In Which the Real Trouble Starts
“ ‘O, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire, ‘tis so delightful,
And since there’s no place to go,
Let it snow, I say,
Let it snow,
Let it snow.’ Thank you.”
John sat down, basking in the silent admiration of his classmates. Professor Snape made a sour face, his nostrils narrowing below his beak-like nose.
“Crawford,” Snape said. “Did you really believe, for a moment, that I would accept that?”
John thought for a moment. “… Um, to be honest, professor, I kind of forgot about that part. See, I knew that I needed to get it in, but I didn’t know you’d actually have to accept it or…”
“What was the assignment, Crawford?”
“Um… bring in a winter poem?”
“Hm. I guess it was too much to expect you to competently handle an assignment,” Snape said. “Does anyone want to inform Crawford as to what the assignment actually was?”
Several hands went up, including those of Holli, Tails, that obnoxious Draco kid, and the class show-off, a girl named Bambi Stagwell. After a moment, Snape called on Holli.
“We were supposed to write a winter poem,” Holli said. “Like, one of our own.”
“Yes,” Snape said. “It was a creative writing assignment. Do you need a classmate to define the term ‘creative writing,’ Crawford?”
“No, I think I’ve got it,” John mumbled, sitting down.
“Maybe you should have done ‘Winter Wonderland’ instead,” Ebony whispered from the desk to his left.
“I always thought cheating on these things was creative,” John said.
“Trester,” Snape said. “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?”
Ebony sat up, looking somewhat stricken. “Er… I was just, um… offering some feedback on, uh…”
“Well, this is not a work shop, Trester.” Snape spat out the words “work shop,” as if the term was too vulgarly American to spend any prolonged amount of time on his tongue. “However, since you seem so eager to speak, you can present your poem next.”
“My, um, my poem?” Ebony repeated. “Um, yes. Okay.”
She stood up, after receiving a mischievous smirk from John, and approached the front of the class.
“Achem, um, okay,” Ebony said, holding her poem stiffly in front of her. “Um, this is called ‘Snowflakes.’” She cleared her throat again, and read:
“ ‘Snowflakes in the sky,
Cold geometric patterns,
Falling on the ground.’”
Literary genius! John marveled.
“It’s, um, a haiku,” she muttered.
“And how long did it take you to write this on the bus ride to school, Trester?” Snape asked.
“Five minutes,” Ebony answered, staring fixedly at the floor.
Fire flared suddenly in John’s chest. How dare he talk to her like that, the limey bastard? Like he could write a decent poem-much less a decent haiku (which, it should be noted, John had originally thought was a type of health bar)-if his life depended on it! And he was so infuriatingly British, the bloody prig! What an utter wanker…
Ebony sat down, her dark face deeply flushed.
“That’s why I cheated,” John whispered.
“Oh, shut up.”
“I gave this assignment because I thought it was a topic of supreme interest to all of you,” Snape said. “Especially since the majority of you spend your class time staring out the window.”
It was true that, over the last week, the students of Extraordinary Very Intelligent Learning Elementary (PS 666) had begun to spend more time than usual staring out the window during class. It had snowed in flurries and short bursts since Sunday night, never doing more than dusting the ground. There were hopes of a blizzard, like the monster that had swept up from Philadelphia this past January, but fulfillment didn’t seem likely.
“Although the administration prefers to keep these matters secret, considering the typically muggle reactions that your parents have to such things, I feel compelled to tell you: there are several charms and magics cast over this area which will guarantee that we do not have any inconvenient closings. So if you’re hoping for them, you might as well stop. This school will never close because of snow.”
An old man stood amongst the steel and concrete ruins of the old nuclear plant across from EVIL Elementary. The icy wind, blowing in from the east, caused his cassock to ripple calmly about his slight frame. Cold as the wind was, however, it did not chill his wizened face, which stood out starkly beneath a black, wide-brimmed hat. A broad, white cloth was wrapped around his head, covering his eyes.
The Blind Man looked at EVIL Elementary and smiled.
It was cleverly disguised, yes-to the untrained eye, at least. To the untrained eye-to the mortal eye for that matter-it looked like a squat, rundown building of sandstone brick, sitting in the center of a concrete field, ringed by a barbed wire-topped fence. But to the Blind Man, it was bald, blatant, as obvious as a coffee stain on a white suit. It was an eyesore, the Blind Man thought, a massive, clumsy tumor of perversion upon a backdrop of nature.
And, more than that, dangerous. But not for long…
“Morozko,” the Blind Man said, and immediately a small man appeared next to him. Not a man, exactly-his features were sharper and tighter than human’s, and his skin was a whitish-blue, like frost. Icicles hung from his blue tunic, from the tip of his narrow nose.
“Here, Archon,” Morozko said, and his voice was the sound of water freezing.
“It’s time, Morozko,” he said. “Today we come one step closer to ending this. You may begin, now.”
The imp hesitated. “This place is well protected.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less, considering those within,” the Blind Man said. “Not to mention what they’re keeping underneath.”
Morozko shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, well…”
“Are you up to this, Morozko?”
After the slightest moment’s pause, Morozko said: “Yes.”
“Then do it.”
The imp disappeared, and a moment later the wind, which had been licking the Blind Man’s face (which was not, in fact, a face) suddenly began to blow from behind him, causing his cassock to billow out in front of him. Large, white clouds began to roll in from the north, devouring the blue sky.
The Blind Man smiled as he watched the first snowflakes begin to fall.
After a few more awkward poems, Snape led the class down to the cafeteria in a loose line. John promptly stepped up next to Ebony, allowing Ian and Silent Jim to be shuffled back towards the back of the line.
“That’s cold, Obi Wan,” Ian said, and Silent Jim nodded.
“You don’t just ditch your boys like that, Silent Jim,” Ian said. “That just ain’t cool. Who watches his back? Us. Who breaks out like a mad phat wolverine in a paper bag when he says it’s time to rumble? Us. Who gives him our lunch money because he says it’ll make us grow up to be big and strong? Us. What does she do, huh? What’s so special about girls, anyway?”
Silent Jim gestured.
“Well, yeah, they make me feel funny too. But, like, that ain’t the greatest thing there ever was! I’m not gonna, like, do anything crazy for it or anything. Like, I don’t know, blow all of my money or do stupid dances or get down on my knees and say: ‘PLEASE!! PLEASE!!’”
Silent Jim, whose arm Ian had grabbed during his mock pleading, brushed him away, and gestured in annoyance.
“Yo, don’t knock my form of artistic expression,” Ian said. “I don’t knock you for doin’… whatever it is you do, do I?”
Silent Jim shrugged.
“Yeah, that’s right, lunchbox. And don’t you forget! What was I sayin’… oh yeah, I still don’t see what’s so great about all these girls.”
“I hear you,” Tyrael said from behind them.
“Yeah, see, he knows what he’s talking about,” Ian said. “He’s, like, those two chick’s pet.”
“I am not!” Tyrael said. “I’m… uh… I’m their…”
An older Ian would have interjected the word “bitch” here, but the younger Ian simply hopped back onto his train of thought.
“I mean, sure, they smell good and all… and they’ve got that hair, and those eyes, and… well, they’ve been getting lumpy…”
“Lumpy?” Tyrael asked.
Silent Jim raised his eyebrows inquisitively.
“You know…” Ian said, and made roundish gestures over his chest with his hands.
Silent Jim’s eyes widened in realization, and he nodded vigorously.
Tyrael stared blankly. See, he hadn’t been at Silent Jim’s house last Saturday, when Ian and Silent Jim found those magazines under Mr. Dixon’s bed, so he was a little behind on his… anatomy.
“Ms. Ligeia is really lumpy,” Ian observed. He shot a look at Silent Jim. “So’s your mom.”
Silent Jim scowled.
“Guys have been getting more and more interested in girls,” Tyrael said, although he almost exclusively hung out with girls. “You know Holli and Draco?”
Ian snorted. “Who doesn’t?”
Holli and Draco were the fifth grade’s first couple-or the closest thing to a couple. They held hands. They went to the movies together. They gave each other knowing smirks in the hallways. And there were rumors… so many, many rumors, every day a new one, or two, or three. It was all, it seemed, that the fifth grade boys were able to talk about, and they watched Draco with a mix of envy and awe.
The girls, knowing better, rarely talked about it.
“But you don’t think…” Ian said, looking up the line to where John and Ebony were walking, talking. Laughing.
They’d begun to actually hang out, actually speak to each other after the musical. Apparently, conquering his stage fright had also allowed John to stop turning into a jiggling, stuttering pile of undeveloped hormones whenever she looked at him.
Actually, the theater experience had enacted a strange effect on John overall-it was as if (and this thought should be attributed to Silent Jim, and not to Ian) something about musical theater had struck a chord in him, had opened previously unknown doorways within his mind and heart. He could be heard, as he patrolled the halls on safety duty, whistling music from Cabaret.
But (to return to Ian’s thoughts), those two were just friends. There was no way that they were… they couldn’t possibly be…
No. No way. Not possible. Not before Ian, at least.
Although, if he was… that might explain why he wasn’t hanging out with Ian and Jim as much…
“Still, that doesn’t mean he can just go off and leave us like that! We’re his boys! We’re his bros! And that’s… that’s just…” Ian’s face turned red with effort, his mind working furiously, before he finally blurted: “Bullshit!”
Silent Jim went pale and brought a shocked hand to his mouth.
Tyrael gasped and almost fainted.
Ian was stunned, silent for a moment. For a moment he wasn’t sure where, exactly, he was, or indeed who he was. He felt like he had never felt before… as if he were standing on the threshold of a vast, strange new world, an undiscovered continent of limitless possibilities that was his, his, for the taking.
Ian, King of Unparalleled Nastiness, had learned how to curse.
“Well,” he said. “Holy shit.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” Mr. Satan said. “Why don’t you run along back to class, now?”
“Mr. Satan, I don’t think you understand,” Umar said. “I don’t remember anything. I… I have memories of going to lunch that day, and then leaving my table… and then, the next thing I know, I’m in my bedroom and it’s a month later, and I have no memories to account for the missing time.”
“Umar, I am telling you, as I’ve been telling you for the last fifteen minutes: we are just as in the dark as you are. One day you’re here until lunch, and then you’re gone. We contacted your parents, your sensei, everyone we could think of… but we have as little idea as to where you were as anyone else. Really, we’re just glad you’re back, safe and sound.”
Umar hesitated, just slightly, before trying again. “Do you think, perhaps, this could be magical in nature? Perhaps a glitch in the school’s defenses?”
“That’s entirely possible,” Mr. Satan said. “We’ll look into that as soon as we can, I promise you. But, until then, you should get back to Mr. Sauron’s class. You have plenty of work to make up as it is.”
For a moment, Mr. Satan thought that the punk was going to continue to argue, continue to beleaguer him. But then Umar closed his mouth, thin lips joining tightly, nodded, and walked out of the office.
Mr. Satan reached out and felt Umar’s mind. He couldn’t read him, but he had enough angelic empathy left to get a sense of the boy’s feelings. He was regretting asking what he’d asked-the kid saw asking for help as a sign of weakness, a tiny shame. That was good; he wouldn’t be asking around the rest of the faculty, in that case. But there was steel in him, a hard determination to find out what had happened, through his own investigations for preference.
That was fine. Mr. Satan was sure they could deflect him easily enough, now that they knew how much trouble he could be. But if the kid ever remembered, or discovered, that he’d been heading to the school’s underbelly, the catacombs, just before his lapse in memory… well, then the shit would really have hit the fan, wouldn’t it? They wouldn’t be able to stage another “mysterious” bout of amnesia-the kid wouldn’t drop it, he was sure, and if he kept losing his memories every time he tried to go under the school, he’d just become more suspicious, and more trouble than he was worth. No, if he tried to go underneath again, if he formed any suspicions of what was down there… then he’d have to be permanently dealt with.
And that, Mr. Satan thought, would be seven different varieties of a mess.
He stood and stretched, working the kinks out of his neck, back, and arms. He needed a break. This year… this year was just a nightmare, any way you looked at it. He felt as if the eyes of the Management were constantly on him-which they were-watching hungrily for a screw up, and that their ears were tuned into his every conversation-which they also were-waiting for a seditious phrase, any excuse to wipe him out of existence and nullify their contract. He had the sickening feeling that they were grooming Iblis to replace him as Evil School’s superintendent, Iblis or Asto Vidatu (if that schmuck ever did any work), and here, at this piss-poor excuse for a grammar school, they had that giggling maniac Flagg watching his every move, reading every memo that came into the office, listening to every call. And there was so much that could go wrong this year, so much that could go disastrously wrong…
He needed a drink.
Mr. Satan walked out into the office, and was about to tell Flagg that he was taking the afternoon off when the dark man shushed him, gesturing gleefully at the radio.
“… seen a blizzard like this since, well, since earlier this year, Marc! Reports are coming in from…”
“Blizzard?” Mr. Satan repeated, not sure why he should care. “Where?”
“Here,” Flagg said.
Mr. Satan’s eyes narrowed suddenly. “Wait… you don’t mean…”
“Here, yes I do!”
“That’s… that’s impossible…”
Oh, ye of little faith
It took a moment for Mr. Satan to realize that the voice was not a flash of millennia-old memory, but an actual voice in his head.
But then, you always were stubborn, weren’t you, my Satanael? How’s the school these days, Mr. Super Intendent?
“Enoch,” Mr. Satan growled, and the grin disappeared from Flagg’s face.
“Send out a schoolwide message, Randall,” Mr. Satan said, as he strode over to the door of Mr. Gates’ office. He wrenched it open to find the principal playing Monopoly.
Mr. Gates stared at Mr. Satan, glanced down at the board game, and then shrugged. “I was feeling ironic.”
“Bill, we’ve got trouble,” Mr. Satan said. “Get the ring they gave you.”
Mr. Gates went pale, and forced a laugh. “Th- that bad, huh?”
When Mr. Satan didn’t respond, Mr. Gates unbuttoned his shirt, pulled down the fabric of his undershirt, revealing his chest. He tapped the area above his heart, mumbled something (shakily), and a small key seemed to grow from his skin. Shaking, sweating, he unlocked the top drawer of his desk (a drawer that, to the human eye, didn’t exist), and revealed a gnarled, black ring, made of what might have been twisted wood. Mr. Gates slipped it onto the fourth finger of his left hand, looking vaguely nauseous.
“Your message, Mr. Satan?” Flagg called from his desk.
“I want every faculty and staff member to meet Mr. Gates and myself out in front of the school within the next minute and a half. Yourself included.”
Flagg frowned, just a little. “Is this… White Alert?”
Mr. Satan growled. “If that’s the code we picked for ‘Biggest Shitstorm of the Century,’ then, yes, f***ing White Alert.”
“S-sir?” Bill Gates said. It was the closest thing he had to a casual name for Mr. Satan. “What’s going on?”
“The Blind Man,” Mr. Satan said, and stalked out of the office.
“Only the most dastardly, craven, venomous malefactor to ever impose itself upon the human race.”
“Wow,” John said. “And all this time, I thought Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote musicals.”
“Canticles to Yol’Soggoth,” Ebony corrected. “And bad ones, at that.”
“I haven’t seen Cats. What’s Cats like?”
“Yo, my mom took me to see that last Christmas,” Ian said. His smile became absolutely devilish. “It was shitty.”
A gasp of horror went up from the lunch table.
“I think my ears are bleeding!” John said.
“How… how do you do that?” Ebony asked.
“Pfft, easier than crapping out sunflowers,” Ian said.
“Ian,” John said, “I have to warn you… even though you’re my friend, if you continue to be such a- a- potty-mouth, I’m going to have to write you up.”
Ian raised his hands apologetically, but his expression was triumphant.
“Let’s… let’s talk about something else,” Ebony said quickly, looking frightened and uneasy. “Uh… have you ever seen Les Mis?”
”Les Mis. Les Miserables.”
“… No. Is it any good?”
“It’s fantastic! Seeing it was my birthday present last year, and… wow. It was just… amazing. I think you’d like it.”
John nodded, and was about to respond when Mr. Flagg’s voice rang out over the loudspeaker.
“Attention all faculty and staff: Mr. Satan and Mr. Gates request your attendance outside within the next 90 seconds.” Pause. “Mr. Satan has issued the White Alert.”
There was a general silence in the usually cacophonous lunchroom-the students in confusion (not so much by the announcement, but by the peculiar note in Flagg’s voice), the teachers in awed terror. And suddenly they were moving-everyone from Professor Snape to Jay and Silent Bob, the lunch servers-rushing towards the cafeteria doors, many removing tiny black rings or bracelets from beneath their garments.
And then they were gone.
At his lunch table, Roseidous sat up suddenly. “Huh? What happened?”
The faculty and staff of Evil School assembled on the street in front of the school, knee-deep in snow, suited, as well as they could be, for battle. Mr. Satan stood in front, peering through the curtains of falling snow.
“Enoch!” He bellowed. “Show yourself, you @#%$! You want to start some shit, then let’s do it!”
For a moment there was only the sound of the blistering winter wind.
And then the Blind Man, Enoch’s, voice whispered in his head: Satanael, back in the day you were never much one for thinking, were you?
With a dull CLANG the gate of Evil School’s chain link fence slammed shut. Half of the faculty almost leapt out of their skin.
You haven’t changed at all, Adversary.
And in that moment, Mr. Satan knew that he had been played. He opened his mouth to shout something-to cry out, to rage, to curse…
And then the snow began to fall in thick, rapid sheets, crashing down upon their bewildered heads and upon the ground, layer after layer, rising up and up over their waists, their chests, their shoulders, their heads, and then up and up, far over, burying them.
And EVIL Elementary disappeared under the snow.
From inside, there was the repeated sound of a relentless whumpf, and the light coming from the windows became dimmer and dimmer until it suddenly seemed to be night outside. For a long time, no one spoke, no one moved.
And then Roses stood, and Ann with her, and they walked towards the double doors that led from the cafeteria out into the recess yard. John, suddenly remembering his duties as Hall Monitor, and not daring to let Roses and Ann take all the credit, leapt up and followed, catching up with them as they reached the doors.
Roses tugged on one of the doors, with no success. Silently, Ann and John joined in, all three pulling with all of their might until, at last, the door gave way (sending John stumbling backwards to land firmly on his butt).
The doorway was blocked by a wall of bluish-white snow.
Roses put a hand to it and pushed. It was like touching a glacier. She removed her hand quickly, her palm burning from the cold.
She turned around and faced the rest of the students, who watched her avidly. Over to the side, John picked himself up, and mumbled that he’d meant to do that.
Roses sighed, and told them what they already knew: “We’re snowed in.”
This proclamation was met with silence. Finally, Ian summed up everyone’s thoughts with a single word:
“Okay, look, there’s no need to panic,” Roses said. “We can get through this. If you’ll just listen to Ann, Roseidous, and I…”
“And me,” John interjected. “I’m Hall Monitor, and I have this situation thoroughly under control.”
“… everything will be fine,” Roses finished. “So, what do you say?”
“All of the teachers left, right?” Roseidous asked.
“I’m pretty sure they did, Roser, yes.”
“Well, then I want to make a suggestion as to how we should proceed henceforth.”
Roses and Ann exchanged looks. John pretended to exchange looks with them as well.
“Er, okay,” Roses said.
“Permission granted,” John said.
Roseidous climbed up onto the table and cleared his throat.
“Ahem, I propose…”
He let this hang for a moment, before screaming:
“WE GO CRAZY!!!!”
The rest of the students cheered and suddenly the air was thick with flying food and whoops of joy and abandonment.
Roses frowned, now completely ignored.
“Good one,” John said.
“Well, as of now it’s official,” Ann said. “We’re all going to die.”
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Holli asked, glancing over at the circle of boys on the other side of the cafeteria.
“I dunno,” Roses said, handing over a chocolate chip cookie from the kitchen. She moved down the line and handed another one to Tails.
“Probably stupid boy stuff,” Tails nodded.
“Most likely,” Ann agreed. “But in the meantime, shouldn’t we make a list of names of people who are in here? To see who’s missing? We could ask who was absent in homeroom and take it from there. I’ll find a piece of paper.”
Roses shrugged. “If you want. I’ll hand out the rest of these cookies to the kindergarteners.”
“I can’t believe you got them all to sit in a row.” Ilinana gestured at the class.
“It’s a skill. And Katherine’s in the class. She told them to.”
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Tyrael asked, glancing over at the circle of girls on the other side of the cafeteria.
“I dunno,” TAS said, wiping some ketchup off his face.
“Probably stupid girl stuff,” Ian nodded.
“Yeah, so what are we going to do?” Roseidous looked around their unorganized group. The boys were lying and sitting in various stages of cleanliness in a sort-of-circle near the doors.
“I know!” John stood up. As hall monitor, it was naturally his duty to be in charge. The power was his for the taking! “We need a leader!”
“Who said we should listen to you?” Draco asked. “If you ask me, I think the smartest person should be the leader.”
“And that’s you?”
“I do have the best grades in the class. What about you?” Draco raised his eyebrows.
“No one asked you anything!” Ian interrupted. “And we should listen to John because…..because…”
“Because I’m the hall monitor! I can give you detention! And I have a trumpet!” John said, triumphantly, producing the instrument from behind a bookbag.
“Where did you get a trumpet?” Nothlit asked.
“It was sitting here,” John said. “I think it’s one of the band instruments. But that’s not important! We need to set up some rules over here, unlike those uncivilized girls! I propose that the first rule be that whoever is holding this trumpet gets to talk and everyone else has to be quiet!”
There were various nods and sounds of approval.
“Makes sense to me,” Roseidous said.
“You’re not holding the trumpet!” John pointed. “Only I can talk right now!”
“Sorry,” Roseidous grumbled.
“First thing we need to do is have a vote. Who wants me to be the leader?” John asked, and then counted hands as they were raised. “And who wants Draco to be the leader?”
Another hand count, and then, “I win! I win!”
“This is so stupid,” Draco rolled his eyes. Silent Jim shook his head in agreement.
“Trumpet!” John warned.
“Ooooh! Ooh!” Ian raised his hand. John generously handed him the trumpet. “I’m hungry!”
John took the trumpet back. “You didn’t eat lunch?”
Yoda grabbed the trumpet. “No. Someone started a food fight before we could eat.”
“Hey! It was a good idea!” Roseidous said.
“Trumpet!” John yelled.
Yoda gave the trumpet back to John, who said, “Okay. So we’re all hungry. Anyone got any food?”
“The girls have food!” Roseidous said.
“We can’t ask the girls for food. Do you think they’d share? We don’t need them, anyway. We are men! We can find our own food. We can forage! We can hunt! We will survive!”
A round of half-hearted cheers greeted John’s speech. Umar, sitting by himself, halfway between the boys and girls circles, shook his head sadly.
At the far end of the line of kindergarteners, a small boy, his face mostly obscured by a bluish-purple mark, twisted in his seat. Katherine watched from the other end of the line with some irritation. "Joey, some of the big girls said they found a toilet. You should ask them."
Joey shook his head. Katherine shrugged. "Well, what's wrong?" The entire line of kindergarteners was watching the exchange. Joey was the kind of child who bragged about the gold stars that he got for sitting still. This pride was usually short lived, as he was usually beaten up and the gold stars stolen. Joey sniffed and whispered to the boy next to him. The boy passed the message to another kindergartener, and so it passed from mouth to cupped hand to ear.
It reached Katherine. She looked confused. "He wants to go to where they sell the fake ring?"
"Snake thing." Tamara clarified. "He wants to know what the big kids are going to do about the snake-thing."
Katherine frowned. "Well, I don't really know anything about the snake-thing, but from what I hear, we're not going to really see it for another couple of seasons. Tell him to wipe the grape jelly off his face."