art by Alan Bao
by Scott W. Baker
Max had the worst malady any middle school kid could have: he was different. Not different in a visible way; teachers at least tried to quash that kind of teasing. They were less proactive about protecting students that could see into the future, even a mere ten seconds.
Ten seconds of precognition was hardly the most useful gift in the world. Max could predict the answers to questions the teacher asked during class, but not on tests. Knowing where the kickball was going didn't keep him from being picked last every time. And being innately difficult to prank only made him a favorite target.
Wednesdays were usually the worst. Fridays he was largely ignored while kids looked forward to their weekend adventures, adventures they recounted to friends in detail the following Mondays. He always dreaded midweek. So it was extra nice that it was a Wednesday that Belinda Johnston joined the class.
Most of the class had finished their spelling homework and Max could hear several boys and even one girl behind him plotting a simultaneous spitwad assault. He knew he was the target. He was always the target. Ten seconds warning was enough to evade a single spitwad, not eight. He was trying to decide if telling the teacher was worth the effort when he realized the door was about to open and the fattest twelve-year-old any of them had ever seen was about to walk in.
The joke wasn't even his idea. Someone else--a girl only a rung above Max on the social ladder--was going to say it and the class was going to laugh and cheer. Cheer for another pariah? Why couldn't they cheer for him? Didn't he deserve, for once in his life, to not feel alone?