Your Friends Are No Help

@theo

The warning bell rings.

Eva sends Lily home, then stands and puts on her backpack.

Ernie does the same.

“Wait,” I say. “Where are you guys going?”

“To class, brainiac,” Ernie replies, and sighs wistfully. “In France they have two-hour lunch breaks, and only go to school three days a week.”

“You made that up,” Eva says.

“Google it!”

“Okay, I will—”

“Goddamnit, Bug Eyes—fine. I made it up. But my point remains valid.”

“Guys.”

“What point?”

“That the state of school lunch in America is shit—”

Guys!

Ernie and Eva look at me.

“Can we please focus on…” I glance down at my black-and-white self. “…the bod?”

Eva shrugs. “Cute. Now uninstall it before you get sent to the principal’s office for violating dress code.”

“Aren’t you curious how I got this way?”

Eva starts to say something, but Ernie immediately steps beside her, covers her mouth with his hand, gives me an authoritative look. “Dude. Warning bell.”

Mmf!” Eva groans, shoving him aside and wiping her mouth. “You’ve got dried pudding all over your hands!”

Ernie frowns and examines his palms, first sniffing, and then licking them.

Grossed out, Eva turns and leaves without saying goodbye.

“What’s crawled up her coin slot?” Ernie asks, continuing to lick his hands as he watches her file out of the cafeteria along with the other students.

I fold my arms. “I think she’s trying to come to terms with the notion that you’d eat yourself to death if covered with a sufficient amount of pudding.”

“I wouldn’t eat myself,” Ernie says. “Not all of myself, anyway. Definitely not my dick and balls. Bug Eyes is right, though. You should probably uninstall that skin before you get sent to the office or propositioned by one of Robbie the Friendly Pedophile’s talent scouts.”

“I can’t uninstall the skin—my phone was in my pocket when I uploaded to Thrill-Kill’s server.”

“I thought you were toilet-dunking for Janny Boy’s phone.”

“I was, but Thrill-Kill’s perv-cam caught me crawling around the boys’ room floor, and she called me into her office because she thinks I’m gay. Except her office is online now, and instead of uploading to it, she accidentally sent us to some Tarzan wonderland where Lex Barker wanted to bash my head in for playing footsie with his woman. But I wasn’t playing footsie with her, she was playing footsie with me. So, I jumped out the window, thinking I’d download back into my original skin, only it didn’t work. I’m actual again—I think—but my clothes, phone, and original skin are stuck on the Tarzan server, which is God knows where—”

Ernie cuts me off with a wave of his hands. “Wait—there are cameras in the boys’ restroom?”

“Really, fat shit?” I glare at him. “I’m stuck in black and white, and your biggest concern is the cameras in the bathroom?”

“Thanks to your potty-mouth attitude, my biggest concern now is the tardy bell. Good day to you, jail bait.” Ernie flicks me off and walks away.

Fine. Let him go. What I really need right now is a phone or laptop, and he has neither. I grab my backpack and glance around the cafeteria, which is quickly becoming empty—and the more students leave, the more obvious I become. I scurry into one particular stream of student bodies, using them as herd clothing, and try to pick out Eva from all the rest. But it’s too late. She’s long-gone—

“Tyler! There you are!”

Some tall, gangly dude in flannel, jeans, and carpenter boots runs up to me and, not letting me get a word in edgewise, guides me out of the cafeteria, across the breezeway, and toward the student parking lot.

“Mrs. Currant is spitting blood,” he says along the way. “She wants everyone onstage and in character ten minutes ago. Now, I know you and Foghorn Leghorn have been butting heads since day one, but like it or not, RKO Pictures in the Park is happening, you’re stuck playing Joey in the Tarzan sketch, and that’s that. Deal with it and help me get these props back to the auditorium.”

He pops the trunk of his weatherbeaten Toyota compact.

He hands me an enormous box overflowing with props, costumes, and a bunch of other theater stuff, the purpose for which escapes me at the moment. This is totally where I should tell him that I’m not Tyler.

But I don’t.

One, because my brain is currently stuck in an infinite loop trying to calculate the likelihood of accidentally installing a Joey Martin skin on the same day and in the same place as rehearsals for an impending high school production of RKO Pictures in the Park.

Two, because as Tyler, who just so happens to be playing the part of the exact same character I’m skinned as, my present wardrobe is actually appropriate on-campus attire. Meaning I won’t get in trouble for wearing a loincloth and carrying a hunting knife.

Until, of course, the real Tyler turns up.

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jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.