Had he imagined it? Maybe someone’s phone had gone off or a tardy student was sneaking into a class nearby.
Someone cleared their throat—Mr. Flynn was staring right at him. The clock read 11:20—only ten minutes left before the bell rang.
He looked back down at his blank test, trying to reassemble himself, to concentrate.
The jumbled letters on his test slowly reorganized themselves, but he didn’t know any of the answers. It was pointless.
If he had just paid attention to a single lesson …
Hockey plays. Mr. Flynn would think him a complete idiot, but at least no one else would see an empty page. His hand was still shaking as he scratched out his answers. When the teacher called for the end of the test, each of the nine short-answer questions had nine corresponding plays below them.
“Pencils down, everyone. Pass your tests to the front.”
Ben couldn’t get rid of his fast enough but prayed it wouldn’t end up on top. One tiny glimpse would prove none of his answers had anything to do with history.
The bell rang just as Mr. Flynn began gathering the stacks of tests from the front row.
“Man, that last question was way out of left field.” Mike stretched his long legs and slumped down in the seat. His fingers drummed a beat on the desk.
The whole thing was out of left field. Since when did Mike talk about a test like that?
They made their way out of the classroom and to their lockers, bumping into other students in the cramped hallway. He caught sight of his little sister briefly before the crowd swallowed her, her short stature making her difficult to spot. She looked happy.
As always, the complete opposite of Ben.
Something seemed different about the hallway. Had the school painted the walls? Replaced the lights? He banged his fist against his locker and it popped open.
“Dude, check it—”
When he swung the door open, silence rang in his ears.
Bright light poured out of his locker, and he squinted as the blurry images became clear. It was a field. Ben’s locker had somehow transformed itself into a window, one that looked out onto a large expanse of tall grass. A methodical pounding boomed around him. His own heartbeat.
Panic seized him. He was dreaming. He must have fallen asleep during the test. But everything was too vivid, too sharp.
He tore his gaze away from the strange view to find that Mike was standing still, like someone had just hit pause on a movie. Ben turned and the entire hallway had stopped moving, mid-step, mid-sentence, mid-everything.
Taking a deep breath and praying he’d find a normal, dented compartment before him, he peaked back at the locker.
Rolling golden hills led up to a single enormous oak tree. Hundreds of branches cascaded down, spreading out like fingers in all directions. The sky just behind it blazed with pinks and oranges, casting beams of light in a halo around the tree.
He jumped. The tiny breath of a whisper had come from inside his locker. Pinpricks spread all over his body and he slammed the thing shut.
The world pressed play again, and it roared back to life. He whirled around, panting, his heart thumping hard in his chest.
Mike was still riffling through his locker and didn’t seem to notice anything had happened. And Ben wanted to keep it that way.
Was Ben next? Had his mom’s illness passed on to him?