8th graders were, for the most part, treated like gods and goddesses, being the highest grade at Bernard Berenson Middle. In a peculiar, unexplainable reasoning, 8th graders were blessed with the ability to do subtle things other grades could not get away with. They had more freedom in the school, for one thing. However, in order to do these things, one had to take their eyes off themselves and focus on others. Consequently, for groups like the jocks and the cool people, most of whom were oft full of hot air, they never realized their true nature.
The jocks, especially the select popular crowd, were too focused on being cool. They had long since abandoned their childhood; but to Roger they seemed dull and boring. They had all dressed as simple as possible: A mask here, some face paint there. Nothing scary, just enough to fit in.
“Hey, Roger, nice costume!” said one of the jocks in Roger’s class. It wasn’t a complement. Roger wasn’t fitting in according to cool 8th grade protocol. To the cool crowd, he was portraying a lesson in what not to do.
Roger, however, didn’t care. His plan for wearing the elaborate getup was two-fold. The first part was winning the costume contest. He arrived in a homemade costume, made from cardboard and aluminum foil, to become “Sliver Fang Espro of the martial arts school of ‘Potentate Leviamath'” from his favorite video game, “Enzectozoid Chronicles: Mandibles of Justice.” He had spent many hours with the help of his older brother to get the costume perfect. It looked like a humanoid metallic shark had eaten him.
When the 8th grade jocks and the cool kids saw the costume, they thought Roger’s maturity level was still in third grade. But Roger didn’t care. Let them kid. They weren’t the reason he showed up at the dance. Suddenly the music stopped and Miss Long, the seventh grade english teacher, strode up with a microphone.
“Ok, everyone. Those who witch— I mean, wish— to be part of the costume contest, stand in the center of the gym and form a line! Whoo hoo!”
Everyone adored Miss Long. Trim figure, early twenties, curly blond hair, she was one of those teachers who was young enough to relate to youth, but mature enough not to give busy work, or lots of homework. Tonight she was dressed like a smart phone, glasses and everything. Even in that dorky costume, from afar some of the boys still had a crush on her; a love which would never be returned.
Five minutes later, Roger received second place for his costume. First place went to one of the sixth graders, a quiet young man dressed like an old southern gentleman. That mask looked amazing.
Time went by rather fast for Roger. He danced his heart out, embarrassing the 8th grade jocks even more. He slow danced with every pretty girl he could get to agree to dance with him. One of them was Beth Azure.
She was Miss Long’s younger second cousin and, under normal circumstances, looked strangely just like her. Tonight she was dressed like a mime, complete with black and white striped long sleeve shirt, suspenders, and black pants, black socks, and white tennis shoes. Her blond hair, which normally extended past her shoulders, was neatly tucked under a black newsboy hat. The finishing touch was her painted face; it made her look more like a witch doctor than a mime, but was good enough to win her third place.
“Congrats on winning second place,” said Beth.
“Thanks,” said Roger.
“Sliver Fang Espro, right?”
“Yes. From Enzectozoid Chronicles.”
“My little brother plays that game!” said Beth. “He also collects the toys. And he watches the cartoon.”
She quickly pulled out a smart phone.
Roger let her take a photo of his costume.
“He’s a big fan,” she said, “Literally. It’s all he ever talks about.”
Roger didn’t know what to make of that comment. Was Beth also a fan?
“So how well do you know Enzectozoid?” asked Roger.
“Me? Not much,” she said. “I’ve only read the books. Twice through.”
There were, so far, four books in the Enzectozoid Chronicles series. They were all best sellers. Book #5, Claws of the Scorpiozzo, was due in January.
Roger could feel his heart thumping in his chest. “Um, I like your costume.”
“Aw, thanks,” Beth smiled and looked away toward one of her friends. Then she looked back at Roger. Awkward silence. Their eyes met. It was dark. Roger leaned in toward Beth. He couldn’t see clearly, but he wanted to know for himself.
“Your eyes… have some purple in them,” mused Roger aloud.
“…Really?” said Beth.
She had always been the studious, calm type personality. Though many had tried, none had ever succeeded in charming Beth Azure. But for the first time, and possibly the last time that night, something dramatic, unexplainable, happened when Roger inadvertently complemented Beth’s eyes: She blushed.
“BUZZZZZ! Buzz Buzz Buzz! BUZZZZZ!”
Suddenly, from out of no where, a couple zoomed in between Roger and Beth.
“Buzz Buzz Buzzzzz!”
Hands clasped in classic ballroom fashion, and running from point A to B, seventh grader Tim and his date Joy, dressed in matching bee costumes, laughing as they ran up and down the gymnasium. They randomly targeted slow dancing couples, running past them, circling them, and running back up to rest. The whole time they buzzed like bees gathering pollen as they ran.
“Bumble Ballroom” was a self-chaperoning method of dance introduced and encouraged by Miss Long. It was designed to interrupt other couples, ensuring the atmosphere was kept light.
Whatever spell the song playing had cast was now broken. To Roger it was like waking from a dream. The song was about over anyway.
“Are you doing the dare?” asked Beth.
“Yes I was planning on it,” said Roger.
“Well, how do you know it isn’t some prank?”
“I really don’t. But I agreed to a dare and cannot back out.”
“Well, most of the school knows about it. I’ve read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow over the Summer. Ichabod Crane was also played a cruel joke. Please don’t follow in his footsteps.”
The last slow song of the night ended and Beth looked at Roger with a funny look in her eyes. She quietly gave Roger a small mirror.
The mirror was strange. It was round and fashioned to look like a human face with his mouth open. The mirror was placed where the mouth gaped open.
“If it’s a ruse, you can just record the dopes and put it on YouTube. But if it’s real, well…” Beth trailed off and gave Roger an impish grin to reveal perfect braced teeth. Even that look made Roger’s heart flutter. He then did something uncharacteristic.
“Um, Beth, if I don’t make it,” he said hesitantly, “I just wanted to say—-”
“Roger it’s almost midnight,” said Beth, “Be careful, and good luck.”
Now remember, at the beginning of this post, that 8th graders, even the uncool types, were blessed with being able to get away with certain things other grades cannot? This challenge was one of those things. Whether intentionally done or not, the cafeteria doors were left unlocked. It was two minutes to midnight when Roger opened the doors, exhaled, and slipped inside.
The other reason Roger donned a scary costume was for the dare. Maybe he could out-spook the spook? It was the scariest costume he could think of. There he was in the cafeteria, alone, in the dark, arriving to the challenge early. Two minutes before the ghostly challenge would start at midnight.
Excerpt from “Fall from Autumnway”
from the curiously long book of short stories, “I am Lettuce, who are you?”
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