“Did you guys hear they might close the school because of the virus?” Rebecca asked her few friends as they unpacked lunches at their cafeteria table.
“What??” Jonathan looked confused. “Did you just say they’re closing schools??”
“SHH!!!” She hushed him with big eyes and a sassy head turn. “My mom just texted me! She heard it from work. You can’t say anything.” She pressed him with squinted eyes.
“Alright, alright, sorry. It’s loud in here, I couldn’t hear. Jeeze. Rebecca’s attitude, when you see Rebecca, tell her I said hi.” Rebecca grilled him harder, then cracked a tight smile. The other three at the table chuckled.
“How did she hear it, Rebecca? Is it legit?” Carrie asked.
“Well, she said it was on a memo she saw that went through the police department. Because my mom is a detective, so she gets to see things.”
“Ugh, we know your mom is a detective. You don’t have to say it every time. So it is legit then?” Christina butted in.
“Yes.” Rebecca kept her head facing toward Carrie but rolled a heavy arc with her eyes to stare at Christina, who sat next to her. Her attitude wobbled her head a little as she flared her eyes and went back to talking. “Anyway, I don’t even know. That’s just what she said, okay? I was just telling you guys’ cuz how cool would it be to get out of school.”
“I don’t wanna miss school because of a virus! What if it becomes an apockatips!?” Jacob asked, anxiety tingling in his question. Rebecca, Carrie, and Christina turned to stare at him. Jonathan chuckled.
“A-POCK-O-LIPS. Say it right!” Rebecca scolded.
“Shush Rebecca’s attitude, I say what I want.” Jacob sassed back with a few finger snaps and unwrapped his sandwich.
“Ughhh.” Rebecca grumbled into a smile.
“Oh my gosh, look, it’s that weird teacher. Why is he eating in here!?” Carrie pointed and Jonathan immediately pulled her arm down.
“Don’t point you doof! He’ll see us!”
“Who you callin’ doof, bro?? Don’t even. Are you not the guy who falls out of his chair at least once every day?” Carrie snapped back.
“What!! That was sixth grade! You can’t keep bringing that up. And it was only like five times.” Jonathan defended. The others all pounced in without giving him time to breathe.
“Dude! You used to fall all the time!” Christina chided.
“It was not just five times! There’s no way! It was so many!” Rebecca supported them.
“Guys, he didn’t fall that much. It was like one month of falls.” Jacob tried to back him up.
“Jacob, please, you are not one to talk - Mr. ‘why do they call it oven when you of in the food…’ .“ Rebecca sighed loudly as she dismissed him with a hand. Everyone cackled.
“But you do!!” Jacob shouted back. “You of in the cold food and you of out the hot food to eat! Why do they call it oven!?”
“You can’t ‘of’ a thing!! What even is that?? NO!” Rebecca shouted over the cafeteria buzz. They all continued their giggles as they started into their food.
“Oh my gosh! Guys, he’s looking at us and coming over here!” Jacob squeezed his words out, but sat nervously frozen with a gathering redness at his forehead. His seat at the table gave him a straight on view of the approaching teacher. He strode evenly, squarely, and looked at them without expression. His eyes moved over everything, the tables, their lunch contents, who was sitting where and what garments they were draped in. It was an uncomfortable scan for all of them. They squirmed stiffly. As he got near enough to be heard, his face bent into a bright smile and he offered them a morning and a nod in passing. Quick as he came, he went. As soon as he was gone, they all stared into each other’s wide eyes, just about to burst with nervous laughter.
“What waaas thaaat?” Rebecca let out, the creepiness hanging her voice down.
Jonathan shook his head quickly and shrugged. No one had words to offer.
“OHHHH!!!!” a ring of boys shouted and cheered, and were quickly scolded by their teacher to get back into their seats. But, it was homeroom and they knew she really just meant they were too loud – which they were – so they spread and quieted, but all kept staring at and silently admiring the ten-dollar bill standing upright on one boy’s desk. He was sneaking his phone into his hoodie sleeve to snap a shot of his incredible dollar-flipping feat. The boys around him sat on edge, giddy and suppressing laughter as they waited for the bill to lose balance and fall. One tried directing the breath from his laughs out at it from a few seats away and it dragged toward King, the champion flipper.
“Alright boys and girls, I need you to listen to me now. Please bring the conversation down so you can hear me. This is important, and serious.” Ms. Tyler sat on her desk and looked over her class as she waited for them to be ready to listen. Once intent, she filled them in. “So. You’ve all seen the news and we know what’s been happening up until now. We don’t need to be afraid, or to panic about this, but schools are going to switch to working from home for a while as the world handles the virus. It will be an interesting adjustment. We’ll be completely off until Monday of next week. At that point, we’ll start up doing a regular school day online. So, we’ll all be at home at our computers using Skype or something and we’ll do work using google classroom. Schools will do this for a month and see how it goes. You now know just about as much as I do. Any questions?”
Students looked around, but no one responded.
“Alright guys! Please make sure you take everything you need with you. Row one and two, go to your lockers now and get everything you might need. Three and four, when at least seven of them are back in seats, you go up and get your things, keep a count and go as soon as you see seven. Got it? Alright everyone, let’s do it.” Ms. Tyler clapped her hands and spun around to let her music start playing again. The kids from one and two got up and cleared their lockers. Everyone looked comfortable.
After a couple of minutes, she stopped the music. Everyone naturally quieted and gave their attention. She smiled. “Thanks everyone. Okay. Looks like we’re good. Just to be clear – EVERY one has EVERY thing they might need right? All the things? Pretend it’s one of our breaks and you won’t be back for a while. Everybody good?”
Jacob raised his hand. “Yes, Jake, what’s up?” Ms. Tyler said.
“Uhm, Miss. I have a yogurt in my locker.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“A yogurt. I have it in my locker.”
“Oohhhh-kay. Why?” Her face twisted, but was lined with fun.
“Because I’m going to eat it.”
“Okay… Uhm… Jake... Just a quick thought. How were you planning to eat that yogurt if it were in your locker?” She smiled a big smile at him.
He giggled and then answered. “It was for tomorrow, I like to eat it for breakfast.”
“Ohhhhh, now I get it. And you’ve had it in there all day?”
“No, I had it in my backpack.”
“Mmmm, gotchya. What did you guys do for gym today? They take you outside?”
“Yeah, it was fun. We played dodgeball, but not real dodge ball because we’re not allowed. Instead, we rolled the balls and had to run from side to side of the field and run around the balls that were rolling.”
“Ohh! That sounds fun! How was it?”
“It was hilarious. People kept rolling the balls really fast and they would get stuck in our feet as we were trying to run across the field. Everyone kept tripping and falling on their face. It was hilarious. Like everyone kept getting caught.” Jacob started to laugh, triggering the rest of the class.
“Well, that sounds…. less…. safe?” The teacher scrunched her face, both confused and amused.
“Yeah, probably.” Jacob answered for the class.
“And it was a hot one for April today too, huh? Warmer than normal?” She asked.
“Yeah it was so sunny, we were all sweating.”
“Ohh, yeah, I can smell it.” Ms. Tyler giggled at them. “Okay. Tell you what – go grab that yogurt for me, and I’ll put a note on it that it belongs to you and I can put it in the fridge here. I’ll keep it cold for ya.”
“Okay, Miss, thank you.” Jacob got up and went to his locker to retrieve it.
“Okayyyyy. Anyone else?” a few students shook their heads. “Great. Okay. Well, I’m going to miss all of you guys. You all have my email address. Please know that since we don’t know for sure what’s happening, and this is a weird time in general, you can reach out to me for any problems you might have. I’m a human you can talk to and I’ll do what I can to get you the help you need. Alright? I love you all! Be safe! Fly free! Go home! Please leave! You can’t stay! Get out! I want to go nap! Time to split! Skadoodle! Get oootle! It’s time to go, go, go ,go…” She kept rattling off a mix of fake and real exit salutations in a fun, loud voice as she flagged her students out of the room and made them smile one last time.
The students all left the grounds, less energetic than normal. The uncertainty hung heavy on them. Classes began online the next Monday and their world changed completely. Everything about it was different. Days of sitting or lying half-awake in front of their screens blurred into weeks, and weeks blurred into months. Things ran beyond what anyone expected, and the school year finished out remotely.
Summer came and went as the world pressed on toward being normal again. Things had cleared enough that the building would be open for the beginning of the school year, but it was going to be weird. It didn’t really feel like ‘going back’ because of how much was being changed to keep everyone safe.
Rebecca stepped cautiously into the cafeteria, wincing at the brightness of the white fluorescent lights she hadn’t seen for months. The shape of the room seemed different, somehow smaller than she remembered. She noticed the clean and fresh smell and eyed the tables lined up and labeled with each class number. Carrie smiled from the 8G7 table and waved when they caught each other’s eyes. Rebecca instantly brightened at seeing her friend’s face in person for the first time in four months, but when she got to the table and said hi, it just felt weird.
“Hi!” Carrie bubbled.
“Hiiii!” Rebecca said back as she settled in. They sat and looked at each other, nervously smiling, trying to figure out what to say after being apart for so long. They felt like strangers, even though they texted almost every day while they were locked down. It was conflicting and uncomfortable.
“So this is weird, huh.” Rebecca finally said.
Carrie exhaled and relaxed. “Oh my gosh, yes! I didn’t want to say it, but it is so weird. Like oh my gosh. I haven’t seen you in so long! You look different, but you don’t. I missed you.”
“Aww, I missed you too.” Rebecca curled her lip and frowned at her friend.
“Oh, look there’s Jacob and Jonathan.” Carrie pointed out. They both waved the boys over.
The boys started toward them, passing the lunch line to grab breakfast on their way. They gave awkward hello’s and dug into their food.
“Carrie, can you get me a milk since you’re not going to eat?” Jacob asked.
“Okay!” She smiled brightly, and he turned to Rebecca. “Becca.. can you get me a milk since you’re not gonna eat either?” This time sounding more cautious, trying not to set off her attitude just yet.
She gave him a look, but tried to keep it nice since he wasn’t directly calling her out. His caution was obvious, though. “Chocolate or regular?” she asked.
“Regular please.” He smiled thankfully, and she got up to grab it.
“Bro, you sure that’s a good idea? Remember what happened when you ate all those cheese sticks last year?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, but the nucleus is the powerhouse of the cell, sooooo.”
Jonathans’ face pulled back in confusion and he laughed at Jacob’s ridiculousness.
Rebecca and Carrie returned with milks and Christina in tow just as morning announcements started up.
Good Morning students and staff, welcome back to our first in person learning day since last year. We’re so happy to see you back and we hope you’re all happy and healthy. Today is Wednesday, September seventh, and it is currently 72O with a high of 78O. Just a reminder, bathroom two will be closed today. Make it a great day, the choice is yours!”
“Guys my stomach hurts.” Jacob groaned a little as a bead of sweat dripped along his temple and he gripped his middle.
“Oh no. It’s just like the cheese.” Rebecca said as she looked at the three open and emptied milk containers in front of him.
“I need to go to the bathroom.” He grunted as he stood, looking worse by the second, and darted out of the cafeteria. His twisting insides made it hard to focus as he walked, just trying to get himself to the bathroom before it was too late. He focused on the floor tiles as he speed walked and didn’t look up until he made it to the door. “AH!” He jumped, startled by the teacher towering before him. It was the weird one. He just stared. Jacob looked nervously between him and the bathroom door with a big 2 on it as he braced his stomach.
“Closed.” The teacher said firmly, with a light shrug, and pointed on down the hall. Jacobs’s eyes bulged. He knew it was too late. A gag followed by an eruption poured onto the floor at the teacher’s feet. Jacob leaned over, supporting himself on his knees, feeling too unwell to stand and face the teacher. After a few seconds, he refocused and took in the mess before him. He got it all over the teacher’s shoes. When he finally looked up, he got a surprisingly calm response.
“Fruit loops or Trix?” The teacher said.
Jacobs’s nervousness forced another heave that splattered, but this time he pointed to the side, missing the shoes again.
“Fruit loops, got it….Come on bud.” The teacher waited for him to stand and silently guided Jacob toward the nurse with a hand on his shoulder.
Jacob walked hesitantly into his first period classroom. He knew he and his friends got lucky and they all had the same teacher, Mr. Gordon. The confusing thing was that as he entered, Mr. Gordon looked a whole lot like the weird teacher he had thrown up on, but in a totally different outfit. He greeted Jacob with a smile, nod, and welcoming wave to come in. He eyed the teacher as he processed the new surroundings and stepped toward one of the empty seats. His friends were holding back smiles, but looked like they were weirded out, too.
“Feeling better? The nurse let me know you were on the way.” Mr. Gordon said in a calm and caring tone. He stood at the front of the room. “I’m Mr. Gordon, by the way, welcome.” He smiled again and waited for Jacob to talk. A nervous giggle betrayed his confusion.
“You okay, Jacob?” Mr. Gordon asked and smiled wider. Everyone else in the class looked at Jacob. His face quivered, looking strangely excited as he tried to force a normal smile.
“Um, I’m okay, yeah. Sorry. I just. I don’t know, I feel weird.” Jacob responded from his seat.
“All good man, I get it. Take your time; settle in. We didn’t start yet; decided to wait for you since the nurse called early enough.” He smiled again and gave Jacob a reassuring nod. “Alright. Class.” He looked at every student’s face individually to greet them. “Shall we begin?” He cracked a smile and hopped up from his seat.
The class was over before they knew it. “I am so excited, that class is going to be the best.” Carrie said as they entered the hall for passing.
“Seriously, I didn’t even realize how much time passed.” Rebecca added.
“Doesn’t he look like Mr. Ginger though?? So weird.” Jacob asked his cluster as they moved to their next class.
“Yeah, he definitely did, that’s why we were all smiling at you when you came in. It surprised us all. And so weird he has a twin that works here too.” Jonathan said.
“So weird. I threw up on him.”
“You what!?” Rebecca snapped in.
“When I left the cafeteria at arrival, I threw up on Mr. Ginger.”
“Oh my goshhhh! Did he get mad?? Are you in trouble??” Rebecca spun and walked backwards, holding on to Christina and Carrie for guidance as she questioned.
“No, it was just…weird..I don’t know. He wasn’t mean, but like, I don’t know, it’s not that he wasn’t nice, he was just...not being a mom about it? I don’t know. I ran to the bathroom, but it was closed…”
“DUH silly, they said it on announcements – bathroom two is closed – that’s the one right outside the cafeteria. You woulda heard if you weren’t chugging all that milk in the first place.” Rebecca interrupted.
“Oh, hi Rebecca’s attitude. I was wondering when you’d get here.” Rebecca popped him in the chest and smiled mischievously.
“Shut-up Jake, you know I’m just playing with you. I have worked on my attitude, and we get along well now.” She said in a newly calm tone as she drew a deep, centering breath to highlight her point. They all laughed.
“Anyway, I ran to the bathroom, but when I got there and looked up, he was standing right in front of the door and it was closed and he just looked at me and said ‘CLOSED’ and pointed down the hall.”
“Then what? You said you threw up on him.” Rebecca asked again, playing off a stumble as she continued her backwards walk.
“Yeah, then I threw up on him.” They all laughed and ewwed and awed. When he composed himself enough to talk again, Jacob added, “He asked me if I ate fruit loops or Trix. It was so weird!” They laughed again.
“Is everybody down to go to the park later? Rebecca, what did your mom say?” Christina asked.
“I don’t know, she didn’t text me back yet. She’s probably busy because she’s…”
“Because she’s a detective, we know!” Christina interrupted.
“I was going to say because she took the day off work to help my aunt, but okay, whatever.” Her attitude forced itself into her eyes as she responded.
“Oh, my bad. Sorry. Well, I hope she says yes.” Christina spoke quickly, trying to cover her rude mistake.
“Alright guys, ready for Social Studies?” Jonathan asked, and pointed to the next classroom they would pass. “That’s it.”
“Ughhhhh alright, here we go. I don’t wanna do social studies.” Rebecca groaned as they got to the room and entered.
After the first month, everyone had adjusted to being back in the school building again. The crew had made a regular thing of hanging out at the park. At least once a week they would get together to spend time outside talking about everything, making up for all the time they had to stay stuck inside this past year.
“Did you guys notice they’ve been telling us that bathroom two is closed every single day on the announcements?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, right? Why wouldn’t they just say ‘bathroom two is closed until we say it’s open’ and then just tell us the day’s it’s open?” Rebecca contributed.
“I saw blood dripping out from under the door today, maybe that’s why.” The entire group turned and stared straight at Jacob, who was only half tuned in as he played a Gameboy game on his phone case.
“JAKE.” Rebecca said loudly. He looked up, shocked to meet their stares. “YOU SAW WHAT?” She finished when she knew he was listening.
“…..I saw blood dripping out from under the door today. Oh.” He said.
They freaked out, blowing up into a storm of frantic arguments and questions.
“Everybody wait!! Stop!!” Rebecca took control. “Jacob, you need to tell us exactly what happened right now! What do you mean you saw blood??”
“Uhmm..” fear appeared in his expression as he realized what he was actually saying. “Oh wow. Oh no…I saw blood coming from under the door. I didn’t really think about it because we’re in school. But when I went to the bathroom before, I walked past bathroom two and there was dark red blood coming out from under the door.”
Everyone stared in thought.
“What do we even do with that??” Christina was the first to speak out.
“Do we tell someone?” Carrie asked.
“Maybe we should try to figure things out first.” Jonathan suggested.
“Did you see anything else, Jacob?” Carrie asked him.
“Well, when I was walking, I saw Mr. Ginger in the hallway. He did a cartwheel randomly. Then when I came back I saw him by bathroom two going inside of it looking all suspicious. That’s when the blood stuff was coming out.”
The group froze again.
“How do you know it was Mr. Ginger and not Mr. Gordon, they’re twins?” Carrie asked.
“Cuz he was being weird like Mr. Ginger, I don’t know. I just knew it was Mr. Ginger; he wasn’t acting like Mr. Gordon.” Jacob shrugged to a finish.
“Yo, that guy is so weird! My brothers’ friend in sixth grade told me that every day he walks by their classroom and then goes backwards like he’s rewinding, and then walks by again like nothing happened.” Christina said.
“I heard he just stares at kids sometimes. Like if you look at him by mistake he will just stare at you until you get uncomfortable.” Rebecca added.
“Guys, I saw him sneaking out of that bathroom another day, too. He was wearing one of those white suits that covers your whole body. Like in the movies and stuff. What if something is happening in there? What if he’s doing weird things? He’s a science teacher. What if he’s doing secret experiments on animals or people or something?” Jacobs’s anxiety grew with each moment.
“I saw him walking through the hall with buckets the other day. They looked heavy. He might’ve been going that way.” Carrie said.
“Oh my gosh, and I saw him with a shovel when he was coming into school one morning.” Jonathan said.
“Guys, what do we do?” Rebecca asked.
“Should we tell our parents?” Jacob almost whispered.
“Nooo, we can’t. They’ll think we’re crazy.” Christina said.
“My mom will freak out and call the school and probably come in here and investigate it herself!” Rebecca said.
“Ohhh, can we do that!?” Jacob was excited at the idea.
“What if nothing is actually happening, though? Guys, it’s a school. You really think something is happening? Come on.”
“Guys. Oh my gosh. Look.” Carrie pointed. Mr. Ginger was walking past the park, staring right at them, face completely still. Rebecca screamed and ran, Christina and Carrie quickly followed and Jonathan and Jacob stayed, frozen, staring back.
The group decided they would start a journal of all the weird stuff Mr. Ginger did, and try to keep an eye on what he was doing in bathroom two. They puzzled for weeks and yet still, every single morning, the announcements told them bathroom two was closed. Jonathan had taken to a conspiracy theory that it was code for something that only the teachers knew about. No one else in the group fully believed it, but they knew Mr. Ginger was up to something. They took turns going to the bathroom in different classes every period of the day so they could check on bathroom two every twenty minutes - and they saw some interesting things.
One day they caught Mr. Ginger going in with tons of shopping bags as they were all arriving for the day. Another, during 8th period, they saw him go in with a whole bunch of weird tubing and power cables. Another day he snuck in during 4th period carrying bundles of blue tarps. Then another day still, they saw him sneaking out in the morning, looking like he had just woken up. Every time, he had the same blank expression and didn’t register much. If he ever saw anyone looking, he just looked back, and only smiled if they were close. On top of that, they had now seen him go into the bathroom with six different teachers, and they never saw them come out.
On a Thursday afternoon, during 8th period, Jacob was walking by on his sweep when he heard a bunch of loud bangs and then a series of yells and groans. He freaked out and immediately ran back to class. He got back into the room and settled into his seat, where he sat nervously, sweat beading his face and shaking with anxiety. Their teacher noticed and asked if he needed any help, but he just blamed it on staying up late and drinking too much soda while playing Warrior Suns. It was one of his favorite games and he talked about it all the time. Everyone knew, even the teachers, so she believed him. When they all got outside for the day, they rushed off around the corner and huddled outside a deli to talk.
“What did you see, Jake? Tell us already, come on!” Christina shouted. The others eagerly waited.
“I didn’t see anything. I heard it.” He said slowly, staring straight at the ground.
“What? What did you hear?” Jonathan asked.
“Bangs. Then yells. I think something bad is happening in there, guys. Something really bad. I’m scared.” Jacob answered.
“We need to try to get in there. Did you guys notice that Mr. Meatball always leaves his keys on his desk while he’s teaching us?” Rebecca asked.
Jonathan and Carrie squinted as their brains tried to figure out what she was getting at. Christina bit her lip as she thought, and Jacob just looked on, afraid.
“If one of us can take the keys, then maybe we can get in and see what’s happening so we can tell somebody.” Rebecca said intensely. They all stared at her.
“Who’s gonna get the keys?” Jacob asked.
The group maneuvered themselves out of a circle so they were all separate from and facing Rebecca. “What! No! I can’t do it!” She shouted.
“It was your idea!” Christina called.
“I def can’t do it, no way.” Jacob added.
“Rebecca, you brought it up. You gotta do it. Me and Jake can probably make a distraction. Mr. Meatball always likes to talk about how you can use math in all different areas of life. We just have to start asking questions and get him close to us. Jake, can you maybe draw something silly and make him look it over for you? We just need a few seconds.” Jonathan said.
They all thought for a second, and Carrie spoke up. “Maybe we should have multiple distractions. All toward the back of the room. I can open a window and Jake and you can do your thing. Rebecca, you can just ask to go to the bathroom. That can be our signal. When you ask to go out of the class, we’ll distract him and you grab the keys.”
“But what if they jingle and he hears them on me! What do I do? We’ll get caught!” Rebecca protested.
“Well… I don’t know.” Carrie said.
“Leave them in the bathroom.” Christina said flatly, and they turned at her. “What? Just leave them in the bathroom. It’s not like anyone will know. Put them in a paper towel and hide them behind one of the heaters or on top of the paper towel thing or something. Then one of us can go grab them 8th period and it won’t matter.”
“Oooohhhh Christina, I like it.” Rebecca cooed. “Okay. I can do that. Let’s do it tomorrow then. We have to. We’ll meet up at the cafeteria right after school. We can just go straight down and wait, then when the halls clear out we’ll go into bathroom two.” They all agreed and said goodbye to head home.
The next day, after a perfect execution of their plan, they met up and stayed hidden just inside the cafeteria doors until the halls got quiet. Jonathan slowly moved his head to the corner of one of the windows in a door – the coast was clear.
“Okay guys, let’s go, no one’s out there.” He whispered to the group. They stood and checked their surroundings, then stiffly walked toward bathroom two. As they rounded the corner and it came into view, Rebecca and Christina shrieked, “Ms. Tyler!! No!!” and ran at her. She was just about to step inside bathroom two, with Mr. Ginger right behind her.
“Hello girls! What’s going on? Why do you look so frantic?” Ms. Tyler asked.
“Don’t go in there!!” “You won’t come out alive!” “He’s going to make an experiment out of you!” The students screamed at her.
She laughed hysterically and dismissed them. “What on Earth are you talking about?? Mr. Gordon is just showing me a project he’s been working on. He’s a friend of mine.”
“No!!” They shouted. Rebecca stepped up. “That’s Mr. Ginger, he’s crazy and doing something weird in there and there was blood coming out and bangs and screams, don’t go in there, miss!!”
“Listen. Kids. Relax.” Ms. Tyler grew more serious, and Mr. Gordon stood behind her wearing a half-amused, half-shocked face. “I don’t know what it is you think is going on here, but you’ve got to be very mistaken. And who is Mr. Ginger?” She turned to glance at Mr. Gordon with a questioning smile.
“It’s his twin.” Jacob said, and Mr. Gordon burst out with a short chuckle.
“Oh my gosh! I forgot about that! Ha!” Mr. Gordon lit up and began to explain. “The first day of school this year, he threw up on me first thing in the morning. Luckily, I keep extra clothes here because sometimes I go to the gym before work, so then I can get changed. Jake turned out to be in my class and at one point that morning, he looked at me in my new outfit and asked, dead serious, if that guy he threw up on was my twin. So I said yeah, Mr. Ginger, my twin brother.”
The kid’s eyes all widened, and they stood straighter as if the weight of their fantasy was being lifted off.
“Wait… did you all believe that??” Mr. Gordon asked, surprised. They nodded shamefully.
Jacob spoke up, rattling off questions faster and louder as he went. “What about the blood, then! And what about the weird stuff with the walking by classrooms twice? And the cartwheels? And how come Mr. Ginger is always so different in the halls?? And looking all suspicious over here by this bathroom!? And how come Mr. Ginger is always being weird and doing weird things? Why do you need a shovel in school? And how come you stared at us all creepy when we were at the park?!? And what about the yelling?!”
“Woah, woahh, woahhhh. Woah. Jake. Bud. Slow down. I’m Mr. Gordon.” Ms. Tyler couldn’t help but laugh. Mr. Gordon continued. “There is no Mr. Ginger, I was just messing with you. Whatever you think you saw, you imagined because you wanted him to exist. Sorry you got confused. I’m here, I’m real. And honestly, I’m just a weird guy. I like messing with kids, it’s so easy. You should see your faces and reactions when I do weird things. SO worth it. You guys make me laugh.”
“Then how come you never do it in class, mister??” Carrie asked.
“Well, because we have to focus on learning in class. I still have fun, I play music for you guys, we relax. But I don’t do the weird or crazy stuff there because I need you to be focused.”
“Wait, but how do you not have a twin, though?? We’ve seen him. He’s different.”
Mr. Gordon didn’t know what to say. “Have you ever seen the two of them together?” Ms. Tyler asked.
They thought about it. “Mmmm, I’ll take that silence to mean no.”
“Guys, didn’t you notice that he was always wearing the same clothes as me?” Mr. Gordon asked. “And how would MY TWIN BROTHER have a different last name??”
“Well, he’s weird and you’re twins so, I don’t know, that just seemed like what it was.” Jacob said. Mr. Gordon and Ms. Tyler exchanged a look and giggled. “I’m curious about all these claims they’re making though, Mr. Gordon.” Ms. Tyler said. “What is this about blood from under the door? And the shovel, staring at them in the park? Screams?” Her eyebrow raised just a little more with each addition to the question.
“Oh boy.” He took a deep breath and started talking after a long exhale. “Can we talk about the fact that you kids saw an amount of what you thought was blood - enough that it could pour - coming out of a room WEEKS ago and didn’t say anything to anyone??.” He gave them each their own short questioning stare. “Okay. The blood. That wasn’t blood. That was a bad idea. I was trying to paint something, and I thought that since I had to paint such a big area, maybe if I mixed the paint with water and threw it at the wall it would spread easier and...well..it did but it didn’t. Bad idea. It poured EVERYWHERE. I could see how you might’ve thought that looked like blood. It definitely did. The shovel, that was for something I was building…well...planting... I mean, I could just show you that’s probably easier. I was about to show Ms. Tyler because I finally finished. Here. Come on everyone, just look.”
“No! What about all those other teachers you took in there?! You’ll just do the same to us!” Rebecca said.
“What?” Both teachers looked confused. “The only teachers I’ve taken in here have been helping me build it.” Mr. Gordon said.
“Then where are they now? Why didn’t they come out??” Christina stepped closer to Rebecca.
“How would I know where they are? They all left for the day.”
“You did something with them!” “You’re doing experiments in there!” Rebecca and Christian both spoke at the same time.
“Why would people be stuck in there just because you didn’t see them leave? If you watched them go in, you would have had to wait the whole period to see them come out.” Mr. Gordon said.
“We didn’t do that.” Jonathan said. “We watched twice every period. We never got to be there at the end.”
“There. See. Which means you never saw me leave either.” He eyed them.
“Well, we saw you in the halls, so we knew you were leaving the room. And you act so weird in the halls.” Rebecca said.
“But you saw the other teachers in the halls…” The kids averted their glances.
“You have no idea who the teachers were do you?”
They kept avoiding his eyes.
“So, you could have walked right by these teachers without even knowing?”
They stayed quiet.
Mr. Gordon took a deep breath, smiled, and sighed. “Ohhhh, children.” He pushed the door to bathroom two open and stepped inside. “Come on, everybody in, it’s safe.”
“Oh wowww! This looks amazing!” Ms. Tyler said. The kids immediately switched from scared and confused to amazed and at ease. The room was deceptively large. Mural covered walls were slowly pulsing with changing colored light.
“It wasn’t ready at the start of the school year. The whole ‘being home for the virus’ thing really delayed stuff, but it also gave us some cool opportunities. We got to reorganize and knock down the walls in here to connect it to a full-sized classroom. Bathroom two was perfect because it had plumbing we could use for sinks and the growing rigs over there. This is bathroom two. The new bathroom two. We haven’t decided what we’ll officially call it yet, but this is a new type of classroom for students to come and relax and learn in a different setting. It’s all for you. Just take your shoes off before you go on the mats. Go explore, it’s all done. It’s a classroom that lets you move around and be animals while you work.” Mr. Gordon said as the kids slipped their shoes off and started to look around.
The walls held colorful murals showing everything that exists from atoms all the way up to galaxies. Brilliant colored animals decorated one wall that had Earth in the background. Water flowed from a small fountain in that corner into a stream that ran the base of the wall and disappeared. Real grass grew in a thick bed along the side of the tiny stream. Its trickling sound was soothing, and the grass was the perfect size for sitting by to listen. There were a few rows of plants growing in vertical racks with pinkish-purple lights feeding them along the wall the door was on, and the floor in most of the room was covered in padding. It looked like a big-kid playroom. Rows of monkey bars hung from the ceiling over the main, open area. Hanging chairs were attached to a few, and the windows were covered in decorative films that cut little rainbows onto everything. The students were amazed and took in every bit of it, calling one another to look at each of the new things they had found. Mr. Gordon and Ms. Tyler strolled through, talking and smiling at them as they played.
“Mister, are these snacks for us??” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re for any students who come in here. And eventually these plants will make foods for you and even cucumbers for fresh delicious cucumber water. You have to promise you won’t say anything to anyone until it’s officially open. You think you can make it a week without saying anything?” Mr. Gordon said. Jonathan nodded and Jacob popped up at his side, nodding too. “Alright, then go ahead, have a snack. Girls, did you hear that? You cannot say anything to anyone until we officially open this room for the school, okay?”
“That’s fine, whatever mister, all my friends are here. It’s not like I’m gonna talk to anybody else.” Rebecca said, then did cartwheels across the padded area, followed by a giggling Carrie and Christina.
“What about the screaming, though, mister? And the staring at us at the park?” Jacob asked.
“When I was building some of these things I got hurt. I missed with a hammer and hit myself twice one day, and then another time I pinched my hand between stuff. I didn’t know anyone could hear, and it hurt really bad so I just yelled about it. And the staring at you in the park… I really don’t know what you’re talking about there.”
“We were all in the park after school one day and you walked by and you were just staring at us. It was so weird.”
“Ohhhh, dude, I was staring at a tree. I’ve only been to a park after school once recently and it was to see the oldest tree in Queens. I heard it was in the park, so I wanted to walk by and look at it. I was looking at the tree. I didn’t even see you. That tree was alive when George Washington walked by, and it’s still there today! How crazy is that??”
Rebecca, who had made her way over with a snack, gave Jacob an “are you kidding me,” attitude stare. “Sorry we thought bad things, mister. This is really cool.” She said. “But still though? Why are you so weird?”
He returned a smile. “What do you think we should call it?”
All five students shouted back at the same time, “Bathroom two!”