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Smart Alec
© Jill McDougall

This school is bad news. I've been here one whole day and it's the worst day of my life.
This morning, my new teacher, Ms Bramble called me over. "You can take the lunch orders to the canteen, Alec," she said. "Reece will show you the way."
Reece was a freckly kid with ears like the World Cup.
Once we were outside, he gave me a cheeky grin and headed for the playground. He climbed up the slippery dip and did a handstand at the top. Then he did some spins on the monkey bars.
"The canteen." I reminded him.
Reece gave me another grin and started digging a tunnel in the sandpit.
"Is there a quicker way?" I asked.
"This is an escape route," said Reece. "School sucks."
I clutched the lunch order box with a sick feeling in my chest. I would have to find the canteen on my own.

I followed a path to an important building with wide glass doors. It looked like the front office.
"Hello?" I called to the empty counter.
"Hellooo?" I called to the empty hall.
Where was everyone?
Then my nose went on high alert. A stench like soggy weetbix crawled down the hallway.
I sniffed the smell all the way to a room where a pale-faced girl sat on a chair. She held a sick bucket under her chin.
"Hello," I said politely.
"Blark!" she answered, bending over the bucket.
My knees turned to water and I felt my own breakfast rise in my throat. A hand clutched my shoulder before I slid to the floor.
"Another sick one," said a busy voice. I was steered towards the spare bed and a wet towel was hung around my neck.
"But -" I said.
"Try not to talk," said the woman.
"But -" I said again.
The woman stared at the canteen box on my lap.
"I'm ...er...looking for the canteen." I said.
"Why didn't you say so?" griped the woman. She snatched the towel from me as if I'd been planning to steal it.
I slunk out the door feeling as big as a bug.
Blark! went the girl behind me.

Further down the hall, I found a boy sitting outside a door marked "Principal."  He had sand in his hair and his ears and his eyelashes.  
"I guess your escape route didn't work," I said, wishing there was one right under my feet.
He grinned a sandy grin and ran his hands through his hair.  Sand sprayed all over me and stuck to the wet patch the towel had left on my shirt.
Suddenly, the door marked "Principal" burst open and a red-faced woman glared at us.
"Two of you!" she snapped. "I thought there was only one silly boy in the sandpit."
Things were going from bad to worse. I crept into the Principal's office, wishing I could climb into the canteen box and disappear.
"A detention for both of you," barked the Principal.
I didn't have the energy to complain, especially since I was covered in wet sand.
"Go and have a wash," she said to Reece. "And Alec, you'd better get that lunch order box to the canteen."
Here was my big chance. "Er ... where is the canteen exactly?"
The Principal looked at me as if I'd just arrived from Planet Weirdo. "Gooutthefirstdooranddownthepath," she said. "StayonyourrightuntilyougettothelibraryandthenturnleftatheYear7classroomyoucan'tmissit."
The only thing I understood was, "You can't miss it."
"Wanna bet?" I muttered as I headed back down the hall.

So here I am back at the sandpit, admiring Reece's tunnel. Pity his escape route didn't work. I'm ready to bail out of this crazy school. I've been made to feel like a bug and been given a detention just for trying to deliver the dumb lunch orders.
I dump the lunch box in the sandpit. I've already got the detention so I might as well do the crime. I sprinkle sand over all the brown paper bags. Then I get serious and bury the lunch box in Reece's escape tunnel. I've just covered it over when I smell something.
In front of me is a small square building with a counter at the front. Rows of bananas and boiled eggs are lined up, ready for sale. Why didn't I notice that before? It's the canteen. But something is wrong. Puffs of grey smoke are pouring across the counter.
"Fire!" I yell, running towards the building.
There's no one there.
The room is filling with thick smoke that chokes in my throat and burns my lungs. It's coming from the pie warmer where half a dozen sausage rolls are turning into half a dozen sausage coals.  
I turn off the power and use a tea towel to toss the smoking food into a sink full of water.
The smoke clears just as a crowd arrives. I see some kids from my class, my teacher (Ms Bramble), a canteen lady and the Principal. Everyone is grinning at me. Even the Principal.
"Smart move, Alec," she says.
A couple of kids clap. I feel like a hero.
The Principal gives the canteen lady a puzzled frown. "How could you let this happen?" she asks. "Where were you?"
The canteen lady looks cross. "I had to go to Ms Bramble's class to get the lunch order box."
Uh oh.
Everyone turns and looks at me. They're not grinning any more.
"That was Alec's responsibility," says Ms Bramble frostily. "Where is the lunch box, Alec?"
Uh oh again.
I point weakly at the mound in the sandpit.
How am I going to get out of this one?

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