I follow Thrill-Kill down the hall. But instead of heading toward her office, we end up in the teacher lounge.
“Budget cuts,” she explains on seeing my curious expression. “The Boca Linda administration believes it’s more cost-effective for my office to be hosted on a SuperMegaNet server. Meanwhile, the football team just got new uniforms. Priorities.”
We sit at an empty table toward the back, and Thrill-Kill takes out her phone, fires up the SuperMegaNet app and hits “visit”—
—delivering us onto a cheesy RKO jungle treehouse movie set.
In black and white.
With me skinned as Tommy Carlton, she as Dorothy Hart—you know, Joey and Jane, from those ancient Tarzan movies?
W. T. F.
Thrill-Kill clears her throat. “Well. This is awkward.” There’s a large dinner table in the center of the room. She walks over to it, takes a seat, pulls a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from her tunic. She lights up, takes a voluminous drag, exhales slowly. “I seem to have uploaded us to the wrong room.”
“Oh.” I glance down at myself. I’m wearing nothing but a skimpy loincloth. On the plus side, I do have a bad-ass dagger strapped to my left thigh. Unsheathing it tentatively, I test the tip with my finger, discover it’s made of rubber.
“I had a thing for Lex Barker when I was a girl,” Thrill-Kill continues. “Don’t act so offended, sweet thing. Thirty years from now, everything you hold dear will be as obsolete and out-of-touch to tomorrow’s kids as this is to you. Shall we discuss the security camera footage of your prowling around the boys’ restroom?”
After several botched attempts, I re-sheath my dagger and sit across from Thrill-Kill at the table (which, by the way, looks more like something from Donkey Kong Country than actual, feasible craftsmanship performed by a jungle-dwelling Greystoke). “There are security cameras in the boys’ restroom?”
“And the girls’.”
Let me rephrase that. “Why are there security cameras in the restrooms?”
“It’s purely a political correctness thing, I assure you. Now, to the matter at hand.”
I slouch in my seat. “I was, uh, looking for my friend’s phone.”
“And something else, perhaps?”
“Nope. Just the phone—”
“I get it. You’re twelve, jet-skiing toward thirteen. This is a new and exciting time in your life. The mind is sharp, the flesh is pert, the juices are flowing, there’s fresh grass on the lawn.” Thrill-Kill leans back in her seat, smiles amusedly as she brushes her foot against mine. “Here you are, on the cusp of puberty, surrounded day in and day out by legions of fine young specimens exuding power and potency like it’s nothing. I don’t blame you for wanting a peek, a touch, a taste. If I were a boy your age, I’d never make it out of the locker room.” She utters a nostalgic sigh, continues to molest my foot. “Just a glimpse, a gander, an innocent touch in the shower, a burgeoning friendship blossoming under the bleachers on a lazy Saturday afternoon—”
“What Joey doing?”
I’d been gripping the tabletop with both hands, eyes scrunched shut, teeth gritted, mind flooded with prayers to God for a snake to take the place of Thrill-Kill’s foot down below, but now I look up. The loinclothed and oiled Lex Barker incarnation of Tarzan has just swung into the room, and is all kinds of pissed.
“Hello, darling,” Thrill-Kill greets, blowing him a kiss.
Tarzan ignores her, stepping further into the room, hands on his hips, murder in his eyes. “What Joey do with Jane while Tarzan away?”
Amazingly, Thrill-Kill is still making love to my foot—I’m the one who has to break it off, yanking my leg back so hard that I topple out of my chair and onto the floor, where, rolling into a crouch, I wave my hands hastily back and forth and shout, “Nothing! I swear!”
Because shouting, “Nothing! I swear!” in a flustered manner is such an effective method of proving one’s innocence.
Tarzan narrows his eyes. “Joey plow Jane, Tarzan pound Joey!”
He pounces on me, intent on mayhem. But I’m smaller, lighter on my feet, and, apparently, more of an acrobat. I roll out of the way and handspring unnecessarily over the table, tumble across the room, front-flip out the open window—
—and back into the teacher lounge, sliding haphazardly across the tabletop, flopping (along with Thrill-Kill’s phone) onto the floor with a meaty thud!
As placidly as possible, I stand up and clear my throat. I step casually toward the door, aware that every single pair of eyes in the room is gawking in my direction. Fortunately, the dumbfounding is such that I’m able to make it out of the lounge without anyone saying so much as a word.
In the hallway, I take a deep breath and start toward the locker section, where Ernie’s preparing for his last two periods of the day by transferring large quantities of Chips Ahoy! from his locker to his backpack. The older kids are giving me weird looks—but, then, the older kids always give me weird looks. So, it’s not immediately evident that something’s actually wrong.
“Hey, fat shit,” I say when I reach Ernie.
He glares distastefully at me. “Are you supposed to be the new kid or something?”
“And why are you wearing altar boy bondage cave threads?”
I glance down at myself, three things becoming suddenly obvious:
I’m still in black and white.
I’m still in a loincloth.
And I’m still skinned as Joey Martin.