It all began one morning when I walked through the front gate of Northwest Southeast Central School, across the school yard, up the steps, and through the door of classroom 5B.
I was slightly late, and class had already started.
Not that you would have known it.
Mr. Brainfright, our teacher, was hanging by his toes from one of the ceiling rafters.
His arms were crossed and his face was bright red.
Now, normally, if you walked into a classroom and your teacher was hanging by his toes from the ceiling, you might be a little alarmed. You might ask him if he was all right, or try to help him down, or at the very least, report the situation to another teacher.
But I didn't do any of these things. You see, Mr. Brainfright wasn't a normal teacher. You only had to look at the way he was dressed to tell that. With his purple jacket, orange shirt, and green pants, he looked—and acted—like no other teacher at Northwest Southeast Central School—a fact for which we were very grateful. School had been a lot more interesting since he'd taken over from our old teacher, Mrs. Chalkboard.
Today, Mr. Brainfright greeted me with a big smile.
"Good morning, Henry!" he said. "I'm just demonstrating how bats sleep!"
"I've always wondered about that!" I said.
"Well, now you know," said Mr. Brainfright, dismounting with a somersault and landing on his feet. "Any questions, class?"
Fiona McBrain put up her hand.
"Yes, Fiona?" Mr. Brainfright said.
"Will we be tested on this?" she asked.
"Certainly not!" said Mr. Brainfright. "Any other questions?"
"Don't bats sleep in coffins?" Clive Durkin asked.
"That's vampires, Clive!" my friend Jack Japes shouted out, laughing. "Don't you know anything?"
Clive narrowed his eyes. "I'm going to tell my brother you said that!" he threatened.
"What?" said Jack. "That bats don't sleep in coffins? He doesn't know, either?"
"No," said Clive. "That you said that I don't know anything."
"No, I didn't!" Jack shot back. He always had an answer to everything. "I just said that vampires, not bats, sleep in coffins!"
"Can you stop talking about bats and vampires?" said my friend Jenny Friendly. "Newton's getting scared."
Jenny was right. Our friend Newton Hooton's eyes were wide as he clutched his lucky rabbit's foot and shook visibly.
"You don't have to be scared of bats, Newton," said Mr. Brainfright. "Or vampires, for that matter."
"Yes, he does," said Jenny. "Newton's scared of everything."
This was true. Newton was scared of everything. He was even scared of being scared. That's how scared he was.
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Brainfright. "Sorry, I forgot."
"Can we do math now?" Fiona asked.
The rest of the class groaned.
"Certainly not!" said Mr. Brainfright.
The class cheered. Everybody, that is, except Fiona.
"But it's Monday morning!" said Fiona. "We always study math on Monday morning."
"Correction," said Mr. Brainfright. "You always used to study math on Monday morning. But today I've got something much more important to teach you!"
"What could be more important than math?" said Fiona.
"Magic tricks!" said Mr. Brainfright.
The class cheered again.
"I love magic tricks!" said Jack.
"Me too!" boomed Gretel Armstrong. She had a very powerful voice. She also had very strong arms. In fact, she was the strongest girl in the school.
"Me three!" I said.
"Excellent!" said Mr. Brainfright, beaming as he produced a long black magic wand from inside his purple jacket. "I thought we'd start with the vanishing pencil trick. Knowing how to make a pencil vanish is a very important life skill."
I didn't know how true his words were then. But I do now.