You know how in movies, kids will get attacked in the street and then go straight to school afterwards? It's the stupidest thing ever. If someone pulls you into an alley and tries to hurt you, the first place you need to go is to the police. If not that, then go home where you'll be safe. Going to school, where you'll be expected sit still in class for another eight hours before anything can be done, is quite possibly the worst thing you can do.
Don't judge me, though, when I tell you that, after getting away from the Octopus, the first thing I did was run straight to school. I was frightened, and all I could process was that I was supposed to be going to school before everything started happening. School… It was normal, you know? And I desperately needed a little more normal in my life.
So, I arrived at school without further incident. I'm sure I was quite the sight, breathing heavily and looking as if I'd just gone toe-to-toe with the bogeyman. In truth, I wasn't entirely sure that I hadn't.
“What happened to you?" my best friend Stacey asked as I tried to open my locker with a trembling hand. Stacey, wearing too much eye shadow and chewing a wad of gum that was probably big enough for five people. To my sensitive nose, it made the air rank with the scent of bubblegum. It smelled deliciously normal.
“Nothing," I answered, just a bit faster than sounded natural. Luckily, Stacey is unobservant at the best of times, and completely oblivious at others. I was actually surprised that she noticed something was wrong with me at all.
“Well," she said, changing the subject while dramatically smacking her gum, “I hope you finished your study guide last night, because Mr. Ward is giving us a test today."
Indeed, I had not studied. On any other day, this would have sent me into a panic. Mr. Ward's tests were notorious for being some of the hardest any teacher gave. Today, however, failing a test seemed like a minor problem compared to being attacked a crazy man who made arms grow out of the ground… Yeah, I still hadn't figured that part out.
As the two of us made our way to class, we passed a teacher who was reading the daily paper. I stopped in my tracks, the color draining from my cheeks.
“What's with you?" Stacey asked. “You look like you've seen a ghost or something."
Instead of answering, I spun around and asked the teacher if I could have the front page. Practically ripping it out of his hands, I read it as fast as I could while going back to where Stacey was waiting for me.
“Local Girl Mauled By Wild Animal," the front page yelled at me in massive black letters. I began to feel myself go numb. Apparently, the girl, a five year old named Kimberly, had wandered outside just after sunset and been ravaged by a rabid dog. That was the only explanation the authorities could think of.
“Oh, that?" Stacey asked, sounding remarkably apathetic about it. “Sounds like it happened pretty close to your place. Might want to watch out."
“How close?" I asked, trying to keep my voice steady. There was a picture of Kimberly in the middle of the article, taken just a few days ago. She was standing on top of a playground, smiling her cute little girl smile. I was unable to tear my gaze away.
“Like, just a couple of streets away, I think."
My mind flashed back to when I'd first woken up that morning, with the taste of blood fresh in my mouth. I'd assumed it was deer. Deer was one of the things I loved to hunt most when I was a wolf. What if it hadn't been deer I tasted, though? What if it had been little girl?
My stomach lurched, and for a moment I thought I was going to puke. I took a few deep breaths and managed to steady myself after a moment.
“Geez," Stacey said. She paused to blow a bubble, “Don't freak out or anything. Just don't go outside for awhile and you'll be fine."
I nodded my head, pretending as if that were all I was worried about, and began walking to Mr. Ward's class. With every step I took, though, I couldn't help but think of Kimberly. How many rabid dog attacks happen in my neighborhood. This was the first I'd ever heard about. It sounded far more likely, to me, that something else had gotten her. Something the authorities would be unable to track down for another month…
I didn't realize that I had wandered into Mr. Ward's class until I sat down at my desk, jolting me out of autopilot. It looked like Stacey and I had arrived just in time, as all the other seats were full. The bell rang, making me jump in fright. Luckily, nobody saw me.
“All right," Mr. Ward said in his quiet, husky voice, “everyone put your books away and get out a pencil." He paused and looked at Stacey, “Ms. Pencilton, please spit your gum out."
Shooting our teacher a dirty look, Stacey got up and spat her massive ball of gum into the trash, eliciting a few groans of disgust from the class.
“Now," Mr. Ward began again, “this test will go on for the whole class. You may not use your notes, but you may use a calculator. When you are finished, please…"
He stopped again as the door opened, and a new student walked in. I felt my breath catch in my throat as I saw who it was.
“Yes," Mr. Ward asked, irritated at being interrupted again, “can I help you?"
“Sorry I'm late," the scrawny boy said, pushing his glassed further up his nose. “I was having trouble with my locker."
Mr. Ward furrowed his eyebrows in confusion, “You are not in this class, young man."
I'm pretty sure nobody else noticed it, but I saw the boy make a discreet hand gesture, and Mr. Ward's face went lax.
“Oh, yes," he said, “of course. Sorry about that, please take a seat."
The scrawny boy made a show of scanning the entire room for an empty desk, but I knew he had no intention of taking any seat besides the one behind mine. He wasn't carrying the glowing green scepter anymore, though I would have guessed he was carrying it in the overstuffed backpack he had slung over his shoulders. He smiled eagerly at me as he went past, showing off his braces. I held my breath, trying not to make eye contact.
“Now," Mr. Ward said, “here are your tests. You may begin when you get it."
He handed out the tests, and I made my best effort to focus on it, and not the gangly young man behind me. I couldn't even begin to work out the problems, but I still tried to bury myself in the rows upon rows of numbers and symbols. For a little while, it worked. Then I felt a light, tentative tap on my shoulder.
“Hey," he whispered. “My name's Edgar. Can I borrow a pencil?"
NEXT TIME: So, Edgar’s here too, huh? I wonder what the twerp wants?