“Everyone please take your seats.”
Students moved in a wild, mad scramble of books, bags and the scraping of chair legs on linoleum as students took their seats. The teacher, a man old beyond description, yet strong and majestic, stood at the head of the class, his hands held loosely behind his back.
“As this is the first day of school and some of you are new here, please let me introduce myself,” He said in a most pleasant baritone timbre, “My name, as you can see on the blackboard, is Mr. Earlynn.”
Several hands shot up, Mr. Earlynn raised a bushy, white eyebrow. Hands, arms and even entire torsos wriggled about, vying for his attention. He scanned the room carefully and then pointed to one of the eager students. “Yes, Eloise?”
Eloise sat up straighter in her chair, nothing pleased her more than to be called upon by the teacher. With her hands clasped together on her desk, she proclaimed in a crisp, clear and commanding voice, “Mr. Earlynn, sir, you haven’t written anything on the blackboard at all.”
Mr. Earlynn raised his other eyebrow, so that he now looked reasonably surprised. He slowly turned to take a look at the board. He grinned, and then turned his head back around to look toward his students and smiled.
“You are quite right, Eloise, quite right you are indeed, as always,” he said.
Gnarled, wooden walking stick in hand, he approached the board, picked up a chalk eraser and ran it across from right to left, unerasing his name. No one was quite certain why Mr. Earlynn carried the walking stick, he certainly didn’t appear to need it. Despite his advanced age, he seemed more than capable of getting around without it.
“Splendid, I do believe that’s got it now,” he said and turned back again, facing his class proudly.
He was just about to resume speaking to his students when laughter erupted from their faces. Mr. Earlynn, confused for a second time in so little time, scratched at his tuft of white, dishevelled and furrowed his brow.
“Alright, you got me, what, in the name of Arthur is so funny?” he asked.
He noticed that the students were pointing frantically back toward the blackboard. Mr. Earlynn turned back to the board again and it was immediately obvious what the source of all of the hilarity was. Even he couldn’t help but chuckle at the hyperactive, little period. It bounded across the board and bounced atop the other letters of his name. “Alright now, behave yourself,” he scolded the period, shaking a finger at it. “Back you go,” he said as he scooped up the tiny punctuation mark in his palm and replaced it after the Mr in his name.”
Mr. Earlynn turned back to his class, still smiling and took a deep breath, hoping that this would be the last pirouette that he’d have to perform. After all, he wasn’t a young man anymore.
“Well, that was certainly a bit of excitement, wasn’t it? Honestly, it seems as if he does that every year, the little devil. Now that we’ve got that sorted out, where were we?” he paused for a second, stroking his wiry, white beard, “Oh yes, for the students who are new this year, my name is Mr. Earlynn and I will be teaching your chemistry class for the semester here at Excalibur Stone High School. Welcome.”
Excalibur Stone High School was a school for the exceptionally gifted. The same rules applied to the staff as well, teachers were no exception, carefully selected for their unique talents and ability to keep their students engaged. Mr. Earlynn had been there longer than anyone could remember. “A thousand years, at least,” he responded if anyone ever asked.
The position of headmaster had been offered to Mr. Earlynn many, many times and each time, he would refuse. “I need to be in the classroom with the students,” he’d insist, “They have so much to learn and I have so much to impart on all of my little apprentices.”
“So,” Mr. Earlynn continued, “first day, how exciting. This is Chemistry 101b. Why the b? Because, in Chemistry 101a, you learn all of the rules and here, in 101b, I’ll teach you all how to break them.” The thick, white beard split into a wide grin. The students looked around at one another and laughed. All but one, he looked around as well, but in confusion and not bemusement.
The teacher lifted a large rolled up slab of aged leather from behind his desk. “Observe,” he shouted and flung the roll out across his desk. It hung in mid air for but a moment and then came down, gently and with a dull thud. Bunsen burners, flasks and all manner of scientific accoutrements seemed to materialize from out of nowhere, popping into place as the leather unfurled across his desk. The bunsen burner flared to life and was aflame of its own accord while multicoloured liquids bubbled, steamed and smoked away in their glass beakers and flasks.
A joyous round of applause burst out from the class, they were all very impressed with Mr. Earlynn’s display. All but the one, young boy. He rubbed at his eyes, unbelieving of what he’d just seen. He was noticeably smaller than his classmates, light brown hair plastered to one side, his clothes mismatched. He stood up suddenly, as if pulled up from his seat by some unseen force, and he approached the desk. Mr. Earlynn watched the boy, but made no move to stop him, he always encouraged curiosity.
“How did you do….?” the boy began to ask, but couldn’t seem to find the words with which to finish his question.
“Do?” Mr. Earlynn prompted, “What is it young man? Spit it out.”
The boy simply looked up at the old teacher, then back at the desk, flourishing his hand toward the pop up science lab and asked, “That?”
“Oh,” Mr. Earlynn had forgotten that his class was full of students from all over and some who didn’t share his…. flair for science. “That?” he asked, “Well, Consider that your first lesson, young master…..?”
“Eldridge,” Eldridge proclaimed, “Eldridge Shoehorn.”
“Well, uh, master Shoehorn,” Mr. Earlynn said with a smile, “you can’t believe everything that you see, surely you’ve heard that before. The world is full of things that your eyes perceive, but which your brain cannot resolve.”
With that, Mr. Earlynn waved his hands in front of Eldridge. With a pop and a tiny flash of pink light, to Eldridge’s amazement, a pair of safety goggles appeared from thin air. Mr. Earlynn handed them to the boy. “Safety first.”.
Eldridge reached out for the goggles as if they were a hologram, grasping at them as if his hand might pass straight through when he tried to take them.
“Go on,” Mr. Earlynn urged, “They’re as real as you and I.”
Eldridge held the goggles in his hands, staring down at them all the way back to his desk. He didn’t say another word for the rest of the day and couldn’t understand why he felt like he was the one who noticed anything peculiar going on.
Mr. Earlynn treated the class to an assortment of incredible displays of chemical reactions, some of which seemed impossible or at the very least implausible. Mixtures that released in intense rainbow of colours, others that whipped up plumes of smoke in various shapes, one of them, a dragon, actually swept across the classroom, sending poor Eldridge sprawling under his desk.
The first day passed, then the next and soon enough, the first week of school was on its last day. Eldridge Shoehorn began to slowly accept that he couldn’t always make sense of the things that happened at Excalibur Stone, in fact, he began to quite enjoy them, even looked forward to the surprises that each new day might bring. He was exceedingly smart and when he let go of his fears and insecurities, Eldridge became quite likeable.
“Have a wonderful weekend class, I’ll see you all back on Monday, bright and early,” Mr. Earlynn proclaimed as the bell rang.
The room emptied out quickly, everyone was eager for some free time with their friends and family. Everyone, that is, except for Eldridge. “Mr. Earlynn, sir?” he said, tugging at the teacher’s arm like a small child.
“Eldridge,” Mr. Earlynn smiled, raising his eyebrows, “what are you still doing here? Your family’s going to worry if you’re late, won’t they?”
Eldridge looked at the floor.
“Eldridge? What is it?”
The boy looked up and his eyes were glassy. “They won’t care,” he said, “I’m not really their family. They were happy to send me off to school here, but disappointed that I still had to come home on the weekends.”
“That’s awful,” Mr. Earlynn said, “dreadful.”
“I wish that I didn’t have to go home either, there’s nothing in that place for me anyway.” Eldridge looked up at Mr. Earlynn, tears in his eyes, but refusing to cry. He’d hardened himself up after so many years. “Can’t I just stay here?” he pleaded.
Mr. Earlynn stroked his beard and leaned heavily on his walking stick. “You know,” he said, “I had a feeling about you.”
Eldridge cocked his head, like a dog thinking deep thoughts. “You did?” he asked.
“Indeed,” Mr. Earlynn said, “I mean, it’s been many, many years, but this old man is ready to take on an apprentice again, methinks.”
“I don’t get it,” Eldridge said.
Mr. Earlynn smiled broadly, his top teeth showing just beneath his whiskers, he chuckled. “Well know this, master Shoehorn,” he said, “as my apprentice, I will require of you a tremendous commitment of your time. Which means…”
Eldridge smiled. “Please tell me that it means what I think that it means,” he interrupted and practically begged.
Mr. Earlynn laughed, “I do believe that it does. Now, come along, you’ve got some cleaning to do.”
Eldridge was swept out of the classroom and on the way through the door, Mr. Earlynn, with the wave of his hand, conjured up a pointed, purple, wide-brimmed hat from thin air. He twirled it on the end of his walking stick and flung it atop his head as they turned the corner.