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Missy Malone Is an Alien . . . Pass It On
Scab, please remove the number two pencil from your nose," says Miss Sweetandsour. "You know what to do."
I know what to do, all right. I just don't want to do it.
I am supposed to stand up, which is dumb because in two seconds I will have to sit right back down again. Miss Sweeten is giving me that squished up lemon face—the one that earned her the nickname Miss Sweetandsour. I have no choice but to obey my teacher. I blow the pencil out of my left nostril. There's a wet glob of tan snot on the eraser. I get to my feet. I stand to the left of my desk and try not to look at Missy Malone, who is standing to the right of my desk. I snap my wrist to zing the snot chunk in her direction. Too gooey. Won't budge.
WHY TEACHERS MAKE US USE NUMBER TWO PENCILS?
What happened to all the number one pencils? Are they extinct? Shouldn't someone be protecting them? SAVE THE NUMBER ONE PENCILS!
Every Friday our teacher makes us play Fly Around the World. It's a math flash card game. Miss Sweetandsour goes through a stack of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division flash cards. She flips one up for the champion and the challenger to do in their heads. Whichever kid shouts out the right answer first gets to be the champion and "fly on" to the next challenger. The idea is to see how many kids you can beat as you move around the classroom.
I hate the game. Not because I don't like math (I do), but because I never win. That's the problem. Nobody ever wins, except Missy Malone. She flies around the world, yelling out the answers before her challengers even finish reading the cards. It's no wonder my friends and I call her Never Missy. She sits in front of me so I am usually her first victim. Never Missy has already beaten me once today and is back to whip my butt again. For her, the game is Fly Around the World. For the rest of us, it is Crash and Burn.
Never Missy smells like burned onion rings. She stares at me through brown bangs so shiny, they look wet. She smirks. Two little dimples appear on each side of her mouth. Easy target, she is thinking. She is right. I hate that she is right.
My hands are sweaty. So are my armpits. The meatballs I had for lunch are wrestling in my stomach. Miss Sweetandsour is shuffling her flash cards.
Leaning back, I look for my best friend. Doyle Ferguson is in the far front corner by the cubby rack. We're so far apart he might as well be in Antarctica. When I see him, I cross my eyes, scrunch my nose, and point to Never Missy's back. Doyle pulls his mouth all the way back with both thumbs. He sticks his tongue out and waggles it. We both think Never Missy is a space alien—and not in a good way, either. Her mustard-onion-chili breath can peel the paint off your bike. She wears tiny paper party-favor umbrellas in her hair. She never takes off her puffy, purple jacket. Never. We think it's because Never Missy doesn't want anybody to see the slimy green tentacles she's got hiding under there.
"Scab? Missy?" Miss Sweetandsour is ready.
I wipe my sticky hands on the sides of my jeans. This is it. This time I am going to beat Never Missy. I know, I know, I say it every Friday afternoon, but today I mean it. My heart beats faster. One teriyaki meatball leaps into my throat. The card comes up. For a second I think the meatball will too.
DOES THE KID CLEAN OUT HIS/HER DESK EVERY day? Aliens are not freaks.
Does the kid always have food stuck in his/her teeth? Aliens don't use dental floss.
Does the kid have a poodle? Poodles can speak Martian, Klingon, and French.
Does the kid wear a big coat? Aliens have to hide all tentacles, tails, giant suckers, and ray guns, or the principal won't let them come to school.
If you answered yes to most of the above questions, you probably know an alien. Don't panic! Act like nothing is wrong and you probably won't get your guts sucked out through your skull.
I see white. And two black lines. It's eleven times—
"Forty-four!" shouts Never Missy.
"Correct," says Miss Sweetandsour. "Four times eleven is forty-four."
I want to see the instant replay. Never Missy has to be cheating. Nobody could read the card that fast. Nobody human, that is.
"Excellent, Missy," says Miss Sweetandsour. She makes a mark on her notepad. "You may fly on."
Meaning, of course, that I crash and burn. See? Isn't this about as fun as getting a baby tooth yanked?
Never Missy flicks back her stringy bangs. She glances at me and says what she says to everyone she blows out of the sky with her math missiles. "Vroom, vroom, sor-reeeeee."
She doesn't sound "vroom, vroom, sorry." She sounds "vroom, vroom, happy."
"Like I care," I say, crumpling into my seat.
I don't even have the pencil back in my nose before Never Missy has crushed Cloey Zittle behind me.
"Fifty-six!" Followed by, "Vroom, vroom, sorreeeeee."
Cloey lets out a whimper.
On and on and on Never Missy flies, "vroom-vroom-sorry"-ing her way around the room.
"Fourteen! Sixty-three! Seven!"
NEVER EAT TWENTY-TWO fried chicken nuggets dipped in ranch dressing and two helpings of potato salad before your first airplane trip, or it is likely to be your last airplane trip.
She's picking off kids left and right. It's enough to make you airsick. I should know. I hurled on an airplane once, and not in a barf bag either. My twin, Isabelle, was sitting next to me. My parents had to buy her a new T-shirt. And jeans. And socks. And shoes. My sister now refuses to sit anywhere near me on a plane.
"Zero!" shouts Never Missy. Down goes my second best friend, Will Greenleaf. "Vroom, vroom, sor-reeeeee."
Some kids have their heads on their desks. Others are slumped so far down you can barely see the tops of their heads. Meggie Kornblum is— Is she crying? Aw, geez, this is ugly. Miss Sweetandsour doesn't seem to notice. Or care. She simply makes another mark on her pad as Never Missy soars swiftly down one row and up the next.
When it's Doyle's turn, he takes his time getting up. He glances at the clock. I know what he's planning. He figures if he goes slower than a caterpillar the bell will ring first. Nice try. We still have five minutes until the end of the day—plenty of time for Never Missy to blow through another row. Doyle glances my way.
I throw my fist in the air to say Don't give up.
He makes a fist to reply I won't.
"Doyle. Missy. Ready?" asks Miss Sweetandsour.
Doyle hunches forward like he's the center facing off at the start of a hockey game. His eyes narrow. His cheeks glow. He's waiting for Miss Sweetandsour to drop the puck. I look away. I can't watch—
At least it was quick—whoa! That wasn't Never Missy. Cloey slaps me between my shoulder blades. The class is starting to realize that something incredible has happened. At least, we think it has. Because Doyle is the last kid in the farthest corner of the room, nobody can get a clear look at the flash card. We rise up. We stretch our necks. Can it be true? Has my best friend done the impossible? Has Doyle Ferguson beaten the unbeatable Never Missy Malone?
Miss Sweetandsour turns to show us the card. "Incorrect," she says.
The class groans. We collapse into our chairs.
"Missy?" asks the teacher.
"Twenty-four," says Missy. Yawning, she draws her arms up into her purple sleeves.
"Correct. Seventy-two divided by three is twenty-four."
Missy makes her empty sleeves flop up and down. She turns to Doyle. "Vroom, vroom, sor-reeeeee."
Doyle's neck goes limp.
Our teacher spies the clock. "We'll have to stop here."
Everyone cheers. Miss Sweetandsour looks surprised. I am surprised that she looks surprised. HELLO! FOURTH-GRADERS DYING HERE. Do we have to scrawl it in huge letters across the white board?
"Congratulations, Missy," says Miss Sweetandsour. "You are today's winner of Fly Around the World with—let's see—thirty-seven stops. Great job! Let's hear it for Missy."
* WITHOUT TAKING A BREATH? *
Beth Burwell and Meggie Kornblum give up a couple of pity claps—that's when you let your right hand fall limply into your left so it barely makes a noise.
"Whoop-tee-doo," says Cloey Zittle flatly into my left ear.
"Missy, you may pick out a prize from the prize box," says Miss Sweetandsour.
I moan and let my head fall forward until it touches my desk. Will it ever be my turn to get a prize? It's been soooooo long. I've had my eye on a glow-in-the-dark white rubber rat forever. It's got a long, wiggly tail; wire whiskers; and fire-red eyes. It's perfect for hiding in my sister's sheets—for experimental purposes, of course.
Soon, Never Missy is skipping back down my row. And humming. As she slides into her chair, the back of her floppy purple hood touches my desk. I flick it off. I don't want anything of hers touching anything of mine.
"People, this floor is not as neat as it could be," announces Miss Sweetandsour. "Please patrol your area. Remember to bring in your three-dimensional nature art projects on Monday. They are due at the beginning of class. Also, Monday is the last day to sign up to run for a class office, so see me if you're interested. . . ." She keeps talking as she passes Doyle.
My best friend is still standing beside his desk. He hasn't moved since blurting out the wrong answer.
Never Missy is humming louder. She isn't picking up around her desk the way Miss Sweetandsour told us to do. Instead, she is drawing happy faces on her knuckles with the prize she picked out: a red gel pen with a puffball. Two wiggly eyes are glued on the puffball. They are looking at me cross-eyed. I cross my eyes back.
"Scab, up!" calls Miss Sweetandsour. I scramble out of my seat and start patrolling around my desk. I find a scrap of yellow paper, part of a maple leaf, a mangled staple— What's this? Ah, a dead potato bug. Sweet! It'll be a great addition to my art project. Carefully, I roll the bug up in the yellow scrap of paper. I scoot across the room to the cubby rack so I can put the bug in the pocket of my backpack. Then, making sure my teacher is looking the other way, I sneak over to Doyle.
I nudge him. "You okay?"
"Uh-huh." He moves his head for the first time in two minutes. "I thought it was an eight. I was so positive it was seventy-two divided by eight—"
"Forget it," I say.
"That game stinks. I don't see why Miss Sweetandsour makes us play it so much."
"Don't you? She's been complaining about her car a lot lately—her old car."
"Are you saying—?"
He slaps his forehead. "Teacher torture points. How many do you think she got?"
"Today? Four hundred, at least. Maybe five hundred."
Doyle whistles through his front teeth. I can't do that. But then, he has a bigger space there than I do. We watch as Miss Sweetandsour stops to talk to Never Missy. She puts her hand on a puffy, purple sleeve. Our teacher completely ignores the wads of paper littering the floor around Never Missy's desk. Miss Sweetandsour smiles. Her dark green eyes get all soft and crinkly. Never Missy smiles back. My stomach hurts.
WHY KIDS AREN'T ALLOWED IN THE FACULTY ROOM at school? Because then we'd see the Teacher Torture Board. Here's how it works. Every time a teacher makes you suffer, she gets points.
At the end of the year, the teacher who gets the most points wins a car. How do I know? This year, Mrs. Dewmeyer is driving a new silver sports car. And she was my teacher last year.
"I wish Miss Sweetandsour would let us do stunts," I say to myself. Doyle, Will, and I are the Daredevil Boys. We aren't afraid to climb, crawl, jump, swim, slide, or sail over most anything! I hold the world's record for flying the farthest (ten feet, nine inches) off Alec Ichikawa's Super Colossal Dirt Bike Ramp. This year, Doyle and I built the Mighty Maze in my backyard. It's the best obstacle course in town. I hold the record on that, too—22.5 seconds. If we could do at school what I do best, I could beat the unbeatable Never Missy. But we can't. Mrs. Zaff won't let you climb, crawl, jump, swim, slide, sail, or fly over stuff at school. She's the lunch and playground monitor. Mrs. Zaff always wears the same thing: yellow galoshes, a yellow rain coat with orange tabby cats all over it, and a plastic rain bonnet. She ties the bonnet in a big bow under her chin. The clear plastic makes her fluffy, gray hair look like a bowl of mashed potatoes. It's Mrs. Zaff's job to stop you whenever you're doing something cool, like hoisting yourself up the flagpole or spitting sunflower seeds at girls. She's always blowing her whistle at someone on the playground. Usually me. Thweet. Thweet. Thweeeeeet.
Doyle deflates into his desk. "I was so sure it was an eight. . . ."
"Forget it," I say, but we both know he won't.
Neither of us will. Because next Friday we'll have to play Crash and Burn all over again.
Vroom, vroom, sor-reeeeee.
© 2011 Trudi Strain Trueit