How I got here—I have no idea.
But here I am in the middle of the Jefferson Middle School cafeteria, holding a tray of Chinese food: beef, broccoli, white rice, and an egg roll. It looks so yummy! We never have Chinese food at Jefferson. It’s like I’ve died and gone to lunchroom heaven.
Wait, is this a dream, or did I really die and go to heaven?
I look back at the food lines, hoping for a clue as to how I got here.
Different flags hang from stands at each of the checkout registers. This is not normal. A red flag hangs from the food line I just left. On it, several yellow stars surround a much larger one. It’s China’s flag.
Did I accidentally travel forward in time by two days to Cultural Food Day?
That explains the Italian, Mexican, and Chinese food options and country flags. The United Kingdom flag triggers my last memory. It was Monday, November 1. I was standing outside my locker reading my Robin Hood book when—
Okay, let me stop there.
I don’t usually stand around reading school books with crazy words like calleth and hath. I’m more of a video game guy than a reader. But I wanted to find out why Robin Hood was, as E3 put it, my kind of hero.
Get this, E3 started reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood even before it was assigned. “I couldn’t put the book down,” E3 explained as we walked to our first period class on the last day I remember. Her full name is Elizabeth Emily Elliot, but I call her E3, because I like nicknames. I considered Smarty Pants, since E3 is super smart and actually reads for fun, but that seemed boring.
“Unlike someone I know, Robin Hood actually uses his powers to help the powerless and to right the wrongs of his time,” E3 said before stopping abruptly. “You don’t even have your book with you.”
She was right. My Robin Hood book sat in the same place it had been since we got it: inside my locker. When I returned to retrieve it, I opened the book out of curiosity and started reading.
One man calleth me kind, another calleth me cruel; this one calleth me good, honest fellow, and that one vile thief. Truly the world hath as many eyes to look upon a man withal as there are spots on a toad; so, with what pair of eyes thou regardest me lieth with thine own self. My name is Robin Hood.
This is the book E3 couldn’t put down? I couldn’t close it fast enough.
When I looked up from the book, I was face to face with Ponytail(less) Camila, a Jefferson Middle School cheerleader who used to wear her hair in ponytails. Camila’s surprise appearance caused me to bump my opened locker door, which set in motion a series of events that ended with my locker calendar falling to the ground.
Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but my Waterville anniversary calendar isn’t normal. It is magic. It lets me jump back and forth in time simply by touching calendar days.
Red alarms inside me went off when Ponytail(less) Camila went to pick it up. I appreciated the gesture, but I wasn’t about to let Camila get her hands on my magic calendar. In the scramble to retrieve my calendar before Camila could, I must have accidentally touched inside the Wednesday, November 3 box, which had Cultural Food Day 11:25 a.m. penciled inside.
“WATCH OUT!” someone yells.
My attention quickly returns to my current time travel journey inside the school cafeteria. Shockingly, Adam Lee hurtles out of control toward me. I immediately recognize him by the atom symbol on his hat.
Before I can react, Atom Adam, my nickname for him, slams into me. My tray of Chinese food launches into the air and descends like a July 4 fireworks display. My Chinese food falls on top of me and Adam, who also hit the ground in the collision.
A Shark Jackson-sized shadow forms over Adam and me. I reach for Shark’s extended hand, but Shark ignores my signal for help. Instead, he uses his hand to scoop up my beef broccoli lunch with Atom Adam’s blue hat.
It gets worse for Atom Adam.
After examining Adam’s hat, half-filled with food, Shark plops it back on Adam’s head. Brown sauce drips down Adam’s neck and forehead. So much for my special lunch!
“That’s for double-crossing us,” Shark says.
Giggles erupt from a growing crowd of onlookers.
E3 breaks through to the front row and gives me a how could you let this happen? look. Maybe E3 is right. Maybe I should be using my magical powers to help the powerless overcome the powerful instead of just helping myself. She’s been saying it now for weeks.
I spring into action to separate Shark (his real name) from Atom Adam. It seems my first Roger Hood assignment is defending David against Goliath. Shark hovers over Adam and me even when we are all standing. He’s that big.
“Pick on someone your own size,” I say.
Loud gasps are heard from the pro-Shark crowd. At least I have two people on my side: E3 seems nervous and Ponytail(less) Camila shows concern as she holds a food tray. Here’s my chance to impress them both. Or go down fighting!
I give Shark a big shove. He doesn’t budge. He only grows angrier.
Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a bright idea. But big deal. I can always repeat the day with my magic calendar if this turns south quickly.
Shark moves in closer to me.
Even though Shark is a foot taller than me, I can still smell his bad breath. He must have had chili for lunch. He should have gone with something mintier.
The next thing I know, I am eye-to-eye with Shark. No, I didn’t suddenly grow a foot. Shark lifts me up off the ground by my shoulders.
“Where are you taking me?”
He lifts and moves me effortlessly. The Jefferson football team must really be hitting the weights in preparation for the playoffs.
“Put him down!” E3 orders.
“How cute,” Shark says. “Your girlfriend has come to save you.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” I yell loudly enough for Ponytail(less) Camila to hear my relationship status.
Shark’s football teammates, Gabe, who wears a Patriot #72 jersey, and Matt, in his #77 jersey, form a barrier to block E3 from interfering with Shark’s plans. Speaking of which, what are his plans? Where is he taking me?
“Cool it, Shark!” says Derek Walters, our football team captain and running back. “We have a big game this weekend.”
From my new altitude, I have a clear view of Dreamboat Derek’s dreamy dimples, which are fawned over by Jefferson Middle School girls like they are baskets of puppies.
Shark carries me to the cafeteria exit. He stops just before entering the hallway. His grip is crushing my shoulders, but—based on the crazed look on his face—that is the least of my worries.
“Don’t do anything foolish. We need you eligible for the big game.”
As Shark ponders Derek’s words, I spot our principal, Mr. Hayes, walking toward us. His eyes are glued to his phone. He won’t be able to break up this altercation if he doesn’t even notice it is happening.
“Think about the team,” says Gabe. Tweedle Dee to me!
“He’s right,” adds Matt. Tweedle Dum.
Shark releases his grip on me. Thankfully, my feet retouch the ground. My back heel is just inches from the cafeteria exit.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Dreamboat Derek says to his on-field blocker.
Shark stands in silence. He looks straight ahead and he’s seemingly lost in thought, which is surprising since thinking isn’t really what he’s known for.
Out of nowhere, he turns to me with fists-a-blazing.
“You need to pay a price.”
Shark swings his massive fist toward my face.
I step backwards into the hallway. Just as Shark’s fist makes contact with my face, an electric surge, which I recognize immediately as the time travel jolt, zaps and then numbs my entire body.
Black spots appear before my eyes.