Against the Current: Part One
“Here he comes again! Hey, Flatty!”
Nash sighed to himself as he slid into his seat. Just another glorious day, the sponge Grundo thought glumly.
The bell rang, calling the class to attention. Nash pulled out his books and tried to focus on the teacher’s words, but his mind kept wandering. Things had been like this ever since he moved here five months ago. For reasons Nash couldn’t understand, the other kids didn’t like him. They teased him for being new, for being sponge, and worst of all, for his choice in petpets. At this thought, Nash glanced down at his arm where his lurman, Larry was curled up in a slimy ball, asleep. The sight made Nash smile slightly. Although Nash had found Larry just a few short weeks ago, they were already best friends. But when Nash had first brought Larry in for the school’s special petpet carnival, the class had recoiled. They had all brought cute, furry pets like kadoaties, snowbunnies, or polarchucks.
“Where’d you get that thing? Under a rock?” a blue Wocky had called out, stroking her faerie noil as she spoke.
“Couldn’t you afford anything better? It looks like a petpetpet!” another student had said.
“Yeah, Spongey, I wouldn’t even touch that gross, slimy thing,” a red Skeith named Alfazard had called from the back.
The whole class laughed, but Nash was heartbroken. Their taunts that Nash had found Larry under a rock weren’t too far from the truth, except that Larry had been crawling over a rock, not under it. Still, Nash thought his new petpet was great and that Larry would help him finally fit in with the other students, but that was obviously not the case. Larry was terribly hurt by the ridicule as well, and he bowed his head with a soft chirp. Hearing this, Nash’s shame turned to sympathy and he whispered comforting words to his lurman. That day the two of them became inseparable. As Nash was entertaining himself with these thoughts, the teacher called on the Gnorbu sitting in front of him. Nash was startled to attention and tried to focus on the rest of the lesson.
When the bell rang for recess, Nash felt an uncharacteristic surge of dread in his stomach. Usually, Nash would take Larry over to a secluded corner of the playground during recess. Not exactly hiding, but since the other kids didn’t seem to like him much, Nash decided it was better to just stay out of their way. Besides, he and Larry always had a great time together. But it had been raining for the past two weeks, so all the students had to endure indoor recess. Inside their tiny classroom, there was no escape from the constant taunts of the other kids, long bored of the indoor games.
Nash wished the rain would stop... or that he at least would be allowed to go outside. He was a sponge, for Fyora’s sake! He didn’t mind a little rain. But no, he was stuck inside. He pulled out his notebook and a box of crayons and started to draw.
“Oops!” Alfazard, the acting ringleader of Nash’s tormentors called out as he dumped a large bowl of yellow paint onto the Grundo’s arm and lap. It spilled across the picture Nash had been drawing. “I’m sorry, Spongey, but I didn’t see you there! You’re so thin that you’re practically invisible from the side!”
The whole class roared with laughter. Struggling to control his emotions, Nash slid calmly out of his seat and quickly left the class room.
When he reached the hallway, he took a deep breath and savored the silence and emptiness. He made his way slowly to the bathroom to clean up, in no hurry to return to that madhouse. Nash couldn’t understand why the other kids didn’t like him. He had never done anything to them. He reached the bathroom and gazed at his reflection in the mirror. They never even gave me a chance, he thought to himself, fighting back tears. The paint didn’t bother him so much. What he really hated were the nicknames. Flatty and Spongey weren’t so bad, but there were many crueler nicknames that he was labeled with. Nash couldn’t remember a single time any of the other students had ever used his real name.
With a sigh, he turned on the faucet, wet the parts of him that were covered with paint, and then simply rung himself out. There! Back to normal... well, as normal as I’ll ever be, he thought sadly to himself as he glanced at his reflection. He felt the familiar, comforting weight of Larry on his shoulder. He looked sad too. “It’s ok, buddy,” Nash said to him with an attempted smile. “At least we have each other. And remember what Mom always says, ‘One day everyone will appreciate you for your unique talents and gifts. You just have to give them time.’” Nash rolled his eyes. His mom was full of sayings like that one. “Still, maybe we can just stay here until recess is over.” Larry’s tiny face broke into a grin.
At that moment, the loudspeaker came to life with a hiss of static. “Attention, students and faculty. Due to the excessive rain, the river has risen to a dangerous level. We are closing the school immediately. Everyone should gather their things as quickly and quietly as possible and leave the building in an orderly fashion. Haste is important.”
Nash shook his head, amused. That’s what they get for building their school on this tiny little island. Still, he was getting to leave school only halfway through the day, so he pushed open the bathroom door and looked out upon pandemonium. The hallway was full of screaming students, pushing and shouting, trying to get out of the building as quickly as possible, hastily grabbing things out of their lockers, or frantically calling for one another. Here and there, teachers could be seen trying to usher everyone safely and quickly from the building, while the voice through the loudspeaker, barely audible over the ruckus, tried fruitlessly to regain order.
Nash glanced at Larry still sitting snuggly on his shoulder, then stepped out into the hallway and allowed himself to be swept away by the crowd. The moving mass made its way out the door and across the bridge over the rushing rapids of a quick-rising river. They reached a second small island in the middle of the river where the students would often spend lazy after-school hours picnicking and playing. Nash had often appreciated that the bridge made this lovely detour instead of crossing straight across the river, but at this point, in these extreme circumstances, it seemed rather foolish.
However, the mob crossed the island quickly and stepped onto another, longer bridge. Soon they were back safely on solid ground. The students were all herded into a shelter nearby to get out of the rain and be sure that everyone was accounted for.
Inside, Nash could still hear the wind whistling and roaring as the storm intensified. He managed to pick his way through the crowded mass of pets and ended up in the corner, a little distance away from the throng of excited students. There he wrung himself out and did his best to dry Larry off as well. When this was done, he settled himself out of the way and waited to see what was going to happen next. Surely they wouldn’t be stuck in this shelter for very long.
Nash must’ve dozed off, for he awoke to find a group of the school’s teachers and administrators standing nearby, speaking in anxious whispers.
“Yes, the bridge is completely gone. There is no hope that way.”
“And flying is out of the question in this storm.”
“We’ve been desperately seeking boats, but it seems that most of the ones nearby have been washed downstream.”
“I’m not sure what else we can do.”
“Well, if the water keeps rising at this rate, the island will be completely submerged soon, and those kids will go with it.”
At this last comment, Nash sprang to attention. So they hadn’t all made it to safety. Some of his classmates were stuck on the island and no one was really doing anything to help them. Nash thought back to his old school. There had been a lake nearby and he and his friends (he’d had friends back then) spent nearly every afternoon swimming. As a sponge, Nash was quite buoyant and his friends loved to use him as a flotation device. He’d even been told once or twice that he was better than a boat.
Nash glanced upwards at Larry who was now settled on his head, perched between his antennae and relayed his thoughts. Larry stared him in the eye for a moment, then he gave a distinct nod of his head. “I don’t know,” Nash said, thinking out loud. “A lake is a lot different than a flooded river. I’m not sure I can do it.”
Larry butted his antennae and chirped indignantly.
“All right then,” Nash said to himself. He took a deep breath, jumped to his feet, and rushed toward the group of still arguing administrators, “I have an idea!”
To be continued...