"Arnold," said Helga into the darkness. "I know that I make fun of you…I know that I call you a football-head and a klutz…and I know that on the outside, I may seem pushy and overbearing, and overall just a really mean person…but on the inside, I'm really not all that bad. I don't hate you…quite the contrary…I like you, I mean, I like you like you…heck, as a matter of fact, I guess you could say that I'm deeply, deeply in lo—"
Helga woke up. She then turned off her alarm clock before groaning and sitting up in her bed, in her room.
"It was just a dream," sighed Helga despondently as she pulled out her locket from under her pillow and gazed at it longingly. "Some day, my love…some day..."
After getting dressed, Helga trudged downstairs and into the kitchen. There, she found her mother Miriam, fast asleep with her head on the counter, and her father Big Bob, hovered over a radio.
"Good Mor—" began Helga, before being cut off by Big Bob's waving hand.
"Shh! Not now, Olga," warned Big Bob, as he turned the dial of the radio to and fro.
"It's Helga, DAD," corrected the young girl for the umpteenth time.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he said. Finally, Big Bob stopped on a radio station.
"…In other news, sources have confirmed that a fourth person has been found unconscious on the streets after hours," stated the news reporter. "As seen in the previous attacks, the victim sustained no physical injuries, nor was any of their personal effects stolen. They did, however, describe the assailant as being tall yet well-concealed. Says the victim: 'It was like the life had been drained outta me,' end-quote. The victim is in stable condition and expected to be released from the hospital later this afternoon. Police have advised citizens to stay indoors after dark until the culprit has been apprehended.
"And now a word from our sponsors…IT'S BIG BOB'S BEEPERS, HE'S THE KING, BIG BOB'S BEEPERS, CHING-CHING-CHING! BIG'S BOB'S BEEPERS…!"
"Finally!" exclaimed Big Bob triumphantly. This radio promo was a great idea. I can't wait to see the money roll in..."
Miriam mumbled something incoherently, still half in a daze; Helga rolled her eyes. "I'm outta here," she said, grabbing the closest food item in her reach and heading out the front door. Waiting at the bottom of the porch steps was Helga's best friend, Phoebe Hyderaul.
"Good morning, Helga," greeted Phoebe.
"Morning, Phoebes," replied Helga. Helga took a bite out of the apple in her hand as they made their way towards P.S. 118.
Phoebe frowned. "Light breakfast again, I see…"
Helga shrugged in reply. "Meh, better than nothing."
"My mother's making sukiyaki tonight. Would you like to come over after school and join us?"
Helga threw the apple core over her shoulder and belched. "Thanks, but I'll pass. I've got to go to the library afterwards and study." She glanced over at her friend. "Big Bob found my last math test."
"Oh," said Phoebe, knowingly.
They made it to the schoolyard just as the first bell rang. Ordinarily, after the morning announcements, attendance was called and class began. Today, however, the entire student body was called to the auditorium for a surprise assembly. As the students filed in, many speculated the reason for the impromptu gathering.
"I heard he's sick," said Nadine.
"I heard he was arrested!" said Harold.
"Well, now that's just preposterous," retorted Rhonda. "Besides, I heard that he eloped to Cancun with his high school sweetheart. It's just so romantic, it has to be true."
"You're all wrong," said Sid. "Principal Wartz was abducted by aliens."
"Yeah right, Sid!" laughed Harold.
"Oh, so you don't believe me? Take a look at this!" Sid pulled several photos out of his jacket and showed them to the others. His friends were not impressed.
"Aw, Sid, that's just your thumb!" complained Harold.
"My THUMB?!" said Sid in disbelief. "That is an alien, the same alien that has been attacking people all over the city! I saw it with my own two eyes – I risked my butt trying to get these shots!"
"Harold's right," replied Stinky. "These pictures really bite, Sid; all I see is a dang shadow,"
"I'm telling you guys, I really saw it!"
Harold nudged Stinky and winked. "Sure, Sid, sure."
Rhonda added: "The only alien that I see is a backwards hat-wearing dweeb with big nose, stringy hair, and ugly white leather boots."
"Fine!" said Sid, snatching his pictures back. "Just don't come crying to me when the alien comes knocking at your front-doors!"
"Aw, settle down, ya bunch of chuckleheads!" interjected an annoyed Helga. "Aliens…pfft, that's the stupidest thing that I've ever heard…!"
Sid folded his arms and sank down into his seat. "You'll see…" he muttered.
Eventually, someone emerged on stage. It was a tall, slender woman with long blonde hair and an enormous grin plastered on her face. She grabbed the microphone from the stand on the center of the stage and greeted the crowd.
"Hello, P.S. 118!" said the enthusiastic woman.
"Who's she?" whispered Gerald to Arnold.
"Beats me," Arnold whispered back.
"I'm sure you're all wondering why I called you here today," continued the woman. "Well, rather than beat around the bush, I may as well come out and say it. I regret to inform you that our beloved Principal Wartz, the man you've all come to love and respect during your career as students of this school, has abdicated his position of authority at P.S. 118."
A collective gasp erupted from the seats of the auditorium.
"Yes, your principal has decided that it was time for a much needed extended sabbatical and has left indefinitely. We don't know where he decided to go, or when he is expected to return. That is why I have been employed by the Superintendent to take over running the school in his stead. Just call me Principal Perky!"
"Geez, and I thought Simmons was bad…" whispered Helga to Phoebe.
"Yes, a question?" Principal Perky pointed to the Peapod Kid with his hand raised, and he stood up from his seat.
"Yes, I was just wondering: do you intend to run the school in the same manner of Wartz?"
"The same manner? Oh my, NO!" At this news, the auditorium began to clamour excitedly. "I'm nothing like Wartz! To me, you are all wonderful little seeds of potential, and it is my duty to nourish you so that you grow into beautiful flowers that shape the future and make our world a better place. Yes, flowers! Flowers need space, flowers need fresh air and sunshine! Which is why I'm giving my flowers an extended recess period, starting right now! Go and grow - you are dismissed!"
The auditorium erupted in cheer as the students made their way outside.
"Hey, Gerald," said Arnold later in the day, right after school. "Doesn't something about our new principal seem a bit…off?"
"What do you mean?" asked Gerald. "I think she's great! She gave us the whole day off just to have recess! Wartz would never do that!
"Well, see, that's what I mean. Principal Perky is everything Wartz is not. It's almost seems too good to be true. Do you see what I mean?"
"Hmm…not really…" replied Gerald.
Arnold sighed. "Gerald…"
Unbeknownst to the two boys, Helga was following them from a distance. Her eyes fell upon her beloved and she swooned.
In the middle of the street, not far off from the sidewalk where Arnold and Gerald were walking, a small, dark animal was making its way across. Suddenly, it collapsed. Fortunately, Arnold had noticed, because seconds later, the Jolly Olly Man's ice cream truck came sailing down the street, the animal square in its path! Before Gerald could react, his friend had leapt out into the street and grabbed the helpless creature, barely escaping a head-on collision with the vehicle, which had swerved into a nearby lamppost.
"You lousy little brats!" growled a shaken, but uninjured Jolly Olly Man. "What's the big idea running out in front of loaded ice-cream truck?! Wait till I get my hands on you! Oooh…!!!!"
As the Jolly Olly Man continued with his heated tirade, Gerald crossed the street to get to his friend, who was just getting up off the ground, the animal clutched in his arms.
"Hey Arnold! Are you okay, man?" asked Gerald.
"ARNOLD!" exclaimed Helga, as she, too, ran over to Arnold on the other side of the street. At the last minute, however, she caught herself, and her tone changed from worry to that of derision. "I-I mean…CRIMINY, FOOTBALL-FACE! Have you lost your mind?! You could've been turned into a pancake just now!!"
"I'm okay, you guys," reassured Arnold. "I just saw it collapse on the ground, and…well, I had to save it…"
The "it" Arnold was referring to was actually a black cat, which was still unconscious. Gerald was apprehensive.
"I don't know if you should be holding that thing, Arnold," said Gerald. "It looks like a stray – check out that bald spot." He pointed a finger to the unusually shaped fur-less area on the cat's forehead. "It looks like a horseshoe."
"I'd say more like a grin…" said Arnold. "And anyway, I doubt it's a stray; it has this thing around its neck."
Indeed, an odd-looking crystal pendant hung around the cat's neck. "Maybe I can find the owner's name…"
But as Arnold reached his hand out to touch the pendant, the eyes of the cat shot wide open, startling all three of the kids. The cat then used the opportunity to slide out of Arnold's lax grasp and dart into an alley across the street.
"Huh. I guess we'll never know now," Gerald said.
Helga let out an exaggerated yawn, getting the attention of the two boys. "Well, that was interesting. I tell ya – you two chuckleheads are a piece of work. Risking your life for a cat? And I thought I had seen everything from you, football-head…"
"Hey! That cat has a right to live, just like anyone else!" retorted Arnold.
"Arnold – it was just a cat! A mangy, flea-bitten, run-of-the-mill cat! It's not like one less cat roaming the streets was going to make any difference in the grand scheme of things! And anyway, so what if it got run over? Cats have nine lives, don't they?"
Arnold became visibly upset, but before something could come of it, Gerald put his hand on his shoulder. "Let it go, Arnold…" he said. Arnold said nothing, but merely sighed in defeat.
Helga smirked triumphantly. "Well, as much as I'd love to argue with you on this engaging topic, I've got bigger fish to fry. See you in the funny papers, bucko."
Helga stormed off in the opposite direction as Arnold and Gerald continued onward down their original path. "Arnold," she scowled to herself. "What an idiot. What a senseless dolt. How I despise him….and yet…"
She watched as Arnold and Gerald turned the corner, she looked behind her back; the coast was clear. She whipped out her locket of Arnold and held it up above her head. "I love you! How selfless you are, risking your own safety and well-being to rescue one of nature's lowlier creatures! Oh, my beloved – how I wish I could have lauded you for your heroics. Instead – like a coward – I spurned you yet again. If only our circumstances were different… perhaps in another time and place, you and I could have been friends, could have been more than friends! Alas, I must win you in this present day and age. Oh, what a cruel, twisted weave fate hath wrought for us…!"
Helga swooned once more before concealing the locket. Then, as if flicked on by as switch, Helga reverted to her same old self and walked away. She was unaware that, the whole time, she had been watched by the black cat that had allegedly run off. The cat watched Helga curiously before finally disappearing into the alley.
It was nighttime; closing time at the City Library. Helga emerged from the building and began to stretch. "Criminy...I'm not doing that again for awhile…"
As she made her way down the steps and onto the sidewalk, the city lights were just blinking on. The sun had already set, yet there were still a few tinges of pinks and oranges visible in the sky.
By the time Helga was halfway home, the sky was dotted with stars. The full moon shone brightly from above.
Suddenly, Helga felt a presence. She paused and peered over her shoulder; the street was empty. Helga shrugged her shoulders and continued on, but before she could take two steps, a small, dark figure darted past her near the ground, as if it were being chased. As it widened the gap between them, Helga was almost certain that it was the same black cat she had encountered earlier in the day…
"RUN!!" Helga thought she heard someone yell, but could see no other person around her. She looked over her shoulder yet again, but this time, as she was looking ahead, she found herself face-to-face with what looked like a tall shadow in the shape of a woman. The shadow had no other distinguishable features save for a pair of eyes that were just two vacant orbs of white.
Too frightened to even scream, Helga turned to run, only to find that it was already blocking her escape. She turned and attempted to run again, only to watch in horror as two long "shadow-arms" stretched out and wrapped around her waist several times before lifting her clear off the ground. Helga kicked and squirmed with all her might, but to no avail; she could only watch helplessly as the shadow-woman tightened her grasp around her waste. Suddenly, Helga felt drowsy – it was if the creature was literally squeezing the energy out of her body. Her struggling became much weaker; she could feel the gaze of the white, lifeless orbs boring into her, relentlessly.
Helga clenched her teeth and, with her last bit of strength, reached out and placed a hand on one of the shadow-arms. "Let…me go…." She demanded, in a strained whisper.
The shadow-monster did not obey, but merely "smiled" – exposing an empty, jagged grin of white nothingness. In its eyes could be detected a hint of malevolent mirth, mocking Helga's futile attempt.
And then she got mad.
"I said….LET ME GO!!!" Helga yelled, as she used her other hand to try and push the creature away.
There was a bright flash of light. In an instant, the monster released Helga from its grasp and staggered away backwards, screeching and covering its eyes with its shadow-arms. Helga watched as the monster knelt to the ground and let out a final bloodcurdling wail before falling forward onto the street. After a few seconds, a dark smoke began to rise from where the creature lay motionless; it was evaporating. Helga did not wait to see it disappear completely – by the time the last wisp of smoke had risen into the night air, she was already long gone.
Helga opened her eyes. She was in her room, safe in her bed. She groaned as she sat up.
"Oh, man…" she said, rubbing her eyes. "What a night…I had the craziest dream…."
"Really? About what?"
Helga eyes shot wide open. Slowly, she peered over her knees. Lo and behold, at the foot of her bed sat patiently the black cat with the odd mark on its forehead.
"Good morning, Helga," said the cat. "Did you sleep well?"
End of Chapter 1!