Many years ago, my middle school implemented a once-a-week "silent reading" session to close out every Monday. On paper, this program would transform me and my hoagie-scented peers into Western-canon-quoting cognoscenti who carried the aroma of narwhal mortadella. In practice, all silent reading did was teach me about the do's and don'ts of vampire blow jobs.
At least my school administrators' hearts were in the right place. Were you cool in middle school? Of course you weren't, because you're able to decipher these words electronically poofing onto on your screen. These sentences aren't line after line of cuneiform mumbo-jumbo. You're not living in a derelict fireworks factory with a sack of rice that doubles for sustenance and companionship. Are you eating your best friend right now? If not, you weren't cool in middle school.
Yes, to prevent students from blazing through their lifetime stores of social capital between the age of eleven to fourteen, my middle school enforced mandatory pleasure reading. Every Monday at 2:20 PM, the daily end-of-day free period was set aside for forty minutes of monastic silence. No homework, no intramural sports, no popularity-enhancing adolescent socializing that would inevitably result in the entire student body dropping out and being hired as human scarecrows by age 15. Just forty minutes of everyone becoming a little less illiterate.
The worst part of Monday silent reading was forgetting a book, which never didn't happen. I had a math homeroom, so the only spare books on the shelves were algebra texts that smelled like funeral homes. Had I an English homeroom, I could've built an entire bivouac using loose copies of Hatchet, but no. I had to borrow to reading material from a classmate, and the only guy with extra pleasure reads always carried the same exact two issues GamePro magazine.
The first few weeks of literacy Mondays were a familiar cycle: reading GamePro, surreptitiously doing my homework under my desk, getting caught by my homeroom teacher, and being forced to stare at GamePro once again or risk disciplinary action. So after two months of pretending to read the same damn issue of GamePro, reprieve came in the form of a mysterious paperback someone left on the heater. (Remember, my homeroom's shelves were filled with word problems and a burgeoning mold infestation.) This book was The Vampire's Apprentice by Richard Lee Byers.
Because of its crappy foil cover and already browning pages, I assumed The Vampire's Apprentice was a Fear Street knockoff during my first read-through.
The opening chapters didn't allay my suspicions that this was young adult material — virginal Tampa comic book fan David Brent (which is incidentally the same name Ricky Gervais' character on The Office) is transformed into an "Olympian" by handsome Carter Cavanaugh, a New Age vampire drifter.
It didn't seem all that different from a Goosebumps book, or at least the ones that came out before R.L. Stine ran out of monsters and began writing them about "the world before the polio vaccine" or whatever.
I realized The Vampire's Apprentice wasn't a a third-rate Christopher Pike novel when the reader learns that vampires are just rotting, mirage-casting corpses whose dead junk inexorably withers off:
"It can't have been illusions. We spent too much time together — you'd have slipped — I watched you fuck Val!" [said protagonist David Brent]
Carter flicked open his dressing gown to reveal the ragged, neutered place between his legs.
I remember this passage hitting me with the force of ten-thousand Judy Blumes — a veritable Are You There God? It's Me, WAURRGGGH. Clearly I was dealing with sophisticated mass market paperback literature, brimming with adult situations I had not seen since my cousins and I watched 20 minutes of a VHS copy of Federico Fellini's Roma, which we mistakenly assumed was the opening to Hulk Hogan's Suburban Commando. At the end of Monday reading, I tossed The Vampire's Apprentice back on the math class radiator. The book's owner never returned, so I kept going back to it. (Remember, it was this or GamePro.)
I'd hesitate to call The Vampire's Apprentice profound stuff, but there was certainly a lurid tragicomic appeal of watching a Doom Patrol fan learn that preventing ants from infesting your torso was the vampiric version of flossing. Also, the book contained one of the grossest brainwashed sex scenes committed to the page:
She blew in his ear, then licked and nibbled her way down the mottled length of him; her tongue slide along the sutured fissure in his neck, then over skin like peeling paint and little pits of rot. When she lifted her head to smile at him, her mouth was smeared with slime; his guts churned, and he had to close his eyes [...] She took his shriveled pustulate cock between her lips and squeezed; a bolt of agony drove up deep into his belly.
So yes, surrounded by happy diagrams of integers and the quadratic equation, I was whisked weekly away to the equally cheerful realm of necrophiliac fellatio. I'm 99% sure that's not what poor dead Richard C. Crockett wanted going down in his commemorative middle school, but I didn't join a gang or have a promising jazz career derailed by PCP. In that regard, Monday silent reading (and its occasional segues into queasy undead erotica) kept me on the straight and narrow.
Feel free to share your bizarre formative experiences with genre fiction below, and — if they're weird enough — we'll share 'em with the world.
Top image: Paul Matthew Photography/Shutterstock and Rising Shadow.