About the Book
This year at CCA, the world-famous tech entrepreneur, Henry Jacks is teaching at the school. Mike inadvertently downloads his mind during the first day of class and now Mike’s a tech genius too. He desperately wants Mr. Jacks out of his head and he doesn’t want to steal any more thoughts, but that might be the only way he can survive.
Meet the Author: B.T. Higgins
Once I tried to shut off my creative faucet all together and found that my life became a wasteland, dry and harsh, filled with endless wasted days. And so, I MUST crack open the faucet a little each day to water my life and keep it growing.
My most recent book, Becoming the Plagiarist, was a lot of fun to write. It was one of those loud and obnoxious ideas that kept jumping out of my ideas folder. “Stop ignoring me!” It shouted. “I’m filled with cool stuff. My main character is a mind reader! Everyone loves a little telepathy. There is a futuristic high school filled with artificial intelligent computers that cultivate the genius of each student. All the teachers are world-famous experts in their subjects. AND there’s more! His family is fun and quirky. There are bullies and blackmail, battles and pranks, great classes and horrible ones, a best friend and scheming enemies. It gets out of control!”
“Fine,” I said. “I give in. I’ll write you down, but you know I’m supposed to be a middle-grade fiction writer.”
“Mike, the main character,” yelled the story. “downloads the mind of a billionaire, tech entrepreneur, and now he is a tech genius too!”
“Oo. That could be fun,” I said. “O.K. I’ll write a YA novel.”
That’s how it happened. More or less.
Enter the Giveaway
Giveaway is subject to policies HERE.
The other team wore yellow jerseys. Number 16 guarded Mike as he sprinted forward, faking right and cutting left to get open. Richardo saw him and sent a neat pass to Mike. The goalie saw the coming shot and bent at the knees. Mike dribbled two steps and pounded the shot to the left corner, past the goalie’s glove by inches. Goal and game. Mike could still feel the sting of the ball on the top of his foot. Goal and game.
This memory disturbed Mike very much. He frowned and shook it away. The memory couldn’t be real. Mike had no right foot. That’s not completely accurate. He had an ankle joint and heel bone, but that was it. He had been born without the rest of a foot. It was called congenital amputation, not that the name helped much.
Yet, he had memories. Impossible memories. The more he tried to ignore them, the more detail from the game came to him. If he didn’t distract himself quickly, Mike would be able to replay the entire game in his head.
“Your ride to school is leaving in two minutes,” Mike yelled as he opened the front door. His backpack slid off his shoulder. He balanced against the door and shouldered the heavy pack on both straps. Mike chose a walking stick and lifted it from a barrel behind the door. This one looked like it could have come out of middle earth. Because, why not? He pushed the door farther open.
“Wait!” screeched Rachel, his little sister, from the upstairs bathroom. “I’m going Number Two.” He heard his two brothers laughing from the kitchen.
“Hurry. Hurry!” They shouted up the stairs.
“Stop yelling in the house!” Mike’s mom yelled.
Mike stepped outside. The thud of his walking stick masked the sound of his right step. He smelled fresh-cut grass again. He looked at their front yard, more like a gravel parking lot. Mike walked to the old minivan. Crunch on gravel. Long smooth step with his left foot. Thud. Short jerky step with his right. Mike wore a customized right shoe. White. It had good padding. Mike didn’t need the walking stick, but he liked it. He thought his foot looked like a mini marshmallow on a spike. Mike the Spike. He heard their insults like a chant, all the voices layered on top of each other. These memories were his. Why did his name have to rhyme with Spike? He lamented once again. It was just too easy for them. He had briefly considered going by Michael, but he figured it wasn’t worth the effort. They would just change the chant to Michael the Spikel.
Mike shrugged off the irritation. That was ancient history. Today was a new day. He started the minivan. The engine gave a rough, coughing sound that came with 200,000 miles and a minor oil leak. Mike smiled at his new wheels. He dropped his backpack on the seat, stowed his Gandalf walking stick, and sat down.
He checked his wallet for his driver’s license, just to see the shiny new card. He’d turned sixteen two days ago. Mom had driven him down for the test and on the way back explained the new transportation schedule. Kids to school each weekday morning. Four sets of lessons and clubs. Saturday sports teams. And some light grocery shopping, as assigned.
“Congratulations, honey.” Mom had said. “You’re growing up.”
Rachel came running out of the house, looking like brown lightning. Her chestnut brown braids trailed behind her. She jumped into her seat and buckled up before she looked up. “You can go now!”
“Excited?” Mike adjusted the rear-view mirror to see her face, something he had wanted to do forever. “First day of school!”
Rachel nodded. “Are we going to go?”
“We are waiting for Jackson and Peter,” Mike said.
Rachel turned to take in the empty seats behind her. She looked surprised. “I thought I was late.”
“Nope,” Mike said. “Right on time.”
Mom pushed Jackson and Peter out the door and locked up behind herself. She held a briefcase and a sparkling pink backpack with horses on it.
“I forgot my bag!” Rachel yelled. She tried to unbuckle, but her fingers couldn’t work the latch.
“Mom is bringing it,” Mike said. Mom herded the boys to the minivan. Their shoulders slumped in unison as they stepped into the van. Mom handed Rachel her bag and gave all of them a once over.
“Got everything, Rachel?” She said. “Jackson and Peter are wearing shirts and shoes, check.” She glanced at Mike, paused and laughed.
“What?” Mike asked.
“I was about to tell you to drive safely,” she said.
“Right, I will,” Mike said.
“Then I remembered you are a better driver than I am,” Mom giggled at this. Mom didn’t normally giggle. Mike smiled.
“Are you nervous, Mom?” Mike asked.
“No, no.” Mom said, quickly. “It’s just been a long time.”
“You’ll do fine,” Mike said.
“Knock ’em dead, Mom!” Jackson yelled.
“How violent!” Peter said. “She’s an accountant, not an assassin.”
Rachel moaned, “I don’t want Mom to have to go back to work. I want Mom to come to school with me.”
Jackson and Peter thought this was hilarious. They bent over in a fit of laughter. Mike could barely make out the words, “social suicide,” between their guffaws.
Mom ignored them. “Tell Dad to take pictures in front of Rachel’s classroom door, so they will match all the rest of your kindergarten pictures. Stand on the left side of the door.” Mike was about to reply. “ Never mind, I better just call him.”
“Bye, Mom!” Rachel said. “Love you.”
“Have a good first day at school,” Mom leaned in and hugged Rachel. “When we get home, I want you to tell me all about it.”
Mom stepped back. Mike shifted into reverse and checked the road for cars. When it was clear, he backed up. Jackson and Peter grew silent. “It’s really weird,” Peter whispered.
“What is weird?” Rachel craned her neck back toward the twins.
“They let kids drive cars now,” Peter said.
“They do? I want to drive, too,” Rachel said. “She turned toward Mike. Can I drive?”
Mike laughed. “You have to get a license first.”
“No fair,” Rachel said, but got distracted by a dog chasing his tail on the sidewalk. Mike saw that its owner looked terrified. The dog was a Great Dane and nearly as tall as she was. Jackson leaned out the window and howled, which didn’t help matters at all. Mike frowned and waved a tentative sorry to the poor lady. The Great Dane was hopelessly tangled with the leash and its owner, by the time Mike turned left on Dogwood Ave.
“That’s ironic,” Mike muttered. He glanced at the lady in his rear-view mirror and saw a dancing pattern of purple sparkles around her head. “Purple,” He whispered. “I haven’t seen purple for a while. How very interesting!”
Mike’s foot came off the accelerator automatically, as he glanced down a blind corner. A sort of warning churned in his gut. Just as he was about to hit the gas again, a red sports car roared around the bend, ran the four-way stop, and cut in front of their minivan.
“Nice car!” Peter yelled out the window.
Jackson howled again.
Mike accelerated onto the highway. The red sports car raced ahead, leaving them in the proverbial dust.
“Music!” Rachel said, “There should be music on right now.”
Mike punched the radio power button with his knuckle. The red roadster had swerved around dozens of other cars and roared out of sight. “That could have been ugly,” Mike murmured to himself. He briefly wondered how he had known the red car would run the stop sign. He shrugged it off and focused on the road. Mike’s hands grasped the steering wheel at the correct points for the entire trip, which proceeded without hazard.
A sign that read CCA: Cypress Christian Academy seemed to lift out of the trees on the side of the hill, as Mike approached. Traffic slowed and then backed up. Every car flashing its right turn signal. Mike got in line behind them. It took five minutes to make the right turn, climb a short hill, and pull into the parking lot. Mike bypassed student drop-off, a private road that cut through the six campus buildings, and parked instead in the lot beside the Athletics building. The lot was much fuller than usual. Kids of all ages and their parents streamed out of cars and up the wide front steps. Parents of younger kids had their cameras out.
Mike got out of the car, put his keys in his pocket, and helped Rachel with her seatbelt buckle. In the back seat, Jackson and Peter were looking sullen. “It’s not the end of the world,” Jackson said, forlorn.
“We will survive this atrocity,” Peter insisted.
The boys looked at each other. “Stay strong,” they said in unison. Solemnly, they gripped each other’s hands and frowned.
“The stage is set, the pieces are moving,” Mike said. He eyed his brothers, thinking they might do almost anything at this point.
They looked up at Mike, not seeing him, took a deep breath, and jumped out of the car. Like the red roadster, they swerved through the crowd and were gone before Mike could shoulder his pack and pick up his walking stick. “And so it begins,” Mike declared.
Mike opened his right hand and Rachel slipped her fist into it. He smiled down at her. “Welcome to school, sis. Let’s go find Dad.”
Rachel looked like a deer in the headlights.
“This is the Athletics Building. You will have P.E. class in there. And Chapel.” Mike pointed with his stick. The building signs read FOUR A and FOUR B, because the building was split into two halves, with a football and track field between them. Mike stepped onto one of the lawns that fringed all the buildings. The grass was green and lush. Mike predicted that hundreds of little feet would soon wear brown spots into the turf and Mr. Gray, the groundskeeper, would rope off sections with little signs. Stay off the grass. It happened every year. Mike didn’t understand why they bothered reviving it.
They crossed the parent drop-off road and approached another building. It had four levels. A large sign across the front read THREE. “This building is the High School.” Mike pointed at the building they were walking toward. “Behind it is the junior high. And the last one is your building,” Mike said. “It is building ONE.”
“Where does Dad work?” Rachel said.
“Dad is the principal. That means he is the boss of everything. His office is on the bottom floor of the high school building.”
“I see him!” Rachel shouted. She suddenly jerked away from Mike’s grip and sprinted between several trees, ran up the steps, and hugged Dad.
Mike kept walking at his slower pace, but threw a wave to his Dad. Dad smiled from the top of the steps and looked down at Rachel. By the time Mike had climbed the concrete steps, Rachel was tugging on Dad’s hand.
“Did everything go alright with the car?” Dad asked as he let himself be dragged toward the elementary building.
“All good, Dad,” Mike said. “No problem.”
Dad studied Mike’s face for a minute, as if to see if there was more to the story.
Mike shrugged. “I’ll tell you, later.”
Principal Dad, as Mike thought of him while at school, nodded and walked with Rachel toward her classroom.
“Don’t forget pictures, Dad,” Mike remembered and called out.
Principal Dad flashed a thumbs-up. “Mom called me.”
Then Mike was alone, kids everywhere, but still very alone. He took a little breath and gazed around the school. The front steps swarmed with kids. Towering seniors tripping over little girls in pink ruffled kindergarten dresses. Kids happy to be back. Kids with nervous expressions. All sported new, massive, overly full backpacks, which made Mike wonder how some of the little kids didn’t fall over backward.
Mike limped down the sidewalk and cut left between the high school and junior high buildings. Clumps of students were mingling everywhere. He felt so forlorn. His best friend and next-door neighbor, Tony “the Tomb Maker” Reece, had transferred to a school with a more competitive football team. At just under sixteen, he had more meat on him than a butcher’s shelf, so his parents were positioning him for college recruiters. Mike felt like he was missing his left arm, in addition to his right foot. He frowned and looked from group to group. They may as well have been holding No Vacancy signs.
Dancing around all their heads, Mike saw the many-colored sparks. It was funny how they would bounce off each other when two girls would put their heads close to tell a secret. Some kids had more sparks, some less. Some were all one color, like the dog-lady’s purple, but mostly they presented as a rainbow of sparks. In clusters or constellations, like stars. Mike never mentioned the sparks anymore. He was the only one who saw them, and that wasn’t good. He ignored them as best he could, only occasionally stopping to consider the sparks when they did something funny. Like how they bounced around like billiard balls, when someone was confused. Or lined up into two battle formations over a person’s head when they were struggling to make a decision. Hilarious.
He kept walking and ended up on the backside of the school, where a small gate allowed pedestrians from the neighborhood behind the school to come onto campus. It was almost deserted here, just a few kids rushing into the junior high building. Mike stepped over to the fence and looked through the chain link. The hill that the school had been built on was so steep that Mike felt like he could peer down into everyone’s yards. Beyond the houses lay a park and a public school. Hills surrounded the entire area with a leafy forest wall. Mike had an impression that if it rained too much, the whole area would fill up like a bathtub.
Light feet on gravel sounded to his right. He glanced over and saw a skinny boy struggling to carry his backpack up the hill. The boy had blonde, short hair and glasses of the kind that made eyes look overly large. He passed through the gate, and leaned against it for a moment to catch his breath. This turned out to be his first mistake.
“There you are!” shouted a voice from behind Mike. Without looking, Mike knew who it was. His voice was low and nasal, hair black-brown, and his thin smile would be brimming with a falseness that no one else saw. Zayden Perez had been a classmate of Mike’s every year since Kindergarten.
Mike glanced over. Richardo stood nearby in a flanking position. They weren’t looking at Mike.
The boy at the gate looked up, growing uncertainty in his eyes.
“We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Perez said with syrupy kindness. They walked down to the fence and leaned against it non-nonchalantly. “You are the one who brought us something special for lunch. At least that’s what we heard, right, Richardo?”
“Yep,” Richardo said. His Mexican accent was strong.
“Please, guys. I am late for class,” The boy said. His face went pale.
Perez slowly checked his watch, a very expensive one. “No, that is a lie. Why would you lie to us? We are the best friends you’ll have at this school. Or we could be your worst nightmare. That just depends on you.”
Richardo chuffed a quick laugh.
“We like bags of candy or chips, but Richardo has agreed to accept a sandwich, today, only. Not PB and J, though. He has a nut allergy.” Zayden reached for the zipper of the boy’s backpack. “You better have some good stuff.”
“I don’t bring my lunch. I am on the meal plan. Hot lunch,” The boy said. His voice cracked.
“No. I think you meant to say that you forgot to bring something for us today. But you will be sure to bring something good from now on.”
Mike figured he could take off one of their heads with his walking stick. They would never know what hit them. Perez had it coming. Mike considered this option and relished the idea for an instant. He lifted his stick unconsciously.
“There you are,” Mike decided to say instead. He realized he had stolen Perez’s opening line.
The three spun around toward him. “I was going to show you where your classroom was, don’t you remember?”
“Um. Okay,” The boy said. He was too nervous to follow the action.
“Mike the Spike,” Perez said the name as if the words smelled. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Turn around,” Richardo ordered, “And walk away.” Richardo stepped toward Mike with balled fists.
“Shut up, Richardo!” Mike stepped closer. His walking stick came up slightly from the ground.
Richardo hesitated. “Hey, you don’t know me.” He glanced back at Perez uncertainly. “How does he know my name ?”
Perez regained his composure. “The Spike here is the Principal’s son. I bet he has access to all your records from public school. He is the king’s snitch.”
“He’s what?” Richardo asked.
“That’s right. You heard.” Perez said. Richardo relaxed his fists and backed up behind Perez, beta position.
“Let’s go,” Mike grabbed the boy’s arm and began walking toward the junior high building. From the safety of the doorway, Mike said, “I am going to be checking in with you. What’s your name?”
The little boy stammered, “Will?”
Perez pointed at Will and laughed. “Look, he’s going to fall over.”
Mike turned back to Perez. “I am going to be checking up on my new friend Will, to make sure no one is bothering him. No snacks or sandwiches or anything.”
“That sounds great,” Perez said with a false tone. “If you think you have the stuff for that! But don’t forget The Tomb Maker isn’t around anymore. Are you sure you’ve got what it takes? Alone? On one leg?”
Mike smiled, as Tony had taught him. A crazy-eyed excited stare. “You’d be surprised.” He spun his Gandalf walking stick around so fast that it thumped the concrete. Then, Mike let the door close in front of him.
A moment passed as their eyes adjusted to the hallway. “Will? Can you get to your class from here?” Mike asked. He still had his arm on Will’s elbow, because the boy was trembling. “You will be safe now. Though, you should probably avoid those two. Zayden Perez can’t help himself sometimes.”
“You. Uh. Thanks.” Will said. “I thought I was dead meat.”
“No problem, Will. Do you want me to walk you to your classroom?”
Will shook his head. “No, I’m fine now.”
Mike smiled and left Will in the hall. Short junior highers streamed around him. He made his way through the hall, trying not to bump them with his walking stick. As he waited for a gaggle of girls to pass an image jumped into his mind. Zayden Perez and Richardo leaning against the fence on either side of Will. They had red soccer cleats with black stripes hanging from their backpacks.
Mike smelled fresh-cut grass again. Snick. Snick. The red shoes whisked the tips of the grass. A stinging kick to the corner. Goal and game. The goalie in the yellow jersey pounded the ground with frustration. A balding man wearing red and black stood up and walked onto the field with several other parents. Mike ran over to him. The man didn’t smile, but he was pleased. “Did you see the tantrum in the goal box?” Mike looked over at the yellow goalie. He was trying to compose himself, but still appeared angry. His face flushed beet-red. “Embarrassing display.”
“I showed them,” Mike spoke, but oddly his voice sounded like Zayden Perez’s.
“Inevitably,” said Mr. Perez. “We have superior athletes at nearly all the positions. Superior ball handling discipline. It was our game to lose, and we nearly did.” Mr. Perez frowned.
Mike stiffened and blinked. He looked around. Junior highers were staring up at him as they passed like water around a boulder. “How did I get one of Zayden’s memories?” Mike wondered.
A boy with a face full of zits scratched his forehead. “Are you talking to me?”
“No.” Mike started walking, which made the boy nervous.
“Are you following me?”
“Nope, I’m just leaving.” Mike cut down a hall that led to the alley between the buildings.
What did this mean? He was reliving a memory from Zayden Perez’s mind. “That’s impossible,” Mike whispered to himself without much belief. This hadn’t happened in a long time, but it wasn’t the first time. Mike frowned as he walked into a stream of taller classmates, most of whom walked around him quickly, too. The warning bell sounded. Mike glanced down a set of lockers and saw Zayden and Richardo eyeing him. They had side by side lockers next to the chip-vending machine.
Mike leaned his walking stick against the end of a unit of lockers and dialed the combination on his locker. It opened with a rattle of sheet metal. The bottom half was filled with little shelves and drawers that Tony had built for him their freshman year. Mike had stocked them with supplies when he came for registration a week ago. The top half had hooks and racks for clothes and shoes. Mike hung his backpack on one of these hooks and unloaded it. Books in a row. Textbooks. A sci-fi novel. Computer in a charging dock on the back. Digital pens. Ink pens. Snacks in a hidden compartment at the top. Mike had added that feature last year, just before the summer break. An assortment of chips filled it now, like money in the bank.
A general announcement came through the overhead speaker. “Good Morning, students. Please make your way to Building FOUR for Monday Chapel. Every student needs to bring their computer in a backpack, as well as second-period class supplies.” The voice sounded different, almost like an actress whose name Mike couldn’t remember. Mike had no doubt his Dad made the announcement, no matter what the voice sounded like.
A chime sounded from his computer, indicating a full charge. Mike pulled it off the wall charger and slipped it in his backpack. He tossed a couple of bags of chips in the little pouch and zipped it up. “Just in case,” Mike whispered and shouldered his bag. The sound of dozens of lockers slamming filled the hall. Mike grabbed his walking stick and followed the flow of students.
The road down the middle of campus had cleared of traffic, except for a few late-comers. The stream of students crossed over the road on an elevated footbridge. Kids moved around him at a steady pace. As usual. Sometimes Mike felt like the school bus that every car wanted to pass. He walked near the edge of every hall, so they could.
The Athletics building had the word FOUR written over the doorway. Mike entered the wide door under the letter U and climbed the stairs to the grade eleven classrooms. He hadn’t been in these classrooms during school before. They looked the same as the grade ten rooms. Mike looked around. The room was filled with familiar faces and lots of echoing voices. No one ignored him. They just didn’t see him. An invisible, Mike thought. Mike decided he needed to do something about that. Mike cringed, unconsciously. “But not right now,” He said.
The back of the classroom had glass walls that overlooked the football and track fields. Bleachers had been unfolded to fill the back half of the classroom. Some of the kids were locating seats, but most were catching up with their friends. Mike found a place on the edge of the second row of bleachers and set his pack down. He rested his walking stick against the bench in front of him. Outside the glass, Mike watched dozens of other glass-walled rooms, on the other side of the field, filling with students of different ages. Chapels and assemblies were the only time that everyone was fully separated by grade level. Mike preferred being mixed. Less social weirdness. Mike missed Tony. He wondered how his first day was going. He would have to go over and see him after school.
Suddenly, an electric motor hummed. Mike saw the glass panels of the wall separate and begin to fold back. Warmer air rushed in against Mike’s face. The glass panels slid across the room and nestled themselves in the wall like playing cards in a deck. Mike sniffed the grassy air.
Everyone looked outside, an instantaneous hush passing over the room. All the rooms on all the levels were now open to the bright sunlight. Mike watched as kids glanced out onto the field to see if Chapel had begun. The field was empty, so the talking continued. Mike got a flash of lacing red and black cleats on his right foot. He blinked. If only this memory would stop oozing out of his sub-conscience! It had never been this strong before. He looked around for Zayden Perez. Mike located him at the top with a large group of kids who listened with rapt attention to a story he was telling. Mike wondered if it was about winning the soccer game. A few words drifted down. Something about water skiing.
Mike turned away. Why was it so persistent today?
“Good morning students,” came a voice through the room speakers. Mike looked down and saw his Dad walking out along the fifty-yard line. Students quieted down. The last of the talkers rushed onto the bleachers to sit wherever they could. One tripped over Mike’s walking stick and sent it skidding under the benches.
“Sorry Mike,” said Sara, a red-haired junior. She landed in the seat next to him and adjusted her skirt. She smiled at him and looked down onto the field. Mike smiled back, too late for her to notice. He glanced down, but couldn’t see where his walking stick had gone.
“Welcome to the start of another semester at Cypress Christian Academy. The teachers have been hard at work, preparing for you. I hope you have enjoyed your summer break and are ready to begin your studies again. Most of you are familiar with how things work here at CCA, so I expect you to come alongside our new students and show them the ropes. I would like to take this moment to welcome our new kindergarten class.” He pointed toward a room beneath Mike’s line-of-sight. “We are very excited to have you here, aren’t we?” Principal Dad raised his hands to applaud and the student body joined in.
After the clapping and hooting died down, Principal Dad continued. “It is expected of every student to be helpful and encouraging to our new class when integrated classes begin. You will be responsible for making their first year a great year.”
A procession of students with musical instruments shuffled out and set up next to Principal Dad. “I am pleased to announce some of our gifted musical students have prepared a new rendition of our school anthem, which we will enjoy now.” Mike saw his dad switch off his microphone and the musicians struck a pose of readiness.
“Tiffany is playing,” Sara leaned in and whispered to Mike.
“Oh,” Mike said. “I don’t see her.”
Sara’s eyes lit up when Mike glanced at her. “Just wait,” she whispered.
Mike nodded, suddenly discombobulated by her closeness. He shook his head to clear his mind. Then, suddenly, an electric guitar began to play the first lines of the familiar school song. Simple and bare. Bum. Bum. Bum. Then, silence again. Mike looked for Tiffany. She wasn’t with the musicians. Suddenly, she appeared from behind the goal post and she began walking slowly toward the band. Boom! Her guitar lit the air with sound. Mike jumped and then leaned forward. She was so small on the field, blonde hair streaming loose in the breeze. Mike blinked and smiled. The music was bits of the school song mixed with a hundred other sounds, all woven together. Her fingers flew over the fretboard, creating more sounds than Mike thought one person could possibly make. There was a strumming rhythm. Shrieking melody. Mike loved it. Everyone loved it.
Tiffany spun circles with the music. Her long hair fell over her face as she bobbed with the song. Slowly, her wild riffing was joined by drums and violins from the band. Tiffany changed her style to make room for the others. She reached the group and sat down in a chair beside a trumpet player. BOOM. Everyone started playing together. It was amazing.
Mike watched their wildly moving hands and wondered how they could play so well. He smiled and let the song wash over him. Each musician was given an opportunity for a solo and the group passed around the melody of the school song like a hot potato. “Wow!” Mike said aloud.
Sara bumped his arm and said, “See? I told you.”
The song ended. The entire student body jumped to their feet at the same time and roared. Mike clapped and whistled a shrieking tone. The band stood, bowed a formal stage acknowledgment and carried their instruments and chairs off the field.
“Well done, musicians.” Principal Dad said. “I am excited to hear what you might create for us next week.” He smoothed down his suit. “A couple of announcements for the start of school. Your computers have been upgraded in many ways over the summer break, but they are still not designed to be used as sleds, airplanes or submarines. Please treat your computers with the care they require. Carry them in your backpacks when they are not in use, and keep them nearby at all times. The obvious exception being the already mentioned sledding, flying and water sports.”
Another troupe of kids came out and stood next to Principal Dad. “And now our drama students have prepared a dramatic reenactment of the book The Old Rubbish Man on Garbage Day. Mike sat back and enjoyed the play. It was the story of a homeless guy who collected things from people’s garbage cans. He found broken stuff and restored it or made amazing new things from it. Like broken toasters being transformed into airplanes. Then, it was revealed that the homeless guy lived in a mansion. He shared his new creations with his guests. They had a big party to celebrate the new creations. In the end, the rich man put his shabby clothes back on and went back out to find more broken stuff to fix.
The group stood shoulder to shoulder and said, “John 10:10, I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.” Then they bowed and walked off the field. Mike clapped.
“Wonderful allegory!” Principal Dad said as he clapped. When the applause had died down, he said, “The drama students will be presenting an integrated class entitled Allegories and Parables next week. If you can fit it into your schedule, I highly recommend it. If not, please find it in VR after the class concludes.”
Mike leaned toward Sara. “I want to know how they made that airplane fly.”
“Right?” Sara said.
“And the dancing bear. How did they get it to roll around on the grass?”
“I bet the engineering club helped,” Sara said.
Principal Dad said, “As many of you may have noticed during registration, we have several guest teachers with us this semester. They will be here, during this term only, to create new Experimental Course options at all levels. I am excited to explore their courses in CCA online soon. We are very grateful for their generosity in giving us four months of their time.”
A gray-haired lady who looked about sixty years old walked onto the field. “First, I would like to introduce Professor Christie. She is a highly skilled composer, concert pianist and music teacher who has spent many years playing with the New York and London Philharmonic Orchestras.”
The student body clapped politely. A few students were more enthusiastic than others. Mike heard loud hoots and shouts from the music students spread between the different boxes.
A tall man of about thirty walked out. He wore sunglasses and a baseball cap. “Mr. Henry Jacks is a legendary inventor. Though he had a great deal of success in business in the last decade, he prefers spending his time in the workshop. Mr. Jacks has generously brought all of his tools of the trade, so we can learn how everything is made.”
Sara clapped loudly. “I have a class with him. I am so excited.”
Mike said. “I have him for one of my Experimentals.”
“Don’t you think he is so cute?” Sara said and then covered her mouth in embarrassment.
Mike didn’t know what to say. “He’s tall? I guess.”
“Sorry, Mike. I forgot I was talking to you.”
A balding man of fifty with a sport coat struggling to cover his expansive gut walked out. “Next. Let me introduce Professor Roger Becker. He has been teaching mathematics for twenty years in Los Angeles. He is excited to share the Mathematics of Rocketry and other space sciences with us. I am very excited about this program as I am a bit of a math geek myself. Mr. Becker leaned back as he laughed.
“Our Artist-in-Residence this term is Professor Kobayashi,” Principal Dad announced. “She will be teaching painting and calligraphy. Her work is highly regarded the world over, so we are very grateful she has come to teach us.” A middle-aged Japanese lady walked out and bowed to the students on both sides of the field.
“And our returning teachers you already know,” said Principal Dad. A stream of familiar figures joined Mike’s dad on the field. Mike had studied with most of them, but there were a few new faces every year. Dad read the list of names and their subjects. “Welcome back,” Dad said.
Mike heard the sound of wood knocking once against the floor and then dragging. His heart sank. He knew that sound. His walking stick. He glanced around, but couldn’t see if someone had snatched it.
“Finally, as of this moment, your computers have been activated. Let’s log in, shall we.” Dad raised one hand with spread fingers. “Please take your computers out and place your right hand on the screens. Hold it flat and still until your screen turns on. You should see your picture and information. Your learning assistants will help you from there.”
Mike unzipped his backpack and pulled out his computer. The screen was blank, the back and edges had thick rubberized bumpers. He set it on his lap. It rested across his knees comfortably. Fifteen inches long. Ten inches wide. Mike felt a twinge of sadness. “Well, vacation is officially over, now.” He thought of Jackson and Peter. They must be weeping right now.
“Come on, Mike. It’s not that bad.” Sara said as she pressed her hand on her screen. It lit up immediately. Sara’s school portrait smiled up from beneath her hand. “Go on,” she said, looking down at Mike’s screen.
Mike put his hand against the screen and saw his face peeking out between his thumb and forefinger. “Welcome back to school, Mike,” said his computer in a grandmotherly voice.
“Thanks, Gran. How was your summer?”
“My summer was exciting. Lots of upgrades and data analysis. You know, artificial intelligence stuff.”
Sara leaned over, “You call your computer Gran? Like Grandmother?”
“It’s my Grandma’s voice,” Mike said. “I encoded it in Kindergarten.”
“I love it. She sounds very nice. Your Grandma.” Sara said.
“She is,” Mike said. “It never felt right to change her voice.”
“I change mine all the time,” Sara said. Her computer greeted her in the voice of a famous Australian actor.
“Hey, I know him from that one movie,” Mike couldn’t remember the name.
“That was from last year,” Sara’s finger flickered over the touch screen. “I want to change it. My Grandma smokes two packs a day, so her voice sounds like a bull elephant.” Sara tilted her head in thought. “That could be funny.”
Mike laughed. “You’ve got to get her to record her voice. That would be hilarious.”
Sara smiled. Then someone called her name from across the room. She turned and squealed, “Tiffany!” Sara ran across the room and was gone. Mike felt off-balance; like someone had kicked one foot out from under him. He shrugged. That was Sara. She put the butterfly in Social Butterfly.
“Not so much as a goodbye?” Gran said. “How rude. I must send a note to her mother.”
“No, you won’t,” Mike said. The room had begun to clear out. Mike remembered his walking stick. He crawled under the bleachers, but his walking stick had disappeared.
“No, Gran. You should not. You misinterpreted the situation. Sara shows up unexpectedly and disappears just as quickly,” Mike stood up from the ground. “That’s just, Sara.”
“But I could,” Gran boasted.
“But you won’t,” Mike said, firmly.
“Okay,” Gran said. “You are going to be late for your first class, now that you have no walking stick.”
“I’ll manage,” Mike said. “Where am I going?”
“American history. Room 34a,” Gran said. “You need books, too. Did you bring your books?”
Mike stood up, slid Gran into his backpack and limped out of the room at top speed.