“You’re late,” I tell Ernie as he joins Jan, Eva, and myself at our usual lunchtime table.
“It’s no fault of mine,” Ernie says. “I had to spend the last half hour in the principal’s office explaining why I was ‘cutting class’ this morning.”
“You were cutting class?”
“I wasn’t cutting class. I was killing time.”
“By wandering the corridors,” Jan explains, trying to avert Eva’s gaze by focusing full on his soggy ham and cheese sandwich.
I look at him. What an idiot. I mean, look at Eva. She’s still embarrassed about what she did last week, so she’s mostly turned off to the rest of us. But not to Jan. She’s sitting right next to him, practically in his lap—and he’s acting totally third-grader! If I had that kind of attention I wouldn’t be staring dully at my lunch, I’d be treating my girl like a princess, a goddess, a bug-eyed supermodel. I wish she’d tried to spy me in my underwear.
“What were you doing wandering the corridors?” I ask Ernie.
He says, “The teacher was giving the class an extra ten minutes to finish Friday’s homework. I’d already done all of mine, so I got a hall pass, stepped out for a breath of air.”
“A mouthful of Skittles is more like it,” says Jan, smiling amusedly.
“They were M&Ms,” says Ernie.
I spoon lemon yogurt into my mouth. “Oh, much healthier.”
“What is this, jerk around the fat kid day?”
“Sorry, continue with your story.”
“Anyway,” Ernie says, “the administration busted my balls over the whole thing, said I was slacking off, misbehaving, even though I fucking did all my work, and even though I was going to return to class after the ten minutes were up. Can you believe that? They assume I’m just a lazy, gassy fat-ass who’s up to no good if I’m not sitting quietly and waiting for the other students to get their shit together—which is bull, because you know us fat kids need all the exercise we can get.”
I can sympathize—about the stereotype thing, not the fat thing. I too always finish my work ahead of everyone else, and so have extra time to just sit and read or doodle while everyone else is still slaving away. If I’m not pissing off my teachers because I always look like I’m doing nothing I’m threatening the older kids because I’m small and smart and my mind hasn’t yet been corrupted by raging hormones.
“Fucking high school lemmings,” Ernie grunts. He wrestles open a bag of gummy worms. “They’d change their tune if I had my pet monster with me.”
“Pet monster?” asks Eva, blinking at Ernie as if coming out of a daze.
Ernie nods. “Yeah. You know, if any of us had enough free time and money, we’d buy a laboratory and develop a pet monster to take care of those who oppose us.”
“That’s dumb,” Eva says. “I wouldn’t do that.”
Ernie glares at her, then at me, at Jan. “You can’t tell me none of you has ever daydreamed about having a pet monster.”
I haven’t. But if I did, I’d never tell anyone that such a childish concept was lurking in the recesses of my brain. “What does a pet monster look like?”
“Whatever you want it to look like. It’s your pet monster.”
“What does yours look like?” asks Jan.
“Mine’s a Suck-u-bot 5000,” Ernie says proudly. “She’s big-titted, beautiful, and she’s programmed to give great head—and then bite your dick off right when you’re about to come.”
Jan makes a face.
Eva rolls her eyes and looks away, at one of the other tables.
I ask in deadpan: “Ernie, why would you want a robot to bite off your dick?”
“Not my dick, you moron! The dicks of my enemies!”
“You know, you’re talking about a robot,” Jan points out, “not a monster.”
“Robots can be classifications of monsters. They don’t have to be flesh and blood.”
“Yeah, but when you say ‘monster’ it brings to mind Frankenstein or Wolf Guy—”
“Wolf Man,” I correct.
“Yes, Wolf Man. And Swamp Man. People like that.”
“Fuck you guys,” Ernie says. “Theo, what’s your pet monster? And don’t pull any bullshit about you never having imagined one.”
Resisting the temptation to correct Jan on the Swamp Man thing, I bite my lip and think hard. Personally, I hate monsters, in movies, on TV, and under the bed—but I’ll play along because admitting I hate monsters would be like admitting I like Asia. The band. Which has already happened, and which has already brought me needless grief. “Um…I guess my monster wouldn’t look like a monster in the classic sense. He’d be one of those killers you don’t suspect at first, but it would slowly dawn on you that he might actually be responsible for a slew of vicious killings.”
Ernie looks disappointed. “That’s not a monster, Biclops, that’s just a serial killer.”
“Physically, yeah, but figuratively he’s a total monster.”
“Boring! Deform him somehow! Splice his DNA with a lawnmower! Slip a disgusting, super-intelligent parasite down his throat! Shove him into a giant vat of oatmeal and electrocute him!”
I raise an eyebrow. “An oatmeal man?”
“Sure!” Ernie says. “He’d have raisins where his moles used to be.”
“Ew!” gasps Eva.
“And his blood,” Jan says, snapping his fingers, “would be sucrose instead of glucose.”
“Sucrose?” I ask.
Ernie glares at me. “Table sugar. You are a gifted student, right?”
“I’m math and English, not science or biology or whatever it takes to conceive an oatmeal man.”
“This isn’t science,” Eva says, shooting me a knowing look, “it’s ridiculousness.”
“I agree,” I say, nodding back, smiling. For once we’re on the same level. It’s the sweetest moment of my life.
Ernie and Jan’s mindless jabber fills the background:
“We could call him Oates!”
“Oates: the high-fiber killer!”
“Eat your breakfast before it eats you!”
“Horror never tasted so good!”
Eventually, I raise my hand and flag them down: “Guys, guys, I don’t get it.”
Ernie blinks. “You don’t get what?”
“Why does this Oates fellow have to be evil just because he’s made of oatmeal?”
“Duh! He has sucrose for blood! That’s, like, the opposite of glucose, making him a giant oatmeal cookie. He can’t eat other cookies—that would be cannibalism! He has to eat people. It’s a wicked reversal. Breakfast eating you instead of you eating breakfast.”
“Trust us,” says Jan. “If oatmeal could walk and talk, it would eat you just as readily as you eat it.”
Eva narrows her eyes. “Regardless of the fact that if an oatmeal man tried to eat me all I’d have to do is grab the nearest blow dryer and aim it square at his face.”
Ernie frowns. “You’re no fun.”
Eva grins in triumph. “Nobody likes dried oatmeal, Ernie.”
I giggle alongside her.
“Too analytical for your own good,” Ernie sighs. “Both of you.”
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