Dr. Qwig’s School of Dark Science can only be accessed through an alleyway entrance along Watterson Street, halfway between 47th and 48th Avenues.
During school hours, Maryanne Bleach sits on a wooden stool just behind the steel door and listens for the password after each knock.
“Corkscrew,” I say, and she unbolts the door.
Besides working for Dr. Qwig, Maryanne is a prostitute, like most of the girls on this stretch of 47th. Someone less timid than me could come to the corner of Watterson Street at night with a $50 bill and she’d do whatever they liked in the backseat of their car. But to me, she’s just a pretty girl in a tight tank-top, so I’m always shy around her.
“Hi.” She never looks up from whatever paperback romance novel she’s currently reading. One time I worked up the nerve to start a conversation, but she immediately deflected me. “Come see me tonight, and we can talk all you want, big boy.”
I guess I’m not the type of guy girls talk with unless they’re getting paid. That’s why I joined Dr. Qwig’s School of Dark Science.
Dark science is the opposite of science in much the same way that dark matter is the opposite of matter, at least that’s how Dr. Qwig explained it. If science is the study of life and nature, dark science is the study of death and the unnatural.
Each class, Dr. Qwig demonstrates some new technique: how to blind an enemy with a pocketful of sawdust before a fight, how to steal valuables right off people’s bodies without being detected, or how to poison a rival with tiny mercury blow-darts.
Dr. Qwig is a hateful person. Sometimes, he spends almost the entire class pacing around as if he can barely contain his boiling rage. He’s tall and takes long strides across the filth-covered floors of the cement basement classroom, hands wringing together behind his back; around his neck hangs a black stone amulet, a petrified demon eye that protects him from all physical and magical attacks, he says. At some point, he stops, turns to look us each in the eyes, and makes a profound statement. “Your enemies won’t fear you because you’re powerful. They’ll fear you because you make them weak.”
Do I have moral reservations with Dr. Qwig’s teachings? Sort of. His philosophy is Machiavellian for sure, perhaps even downright demonic. But I’m desperate. Poor, uneducated, generally unhealthy, shy, with an interdental lisp. No family, no real friends, definitely no girlfriends. Just a delivery job at Papa Tony’s Pizza Shack. I need a way out.
I learned about the school through an acquaintance at Murray’s Pub on 42nd and Wilcox. One night as I was sitting alone at the bar, a bulbous man in a ratty trucker’s cap approached me. He pointed to an attractive blonde sitting in a booth.
“Would you believe that that’s my wife?” he asked.
I looked the man up and down. No point in being dishonest. “That actually is hard to believe.”
“You got me! It’s actually my wife’s sister. And I’m bangin’ ’em both. Ha!” He slapped me on the shoulder. “I’ve got ’em under some crazy spell. Damnedest thing.” He shook his head. “Anyhow…” He pulled a card out of his pocket and slipped it into my hand. “I learned all the tricks from this guy, Dr. Qwig. I get a discount for referring a friend. Just say Bobby White sent you.” He winked and walked off.
I called the number that night, and I’ve been in the school for about two months now, three classes a week. I’m a slow learner, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. At least, I thought I was.
Dr. Qwig is particularly angry today. I’ve just told him that I haven’t used any of his techniques outside of class.
“When are you going to take action?” he shouts at me, so close I can smell his putrid breath. “You’ve been in this class for months and you still refuse to act on what you’ve learned!”
I’m a little frightened. The words come slowly. “Where should I start?”
“By killing! Stealing! Raping! Destroying!” Now Dr. Qwig grows quieter. “Tell me, who is your greatest enemy?”
That’s a hard one. I get along with most people, when they notice me. Who’s the one really holding me back? “Me,” I say. “I’m my own worst enemy.”
“You can’t use dark science on yourself.”
“Dark science is for selfish people. It’s not about bettering yourself. It’s about tearing other people down.” Dr. Qwig rubs his scraggly white beard. “Answer me — what did you hope to get from this class when you signed up?”
“I thought I could get people to like me or something.”
“’Like you?’ This class isn’t about waiting around for people to like you. It’s about taking what you want. You don’t understand anything I’ve taught you. You fail the class. Get out of here.” He kicks dirt up at me.
It’s disappointing, but I’m used to disappointment. I collect my backpack and head out through the door.
“Bye,” I say to Maryanne. “I guess this is my last day. I got kicked out of the class.”
“Oh?” She looks up from her book for once. “Well, have a good life.”
I try to think of something else to say, but nothing comes. I take two steps out the door. Then I stop. I need to act if I want things to change. It’s what Dr. Qwig’s been trying to teach me all along. I turn back to Maryanne and ask, “Would you like to go on a date, like a real date? Maybe tonight, at Spaghettini’s? Seven o’ clock?”
“Sure, why not.”
I walk away, proud. As I go, I reach into my pocket and run my fingers over my newly acquired demon-eye amulet. Maybe I learned something after all.
LB Thomas lives in Bozeman, Montana and owns a Tennessee Walker treeing coonhound named Zumbi.
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