For the first time in two months, a school bus pulled up to the corner of Wrigley Lane. Seefer Elliot waited from his mother’s car near the end of their cul-de-sac. He watched as all of the curious faces stared back at him from the bus windows.
Unlike his classmates, Seefer hadn’t been at class since Harrison Middle School, was destroyed in the wake of an extraterrestrial invasion. Amorphous skin blobs called glokes and a giant alien gigaverm wrecked the place in their attempt to capture Seefer. The building crumbled during the final showdown between Seefer and the gigaverm. The battle left Seefer in a full leg cast, home-schooled, and missing all of the fun that two-legged kids get to have around Christmastime.
With the cast finally off, and an air-boot in its place, Seefer prepared to become mobile again. It would be a new year and a new school as he joined the rest of the student body for classes. Must approach it with a new attitude. I don’t need to be the loser anymore. Seefer sought to use the opportunity as a stepping-stone to less loserish ways. Sure, all the kids from Harrison might remember the dorky outsider, but there was a completely new audience from the new school he wanted to win over.
“Good luck, honey,” his mother said. She leaned in for a kiss.
“Mom, in keeping with my plan to not be a total social outcast at this school, I am going to request a rain check on that kiss.”
His mother smiled disappointedly, but honored the request. “Okay, don’t stress yourself out today. Got it?”
“Got it. Love you, mom.” Seefer exited the car and limped over to the bus’s open doors. With a quick bound off his good foot, he leaped up to the driver excited to start his day. For a moment, he looked back at the kids in their seats. He smiled at the possibilities. So many new faces! Who do I start with?
“I can’t move until you sit down, kid,” barked the bus driver.
Seefer quickly looked for an available seat. Near the back, a familiar face waved to him. Cassy! He was about halfway back to her seat when something tripped him up. Seefer fell forward. His extended arms couldn’t prop him up. He fell flat on his belly. His backpack slid up his back and clunked him on the head. Naturally, the bus erupted in laughter.
Seefer’s face turned beet red. He didn’t want to turn around. Maybe they didn’t see it. Please let there be some people who didn’t see it. The bus driver yelled back, “Everyone! Get to your seats!”
Cassy jumped out of her seat and helped Seefer up from the floor. The chuckles subsided a little, but they were far from over. When he looked down to see what tripped him up, he saw a leg sticking out into the aisle. When he followed that leg up to its owner, the face he saw didn’t surprise him. “Hector! We’re on the same bus again?”
Hector turned with dramatic flair and said, “Welcome back, Seefy!” Then he pursed his lips and delivered kissing noises. Other kids found this hysterical. Seefer looked confused.
“What are you doing? You want to kiss me?”
Now Hector’s face turned red as he clammed up. Some of the laughter turned in Seefer’s favor. Hector tried to save face, “try not to be such a dork at this school, Elliot. It’s been nice not having you around for two months.”
The feeling’s mutual.
Seefer and Cassy sat down and the bus pulled away to continue its route. “So, how is it going?” she asked.
“It was going fine until a minute ago. Not exactly the way I wanted to start my first day back.”
Cassy consoled him. “Ignore him. Hector is just mad because he is not the rooster of the new school. He is only trying to put himself up a peg.”
“Still. I’d rather not have to deal with him,” Seefer lamented.
“Do not let it get you down. I am glad to see you! How is the leg?”
“It’s okay. Been better. Obviously. How about you? How’ve you been?”
Cassy took the opportunity to catch Seefer up. “The new school is crowded. They squeezed as many of us into it as they could. Some of the old teachers moved into the school too. So far, there have been no occurrences.”
“Yes. You know…” Cassy slanted her eyebrow. “Occurrences.”
“Oh, right. I forgot that we aren’t supposed to remember that stuff. Does anybody else talk about Harrison?” Seefer asked.
“No. It is crazy. The halo Korvus used should only have wiped their memories from that day,” She pauses to make sure she isn’t talking to loud. “But they act like their whole time at the school did not exist. No one likes talking about it.”
“What about Pavo? Have you heard from him?”
Seefer lit up. “No. I just assumed he was in contact with you. You haven’t?”
“No,” she responded. “It does not surprise me though. I never trusted him.”
Cassy and Seefer’s debriefing was cut short by a shout from up front. “Zombie!” A commotion ensued as the kids leapt out of their seats to get a better view of the right side of the bus.
“What’s going on?” Seefer asked.
Cassy rolled her eyes. “Nothing. Just these kids being stupid about some homeless man.”
Despite Cassy’s objection to the behavior, her description was enough to pique Seefer’s interest. He stood up from his seat and crossed over to the other side. He wedged his head in between some others to get a better view.
A downtrodden man walked along the street’s paved walkway with a slide in his step. His two-piece suit was torn apart and dirty. His beard was nappy and layered in filth. His skin looked chapped or even frost bitten from roaming the streets in winter without proper cover-up. Seefer looked upon the man with pity. What could have happened to this guy? Reduced almost to nothing. Not that kids should be yelling out “zombie” when they see him, the man certainly appeared to be a member of the walking dead.
“I heard he was a vice president at Blockbuster,” one smart alec quipped.
“Nah, I heard he was a game show host that was bitten by one of his contestants,” another said.
“Brains! I want brains!” someone shouted above growing giggles.
Another kid repeatedly banged on the window attracting the attention of the drifter. Then in a forced southern drawl he yelled, “We don’t take kindly to your type ‘round here, zombie.” The others burst out in laughter.
Seefer’s bleeding heart ceased when he noticed something about the man he didn’t catch before – purple tinted glasses. The man’s emotionless face looked up at the bus windows, scanning back and forth, noting each child. When his eyes landed on Seefer, the man stopped looking elsewhere. He reached his hands out and approached the bus.
“He’s coming for us!” someone shouted.
The man could not keep up with the speed of the traveling bus. A large distance quickly grew in between them. As other kids returned to their seats, Seefer remained standing. He kept an eye on the zombie the whole time until he was well out of sight. Finally, when there was nothing left to see, he sat back down next to Cassy with an air of unease.
“What is it?” Cassy asked. “He is just a homeless man.”
“No, he’s not,” Seefer said.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve seen that man before. He works for the government – or so we thought. Remember Officer Booth? He approached me about a month ago and told me that these guys were starting to put things together about what happened at the school and our part in it. He warned me that if there was any evidence that linked me to Korvus or any of his shenanigans, that I would be in danger. I told him about Pavo’s case and how he took a blood sample from me. I didn’t know whether that case was still in the school or not, but he went to find it. I went there too, but along the way, these guys started chasing me. They were dressed in suits and wore those tinted glasses.”
Cassy quickly punched him in the arm. “Shut up!”
Seefer looked around. “Oh right. Got to be quiet.”
“No, shut up that you did not tell me! You could have been killed. I am supposed to protect you,” she said sternly.
“And the cop knows everything on top of it?”
“He kind of, sort of already knew,” Seefer rationalized.
“But you confirmed all of his suspicions?”
“Yup. I did do that,” he said while stretching his neck. “Anyway, that’s the guy we just passed back there.”
“Did he look like a zombie the first time you saw him?”
“No! He was cleanly shaved, dressed nicely, but still had those glasses on. I don’t know what happened to him. Booth handcuffed him to a pipe in the school’s basement and said he would go back to get him.”
“Do you think he ever went back?” Cassy asked.
Seefer looked at her with guilt all over his face. “I don’t know. I actually haven’t heard from him. He was shot. He said he was going to get himself fixed before going over there.”
“They were shooting at you?” Cassy gave him a violent shove.
Seefer stared forward with his eyes moving back and forth, computing something in his brain. He was lost for words.
Cassy consoled his guilt. “I would not worry too much. It would have been big news if something tragic happened to a local police officer. I have heard nothing of the sort.”
Seefer nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
As the bus pulled into the front driveway of Buchanan Middle School, Seefer beheld his new stomping ground. Buchanan was the original high school in Camden. Over the years, as population grew, new buildings (like Harrison) were built to cater to the expanding student body. Buchanan became one of the town’s two middle schools. Now with Harrison in disrepair, the building would be seeing its most crowded days in decades.
Seefer filed out with the others onto the sidewalk leading to the school. He took a refreshing breath as he looked around.
Cassy sidled up next to him. “Good to be back?”
“Come. I will show you where to go.”
As the pair neared the building, Seefer noticed its age. Weathered bricks comprised its walls. Each window was made of thin glass and each pane was in desperate need of a paint job. Ivy grew up the front face of the building and nearly reached the top. The school dated itself with telltale signs of World War II architecture. Despite its old appearance, Seefer regarded it as fresh and new in his mind. Anything beats one more day of home schooling.
Upon entering the main foyer, Cassy navigated down a narrow hallway. Buchanan was much more claustrophobic than the wide-open design of Harrison. Hundreds of displaced students magnified that feeling. After Cassy led the way through the crowded corridor, she presented Seefer with the entrance to the main office.
“Here you go. You better check in,” she said with a giggle.
“Why are you laughing? You’re leaving?” Seefer asked.
“I have homeroom, Seef!” she said while walking away.
“Mr. Elliot! So good to see you again," a familiar voice called out. Seefer cringed as he turned around. Standing in the doorway was the old chatterbox himself, Principal Witik.”
“No, not anymore. It’s just Mr. Witik now. This school already had a principal, but there are perks to being the Dean of Students. I get have a lot more one-on-ones with the kids.”
“You must enjoy that.” You know, chewing everyone’s ear off.
“I do, it’s great. I’m very fortunate to have any job really. I did invite a madman into our last school.”
“It could have happened anywhere.” As long as I ‘m attending there.
Witik had a folder in his hands and gave it a pat. “Well, that’s all in the past. You are officially enrolled here, Seefer Elliot. Would you like to see your homeroom?”
The school bell sounded, indicating the start of the school day. As students filed into classrooms to begin their homeroom period, Witik escorted Seefer to his new class.
“You will like it here. Some students had to enter entirely new school systems, but you will at least be staying with us in Camden.” Seefer nodded along, but didn’t have any thoughts to add. Witik continued with the small talk. “Unfortunately, it isn’t all good news. There are now ten more students in each class, rooms that were dedicated to art and music are used for regular courses, and everything is in disarray because we don’t have the supplies to handle this many students.”
“The Buchanan students who were here prior to our arrival have been very welcoming to the new kids. Some of us from Harrison had been pretty shaken by those events, but we were all treated with the proper respect. How have you been handling the circumstances?”
Seefer shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, I guess.”
“It’s okay if you feel out of place. We all do. Many students have approached me with fears of another incident happening again. They felt helpless from the last one. Why wouldn’t you? All of our memories were taken!”
Seefer nervously laughed. “That’s so right.”
“We are asking students to help us out as much as possible, so we can help in return. Do not make extra work for your teachers. Cooperate. Help your fellow students. The incident at Harrison didn’t just affect the students there. It affected the entire community. Now we have to act like a community.
“I may have let everyone down as principal, but I’ll be danged if I’m not the best possible dean of students this town has ever had.”
This little speech was not like Witik’s other long-winded rants about his teaching glory days. His words resonated with Seefer. Witik seemed burdened with a sense of failure from what happened to the old school. He sounded like a man trying to reconcile for those failures.
“I will do my best, Princ-, er, Mr. Witik.” Seefer said.
“Very good, young man. With that, here is your locker assignment.” He handed him a note card with the locker number and combination. “And I present to you, your homeroom.” Witik raised his arm with an open hand toward room 117. Seefer peaked in through the window. “You’ll be happy to see some familiar faces from your Harrison homeroom.”
Seefer looked. The sight of Cassy sitting by the window brought him immediate delight. As he scanned the room, he found Jona, Victoria and Sally. Then any happiness he had flushed away as he laid eyes upon Hector’s mug sitting in the middle of the classroom, right next to the only empty seat. You have to be kidding me!
“Oh, how nice.” Seefer said with a worrisome frown.
Just before he turned to walk away, Mr. Witik smiled and said, “Happy first day at Buchanan, Mr. Elliot.”