The first 5 pages of my first book, currently under revision.
For a million reasons (or at least three) Flip needed a day away from grade six. So he told his mom he was sick.
She knew he wasn’t sick. She also knew that he needed a day away. So she let him stay home, again. She hoped one more day wouldn’t hurt.
Flip faked another cough, and mumbled that he would check his temperature. He thanked his mom as she shut the door to his room.
The latch clicked closed.
He sighed with relief. He smiled. He had won.
Except that he hadn’t.
He was sick. He just didn’t know it yet.
Something evil had crept deep inside of him. Its secret plan had already started.
CHAPTER ONE: Fort Thymus
In the middle of Flip’s chest, nestled between his lungs, was his Thymus. About the size and shape of two jammed together carrot halves, Fort Thymus was a busy city built around the huge training centre in its middle. Right there in Flip’s chest there were cafés, transit stations, a newspaper, offices and a school – school, it turns out, is everywhere.
Fort Thymus was also home to Theo, an immune cell in grade six. As usual he was wearing his favourite grey hoodie. The one with the sleeves that swung past his hands and the waist that fell practically to his knees. It was like wearing a portable hiding spot. Unlike Flip, Theo’s mom had not let him stay home. He was already at the “Macrophage School for Future Officers” and had even been given homework, two paragraphs about the beauty of the Great Nasal Cavity. Like most of the cadets in his class, Theo planned to write about the famous nasal stalactite galleries -he didn’t have much to say about mucus.
The grade sixes chatted and complained about their homework as they walked the hall to their next session. Theo tactically avoided conversation by slinking to the back of the pack. In his mind he agreed with the complains of his classmates. Writing a report about a distant part of the body that he would never see seemed like a strange form of punishment, but, as usual, he didn’t say anything.
Theo was the last to enter Captain Flag’s Morphing for Beginners classroom. Instantly, he saw that his end-of-the-line tactic had backfired. All of the benches, notably the best ones at the back, were already full. Theo was stuck in the demonstration-slash-practice area at the front. He was practically on stage. Everyone was looking right at him (possibly they were looking at the front of the class and Theo happened to be standing there, but that was besides the point).
Timothy, Theo’s sometimes friend, sometimes nemesis, was also at the front, but for entirely different reasons. Timothy laughed at a joke from Leena, who was sitting with Frankie in the first row, then turned to his sometimes friend.
“Hey, Theo, you’re more like a little eater, aren’t you?”
Theo didn’t know if his bad friend was including him in the conversation with Leena and Frankie, or just making fun of him. It didn’t matter. The classically Timothy comment stuck to Theo like a choking plaque. Worse, Captain Flag hadn’t arrived yet so there was no teacher to stop the snickering wave of embarrassment and shame.
It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. The insult wasn’t well thought out, wasn’t even actually funny, but it spread inside of Theo like a parasite. As every body cell knows, macrophage means ‘big eater’. Unlike the other cadets -and every macrophage in history- Theo wasn’t big, he was small, tiny even. Sure, like the rest of them he had a round head, no neck to speak of, a big mouth, two arms and two legs, but everyone else had grown over the break and started to get at least some of their abilities. Last year he had been basically normal, shy, but normal. This year Theo was suddenly half the size of the average sixth grader and still powerless. It would probably be a billion heart beats before he was anything worthwhile.
Standing next to the newly tall Timothy it didn’t matter that none of them had even seen a virus, let alone learned to swallow one whole. It didn’t matter that the rest of them had barely started to developed their powers. What mattered was that his nemesis-friend had learn how to turn his shirt shiny and hard. What mattered was that obviously he would have the rest of his powers any dumb minute. What mattered was that everyone liked Timothy.
If I could grow a new arm right now that would show him, thought Theo.
But Theo couldn’t grow a new arm or even make his shirt shiny. So instead of saying anything, he just stared at the floor. Unhelpful thoughts exploded in his shy mind. He wished he had stayed home – not that his incredibly embarrassing, perpetually arguing, parents would ever allow that to happen.
Timothy had already moved on. Theo’s sometimes friend spread his arms wide and bragged to the class. “Look I morphed my shirt into armour!” Now that he had their attention Timothy was very much showing off.
“Whoa, you look just like a General,” gushed Leena. Leena was smart about everything, except for Timothy. The class joined in on the gushing.
Ugh, thought Theo (compelled to check), that’s just his stupid shiny shirt trick. It’s nothing like the real tactical battle gear of an actual officer. Besides, since they had to wear uniforms to school next year that’s what they were supposed to be practicing. This shiny shirt stuff was just pointless showing off.
“Pretty awesome isn’t it,” Timothy smiled to Theo.
Theo was so jealous that he wanted to scream. Of course, if he screamed everyone would look at him again, so he didn’t. Instead, Theo just muttered, “Cool Timothy,” and shuffled his quiet jealousy to the back of the room. Without an empty seat he slumped down against the back wall.
“Lavon!” His mom’s exasperated voice came crisp and clear from the hallway, “we used to win Flipbody awards. Now we’re writing an unsubstantiated puff piece for the military immune complex!”
It took a beat for Theo’s mind to wrap itself around the disconnect. His mom’s voice was in the hallway. His mom. His mom was at school. What was his mom doing at his school? His mom! Wait, she said Lavon? Was his dad here too?
As if answering Theo’s question his normally jokey dad snarked, “Well, Leena, writing that article is how we got our son Theo his tour with General Mac. The General asked for a story, and we asked him to help Theo. It’s a simple trade.”
Theo almost barfed.
He kept it in by focusing on the hope that maybe the ground would swallow him. What was happening? His parents never came to school. The facts of the situation collapsed onto him: his parents were at his school, they were having another of their arguments, the argument was about him, and it was happening -basically- in front of his entire class. For the second time that morning every eye was on Theo. He knew what the whispers said without even hearing them.
Their teacher stepped smoothly into the room. “The class is just in here.” The calm authority of Captain Flag’s voice silenced the snickering of the curious cadets.