“What?” laughed Victor.
The classroom door swung shut, slamming like a gunshot. Darkness descended and the room grew unbearably hot. Victor watched in horror as the students’ faces transformed into those of ventriloquist dummies, and then saw the teacher tear the skin from his face to reveal reptilian scales beneath. The sound of shrieking violins filled the room.
“Stop!” screamed Victor. “Stop! Please!”
The violins hushed, the temperature eased, and the teacher paused his face-shredding to look at Victor.
“Are you ready to give your speech?” he slurred through lizard lips.
Victor nodded frantically. “I’m ready.”
“Very well,” said the teacher, reattaching the flesh to his face. “Let’s see if you can go five minutes without being a complete disappointment.”
Light returned to the room, the students’ faces became childlike again, the air cooled and the teacher resumed his human form. Victor almost fainted in relief.
“You may begin,” said the teacher.
Victor’s relief vanished. He cleared his throat and straightened his tie. He cleared his throat again. The teacher drummed his fingers on the desk.
“Ah, yes,” said Victor. “Magellan, you say? Yes, Magellan. Good old Magellan. Uh… he was… uh…”
Six years of trying to sell a product for which there was scarce demand had endowed Victor with a compelling verbosity, so that armed with even minimal understanding of a subject he could orate almost unceasingly, endearing himself to and occasionally even convincing his hearers. In short, he could bullsh**. But Victor knew nothing about Magellan. Nothing.
“He was… one of the, uh, the greatest… scientists?”
The teachers eyes widened with fury.
“No!” said Victor. “What I mean is… uh… Wait! Yes, I’ve got it!” Victor’s hand dove into his hip pocket and retrieved his phone. It had one bar of reception, and nine percent battery left. “Oh, come on,” he begged as he made an urgent internet search. “Just five minutes. How do you spell Magellan? Is it a J or a G? No, wait, I’ve got it. Yes! Thank you.”
Victor cleared his throat, stood tall and smiled. He then read from the Wikipedia page for Ferdinand Magellan for five minutes before improvising a neat conclusion. At the end of his presentation the students looked surprised, and turned to the teacher. The teacher looked at Victor with a raised eyebrow and a half-smile. “Well, well,” he said. “I never thought I’d say this to you Grimes, but… I’m impressed.”
Victor smiled cautiously and waited for further reaction. There was none. The half-smile remained on the teacher’s face and he continued staring at Victor, motionless. Victor looked at the children and they too were frozen. Nothing moved in the room; nothing changed except that everything took on a grey tinge. Victor walked over to the one of the children’s desks and knelt beside it; he stared at the child sitting colourless and still. With his finger he prodded the boy’s shoulder and it crumbled in on itself in a puff of green dust. Victor jumped back.
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