Pass Runner Part 3 - I'm an Independently Motivated Hero
Updated: May 18
Part 2 - Infinite pain. Destruction of your soul. Factoring polynomials.
Yog Sothoth's challenge weighed heavily on me as I got in bed that night. Fortunately, I fell asleep right away and woke up fully rested. I didn't start puking from terror until after breakfast.
"Jesus Kitcher! Go home sick." Dawn, my bus stop buddy, didn't think much of my hurling into the bushes.
"I can't, Dawn. I'm an independently motivated hero."
The heroic task Yog Sothoth's deal would compel me to attempt, should I rescue the kids in 277, seemed impossible. Nobody had ever delivered more than 12 passes in a single period. And that record was set back in 1994. To save my soul, I'd have to not just beat that ancient record, but smash it. Delivering twenty passes in a single class period seemed impossible.
It wasn't my fault the 1979 wrestling team was trapped in room 277. The Legacy created this whole situation, so why can't he just sort it out himself? Good question, I said to myself. And then I told myself the answer: It's been almost 40 years, and he hasn't done anything about it yet, so I think it's safe to say he isn't going to.
I thought briefly about referring the matter to the student government association. I immediately, realized that idea was foolish. They don't have the resources or skills to deal with such a difficult supernatural attendance problem.
Mostly, I thought about just not doing anything at all. Why should I risk my future for a bunch of jocks who probably would have made fun of me if I attended Westlands in seventy-nine?
The problem with that line of thinking is that I'm not sure what kind of future I really have to risk. I run passes. That's just what I do.
The AP physics kids made jokes about me majoring in attendance studies. Do you know what? There's no such thing as a degree in attendance studies. I checked the web sites for a ton of colleges. I have an affinity for a skill that that has no parallel or use in the adult world.
The grim truth was that I had peaked in high school. No – it was worse than that. I peaked in my junior year in high school. Unless a scheduling miracle occurs, I won't even be an attendance assistant next year. Rescuing the kids in 277 could be my last chance to do something meaningful with my life. Sure, if I survived, I'd probably spend the rest of my life acting like The Legacy, reminding everyone about my glory days as a pass runner. But I probably wouldn't survive, so that wasn't too much of a concern.
All of this hard-core introspection occurred over the course of periods one through four. By period five, I still hadn't decided what to do. The clock was ticking – no convenient demon-induced time stoppage today – and I needed a plan for sixth period. I thought about Billy Tavers. That kid has been trapped in class since 1979. Nobody has ever needed a pass runner as badly as Billy and the rest of the kids in 277. I was a pass runner – one of the best there's every been at Westlands. If I didn't rescue Billy, nobody would.
The bell rang. I raced to the attendance office as fast as I could. I needed to act quickly, before I chickened out, and to preserve as much of sixth period as possible for my heroic task.
I slid into the attendance office, grabbed a pen and a stack of passes and sprinted to the gym. The sixth period bell rang as I was copying the names from the 1979 photograph onto the passes. I tore upstairs and arrived in the vestibule for 277 gasping for air.
Sixth period was already slipping away and I hadn't even rescued the team. How was I going to get 20 passes delivered with only part of sixth period remaining?
I could feel myself starting to chicken out. I knew in about two seconds, my brain would come up with a really great-sounding reason to abort my mission. With no further hesitation, I opened the door to 277 and stepped inside.
Twelve kids' heads spun to look at the first visitor to the classroom in four decades. Yog Sothoth was sitting at the teacher's desk at the front of the room. What was written on the blackboard behind him could fuel math-anxiety nightmares for years:
Your teacher today (and forever): Yog Sothoth
Pop quiz - Find the factors for the following polynomial:
x²⁵⁶ + 12x²⁵⁵ – 4321x²⁵⁴ + 48862x²⁵³ – 8592x²⁵² ...
The polynomial was so long, it covered the entire blackboard.
I looked from the blackboard to the twelve unbelieving faces. These were the faces of kids who have been factoring polynomials for 40 years.
"Uh yeah, sorry to interrupt," (That's just what I always say when I walk into a class that's in session. I really wasn't sorry today). "I have dismissal passes for everyone."
I read the names of the kids. With each name, a kid stood up, took the pass from me with shaking hands, and sprinted out the door. I read the name on the last pass "William, sorry, I mean Billy, Tavers."
Billy Tavers stood, looked me with watering eyes. "Thank you," he said as he took his pass. "Thank you so much." Billy followed the rest of his teammates out the door.
"Kitcher. Kitcher Kitcher Kitcher..." Yog Sothoth scolded. "We've only been factoring polynomials for forty years. Now that you've dismissed them, I'm concerned they'll never really master that skill. It's on the SATs, you know."
"Where are my passes to deliver? The school clock was ticking away. Time was no longer frozen in room 277.
"Yes, your heroic pass-running task. Let me write them out for you. Hang on a minute..." The demon produced a stack of attendance passes from the desk. He fished around in the desk drawers looking for a pen.
"Yes, yes, time is certainly slipping away from you." His misshapen clawed hand emerged holding an elaborate red fountain pen. He scratched the pen onto the top pass – it had no ink.
"Oh no." Sarcasm. "I seem to be out of ink. May I borrow some of your blood?"
"This pen works best with fresh blood. May I have some of yours?"
"Fine." I rolled up my sleeve and held out my arm.
Yog Sothoth knows a thing or two about drawing blood. He expertly jabbed the top of the pen into my forearm and drew a few teaspoons of blood into his pen. He withdrew the pen from my arm (I didn't even get a little band aid!) and started painstakingly scrawling names onto the passes.
He handed me each pass as he finished. The passes needed to be delivered to most spread-out set of points in the school. The science wing, the gym, upstairs, downstairs, the band room, even to the friggin' modulars.
"You have thirty-eight minutes left. Kitcher," the demon said as he handed me the last pass. "I haven't eaten a soul in decades and I'm quite famished. See you soon!"
I sprinted out of the room and nearly collided with Billy Tavers who was standing, dumbfounded, in the hallway. "What do I do now?" he asked me.
"Go to your sixth period class!" I shouted to him as I ran as fast as possible to deliver my first pass.
I had mentally optimized my delivery route as Yog Sothoth handed me the passes. I decided to start on the second floor, run down stairwell B and deliver passes to the science hallway. Then I'd blast through the doors by the student parking lot and deliver passes to the modulars. From there, back into the building to deliver a pass to the culinary classes. I'd work my way to the gym, and finish up in the band room.
I delivered my first two passes to 208 and 284 smoothly. Relatively smoothly. Instead of my polite knock, the apology for interrupting, and the respectful handover of the pass, I burst through the classroom door, practically climbed over a half-dozen students to slam the pass onto the recipients' desks. Then I ripped out of the room without looking back. The delivery wasn't up to my usual standards, from a manners perspective, but I had to hurry. 18 passes to go.
I leapt down stairwell B, nearly killing a freshman who was lumbering up the stairs under a full load of books. I slammed through the double doors into the science hallway and flung myself into the physics lab. I was in and out so quickly not even the school's smartest and snarkiest students had the time for even a quick quip to cut me down. The delivery to 117 went smoothly, but my foot snagged on a backpack strap as I ran out of 138. I fell onto the floor, and skidded out of the room on my belly and face. I spastically disentangled myself from the backpack and managed to lose my shoe in the process. 15 passes to go.
I rammed open the outer doors and burst into the sunlight. I sprinted up the ramp to the modulars, shielding my eyes from the sun. I delivered three passes, one to each of the modular classrooms, and ran back down the ramp. That's when I realized I made a fatal mistake – literally fatal.
The usual pass-runner hack when delivering passes to the modulars is to use a pencil to keep the door to the main building open while delivering passes. Otherwise, the door will close and lock, and the only way to re-enter the school is via the main entrance, on the opposite side of the building. In my panic, I forgot to prop open the door. Now I had 12 passes to deliver before the bell rang, and I was locked outside of the friggin' school.
I sprinted around the building, losing the sock on my shoeless foot when I cut across the grass towards the main entrance. Until now, my heart was pounding only from the physical exertion of high-speed pass running. But now the burst of cortisol and whatever other hormones are responsible for total panic had pushed my heartrate into the red zone.
The front doors were also locked. I wasted valuable seconds throwing up, and then jabbed the doorbell. Whoever was at the front desk was especially slow today. I stood outside of the doors for a good 60 seconds before they buzzed me into the building. I looked at the clock: 18 minutes left before the bell rang. And I had 12 passes left. I had to average 90 seconds per pass delivery. It still might be possible to deliver them all. Barely.
I ran towards the culinary classroom, hoping that by pacing myself at 80% of maximum speed, my heart wouldn't explode before I was done.
"Very impressive, Kitcher." Yog Sothoth's beautiful baritone voice was broadcast from the PA system. "I think I might have forgotten to mention the supernatural challenge clause. Sorry about that. It states that I can choose to increase the difficulty of your heroic challenge through supernatural methods. I choose to do so."
The fluorescent lightbulbs in the hallways filled with blood and the corridors took on a dim, reddish look that made me think of the inside of Yog Sothoth's mouth. The demon's voice on the PA was replaced by some seriously evil sounding music.
I ran into the culinary classroom to deliver the pass. Something looked different. Instead of wearing their whites, the culinary kids wore red uniforms. And instead of working individually over their stoves and counters, they were standing in a row, waiting for me. And instead of chopping onions or whatever, they brandished their cleavers fairly menacingly.
"Hello cornflake," Brandon, my pass recipient, sneered at me.
I balled up his pass, threw it in his direction, and dove out of the room into hallway. A dozen expertly thrown kitchen knives clattered into the lockers on the opposite side of the doorway.
I was too scared to look behind me to see if Brandon and his crew of stabby, red-aproned chefs was chasing me. I just ran as hard as I could to the gym.
I knew my life was over, and my soul was demon food as soon as I flung myself into the gym. The cheerleading squad was practicing. What's so bad about that? Today, instead of the blue and white Westlands uniforms, the cheerleaders were wearing cute little red outfits with a 'Y' on the front. They had traded in their pom-poms for swords.
They each wielded a beautiful katana. Or maybe they were tachi. It was hard to tell when I was running away from them in a blind screaming panic.
They shouted a battle cry - "Give me a Y ... Y!" - and sprinted after me.
"Kitcher, in here, quick!"
David Milbley's voice floated out of the boys' room. I dove inside and ran into the handicapped stall. I heard the cheerleaders' perky murderous footsteps stop outside the bathroom door. "We can't go in the boys' room..." one of them said.
"Kitcher, what's going on out there?"
"I ignored David's question and looked at my watch. I was going to die in ten minutes. Or less if I chose to leave the bathroom and get sliced up by Yog Sothoth's cheer squad!
I started to think about what my last words would be. They couldn't be too complicated because David Milbley was going to have to remember them. The cheerleaders started screaming. For a moment I thought they were charging the bathroom, but their screams, and then their grunts, and then their moans, stayed on the other side of the bathroom door.
Then the door opened and The Legacy's voice floated in. "Kitcher, come on out. It's okay."
The Legacy and the other twelve members of the seventy-nine wrestling team stood over the cheerleaders. The swords were scattered around the gym lobby (katanas, btw).
"I had gym, sixth period," Billy Tavers said. "And I found John. And I told him that you rescued us. And then..."
"Never mind!" The Legacy shouted. "We've got to run passes. Kitcher, show some hustle!"
I deposited four passes on four of the prone cheerleaders. (Seven passes left.) The wrestlers formed a wedge around me and we sprinted away from the gym, towards the music wing.
We rounded the corner and ran right into the culinary crew coming the other direction.
The kids on the 1979 wrestling team were every bit the legendary athletes that The Legacy had built them up to be. Maybe not having mobile phones in the seventies had something to do with it. Or maybe the pent-up rage that comes from factoring polynomials for 40 years was responsible. Whatever it was, before you could say "Greco Roman," the culinary crew was decimated and we were back to running full speed to the music wing.
The rest was kind of a blur. A few kids with sousaphones got knocked over, I shoved a pass into the bell of a trombone and another into a trumpet. I slapped five passes onto the piano in the chorus room. And bang – the music stopped blasting from the PA and the blood drained out of the fluorescent lights as mysteriously as it filled them up.
I was out of passes. The bell rang and the hallways filled up with kids going to their seventh period classes like nothing weird had happened.
The Legacy and I stared at each other, neither of us having any idea what to say. Billy Tavers was looking at the chorus classroom's smartboard like it was an alien artifact. The chorus teacher was looking at the wrestlers like they were aliens.
The PA squawked. Yog Sothoth said "Sara Kitcher, please report to the attendance office."
Yog Sothoth stood in the attendance office holding the goat skin binder in one hand and his blood-pen in the other.
"Sara Kitcher, I'm sad to say that you completed the independently motivated hero's challenge. We have some paperwork to complete." He signed his name to a goat-skin form in the back of the binder and turned the book to allow me to put my signature under his.
"I'm not signing anything you give me," I said. There was no way I was going to get caught up in some tricky demon contract trap. "I'll just fill out the dismissal information in the attendance log book, and we'll call it a day."
"Very well." The goat skin binder vanished in a puff of flame and smoke. "If you ever need some supernatural help with anything, Kitcher, just write my name in blood on a goat skin under a full moon while chanting-"
"Wait - is that how The Legacy summoned you?"
Yog Sothoth vanished in a larger puff of fire and smoke.
I filled in the day's dismissal information in the log book. Twelve students dismissed from room 277. Twenty more dismissed from all over the school. A new dismissal record! I really do have an affinity for this!