My Teacher is a Spy
My best friend Mike Blackburn showed up to school with a certain look on his face. The look said, I’m up to no good...want to join me? Was he kidding? Up to no good and having fun were one and the same.
Mike yanked a stick out of his backpack. “Check this out, Charlie,” he said. It was about eighteen inches long and had a grip on one end. “Know what it is?”
“Nose picker?” I asked. “For those hard-to-reach places?” I waggled my fingers. “These work just fine for me. Don’t be fooled by false advertising.”
“Nope.” He waved the stick around like he was directing an orchestra, then he pointed it at my chest. “Guess again.”
Mike didn’t play a musical instrument. Why would he want a director’s baton? I shrugged. “Well, it looks like a nose picker.”
“Magic wand,” he said. “Came in the mail yesterday. Three box tops and fifty cents.”
I didn’t know the going price for magic wands, but that seemed way too cheap. You get what you pay for, right?
“What should I do for my first trick?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Anything.”
“I don’t want it to be just anything. It has to be the right thing.”
That was Mike. Everything had to be planned ahead of time. He never just went with the flow. Seriously, the guy had to lighten up.
He could see the wheels turning in my head. “I need ideas, Fogalman,” he said.
“Hmm...” I scratched my chin.
“A million bucks for your best friend?”
“Nah, that’s no good. Besides—”
The bell rang and the door to our classroom flew open. There stood Mr. Crans, our teacher and the world’s widest human being. He had a crew cut and mustache that went on and on—wide, like the rest of him. And he barked like a drill sergeant. “Straighten up that line.” When we did, he gestured toward the door. “All right, inside. Keep you traps shut.”
Of all the schools in Last Chance Gulch, I got stuck at Anacapa Elementary. And of the four fifth-grade classes at Anacapa, I got stuck with Mr. Crans for a teacher. I was pretty sure he was a Russian spy, or maybe some kind of mafia hitman. He had that look like he was getting ready to inflict pain on someone. And he was always telling us to keep our traps shut.
Usually my trap obeyed. But not now. Not when my best friend had a magic wand and wanted to use it and wanted me to tell him how. How often do you get a chance like that?
So my trap was busy coming up with magic wand ideas. Mike’s was too. He didn’t like my million-dollars-to-his-best-friend idea. I lowered my sites. “Brand new bicycle for your best friend?” I whispered. I looked over my shoulder at Mike as we walked inside. “Pretty please?”
“Charlie Fogalman!” Mr. Crans barked.
Oops. I slunk inside. Better talk about this magic wand stuff later. I took my seat behind Cynthia Dubos and across the aisle from Mike.
“All right,” Mr. Crans said. “The prompt is on the board. Get out your journals and start writing.”
Did you see that? He put us right to work. We didn’t even say the Pledge of Allegiance. Seems awfully Russian Spy-ish to me.
I got out my journal and glanced at the board, where he’d written the prompt.
How does it feel to be a snowflake?
Was this a joke? How does a snowflake feel? Okay, maybe Mr. Crans was not a Russian spy after all. No Russian spy would think up a prompt like that.
How does it feel to be a snowflake? Let’s see. Cold—that’s how. Very, very, cold. Brrrr. After a while, I stopped writing about snowflakes and started listing magic spell ideas. Mr. Crans would never know. As long as he saw my pencil moving, he’d be happy.
At least I thought he’d be happy. He prowled the aisles and looking over our shoulders. Then he said, “Okay, who’d like to share what they’ve written?”
No one made a peep. Not even Cynthia Dubos, who usually liked to show off. Mr. Crans was still pacing the aisles. I made myself as small as possible. Maybe he wouldn’t see me…maybe he’d pass on by. Maybe he’d—
“Charlie, how about you?”
Yikes! I looked at what I’d written. It was a list of magic wand ideas, cool stuff like skateboards and soccer balls. Movie tickets, slingshots, a lifetime supply of pepperoni pizza. He wanted me to read it…out loud?
“Stand up, Charlie,” Mr. Crans said.
I stood up and looked at my list.
“Go on, let’s hear it.”
Every eye in the room was on me. There was only one thing to do. I had to fake it. When all else failed, tell a whopper.
I cleared my throat. Then I launched into it. “Uh…Ralph, the snowflake, was falling from the sky, talking to his friend George and all was well…uh…until they landed on a snowbank and couldn’t find each other anymore. ‘George, are you there?’ Ralph said. ‘George?’ George didn’t answer. They both got covered by other snowflakes and no one could hear Ralph anymore.”
I looked up. “That’s what it’s like to be a snowflake, Mr. Crans. It’s okay while you’re floating around because you can talk to your friends, but after you land there’s nothing to do but lie there and get smashed by other slow flakes. Then you melt.”
“So what are you saying, Charlie?”
“Being a snowflake sucks.” I sat back down.
Mr. Crans didn’t ask anyone else to read. Instead, he told us to put our journals away and get out our math homework. “I’ll come around and check it off,” he said.
“Yikes,” Mike whispered. He looked at me with his I’m Dead look. “I don’t have it. What’ll I do?”
He sat there at his desk, turning whiter by the second. Halloween was still sixth months away, but Mike looked like a ghost.
“Run?” I whispered back.
No time. Mr. Crans was coming down his aisle, his gigantic wing-tipped shoes slapping the floor, boom, boom, making the windows rattle. He was almost too wide for the aisle.
Mike was doomed. Mr. Crans came closer—boom, boom. Mike’s glasses bobbled on his nose.
“Mr. Blackburn!” Everyone in the room froze. Mike started to shake. I shook too, in sympathy. “No math?”
“No, sir,” Mike squeaked, adjusting his glasses. “My sister ate it.”
“Your sister? Don’t you mean your dog?”
Well, she wasn’t all that attractive, but I wouldn’t go that far.
“No, sir. My sister. She eats things. Nonfood things. She’s crazy.”
This was true. She was a little crazy. She once took three large bites out of Mike’s state report and Mike got—
“Detention!” Mr. Crans screamed.
For the rest of the day, Mike was in a mood. At recess I loaded him up on magic spell ideas, most of them involving me getting rich or at least getting cool stuff, like skateboards, bicycles, and computers, but my friend was too depressed to hear me. Detention with Mr. Crans will do that to you.
After school, I called my mom and told her I had to hang around because of Mike’s detention. I did my homework on the basketball court while I waited for my friend. When he got out of detention, he walked over looking mad. His fists swung at his sides like wrecking balls. “I’ve got the perfect magic trick,” he said.
“Okay, lay it on me. I’d like a blue one. Eighteen speed. With a water bottle, if that’s okay.”
Mike shook his head. “Let’s go to my house. You’re going to want to see this.”
“No more detention for me. I’m going to turn my sister into a frog.” He thought for a moment. “Do frogs eat paper?”
“Nah. Flies, mostly.”
“Perfect. Let’s go.”
I had to admit it was a good idea. If I had a sister, I’d want to turn her into a frog. Even if she didn’t eat my homework. It’s a big brother thing—inflict pain on smaller people, especially if they are related to you.
On the way home Mike practiced flicking his wand all over the place. He still looked like he was directing an orchestra, but what did I know? I was looking forward to seeing him do it for real—on his sister. If the trick worked we could keep her in a shoebox and bring her to Show and Tell.