hree successive chimes rang over the Bear Creek Elementary School intercom like bells in the school Christmas choir. Two of Wally’s classmates sprang to their feet and ran toward their backpacks, but Wally knew better. He glanced at his best friend, Sarah Evans, who was sitting on the edge of her red plastic seat with her elbows resting on her desk.
“Olivia, Charles, come sit back down,” Mrs. Brenda said with her hands on her hips.
Mrs. Brenda wore a knee-length cotton dress covered in flowers and vines. Her short, voluminous brown hair was sculpted in place like a rock. Even the one time Mary flew off the swing and Mrs. Brenda had to run and save her, her hair never moved. Sarah’s mom, Mrs. Evans, said it was because she used too much hairspray and that the smell gave her a headache, but Wally liked the smell.
“I won’t see you for two weeks and two days. Does anyone know how many total days that is?” Mrs. Brenda asked.
Nobody raised their hand.
“Somebody must know… We can’t start Christmas break until we know when to come back.”
Wally knew the answer was sixteen days. He considered raising his hand, but the thought of it made his face turn hot. He didn’t want everyone to look at him.
Kids from other classes were already throwing snowballs and making angels outside beyond the classroom windows. The snow was coming down hard enough that the mountains behind the school were no longer visible. Sarah’s dad, Mr. Evans, told Sarah and Wally that Santa was making it snow for Christmas, but they knew Santa didn’t exist. Wally was worried that he didn’t have a present for his father yet.
He scanned the room, hoping somebody else would tell Mrs. Brenda the answer. He had important shopping to do and needed to leave.
Sarah raised her hand. Black pigtails flowed from her round head down the back of her golden shirt with a glittery menorah on it. Her desk was on the other side of the classroom from Wally because Mrs. Brenda had caught them making eraser shavings for their collection the week before while she was talking and separated them.
“Sixteen,” Sarah answered, “and it’s holiday break, not Christmas break because some people don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Very good, Sarah,” Mrs. Brenda said, moving her hands from resting on her hips to being clasped behind her back. “I will see you all in sixteen days. Have a Merry Christmas! You may go.”
Most of the kids ran to pack their backpacks, but not Wally. He rushed over to Sarah.
He had found a white eraser on the floor in the hallway when he went to the bathroom after recess, and he spent all of history class rubbing it on a blank piece of paper, turning it into eraser shavings. He handed Sarah an empty metal mint tin full of the shavings.
Sarah opened the tin. “You found a white one?!” she exclaimed.
She ran back to her desk, raised the tabletop, and stacked the tin on top of three others inside. Most of their classmates were still bundling themselves in jackets, hats, and scarves when Wally’s friend Jake sprinted toward the door on the opposite side of the classroom and shoved it open. Cold air rushed inside, blowing a cloud of snowflakes into the room. Jake was always the fastest to leave because his boots zipped up, so he didn’t have to tie them.
Wally put his coat on, shoved his Minecraft lunchbox with a Creeper on it into his backpack, and tied the laces of his dirty white sneakers.
“Did your dad figure it out yet?” Sarah asked. Wally slung his backpack over his shoulders.
“Figure out what?” Olivia asked. She wore a pink jacket and gloves, and her ponytail protruded through a hole on the back of her purple beanie, which had an embroidered Olaf patch stitched to the front of it. Olivia’s backpack was already on, and she was cradling a doll with long blonde hair and plastic skis clipped to her feet. Sarah and Olivia were friends, but Wally didn’t like Olivia because all she ever wanted to do was play with dolls and convince Sarah to play too.
“Wally’s dad is really sad because he can’t figure out the meaning of life,” Sarah told Olivia as she slid her arms into her jacket.
“My dad already knows that,” Olivia replied.
The muscles between Wally’s eyebrows twitched as he squeezed his backpack straps. His dad was a professor and way smarter than Olivia’s dad. “No he doesn’t,” Wally countered.
Olivia nodded her head, “He told me.”
Wally reached down and pulled Olivia’s doll from her arms. One of its skis broke off and fell to the floor.
“Hey!” Olivia shouted, swiping at the air in the direction of the doll.
“Tell me,” Wally demanded.
Olivia dropped her arms to her sides as her face scrunched up. She let out a wail like a baby, “Waaaahhhh!”
“Olivia, what’s wrong?” Mrs. Brenda hollered from across the room.
Olivia stared at Wally, tears pouring down her face. Even though she was one of the first kids to turn nine years old in their class, she cried the most. That was another reason Wally didn’t like her.
From the corner of his eye, Wally saw Mrs. Brenda take a step toward him. His heart raced in his chest at the thought of being sent to the principal’s office. If he got in trouble, it would make his dad even sadder.
Olivia’s sobs grew louder, “Ahhhhh!”
“Olivia, use your words,” Mrs. Brenda demanded, marching toward them.
Olivia raised her arm and pointed at Wally. His stomach sank.
Wally glanced at Sarah, who was staring at him with an expressionless face. He dropped Olivia’s doll, which landed on the ground next to its fallen ski. Wally thought about running straight out of the classroom and into Mr. Evans’s car, but the door that exited directly outside was in the direction of both Olivia and Mrs. Brenda. Olivia fell to her knees to pick up her doll. Her face burned red like an apple as she screamed, “Nooooo!”
Wally turned around and slinked out of the other classroom door into the hallway with his head down, hoping Mrs. Brenda wouldn’t notice him.
“Wally, come back here!” Mrs. Brenda yelled. She sounded mad. She’d never yelled at Wally like that before. He’d heard her yell at other kids, but never him.
Wally sprang into a sprint, almost tripping over his own feet. He hoped that Mrs. Brenda would stay back to help Olivia pick up her doll and that he’d have time to escape through the doors at the front of the school. If he could escape, she’d forget about what he did by the time they came back from holiday break. The halls were nearly empty, but a few older kids hugging textbooks against their chests stared at him as he flew past.
Wally glanced over his shoulder. His temples began pounding rapidly when he saw Mrs. Brenda burst through their classroom door. Her eyebrows were narrowed and the smile she usually wore all day long was turned upside down. He felt her eyes lock onto his back.
“Wally!” Mrs. Brenda shouted. “Stop!” She broke into a jog and followed him. He was pretty sure he could outrun her, but then he saw Principal Anderson and her long blonde hair emerge from her office at the other end of the hallway near the front doors of the school. She held her hand up as Wally approached. They had him surrounded.
Wally saw the boys’ restroom on the right side of the hall. Mrs. Brenda and Principal Anderson were both girls and couldn’t go into the boys’ bathroom. If he could wait there until they left, he still had a shot to avoid trouble.
He barreled into the bathroom door, swinging it open, then stumbled into one of the stalls and locked the deadbolt. He climbed on top of the toilet and stood still while holding his breath.
The door creaked open. Its harsh sound echoing off the white tile floors reminded him of the horror movie Lenny’s brother, Hunter, made them watch to scare them. “Wally, come out right now!” Mrs. Brenda commanded through the doorway.
Wally remained frozen. It sounded like Mrs. Brenda was waiting outside like he’d planned. For a moment he thought he was home free. Then he heard the clicks of Mrs. Brenda’s heeled shoes tapping against the tile floor.
She couldn’t come into the boys’ bathroom! Jake went into the girls’ bathroom once, and Mrs. Brenda sent him to Principal Anderson’s office. Wally jumped off the toilet and spun frantically looking for a way out.
Mrs. Brenda’s footsteps were getting closer. He wished he had to go to the bathroom. She couldn’t come into the stall if he was using the bathroom. He’d tell on her if she did that. Not even a teacher was allowed to come in when somebody was using the bathroom.
Wally didn’t have to go, though. He already went during lunch.
Wally looked left and right. There was nowhere to run. He’d put himself in a cage. Maybe he could trick Mrs. Brenda into thinking he was using the bathroom? It was his only hope.
Wally leaned down toward the toilet. There were brown streak marks on the porcelain bowl and small bits of disintegrated toilet paper floating in the water. It smelled like after his dad used the toilet at their house.
Wally pressed his lips together, pushed air into his mouth inflating his cheeks, then squeezed the air out, making a fart noise with his mouth, “Pfffftttt!”
Why wasn’t she stopping? He tried again, lowering his head closer to the toilet, “Pfffttt!”
Mrs. Brenda must not have heard him. He needed to make the farts louder. Wally inhaled deep into his lungs, then pushed the air out his mouth with all his force. “Pfffffffftttttt!!!” The sound reverberated from inside the toilet bowl out into the restroom.
“Wally, unlock the door right now!” Mrs. Brenda demanded. She pushed on his stall’s door. It was locked and didn’t budge, so she shook it more violently. He could smell her hairspray.
Mrs. Brenda must not have believed he was actually using the toilet, otherwise she wouldn’t try to come in. He needed something smelly he could put in the toilet so she’d believe he was pooping.
What was something smelly he could put in the toilet?
“Wally!” Mrs. Brenda shouted. “Come out right now. You’re already in big trouble.”
Mrs. Brenda had only yelled that loud twice all school year. Her sharp tone hurt his ears. His palms started sweating as he pulled his Creeper lunchbox from his backpack and unzipped it. His father made him a tuna sandwich every day even though he hated the smell of tuna. Mr. Evans usually gave him a better lunch when they picked him up for school and told Wally to throw the tuna away, but not to tell his dad because it would hurt his feelings. Wally was lucky he forgot to throw his tuna sandwich away that day. Now he had something smelly!
Wally opened the plastic bag. Chunks of pink meat were sandwiched between two pieces of white bread with the crusts cut off. He didn’t know why his dad cut off the crust because he liked the crust. The smell of tuna made him gag, so he pulled the collar of his shirt over his nose and clamped his nostrils closed with his fingers.
Mrs. Brenda yelled at him again, “Wally!”
He ripped a piece of the sandwich off and dropped it into the toilet. It made a plunk sound when it hit the water. Just like a real turd! Surely this would trick her.
He almost forgot, “Pffftttt!”
“Wally, you’re going to get a red card if you don’t come out right now,” Mrs. Brenda warned, shaking the door again.
He tore more pieces of the sandwich off and dropped them in the toilet. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. “I’m pooping!” he shouted.
Plunk… Plunk… Plunk. “Pffftttt!”
The bread floated on top of the water with the old toilet paper, but the chunks of pink tuna sank slowly to the bottom of the bowl and covered some of the brown skid marks.
Wally’s vision blurred as his eyes began to fill with tears. He didn’t want to be in trouble before Christmas. He worried Santa wouldn’t come and his dad wouldn’t get his wish to figure out the meaning of life. Then he’d be sad for another year, and it would be Wally’s fault.
“Pffftttt—” Wally made one more fart sound, but stopped halfway through when he started to cry.
“You have until the count of five to open this door,” Mrs. Brenda demanded. “Five… Four… Three… Two…”
Wally reached for the door lock.