The unknown filled the boy with terror, but then, first grade at a new school was bound to create some anxiety.
What if he wasn’t as smart as the other kids? What if he was smarter? Either way, he’d stick out like a sore thumb, and that was no way to go about the first day. Because if he stuck out like a sore thumb then, he would stick out like a sore thumb for the rest of his life, and that was no way to live at all.
It’d be okay if he knew what kind of identity he might have with his peers, but even that was a great and far reaching unknown. These people already know each other. He was good at drawing, but what if they already had a kid who was good at drawing? They can’t have more than one. What would he do then? He wasn’t bad at jacks. His grandfather had showed him how to play the game last summer, although Grandpa had called it “knucklebones.” It gave the game a sinister quality, but even then, he was pretty sure kids didn’t play jacks anymore.
Who would he eat lunch with? All the drawings and all the jacks in the world wouldn’t help him when he was looking for an empty seat at a table in the cafeteria.
He thought of home, even his new home where the floors creaked wherever you walked, and the air conditioner that clanked to life every hour on the hour. That place was new and scary, but all of his toys were there, and his cat. He could hack it there. Out here in the world, there was no telling what might happen.
“You doing okay, kiddo?” Mom asked. She didn’t look at him. She was still trying to get used to the streets in their new town.
He blinked back tears she couldn’t see. He couldn’t even express all of his fears. He didn’t have the words. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“You’re a braver man than me,” Mom said. He couldn’t quite tell if what she said was praise or an order. He didn’t bother to ask.
They pulled into the parking lot and Mom walked him to his new classroom. All the moisture fled from his throat. If this had been anything other than school, he would have asked if they could go home. Even if he could somehow get out of going to this school, he supposed he would have to go to some school somewhere eventually. Besides, as much as what might be behind that door bothered him, Dad finding out that he was a baby and chickened out was even worse.
The teacher opened the door and beamed at them both. “You must be our new friend!” the teacher said.
He tried to peek into the room while the door was still open, but he couldn’t tell much. The teacher’s exclamation hung in the air unanswered.
“Well, we’re all excited to meet you, and we’re going to have some fun. This is exciting, a brand new adventure for all of us!”
He relaxed, if only a little bit. Adventure. That was something he could hold on to. Like Batman propelling out of the Batcave in the Batmobile, or Luke Skywalker launching into the cosmos in his X-Wing, or Spider-Man leaping off from a building with only his webbing to protecting him, this was his call to adventure.
He stepped forward toward the teacher.
“Have a good day, buddy,” Mom said.
He turned back for a moment and nodded again.
“I’ll be right here when you’re done!” Mom said once more, but he could see she was already moving for the door.
The teacher led him into the classroom. Children were seated at desks. There was an empty one nearby. The teacher had laid a card with his name on it. “This is all you,” she said. He sat down and relaxed a little more. He still didn’t know what was going to happen, but these kids didn’t seem like they had any inherent meanness to them. That at least eliminated the worst-case scenario.
Either way, he could see Mom drive her car away. He was in it now.
The teacher turned to the rest of the class. “The coast is clear.”
He raised his hand. It might have been nerves that caused him to speak before being called on, but the less time he didn’t know what was going on, the better. “What does ‘the coast is clear,’ mean?”
The teacher didn’t respond. Had he done something wrong? He heard a sharp whine coming from every direction, and the teacher’s head lolled backward on her shoulders. She then collapsed onto the floor. Where a flesh-and-blood person had stood only moments before, a bubbling pile of flesh colored plastic now undulated.
The other children didn’t panic. Instead, their eyes glowed bright red like taillights.
“You are an unknown variable,” the children said, all in unison. “This will be rectified.”
“What?” I asked.
“We come from a world beyond your solar system. From here, we have taken the place of several of your children. Our invasion will commence soon with our infiltrators firmly in place.”
They had moved closer to him with every word.
“You’re the odd man out, it would seem. We can’t have that.”
They closed in on him. The sharp whine that had obliterated the teacher filled his ears once more. He hadn’t even dreamed that it would be like this.