The very worst time to see yourself being swallowed whole by a giant frog is in the middle of Pre-Algebra. Specifically right as you’re being called on to explain the rules for operator precedence. I wish I wasn’t able to testify to that from personal experience, but then I wish a lot of things and wishing alone doesn’t do much to make them true.
“The phrase we use to remember the order of operations is Please Excuse My..Oh My God!” I said and toppled back, trying to escape a giant frog that appeared out of nowhere! Being in class my movements were a little constrained though, so I fell over my seat and crashed into the desk behind me.
I don’t claim that was the best of all possible reactions, but under the circumstances I still feel it wasn’t entirely unreasonable. One moment I was looking at the blackboard and trying to remember a class I’d only sort of been at. The next I was looking at a giant, squishy toad mouth too up close and personal for comfort. Panic in that situation is a perfectly natural response.
Except it wasn’t me looking at the frog. Or being swallowed by it. I figured that out as I lay on the ground, wedged in between my chair and the desk. I wasn’t inside the belly of an enormous amphibian. I was safe and sound. Sprawled on the ground. In pain and in a classroom where at least a dozen of my fellow classmates were laughing their heads off.
I really wished I could switch positions with Penny.
“Ms. Rodriguez?” the teacher asked.
There were a lot of options at my disposal. The easiest would have been to pretend I’d knocked myself out. That would save on coming up with an explanation for what really happened. It would also draw a lot of attention to Penny though. Kids would be talking about her for a while if anything that dramatic happened. One of my prime advantages in posing as her was that few people paid much attention to Penny and I wasn’t about to give that up. Not like this anyways.
“Sorry, I slipped.” I said. That’s it. No fancy story. No clever explanations. The teacher looked like she wanted more information than that but I knew she wasn’t likely to push for it in the middle of class.
“That looked like a bad fall,” she said. “You should go to the nurse’s office.”
Translation: Please get out of my classroom so that I can get back to teaching. I nodded in agreement with that and got up to head towards the hall. One of the girls in my class, Betty Black rose at the same time.
“Someone should go with her,” Betty said. “In case she conked her head there.”
“I’m ok,” I said.
“You’re right,” the teacher said, speaking to Betty. “Go with her and make sure the nurse is in.”
“I really am ok,” I said in a low voice once we were out in the hall.
“I know, but I’ve seen that look you had too,” Betty said. “Something happened to your original, didn’t it?”
Betty was one of the school’s “special students”. She was a Black Goblin, which were a one of the many goblin-types represented at school. Harold Galloway, the library mouse, had introduced me to her and a handful of other “special students” during our lunch break. Like me, they all appeared to be normal human children, though they used different means to achieve that.
“I think she was eaten by a toad,” I said. I hadn’t known that Penny and I were connected that closely, but once I experienced the link, it felt as alive and natural as my connection to my hands, or legs, or heart.
“Eaten by a toad? Where was she? Did she take a shrinking potion?” Betty asked.
“I don’t know where she was, and I don’t think it was a regular toad,” I said. “I didn’t get to see very much of it though.”
“Is she ok?” Betty asked.
“She’s still alive,” I said. “I don’t think being in the belly of a frog counts as ‘Ok’ though.”
“Don’t tell Nurse Chandari about that,” Betty said. “She’ll have to report it to your parents.”
“That would not be a fun conversation to have,” I said.
Penny’s parents would, probably, need to know who and what she was, eventually. Ideally they would find out when she was ready to tell them though, not via a missing person’s report.
“Be careful with Nurse Chandari too,” Betty said. “She’s a Dove Maiden.”
“That sounds nice,” I said. “So of course she must be horrible. Blood drinker?”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” Betty said. “She’s not supposed to feed on students, but “special” kids sometimes drop out and are never heard from again, so who know what happens to them!”
“My day just keeps getting better,” I said.
“The first one’s usually the toughest,” Betty said.
“So it’ll get better from here?” I asked.
“No, you just get more used to it,” Betty said. For a moment I saw past the illusion she wore to the small, bat-eared, saucer-eyed girl Betty really was and I saw the wry grin she was giving me.
Back in the library she’d said that she’d been coming to human school since kindergarten. Hiding who she was couldn’t have been easy but she’d made it this far. If she could do that, I had to be able to at least make it to the end of the school day.
I heard voices as we approached the nurse’s room door and motioned for Betty to stop. The hallways were empty, so things were just quiet enough that I could make out what was being said behind the closed glass door.
“I appreciate you coming to tell me of this,” Ms. Chandari said.
“I know you have a lot on your plate, and heaven knows we don’t need any new trouble makers this year, but I’m afraid we’ve got one anyways.” a woman replied.
It took me a second to place her voice.
Grandma Apples was at my school. Talking to the nurse. About a new trouble maker.
This did not bode well.