“This seems an unusual assignment.”
“All who wish to guide successfully must accomplish this task,” the companions voice assured.
“I have assisted in Guiding before, this assignment strikes me as most unusual. Have I failed in my training somewhere?”
“No, you have not,” my companion sighed as he tried to be patient with my constant questioning, “There are many things you must learn as a Guide, a great many things. This is simply another facet of your training. This will bring you a sliver of understanding, but only a sliver.”
“Will I understand when the lesson is over?”
“If you are a good student, and if you are attentive, then yes. There is some understanding to be gained in all situations, and we must all strive to be good students. One never knows when a moment in which we will gain understanding will occur.
“Are you ready?”
“I will try to be, though I am still confused as to what I am to accomplish.” My companion made an odd smile, only using half his mouth.
“Then I grant upon you the form of Foster Lloyd, learn well.”
School. This is where modern society sends it’s young to learn about the world around them. Not all learning is to be found in books, in fact a great many social totems are to be found in such institutions. Words are adjusted to a new form of language, to have new meanings to distinguish between the desirable and the undesirable.
The structure before my eyes was mostly red brick, white framed windows stood out in contrast to the stone and marched resolutely in three dotted lines for each level of classroom. Cold swept over me and my skin stood in goose bumps as I made my way to the solemn building, climbing the stone steps and feeling largely out of place.
Small items, cool to the touch and devoid of color wafted through the air, riding the invisible tides of air ever downward. Snow was the name, this thought occurred to me from the deep recesses of what I identified as my subconscious. Whatever that was. Small drifts of the substance accumulated quickly near the areas protected from the wind, such as at the foot of the stairs and in small nooks in the face of the building. I walked towards the double doors as the white fury continued to rage on the outside world. Once in the first set of doors I encountered a second set that opened into the school proper.
I glanced from side to side at the unfamiliar surroundings, and yet an echo stirred in my mind, or my head at least. A small sign was attached to the glass of both inner doors:
ALL VISITORS ARE REQUIRED
TO CHECK IN AT THE MAIN OFFICE.
ENJOY VISITING YOUR SCHOOL!
Office. The word seemed to be important and so I proceeded there with caution. I knew in my heart of hearts I couldn’t be harmed, but an energy coursed through me that once more stirred echoes in my head. Maybe my brain was missing if all I was doing was echoing up there.
I stepped into a compact and conservative space where a waist high counter cut severely across the room, segregating the students entering the room from the staff hidden behind it. I moved to the counter and a lone woman looked up from the switchboard she operated.
Switchboard. What an odd term, I wonder where that came from?
“What do you need?” the woman questioned.
“My name is Foster Lloyd,” I replied, “I’m new.”
The Lesson now truly begins.
“Mr. Washburn, can you please come up and solve problem four?” Mrs. Meyer asked of one of my classmates. She was really big on class participation and I was really big on going unnoticed. I looked idly out the window at the battleship gray sky and the abandoned sports fields. The skeleton of the soccer goal on the southern end of the field stood in stark relief to the barren ground behind it. According to the maintenance guys the school wasn’t allotted enough water to keep that field up, so the football field got the lions share of water. In this part of the country they say if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, it’ll change. I don’t think it’s quite that fast to change, but you never knew what you were getting day to day.
“Miss Kelley, please solve problem six and Mr. Baranova please solve problem eight,” she finished. Damn. Unfortunately, I am Illya Baranova and I just stopped being unnoticed. She handed chalk to all the people solving equations and we proceeded to do what we could with them. Let’s see, carry the four…wait, have to combine the powers first….now carry the four and write the answer at the bottom, circling it in case there was any confusion as to my answer and retook my seat.
“As you can see here Mr. Baranova properly combined the powers, which cancelled each other out, and then carried the four making your answer seventeen. Does everyone see this?” Mrs. Meyer asked to the class in general, to which she received a cumulative nod that teachers should know means that even if we don’t get it, we aren’t admitting to anything.
A small ringing sound drew Mrs. Meyer to the phone on the wall in the room, this was the offices way to reach each classroom individually. She lifted the receiver and spoke for a few moments and I returned my attention to the clouds outside. In the five minutes it took for me to do the problem and re-take my seat the clouds had begun disgorging their cargo of snow upon the town. I’ll be damned, waited five minutes and it changed.
“Mr. Baranova? You’re wanted in the Guidance Office at the end of class,” Mrs. Meyer informed me. Great, why would that be? I don’t think I was failing anything, though as the year wore on I tended to lose focus and start scrabbling to make it through the end of that grade. About twenty minutes later, and several pages of homework assigned, that class ended and I was allowed to solve the mystery of my being summoned to the guidance office.
The Guidance office is on the first floor on the Western side of the school. It wasn’t a grand thing, a main room with a secretary who was older than dirt and two small offices branching off the main one formed the whole of the guidance department. Mr. Callahan worked the N-Z’s, coached the JV soccer team and drove a Chrysler Cordova. It got eight miles to the gallon when it was new and was lucky to break thirty five miles per hour if it was going down hill and had a strong tail wind. Mrs. Collette ran the A-M’s and I avoided her as much as possible as she was something of a space case. Actually I think she headed up the space case department for the Eastern Seaboard.
“Can I help you?” the secretary, with the unlikely name of Mrs. Roach asked.
“I was told to come here at the end of my class, I’m Baranova,” I replied to her.
“‘Nova? Hey, come on in here, I have someone I want you to meet,” Mr. Callahan said as he poked his head around the doorway to his office. He smiled at me as I approached his office and I smiled back at him, he was just so damn goofy! He had this sign in his office, it’s a parody of that evolution poster, has this crouching ape that in several steps turns into a football player then stands upright into a soccer player.
“‘Nova, this is Foster Lloyd, he’s transferring into the school. I’d like you to show him to his locker and his classes, look out for him a bit, huh?” he asked me. The kid in the seat stood and put his hand out in front of him to shake, and I took it in reflex.
“Sure Mr. Callahan, I think I can handle that,” I replied, relieved to not be having this meeting as a precursor to a bad progress report.
“So, where you from?” I asked as we stepped into the deserted hallway. Our shoes squeaked slightly on the well polished marble floor.
“California, the northern part,” he replied easily as we turned the corner and went up the flight of stairs to the level his locker was on. His was 217, and since it started with a two it was on the second floor. You know, real brain busting logic there.
“Damn, why’d you come here?” I asked with a little grin.
“Cause you’re here, of course,” he responded with a small laugh of his own.
“Seriously,” I replied. His face seemed to be in deep thought for just a moment before he replied.
“Dad got a job here, satellite work,” he replied.
“Over at the Armory?” I asked, not really knowing much about such things, but the armory had some high tech firms in it, but I was not about to admit to that lack of knowledge.
“Yeah, uh huh,” he nodded his head.
“That’s cool. This is your locker here,” I pointed as we approached and he looked at the combination lock in confusion.
“Could you…” he looked at the dial uncertainly.
“Um, yeah, sure,” I replied as I showed him the locker combination and shifted the dial under his observation. He unconsciously bit his lip as he studied my movements, which was endearing, but who the hell doesn’t know how to work a combination lock?
We then proceeded to the first class on his schedule, English with Mr. Miller. “Miller isn’t bad, he won’t let anyone pick on you anyways. He likes grammar a little bit too much. Jeez, your schedule is pretty close to mine, you know that?” I asked as he trailed along beside me.
“Good, then I’ll know at least one person,” he said with a smile. A very nice smile. We headed on, chatting idly, well ok, I chatted idly as we went from room to room. When the bell rang for lunch I decided this would be the perfect time to show him the lunch room. It was on the Eastern side of the school, all the way down on one end and in the basement floor. Its windows looked out onto the parking lot behind the building and they plainly showed the mounting snow that was quickly turning into a blizzard. I don’t remember anything about snow being expected today.
We got in line and got our food. Foster didn’t have any cash, so I covered it for him until tomorrow. We sat down and the expression on his face when he bit into the pizza was priceless. I mean, this stuff tastes like plastic cheese on cardboard and his eyes registered this total shock.
“What did you expect, Luigi’s?” I asked with a grin. He looked at me in amazement before taking another bite, eyes still wide. I actually think he liked it.
“Is Luigi’s like this?” he asked with the most serious expression.
“Dude, no, it’s way better. What planet are you from? Damn, bad enough my father thinks California is another country, you act like you never had Pizza before,” I snorted.
“I haven’t,” he said in all seriousness. I was stunned, who hadn’t had pizza? Then I had an idea.
“Your folks Mormon or something? I know they can’t have caffeine, is that it?” I asked.
“Yes, Mormon. My, uh, mother is not but my father is and I live here now with him,” he said with a satisfied grin on his face before biting into his pizza again. Weird dude, cute, but weird.
“May I have your attention please, by order of the school board we will be closing early today. Busses are already en route and we ask that you go to your next scheduled class and wait to be dismissed,” came the assistant principal’s nasally drone over the intercom.
“Awesome, dude you have Biology with me next. Let’s jet!” I said as I dumped the remains of my lunch and we headed for the cafeteria doors. After I had cleared the doors I glanced behind me to make sure I still had Foster in tow, but he was no where in sight. I stepped out of the rush of oncoming classmates to look for him, but he seemed to be suddenly lost. As the last few stragglers moved out of the cafeteria I glanced in there just to be sure, and there he was…eating his pizza like it was manna from heaven or something.
“Foster? Dude, you can eat this crappy pizza tomorrow, let’s get going,” I said as I walked up to him. He looked back at me, somewhat surprised.
“Are you done jetting?” he asked, “I thought I could finish my pizza while you did that?”
“Are you certifiable? Come on! Mr. Whalen is a real shit head when anyone is late!” I tugged on his arm, and he stood reluctantly. Jeez, it must suck to be Mormon!
We fell under Whalen’s odd gaze as we entered the room. He was a cuckoo by any standards, personality wise. Word was he used to be quite the outdoorsman but he had contracted arthritis pretty badly and could barely walk now. His cane supported him and his knees looked like they were locked together and when he pointed his finger at you it wasn’t really at you as the tip tilted one way or the other.
He loved to use his overhead projector for notes and he wore these orange tinted lenses while using it. Naturally, his notes weren’t the easiest to decipher, but he droned about that was written anyways. Word was he passed those he liked and failed those he did not.
“Who’s that?” he asked in his slow drawl.
“Illya Baranova and Foster Lloyd, a new kid,” I responded. God only knows what Mormon boy would have said, “Sorry about being a little late, I was showing him his new classes,” was saying when Whalen cut me off.
“Ok, fine, sit,” he turned his attention elsewhere dismissing me and I sat, Foster near me.
Whalen droned for a few minutes, not wanting to waste the class time he had with us, and we mostly ignored it since we were all wound up about getting out early. It meant walking home in the snow for me, but that was all. My mother would be home, as she was all the time now that my brother was sick.
It started a few months ago, he was getting tired real easy and when we played, like, roughhousing he’d be covered in bruises. That’s when my folks took him to the doctor, and that was a double nightmare cause the nurse called the police thinking my folks had beat the shit outta Micah, but they took him to the hospital and got all kinds of tests done. He had Leukemia, this kind called Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Basically it was blood cancer, and he had it bad. The doctors said there was an 85% recovery rate among kids under 15 and Micah was 14, but it was looking like he was going to be that statistical 15% that didn’t make it. You may have guessed things are some what somber around my house.
An announcement was made about school being let out at the sound of the bell, that busses were out front and to proceed in an orderly fashion. So, of course, when the bell rang there was a mad dash of prisoners being set free, all except Foster, who looked at me quizzically.
“What?” I asked.
“Why does he walk like that?” he asked, looking back at the retreating form of Whalen.
“Arthritis, I heard,” I told him, “I need to get my stuff from my locker. Do you ride the bus?” I asked.
“Bus?” he asked wrinkling his nose, which was a cute gesture by the way.
“Ok, I guess not then. Where do you live?” I asked as I headed for the door.
“My father isn’t home, and I don’t have a key. I think he was not planning on the, ah, early dismissal,” he said with this odd, stilted speech as if he were unsure of what he was saying.
“Well, my mom is home, I guess we could go there,” I sighed before letting him know I’d be right back after getting my jacket and whatnot from my locker. Foster was weird, not fatally so far, but weird none the less. I passed John Paul Ryan in the hallway, looking stoned as usual. He was the resident small time dealer, pot mostly though I had a suspicion he smoked the majority of his profits.
Then there was Randy Myslweic, and he was interested in older women. As he spun the dial on his locker I remember overhearing that he was dating Kathy Sumner cause he liked her mother. I shivered. I reached my locker, which was next to Will Santa Lucia who played for our football and baseball team. He was showing the beginnings of what was to be a bulky, muscular frame. He had a great ass, especially in the little shorts he wore to gym class. I spun my dial and grabbed my coat while stuffing a few books I’d need and grabbed the corresponding notebooks before closing my locker.
I trekked back to the Biology room and found the classroom empty. I stepped in to see the overhead projector was off, indeed the room lights were off as well. Soft voices could be heard from the office, built into the back of the room and I moved towards the sound. Soft light, nothing like the harsh fluorescents that are wired in each room, cascaded from the small office space. I moved towards the door, hearing the soft voices that sounded like chanting. Ever watch a horror movie and they do this Latin chant thing with kids voices that is just so creepy? It was like that.
I looked in the doorway and my breath caught in my throat. Large silvery white wings quivered in front of me, almost transparent as they showed a figure moving its hands over an upright Mr. Whalen. His tired face had a look of bliss, clearly bliss, even though he was slack jawed. A small runner of drool ran from the corner of his mouth and past his relaxed form to the floor tiles below his chair. The translucent form that was attached to the wings was passing its hand down the length of an arm. Soft popping could be heard and as the vision passed over Mr. Whalen’s hand, the knuckles shrinking visibly as the popping noise increased.
Mr. Whalen groaned and the wind howled outside the window, snow obscuring the view outside the school. I was inexplicably drawn away from the sight of the figure and to the snow swirling outside the glass, the glow fading in my peripheral vision until, with a great strength of will I turned my head back to see Mr. Whalen softly snoring in his chair. That was all, no figure, no drool puddle on the floor, just Whalen snoring in his chair.
I backed up unsteadily as the sound of clicking heels on the floor tiles of the adjacent classroom filled my ears, I turned into my own classroom and headed for the door where I slammed right into Foster.
“Oh, I’m sorry Illya, are you ok?” he asked.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, come on let’s get out of here,” I muttered. Foster followed me obediently from the classroom where I heard Mrs. Bensen, probably the steps I had heard from the other classroom, speaking to Whalen. Word was they were a couple of sorts, though I assumed it was intellectual in nature. I headed for the door of the school when I stopped and Foster stopped just short of running into me.
“You need to stop at your locker?” I asked him as I turned and saw he had a jacket on already.
“That’s where I went when you went to your locker,” he said.
“Ok, let’s get out of here then,” and I opened the door to the elements. This particular door let out into the parking lot and I struck out for the North end of the lot to cross the school fields. I turned to be sure that I hadn’t lost Foster when I saw Mrs. Bensen moving across the lot with an upright Mr. Whalen, which was then lost in a swirl of snow. I squinted and tried to get another look, but it was impossible and the dry air was burning my eyes, stealing their moisture.
He can’t walk like that, he’s bent over, on a cane. What the hell did I just see?