Sequel to Learning with Foxyotes, Tony must now carry out the fated prank.
Operation Field Trip
Kickaha crept through the darkened teacher’s lounge of the abandoned elementary school after hours. The normally rust- colored foxyote was currently sporting a much darker fur pattern, and he was about a foot shorter than normal. That was because he was currently not a foxyote, but a raccoon. This left him at about two feet tall with gray and black fur. However, those who knew him would still be able to identify him by the diamond shaped patch of fur on his chest and his green cloak. He was currently walking between different desks within the lounge, digging through them looking for something. He’d jump up on a chair and pull every drawer of a desk open one by one. After a few seconds of looking through its contents he’d shake his head and move on to the next one. This continued for several minutes until suddenly the lights turned on without warning.
“Hey! What’s that noise? Is someone in here?” A rather haggard looking man in a cheap suit had opened the door. He must have been one of the teachers here, no doubt working late without overtime just to get his lessons ready. Kickaha honestly felt sorry for him. Still… He represented a complication to the plan. Considering it was almost 9 o’clock, Kickaha had not expected anyone to still be in the school.
“Just me!” Kickaha called as he quickly pulled his hood up over his head. He tightened it so that his face was obscured and only the tip of his muzzle stuck out.
“Who?” The teacher wrinkled his face, clearly not recognizing Kickaha’s voice. “Look I don’t know who you are but you shouldn’t be in here!” He quickly rounded the corner looking for the source of the voice. However, as soon as he saw the cloaked raccoon standing behind the desk, he froze. He kept looking at the raccoon, but then his gaze kept shifting away from it. He blinked a few times, clearly believing himself to be exhausted, not understanding why he couldn’t focus on who he was talking to. “Oh, it’s just you. What were you doing here again?” The teacher felt odd. He was sure this person was allowed in here, but couldn’t remember why.
“Oh, just dropping off some paperwork about the upcoming second-grade field trip.” Kickaha chattered away. “Especially with that new extra credit program. You know how the county is… Always with the permission slips and legal disclaimers.”
“Oh… Right… That makes sense…” The teacher nodded, seeming about ready to fall asleep. “But the field trip forms aren’t in here. The secretary keeps them. They’d be in her desk in the front office.”
“Ahh, thank you! No one tells me anything.” Kickaha laughed heartily. “Well I’ll take care of that then and head on home. You should be getting out of here yourself. It’s not healthy to work this late.”
“Tell me about it.” The teacher laughed before turning and walking out of the teacher’s lounge. He paused as he left, as if he couldn’t quite remember what he was doing, and then shrugged and moved on.
Kickaha meanwhile, now knowing where his target was, completed his task with ease. Then he returned to the lounge, turned off the lights and slipped out the window. There was a second raccoon waiting outside the window, albeit one that was much younger and smaller. He appeared to be keeping watch making sure no one approached the window. When he saw Kickaha climbing down he quickly ran beneath the window to catch Kickaha’s hind paws on his shoulders. This let the cloaked raccoon quickly close the window and scramble down to the ground. The two exchanged a glance and a nod, and then both burst into a sprint on all fours away from the school.
Once the school was out of sight both raccoons began to grow in size. Kickaha regained his rust-colored fur as he rose to his proper height of three feet and changed back into his foxyote self. The other raccoon got even taller than him, changing into a human child of about eight years old. After the transformation was done, the human quickly grabbed a backpack that had been left laying here in the grass. Opening it up, he pulled out a pair of shorts and quickly pulled them on before retrieving more clothing from the bag.
“So… It’s done?” Tony asked as he put his shirt back on.
“Of course.” Kickaha grinned. “Something like that was trivial.”
“I don’t think anyone saw us…” Tony mused to himself. “But if they did they would have just seen a couple of raccoons skulking around looking for food… So, everything should go according to plan.”
“I hope so, because that was the only freebie., You’re on your own from here.” Kickaha reached up to pat the kid on the back. “After all… This operation is your plan, so you can’t rely on me to pull it off for you.”
“I know! I know!” Tony gave a heavy sigh. “But look… I got a passing score on that other project like you wanted me too! I mean… I got an actual A! And… The teacher still thinks I made up the first version so suddenly thinks I’m ‘creative.’ She recommended me for the Drama Club! She thinks I can write scripts! And my parents insisted I join because I need extracurricular activities, so now I have to stay after school twice a week!”
“I don’t know, that sounds like that could be fun.” Kickaha snickered.
“But they think I’m some kind of amazing storyteller with original ideas! I’ve never made anything up in writing! Just reported the facts for a paper.” Tony flailed his arms.
“Hey, many of the best writers pull their ideas from real life.” Kickaha shrugged. “Besides… If nothing else I bet you could have some fun with ‘costume’ design.”
“There is that…” Tony grinned catching the suggestion. “But at least that A meant I didn’t have to go to summer school! It also means I’m in third grade now so I can’t exactly go on the second-grade field trip.”
“And I’m proud of you for getting it done.” Kickaha wagged his tail. “Which is why I agreed to help you out this far as a reward. But from here on out, you gotta pull everything off on your own. No help from me.”
“But…” Tony seemed unsure. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in his plan. No, the problem was it came down to his personal skill level. He had only learned magic was real a few months ago when he had first met Kickaha, and though he had been studying it through all of summer break he was hardly a master. He couldn’t even manage a full self-transformation spell yet. About the best he could do was give himself a tail… And that only lasted an hour before disappearing.
“No buts.” Kickaha held up a finger to silence the kid. “You can’t be relying on me to pull off all your schemes.” Kickaha crossed his arms and gave Tony a stern look. Once he judged he had left the kid squirming long enough he cracked a smile. “But I will give you the tools to get the job done. Give me your hand.”
“Eh?” Tony wasn’t sure what was happening, but he held his hand out. Kickaha quickly grabbed it with his own paw and suddenly there was a jolt of electricity between the two. “GAH! That stung! What was that?”
“Hey, honestly, I’m kind of just surprised it worked at all!” Kickaha grinned cheekily as he pulled his hand back. “Something like this is pushing the limits of what even I can do. As a result it may be… A tad unpredictable.”
“Something like what?” Tony gave the foxyote a suspicious look.
“I just gave you a bit of my magic is all.” Kickaha held up three fingers. “And you’ve got enough for exactly three spells.”
“Wait you mean…” Tony’s eyes grew wide as he realized the implication. “I’ll be able to cast the same spells as you?”
“Only three times!” Kickaha pointed at his three fingers with his other hands. “After that, you’re back to your normal level of skill.”
“No, no, three is enough, I can make this work easily!” Tony began to rub his hands together as he plotted how to use the spells. “I mean I already know how to use the two of them.”
“Now hang on, don’t be so hasty.” Kickaha grabbed one of Tony’s shoulders. “Remember the most important thing I told you about magic?”
“It should always be used responsibly… Or when it’s really hilarious?” Tony tried.
“The other most important thing.” Kickaha thrashed his tail.
“Oh um!” Tony fumbled as he tried to remember. “That’s right! Magic can’t change a thing’s true nature, but can make it more apparent!”
“Not really relevant to this situation.” Kickaha sighed. “The OTHER other most important thing.”
“Ummmmmm.” Tony began to tap his foot impatiently as he tried to think. Kickaha had told him quite a few most important facts about magic. After about thirty seconds he seemed to figure it out. “Magic is an art!”
“That’s the one!” Kickaha’s ears perked up happily. “And that means unlike the sciences it’s not exact. Whatever spells you cast -SHOULD- work, but won’t always be in the way you want. The simpler you keep the spells, the more predictably they’ll behave.”
“I think I get it. It’s like a baking soda volcano.” Tony smiled.
“In… In what way?” This time it was Kickaha who couldn’t follow.
“You mix the vinegar and baking soda to make it explode, but there’s always the chance it’ll blow up in a way you don’t want to. The more baking soda you use, the more impressive a demonstration you can make, the bigger the chance of it all blowing up!” Tony looked quite proud of himself for explaining it.
“Huh…” Kickaha just stared at him.
“Did I… get it wrong?” Tony gave the foxyote a hopeful look.
“No, not at all…” Kickaha shook his head. “It’s spot on… Just… Remarkably reminiscent of certain events from my own summer.” He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Regardless, we should be getting you home before your parents realize you snuck out.”
The next day Operation Field Trip began.
Every fall the second graders were taken to the local national park. It was a pretty basic field trip. They would meet a park ranger, be told about some of the local wildlife, and then go on a nature trail which they seldom saw anything bigger than a squirrel on. Apparently one year a class had seen an opossum and it was the most exciting thing to ever happen on the trip.
Tony was fairly certain he could top that.
Thanks to some last-minute paperwork dropped off by the county there had been a change in plans for the field trip this year. Select third graders who had been on the trip last year would be attending to act as teacher’s aides. For extra credit they could teach the younger kids about what they learned last year. It would show they had actually learned something and lighten the burden on the teacher and park ranger from answering all the questions! And Tony had miraculously been chosen as one of the third graders to get this honor.
What were the odds?
The fact that Tony was not only getting out of class for the day to pull this prank, but was also getting extra credit, was a stroke of genius he was quite proud of.
His target was Mrs. Rattlebag. His teacher from last year. She had unjustly accused the report he wrote after his trip to the woods last summer of being a work of fiction. However… She had given him a chance to redo it, showing she was not without mercy, which meant that Tony needed to show the same mercy. That meant the prank couldn’t be too mean-spirited. That was fine with Tony. At this point it was more about proving himself right than any form of punishment… And if it could be done in a way that was fun for everyone well… That was win-win all around, right?
But that meant that the first thing he had to do was take control of the field trip. And he had a pretty good idea of how to do that. It had cost him an entire month’s allowance’s worth of fish to make the arrangements, but his plan was in motion.
When the bus pulled into the parking lot Tony made a big deal about having to use the bathroom. As soon as the door opened he darted off promising to be right back, much to the teachers’ exasperations. He quickly ran straight past the restroom though and through a line of trees disappearing from sight.
And it was there he came face to face with a massive grizzly bear. Standing on two legs the thing towered over Tony, big enough to trample the kid without even noticing.
“Hey Grizz!” Tony addressed the bear nonchalantly.
“Kid?” Grizz seemed to recognize Tony’s voice but not his form. Come to think of it… Tony realized this was probably the first time Grizz had ever actually seen him in his true form. Whenever he went to the forest he had Kickaha transform him so he fit in. Usually a fox, sometimes a rabbit or a skunk or whatever he felt like.
“My name is Tony.” Tony stuck his hands on his hips and gave the bear a firm stare, annoyed at being addressed as ‘kid.’ “And you know that. And yes it’s me. Right now I need to look human to fit in with people. And I need you to look human too.”
“I don’t know about that… Seems like a lot of work.” Grizz growled and failed to meet Tony’s gaze.
“You already agreed to it AND you already ate the bribe I gave you.” Tony’s voice had a sharp edge to it. “But if you’re really not up for it… Maybe I should just call this entire magical adventure thing off.”
“I… I never said that!” Grizz’s voice rose to a slight panic before dropping back down to a growl. “I mean, I guess I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“Good!” Tony couldn’t help but grin. Grizz may have look like a giant grizzly… But he really was just a teddy bear. “Did you practice the lines I gave you?”
“I glanced at them…” Grizz gave a weary sigh acting uninterested. The truth was he had spent the last week rehearsing them over and over again. A fact Tony knew, as he had found him doing it at least twice. Both times he had left and pretended not to see anything when it was clear Grizz was embarrassed.
“Alright then, let’s get this show on the road.” Tony held up his arm with his palm facing out at Grizz. And then he cast his first spell.
A beam of light rushed out from his hands and struck Grizz squarely in the chest. A moment later the bear started to shrink into himself… But not as much as Tony expected. His fur began to melt away, but not as much as it should have. Most of his features began to become more human at least… Just… As Tony watched he realized something had gone wrong with the spell. Grizz did turn into a human but… He still had quite a bit of hair, was six and a half feet tall, and had muscles that could leave an Olympic athlete envious.
Still… He was technically human. Just a bear of a human.
“This feels… Really weird…” Grizz looked down over his human body. “Do I not have a tail? And… Why are my claws pink and… So tiny?”
“It’s only temporary, relax!” Tony quickly unslung his backpack and opened it up. He quickly pulled out in order a pair of pants, some boxers, a dress shirt, a vest, hat and pair of shoes. “Alright, you need to put these on. They… Might be a bit tight. Was expecting you to be a little… Shorter.” Tony was actually debating the merits of burning his second use of magic to try to shrink Grizz down a bit. He decided it wasn’t worth the risk. He only had two spells left and he needed at least one to pull this off. He’d wanted to keep the other in reserve in case something went seriously wrong… Plus there was the very real chance he’d wind up shrinking Grizz too small for the job. The bear was highly shrinkable for some reason.
“What are they?” Grizz grabbed the hat and began to sniff at it.
“Clothes.” Tony explained. “You can’t walk around naked like that when you’re human.” The constant species changes and trips to the forest had somewhat lowered Tony’s opinion on the necessity of clothing… But it was still something he knew humans needed… If only to keep from getting in trouble.
“Why not?” Grizz was indignant.
“Because it’s the law or something.” Tony shrugged. “If you don’t wear pants as a human they throw you in jail. And there aren’t any delicious fish or fun magical hijinks in jail. So get dressed and then come out to meet and greet the class. I’m going to get back before they realize I’m not in the restroom.” Before Grizz could object any further Tony quickly retreated from the woods back to the parking lot.
He let the various teachers know he was back, much to their relief, then rejoined the class. While roll was being called to make sure everyone was accounted for, he killed the time talking to the second graders. After all… Officially he was here to answer their questions. As he talked he kept glancing towards the line of trees looking for the human Grizz. He also found himself silently praying that the bear-man did put at least some clothing on. Things would go south rather fast if he walked out here completely naked… And then Tony wasn’t sure what would be more awkward. Explaining to Kickaha that he had gotten his friend arrested for public exposure… Or the spell suddenly wearing off and Grizz turning back into a bear while in the jailhouse.
“Alright everyone, form a line!” Mrs. Rattlebag attempted to make her voice heard over all the students. Tony glanced at her to see what was up. Mrs. Rattlebag was always something of a mystery to him. For starters, she was called Mrs. Rattlebag. And yet she did not seem to have a husband or be a widow. As far as anyone could tell she had simply always been a Missus. Then on top of that she just had old lady vibes. It was weird… She was still in her early thirties at the absolute worst. Her hair was still a vibrant brown with no streaks of gray, she was in shape and had fair skin. And yet… Despite physically looking young she simply felt old. Perhaps it was the full-length dress and its pale blue, almost gray color. Or maybe it was the oversized fake pearls and thickly rimmed glasses. Whatever it was, she was simply Mrs. Rattlebag.
“We’re going in!” Mrs. Rattlebag continued, letting her voice reach a shrill level that cut through the children’s chatter like a knife. “One of the rangers will meet us inside!”
“W-wait!” Tony quickly scrambled through a line of second graders to get up to her. “I saw the ranger when I ran to the restroom! He said he was coming out here to greet us.”
“What are you talking about?” The teacher shot him a confused look. “We always meet them at the reception desk.”
“Yes but he said-“ Tony tried to argue. His plan couldn’t fall apart this fast! It’d just be embarrassing! What was taking Grizz so long to show up? Pants were not that difficult to figure out!
“No buts. I don’t know why he said that, but we’ll do things the official way until -I- am told otherwise. If he does come out here it won’t take him long to find us at reception.” The teacher gave a loud shout at that and began to march forward a trail of second graders falling in behind her.
“Ugh but… It…” Tony tried to think of some excuse to stall her. Should he use a spell? No… Not out here in the open. Too many eyes. Someone would see him do it. Besides, he only had two spells left and he needed at least one of them for the actual main event. If he burned the other now, he’d be tapped out.
This time… The universe gave him a freebie. Grizz chose this moment to arrive, striding out from the line of trees in his new human form. And when Tony saw him he immediately wished he hadn’t. Improvising without his help would have been easier than having to explain… Whatever this was.
Grizz was at least wearing pants. And perhaps Tony should have simply been thankful for this small blessing. Because he was missing most of the other things. He had the hat at least… As well as the vest, but he was missing the shirt and now the vest was stretched tight against his exposed muscular chest. Of course, he was also missing the shoes… Which meant that his exceptionally sharp and almost claw-like nails were visible.
“Hello!” Grizz shouted in a booming voice. “I am Grizz… E… Bear! I mean… Grizz… Not bear! I mean I am a Bear! Bear is my purr name!”
“Surname.” Tony slapped himself in the face.
“Surname! That’s what I said!” Grizz shouted proudly. He seemed to be under the impression that screaming somehow made his lies more believable. “Because Bear is my name. Not my species. As you can see I am a normal human. I just happen to live in the woods!”
“You mean work in the woods…” Tony groaned. He had chosen his partner for this very poorly.
“Right! I just mean I am out here so much I feel like I live in the woods!” Grizz laughed loudly and nervously. “I live in a department just like all normal humans.”
“Apartment.” Tony corrected.
“Why would I live apart?” This seemed to throw Grizz for a loop.
“Oh my gosh…” Tony rubbed his face miserably. He couldn’t believe how bad this was going. It was over! His scheme was doomed before it had even gotten off the ground! Why had he been foolish enough to believe Grizz could play this part? It was laughable in hindsight! At this point the best he could hope to accomplish was damage control. It was going to be bad enough to have to explain to Kickaha why the plan had failed… If he got the foxyote’s friend in serious trouble as well… Yup… Things were looking pretty doomed right about now.
“You’re a park ranger?” Mrs. Rattlebag addressed Grizz. “I don’t recall ever seeing you here before.” It was obvious she was onto the ruse.
“I mean I’ve always been here!” Grizz insisted with a smile that showed far sharper teeth than a human should have. Apparently, it was obvious to everyone BUT him that things were going poorly.
“You mean, you’re new here! Recently transferred, right?” Tony hissed at him.
“Right! That’s what I meant! I’ve always been new here!” Grizz shouted as he turned to Tony, gave him a thumbs up, and a wink, right in front of the teacher.
In the future… Assuming Tony had a future that didn’t involve being grounded through the end of time… He’d have to remember the bear didn’t do subtlety. Tony stared at Mrs. Rattlebag, dread gnawing at his stomach as he prepared himself mentally for the worst.
“My… Seems you have a way with children!” Mrs. Rattlebag’s tone of voice sounded absolutely delighted.
“What?” Tony felt his mouth hang agape. That had not been the reaction he had been expecting.
“Oh, you know!” Grizz on the other hand seemed completely unperturbed. It was as he hadn’t even realized how far off script they had gone. “Just gotta see them for the feisty little beasts that they are!” He let out a booming laugh.
“Quite I’m sure…” Mrs. Rattlebag giggled. “Does that mean you’ve had kids of your own?”
“Oh, no none at all…” Grizz shrugged. “Just you know, a lot in the forest… Neighborhood. Erm… Kids that walk from the neighborhood into the forest! To play. As kids do.”
“I didn’t know there were houses or anything within walking distance!” Mrs. Rattlebag seemed surprised, but not suspicious. “But… If you don’t have kids of your own… Is there a Mrs. Bear?”
“WHAT!?” Tony spoke far louder than he should have this time. No one acknowledged him.
“No, not yet. Not actually any lady bears in this forest at all…” It was unclear if Grizz had caught her meaning.
“Is that so?” Mrs. Rattlebag suddenly moved closer to Grizz and grabbed onto one of his hairy arms. “Well… I’m just glad we have such… A large… And muscular ranger to keep us safe in the woods.”
“SERIOUSLY!” Tony threw his hands up in the air. “What is even happening right now!?”
“Heeeeeee!” One of the younger students in the class who had been watching the affair giggled. She then pointed at the teacher hanging off Grizz’s arm. “Mrs. Rattlebag and the Ranger sitting in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love! Then comes marriage! Then comes Tony in the baby carriage!”
“No… No… Absolutely not.” Tony shook his head to try to erase the image from his mind. “That is… Absolutely gross in so many ways. Like… You cannot even begin to comprehend.” A large part of him right now was wishing his plan had been exposed. This was just… So much worse! “Just… Trust me on this one!” He shoved the kid aside and stepped closer to Grizz. The best he could do right now was just try to roll with the situation. “Hey… Mr. Bear. Park ranger sir… How will we be going about doing the park tour? Will we be going as one big group or splitting up?”
“I don’t know I don’t work here. Why would you ask-“ Grizz cut himself off midsentence. “Oh riiiiiiiiiiiigggght!” He again visibly winked and gave a thumbs up to Tony right in front of everyone.
“Please stop doing that…” Tony muttered.
“What? The thumbs thing? Absolutely not!” Grizz huffed and gave a thumbs down this time. “I’ve never had thumbs before and you better believe I’m going to do everything thumbs can do with them! Who wants to see if they can take a bear in a thumb war!?” This was met with a chorus of enthusiastic screams from the younger students.
“My… I don’t think I get what game you’re playing with the kids… But they certainly seem to love it.” Mrs. Rattlebag was still leaning into Grizz’s arm. “But I suppose Tony brought up a good point… How are we set up this year?”
“Well um.. Erm…” Grizz suddenly seemed nervous. He wasn’t sure what to say. Considering Tony had written out this part of the script he was very personally insulted by this. “We were… Uhhhhhhh…”
“Splitting into groups?” Tony suggested. “With each group taking one teacher’s class and said teacher, maybe?”
“RIGHT! That was it!” Grizz smiled. “And… That means that I um…”
“Oh come on!” Tony felt his eye twitching. This was not that hard!
“In that case, how about I take my class and come with you!” Mrs. Rattlebag interrupted. “I’m sure the other rangers can handle the other classes.”
“Oh right! That was the plan!” Grizz paused. “The… Plan of how to make sure everyone has a great learning experience! So… Gather up your class, and your class only and follow me into a woodlands adventure!”
“You heard the park ranger!” Mrs. Rattlebag sang out. “My students, line up behind us! Let’s go!” Somehow…. Despite how wrong this had managed to go…. Tony was successfully about to separate Mrs. Rattlebag and her class from the rest of the teachers and students on the field trip. It was just a shame the way it happened was… Just… So gross.
Ugh! What if the two kissed! It was just so icky! And unnatural!
“Just… just work with what you’ve got.” Tony muttered under his breath as he sighed and walked after his teacher and his friend. Things were not… Quite going as he had envisioned them… But the main part of his plan was… Technically working. It was just a matter of waiting for Grizz to get the class far enough away from everyone else so he could begin. All he had to do… Was endure this weirdness for a little bit longer and everything would work out.
“So… Are you doing anything tonight after you get off work?” Mrs. Rattlebag addressed Grizz with a purr in her voice.
“Nope don’t think so!” Grizz replied chipperly, completely unaware of her intentions.
Ugh… Adults and their weird icky feelings. Tony felt like he was going to be sick.
The next part of the plan was where Tony had assumed he might run into problems. The plan was for Grizz to lead the class off of the official trails and into a more secluded spot of the forest… Of course, it would be an area of the woods Tony was more than familiar with. These weren’t the same woods he visited Kickaha for magic practice, but the two had flown out here as crows to get the lay of the land. However, there were three problems he needed to address. One of them was that once things began there was a very real chance some of the kids might start panicking. It was not Tony’s goal to scare anyone, merely to educate them and provide an unforgettable experience. However, the class was about to learn that their understanding of the nature of the world was, in fact, utterly wrong wrong. There were bound to be a few people who would have a bit of a problem with that.
The second problem would be keeping everyone together. Tony knew the land well, but there was a lot of ground and things were about to get very chaotic. While some of the kids might panic, others might get a little too excited. If they wandered off from the main group it would make things rather difficult… Especially since Tony only had two spells left for the day and was about to use one of them. He’d have to keep a very close eye on everyone, make sure no one wandered off and…
It was at this point he realized that he was actually thinking like a responsible teacher’s assistant. The thing that was supposed to just be his cover. Was he becoming… Responsible? That was the complete opposite of what he was supposed to be doing! Sort of! He tried not to dwell on it too much right now.
Because there was still the third problem, and it was slightly more pressing at the moment. To get things started he was going to have to use another spell. That in and of itself wouldn’t be an issue but… He was surrounded by kids one year younger than him and the teacher was right there. His, or Kickaha’s magic wasn’t going to create a loud explosion or anything (assuming everything went correctly) but it wasn’t exactly discreet. There was at the very least going to be a bright flash of light when Tony unleashed it. And therein lay the problem. How to cast the spell right there in front of everyone without getting caught?
That was part of the assignment after all. Tony had to complete his prank without getting caught. If he just threw up his hands and started slinging spells left and right well… Even if people didn’t understand what was happening, it would still be pretty obvious who to blame for it. He really didn’t want to risk getting caught… Mostly because he really didn’t want to disappoint his mentor.
Also, there was the fact that there would probably be some kind of blowback about people learning magic was real and that he had purposely hexed his classmates. There was probably some kind of government office that responded to things like that. Likely it had some weird acronym. That’d probably be less than pleasant to deal with. If they came knocking at his door asking questions his parents would ground him for certain and forbid him from learning more magic for sure. That’s why he had made sure to never let them catch on about his little lessons. They couldn’t punish him by taking something away if they didn’t know it was there!
“Where are we going?” Mrs. Rattlebag seemed to finally notice her surroundings as she tore herself away from Grizz. “This area doesn’t look like it’s part of the usual trails.”
“Oh it’s not!” Grizz said with a large smile. That dumb loveable bear! He wasn’t supposed to admit that. “We’re purposely avoiding the trails and other people.” Why would you say that out loud!?
“I’m sorry, what?” There was an edge to Mrs. Rattlebag’s voice. She was starting to suspect something was wrong. Tony had to act fast.
“Oh, you didn’t know!?” He jogged up next to her and spoke without having an actual plan. Think of a plan! Quick! Make up something! Anything plausible before she made everyone turn back!
“Know what?” Mrs. Rattlebag stared down at Tony with suspicion in her eyes.
“That… That…” Tony stammered. His brain was reeling trying to think of something. “That they have a new tour service!” Okay, good start. But try to sell it. “That… Takes you off the trails to get a real in depth look at the place! But… They make you go with a guide! One of the rangers! So… You know! You don’t get lost!”
“Is that so?” Mrs. Rattlebag glanced at Grizz.
“Well if that’s what he says then-“ Grizz started to offer his own explanation. Tony didn’t need to hear it to know it was going to end poorly.
“It was in the brochure!” Tony interrupted. “That was how I knew about it. When I went to the bathroom earlier. I saw the brochures advertising it at the gift shop.” That sounded plausible. Could cause problems when they went to the shop later and saw no brochures, but Tony was fairly certain that’d be the last things on their minds after what was coming. “I assumed that was the reason they were breaking us up into smaller groups. So, the park rangers don’t have to keep track of as many people.” Tony could feel himself sweating.
“Yes! That is it! Absolutely!” Grizz spoke with way too much energy.
“I was never told anything about these guided tours…” Mrs. Rattlebag still wasn’t convinced. But… Tony had a flash of brilliance. There was another method of attack he could try here.
“Really?” Tony did his best to sound surprised. “I mean… Didn’t you set up the field trip?”
“I wish.” Mrs. Rattlebag huffed and crossed her arms. “The principal is the one who organizes these things. I don’t get a say in where we’re going or when.” There was a note of disdain in her voice. It was so beautiful to hear Tony could almost cry in relief.
“Ok but… The principal would still tell you everything about the trip right?” Tony was trying to sound earnest. He wasn’t sure if he was succeeding. “I mean… It’s not like he’d just blindside you with something like this?”
“No… Not at all.” The teacher was grinding her teeth and Tony knew that his ploy had worked. She had realized something was wrong and now Tony had given her a scapegoat. He wasn’t 100% sure what might have gone down between her and the principal in the past, but it was clear there was enough bad blood for her to immediately assume anything odd was his fault. Tony would have to remember that in the future. He wondered if the tactic would work on other teachers.
“Right so…” Grizz looked back and forth between Mrs. Rattlebag and Tony uncertainly. Tony gave him a meaningful look. Grizz returned the stare blankly. Tony tilted his head to the side lightly and Grizz tilted his head the opposite direction with a confused look upon his face. Tony sighed.
“Do you think we might be able to see any wild animals today?” Tony asked in a voice that was dry with exhaustion.
“OH!” Grizz put a hand over his mouth. “That’s right! That’s why we’re out here! For the animals. To see the animals. That is what I am guiding you to do.” There was a murmur of giggles from the other kids at Grizz’s confusion. “Now… I want… Everyone to be very, very quiet and play close attention. If we’re lucky we might just get to see some of the wildlife in their natural habitat. There could be an animal lurking right around the next tree.” As Grizz spoke he pointed to a tree. Then he stopped and stared at it in confusion.
This wasn’t right. There was nothing there.
“Right around the next tree!” Grizz spoke much louder this time. Nothing happened. “Around the next tree.” He furrowed his brow clearly confused. “NEXT TREE!” But nothing was happening.
Where were the twins?
Tony groaned. Grizz wasn’t the only ally he had recruited for this adventure. There were two others. The raccoon cubs currently going by the names of Trash and Trash. Or it might have been Dumpster and Dumpster this month. It was a weird raccoon thing, and the brother and sister fought over who got whatever name they like this week. That wasn’t important. What was important, was they were supposed to be waiting here for the class to come by! He had told them it was a long trip and to leave early!
It would have been a brilliant scheme. Whose heart wouldn’t melt at seeing a couple of raccoon cubs frolicking playfully in the woods? Everyone’s eyes would have been glued on the scene. No one would have noticed as Tony slowly backed out of the group and began his spell. It would all have been so easy.
Or would have. If they had shown up.
“NEXT TREE!” Grizz shouted so loud it was nearly a roar. He clearly hadn’t caught on that the two weren’t in position.
“Oh, you two are so in trouble.” Tony muttered to himself. He had spent a second month’s allowance on two extra-large pizzas with the works to act as a bribe for the two kits. Where could they possibly be right now!?
Meanwhile… Over a mile away in the suburbs that bordered another forest. Two raccoon cubs, though ones that walked on two legs, were currently sitting inside an open dumpster behind a local pizza chain.
“Jackpot!” The boy raccoon who had claimed the name Dumpster shouted as he opened a pizza box that still had two slices left. “I told ya there’d be some in here!”
“I never said there wouldn’t!” The girl raccoon who also claimed the name Dumpster retorted as she crossed her arms. “Now stop bragging and give me a piece!”
“Aw come on find your own box!” The other Dumpster replied. “This one’s mine.”
“Greedy pig!” Dumpster retorted as she began to dig further through the trash. “If I find a whole one, I’m not sharing them.”
“That’s not fair!” Dumpster flailed his arms. “I haven’t had a whole pizza since Tony got us one!” He paused. “Wait… Weren’t we supposed to do something for him?”
“Oh yeah, he just wants us to hang out in the woods tomorrow.” Dumpster waved her hand dismissively. “It’s nothing serious.”
“Wait tomorrow?” Dumpster looked confused. He looked down at his hand-paws and countered his fingers on them. “Wasn’t it supposed to be yesterday?”
“Don’t be an idiot.” Dumpster shook her head. “If it was yesterday we would have done it by now!”
“Makes sense.” Dumpster nodded accepting this logic. Then both of them returned to digging further through the trash.
Back in the forest. Tony was watching his plan fall apart.
“TREE! TREE! TREE! TREE!” Grizz had resorted to just shouting the last line from his script over and over again, as if this would somehow fix the situation. Some of the kids were getting uncomfortable. At least one looked to be on the verge of crying.
“Uh…” Mrs. Rattlebag tried to interrupt him. “Are you alright? You’re not having a stroke or something?”
“Oh no I’m fine.” Grizz smiled a toothy grin. “It’s just there were supposed to be a couple of raccoon kits here and they seem to be running late.”
“What do you mean, SUPPOSED to be here?” The teacher narrowed her eyes, growing suspicious again.
“Oh just you know, because To-“ Grizz almost managed to spill everything.
“EVERYONE LOOK OUT IT’S A BEAR!” In a panic, Tony shouted the first thing that came to mind as he pointed wildly into the woods past Grizz and Mrs. Rattlebag.
“I AM NOT!” Grizz shouted defensively as he held up his arms.
“What? No one said…” Mrs. Rattlebag tried to get a word in, but Grizz had started rambling.
“I’m not a bear! I don’t even know what a bear is!” Grizz was speaking a mile a minute. “I mean I know what a bear is! But I’ve never seen one! Not in my life! So I couldn’t be one! And uh… I mean! I’m a park ranger! So of course I’ve seen a bear! But… Only from far away! Yes that makes sense.” He nodded then looked at Rattlebag. “That makes sense right?”
“None of anything you just said made any sense.” Mrs. Rattlebag’s voice was tense. “I’ve felt like something was off for awhile. What is going on? Don’t think your good looks are going to get you off the hook!”
“Well the thing is!” Grizz started. “Wait? Good looks? But… I feel so small! And like not nearly enough body hair. Not to mention my ears are so tiny and…”
“Grizz… Grizz no.” Tony rubbed a hand over his face. How had things gone off the rails this fast? And he hadn’t even gotten started yet?
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on but-“ Mrs. Rattlebag swung her purse around and whipped out her cell phone. “You have two minutes to give me an adequate explanation or I’ll get your supervisor on the phone and see what he thinks!”
That… That would be bad.
“Ha that’s what you think!” Grizz crossed his arms. “But he’s not my supervisor. I don’t even have one of those.”
STOP MAKING IT WORSE!
“Are… Are you even a park ranger!?” Mrs. Rattlebag’s eyes grew wide as she began to dial numbers on her phone. If she got to talk to anyone back at the station everything was all over. Tony felt himself ready to have a panic attack. All of the students were watching this mess go down between the teacher and ranger. There was no way he could play this off in any way and-
Wait… All of them were watching them! It wasn’t the distraction Tony wanted… But it would work. He didn’t have a lot of time. He quickly stepped backwards away from the rest of the class and held up his hands. He just had to focus now. Imagine an animal. But what animal?
It had to be something small… He didn’t want to destroy everyone’s clothing. That would be super awkward when the spell wore off and they couldn’t get dressed. But not anything too small. Something that could easily slip out of their human clothes and explore the woods from a new perspective. Something like… A rabbit. Perfect. Tony formed the picture in his mind as he started to focus. He felt a warm tingle at the end of his hands as the spell began to take form.
“Phone is ringing!” Mrs. Rattlebag shouted at Grizz. “I’ll have your supervisor on the line any second now.” Tony was on the clock… If he was more experienced the spell would have occurred in an instant… But he was still learning.
Still this was the moment. The energy was there, he prepared to release it and-
“What are you doing?” A girl’s voice asked startling Tony. He jerked his head behind him, seeing one of the students had been lagging behind. A young girl with brown hair dressed in thick jeans and a sweater. She was staring with her eyes wide at the green light coming from Tony’s hand.
“Uh the thing is…” Tony tried to think of a way to explain this. That in itself was a mistake. It meant that he was no longer focusing on the spell…
And so the energy went wild. And the entire forest was filled with a flash of bright green light.