United seventh grade, p.1

United Seventh Grade, page 1


United Seventh Grade

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United Seventh Grade

  Alyssa Raffaele

  Copyright  2010 by Alyssa Raffaele

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, derivation or performance in whole or part.

  Second Edition, 2016

  The First Edition published in June 2010.

  This book is a work of fiction. The characters and events in this book are imaginary. Any similarity to real persons or events is coincidence, and not intended by the author.

  ISBN 978-0-557-47007-5

  Printed in the United States of America

  This book is dedicated to every

  seventh grader in the world.





  My name is Nines, and I was chosen by my classmates to tell you the story of how a small town canceled seventh grade, and how we became The United Seventh Grade of America. My classmates selected me because I have always been good at writing; in fact, I kept a record of the events as they unfolded – the events, which united us one and all.

  I am writing in first person narrative because it seems most natural, but Samantha and Julian are here with me, and Elliot, Brian and Mark are on their way, so if it seems like I am suddenly omniscient, and you are wondering how I could possibly know what everyone is thinking or feeling or seeing, it’s because they are sitting right here next to me as I write, and they want to make sure their story is told.

  Everyone’s story matters.

  I’ve added a glossary at the back of the book, listing definitions for words you might not have seen before. Glossary words are in bold.

  Right now Samantha is sitting on top of me and nagging me about something she needs to write. I have to do it because she is huge and it hurts. She’s not really huge, just tall, but she looks huge to me because I am scrawny and short. She made me write that but now I have to let her write something.

  Hi, it’s Sam. I just want to give you guys a description of Nines. She will not talk about herself because she is too shy, so I think you should know a little bit about her before you read our story. Nines is small and very pretty. Her skin is the color of beach sand in Cape Cod. Her nose is thin and straight, which I always notice because my nose is totally big. Her hair is brown and always messy because she never brushes it during the day. She normally wears it in two barrettes, one on each side of her head. She wears no makeup, but I do.

  Julian and Nines are the same height (short), and Elliot and I are the same height (tall). Julian’s skin is dark, Nines is medium (in makeup language, “medium beige” would be the best color for her foundation), Elliot has dirty-blonde shaggy hair, and I am naturally blonde and light-skinned.

  Thank you, Sam. Now, back to our story.

  The name Nines was given to me by my classmates and teachers at Shadyside School. My real name is Ninevah. Both of my parents are archaeologists, and they named me after the famous, ancient Mesopotamian city. Ninevah was the home of a massive library, full of clay tablets written in cuneiform, the site of a temple dedicated to Nabu, the God of Writing. My parents love history, and I travel with them sometimes and have seen some incredible places.

  But hardly anyone ever cared about that part of me, or my name. In fact, hardly anyone at school ever pronounced my name correctly, including some teachers, so I let them shorten it to Nine, which became Nines. And of course, when someone mispronounced a name in our class, everyone laughed and a new chance was born for someone to blow up the whole day. That’s what we did. Our class was the worst that our school had ever seen.

  It wasn’t that we were bad kids. It was just a bad mix. There were smart kids, and not-so-smart ones, mixed in with loud ones and quiet ones of all different shapes and sizes. In fact, I read once that seventh graders can range from very, very small, to unusually large and well developed, and our class had all of that and more. It’s the nature of the age to be, well, not normal. Our test scores were all over the charts, too, up and down, with no rhyme or reason. Elliot told everyone that low test scores got teachers in trouble and made their jobs harder, so a lot of the boys failed the state tests on purpose. On state testing day, they had to call in extra teachers to make sure the school did not fall out of compliance because of our behaviors. Teachers stood over us, breathing down our necks to make sure we were quiet and filled in all our bubbles. If they only knew how much they drove us crazy, maybe none of this would have had happened. We were always together, too, as one class, because that’s how our school was – one small school, with one class for each grade. So we were together, year after year, starting in kindergarten and ending in eighth grade.

  I was never bad; I just never talked. Teachers and subs tried to be nice to me about it, but I was sent out a lot, to the nurse or guidance counselors, especially when there was a blow-up in class and my anxiety kicked in. For two years, I didn’t speak in school, because every time I did, I was made fun of, or corrected, or someone suggested something other than what I had said. So, I just gave up. I still spoke to my friends, and outside of school I was fine, but there was something about that school that bothered me. It wasn’t fear; it was more like I felt insulted when nobody listened to me. I thought I was interesting, but apparently, teachers and some of my peers did not.

  The whole time I was silent – from early fifth grade, until the seventh grade exodus – I wrote. I wrote what I thought, what I wanted to say, what other people said, and what happened. I kept my journal in the format of a newspaper, and called it The Nines Observer. Julian found it in my room once and thought it was great, so that’s why I’m doing this now.

  Not one teacher could control our awful class, except for Miss Robles, but she wasn’t a teacher. She was a therapist. Yes, they had to call for outside help.

  Therefore, we were not exactly surprised the night before the first day of school, when the mayor appeared on the five o’clock news and announced that this year, seventh grade is canceled.

  Julian heard the news from the back seat of his mother’s car. He had just come from karate class. They pulled up to the drive-through window just before the news came on the radio.

  Julian always sat in the back seat of the BMW. Even though he was twelve, he was still very small for his age. Just to be safe, his parents made him ride in the back seat, on the passenger side because his Mom liked to be able to see him when she was driving.

  He still remembers the smell of French fries that day in the car. Julian loves fries more than any other food. Ketchup or no ketchup, he doesn’t care. The car smelled heavenly.

  As his mother pulled away from the drive-thru window, she asked, “You okay back there, honey?”

  “Yeah,” was Julian’s response. He was wearing his gi. His Sensei would be disappointed in him, seeing him eat French fries while wearing his gi. The uniform should only be worn while practicing karate. But his Mom didn’t seem to care.

  He didn’t wear his belt in public. He was embarrassed. By now, he should have made his way to a higher belt, but he simply never passed the tests. His mother tried to console him by saying that he just needed more practice, but he knew the truth. It was because he was so small.

  His mother fiddled with the radio. Julian watched as his mother turned the knob as if trying to find something. She looked like she needed some help, so he asked, “What are you looking for?”

  “Nothing, Honey!” she responded, looking back at him over her shoulder. “Just thought I’d put on the news.”

  Odd, Julian thought. She never listens to the news. He thought of telling his Dad about his mother’s strange behavior, but for the moment, the hot, salty fries were enough to keep his mind occupied. There was nothing else on Earth that made Julian so happy.

  His mother fo
und a station on the radio playing local news. They talked about traffic and weather, and the mayor’s announcement, which would be broadcast live at 5 o’clock.

  Samantha was eating a veggie burger at the dinner table when she heard the news. Here’s her memory…

  Samantha jumped down the stairs towards the kitchen. In Samantha’s left hand was her hairbrush, a purple plastic mess, entwined with knots of thin, yellow strings of hair, a statement of her dedication to keeping her long hair perfectly straight. In her right hand was her phone. It was always attached to her, somewhere.

  She skidded into the kitchen and sat at her seat, the one facing the TV. Without thinking, she placed her hairbrush to the left of her plate as she checked her phone for messages.

  “Sam!” shouted her mother, with eyes that could move a mountain.

  Sam looked up at her as if to ask, what now?

  “Sorry,” Sam apologized as she removed her hairbrush from the table and placed it beside her on her chair. She clicked her phone to her shorts and dug into her food.

  “Can you take me shopping later?” she asked her Mom. “I need things for school.”

  “I can’t. Jim’s coming over.”

  “Mom!” Sam shouted. “Tomorrow’s the first day of school and all you care about is your boyfriend? What about me? What am I supposed to wear, or bring, or EAT? You’re my mother. You’re supposed to be in charge of those things!”

  June listened calmly to Samantha’s rant, because, for the first time, June knew that Sam was going to lose this battle.

  “Calm down. Maybe we can all go together,” her mother suggested.

  “What, so I can follow the two of you around town, holding hands and ignoring me?” Sam’s eyes began to swell with tears. “Never mind!” Sam yelled, standing up. She pushed her chair back and picked up her plate of food.

  “Wait,” her mother said patiently. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

  “Please tell me you’re not getting married again,” Sam said sarcastically, and slumped back into her chair, prepared to listen.

  “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but…” Her words were cut off as the news came on the TV. June grabbed the remote from the counter, and turned up the volume.

  “Just listen,” she told Sam, nodding at the TV.

  A short man in a business suit appeared before a crowd at what looked like the entrance to Shadyside School. The words “Special Report” blinked on and off in the corner of the screen. The school’s principal stood beside him, eyes darting left to right as if he was nervous.

  The man in the suit began to speak.

  “Good evening. Tonight I have an official announcement to make on behalf of the parents and teachers of Shadyside School.”

  Sam looked quickly at her mother and said, “What’s going on? Isn’t that the mayor? And that’s my principal. What happened?”

  Her mother said nothing.

  “In response to the demands and concerns of the parents and teachers of Shadyside School, the board of education and city government have approved the proposal to cancel seventh grade. All seventh graders should report to school tomorrow morning at the south bus ramp – not north - and bring with you the items listed in the packets that each family has received. You will be attending an interim location…until you are able to return as eighth graders. Your parents and guardians will review the new procedures with you at this point. Thank you,” he finished, and quickly walked away.

  “What is he talking about? We’re going to another school? What ‘items’ do I need to bring? You knew about this? Why didn’t you tell me?” Samantha’s eyes were huge. She felt a rush of energy – a combination of anger, and an incredible fear.

  “I’m sorry, honey. There was nothing I could do. Everyone agreed that this would be for the best. And, honey, all the teachers quit – they had heard about your class from the sixth grade teachers, and they refused to come back. We were sworn to secrecy.”

  “You hate me? I’m not normal?” She wanted to run to her mother, but at that moment, standing in her own kitchen, she saw her mother as a traitor who had gone behind her back and wanted to get rid of her. She wanted to run to her room and slam the door, but first she needed to get her hands on the list of items. And second, she needed to call her friends. She looked down at the ground, held out her hand, and said to her mother slowly so as not to cry, “Just give me the list.”

  There was an envelope that had been sitting on the counter. This was all part of the plan. June handed it to Sam and said, “There’s also a note for you inside, from Miss Robles.”

  Sam’s heart froze. Miss Robles knew about this, too? Sam spent many hours in her office, especially on the days when her teachers kicked her out of class for being loud, or talking back, or having, as they said, “a bad attitude.” All of her classmates were bad, for their own reasons. She was only doing what they all did every day. I guess, she realized now, they finally had enough.

  “Why did you wait so long to tell me?” Sam blurted out, on the verge of tears.

  Her mother looked at her with a guilty expression on her face and said, “We were sworn to secrecy.”

  Elliot never heard the news. He just showed up on the first day of school and saw the bus. That bus. We are all rolling our eyes right now, and Elliot, Mark and Brian just walked in, so I think we need to tell you about the bus.


  The bus was metallic blue. It was parked just outside the cafeteria door, at the bus loop. The sharp sunlight that reflected off the cafeteria windows at Shadyside School made the bus look more like a rocket ship. There were no words on the bus, just numbers, as if no one wanted to be responsible for it once it left the parking lot.

  A line of cars moved through the parent drop-off lane as teachers directed traffic. The teachers were wearing blue t-shirts with yellow smiley faces on the front that said, “Welcome back!” One teacher was wearing a furry orange cat suit. It was Mr. Forest, the band director. He stood at the intersection of the bus loop and parent pickup, holding a sign that read, “7th grade, that way.” An arrow pointed towards the bus loop, where students were being unloaded and then directed to where they were supposed to go. The sixth and eighth graders walked towards the auditorium for first day of school orientation. Seventh graders went straight towards the big sign that read, “Seventh grade here”. There they waited in line to walk through the metal detector.

  Parents were not to go past the metal detector. They already knew this, of course, because the information packet was sent to them long before the first day of school. They had agreed to say their goodbyes “quickly and efficiently,” which Principal McThorn had requested at the last seventh grade cancellation meeting. At the front of the line was a small table where teachers were removing things that the students couldn’t bring. As the parents left, they seemed to be juggling a load of contraband items: computers, iPhones, an electric guitar (it was Brian’s Stratocaster). One parent was carrying a telescope back to the car.

  I arrived at the end of the line with my suitcase. My brother dropped me off and then drove off to the high school. My parents were okay letting me go. We were scheduled to return for Christmas break. They bought me a new backpack, designed for camping and hiking. They said it will be great when we go on our next family adventure together.

  I was okay with leaving. I certainly didn’t want to return to another year of the mess they call school. I’ve always loved to travel. In fact, I never have anxiety attacks when I am traveling, just when I’m trapped at school. Something about freedom appeals to me, and I get lots of new material for my newspaper when I’m on the road.

  It didn’t take long for the drama to start. Nicky was in the line, screaming. Her mother was there, shaking her head back and forth, and saying, “Nicky, say goodbye. I’m leaving and you can’t come with me. If you don’t say goodbye, you’ll be sorry later. I’m saying goodbye. Nicky, say goodbye!”

  It was a little
scary, and made me uncomfortable.

  Julian arrived just then, and stood behind me.

  “Hi Nines,” he said to me.

  “Hi,” I answered, and he gave me a little smile, which I understood to mean, Cool, you’re talking.

  “Why is there a metal detector here?” He asked his mother cautiously. She stayed with him in line to make sure he got through.

  “It’s just there to check for any electronic equipment,” she replied. “I told you last night, no one’s allowed to bring electronics from home. But you’ll have everything you need once you get there, so don’t worry.”

  I noticed his mother was actually smiling. She wasn’t concerned about leaving Julian at Shadyside at all. The mayor and the principal promised the parents that this would be an amazing year for the seventh grade. All of the parents were excited for their kids to participate in this experience, which teachers and administrators called “positive” and “enriching.”

  “Where are we going?” Julian asked, stopping dead in his tracks when he saw the metallic blue bus.

  “I can’t tell you, you know that,” his mother answered, and continued walking through the line, which was growing longer every minute. What she did not reveal to him was that she did not know where he was going.

  The travel plans had been arranged by the Seventh Grade Cancellation Committee. Parents were not allowed to know exactly where the new school was located, to prevent “emotional reactions,” as the committee called them. They assured the parents that it was all for the best, and that their new school would soon become the top school in the country for seventh grade.

  Shadyside was a small mountain town, and their community was formed around a military base that specialized in high-level intelligence concerns. The families were all very different, yet they all shared two things common: they lived in this beautiful mountain town, and they all wanted a good education for their kids. They knew the class caused a little bit of trouble, but the kids were fine at home, so parents assumed that the behavior problems were caused by the teachers. The Seventh Grade Enrichment Program sounded better than another year of detentions and parent teacher conferences.

  Nicky finally began to quiet down. She stood facing away from her mother, who was talking on the phone. Nicky’s eyes were watery. Her straight, brown bangs were glued to her forehead, damp with tears and sweat. She stared blankly, through her watery eyes, at the crowd of sixth and eighth graders headed toward the school building for the first day of school. She rubbed the end of her runny nose with the sleeve of her pink and purple striped sweater, and let out a hopeless sob.

  She looked up at Julian from her place in line, wiped her nose with the other side of her sweater, and with a big sniff said, “Hi, Julian.”

  “Hi,” Julian said, uneasily.

  The line started moving. We all made it through the metal detector.

  There was only one seventh grader who almost didn’t make it through: Elliot.

  Elliot and Samantha arrived at the same time. Sam was arguing with her mother, through her own tears. She wanted to blame her mother for all of her pain, but at the same time, she wanted her mother to rescue her from what she was about to go through. As she walked away from her mother, she heard a man’s voice call out to her.

  “Sam!” It was her Dad.

  She dropped her bags and ran towards her father’s car. He had parked illegally on the grass to avoid the parent pick-up line. His girlfriend Susan got out of the car.

  Samantha squeezed her father tight.

  “Daddy. You have to help me,” she cried, tears rolling freely down her face.

  “Sam, I tried to get you out of this, but there’s nothing I can do. Nobody told me until last night!”

  Sam sobbed into her father’s shirt.

  “Listen, honey. You are going to be fine. I will keep track of every step you take. I’m sorry I didn’t see this coming, but now that I know, I will be there for you if anything happens. Okay?”

  “I guess so,” Sam said.

  Susan walked over and said, “Good luck, Sam. We’ll be here for you if you need us.”

  Sam pulled away from her Dad, wiping her tears and said, “Thanks.”

  She picked up her bags and walked back to the line. Her mother was there, and they said a quick goodbye. To Sam, it was all like a dream. Her parents were letting her go; she trusted them. So she went with the flow, knowing deep inside that sometimes she knew more about the truth than her parents ever did.

  After saying goodbye to her mother, she got in line behind Elliot. Elliot walked through the metal detector and set off the alarm. They pulled him aside, and took away his survival kit. Julian and I heard the alarm go off, and turned to watch the scene.

  “No! Give it back to me! That’s mine!” Elliot carried his survival kit with him everywhere he went. He demanded to have it returned to him.

  Unfortunately, Elliot had a history of discipline problems at the school. Everyone thought of him as trouble. The kit contained knives, and so they told him he could not take it with him.

  “You’re sending me into God knows where and you won’t even let me bring my own personal belongings? What is this, the Holocaust?”

  The security guard called into her walkie-talkie asking for assistance. Meanwhile, Samantha was ready to jump in.

  “He needs his survival kit!” She yelled at the security guard. “You can’t take it away from him!” She began moving toward the guard, grabbing for the blue bag.

  The security guard held the survival kit above her head, as if playing keep away. Samantha and Elliot were restrained by teachers who had signed on for extra pay to help with the seventh grade switch.

  Finally, Mr. Crane, the Assistant Principal, arrived.

  “Thank God,” Elliot said. “Someone half-way normal.”

  Mr. Crane was talking into his walkie as he arrived at the scene.

  “Just take the knives out,” he said to the security guards.

  They looked at him as if he had two heads.

  He rolled his eyes and grabbed for the blue bag.

  “Give it to me,” he said, and snatched it from their hands.

  He took out the knives, and then handed the bag back to Elliot.

  “I’ll keep these safe until you come back. You can’t take them with you, and you know why.” Mr. Crane was friends with Elliot’s Dad. They had been hunting together.

  “Okay,” Elliot agreed. He knew that weapons were not allowed at school, but he wasn’t expecting a metal detector in the parking lot.

  “I guess you can tell my Dad where I am,” Elliot said to Mr. Crane.

  Mr. Crane put a firm hand on Elliot’s shoulder and said, “I will, and we’ll be sending you all the supplies you’ll need. You’re going to have a great time, son. I think you’ll be happier this year than I’ve seen you in the past. Now go,” he said, and pointed towards the crowd of seventh graders seated in their assigned folding chairs at the loading dock, waiting to get on the bus.

  The teachers loaded each seventh grader onto the bus like cruise directors introducing us to a luxury ship. Each student had a seat with their name on it, placed in alphabetical order. Each seat was equipped with a flat screen TV, packed with all the latest and greatest games and graphics. More giant flat screens lined the walls of the bus. Any of us, at any time, could choose a movie from the digital list and watch it with our friends, or alone, wearing headphones. Food was everywhere. Snacks spilled out of baskets beside every seat. Candy, cookies, donuts and fruit roll-ups were almost part of the decoration. In the back of the bus was a small area that looked like a kitchen with a bathroom. There was a freezer full of microwaveable food. The fridge was stocked with soda and juice.

  The experience was very mesmerizing. It was like an arcade – flat screen televisions all around, with different movies and games – some of them connected to other kids, going on at the same time. It was everything a seventh grader could w
ant. Soon everyone was in their seats, and the bus began to pull away, but we could hardly feel it moving…everyone was caught up in their own TV, DVD, and video game worlds.

  Julian’s seat was next to mine, in the middle, on the aisle. I was glad it was him, and not someone obnoxious.

  He sat down next to me as I took out my journal and began to write, pretending to be a journalist on assignment for National Geographic.

  “Nines?” Julian asked me. “Are you gonna talk this year?”

  I laughed, “I will, unless someone freaks me out. I hope the teachers are nice there. Maybe they’ll be cool, and things will be different.”

  “I hope so,” he said. I saw Julian’s eyes scan the ceiling of the bus, and take in all the sights and sounds. Julian was very observant. He noticed things – saw things that not everyone else could see. This was hard sometimes because he felt like he was not normal. Now, on the bus, he saw something that he couldn’t believe no one else had noticed. At first, he felt a kick in his stomach. Then, he felt a bizarre sense that this was okay. Eventually, the reality came to him when he cleared his thoughts and really took a good look around him. What Julian realized was that no one was driving the bus.

  Nicky was still crying. At this point, her striped sweater was sopping wet, her eyes swollen and red. Her sobs were slowing down, though, and it was clear that she might not have any energy left to keep up the sobbing noises. She curled back into her chair and stared at Samantha’s screen. Sam, seated next to her because their last names both started with T, was watching a movie with headphones. Nicky just sort of laid back and stared at the silent screen, exhausted from the crying and the emotional shock of being ripped from her parents and her home.

  “Feeling better?” Samantha asked Nicky.

  “Mph,” Nicky puffed through her sweater, which covered her mouth and nose.

  “I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Sam said to make Nicky feel better.

  “Mph,” Nicky said, and soon fell asleep sitting up in her seat.

  I was sitting next to Julian, and I could feel his mind racing. He was still trying to figure out who was driving the bus. We had been on the road for thirty minutes. Where was the driver? What was going on?

  As if he could read Julian’s mind, Elliot looked backwards from his seat in the front row (his last name starts with an A). He saw Julian sitting near me. Elliot trusted Julian. They had been in many classes together, but their houses were very far away from each other, so they didn’t hang out much after school. Elliot lived at the national forest, where his father was the park ranger, and Julian’s father was a doctor so he lived closer to town.

  They made eye contact. Elliot had already figured it out. No driver. Too many toys. Junk food. They were distracting us. They didn’t want us to think about the truth – the moment, what was real. They were using everything they could think of to hypnotize us into believing that everything was okay, so that we didn’t react, didn’t freak out the way we did in class. They were trying to outsmart us.

  On the keyboard at his seat, Julian saw a link that the seventh graders could use for instant messaging on board the bus. He decided to send Elliot a message. He wrote:

  “Hey, man. Who’s driving the bus?”

  Elliot wrote back, smiling: “No clue, dude. Any ideas?”

  Julian wrote back: “Are they trying to kill us?”

  And Elliot replied: “No way, man, that’s illegal. But there’s something going on. And, they are probably reading everything we write. Let’s stay on top of it. Deal?”

  Julian wrote: “Deal. Hey, do you know how to drive a bus?”

  Elliot wrote back: “Totally man. No worries,” and then thought to himself, if it has a steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes.

  Elliot knew how to drive. Living in national forests had its benefits. He and his dad always lived in remote locations, far from anyone else. His father taught him to drive at a young age. He wanted to make sure Elliot could take care of himself, in any situation. Since his father drove the park vehicles, Elliot had many chances to drive their old Bronco through the dirt roads in the park, and he helped his dad work on cars sometimes, too.

  We were on that bus for hours, and it wasn’t long before the conflicts began to arise. We were, after all, the famous class that teachers dreaded every year, the group that always got into trouble, the kids banned from field trips, movies, even parties, as we watched the other kids in the school enjoy their rewards.

  Some special cases added variety to the mix, like Tanya, for example. Tanya has a special condition where she can’t control the volume of her voice. She has a doctor’s note for it, and the teachers have to make accommodations for her. Tanya always yells. She yells at kids, teachers, herself. She screams when she is happy, sad, angry and confused. All day, before, during and after school, Tanya’s voice would ring throughout the school, spreading across the soccer field, through the cafeteria, and bouncing back and forth on the walls of the classroom. In fact, Tanya is probably the number one reason why I am so good at reading and writing, because the teachers used to send me to the library when Tanya went haywire so I wouldn’t go into a panic attack.

  Most people yell back at Tanya when she yells at them. Our teachers begged us, “Please, just ignore her.” But, who can ignore someone yelling in your face? So someone would always yell back, and a fight would start, and everyone would get involved. Eventually Tanya would get tired out because yelling took a lot of energy. She would calm down, look around at everyone, smile, and say, “I love you guys.” Then everyone would sigh with relief, knowing Tanya was done for the day.

  So it was no surprise that she was standing up on top of her seat, the last seat in the back, since her last name starts with a Z. Her mouth was wide open, screaming a frightening list of words at Brian Watts, who was sitting in the seat in front of her, and was mad at her for yelling in his ear.

  “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Tanya wailed. “You don’t even know what you’re talking about!”

  Brian was very patient, and did not want to start a fight. He knew there was nothing he could say to shut her up, so he took deep breaths and tried to say nothing at all. He prayed that she wouldn’t get physical. He’d seen her yank a clump out of Nicky’s hair once. He thought to himself, Just wait a little longer, and she’ll cave.

  But even though our class had been through this before, there was something different now. Now there were no adults to protect her. Everyone was stressed to their limits, having been through a very traumatic morning, and eating gobs of junk food that had no nutritional value. Everyone’s nerves were fried.

  A large boy in the middle row stood up. It was Mark. Mark had stayed back in third grade because he failed the reading test. He was older, and stronger, and liked to be a bully. He stood up very slowly, turned his big, doublewide body sideways, looked Tanya straight in the eyes, and said, threateningly, “Will you SHUT UP?”

  “Oh, great. Here we go,” Elliot mumbled, and looked back at Julian. He hoped this didn’t turn into a rumble. If it did, he decided he’d try to protect Julian from the other kids, because Julian was so small, and Elliot thought he was a cool kid. He looked over at Samantha, too. Sam and Elliot knew each other pretty well. They went to summer camp together at the national forest where Elliot lived. Her eyes met his and she gave him her classic eye roll, which meant, “Can you believe this?”

  Tanya lost it. She jumped over the seat in front of her, kicking Brian in the face and leaving a sneaker print on his T-shirt. Mark tried to make a run for it, but there was nowhere to go. The smaller kids tried to hide from them, and big kids tried to get between them, but Tanya eventually caught up to Mark, and grabbed his hair with her two bony hands.

  “OW!” Mark screamed, grabbed Tanya by the waist, and lifted her over his head, shaking her upside down until she let go of his hair.

  “STOP IT! I’M GONNA PUKE!” Tanya screamed. She was beginning to lose her voice. It was
starting to crackle.

  “Someone needs to teach you a lesson,” Mark said, looking up at her from down below. “No one’s gonna put up with your garbage here.”

  Just then, a funny expression came over Tanya’s face. She opened her mouth, but this time what came out was not noise, but gallons of root beer and green gummy bears.

  The entire class started screaming. People near the puke pile tried to get away. Those who looked around for a window to open suddenly realized there was none; TV screens had replaced them. The reality of the situation started to hit everyone this time. Soon other kids were throwing up from motion sickness, fear and all of the nasty smells around them.

  Then suddenly, the bus came to a smooth, slow stop. Everybody froze. A feeling of relief buzzed through the mobile room. Hope seemed to arrive. All eyes turned to the door, expecting it to open.

  But it didn’t. Instead, the TV screens, which surrounded the inside of the bus where the windows should have been, all tuned into the same image. It was Principal McThorn!

  Shock, more than anything, kept everyone quiet. We listened carefully as he spoke.

  “Well, students, once again I see that you have put yourselves in a sticky mess,” he laughed, happy that he was not there with us in the stinky confinement of the bus.

  “You know, this situation could have easily been avoided if you had just used your anger management strategies – the ones I have taught you, year after year, to help you learn to be kinder and gentler people.”

  Kids shifted in their seats, listening.

  “I suppose I should take this opportunity to explain to you where you are, and what you will be learning at your new Seventh Grade Enrichment Camp. You will all be staying at a state of the art facility, equipped with the most advanced technology available to schools. In fact, some of it is still in the experimental stage, and you kids will be the first to test it! Be proud to know that you will be learning with equipment provided to our school by such groups as NASA and the National Intelligence Agency! Your job is to follow the protocol, which will be explained to you when you arrive, and soon you will be ready to return to Shadyside and share your knowledge with your parents and fellow students. Our goal is to make you into good citizens who respect their school, and can follow the rules we have in place for your safety and learning. Let’s be honest, kids: nothing else has worked. Your teachers and administrators have done everything they can. Now it’s up to you. When the doors open, you will see a sign to follow. Take your bags from the luggage compartment below, and stay together! I’m sorry there are no adults here to help you, but that is part of the enrichment. Actually, we couldn’t find anyone who was willing to go with you. Remember, you are not alone. We are monitoring you very closely, and we can be there if you truly need our help.”

  Then the screens flickered off and the bus door slid open with a swoosh. Fresh air entered the bus, and everyone scrambled to get out.

  Elliot, who was way in the front, turned to the kids in the back and yelled, “Grab some food from the kitchen!” A bittersweet happiness returned to the seventh graders. We were thrilled to get off the bus and see our new school!

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