“Bill!” Mrs. Walsky actually jumps up out of her chair and rushes over to me! And, unbelievably, she attempts to hug me even with her handcuffs on!
I stand immobile as she manages an awkward, yet effective hug.
“It’s so great to see you! I remember when you were in my class,” she gushes as she sits back down in her chair, scooting it as close to the table as she can get, then folding her handcuffed hands on the table in front of her.
As I sit in my chair across from her, even with the table between us, I notice that her feet don’t touch the floor. She’s propped them on the legs of the table.
“You sat on the front row with another police-buddy. You two would wear your uniforms to class and distract me from my teaching! I never could concentrate when you two were in the room, but it was especially awful for me when you came in your police uniforms!”
Her smile is actually genuine. I find myself smiling back at her. I can’t help it.
“And I was pregnant with my son Jared that semester. Do you remember?” Her smile is sweet and wistful.
“I do, Mrs. Walsky,” I can’t help smiling back as I respond to her. I find myself leaning towards her across the table. “And how is your son doing? He must be, what? Eleven? Twelve, by now?”
“Yes, he’s eleven. He’s in sixth grade and doing well. I’m so proud of him. He’s an avid reader, not as much as his Momma, of course, but at least he loves to read. He’s so smart. He is even thinking about attending the school’s early college high school program in a few years. He wants to be a counselor when he grows up.”
“I’ll bet he’ll be a great one,” I reply.
“What about you? If I remember correctly, you’re married with at least one young one, too?”
“Yes, ma’am. My wife and I are still going strong and doing quite well. We’ve added two more to our family, so now I have three. The oldest is in eighth grade; he plays football. My middle child is in fifth grade; she’s a reader, too. And my youngest is just in kindergarten this year; he is struggling. My wife thinks it’s because he’s worried about me. We let him watch one of those cop dramas on tv and a policeman died during the episode we watched. If I had known beforehand, I never would have let him watch it.”
“So now your son thinks that Daddy is going to die on the job. Oh, the poor, sweet boy. You must try to spend a lot of extra time with him to reassure him?”
“I do. But it only makes him more clingy to me rather than helping the situation. He grabs my leg each morning and won’t let go. My wife and I have to pry him off me so I can leave. Lately, we’ve gotten so I leave before the kids are even up in the morning just so we don’t have to deal with it.”
She reached her hand across the table to put it on top of both of mine. Her eyes spoke more than any words she could have said. We sat and looked at each other for a few moments, neither one of us saying anything.
I cleared my throat and leaned back in my chair, letting the legs come up off the floor. “Mrs. Walsky, it’s time to get down to business.” The sound of the chair hitting the floor resonates through the room, sounding louder than normal. “I’m going to turn on the recorder so that everything from here on will be recorded. OK?”
“Ok,” she smiles at me.
I click on the recorder while she gets a little more comfortable in her seat. She’s still smiling at me.
She doesn’t say anything.
I turn off the recorder.
“Is everything ok, Mrs. Walsky?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
Her smile continues to be genuine. She makes me wonder why we’re in an interrogation room. I have to close my eyes and think about the bodies we had been pulling out from the tunnel under her desk in her office. I have to think about the vast number already taken out and the fact that they are still there recovering only God knows how many bodies all total.
“Are you ready then?”
“I was ready before.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You didn’t ask me anything.”
“Oh.” My response falls flat in the hollow room. I guess I should have known I’d need to start the ball rolling. I just didn’t know how to begin. How does one go about asking his favorite teacher why and how she killed an unknown number of former students? I take a deep breath and try again. “Ok. I’m going to start the recorder again and this time I’ll ask a question and you can begin from there. Does that work for you?”
“Whatever floats your boat,” she spreads her hands as far apart as they’ll go across the table and then rests them cupped together under her chin.
Her smile never wavers.
I am unnerved, but I hit the recorder and begin anyway.
“Will you state your name and occupation, please?”
“Mrs. Hannah Walsky, English Instructor, Mountaintop Community College in western North Carolina.”
“How long have you been teaching there?”
“Twelve years. I started the fall of 2000.”
“Have you been a full time instructor all twelve years?”
“No. I became a full time instructor October 2004.”
“When did you move in to the office you currently occupy?”
“I moved in to that office, I think, between the summer and fall semesters of 2005. I’m not exactly sure, though. It might have been 2006, but it was some time during those two years.”
“What exactly do you teach as an English instructor?”
“If it has as its abbreviation ENG, I can teach it. I prefer the literature classes and avoid the business-style writing classes as well as argument-based classes if at all possible. For the most part, I have taught mostly both freshman English classes and upper level British Literature.”
“Do you like your job?”
Amazingly, her smile became even larger.
“I love my job. Every day I not only get to teach, I get to teach my two favorite subjects: reading and writing! What’s not to love? I get to write, I get to read, and I get to talk about both!”
I can’t help smiling back at her.
“Have you always wanted to be an English teacher?”
“Always. Even before I started school. As a little girl I played school in the bathroom at home. The toilet was the teacher’s desk. The bathtub was the principal’s office. And the empty space in the room was where my students had their desks. I had names for all twenty-five students—or however many I happened to have at that time. And don’t forget that the toilet paper acted as the paper for their assignments! I’d pass out sheets of it, take it back up, and grade it! Before I’d use it for real, of course!”
I honestly can’t stop myself laughing along with her. Even as I find myself wondering what in the world I was doing laughing with her, I can’t help noticing that her laughter comes from deep within; it’s genuine.
“So what brought you to MTCC?”
“My husband and I moved to the mountains about fifteen years ago so he could teach at the local high school. I had tried teaching at the high school level and, while I liked it well enough, I felt that I was better suited to teach at the college level. So as soon as we were settled and he was off to work, I started putting in applications at all the local community colleges. We live in an area where I can be at the four different local community colleges within thirty minutes no matter which direction. I knew from the beginning I wanted to be at MTCC, though.”
“It had the best reputation, first of all. Secondly, it’s the only one even close to a large book store!”
Again, her infectious laugh comes from deep within.
Before I can ask her anything else, she throws a question at me. “What are you reading now, Bill?”
“I, uh, um, well, Mrs. Walsky, actually, I’m reading The Hunger Games.”
“Really? What made you decide to read that?”
“My oldest wanted to read it. A couple of the guys have been talking about it, so I wasn’t so sure I wanted him to be reading a book like that. But rather than tell him he couldn’t read it, I decided to read it with him.”
“That’s wonderful!” she gushed.
“We’re both enjoying it. More than enjoying the book, though, I think we’re both enjoying the reading time together.”
“So you are actually reading the book together,” she encouraged.
“Yeah. We sit on our front porch swing each night after supper and read. Sometimes we read aloud to each other, but mostly he reads his book, I read mine, and as we finish a chapter, we’ll talk about what we read.”
“What does your son think of the story?”
“He’s pretty shocked by what’s happening in the story, but he seems to like it.”
“To be perfectly honest, I can’t believe someone would even think up a story like this, let alone write it. But I am enjoying the time with my son and we have had some great conversations, so whether I like the book or not, we’re going to keep reading.”
“I’m so glad!”
Wow. Didn’t we call her “Pollyanna” behind her back at school? I wondered if that was still her nickname across campus.
I cleared my throat and made a sweeping gesture across the table, again. “Mrs. Walsky, we need to get back to why we’re here.”
“Oh, yes,” her smile faded slightly but not completely. “What would you like to know next?”
“I guess we’d better go back to the beginning.”
“When I started at MTCC, you mean?”
“Is that when the killings first began?”
At the word “killings,” she jerked back as if I’d slapped her and her smile finally faded and turned to a full scowl.
“Then by “beginning,” I mean we need to go back to the first victim. I need you to tell me how it all began. Can you do that?”
She took a deep breath, looked down, and slowly nodded her head.