In Mr. Thomason's demeanor, and in his eyes, I sensed something unique to anything I had ever felt before. It was just on the very brink on my understanding, and even though I don't really think of myself as psychic, I knew that some way, somehow, I could receive enlightenment by taking a long, concentrated moment to really look into his eyes. I couldn't though, because for one, staring is rude, and he seemed like the kind of guy who really cared about politeness, judging by the way he handled everyone when they got into their feeding-frenzy mode. Also, his gaze was probing, and seemed to be able to look right into my head, which was fully, totally crazy, after all, but I really didn't have a lot to go by at that time. I wondered how he had so suddenly and effectively quieted everyone in the room. It was not only because he was a teacher, and had a knack for getting someone's attention with a simple raising of his voice. There was something else that made everyone stop what they were doing and sit there like zombies, listening and agreeing to every single thing he said.
Never before had they done that.
I was both happy and certain that I finally had some kind of ally in this class, and freaked out because this ally was very strange.
The way he talked was not very normal either. This made me wonder if he was from some foreign country and had recently learned English, but he had no funny accent that I could detect.
His quick, fluid movements kind of reminded me of the sinuous grace of a dancer, but he didn't really dance across the floor. Instead, he made use of his long legs to move nimbly and very fast, as if he were in some sort of hurry. He also seemed worried about his appearance. When talking, he would often fidget or look from left to right, as if concerned that someone would notice something about him that was wrong.
But, I couldn't judge him for his eccentric behavior, because I do have some quirks of my own and doing so would just make me a serious hypocrite. I will also not criticize anyone who has taken up for me and silenced those who constantly badger me for little or no reason at all.
I decided that I liked him, and was eager to see what other interesting things he would do. His weirdness, much like mine, could have been something having to do with his personal life, or he just had some bizarre habits.
“Okay.” he said, walking over to a tall plastic rack near the chalkboard and picking up a science textbook. “We are going to study outer space now.”
As Mr. Thomason began to thumb through the pages in search of the chapter he required, Kevin Bowman, a pudgy boy with light blond hair, blue eyes, and a timid personality, called out, “But Mr. Thomason, we've already read that chapter this year.”
Snapping his head up to gaze at Kevin, Mr. Thomason replied, “I am the teacher. I know what I am doing. We will study this. It is good for you.”
A few kids made sounds of annoyance and exasperation.
The teacher took a moment to continue paging through the book, and when he found the section he was searching for, his eyes darted rapidly across a page or two. Then his brow furrowed, and he frowned. “No, no. This is all wrong. Not explaining right. No wonder you children are so lost, confused, and do not have the correct knowledge. But how can one expect to understand by a book what all of it means?”
He set down the book on his desk, and stood still for a second, appearing to ponder whatever in the book he found to be wrong. “This...needs to be rectified. But it may take too long to fix now. Perhaps we could study something else, something you will enjoy...”
I was beginning to get confused at this point. I didn't get exactly what he was talking about. Although he seemed ready to listen to me, I felt like asking a question wasn't the right option. At least not yet. I wondered what Lola was doing right about now. Her first period was in Language Arts. She would probably be interested to know what was happening here in my First Period. I couldn't wait to tell her.
“Alright.” continued the teacher. “I guess it is best to explain it in a way your minds can comprehend. But not this, in this book. I will recall from memory the basic information...”
He seemed to be thinking out loud, instead of figuring out what he had to say before he opened his mouth. He appeared to think it was appropriate though, despite the confusion of my classmates that I could nearly feel in the atmosphere.
“You see, class,” Mr Thomason began, “there are places that you cannot currently see. They are hidden between veils, layers. Some realize the existence of these places, but so many do not. I will show you, but only in time, for your minds are so fragile, your bodies not equipped for what lies in between the layers...”
Like dry ice wafting from a bucket, more confusion seemed to enter the room like a dense blanket of drifting mist, and this time my own puzzlement was added to the mix. Just what was he talking about?
“Imagination. A wonderful thing. It can take you to places much similar to what I attempt to describe. But never can you realize how much exactly exists.”
Then, I could feel that chill creeping back into the room. Like a hidden spirit, it traced a cold finger across my spine, and my teeth chattered. Everyone else seemed to be feeling this too.
“Reality is so impressionable. You can create it in your head, and it will be real...children, do you see what I try to say?”
Something in the atmosphere was beginning to thicken, as if we had suddenly descended into a cold and still underwater abode, where overwhelming pressure was kept out only by a thin protective shield. I realized that I had been holding my breath. I let it gush out in a short, shaky burst.
“Can you understand what the textbooks cannot name? If you are unable...I will show you.”
I abruptly locked eyes with Mr. Thomason, and my head swam.
What was going on?
“Light and shadow, both of these different, and yet they come from the same source...”
He looked amused when he caught my gaze, as if what he was talking about made total sense and it was silly of me not to understand it.
“Maybe you can see what they can't, Wendy.”
Bewildered, I shook my head in order to retrieve my previous clarity of mind. “What do you mean?”
“Do not worry.” he admonished, wagging a finger at me almost playfully. “The knowledge will come soon. Very soon.”
And that was when the bell rang, and as it did, the cold feeling in the room lifted immediately. It was time to head to Second Period.
As everyone stampeded out of the room, Mr. Thomason called out, “no homework today, children. Remember to use free time wisely.”
Eager to get out before something else happened, I scooped up my stuff and began to hurry toward the door.
“Wait. Wendy? Would you come here just a moment?”
Stopping just in front of the door, I turned to face him.
He favored me with an enigmatic smile, and pointed at my hand. “Wendy, you should get that seen by a doctor. Let him look.”
Caught off-guard, I agreed, “yeah, I was going to do that, because, you know, it kind of looks infected or something.”
“It will get better...”
“I think so too.” I agreed.
“Do you like me as new teacher, Wendy?” he wondered, changing the subject.
I nodded quickly, furiously, though I hadn't really intended to look so mindless when I did so. “Yes.”
Feeling somewhat uncomfortable because no one else was in the room and because he was still smiling, for God's sake, I said, “well, it was nice talking with you. I have to get to Second Period now.”
“Okay. I will see you very soon, Wendy Cremwell.” he raised one pale hand, and waved.
I still dared not look into his eyes for very long, as though there was something in them that I could not handle seeing. Feeling way too awkward, I turned around and left science class, where Julie and Sheryl were waiting for me out in the hallway.
Arms crossed, dark eyes narrowed, Julie sneered, “Well, it looks like we've finally found someone weirder than you. I bet you feel real special.”
“Come on, guys, I'm sick of all the bad blood between us,” I said, trying to extinguish their bad attitude with the why-can't-we-all-just-get-along mentality. “Lets just stop this.”
I don't even know why I was trying, considering Julie had been determined to be my enemy since the fourth grade, and others had just jumped into her group for the fun of it along the way.
“Its a little too late for that, “Sheryl continued, in an obvious attempt to take control as well and be part of what Julie was trying to do. “I'm not exactly sure what happened in there, but I know it had something to do with you. Do you know that guy? Is he your uncle or something? That would be the only reason why he would be doing all that for you, because you put him up to it.”
“Oh, that's ridiculous!” I snapped, sick of their crude comments and snooty indifference. “I've never seen Mr. Thomason before, but you can go ahead and believe whatever you want, okay? Just like you always have.”
Sheryl replied with a very predictable answer to the truth I had tried to put in my words. “Whatever.”
They both walked away, but this time they didn't get to me as much as they used to, probably because I still thought I had some sort of ally, even though he was a little oddball....okay...a LOT oddball, but at least he was better than no one at all.
And besides, Julie and Sheryl were just sore because they had, after all, been rightfully put in their place. That had never happened before. As good as this was for me, I still could not shake the feeling that I had detected earlier in the morning.
Something still felt wrong.
Whether it was because of the frightening things that had been occurring recently, or because it was due to something happening right now, right here, I didn't know for certain. Although I wanted to let my guard down, wished so badly I could believe that things would make more sense and the cloud of paranoia and fear would vanish like I had always hoped it would, something told me not to. And good thing I listened to this premonition. Little did I know that what I had been facing was not even close to being over, and that things were about to get a whole lot weirder. Surprise surprise.
Luckily, Lola went to the same class I did during Second Period, which was Reading, my favorite. I've always liked to read, because for one, it puts order into the chaotic workings of life, or at least some perceive it that way. Mrs Mares, a short, plump lady with a quiet and gentle personality, was my favorite teacher. She actually dared to become involved with her students instead of just trying to make it through the day without going insane, pulling out her hair in frustration, jumping out the window, and hightailing it away from the school, never to be seen again. She actually tried to make it fun for people who didn't love to read.
As always, Lola and I sat next to each other in the front row, where we could more easily become immersed in the reading projects and novel introductions Mrs. Mares would have to share.
She wasn't yet in the classroom, and so I turned to Lola and said, “guess what?”
“Chicken butt?” she asked, giggling.
“Even better. I have a new teacher in First Period. He's mega-weird.”
“Ah...I could tell by your face that something was up.”
“Gee, either you can read me like a book or I have the worst Poker face in the world.”
“Maybe its both.”
“Anyway, though. This guy is both creepy and awesome at the same time.”
Lola raised an eyebrow.
“And I can't tell if its good or bad.” I added.
“I might be able to. I have science for Fourth Period. If he eats worms for lunch, we'll know he's some kind of freakazoid.”
“Sometimes, people don't have to be worm-eaters to be that way.”
In detail, I told her about Mr. Thomason's strange behavior, and his almost hypnotic hold over everyone in the class.
When I was finished, she asked, “you sure he's not a vampire?”
“Oh come on.” I rolled my eyes.
“Really, Wendy. It sounds to me like he's some kind of Undead hooligan.”
“Are you joking, or serious?”
She shrugged. “Beats me. I'll tell you what I think when I meet him.”
“Whatever you do,” I reminded her, “don't say anything impolite. He has a thing about that.”
“Aw, since when am I not polite?”
“Since never. I was just attempting to use dry humor.”
“Don't do that again, or the whole world may explode.”
Before we could say anything else, Mrs. Mares strode into the room. As always, her brown hair was short and held up with a bright pink and blue pin shaped like a smiley face. She wore a long dress with images of wide-eyed orange cats sewed with great detail on the front. She was carrying a thick Websters dictionary, clutched close to her chest.
“Hi,” she greeted, coming to sit down in a tall wooden stool in front of us. “How is everyone this morning?”
There was a mumble of different answers that couldn't be directly understood, but Mrs Mares probably assumed they what they had said was all good and peachy-keen.
In this class, there were a lot less people who harassed me. Most of them stared off into space as though they were daydreaming about some faraway place beyond the school walls where they would soon be as the dismissal ball rang this afternoon, and didn't seem to think of me as me as a crackpot. Perhaps this was another reason why Reading was one of my favorite parts of the day.
“We're going to make it simple today, everyone.” Mrs Mares declared cheerfully. “I want you to look up several words in the dictionaries that are synonymous to how you feel about your best friend or a member of your family, and then I want you to write a short story about them using these words.”
Lola, as though trying to multitask, was jotting down something in one of her notebooks, and then looked up and asked, “how many words? A hundred?”
Chuckling at her joke, the teacher replied, “no, ten or fifteen at least will do, but if you want to do more, go right ahead.”
We set to work. On one of the shelves in the corner, there were several dictionaries. Some of us had to share but there was mostly enough for everyone. As I was scribbling away with my pen, looking up words that could describe Sammy or Lola or even both, Mrs. Mares pointed out, “Wendy, what is that on your hand? It looks dreadful.”
“Yep,” I answered, lifting up my hand. “A lot of people have been asking about it. I think I was either burned by the Alien's acid blood, or my cat scratched me while I was sleeping.”
Playing along, she said, “well lets just hope there aren't going to be any terrible beasties bursting out of your chest anytime soon, and if there are, at least wait until you're on your way to the next class before you make a bloody mess all over this nice clean floor.”
A few people laughed quietly.
Lola turned to me and whispered in my ear, “ jeez, you finished showing that thing off?”
“Don't be so cynical. You know I make fun of what creeps me out, just like you.”
“Well, I better not be that way with Bill Nye the science guy or he might go on a tangent and hypnotize me into thinking I'm a monkey swinging in a tree.”
“It wouldn't take much of an effort.”
“Very funny.” She blew in my ear, causing me to jump in surprise.
“Enough talking, girls.” Mrs. Mares cautioned, popping a piece of Juicy Fruit into her mouth while she sat at her desk, going through a stack of small paperback novels.
Lola looked like she couldn't help but say something in return, yet she just continued going through the dictionary we were sharing. Occasionally, she muttered to herself, tapping her desk rhythmically with her fingernails, the whole time scrunching her face and grimacing as though something she saw in the dictionary was distasteful.
I had to fight back the urge to laugh. Even on the strangest days, she could find something to smile about, and always helped me to do the same. I still felt edgy, however, and couldn't shake the feeling that no matter how hard we tried to escape it, what had started was going to amplify before it ended, and that we were still in the middle of it all.
The next time I saw Lola after Reading was at lunch. Even though we weren't in the same Fourth Period we could still sit at the same table and eat together. The lunchroom, as always, was loud, filled with the sound of many voices and of the clinking and rattling of trays and dishes. No one but Lola wanted to sit next to me, but that was okay. I didn't want them to.
We were at the table nearest to the door that led out into the main hallway, and were scanning the whole lunchroom is search of Mr. Thomason. Sure enough, he was sitting at a lone teacher's table, only ten or fifteen steps away. The other teachers were looking at him funny, and it wasn't hard to imagine why.
He wasn't eating anything, but was sipping though a bendy straw some kind of liquid in a tall plastic cup. It looked like V8 or maybe even Cranberry juice, but I couldn't tell for sure. He was draining the drink extremely fast, and seemed fully engaged in finishing it as soon as possible. When his eyes darted in our direction and he saw me, he smiled and waved.
Nice. Now this was beginning to get way too embarrassing. Julie and Sheryl must have seen that, and I could only imagine what they were thinking.
Lola was watching him too, and had also met him during class before everyone went to lunch. As she rummaged through her lunchbag, pulling out a bag of chips and a container filled with what looked like Mrs. Cooper's homemade Rigatoni pasta dish, she was continuously shaking her head, and must have felt my discomfort, because she said, “man, that guy is really wacky.”
“Tell me about it.” I took a huge bite out of a turkey sandwich, and tried to distract myself by indulging my inner scarf beast. The only thing I'd had for breakfast that morning was a half a chocolate Pop tart, and a few spoonfuls of yogurt. I was ravenous.
It was, however, rather difficult to eat in peace with the constant feeling of someone watching your every move. Mr Thomason's eccentricities were beginning to seem a bit overbearing.
“So, did he do anything outrageous in your presence?” I asked Lola.
“No, he just acted really nervous, and kept talking to himself or something. It was weird. We were only there fifteen minutes before we came to lunch, so he didn't have time to really go on a tangent, after all.”
Puzzled, I went back to consuming my sandwich, and concentrating on blocking out the uncomfortable feeling of being constantly observed, not only by the new teacher, but by my peers, who probably assumed that this guy was one of my family members, come to make me an instant Teacher's Pet.
I noticed Mr. Thomason was still slurping furiously at his drink, and also chatting up my math teacher, Ms. Sanders. She seemed tense, and did more nodding than talking, as if worried that one wrong word might upset him and send him on a fiery wrath.
He was sure making quite an impression on everyone in Oakville Junior High, and not just because he was new.
Finally finished with his unknown red drink, Mr. Thomason sat back with a sigh and began to survey the entire lunchroom. His eyes seemed seemed to be filled with astonishment, like the greatest wonders made up this room and it filled him with intense awe to be here.
“What is Bill Nye doing now?” Lola remarked with a mouthful of noodles.
I shrugged, because I truly didn't know what exactly he was doing.
“Perhaps he sees a fly and is planning on catching it with his long, sticky frog tongue?” Lola joked.
How absurd all of this was, sitting here talking about all these weird things, and thinking all these weird thoughts, while to everyone else in perhaps the entire school, it was just another normal day. I had to resist the urge to stand up, climb up on the table, raise my arms, and shout, “wake up, people!” But I knew better, and it wasn't merely the fear of being a laughing stock that stopped me. I knew most of them would never listen anyway, no matter how hard I tried to make them see that not everything in life is as mundane as it appears to be.