"The Committee for Public Emotional Safety may undertake any and all measures deemed necessary by university therapists to defend the delicate feelings of the campus body."
– Campus Safety Ordinance 1-9
*
Joey woke up on the futon of his dorm, dying of thirst and an aching skull after a night spent trying to get Marie drunk off jello shots. He opted not to attend his Lit 280 class, instead turning back to sleep.
Marie was slumped over a toilet in the boy’s restroom–the girl’s had been locked–revisiting every bad decision she’d made the night before (Jello shots, really? Pull yourself together, Marie–you’re not in high school anymore), and reaching the same decision about class.
Joey’s roommate, Harold, didn’t want to go to Lit 280 either, but he had no choice. He had skipped for two weeks and Friendley was this close to failing him. She had said so in her Sunday email:
Subject line: IMPORTANT INFORMATION REGARDING YOUR LIKELIHOOD OF PASSING THIS CLASS (TRIGGER WARNING* FOR: FAILURE, LITERARY HUMOR)
Body text: Mr. Harold Laurel, Your attendance must improve, beginning tomorrow, or you shall find yourself with a grave grade! (Apologies, but I couldn’t help myself–I love literary puns!) But seriously, come to class, young man.

Figuratively yours,
Elizabeth Beatrice Friendley, Visiting Professor in Shakespeare Studies

*Such warnings are now required: See Campus Safety Ordinance 1-9
The reference to Romeo and Juliet sailed right over Harold’s head (he hadn’t attended the lecture on it, read it, or even visited the bookstore where the text was sold), but not the threat of failure. If Friendley didn’t pass him, he wouldn’t graduate on time. Harold didn’t particularly care about that since he had no graduation plans–what the hell will I do with an English degree, anyway–but Chelsea would dump him for being a loser. And his parents would flip out. But mostly, he didn’t want to lose Chelsea. She was hot and had rich parents.
Fifteen minutes later, Chelsea took her seat in the desk next to Harold only to discover it was the wobbly one. You’ll be in the wobbly chair all your life if you’re dating a Harold, she thought to herself. Yes, she would dump him after class. It had to happen. They were drifting apart. He was drifting aimlessly. She was drifting to New York City for an internship with Chick Style Magazine. Dragging him along would be unbearable.
Jamal James sat in front of Chelsea. Friendley was definitely having a bad day, he noticed. Her wild white hair was all out of place, her glasses askew. She shuffled papers at her podium.
"Students," she said. "Before I begin today’s lecture on The Rape of Lucrece, I must…" A troubled look came over her. "Oh, I nearly forgot, SEXUAL VIOLENCE TRIGGER! Watch out for that, yes. Now where was I…" She shuffled her papers again. "Ah, yes, I have been informed by the English Department that I am legally obligated to read the following message. Forgive the drama–you know by now I can’t help myself." She couldn’t. She had once been an opera singer–in another lifetime, or so she said. "Students of Literature 280: ‘A Survey of Shakespeare–His Works, His Life, His Legacy,’ you have been selected to participate in a pilot program. As you know, university policy gives the administration the power to revise the student code of conduct at will. Campus Safety Ordinance 1-9 was finally approved late last night, and the ramifications are as follows…"
Chen Chen wasn’t even listening. He had his headphones on, blasting techno. His head bobbed along with the beat. He wasn’t an English major: Friendley’s class satisfied the interdisciplinary requirement for Econ and Engineering double majors. Adrian Suarez wrote his papers for him, and in exchange, Chen did Adrian’s problem sets for his math class.
Adrian was reading the front page of The Campus Daily on his iPhone. He was editor of the arts page, which meant he never had time to read the news section, except during Friendley’s lectures. She was a nice old lady but boring. Shakespeare just wasn’t his thing–he liked modern lit. He ripped off his essay assignments (his and Chen’s) from passthatshakespeare.com, and that was enough for a solid B plus. Getting A minuses took unreal amounts of effort, but getting B pluses took almost no effort at all. Why would anyone try harder? he often wondered. You’d have to be a moron to actually get an A.
There was nothing interesting on the front page of The Campus Daily, just some boring story about a weird lawsuit against the university finally being resolved… "Lawyers for a free speech organization, the Society for the Protection of Americans’ Rights under the Constitution, lost their suit against the university Monday," the story read. "SPARC filed a motion to delay implementation of new campus administrative orders while the group appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Judge Morton Fairweather, a graduate of the university and former president of the Alumni Association, denied it. ‘We cannot allow antiquated concerns about free speech to thwart the modern need to protect students from emotional harm,’ Fairweather told The Daily, before departing to join his good friend University President Mary Beth Norman for a tennis match. SPARC released a statement condemning the ruling as ‘a dangerous precedent that will eviscerate the First Amendment and allow bureaucrats to experiment on the American public. It is a breathtaking, evil decision.’ With the legal objection set aside, the university is now free to implement Campus Safety Ordinance 1-9…"
Harold tried to get Chelsea’s attention, first by coughing loudly, then by whisper-shouting her name.
Chelsea was aware of this, but didn’t want to make eye contact. I’m not doing this right now, she thought.
Harold rolled up a piece of paper and chucked it at her, even though she was seated two feet away. The paper hit her square on the cheek. She turned on Harold in fury.
Asshole! was what she was going to say, but an odd sight caused her to misplace the words. There was a strange man seated in the desk to Harold’s left. He was wearing a gas mask. That’s freaking creepy, she thought.
Friendley was still reading the disclaimer. "… the Chemistry and Psychology departments are also quite excited to see how this measure turns out." She paused and took a deep breath. "And now, I have been instructed to turn your attention to a representative from the Smile Campaign for a brief informational message." A girl who had been waiting patiently in one of the front seats leapt to her feet and stormed the podium.
She’s cute, thought Jamal. She was wearing a tie dyed T-shirt with a badge pinned to her breast. Jamal stretched his neck to read the message. "I expressed myself safely and properly," it read.
"We’re going to pass out feedback forms," the girl explained. "Everybody who fills one out and turns it in gets a free badge, courtesy of the Smile Campaign. Always smile! Thanks, professor."
She exited the classroom and shut the door, which locked behind her. It occurred to Jamal that this room was soundproof and airtight.
Then came the gas–odorless, but bright green. It poured in through the air vents. Chelsea screamed. Harold gasped. Jamal was speechless.
Chen hadn’t noticed yet. The music was too loud, and his gaze was fixed on his notepad, where he was trying to draw Mario and a Goomba from Super Mario, only the Goomba was stomping on Mario instead of the other way around. It just looked like a bunch of scribbles, though.
Adrian noticed the gas. Woah, he thought. Am I still high? He believed the answer was No, but the odd scene unfolding around him suggested otherwise.
Friendley looked around nervously. "Should I have received a gas mask?" she asked.
"NEGATIVE," a voice boomed over the loudspeaker. "ONLY TENURED FACULTY ARE EXEMPT FROM CAMPUS SAFETY ORDINANCE 1-9." There was good reason for this: The administration presumed most tenured faculty were already incapable of expressing defiance, and thus the intoxicant would have no effect.
"Should I… should I teach?" asked Friendley.
"PROCEED WITH–WHAT DID YOU CALL IT–YOUR TEACHING."
Friendley shuffled her papers again. Hardly anyone was paying attention to her–the kids were all panicking about the gas–but she began nonetheless. "Students, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…" A bolt of lightning appeared from nowhere and struck the old woman between the eyes and she tumbled backward. "WARNING: YOUR LANGUAGE WAS VIOLENTLY GENDERED," boomed the authoritative voice (the loudspeaker was now inside her head, which ached miserably). She uttered some words in response, though she had no control over them: "Students, Romans, country persons, lend me your ears…"
"GENDERED!" boomed the voice. "VIOLENT!" More lightning, more flashes, more pain. "TRY AGAIN, PLEASE!"
Elsewhere, Chelsea was having a panic attack. She couldn’t breathe; she wasn’t breathing, intentionally. This stupid school was trying to poison her, but she wasn’t dying that easily. She had an internship waiting for her.
"Chels, you have to breathe," said Harold, coming to her aid.
"You’re suffocating me," she said. "I can’t breathe."
"No, Chels. It’s the air–we’re being experimented on, I think."
"That’s not what I mean. I’m breaking up with you." Have to get it over with before I pass out. She passed out and slumped in her desk.
Jamal watched it happen. Lord, have mercy, he thought.
"Before you thought that thought, did you stop to consider whether it was appropriate?" asked the man in the gas mask, pen and paper in hand. He was taking notes.
"What?" asked Jamal.
"Lord have mercy," said the man in the gas mask. "Did you stop to ask yourself whether that phrase would offend a non-religious person? Because it might. Or were you deliberately trying to commit violence against non-religious persons?"
"No," said Jamal. "It’s just something I said." He thought for a moment, adding, "My grandfather is a reverend. I don’t think it’s offensive."
"Was your grandfather exposed to chemicals, perhaps nuclear materials, as a child?" asked the man in the gas mask. "That could explain it. You appear to have some natural resistance to this procedure. It could be genetic."
I’m immune to poison ivy, too, recalled Jamal.
"You’re immune to poison ivy," said the man in the gas mask, who could now hear Jamal’s thoughts. "Could be hereditary immunity. Could be racial. You are a black man."
It could be racial, thought Jamal. I am a black man.
A bolt of lightning came shooting out of the light fixture and electrified Jamal’s mouth. He hissed in pain.
"You shouldn’t express racist thoughts," said the man in the gas mask, almost apologetically. "It’s offensive. On the plus side, it looks like you’re susceptible to the procedure, after all."
Chen looked down at his notebook. Is that what I drew? His Goombas were no longer fighting back; now they were being hauled before an administrative review board. The chief adjudicator was a mustachioed plumber wearing a judge’s wig. It’s Mario in disguise, realized Chen. Too late: Judge Mario was reading the verdict. "You used violence and took matters into your own feet," said Mario. "The punishment is expulsion…"
There goes my future, thought Chen, for now he was a Goomba, too.
"Chen, you’re a Goomba!" shrieked Adrian, who had only consumed mushrooms once, and regretted it. But there was Chen, now a Goomba, nonetheless. "You’re a fucking Goomba…"
"NO SPECIST STEREOTYPES!" thundered the loudspeaker, and suddenly Adrian was drowning in a sea of white hot lightning. "SPECIST STEREOTYPING IS A VIOLENT ACT!"
Friendley was still struggling with her lecture. "Friends…" she tried again, breathing heavily and suffering from one hell of a migraine, "Romans…" More lightning. She shrieked and collapsed. "Friends…" she attempted once more, "Rome… Ro-man… Is that the problem?" The lightning remained out of sight, essentially confirming her discovery. Friendley was delighted, and found the strength to stand again. Her class was in chaos–few of the students seemed to be still alive–but no matter. "Friends, inhabitants of Rome, country persons, lend me your ears…"
The statement was offensive–or could have been offensive to a deaf person, perhaps. A loud clap of thunder took care of that.
"NOW YOU HAVE BEEN FREED FROM PRIVILEGE," boomed the loudspeaker, though no one could hear it anymore. "NOW YOU ARE ALL DEAF."
Chelsea snapped out of unconsciousness. She slowly opened her eyes. There were policeman–sorry, police persons, she thought involuntarily–standing all around her. "I think I’ve been drugged," she said. "Are you rescuing me?"
"We’re arresting you," said one of the officers. "You assaulted your boyfriend, Harold, when you tried to break up with him."
Chelsea had done no such thing, and said so. "I… I didn’t hurt him."
"You hurt his feelings, didn’t you?" asked the officer. "Now come with us."
The police hoisted Chelsea onto her feet and handcuffed her wrists behind her back. They escorted her up the aisle to the front of the classroom. She was ushered past Adrian, who was pleading with the lightning gods not to strike him again. She took notice of Chen, who was trying to explain to an invisible adversary that he had grown up in New York and couldn’t speak Chinese, while the adversary accused him of perpetuating imperialism by failing to know Chinese. She pushed past Friendley, who was muttering to herself, "At least I’ll get tenure soon, at least I’ll get tenure soon…" She stepped over Jamal, who lay dead of an apparent gunshot wound to the head.
"He resisted," explained one of the officers, with a shrug.
But where is Harold? she wondered.
Unbeknownst to all, Harold had managed to escape by crawling inside the air conditioning unit and tunneling out. His head began to clear as soon as the sunlight washed over him. He took a long, slow stroll back to his dorm room, where he found Joey, still shaking off his hangover.
"How was class?" asked Joey, sitting up on the futon.
"Same as always," answered Harold. "Waste of time."
Joey stood up, pulled his pants on, and reached for an XBox controller. Harold followed suit.
The door to the room swung open, and a cheerful 20-year-old stuck his head in the room. He was their residential advisor. There was a badge pinned to his shirt.
"Hey guys," he said. "Sorry, trigger warning for: unexpected greetings. Anyway, I’m going around to all the rooms. Did you hear about Campus Safety Ordinance 1-9?"
"About what?" asked Joey.
"Great," replied the RA. "So you’re all set. Keep smiling!"
He slammed the door behind him. The gas came in under the door and through the windows.
THE END
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