When the colorful jar of swirled sand fell off her desk, Miss Saunders swallowed the cough drop she’d just put in her mouth. Pandemonium erupted in the classroom of twenty-four and as the screams and shrieks grew louder within seconds, she fumbled in her jacket for the plastic whistle to call together order.
It was supposed to be a fun science day—until Jamie Kingston had loudly proclaimed that the colorful sand in the bottle was love dust. The precocious eight-year-old had then explained that anyone who breathed it would fall in love with the person on their left.
Miss Saunders tried to explain that, when Kristi Milton interrupted to ask if the colored sand was “twitterpated” like the Disney movie she’d just seen. That’s when it started.
The girls were shrieking about breathing the twitterpated sand while the boys were horrified to think they might be forced into falling in love.
Miss Saunders found the whistle.
She blew the whistle.
The noise stopped.
Anxious faces stared back at her and slowly, the chaos settled.
“Thank you.” Miss Saunders placed the whistle on her desk and walked around to the front to check the damage. Thankfully, none of the children had run up to the front, so the broken glass and colored sand were still exactly where they’d been.
“No more screaming.” She rubbed her forehead. “Do you want me to report this?” A chorus of murmurs reached her ears. “Good, I didn’t think so. Now then, I want you all to repeat after me—that was ordinary sand. Nothing strange is going to happen. Understand?”
Some of the children nodded, some of them squirmed in their seats, a few of them were looking pointedly to their right. “There is no such thing as twitterpated sand. Sand cannot make you instantly fall in love with anything. Repeat after me-”
Miss Saunders mentally wondered if she had another cough drop somewhere.
“This is just dyed sand.” She tried to explain. “For geography today, we’re starting the section on habitats. I thought it would be a good way to learn about the different deserts if you could see some colored sand.” She pointed at the mess beside her feet. “Real colored sand isn’t blue or purple, but this way it’s easier for you to see. In real life, there are many different deserts with very normal, very ordinary sand in reds, yellows, whites and browns. I thought it would be a fun project for today, but it seems like-”
“It’d be fun, Miss Saunders.” Kristi piped up. “That sounds like loads of fun.”
Miss Saunders felt her eyebrows dancing upwards and she worked to keep her voice light and even to reply. “Really? Even though it might be…twitterpated sand?”
The little girl blushed a bright cheery red—the same color as her Minnie Mouse headband. “I-it just kinda slipped out.” She mumbled.
“I’m sorry, Miss Saunders.”
The young teacher fumbled for a smile and managed to pull it off. “That’s alright, Kristi, but next time—I’ll have to-”
Jamie shuffled his feet slowly beneath his desk, peering out from beneath his long bangs to see if any eyes were on him.
Miss Saunders perked a brow.
He looked down at the floor. “Sorry, Miss Saunders.”
Then he sneezed. Once. Twice. Thrice.
Miss Saunders stiffened.
Their eyes met and she gave a jerk of her head. He hurried out of the classroom and she excused herself a moment later, to join him in the hall.
“Sorry, sis.” He coughed again, slumping to the floor.
She handed over her last cough drop. “You should go to the nurse’s.”
“And become another test subject?” He wheezed. “No thanks.”
“No!” He coughed, turning away. “Look at them. They’re clueless! They really thought sand could do something like that.”
Miss Saunders swallowed, then slowly slid to the sterile white floor to sit beside her baby brother. They sat, in silence, listening to nothing.
“You gotta go back in—before Dad catches you.”
She cracked a smile. “Big deal. We were created with free will, Jamie. Not to be superkids with little nanobots in our brains.”
“Sure, sure.” He smiled, weakly. “Go or he’ll yell.”
Rising, she patted his head and swiped the security card on the kiosk outside the door. Another day, another chart of data. “Come back if you can. I’ll write you a hall pass.”
The door beeped and she traded realities again.
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