Fall, Freshman Year
Margaret Emma Brandl

Fall, Freshman Year

The whistle was so loud that some people in the band room snapped to attention. I may have been one of them. Marta laughed.

The bell rang and people were still making their way to their seats. Someone in the second row of the flute section was doing her math homework; I could see the notebook and textbook on her lap as we waited. We were relatively quiet for about a minute after Preston’s whistle, but that calm dissolved into the usual cacophony of band-sounds and accompanying mischief. The trumpets played as high as they could. Some trombones aimed paper ariplanes at the sousaphone bells. A group of freshman baritones produced a deck of cards and started playing Go Fish. Five minutes passed, and then ten, and still there was no sign of Mr. Przybylak. When we passed the fifteen-minute mark, the mellophone section leaders were doing this hilarious thing where they pretended to go into convulsions each time the piccolos tried to tune, but when I pointed it out to Marta, she didn’t seem to find it funny. I remembered belatedly the rumors I’d heard about her dad, how he’d died—she never talked about it and I’d only known her a few months, but people said it’d happened recently, during her freshman year.

At sixteen minutes Preston came in looking like he’d just been slapped, but without any redness on his face—in contrast, he’d gone completely pale. “You guys,” he said, stepping to the podium—some sousaphones got louder on purpose, but when he looked at them they shut up. It was something about the way his face looked.

“Uh, Przybylak—he’s still not here. And nobody knows where he is. He’s been missing since last night.” Everyone started talking at once, but Preston held up a hand, and we hushed again. “I was talking to the office. They’re sending a sub. I’m not supposed to tell you. I think the school sent the police to his house a little while ago—I heard the secretaries talking, on the phone?—when he wasn’t picking up, and his car and everything is all there, but he isn’t.”

I felt like there was someone kneading their fist into my stomach. Marta looked shocked, too—I could see her fingers turning white where she gripped her clarinet.

“I’m not gonna sit here,” a trombone said, standing up from the middle of the section. “I don’t know about you people, but I’m not gonna wait around for him to be found.”

“Tyler, the weather’s getting bad.” One of the mellophones stood and reached for his wrist; I recognized her as the trombone player’s girlfriend. “The snow’s that lake-effect stuff, and we’re getting more of it. They were saying they might cancel.”

“And what if Mr. Przybylak is somewhere out in it?”

The band was silent again.

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Margaret Emma Brandl

is a Ph.D. candidate in English specializing in creative writing (fiction) at Texas Tech University, where she teaches English classes and serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her writing has appeared in Gulf CoastThe Cincinnati ReviewPithead ChapelHobart, and other journals.