with “Duval Soccer” on the breast. He held it down at his side as we all gawked in disbelief. There he was: A grown man, half naked in a classroom full of teenagers.

Where was this going? He separated the hairs on the center of his chest, pointing.

“You see that right there? That’s acne.”

I’ll never forget poor Bonnie, my classmate. She was in shock. I think I might have seen her gag. That was the end of that lesson.

Another vocab word we had was “nodule”.

A nodule is “a small swelling or aggregation of cells in the body, especially an abnormal one” according to the dictionary. I don’t think as many kids knew “nodule” as compared to “acne”, but no worries; Mr. Cranberry was prepared for the day’s lesson.

He turned his head and grabbed his right ear with his right hand and pulled his long gray hair aside with his left. Behind his right ear was a veiny looking growth resembling (I’m sorry…but I warned you)…a testicle.

The class did a damn good job of keeping their mouths shut, lest they get “the pin”.

Are you grossed out yet? Ha ha…The worst is yet to come.

The following episode took place over about three weeks…or maybe a month if I remember correctly. Mr. Cranberry had taken to standing, and standing only during his lessons. It seemed like might be walking funny too. It got really bad. If he was late for something you’d see him in the hallway cruise by at full speed walking like he’d shit his pants, waddling like a duck. Finally, after who-the-hell-knows-how-long he couldn’t hide it anymore and decided to tell us what was going on…and it was the very definition of “too much information”.

“About a year ago” he began… “I had a boil. It eventually went away, but it has returned.”

A “boil” according to Merriam Webster is: “a localized swelling and inflammation of the skin resulting from infection of a hair follicle and adjacent tissue, having a hard central core, and forming pus”.

He continued: “The boil started around my anus…and has spread to the mail parts of me.” I shit you not.

Obviously, even though we were only thirteen or fourteen years old, this was information overload. We knew exactly what was going on, and we didn’t know what to do with it.

“Does anyone have an old toilet in their back yard? Something I could sit on behind my desk?”

I, along with my classmates (based on conversations with them after the fact) silently wondered if he thought we lived in a junkyard. Who has an old toilet in their back yard? Nobody said a word, and he let the moment pass…thank the Lord.

Days, perhaps weeks went by, and it became the same old thing. Mr. Cranberry would waddle through the hallways…and nobody batted an eyelash. It was the 1979-1980 new normal.

Until one day… One really bad day.

I was in science class. Technically the fourth floor of the building (the top floor), but I believe the room number was in the 300’s. Mr. Cranberry’s room was something like room 8, I believe. Some of my classmates on social media might correct me on this.

The bell rang; it was time to go from Science to English. The rooms were the exact diagonal opposite of each other. No two rooms could be further apart in the building (unless maybe you went into the “new” wing).

I stepped into the hallway…and smelled something. Others smelled it too.

“Who’s wearing that perfume?” I heard. It smelled nothing like perfume to me….but it was strong. I went down the stairs to the next floor. Students were more vocal down there.

“Ewww!” I heard…over and over. I began to consider holding my nose. Then I descended another floor.

The odor was all anyone could think about. Did someone set off a stink bomb somewhere in the school? One more floor to go.

What I remember…I remember vividly. This was literally thirty-eight or thirty-nine years ago. Consider that for a second: Just how old are you, the reader? How many forty-year old memories do you remember like it was yesterday? Think about that…and then read on.

The hallway on the bottom floor was a circus; no, a zoo. Literally everyone was gagging, coughing and complaining vocally. There was absolutely nothing else on their minds. It was like somebody lit a pack of firecrackers…except firecrackers smell much better.

What was that horrible, horrible odor? Did a skunk get into the school and…let fly?

I reached the bottom of the stairs and there was nothing to do but take an immediate left into Mr. Cranberry’s classroom. The moment I crossed the threshold is a moment I will never forget.

A wave of shit…and ammonia…and…I don’t know what…hit me. Not a wave…a SHOCK wave. If the hallway was a “zoo”, the classroom was bedlam. I remember one of my classmates holding his nose, expressing himself to others…and Mr. Cranberry roared deafeningly:

“Oh shut up Chambers!” (Not his real name)…

Beyond it all… behind the people closest to “ground zero”, was Mr. Cranberry…standing behind his desk….legs spread…pant legs soaked from crotch to knee.

His boil had burst.

I wandered in…took my seat…and shut the hell up.

The principal came and sent him home. We moved to a classroom on the next floor up.

I’m sorry but I don’t remember anything else about that year.

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