There was one main road in town so Troy just had to backtrack towards the hills of horses and cows. He remembered seeing the school just beyond the grocery store, so he knew it wasn’t far.
As he rode, he tried to shake the crow’s red eyes and sharp claws from his mind. He glanced back from time to time to check the crow wasn’t following him. A few cows grazed lazily by a fence as he passed by on his bike.
“It was just a crow,” he murmured. “Just like any old crow, just like any old cow.” Troy’s bike hit a bump in the road and he grasped the handlebars more firmly to keep from falling.
His mind continued to race.
Maybe Camberland is full of red-eyed animals? Troy had to admit that even the tough ranger, Jenners, didn’t seem afraid of that bull. And there was also that cool horse he’d seen on the beach. He wondered if he’d ever see the horse again. He hoped so.
Troy soon forgot about the red-eyed creatures and the horse when he saw his school. It was enormous. Somehow it looked even bigger than when he’d driven by it on the road. The red-brick structure stood tall against the thick trees.
The sun was out and cast a deep, slanted glow over the grounds. Swarms of students were already scrambling with backpacks and notebooks across the school’s green lawn.
Troy hopped off his bike and nearly tripped over a water sprinkler that stuck too far out of the dirt. He quickly blended in with the other students, veering off to the side of the building where the bikes were stowed. He noticed none of the bikes were locked. Apparently the town didn’t have issues with bike thieves, a luxury big city life couldn’t afford.
The bell sounded as the students bustled through the halls, talking and laughing. Troy tucked his white button-down shirt awkwardly into his navy pants. The uniform was going to take some getting used to.
He had a tie somewhere, and after a moment of fumbling, found it in his back pocket.
The pants were a tad short, but he figured his real problem was going to be keeping them clean, especially if he would be riding a bike every day to school.
The hall was crowded with rows of shiny lockers along the walls, and painfully bright linoleum floors that reminded Troy of hospitals.
A group of girls passed by, talking animatedly.
Girls, Troy mused, No matter where you go, they’re always talking.
One of the girls glanced at him. Troy’s heart stilled and his stomach did a belly flop. It was the girl with strawberry blonde hair he had seen on the beach.
Troy was so distracted by the girl, he didn’t notice the small, greasy guy directly in front of him who attempted to walk and juggle a stack of textbooks.
“Whoa, watch out!” the greasy guy yelled.
Too late. The guy’s books flew out of his hands and Troy grabbed his slim shoulders before he fell with him. The greasy kid landed with a thud on the hard linoleum.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there,” Troy apologized, straightening.
“Just get out of my way,” the guy snarled. His shocking blue eyes flashed dangerously. He grabbed the books Troy had picked up off the floor and shoved by him.
“Strange dude,” Troy muttered. He looked around. The group of girls had gone up the stairs to the second floor classrooms. He sighed inwardly and kept walking.
Troy had just rounded a corner when he felt a firm hand clamp down hard on his shoulder. He spun around in surprise.
A tall man with crinkled, gray eyes peered down at him curiously.
“Young man,” the tall man said. “I don’t recognize you. Either you’re new or my memory is fading.” He wore glasses that threatened to fall off the edge of his nose. Troy saw his name tag read ‘Principal Edwin Davis’.
Troy raised his eyebrows. Several students glanced curiously at Troy as they made their way to class.
“Someone’s in trouble,” Troy heard a boy snicker behind him.
“That’s enough, Mr. Anderson,” Principal Davis said looking behind Troy at a retreating student.
Troy shrugged, adjusting his backpack.
“I’m new, Sir. This is my first day.”
“Ah, you must be Troy,” Principal Davis said. “You’re Sarah Mills’ son?”
“That’s right,” Troy said.
“Come with me,” the principal instructed.
Troy passed two students laughing in the hallway.
“Get to class!” Principal Davis snapped.
The kids sped off.
The principal led Troy to a brown door with a sign labeled MAIN OFFICE.
A chubby woman in her late twenties with curly blonde hair and green eyes sat like a blowfish in her pink chair. She poked the glass of a small aquarium tank that stood on a bookshelf beside her.
The helpless fish darted quickly away from her finger to hide in their tiny, plastic castle.
Principal Davis cleared his throat.
The blowfish woman jumped and swiveled around in her chair.
“Miss Margaret, this is Troy Knightly. His mother got him registered last week. See that he gets all his paperwork. It’s his first day.”
Principal Davis patted Troy’s shoulder. “Feel free to stop by if you need anything, Troy. My office is in the back.” The principal turned and walked through a door behind Margaret’s desk.
Troy sat down across from the bright pink receptionist.
Margaret looked Troy up and down and then blew a large, pink bubble that burst with a dramatic POP!
“So, New Guy, I hear you’re from the big city.” She pulled out a large pink folder, nearly spilling the contents packed inside. Her cheeks were covered in thick rouge.
“Yes,” Troy started, but she interrupted.
“I just want to warn you since we don’t get many new kids here.”
Troy shifted uncomfortably in his chair. She popped another pink bubble.
“At Mavericks Academy, new kids don’t last long. The last new kid we had--died!” Margaret stared at Troy with a cold expression. Troy felt himself pale.
Suddenly Margaret burst out laughing, nearly spitting out her gum.
“Haha, I’m only kidding!” she said. “You went as white as a marshmallow!” She popped another bubble.
Troy stared open-mouthed. What kind of a joke was that? he thought.
Margaret poked the glass aquarium again, sending the fish swimming in all directions like a giant firework. She looked back at Troy with her hand still on the glass.
“Don’t worry, New Guy,” she said casually. “The only way to die in this town...is from boredom.”
“Right,” Troy said, standing. He was still rattled by her joke. He pointed to the folder on the desk.
“Do you have a folder in another color besides pink?” There was no way he would carry a pink folder around school on his first day.
Margaret looked stricken.
“What do you mean another color?” she asked.
“Forget it,” Troy said. He wouldn’t be surprised if pink was the only color she could see.
Troy removed the papers from the pink folder and left the folder on her desk. He grinned at Margaret’s annoyed expression as he headed for the door. But before he could turn the knob, the door opened and someone slammed into him.
Troy dropped his papers. A gigantic green monster stood outside the door.