The bell rang moments after I scurried into the classroom. I sighed in relief as I took my seat; the detour I'd taken to put my hat in my locker hadn't made me be late, as I'd expected.
"She was always late too," a voice whispered in my ear. I jumped violently, barely suppressing a scream, and whirled around to see the boy from the bus sitting in the desk behind me. Smiling, as usual.
"CC!" I hissed angrily. "You scared me! Why are you even here?" I held a hand over my heart, clutching at the pale blue fabric. He shrugged, then stretched luxuriously. The way he moved reminded me of my cat.
"Why do you think? English." The boy laid his head on the desk, closing his eyes. I glared at him for a minute, debating whether or not I should wake him up. No, I wouldn't. He could get in trouble with the teacher for all I cared.
The door opened and I turned around, fully expecting to see Mr. Theodore, my English teacher. Instead, I was confronted with the oddest-looking man I'd ever seen. He actually surpassed CC., which was no mean feat in itself. The man strode to the front of the room, ignoring the whispers that had filled the classroom. He situated himself in front of the chalkboard, clasped his hands together, and cleared his throat.
"Good morning, class." His voice was high-pitched and prone to cracking. "I shall be your substitute teacher for the next week, as Mr. Theodore is away on business."
"What kind of business?" A boy sitting in the desk across the aisle from me asked loudly.
"Business." The man said with a note of finality before turning around and writing his name on the chalkboard. W. Rabbit. Interesting name. I took this opportunity to study him in more detail.
He was older; maybe in his fifties, with short, thick white hair and incredibly pale skin. Almost paper white. He held a top hat in his left hand and was slowly tapping it against his thigh. The man – Mr. Rabbit, I suppose – was wearing a red swallow-tail dress coat with a high, upturned collar over a white waistcoat. He turned around and I saw something gold glint in the pocket of his waistcoat. He cast a glance my way and I averted my eyes, but not before noticing that his were a dull red color.
The substitute cleared his throat again. "I would imagine introductions are in order. As I wrote upon the board, I am W. Rabbit." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a large pocket watch. Flicking it open, he checked the time, tugged on his chin, then replaced it. "You sir, in the back." Mr. Rabbit extended a gnarled finger towards the boy who'd spoken earlier. "You may start. Tell us your name."
"Very well. The lady next to Christopher-"
"Ahem. The lady next to Christopher. What is your name?" The room was silent. CC, now awake, leaned over and nudged me.
"He means you, Alice. " I started."Oh! I'm Alice. Alice Harker." I smiled at the substitute, giving him the best curtsey one can produce while sitting down.
He stared back at me. "I see. Alice. Curious name. Very well! Next!"
I rested my chin on my hand, waiting for CC to respond. Not on your game today, are you, Alice? I mused silently. Guess CC got on your nerves more than you thought. CC. A sudden thought occurred to me. How did CC know my name? I thought back to when he'd nudged me. I never told him. I twisted around, mouth partly open to ask him. What I saw – or didn't see - shocked me, to say the least.
CC was gone. This was impossible, because there was no way he could've left without me noticing. I raised my hand.
"Yes, Miss Harker?" Mr. Rabbit stopped his roll call and looked at me expectantly.
"Um…sir, do you know what happened to the boy that was sitting behind me?"
He withdrew his pocket watch again, checking the time anxiously. "What boy?"
"CC. The new kid. He was right there." I pointed at his now-empty desk.
"I can assure you, Miss Harker, there never was a boy there." I blinked. He can't be serious.
"I will tolerate no objections in this classroom, Miss Harker. Hush now." He concluded the roll call and turned back to the board.
"You saw him, didn't you?" I leaned across the aisle, whispering to Chris. He threw me a look, one that suggested that he questioned my sanity.
"Miss Harker and Christopher." Mr. Rabbit said severely, without turning around. I returned to my desk slowly. "Thank you. Now," he spun about and clapped his hands, sending clouds of chalk dust into the air. "Mr. Theodore has instructed me to give you the book you will be analyzing this trimester. He pulled his watch out a third time, along with a piece of paper, and glanced back and forth between the two. Finally, he put the paper back and crossed the room to the large bookshelf in the corner, watch swinging as he went. "Ah, here we are."
Mr. Rabbit pulled a slim book out from the very top shelf; this was achieved with a bit of difficulty on his part, as he was so short he had to jump. Tapping it against his palm, he made his way back to the front and wrote the title on the board, underneath his name. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A most excellent book."
There was a general undercurrent of disbelief in the classroom.
"Excuse me?" Chris burst out. "We're reading that?"
Mr. Rabbit leveled a steely gaze on him. "Is there a problem, Christopher?" "Uh, yeah." He leaned back, arms crossed. "That's a kid's book." "Then it should fit you perfectly, Christopher, as you are a child. In every aspect of the word. Have you any more to say on the matter?" The class snickered, and Chris flushed.
"No, sir." His voice was subdued and surly. "Good." The substitute put the book down on the table and gazed around the room. "We will proceed to the library. Once there, you will receive your own copy of the book." Mr. Rabbit walked over to the door and beckoned us. "Come now."
I clutched my copy of Alice in Wonderland to my chest, shifting from foot to foot as I waited for Mr. Rabbit to finish his conversation with the librarian. The library had run out of the shiny, hardcover versions of the book, complete with annotations and literary questions. I however, had been given a battered old paperback that smelled strongly of glue and rosemary.
Not that I minded. My book had character, and I'd bet you wouldn't find that in any of my classmates'.
"You smell funny." A voice uttered from behind me. I jumped for the third time today and whipped about. CC was leaning against a bookshelf, studying his nails with a self-satisfied grin. I cautiously glanced around me to make sure I wouldn't get yelled at for leaving the rest of my class, then snuck over to him.
"CC! Where did you come from? Wait, answer this first. Where did you go earlier?" I hissed under my breath. So what if I sounded interrogatory? He deserved it. Sneaking around like that. Making everyone think I was insane.
"Why do you smell like," CC leaned into me, then wrinkled his nose, "glue?" I opened the book and shoved it in his face.
"It's called old book, genius.
"Will you answer my questions now?"
"Which ones?" He withdrew a book from the shelf and began to thumb through it. I crossed my arms and attempted to look stern.
"Where did you go?"
"Somewhere. Lovely place, especially in the fall."
"Because. I wanted to go, so I went. But now I'm back."
"I can see that. But where did you go? And how?"
"I went to somewhere. It's easy enough, Alice. You ought to try it sometime."
I gritted my teeth in frustration. Obviously, I wasn't going to get any straight answers out of him. "All right, fine. You went to somewhere. But how? Nobody saw you leave. In fact, nobody even remembered you being there!"
"Perhaps I smiled," CC grinned, exposing curiously sharp teeth. "Or perhaps I just simply…vanished." He replaced the book and ducked behind the bookshelf. I blinked, then peered around the corner of the shelf. The aisle beyond it was empty.
"CC?" I called out, my voice trembling a bit. "Or perhaps I'm only a figment of your imagination." He whispered in my ear, breath hot. I shrieked and tried to turn around, but ended up tripping and landing on the ground, sprawled out in a most undignified fashion. The librarian at the far end of the room looked up and scowled at me, holding a finger against her lips. The library was deserted now; the rest of my classmates had left, leaving me alone with CC.
He loomed over me, still smiling. I glared up at him, cheeks hot. "Don't do that!" I snapped, angry at myself for being so easy to scare. CC shrugged and dropped his smile for a brief second, which I took to be some sort of apology. He bent down and extended a hand to help me up.
"You're not quite as brave as the first one was." CC retrieved my book from the ground and handed it to me. I grabbed it and dusted my dress off.
"Thanks," I replied dryly. "Don't you need a book too?" He shook his head, his grin growing even wider. "Not really, no."
"Whatever." I sighed. "We should get back now." I can't say I was looking forward to entering the classroom late, with a boy who was quickly giving me the creeps in tow.
"Should we?" CC asked absentmindedly, stifling a yawn. I glanced at him, one eyebrow raised.
"You go, then." CC dropped to the floor and leaned against the bookshelf, blinking sleepily upon at me. "I'm going to sleep." I was tempted to just drag him back to the classroom, and I might've if the bell hadn't rung. I carefully put the book into my backpack and glanced at the clock. "CC, wake up. You're going to be late." I turned back to him.
Or where he was supposed to be. The boy was gone again. I groaned, feeling ready to cry. Nothing about him made any sense. Normal people didn't just appear and disappear like that. The bell rang again, reminded me that I had less than two minutes to get to my next class. I spun around and exited the library, walking as quickly as I possibly could, and attempted to put CC out of my mind.