The main difference between school and prison is that prisons release you early for good behavior. School lasts about thirteen years no matter how good you are. Also, prison has better food.
The motto of Erebus Middle School was "We Love Children." This gave Iris Greenwold a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach, which she would later learn was called "irony."
Iris's strategy for survival at Erebus was to be as inconspicuous as possible. The more average you seemed, the less the other kids would pick on you and the more the teachers would ignore you. This would leave you free to dream. And if there was one thing Iris Greenwold was good at, it was dreaming. She was always making up stories about imaginary people. Iris preferred imaginary people. They were more interesting than real ones. Whenever she had to write a report, she would try to do it on something like the Greek gods or King Arthur or the lost continent of Atlantis.
This made her unpopular, for the teachers at Erebus did not like imagination; they liked neat handwriting. So they gave Iris lots of detentions, to shake the dreamer out of her.
Today was her worst class: double-period Social Studies. Since it was the very last class on Friday, Iris thought of it as a dragon guarding the gates to the weekend. Before entering the classroom, she imagined putting on a suit of armor and taking a magical sword in hand. Then she stepped in to face the foe.
Like most of her teachers, Mr. Pedlow was slightly insane. He was a direct descendant of General Robert E. Lee, and he mentioned this at least once a period. He had covered his desk with a large Confederate flag and an actual Civil War cannon that pointed directly at the students. For the last month, he had been making them copy out the Declaration of Independence onto graph paper. Iris hadn't gotten very far, because whenever she got to the part about "the pursuit of Happiness," her mind began to wander. The pursuit of Happiness was a nice thing to think about.
Mr. Pedlow bellowed, "Faster! I want to see the whole thing copied out by the end of the day, including the signatures!"
Iris had discovered that if she stared at the graph paper long enough, whatever she looked at afterward would be covered with a grid of tiny orangey lines. She would have to ask her mother why that happened. Iris looked out the window and covered the parking lot with the orange lines, which she imagined were an advanced security system, put in place to protect her, the princess, from assassins. The man with the mop, who seemed to be the school janitor, was really a ninja sent by an enemy king. She was watching him try to infiltrate the defenses, when Mr. Pedlow caught her eye. Iris panicked and looked back at her paper, but it was too late. She had violated one of her own rules for survival at Erebus: Never make eye contact.
"Iris Greenwold is off in dreamland again, I see. Are we keeping you from something, Miss Greenwold?" He studied her through his monocle.
"No, sir, Mr. Pedlow." She began to copy furiously.
"Dreaming up new tofu recipes?" The class snickered. Iris's mother worked at a tofu factory and had insisted on doing a presentation for Career Day. Iris had never heard the end of it.
"No, Mr. Pedlow." She hunched down in her seat and tried her best to look invisible, praying he wouldn't give her another detention.
He dipped an old-fashioned pen into ink and wrote something in his grade book. "That's one detention for you, written with a fountain pen once used by my ancestor Robert E. Lee. I advise you to pay more attention, Iris. I see that this is your eighth detention this year. Two more and you'll go to the principal."
Iris shivered. Strange tales were told about the principal of Erebus Middle School. She returned to her graph paper and copied steadily until the end of class, trying not to think about Happiness.
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Deming
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