Rory’s Story Cubes, where a tale of elementary school kids in a nature center allows for some surprising transformations.
Once upon a time…
“…The hell is wrong with this thing?!?!” exclaimed Aaron. He had never seen smoke peal from the business end of a microphone. Just then, it began to buzz like a swarm of angry hornets. Aaron threw it in any direction that didn’t matter, its cord trailing afterward like a kite string. children sat stone-faced and still on their benches, eyes wide. Inside the reptile display to their left, the tortoise looked at nothing in particular. She absently munched on a lettuce leaf.
From her hiding place in the corner, Mrs. Halberstram sprang into the light. “I’m certain that these children have no idea what you mean,” she said emphatically, with the unblinking glare and unflattering smile of a lantern fish. “But can we please continue on the tour? I’m sure you can find it in you for perhaps one more stop before lunch time.”
Aaron forced a smile of his own. “Missus Halberstram, I’m afraid that, due to a combination of budget cuts here at the Reptile Mansion and to circumstances beyond our control, we’ll need to skip past this last little bit of the tour and head straight to lunch.” He paused for a moment, then bowed his back as he scanned the crowd of pint-sized visitors. “I bet that by the time we’re all done with our sandwiches, Mister Alligator will have come out of his own hiding place, eh kids?” The crowd of miniature citizens erupted into a hearty cheer, mostly regarding that part about sandwiches.
“To the cafeteria!” announced Aaron, and the children began to file along the shadowed hallway towards the luminescent green exit sign.
Resigned to following the jaded tour guide’s directions, Mrs. Halberstram resolved to make the most of it. “We’re now a school of fish, children!” she called out. “Let’s move along to the cafeteria like a school of fish. Swim, children,” she said, her voice wavering like seaweed in the current. “Let us all swim to the cafeteria.”
And swim like a school of fish, they did. Once past the exit sign, the children began flapping their arms at the elbows and wrists, puffing their cheeks, and bugging-out their eyes. All the while, Aaron and Mrs. Halberstram calmly guided the children through the Natural Discoveries Museum, towards the Australian Devil Ray Memorial Cafeteria.
“Here’s a question for all you fishies out there,” announced Aaron, who still felt a certain kind of way about a microphone. “What do you suppose fish eat for lunch?”
An excited murmur simmered up from the group. every now and again a word would pop out from the din. “Seaweed?” Aaron shook his head. “Seashells?” asked another.
“Nope,” answered Aaron.
“Smaller fishies?” asked a third, timidly.
“Some times, if the fishies are big enough to bite another one,” replied Aaron. “But you all look like some little fish to me. What else can you think of…What other little, squiggly thing can you think of, that a little fish might eat for lunch?”
One little kid’s eyes brightened as the answer crept upon him, and he screamed: “I know! WORMS!!!”
Mrs. Halberstram’s once-hopeful face darkened once more. “That’s right!” shouted Aaron. “Worms, and bugs, and other disgusting, crawling things…” At once excited and terrified, the school of once-orderly fishes burst into a chaotic cloud of flailing arms and legs, half-filled with bursts of mischievous laughter, the other with squeals of revulsion.
Now, nearly in a panic herself, Mrs. Halberstram frantically darted about, trying in vain to wrangle the disorderly, amoebic mass of children. When she gathered up three, four more would scramble about. When she reined in that small group, another two groups of three began to aimlessly wander.
In desperation, Mrs. Halberstram lunged outward before a screaming mass of children skittered off to the Chameleon Corner. She stumbled gracelessly on a curled-up floor mat, landing with a yelp.
Hopeless, she saw her salvation: the microphone.
With the quickness of a moray, she snatched up the mic, and roared, “CHILDREN!”
At once, all the dizzying children froze. Even Aaron started, shaken from his amusement.
The damaged microphone lent a rather hideous quality to Mrs. Halberstram’s typically sing-song tones. “TO THE CAFETERIA IMMEDIATELY.” The command bellowed forth like the dictates of a saurian taskmaster, and the children could do nothing to resist.
“NOT THAT WAY, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!” screeched the PA system. “GO LEFT!”