Alice steals things. She can't help it. Most of the time, it's not anything valuable: A tissue, a marble, a bar of soap. But one day, Alice snatches something dangerous. Something very dangerous.
Sometimes it's good to be small.
Like now, as I sat squeezed into the tiny corner cabinet, arms wrapped tight around my knees, knees tucked close under my chin, listening hard as Jink Johnson and his gang searched for me. They were like an angry mob on a witch hunt. Luckily, the witch in question was small.
If Vlad had been here today, there wouldn't have been a need for any of this. Vlad was my best friend. He was also my unofficial bodyguard. But Vlad had been suspended again for beating up a kid who had been dumb enough to poke fun at him. So today it was just me. Me in the corner cabinet.
After a while the sounds of the kids outside opening closet doors and checking under desks faded, and I thought it safe enough to open the cabinet door a crack and peek out. The classroom was empty. Gingerly, I unfolded my pretzel-knotted limbs and lowered myself out of the cabinet, onto the counter, then down onto the blue-and-white checked linoleum. I went to the window, got up on tip-toe, still wasn't tall enough, and eventually climbed onto the radiator so I could look out. Jink had taken the witch hunt out into the schoolyard. I decided I'd take the long way home through the back door.
I made my way down the quiet halls, sullenly trying all the locker doors on the right-hand side as I passed. Jink said I'd stolen his iPhone. I had stolen a lot of things from Jink Johnson in the three months I'd known him, but I hadn't taken his phone. Not yet.
One of the lockers which hadn't been closed properly sprang open as I tugged its handle. I paused long enough to peek inside. It was empty except for some sexually explicit sharpie drawings on the inside walls, a few rock-hard bubblegum stalactites, and a lonely, forgotten shoelace. I slipped the shoelace into my pocket.
It was Mr. Barnsly, my chemistry teacher. I turned slowly to face him. He was leaning out of his office, peering at me through his inch-thick glasses. He beckoned me over to him. I moved closer.
"What are you doing here so late?" he asked me.
"What did you just take from that locker?"
"Nothing," I said.
"I saw you just take something from that locker and put it in your pocket," said Mr. Barnsly patiently.
"So?" I said.
"It's not yours."
"It is now."
"Alice . . ." Mr. Barnsly looked both exasperated and sympathetic. "Have you gone to see a doctor about your problem yet?"
"I don't have a problem."
"Stealing from other people is a problem."
I didn't say anything. I wanted to go home and talk to Vlad.
"I believe that Mrs. Clarkin and Ms. Thomas have both talked to your father about this —"
"He doesn't care," I said.
Mr. Barnsly pursed his lips. "Alice, can you please show me what you have in your pocket?"
I shook my head. Mr. Barnsly took a deep breath.
"It's just a shoelace, okay?" I said to cut off his lecture. "Jeez."
I showed it to him.
"Alice —" Mr. Barnsly began again.
"I need to get home," I said. I turned around. Mr. Barnsly didn't call me back, but I could tell he was still watching me all the way down the corridor.