Chapter 1:

Fear and Loathing

Pizza College

I’m the type of person who hears “a father and daughter in bed” and assumes it’s like a southern thing going on. And I’ll never know if that’s normal or not, because I don’t ever feel much like talking to anyone. I mean, a light chat in line for a machine is normally fine, but I wouldn’t want someone thinking they’re my friend. God knows I don’t have the responsibility for that.

Of course, I wouldn’t talk to the guy waiting in front of me right now even if I had to. We’ve both got our assignments in hand, but his is crumpled to shit. I should know why. Crew here has a serious problem. He’s a fourth year, so just older enough than me to act like a douche and get away with it. First semester, he was a volunteer instructor for my elective driving class.

“Okay, your name is…” he said professionally, in an asshole kind of way.

“Tim Gainsborough.” My hands were sweaty like spaghetti as they gripped the wheel.

“Timothy.” He echoed incorrectly, loosely holding his grey clipboard. “Yeah, I got you here. You’re… nineteen, is that right?”

“Yes, sir.” Shaking guiltily in sweat, I submitted to his presence.

“Alllright.” The coach seemed to accept disappointedly. “And is this your first time driving?”

“No, sir.” I made sure to look straight ahead out through the front window, right beside the front gate of Northeast Pizza College.

“Then show me what you can do.”

After screwing up with the keys like five times, I sped off into the parking lot.

Whenever I was doing this with my mom, she always got onto me for going too slow. The old me was too afraid of making a mistake or hurting someone to even go at a reasonable speed. But not today, I told myself. Taking every turn like a pro, I tried my heart out to impress my extra credit-seeking instructor. As he silently watched, I told myself I was doing the best driving I ever had. Within two minutes, I circled the entire campus, passing by the outdoor machines and dodging all the students along the way. When I made it back into our parking spot, I made sure to line the fat, colorful car up as best I could with the provided lines. All things considered, I thought I did an alright job.

“Okay.” He exhaled, seemingly confirming something he’d already assumed. “You… think that was an alright speed to be going in a college campus?”

“Uh…” I looked down at the now soaked and slippery black steering wheel. “Was it, sir?”

“You know…” he suddenly turned and looked at me like he was the strict father I never had. “We were just going through a pedestrian area. There were… people there.”

“…Yes, sir.” I nodded, trying to pass whatever test he was throwing my way all of a sudden.

“Look, you were getting really close to some of those people. And I didn’t say anything, because I wanted to see how you could do- but you cannot be driving like that.” He stressed.

I nodded. “Alright, sir.”

He shook his head. “There’s no “alright” in a time like this.” He poorly mocked me. “What would’ve happened if you hit one of those people?”

I didn’t respond, not following the existential horror story he was now reciting to me.

“…They would’ve died.” He continued, voice lowering as he made for absolute sure that his words would sit with my already anxious mind for years to come.

“Yeah.” I confirmed, hoping he’d at least cut me some slack for understanding. But he just shook his head again, like I just deliberately disrespected him.

“Who’s paying for your time here?”

“Uh… My mom, sir.”

“Son, you better listen to what I tell you.” He said to me like I was burnable waste. “Your mother didn’t pay your tuition so you could dick around in my car. You expect to make it here as long as I have? You had better stop being so damn careless.” As he paused, I waited patiently so as to not interrupt him, but this only seemed to make him angrier. “Do you hear me, kid? Your mom ain’t gonna be happy when she hears just how much of a failure you are.”

“Y-yes, sir.” I shook in my seat.

“Do it again. Take us around.”

“Yes, sir.”

I didn’t really get what he meant by that. I ended up pulling out of the school zone, and he yelled at me. I felt bad for the rest of the semester.

“Your pizza is in the oven. It will be delivered soon.”

After inserting my assignment into the arcade machine, the screen flashes and it plays the same message as always. I don’t eat the pizzas here, but they deliver them to me anyways, just like they do whenever anyone finishes an assignment. At least, I think that’s how it works.

On my way out of the line, I see Crew’s already gone. Guess I should be thankful. More importantly, I notice a single token lying on the black-and-white tile ground. S’not like I especially need it for anything, yet I’m still willing to touch the nasty shoe-stained floor to pick it up.

With all my classwork done, I’m free to do whatever for the day. Normally I’d sit outside, or go hide in a janitorial closet or something, but now I’ve got this token. Tokens are everything here, or so I’m told. Other students use them to play games. Get prizes. I just wanna melt some time away before my thoughts catch up to me.

I walk the tall, endless main halls of the Pizza College, sour lights hanging above me that illuminate all the grease on the floor. On my way to the courtyard, I pass by my unused private dorm, front door blocked by a towering monument of hundreds of unopened pizza boxes delivered in my name.

“Hey, Tim!” That chubby blonde guy stops me again in the hallway. “You actually headed to the courtyard for once? Holy shit, man! This calls for a celebration! Tell me, you mind if I tag along?”

I don’t have the heart to tell him no. The classmate follows beside me at first, eventually becoming the lead as he gets bored of my zombie-like pace. Strung along by the pressure of his slowly distancing body, I reach the grassy recess field in record time.

“Ah, man. Just look at that.” He admires the same boring place he goes to every day. Lucky for him, it looks like no one’s on the rides right now. They’re all watching the two of us from the sidelines, smoking and chatting like a bunch of menacing background characters.

“Thanks for not smoking around the baby no more, hun.” A brunette clings to a man’s cigarette-grasping arm.

“How could I? My little man’s gotta grow. Got the dorm all to himself.”

After very briefly fantasizing about what it might be like if they got run over, I find myself at the foot of the bouncy slide with my non-consensual friend.

“One token per rider… hey, Tim? Uh… spare me a coin?”

I flip the mooch my one token without thinking. After the gates open, I head down to the bottom to dutifully watch him slide his fat ass down the kid’s plaything, meeting him at the end.

“You ain’t going?”

“No.” I say. “Don’t feel like it. What do you want to do now?”

“Eat, probably.” He frankly states, breathing out deeply. You must be tired, I think about saying. I keep my awful mouth shut.

We show up at the mess hall and find ourselves one of the many empty metal tables. I sit down, and he goes to retrieve a pizza from the special pickup area, the one I only know about because of how much he sings its praises all the damn time. Believe me, I wish I could forget.

While I wait, I listen quietly to the constant gentle roar of the oven systems above me. If you look up, you can even see them- little silver vents rattling as they lead to the kitchen. According to my buddy, they weren’t always on like that when he started going here, but I don’t remember them ever being turned off. My memory’s not all it’s cracked up to be to begin with, but considering he’s a year closer to being out of this stupid place, it might just be a change they made around the time I started going here.

He comes back with his two pizzas for the day. I wonder why nobody else is ever eating all their million free pies here. Maybe they just don’t wanna end up like him.

“Bon appétit!” He exclaims, digging in to the first cheesy slice. “Mmm… mmm!” In the middle of his ecstasy, he looks up at my scrawny body, toned from months of depression and not particularly liking the pizza here. “Want some?”

“No thanks.” I respond. “Already got plenty of pizza at home.”

“You sure order a lot! Probably more than me.” He takes another hearty bite.

“Well, they give me a lot of assignments.” I sigh, hoping he’s got any advice to get me out of my predicament.

He laughs. “You’re a riot, Timmy! Can I call you Timmy? Haha! Oh, man. If I got invited to any parties, I’d totally bring you.”

Please don’t, I think, before tossing his words aside as an empty threat. I don’t think I need to worry about whatever-this-guy’s-name-is getting invited to any parties in a place like this.

“Welp, I’ll be going now.” He says to me like he’s worried I’ll miss him. “See ya!” Giving me a little ‘signing off’ gesture, the rotund student hurries off to his next class. Lucky for me, I’m already done for the day. Nothing’s gonna happen, and nobody’s gonna bother me. The only question is where to waste my time at.

In a terrifyingly sudden fuzzy rumble, the intercom buzzes on.

“Attention, all students. Pizza services are on hold for the remainder of the day, effective immediately. Please do not eat any pizzas delivered in the past hour. Timothy Gainsborough, report to the Headmaster's office immediately. Failure to cooperate will result in immediate expulsion followed by punishment.”

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