Joey slowly reached up and dragged his hand through the gelatinous slime on his head, which now dribbled down his cheeks and hung like snot from his ears. The outburst of laughter and pointed fingers that followed was something Joey was used to seeing and hearing.
Even before the introduction of SCALEs (Special Creatures Allowed Legal Entry) into the world, Joey had suffered the ordeal of bullying. So, it was no surprise to him that creatures from other worlds would treat him any differently. Actually, it was one human bully that had started it all - Bombardier Bartholomew. His name wasn’t really Bombardier, it was Nigel, and he was already in men’s sized clothing. he hadn’t earned the name or reputation by outranking every child at Northview Primary School, even though as far as he was concerned, technically he did. No, Nigel made sure that all the ‘wimps’ that deserved his daily wrath knew the real reason … and that was, his name, and his frequently blanched knuckles, had come from the formidable heavyweight boxer, Bombardier Billy Wells.
The standard attack, for Joey, usually started with Bombardier squirting his drink bottle of Ribena over Joey’s school uniform. Joey couldn’t help that his blue shorts, which had seen the inside of a washing machine far too many times, and white shirt with the pocket near on hanging off, was second-hand. His grandfather had retired five years ago and since then had brought all Joey’s clothes from the school’s lost and found box, which sold off all its unclaimed items at the end of each year.
Another favourite assault for Bombardier and his two book-end thugs, Amos Greenpot and Dwain Jenkins, was when they would inflict injuries to Joey’s bike. His wheels and crossbar, if they could talk, would have lost count of the times they had seen Bombardier’s heavy size nine shoes winging their way towards them, chipping off more of the metallic green paint and adding further dents into the already buckling framework. According to Bombardier, Joey’s bike was older than Noah’s ark itself.
And then there were the squelchies that Joey suffered once a week - just think of those monstrous size nines again and Joey’s mouse-like size fours and soon you’ll get the picture.
But today, it wasn’t Bombardier’s bullying, although his snorting laughter that sounded like a pig arguing with a hyena could be heard over everyone else’s. Today, it was the two Snippetts who sat behind Joey - Talbingo Skruff and Rossiter Limpstick. It was common knowledge now that juvenile Snippetts were mischief makers but Skruff and Limpstick had a spitefulness to them that went well beyond the realms of playground humour. Sure it might seem funny to a class of ten and eleven year olds to suddenly sprout two white bunny ears in the middle of Algebra, or for your hair to turn from the colour of the sun into a head of wavy green grass during assembly, but it never made Joey laugh – mainly because it was always him they picked on. And most of the time, it was much worse than simple magic tricks. So, as sad as it was, this had pretty much been Joey’s life for the past twelve months. What he didn’t get from Bombardier Bartholomew at lunch, he now copped from the Skruff and Limpstick in class.
Joey turned back once more to make sure nothing else was coming his way, only to see the two Snippetts rolling about on their chairs in laughter and clutching at their skinny, mustard coloured bodies.
Another dribble of slime slid down the front of Joey’s face and Talbingo Skruff jabbed his claw-like finger at him. ‘Ewwww, snot-face, snot-nose, can’t afford to buy new clothes,’ he sung.
‘Bogey-nose and bogey-bum, you’ve got no dad and you’ve got no mum,’ chimed in Limpstick.
Bombardier exploded into laughter again.
The words hurt, but Joey refused to show them how much. He folded his arms on his desk and rested his head on top, shielding his face from everyone.
The first time Joey had come face to face with a Snippett, his stomach had growled a very distinct warning. It may have had something to do with the dozen rows of miniature razor-sharp teeth that protruded forward like a great white shark whenever they laughed or the way they could smell his flesh from a hundred yards away. Maybe that was it? Or maybe it was the way they reminded Joey of puppets. Not the nice, fluffy kind you might see at shows or on kid’s programmes, but rather the bad, scary ones that opened the box themselves - puppets that had been locked up in a trunk for a reason, and then bound with rope and stashed away under a bed somewhere, only to come alive in the dead of night. Joey had had more than one nightmare of Snippetts clawing their way up his bed-sheets to dine on his flesh. It didn’t matter either that they only came up to his kneecaps because their size did not diminish how deadly they really were.
It was a surprise to everyone, including Joey, that DOTTET (Department Of Time-Travelling Extra-Terrestrials), or DOTTE (pronounced dotty for short), had allowed their kind to stay, especially in the first twelve months of their arrival when they’d attacked and killed over a hundred ‘meatsticks’, as they liked to call humans. They were supposed to be on their best behaviour now and on their final warning.
Gutterhounds, as far as Joey was concerned, came a very close second to Snippetts. They were extremely bad-tempered and would steal your lunch on occasion, but they would never jinx you when your back was turned though, not like Snippetts would. And this was how Joey found himself covered in some kind of weird, purple slime he’d never seen before, and that continued to plop onto the floor by his chair in large blobs. The rest had slid down the collar of his shirt like warm ice-cream. All this …from a Scaley-jinx.
Even though Joey’s had equal amounts of humans and scaleys in his class, not one of them had the courage, including him, to say enough was enough. Tripe, his best friend, who wasn’t in his class, was a different story altogether. In Joey’s eyes, his friend was fearless …and he was a Simma, too.
Joey swabbed his face with his sleeve again, manoeuvring around the gaping hole in his jumper. He wished Mrs Fumbletrundle, his teacher, would hurry back with the books on COCOA (Characterisation Or Classification Of Aliens) that she was borrowing from the school library.
Joey kept his head down trying hard to ignore the sniggers that continued to erupt in short popcorn-like bursts around the classroom. He held his breath and his eyes watered as every muscle in his body clenched to stop tears from forming. It worked and he blinked them away without a single drop falling. A small, triumphant smile formed on his lips. He was so much stronger than he used to be.
Since the discovery of the Time Tunnel just outside of town, and the introduction of Scaleys or SCALEs as they were preferred to be known as, life had been…different? A good portion of Scaleys were human-shaped – one head, one body, two arms and two legs. The rest were a mixture of some or both or multiple or none.
On that day…everything changed; food, clothing, lifestyle, sports even general day-to-day living. The human race was now known as the hu-malien race. Schools no longer taught the standard maths, English and science as base subjects either, something Joey was thrilled about. Although some of the newer subjects like crabknuckling (an underwater table tennis like sport for plimpers) was fun, however, characterising over four hundred different species had at times sent Joey’s brain into tornado-type head spins.
This was one of those classes. Mrs Fumbletrundle returned, balancing twenty-something books in her long blue arms and dropped them onto her desk with a loud thump.
Instantly, the room fell silent. She had a ‘rude, interrupted’ look on her face that Joey had seen many times, and yet she would never ask where they were up to before they were disturbed. With hands, paws, claws and suckers suddenly back in laps, backs straightened and eyes forward, those that could point forward, boring wormholes into the wall at the front of the class, nobody dared utter a word unless they were spoken to first.
Mrs Fumbletrundle marched to the middle of the room and stood in front of Joey’s desk. She tapped her elongated cerulean finger, slowly and rhythmically, against her exceptionally long arm and stared at Joey’s head. She lowered her head cautiously and sniffed.
The sound of Bombardier’s snort jerked Joey’s head upright and he glanced sideways in time to see Bombardier’s double chin disappearing into the folds of his fat neck as he threw his head back in soft, whinnying laughter.
‘QUIET,’ yelled Mrs Fumbletrundle.
Bombardier rocked his chair back onto its four legs immediately, his eyes wide and his mouth now very closed. Joey hated the fact that Bombardier’s Aunt Audrey was president of the Parent/Teacher Association which consequently allowed him to get away with much more than the rest of them did. If Joey or anyone else was caught disturbing the class they would’ve been de-leeching the Scaley’s staffroom for lunchtime detention.
Mrs Fumbletrundle spun around, her yellow eyes flicking over every face so fast like a ball on a roulette table, then slowing slightly, ready to fall into place. Joey was that unlucky number. She glared at him.
‘Y-yes, Miss?’ said Joey innocently as he looked up at her. As far as he was concerned it didn’t matter that she was a Scaley or the most incredible shade of aqua blue he’d ever seen … she was still a teacher and definitely the top of his list of grumpiest teacher’s EVER in the school.
‘Joey Shoe-stepper, is it usual for a human to leak jelly from one’s head?’ Her stern voice might as well have been the roar from a dragon for all the kindness it had in it.
Joey turned to look at Skruff and Limpstick who were grinning widely and licking their lips at him from behind her back.
‘N-no, Miss.’ Not once had he told a teacher about Bombardier or the Snippetts. He might have been an easy target, but he definitely wasn’t a snitch.
‘Then please explain your need to try and single yourself out from everyone else in the class?’
‘B-but I,’ began Joey.
‘Silence!’ The room was so quiet you could hear the squirrels scampering up the old oak tree outside the window, trying to hide their winter stash from a new introduced species of squirrel called a Squashal. Squashal's were like magpies and stole from the nests of other squirrels. ‘This is the third time this month you’ve disrupted my class. First with that display of incessant itching and then last week when you tried to impersonate a tree, of all things.’ Her eyes, golden and circular, rolled around in a complete circle before focusing on him again. ‘And now today…’ Her ring-sized nostrils flared open as she breathed out. Joey flinched, expecting fire to come out of them.
The itching had come from fleas Bombardier had pulled off a stray dog one morning and had tipped them down the back of Joey’s shirt before class, and the Snippetts had been responsible for jinxing his arms to look like branches, his body into a trunk and his head and hair into leaves.
Joey kept quiet. Saying anymore wouldn’t do him any favours. Mrs Fumbletrundle clicked her tongue and strode to the front of the class in three quick strides without waiting for Joey’s answer. He let out a breath, thinking he was off the hook. He was not.
Mrs Fumbletrundle stood by the pile of books she’d just brought in and selected the top copy. It was a thick, white textbook with strange creatures of all colours pictured on the front; some of which Joey had never seen before, and the words COCOA in bold red print right at the top. She lifted her hand and held the book high above her head, so high that it made contact with the fluorescent light, which buzzed and flickered once, before fizzling out with a snuffled pop.
‘Then I suppose it’s too much to ask, Joey Shoe-Stepper, if you can you tell the class what the defining characteristics between a Pog and a Blinking Bolinger is?’
Joey turned his head right and stared at the Pog sitting next to him. He knew a little about Pogs. He knew they could change from the colour of the sky into the reddest of roses in the blink of an eye and that their breath had the same sour flavour that rose from the back of his grandpa’s trousers an hour after eating brussel sprout and onion soup. But he knew nothing about a Blinking Bolinger. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever heard of a Blinking Bolinger before.
The Pog stared back at Joey, blinking through his three favourite colours – blueberry, lime and mauve. He knew the difference. Pogs could choose if they wanted to change colour, Blinking Bolinger’s had no control over it. They could zip through two hundred colours, including stripes, dots and spots, wiggles and symmetrical shapes in one lesson, leaving you dizzy and wishing you hadn’t eaten turnip treacle for breakfast.
‘I don’t know, Miss,’ answered Joey, shrugging his shoulders. He continued to draw triangular patterns into his desk with his finger.
Mrs Fumbletrundle flicked out her bright orange tongue so fast the slapping sound alone caused Joey to look up. A bug, who had been minding its own business crawling along the window sill had the untimely misfortune of learning for itself what the inside of a Hootsweet’s gullet looked like. Joey screwed up his nose as she chewed noisily on it. It reminded him of the juniper jellytubes you could buy from Salty Butkiss’s Sweet ‘n’ Sour shop. Saltys was the coolest shop in town, and the one place Joey was planning to go after school finished for the day. His hard-earned pocket money of two pounds went on the same sweet every week. He didn’t have a desire for every sweet in the shop. Some were way beyond his palate, something he never thought possible. He glanced up at the clock. He was getting better at counting backwards as the minutes dissolved.
Meanwhile, Mrs Fumbletrundle had moved on to another pupil and was repeating her question with the same ferocity. Joey returned his eyes to his carved-out walnut desk.
‘I could have told you the answer,’ whispered the Pog.
His name was Elty Flybender, not that Joey cared much right at this present moment, and he waved his hand in front of his nose to waft away the Pog’s rancid breath. He couldn’t help wonder what Elty had eaten for lunch that made it smell so bad …pigeon pooh, perhaps. There was plenty of that in the school playground at lunchtime.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ muttered Joey sulkily. ‘I don’t need your help.’
Elty’s laughter, along with everyone else’s, still rang clearly in Joey’s ears. It conflicted with what he considered the word ‘friend’ actually meant, especially as Elty had always come across as quite amicable when the two of them were alone. Friends didn’t laugh at friends if they were on the other end of tricks and humiliation.
Elty looked hurt and a little confused as Joey continued to flap his hand in front of his face.
‘I can’t help it,’ mumbled the Pog, cupping his hand over his mouth. Joey stifled a cough and pinched his nose closed. ‘I even take a spoonful of Mama Minto’s Mouthbangers every morning, but it still doesn’t get rid of it.’ In under a second, Elty turned twenty shades of red, starting from light pink and finishing up looking like the colour of a post-box. He had tried so many times to make friends at school, but even for a Pog, his mouth vapour was more pungent than the average Pogs’ was.
What was Joey thinking? As much as he hated to say it, and he would never say it to Elty’s face, Elty’s breath was fifty times worse than his grandpa’s farts and the primary reason why he hadn’t spoken to him much since Scaleys were integrated into the educational system a little over a year ago.