The Ruler Of The Universe
‘David, your ear’s on fire.’
Apart from the gentle, almost apologetic groans as the ancient classroom quietly rotted about them, an eerie silence bombarded the classroom. Even the eternal rumbling of Derrick’s cavernous stomach was stilled. This unnatural stillness continued for several seconds until one by one, every child swivelled their heads to the scene of impending doom.
Their new teacher had spoken. Yet one more in a long line of new teachers, all had possessed their own unique peculiarities. Some had been nasty; some had been creepy, while others had been downright crazy. This one liked to make jokes. They weren’t even the slightest bit funny, being all grown up and rubbish. Yet this was the paradox: if they didn’t laugh at his peculiar version of humour he always became angry; stomping about the room threatening all manner of diabolical punishment. Yet if they did politely titter he would immediately order them all to shut up, usually throwing in fifty lines just to make it worse. You just couldn’t win with him. In fact he was so weird that even Sad-case, quite happy to make fun of anyone, any time, had been reduced to utter confusion by the terminally strange person that had invaded the previous peace of their classroom.
For another ten seconds or so the intense silence held as everyone tried not to look at each other but at the object of his strange humour. Until finally Mr Crowther, perhaps irked at the lack of response, slammed a skeletal hand down on his desk, instantly jumping back in alarm as the ruler he’d just spent five minutes balancing on the pencil sharpener, shot up and biffed him on the end of his large veiny nose.
It seemed that the wound wasn’t terminal because he brushed it aside with disgust and shot to his feet. After withering the still silent class with another laser-like glare he hurtled directly toward David in the second row who had finally looked up suspecting that perhaps something was amiss. Sad-case, positioned directly before the teacher’s desk, as he was in every class to ensure that he couldn’t do anything destructive, smiled widely at the fun that was about to ensue. Easily a billion lines, twenty lashes, a thousand years of detention, or at the very least something hideously painful. He nudged Derrick sitting right next to him but whose eyes were pointedly fixed on his desk as if it was the most interesting thing on the planet.
Derrick groaned silently. It was bad enough having to sit next to his friend whom every teacher in the school loathed with a vengeance. But if one person, in this case David, caught the brunt of the man’s wrath then the whole class was going to get it too. That was another of Crowther’s rules. If one of them messed up, the whole class paid for it.
Their new teacher seemed even more irritable today than usual if that were actually possible. After navigating the scattered debris of the classroom like a rabid ferret chasing its lunch he arrived at the scene of his next crime, leaning backwards at the last moment lest his momentum deprive him of his pleasure simply by running him over.
For a moment he towered silently over a cringing David like a quivering mountain, a mountain with a stoop that was. His sudden exertion must have warmed him up slightly as from his Ever-Press suit oozed a near toxic mixture of chalk dust, aftershave which smelled like turpentine and something else none of them wanted to think about. Even his usually neat hair, carefully parted in the middle with about ten pounds of gel, had fallen onto his face, dangling like greasy seaweed.
‘I have just informed you that they have finally discovered the new planet of which the astronomers have long envisaged,’ (he spoke like this all the time, like a total cretoid, in Sad-case’s expert opinion), ‘and you show not the merest jot of interest. Is this a subject that a jaded character such as yourself is not interested.’ That was another thing: woe betide anyone in class who had the temerity to end a sentence with a preposition. ‘Or is it perhaps that your hamster-like brain has trouble conceptualising anything greater than your next burger or your first snog?’ He waited for the obligatory giggle and was not disappointed. Then he craned his pock-marked neck downwards. ‘What is that?’ A long talon prodded furiously at the piece of paper David had unsuccessfully been trying to stuff up his jumper.
‘Oh nothing, sir.’ David felt his face going red, a sure sign of guilt.
‘Show me!’ The chalk covered claw thrust itself into David’s midriff, almost tearing a hole in his stomach in the process, before extracting the crumpled remains of the page full of David’s nearly illegible handwriting.
‘It’s a sort of story, Sir.’ David spluttered, frantically looking forward to Sad-case and Derrick for support but finding none. They weren’t about to mess with any man who carried a size twelve running shoe dangling from his belt even if corporal punishment was a thing of the past - allegedly.
‘Really?’ The beginnings of a smirk asserted itself. ‘I wasn’t aware that this was a creative writing class. I foolishly believed it to be a history lesson. But correct me if I’m wrong. Am I in error?’ He addressed the class at large, not really expecting affirmation but obviously hoping for one if his simpering grin and the hand twitching near his weapon of choice was anything to go by.
But,’ he continued relentlessly, ‘never let it be said that I would stifle honest creativity. I shall read it to the class.’ He swirled it victoriously above his head and smiled widely like a fox eyeing a crippled chicken.
‘No sir, don’t. Please.’ David felt himself on the verge of something really bad. Simultaneously, he felt like throttling the man, wetting his strides and fleeing the classroom. But worse, even worse than that, the others were going to kill him. Even Sad-case had stopped smiling now, beginning to suspect.
‘”Sad-case Derrick and me,”’ Mr Crowther began, enjoying himself immensely now. ‘That should be and I. Nevertheless, let us digest this earnest chronicle.’ Sad-case balled his fists. This man was really getting up his nose now. Even the rest of the class had stopped smiling. They might not have liked David, Sad-case and Derrick much, considering them totally weird. An opinion of which the boys were fully aware since it was written on every toilet wall in the school; but he was one of theirs, and this man was really getting on their collective t...
‘So, “Sad-case, Derrick and me have just got back from space. We saved ourselves from Not-Wilks and Malcolm, the sort-of robot who was going to kill us”’. Not a breath was drawn. And as for what they thought of them now, he would find out in the playground the instant their break began after the story had spread round the entire school in about one and a half seconds flat. Crowther’s hand stopped shaking and now hovered perilously close to the enormous running shoe, apparently tugging at his belt. David cringed, closing his eyes, awaiting the pain.
‘You are, I assume, older than six years of age?’ This clearly wasn’t really a question and the scathing sarcasm was completely unrestrained. ‘I shall have to enquire into putting you back a couple of years with the small children if this is the limit of your narrative abilities.’ The smirk was almost too awful to contemplate.
‘“We were trapped with Yoreth in the spaceship stroke Transit for ninety nine hours and were going to be stuck there forever with the alien lizoid shooting us for eternity but we escaped and now the planet we saved for the second time is going to be all right and we were all robots but when we changed back to our real selves the metal parts of us were gone and now we can only remember what it was like to be super-beings and really intelligent and totally strong.”’
For an hour, it seemed but was probably just a nano-second, the hushed silence reined. David would have sworn he could hear the heartbeat of every child in class. And what was worse, if there could be anything worse, Sad-case and Derrick were glaring at him and probably going to string him up after class.
‘Apart from the fact that your grammar is quite appalling, your sentence structure abysmal and your use of adjectives quite stupendously over-exaggerated, the plot stinks. I shall be having a word with your English teacher. And,’ he leaned precariously close to David’s sweating face, breathing something really rank right into his watering eyes, ‘don’t waste any more of my precious time with rubbish like this!’ David swallowed convulsively, bowing his head in defeat.
Mr Crowther turned his attention back to the black-board. ‘Turn to page one hundred and fifty one. Read the entire section on the unification of Germany. I shall be asking questions!’ David began to read, tears of anger almost obliterating the print, but determined not to let the big ratbag see the result of his bullying. The rest of the class followed suit, any semblance of humour now gone for the rest of the period.
‘Why did you write it down, you berk!’
Sad-case prodded him in the chest with a grubby finger. He was angry and an angry Sad-case was a frightening sight, being possessed of just about double the body mass of David, and very little of it flab. He was angry that David had reneged on their collective promise not to reveal anything to anyone about anything. Angry that David had involved him in the class’s universal scorn simply by association. And even angrier for bringing something back that he’d almost succeeded in putting out of his mind for a whole hour.
‘Yeah, why?’ Derrick didn’t know about the other two but living back on Earth was going to be totally boring for the rest of his life. Not only had they been into space twice, met aliens, shot at same, really annoyed out same; but he was angry because it was never going to happen again which was even worse for a bloke with negative street cred to consider. And finally, angry because the rest of the entire class once more thought they were a bunch of total plonkers.
David looked at them both in turn. He didn’t really know why he’d written it. A part of him did of course. It was the same reason they were so miffed with him. It was never going to happen again. Yeah, they’d been afraid, but they’d been afraid in places that (probably) no human had ever been to before and not likely to yet for the next couple of hundred years.
And finally, because he missed it and even the simple act of writing it down had served to bring the glory and excitement of what now seemed like just a vivid dream back into his mind. Not the scary bits of course, but the bits where they’d had fun like the brief but glorious time they’d been transformed into semi-synthetic life-forms with a collective IQ in the low thousands. And the triumphant moment they’d sent Not-Wilks the mad lizoid flying out of the universe for the second and hopefully final time.
‘I don’t know, all right.’
Sad-case let it go. He was fully aware of why David had done it, and might have considered it himself if his command of the written word hadn’t been on par with your average dyslexic hamster. Not that he was a dummy, of course. He knew that he was brainy, even if that brain was usually occupied solely on how he could escape work, upset any teacher, grown up, or in fact anyone stupid enough to get in his way. There was the rest of his life to use his brains. Now was the time for fun.
‘We going to the clubhouse after school, or what?’ David nodded glumly, still trying unsuccessfully to delete the snatches of memory from his mind. But Derrick smiled. Derrick seemed to smile a lot now that he’d lost about two tons of flab and not every single girl at school either giggled or cringed at his passing.
Ever since they’d changed their hideout from the subterranean pipe in the scrap yard that had always been wet and gloomy, their escape from the world had been a happier drier pleasure. ‘Last one there gets a nipple ripple.’ he called over his shoulder. A really pretty fifth former had just passed, and today she was wearing a skirt. Sad-case had a plan for dropping something in front of her then slowly picking it up.
Derrick smiled. Every girl in the school knew the dropped pencil, ruler or book routine. Sad never stopped trying, though. He waved as he left. Their last class of the day was apart from each other. David had an hour of metal work, Derrick, Home Eck, and Sad-case early detention for writing something very derogatory, probably illegal, and physically impossible about the secretary and the gardener on the bike shed wall.