Roger was a slow eater. 8th grade at Bernard Berenson Middle was unforgiving to people who didn’t hurry when eating their lunch. So when Roger’s friends from his class finished eating, or turned up their noses to the questionable cafeteria food, they left him by himself to finish his meal.
Leaving a fellow eighth grader behind at lunch is a most cruel thing to do; Then you are at the mercy of underclassmen. Roger searched for another table at which to sit, but the only one open was housed by fourth-graders. Please tread lightly, Roger!
Ah, yes. The boys in fourth grade were not mere children. No, they may not have been as educated or as tall or strong as Roger, but they were street smart. They somehow had more time to watch TV and play video games than those in higher grades, and used the grown up antics not meant for children to their advantage. He caught them in mid conversation.
“Yeah, well I heard her body was found in this cafeteria.” said one boy.
“Nu-uh,” said another.
“Oh yeah? Well put your head to the table, when no one’s around. I was told you can hear her screams if you put your ear to the table when no one is in the room. And, if you are here at midnight when you do it, she may appear.”
“No way! That couldn’t happen, man—-“
The fourth grade boys abruptly cut off their heated dialogue when Roger showed up. They watched Roger reluctantly sit at their table. They cheerfully let him sit with them and introduced themselves.
“I’m Roger. I’m in the eighth grade, and new here.” he said to them.
“Hey, Roger,” said the boys.
“I’m Eric,” said the lead boy, “Where’d you go last year?”
“Autumnway Academy,” said Roger.
Everybody knew that Autumnway was known for its accepting only the future elite from wealthy families. Roger’s parents didn’t have money per se, but his grandparents did and insisted he go. He was there for two years until his grandparents’ death in a car crash. The money left to Roger went to his college fund and he found himself in another preppy Christian school, but more affordable and more accepting to middle class families.
“Have a peanut, Roger,” said Eric handing him a single peanut.
“Wait, did you do anything to it?” asked Roger.
“Nah, it’s clean,” said Eric as the other boys showed him a plastic bag of dry roasted peanuts.
“Um, ok,” Roger ate the peanut. The moment he put the peanut in his mouth the fourth grade boys laughed.
It was a clever joke: drop a snack on the floor in the lunch room, hold on to it, offer it to unsuspecting older students. Unfortunately for Roger, he was not aware of the “dirty nut” trick, a stunt pulled by last Thursday night’s sitcom, “Every Six Months,” a comedy about a small dental practice.
“Dude! Can’t believe you fell for it!” said Eric.
“Fell for what?” asked Roger, “It’s still a peanut. Food is food.”
Roger’s bravery shot new thoughts into Eric’s mind.
“Say, Roger,” said Eric, “We were talking about a school challenge and wanted to know if you were interested.”
All six fourth graders were looking at Roger. One boy shook his head to suggest don’t do it.
“What is the challenge?” asked Roger.
“There’s a school dance coming up this Friday,” said Eric, “It should go until midnight and is in the gym. But have you heard about the ‘Red Veil Phantom?'”
“A ghost? Really?” Roger was skeptical.
“It’s true,” said Eric, “We were just talking about it. Do you want to hear the challenge?”
“What’s in it for me?” asked Roger.
“At the end of the dance, right at midnight, sneak in here. Put your head to this table and listen. You should see her blood stained veiled ghost. And hear, through the table, her distant screams that can still be heard from when she was murdered in this very room. At this very table.”
Roger took a last bite of his sandwich and wriggled his hands like he was a ghost. “OOOOOh. That sounds exciiiiiiting! What’s in it for me?”
“Well, we thought you were brave enough to try it.”
“Have you done it?”
“Shoot, I’m not doing it,” said one of Eric’s friends.
“Look, if you do it, I’ll give you a dollar.”
Roger kept refusing until Eric was at ten dollars.
“C’mon, ten is a lot.”
“But are you going with me?”
“No, the challenge is you gotta go alone, at midnight. You have to stay there for twenty whole minutes. And you have to make a recording with your phone or something as proof.”
Roger was hesitant.
Roger and Eric shook on the agreement to make it real. Roger thought about what he had done all day. Was this really a wise idea to have accepted the challenge? What was the worst thing that could go wrong? The ghost shows up and kills me? No, that nothing happens and I get caught where I’m not supposed to be!
The next day was the day of the dance. Roger had fifteen minutes left to eat before recess started. He was about done eating when Beth and Angie, two of the eighth grade girls, sat down at his table.
“We overheard about the bet tomorrow night,” said Beth. “Good luck with the dare. I just hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.”
For the briefest of moments, Roger’s heart both fluttered and skipped a beat.
Excerpt from “Fall from Autumnway”
from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?
Go to the next page: “Homemade and cheesy“