Annabelle's genius afforded a solution to the problem of duplicate students, both the surrogates and the clockwork recording devices which stood as proxy for those unable to withstand close scrutiny, and the ever-increasing bands of unaccounted children who feigned the status of students, carrying rocks painted and hand-chiseled to look like textbooks. We never sought exclusivity for our tutelary performances, and informed the administration that we would take all comers who sought knowledge, but these ghost-students were in fact not entirely real, and took on the identities of other children. We had opened this door ourselves when we first made trade with the ghuls, peripheral foot-soldiers in the army of Serin, and so we exchanged promising pupils for convincing simulacra built from the organs of desiccated flesh harvested from the children's hospital at the mouth of the slate-grey river. You have seen them; one day they are themselves and yet not themselves, a disconnect in the eyes, an occasional trail into gibberish, and you know but do not admit that this child is not your child, did not come from your body, there is something unknowable hidden within its skin. Once we began the floodgates opened, and we were now throat-deep in false bodies, actors mimicking corrupted memories of distant youth, a collective imagining of childhood made from story-song and picture-book and an ideal never tarnished by experience. This would not do, and so it was to Annabelle that I sought an answer, and she called for a culling which could also be a cautionary tale, a warning to those who slip into another's skin, a pile of skulls at the gates of wisdom. We would stage a re-enactment, a recreation of a great battle, but to quote the contemporary philosopher Daffy Duck this is a trick you can only do once, so we would in fact combine all crucial historical battles into a single event, a Borgesian aleph of conflict, and not only would we then have the greatest of firsthand understanding as to history defined by tooth and claw but would rid ourselves of the lesser ranks among the students, those ill-suited to scale such heights, and I nodded with certainty while watching the youths transform the contents of dumpsters into a glittering arsenal of weaponry, as there can be no great learning without the leveler of loss.

It was the practice in the earlier part of the last century for farm families to keep their children home during harvest time and send small pigs dressed in that child's clothing to school as a surrogate. This was always a dangerous move, as when the child returned the class would vote whether to keep the actual child or the surrogate, which is how Pig Jacoby graduated from the school in 1941 and became a famous Hollywood actor. We currently had two schweinkindern, one fully incorporated (her schooling name was Median) and another who was still between states, and so kept the name of his referent, Pig Billy Wonderful Child. Pig Billy was a personal favorite of Annabelle's, and she greatly hoped the actual child never returned -- indeed, I have suspicions she has a plan of action prepared if William Sunya returns from the fields to take up his studies. Much of this connection came from Pig Billy’s appreciation of Annabelle's writing: he would go so far as to press his snout behind her right hand and follow her across the board, a kind of waltz he would replay in his head during the finger-hanging exercises (in which he obviously did not participate), marker across his whiskers and...

My god. Annabelle's tremors are love letters to Pig Billy. Now I understand everything.

the exit is hidden within the exit