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My Teacher Glows in the Dark
So there we were—Susan Simmons, Duncan Dougal, and me, Peter Thompson—sitting in an alien spaceship the size of New Jersey, waiting to learn how we were supposed to save the world, when Susan said, “All right, Peter, give.”
“Beg your pardon?” I asked innocently.
“Tell us what’s been going on! Five months ago you took off for outer space with Broxholm. Five minutes ago you showed up in a beam of blue light and told Duncan and me we had to help you save the world. I want to know what happened in between.”
“Me, too!” said Duncan.
Five months ago I wouldn’t have cared what Duncan Dougal thought. As far as I was concerned, he was the world’s biggest snotball, a kid whose main hobbies were drooling on his homework, farting in class, and beating me up. I thought he was as likable as a mosquito, as friendly as a rattlesnake, and as useful as a screen door in a spaceship.
But that was before I got a good look at the inside of his head—which was less frightening and more sad than I ever would have guessed.
“Well, since you asked . . .” I drawled.
“Peter,” snapped Susan, “for five months every kid in Kennituck Falls has been dying to know what happened to you after you went off with Broxholm. Stop stalling and tell the story, or you’re going to be very sorry!”
So I told them. But that wasn’t good enough. Oh, no. Now they insist I have to write it down. “We wrote about our part,” they keep saying. “Now it’s your turn.”
So here goes:
As you probably know, it all started when this alien named Broxholm wanted to kidnap five kids from our sixth grade class last spring. He started by trapping our real teacher, Ms. Schwartz, in a force field. He kept her in his attic while he disguised himself as a substitute teacher named Mr. Smith and took over our class.
One day Susan followed Mr. Smith home and saw him peel off his face. Underneath his human mask was a green-skinned, orange-eyed alien.
Susan came to me for help, mostly because she didn’t think anyone else would believe her. She thought I might because I used to read so much science fiction.
The two of us spent days trying to figure out how to stop Broxholm. One night I was sitting home alone, eating a can of cold beans and wondering where my father was, when it hit me that if we couldn’t stop Broxholm, if some kids had to go into space, I might as well be one of them. It wouldn’t be any worse than staying where I was. And it might be better.
I was frightened by the idea, of course. But I didn’t think the aliens were going to dissect my brain or anything like that. In fact, I figured I might learn as much from them as they did from me.
That was the key, I guess; I knew I could learn something. That was important to me, since learning is the one thing I really like. If that sounds strange, look at it like this: if other kids treated you like a nerd and a geek all the time, if you went for weeks feeling like books were your only friends—well, you might really be into learning, too.
Anyway, between being the school dumping ground for emotional toxic waste and having a father who didn’t give two bags of llama droppings whether I was alive or dead, I figured I didn’t have much to lose by going with Broxholm.
Besides, more than anything else in the world, I wanted to travel to the stars and explore other planets.
That’s why when Susan and the school band overpowered the alien on the night of our spring concert, I slipped around back to help him escape.
After I let Broxholm out, he turned and used something that looked like a pencil to melt the door shut.
Oh, oh, I thought. Now you’re in for it, Peter.
But then I thought, Well, wait a minute. If he has a weapon like that, he could have fried the whole crowd.
Since he hadn’t, I figured he wasn’t going to make me into sausage; at least, not right away.
So when he started to run, I began to run alongside him.
“What are you doing?” cried the alien.
“I want to come with you!”
I think Broxholm would have stopped running right then, if he had figured it was safe. It wasn’t, so he kept going. He was in good shape; I didn’t hear him pant or gasp for breath at all. (Of course, for all I knew, when people from his planet got tired it made their armpits ache.)
Three blocks from the school he stopped running.
Then he disappeared.
I felt like my heart had disappeared, too. Never mind that Broxholm was a lean, green kidnapper from outer space. He was going back to the stars, and I wanted to go with him.
“Broxholm!” I yelled. “Wait! Take me!”
“Be quiet while I adjust this!” snapped a voice beside me.
An instant later I disappeared, too. Which is to say, I became invisible because of something Broxholm did.
“Wow,” I whispered, looking down at where I used to be, “that’s awesome!”
“Shut up, or you stay here,” growled Broxholm.
I shut up. I may have saved his bacon back at the school, and I may have been the only one willing to go with him, but I figured if I got in the way of his escape, Broxholm would dump me faster than my mother had dumped my father when something better came along.
“Now, follow me,” whispered Broxholm.
“How? I can’t see you!”
After a moment of silence, I felt strong hands grab me by the waist. “Stay quiet!” hissed Broxholm as he tossed me over his shoulder. It reminded me of the first day I had met him, when he picked up Duncan and me to stop us from fighting.
He started to run. He was amazingly fast.
When we reached the little house where Broxholm had been living, he made us both visible again. Turning to me, he said, “I have some things to do before we can go. I also owe you a favor. Here it is: you have three minutes to change your mind. Otherwise, you’re coming with me.”
Before I could say a thing, he walked away—leaving me alone to make the biggest decision of my life.
Back at school that decision had been easy. Lying in my bed, in my empty house, I had known for sure what I would do. But this wasn’t just some wishing game anymore. It was real.
I thought about my father. Would he miss me? Probably. At least, for a little while. Then he’d probably be just as glad I was gone; one less nuisance for him to cope with.
I thought about school, where I spent most of my time trying not to get beat up by Duncan and other jerks who thought being smart was a crime.
My life would have been a lot different if it was okay to be smart in school. But it’s not. It’s okay to be pretty smart. But not real smart—which is kind of stupid when you think about it. I mean, all these guys picking on smart kids and calling them geeks and dweebs are going to grow up and want to know why they don’t do something about the terrible state the world is in.
I can tell you why. By the time they grow up, most of the kids who really could have changed things are wrecked.
I’ll bet you this very minute, even while you’re reading these words, some kid who’s bright enough to cure cancer when he or she grows up is getting hassled for being an “egghead.”
Anyway, I had plenty of reasons to run away. But that wasn’t what made up my mind. I didn’t just want to run away; I wanted to run to something. And that something was space.
I thought about my father again, and wondered if he had ever loved me.
I thought about the stars, and the secrets they held.
Broxholm walked into the kitchen, carrying a large wooden box and two flat pieces of plastic. I recognized the pieces of plastic: they were part of his communication system. Later I found out that the box was his dressing table, all folded up.
“Well?” he asked.
My hands were trembling like a pair of gerbils that had just been dropped into a snake pit. Some of that was terror; some of it was pure excitement. Looking straight into his huge orange eyes, I whispered, “I’m coming with you.”