Read Strikeout of the Bleacher Weenies Online
Authors: David Lubar
She should have been more vigilant. The following week passed without incident. Until Friday. She caught the motion too late to stop him. He snatched the scarf from her face.
Reflex made her turn her face toward him as she reached for the scarf. Instinct made her cover her face with her hands an instant after she'd turned. But it was too late.
He'd seen. And died. Even as this new victim fell from his seat and dropped to the floor, she plucked the scarf from his lifeless fingers and tied it back in place. A quick glance around the room showed that none of the others had caught sight of her.
“He fainted. I'll get the nurse.” She fled the room before anyone realized the boy was dead. She left the school as the first screams burst from the class. She couldn't go back. There'd be questions and investigations. They'd search for her, but would never find her. She would disappear. She knew how to do that. But she'd leave one thing behind. Rumors would rise of a girl with a face so horrifying that a young boy's heart couldn't bear the shocking sight.
This was the fuel of urban legends, though none who shared the tale would know they'd crossed paths with a much older legend, who carried an equally deadly secret. She was the greatest beauty the world had ever known. Few hearts could bear her radiance. Few minds could survive the sight of her magnificence. The kings and heroes of ancient times could withstand her splendor, but no schoolboy had a chance.
She'd find another school. She knew how to do that, too. She'd had centuries of practice trying to find a place that would accept her. That was her curseâto live among mortals while graced with unbearable beauty. That was her punishment for her part in the war between Sparta and Troy. Helen, once Queen of Troy, walked away from the school, her face covered, her heart heavy.
Cole lifted his head
from his desk. He blinked hard, then checked the front of the classroom. Ms. Bednard was still writing on the board. Good. He'd only drifted off for a second.
Assuming he was awake.
He swiveled to his left, slipped his foot across the aisle between the desks, nudged Benjie with his sneaker, and whispered, “Am I dreaming?”
“I don't think so,” Benjie said.
Cole stared at his hands. They weren't fuzzy. He stared at his watch, to make sure he was awake. It wasn't blurry. The time was clear and sharp: 1:37
Ms. Bednard chose that exact and unfortunate moment to turn around.
“I'll take that, Cole,” she said, walking toward him with her hand out. “The last thing you need is another distraction.”
“Butâ¦” Cole tried to think up an argument to prove the watch was a vital component of his education. He failed.
“You can get it back after school,” Ms. Bednard said.
Cole surrendered his watch. He managed not to doze off again. He didn't want to get in more trouble with his teacher. She was so strict about making sure students paid attention, she'd even covered the wall clock with a poster.
“What was that about?” Benjie asked when the bell rang.
“Hang on,” Cole said. He went up to the front to retrieve his watch and to promise his teacher he would never get distracted again.
“I've always wanted to fly,” he told Benjie when they left the classroom.
“That's why there are airplanes,” Benjie said.
“No, fly all by myself, like a superhero,” Cole said.
“Dream on,” Benjie said.
“Exactly!” Cole grabbed Benjie's arm.
“Ouch, let go.” Benjie pulled free.
“No, seriously. Dreaming is the answer,” Cole said. “Look.” He shucked off his backpack, dropped it to the ground, knelt, and pulled out a fistful of printed pages.
“Lucid Dreaming,” Benjie said, reading the headline of the article Cole had gotten from the Internet. “What's that?”
“It's where you know you're dreaming,” Cole said. “Once you know you're in a dream, you can do anything.
Think about it.”
“I think an airplane ride would be more fun,” Benjie said.
“No way. Nothing would be better than this.” As they walked toward their neighborhood, Cole told Benjie everything he'd learned from the article. “It's not easy. You have to work at it. And there are all sorts of tricks. When you think you're awake, it's good to keep asking
Am I dreaming?
That's what I did in class. And if you think you're in a dream, look at your hands. They might be blurry. A watch will be out of focus, too. At least, that's what I read.”
“I think your brain is blurry,” Benjie said. “And your life is out of focus.”
“You'll see,” Cole said. “Wait until I fly.”
“And how exactly will I see?” Benjie asked.
Cole opened his mouth, frowned, closed his mouth, thought things over, then said, “Good point. You'll never see it. But I will. And I'll tell you all about it. And it will be amazing.”
“I can't wait,” Benjie said.
That evening, Cole did all the things he'd read about in the article to prepare himself to have a lucid dream.
“I will know when I'm dreaming,” he said, over and over, as he fell asleep.
He didn't. He only knew he'd had a dream after he woke the next morning. And all the dream had involved was trying to find a bathroom in a museum that didn't seem to have any bathrooms. There was no flying.
Before he got out of bed, Cole wrote down everything he could remember about his dream. That was part of the method, too.
“Any luck?” Benjie asked him when they met up at school.
“Not yet,” Cole said.
But he kept trying. And he read more articles. One expert suggested setting a clock to wake yourself up after four or five hours of sleep, and then going back to sleep. The trick was to wake during the deep-sleep, rapid-eye-motion phase, when dreaming is most likely. Cole put his alarm clock under his pillow, so his parents wouldn't hear it, and tried that.
It didn't work.
He experimented with setting the alarm for different times, the way the article suggested. For a whole week, he interrupted his sleep at various points.
“You look exhausted,” Benjie said to him that morning.
“I'm a little tired,” Cole said. “I haven't been getting a lot of sleep.”
When Ms. Bednard went into the supply closet, Cole rested his head on his desk. He heard her shuffling boxes, deep inside the crammed storage area. It sounded like she'd be there for a while. Cole closed his eyes. It would be great to nap, even for just a second or two.
He lifted his head from his desk and looked around the room. Ms. Bednard was still out of sight, dragging boxes.
He looked at his watch. It was blurry. Cole closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and checked again. The watch was still blurry.
He looked over at Benjie, who had turned toward the other side of the room. Cole tapped him on the shoulder.
“Am I awake?” he asked.
Benjie turned toward him. “Sandwiches sing softly in the moonlight,” he said. His face was the face of a raccoon.
Cole almost ruined things by screaming. He gulped down his shout. His mind yelled,
This is a dream! This is a dream! You did it!
“Careful,” Cole whispered to himself. The articles warned that you could lose your chance to stay in a lucid dream by getting too excited and waking up.
Benjie opened his raccoon mouth and pulled out a colored handkerchief.
This is it!
Cole thought. He stood.
I could fly around the room.
But that wasn't good enough. He wanted his first flight to be a memorable swoop across the sky, and not the frantic flapping of a trapped bird circling the classroom. No, he wanted it to be more than just memorable. He wanted it to be spectacular. He'd swoop under the crossbars of the football-field goalposts like a barnstorming pilot, and burst through the clouds like a superhero.
The window was open.
Cole ran to it. He leaped out. He spread his arms.
His classroom was on the second floor.
A terrible thought hit Cole as he plummeted. During his research, he'd read that if you dream about falling and actually hit the ground, you'll die.
“Fly!” Cole shouted, trying desperately to take control of his dream.
Cole continued to fall.
Cole did not hit the ground.
Fortunately, there was a huge Dumpster directly below him.
Unfortunately, it was overflowing with garbage.
Fortunately, the garbage was in plastic bags, which broke his fall.
Unfortunately, his fall broke the bags.
More unfortunately, the bags contained the refuse from yesterday's lunch of sloppy joes, fish sticks, and butterscotch pudding.
Most unfortunately, the sun had beat down on the black plastic bags all of yesterday afternoon, baking the contents into a bacteria stew with a smell best left undescribed.
Cole splatted into the rotting muck without breaking any bones, or bruising anything other than his ego. He stared at his hand. It was slimed with a mix of pudding and beef, but it wasn't at all fuzzy.
By the time he'd climbed out of the Dumpster, his entire class had spilled through the door and circled the impact zone.
Ms. Bednard was simultaneously screaming at him for pulling such a stupid stunt, and asking him if he was hurt.
Cole ignored her and stared at Benjie, who no longer looked like a raccoon.
Benjie flashed him a grin and held up the rubber mask and red bandana. He mouthed the words, “Got you.”
As the truth hit Cole, he touched his watch. It had been smeared with something to make the display look blurry.
“Maple syrup,” Benjie said.
“I didn't get my dream,” Cole said.
“I did,” Benjie said. “I always wanted to pull off the perfect joke. And this was even better than I'd dreamed it would be.” He laughed.
“I'll get you back,” Cole said. He tried to rub the syrup off his watch face, but it remained blurry.
“Dream on,” Benjie said. He laughed even louder. Then he turned away from Cole and flew off into the air, swooping under the goalpost and zooming toward the clouds.
Marvin was staring at
his calculator when it exploded.
“Whoa!” he shouted as he leaped out of his chair and backed away from his desk. Had this been an Olympic event, he would have scored only about five points for his landing, but he did manage to remain on his feet. He looked around the bedroom, not sure what had happened. The window was closed, so nothing had come from outside. He checked the doorway, wondering whether one of his friends had somehow managed to sneak up the stairs and chuck a firecracker into the room.
There was nobody in sight. Marvin turned his attention back to the desk. Smoldering pieces of the calculator lay scattered across the surface, giving off a smell like when truckers hit the brakes too hard on a steep hill. Other pieces had shot across his bedroom. One small shard of black plastic even made it as far as his bed.
Marvin tentatively reached out and touched a metallic fragment. It was warm. That told him nothing.
he thought. He'd heard of defective batteries exploding. But this was a solar calculator. It ran off room light, even in a fairly dim room. He wasn't even sure whether it had a battery until he spotted a tiny silvery disk on the floor.
He scraped the pieces off his desk into his trash can, making sure there wasn't any paper in there to catch fire. The smoldering had stopped, but he didn't want to take any chances. The can was empty. The pieces clanked against the metal bottom.
Three days later, Marvin's wristwatch exploded while he was sitting on the floor of his living room, watching TV. That hurt. But not too badly. It was a small explosion, and most of the force went outward, leaving the back plate of the watch fairly intact but blowing the face and circuitry halfway across the room. Marvin found the intact watch battery under the couch.
He looked for any connection between the watch and the calculator.
I was staring at the watch. Did I stare at the calculator?
He thought back three days, to the time of the first explosion. Yes, he'd been staring at the calculator, angry that his math teacher had given the class extra homework to punish them for talking. Actually, to punish all of them for Marvin talking.
And a moment ago, when the watch exploded, he'd been angry that he was missing the movie all his friends had gone to see. His parents told him they didn't have time to drive him to the Cineplex at the mall. His friend Todd's mom was taking all the other kids, but there wasn't room for Marvin. From what he knew, there'd been room for
else. Just no room for him. Todd never seemed to have room for Marvin these days. Marvin got more and more angry as he watched the minutes click toward the starting time of the movie.
He remembered something odd that had happened the instant before each explosion. There'd been a red glow. It wasn't strong and bright, like the ones in a traffic light or on top of a police car. It was a tint, like sunlight would make on a wall if it passed through a red piece of glass. And there'd been a hum. Noânot a hum. It was clicks. But they were so close together, they seemed like one steady sound.
I wonder if I can make something else explode?
That could be sort of fun. Or sort of amazing. He imagined making his math teacher's watch blow up. Or Todd's calculator, just when the nearsighted geek was squinting at it and holding it inches from his eyes. That would be perfect.
Marvin went up to his bedroom to find something he wouldn't miss. He had a small collection of old action figures in the bottom drawer of his desk. He grabbed the one he liked the least, stood it on the seat of his chair, knelt in front of it, clenched his fists, and stared.