Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is a writer and Associate English Professor in Pennsylvania. A member of the Horror Writers Association, her horror stories have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including The Chamber Magazine, The Stygian Lepus, Blood Moon Rising, Wyldblood Magazine, Dark Horses Magazine, and Tales from the Moonlit Path.

She holds a Doctorate of Education with a Literacy Specialization from the University of Delaware and is working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with a horror focus at Wilkes University. Her novel, Darkness There but Something More, will be published by Wicked House Publishing in 2024. She has also served as the fiction editor at River & South Review.

Read her work HERE  

by Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar


I know what you did, Professor Wiggins. The damning words stared out at her, black writing against the white screen, buried in a student’s response paper in the middle of a sentence analyzing Monday’s reading.

Inhaling a sharp breath, Alice peeled her eyes from her computer and looked from left to right, certain someone was playing a cruel trick on her, but all her vision embraced was the kitschy décor of her cat-themed home office: the ticking Kit Cat Klock, imposing Le Chat Noir print, and Japanese waving cat ornament. These were the objects that induced happiness as she burnt the midnight oil grading papers.

The words on the screen, however, failed to elicit any pleasure. Quite the opposite, in fact: her hackles rose in consternation. She glanced at the name on the paper and tried to attach it to a face, but “Jaden Addams” evoked not even a spark of recognition.

Back when she had to play the game of academia to impress the bigwigs and earn tenure, Alice had prided herself on learning her students’ names as quickly as possible. Times had changed, though—here it was mid-October, and she didn’t have a clue who this Jaden character was.

Maybe he hadn’t turned anything in and wasn’t attending class? Alice had given up taking attendance long ago. It wasn’t required by Hemlock University, so why should she bother? If students wanted to learn, they would come to class. She couldn’t force anyone to show up or complete their work. That wasn’t her job.

After removing her glasses to rub her eyes, Alice clicked out of the document without making any comments. While she had initially loathed the switch from paper to electronic submissions, she found she could cycle through her grading faster this way, copying and pasting canned comments that these kids probably weren’t reading anyway. With that AI thingamajig her department chair kept harping on about, who knew if they were even writing their own papers anymore.

As she inched toward retirement—and she was close, with only one more year to go until she could collect full benefits—the less Alice cared. This younger generation wasn’t worried about behaviorism or cognitive theories; they were too concerned about their Instagram followers and whatever was trending on TikTok. Alice had never bought into that social media nonsense. She was pretty disconnected from much of what was going on at the university these days; that was the cold, hard truth of the matter. She couldn’t be bothered.

But the words in Jaden’s paper, these she cared about. Who was he, and, more importantly, how did he know? That business had concluded long ago, the inquest having resulted in condolences rather than punishment. As far as anyone knew, Alice was blameless, a victim and unwilling pawn in what spiraled into a senseless act of violence.

And the one who did know exactly what Alice had done wasn’t in a position to breathe a word of his involvement. In fact, he wasn’t in a position to breathe at all, his life long since extinguished.


Alice stifled a yawn as the students shuffled out of the classroom the next morning. She’d stayed up too late the night before, looking through Jaden’s previous submitted work, and found him to be an average student without any reason to cause problems. But how could she give him a grade for a paper containing such an intrusive and threatening comment? While Alice’s normal approach with troublemakers was to report them to the dean, she thought this case might need to be handled in a different, more confidential manner.

“Dr. Wiggins? You said on my paper you wanted to see me?” A tall, thin boy slouched in front of the lectern: the elusive Jaden.

“Yes.” Though she longed to complete this encounter and retire back to the sanctuary of her office alone, where she was unlikely to be bothered, students from the next professor’s class were already clamoring near the door to get in. “Please follow me to my office so that we can talk.”

“Okay, but I—” Alice’s withering glare cut Jaden’s words short, and he followed her into the hallway and up the stairs.

Alice took her time, refusing to rush to keep up with this boy’s long strides, fumbling to gather her office keys in her bag, and settling her belongings once inside her office. Let him wait. He’d caused her enough hassle as it was, and she would draw this out as long as necessary if it meant she could gain the upper hand.

Finally, she began. “I suppose you know why I’ve called you in here.”

Jaden scratched at an angry, red pimple on his chin, his face blanching. “I guess you didn’t like my paper? I kinda struggled with the reading. You know, that Skinner guy is pretty tough, but I didn’t cheat, if that’s what you think. Honest.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like the strength tester at a carnival.

“It’s what you wrote within your response paper. What you hid there. I want to know why you would say something so utterly inappropriate.” Though careful not to overplay her hand, Alice needed to find out what this cretin wanted.

Jaden’s heavy eyebrows arched into peaks. “Oh my god, did I use a bad word? If I did, I’m sorry. It must have been a typo.”

“Let’s take a look at exactly what you wrote. What you wrote to me. And then let’s talk about why,” Alice said, her voice flinty. Logging into the learning management system, she opened up Jaden’s latest offering and swung her monitor around to face him.

Jaden squinted, mouthing the words as he reread the page. “Professor, I literally don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Alice pursed her lips, exhaling through her nostrils. “I don’t understand how you would muster up the audacity to write such a thing and then not have the courage to talk to me about it.” Spinning the monitor back around, she searched for the objectionable sentence, one she had unearthed so easily the night before.

But it was gone, and all that remained offensive in Jaden’s writing was his frequent use of run-on sentences.

“I don’t understand how you did this.” Alice heard the tremor in her voice.

“I’m sorry, Professor, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about, and I need to go to my next class. Is that okay? Are you okay? Do you need some water, or do you want me to get someone?”

As Alice met Jaden’s gaze, rather than defiance, she saw compassion, maybe pity, in his dark eyes. She waved him off. “I’m sorry,” she managed, her voice thin and strangled. “I’ll take another look at your paper and give you some feedback.”

Closing the door behind him and turning down the glaring fluorescent lights, Alice collapsed into her ergonomic chair to massage her temples, willing the growing pressure in her head to dissipate. She’d seen those words; she knew she had.

Maybe Jaden had somehow retracted his earlier paper and resubmitted? But the submission window was closed. And he really had seemed genuine, unless he was an accomplished actor, and she’d checked his student profile to see that he was a business major, not theatre. Maybe a hacker was taunting her? Whatever it was, whoever was doing this, Alice needed to quell it. She was not going to allow this to happen to her, not now, not all these years later.

She called the IT help desk and explained that a student’s paper had changed after he submitted it.

“No way. It couldn’t have happened. The university invested in a high-level security system to prevent data leaks.” The man droned on and on, something about “malware” and “ransomware,” but Alice had trouble following. “Is it possible that you were mistaken in what you saw, ma’am? Or could you at least be more specific about what you saw?”

“It’s Dr. Wiggins, and the wording itself is inconsequential,” Alice hissed, annoyed by the second implication that morning that she was a person to be pitied. “I know the paper was changed.”

“Well, Dr. Wiggins, perhaps you’re right. Perhaps there’s something new going on, a glitch in the system. Have a good day now.” He hung up before Alice could say anything else.

A glitch in the system. She’d heard those words before—she’d even used them herself to explain the unexplainable. Long ago.

Having experienced enough nonsense for one day, Alice was ready to go home. Even though she technically had office hours for another hour and a half, students rarely showed up. Alice didn’t bother including her availability on her syllabus; the ones who really wanted help could contact her, and the others didn’t deserve her time.

A department meeting was scheduled for later in the afternoon, but she doubted she’d be missed. Many of these younger professors, with their “woke” ways and silly “student-centered approaches,” failed to appreciate the wisdom and experience she brought to the table. Just because times changed didn’t mean she had to reinvent the way she taught, and she was sick of hearing about it.

Who cared about her low evaluations? She was a tenured, full professor with nothing to worry about other than coasting to retirement. Who was going to give her any trouble, when there were so many others trying to rock the boat?

Unless, of course, someone really was trying to bring up the past. Now that could be an issue.


Alice needed a break from the stress, so she fixed herself a salad and cup of chamomile tea before settling on the couch to watch soap operas for most of the afternoon. Near dinner, she summoned the energy to feed her two black cats, Suspect and Criminal, and opened her laptop to check her email. She wanted an excuse in hand just in case she was chastised for skipping that department meeting.

And there it was, almost like before, a threat sandwiched in between the words of an otherwise innocuous sentence from her department chair:

While I’m sure there is a reason for your absence, please remember that monthly department meetings are mandatory for all You will be punished, Professor, for what you did psychology faculty, Alice, and I hope you will provide me with advance notice if you must miss a scheduled meeting in the future.

Alice’s eyes widened. Without the earlier incident, she might have thought her chair had mixed feelings about her truancy, but two messages couldn’t be a coincidence. Ralph was a spineless man who had gained his position only because no one else wanted it, and Alice doubted he had punished anyone in his life for failing to follow orders.

Could this be about something else, a silly prank from a disgruntled and technologically-savvy student? Maybe she should look over other members of her roster to see if there were any computer science majors in her Psych 101 class.

But if anyone wanted to cause trouble for her, there was one event and one event only that would destroy her if the truth came out.


Alice remembered how it had all transpired over thirty years ago, back when her hair was blonde versus gray, her figure years from the inevitable middle-aged spread. She could picture the teased bangs, pegged jeans, and flannel shirts of her students, hear the grunge and R&B music blasting from ubiquitous boom boxes peppering the quad. 

There was so much pressure to establish herself as an academic back in those early days at the university. With classes to teach, committees on which to serve, and students to advise, Alice hadn’t completed much scholarship at the beginning of her career. When her research study didn’t provide statistically significant results, she knew it hampered her chances of publication.

So she fudged some data. Tweaked, more like it; just transposed a few numbers for a bigger effect size. No one would ever notice. Alice had admitted to herself back in her grad school days that she didn’t have either the smarts or drive to become a top researcher in her field, but she needed to publish somewhere. A third or fourth tier journal would be good enough to help her earn tenure but probably wouldn’t scrutinize her research to the same degree as a more prestigious publication.

And no one would have been the wiser if not for her meticulous undergraduate research assistant.

Tommy, a senior psych major assigned to Alice for an independent study, had been a godsend when it came to helping code the data, and Alice had come to rely upon him for his proofreading skills. What she wasn’t expecting was how seriously he took his responsibilities.

“Dr. Wiggins? You didn’t send the article to the journal yet, did you?” Tommy, dark circles under his eyes, had knocked on her office door—her original office at Hemlock University, barely bigger than a broom closet—almost as soon as she got to work on that crucial morning.

Alice rearranged her face into a mask of surprise. He couldn’t know. “Why do you ask? Yes, I sent it.”

Tommy plopped his backpack right on her desk and began rummaging through it, pulling out folders and papers. “I kept thinking that something was off. I was lying in bed last night, thinking about it, thinking something got messed up somewhere. Look.” He pointed his finger at a table listing a much smaller effect size than that which had made it into the final draft of her manuscript. 

“Well, that can’t be right, Tommy. The results were much higher than that. I reviewed them myself. It must have been a glitch in the system. You know all the trouble we’ve had with technology.”

They went back and forth for a bit, Alice claiming that the papers were incorrect, Tommy explaining he didn’t want her to get in trouble for submitting false data.

“Tommy, I hope you’re not insinuating that I’m doing anything unethical,” Alice said. She stood up from her desk, back ramrod straight. She would not let him destroy the meager foundation of her scholarship. “Hand over those papers. As an undergraduate student rather than the principal investigator, you shouldn’t have those in your possession.” She extended her hand.

“Dr. Wiggins, I’m trying to help you. That’s all I want to do,” Tommy said, his expression pained.

Alice grabbed Tommy’s backpack, extracting the rest of the folders and papers and clutching them to her chest. Tommy reached out to retrieve them, yanking hard, and Alice fell to the floor, her head thwacking against the side of her desk.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” Tommy chanted, dropping to his hands and knees to help her. With her back turned, he didn’t see Alice’s mouth curl into a smile, but he heard her scream, as did everyone else in the office suite.

In the chaos that followed, Alice watched, makeshift icepack on her head, as the campus police officer walked Tommy out in handcuffs. Her colleagues hung around, mouths agape, at the skirmish. Though the officer had taken Tommy’s backpack, Alice had swept the printouts out of sight, under her desk. She would shred them later.

In the investigation that followed, Alice kept her story simple. “The student demanded I credit his name as a co-author on the paper, but he hadn’t contributed much more than proofreading and data entry, so I told him that was inappropriate. Unfortunately, he became violent.”

As far as Alice knew, Tommy didn’t accuse her of anything. Or, if he did, no one took it seriously.

Even though Alice opted not to file charges, Tommy was immediately suspended from the university, his scholarship revoked. A formal board hearing had been scheduled to review Tommy’s case and determine whether he should be expelled from Hemlock, but the hearing was cancelled. There was no need to determine Tommy’s future.

Within a week of the incident, Tommy’s landlord, having heard what sounded like a gunshot, keyed into his off-campus apartment to find Tommy slumped in bed, his brains splattered across the wall.

His suicide note was short, to the point, and grammatically correct, if not inventive in semantics: I am deeply sorry for the trouble I have caused.

Despite how shaken she was from all of it, Alice published her research study and went on to receive tenure. The situation was tragic, of course, but she couldn’t take responsibility for Tommy’s violent actions, not the push that resulted in her mild concussion and certainly not for his rash decision to end his young life.


Having tossed and turned all night, thinking about the disturbing messages she had received, Alice slept through her alarm and didn’t have time to put on makeup, style her hair, or drink her tea.

Alice walked in a daze across campus, failing to notice the golden-hued leaves fluttering to the ground in the gentle breeze. For Alice, there was little beauty to be found, only danger, ugliness.

She went straight to her classroom, not even stopping at her office. If her students noticed her distraction or unkempt appearance, no one said a word. Then again, they were a particularly disengaged bunch of freshmen, few of whom were even psych majors. Most of these kids were there to satisfy general education credits, not actually to learn.

Clicking to the next slide of her PowerPoint, Alice continued instruction in her monotone voice. She’d given this lecture so many times that she could recite it by rote. She glanced up at her slide out of habit, and that’s when she saw it, projected on her screen for all her students to see: a crime scene photograph of Tommy’s suicide.

His long limbs splayed, head tilted back, jaw slack, and eyes vacant, Tommy’s ruined body slumped in bed in front of a wall slicked with blood and gray, sponge-like chunks of his brain matter. But worst of all, in what she recalled as Tommy’s careful, cramped handwriting, were the words that accompanied the photograph: Look what you made me do, Dr. Wiggins.

Gasping in horror, Alice grabbed the remote control, turned off the projector, and faced her students. Most of them had their heads down, buried in their phones. “Class is dismissed!” she yelled, grabbing her purse and running from the room as fast as she could. 

She didn’t have a plan, but she needed to get away. That’s all she cared about now. She needed to get home where she felt safe.

It was a short drive home, thank goodness, but Alice seemed to get stuck behind every red light. She floored it at the intersection once it turned green, not checking whether or not the coast was clear.

She never saw the tractor trailer coming and barely felt the impact as her car and body were T-boned by the much larger vehicle. She didn’t hear the screech of metal or her own final scream, cut short as her spinal cord separated from her body.

Later, once the wreckage was cleared, the policeman took statements from the witnesses.

“I was right behind her, officer. I saw the light turn green, but the other light hadn’t turned red, or even yellow. They were both green at the same time, I swear. It wasn’t the trucker’s fault,” a witness said. He pointed at the portly man being treated by an EMT in the back of an ambulance.

The officer wrote down the witness’s statement. “Must’ve been a glitch in the system,” he said.