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Project Scholastic

by Mr.RMA

Mr.RMA I took another year of Creative Writing in school this year, and while I await a time to really put forth more effort in my Undertale series, I figured I'd post one of my projects to tide over anyone who may be following my work. In this short story, a young man drifting through his final months in high school starts finding out something strange about the kid who always sits next to him every morning. With this discovery will come a choice, one that could potentially affect his past as much as his future.
Senior year had been a lot drearier than I expected. Everyone always said it would be non-stop partying, goofing off, easy classes, and generally a good time all around. I supposed there was a little bit of that, but, it wasn’t anything that I hadn’t experienced in some form the year before. Though, I had to admit those past three years sometimes felt like a blur when I tried to think back on them. They blended together a lot of the time, and the most I could remember was sitting at a desk, piles of paperwork in front of me, an aging old backpack at my side, and a tired lecture coming from the teacher scribbling some useless symbols on the whiteboard, or blackboard, depending on how old the room was and how neglected the course was by the school’s staff. Classmates were pretty hazy in my mind too, hardly any of them seemed to have similar interests to me, I’d only see them in one class, maybe two tops, and the next year seemed to drive them away to courses not related to mine at all. I doubt I was scaring them off, I was by no means an intimidating guy, above-average height, but with the form of someone who clearly only did a lot of working out when gym class rolled around. Something to chalk up to coincidence it seemed, schedules just inhibited any consistent acquaintances, and that was just something that I had to come to terms with.

There were at least two things that I knew were a constant, and that was that Paul would sit next to me every home room, and that he was nothing but trouble. Paul wasn’t that traditional sort of troublemaker though, not that whole rebel-without-a-cause who you’d expect to have a hunting knife under his shirt or a key to his father’s gun closet back home. No, the trouble with Paul was a more… how do I put this… geeky sort? He’d hunch himself over a laptop or tablet every morning, the contents hidden away from any passing viewer, immediately boggling the mind when it came to what it was he was working on in such confidence. I was always fretting that this kid was some kind of super-secret hacker, one of those guys from Anonymous or something of that ilk who took their computer skills to those near-extremist levels. He’d give almost everyone the evil eye if they got too close or even simply had the misfortune of walking past him. I say almost because there was one person he would confide to. Me, imagine my luck…

“Another change in history, you gotta love the consistency of these people, it’s like they don’t even care how obviously manipulative they can be,” he said to me after there was an announcement that the social studies curriculum would be changing the following semester.

“Well I mean, I’m sure they’re looking out for our best interests, Paul. You can’t just, y’know, assume everyone’s out to brainwash you here, otherwise they’d probably call you paranoid,” I’d said to him, already moving to get my things ready for first period.

“Heh, yeah, if they didn’t already call me that…”

I didn’t want to argue with that, he made a pretty good point there after all. Then again, it probably would have been hypocritical to think he was the only one fretting about those things. I chose simply to let this go like all the other times as I went to get up and get going to my first class of the day. Midway through though, Paul grabs at my backpack, keeping me in place. This never happened before, Paul might have talked to me a lot, more than I’d care to admit, but to actually do anything physical like this, well that was out of the question.

“Hey uh… mind letting me go there Paul? The bell rang, I don’t wanna be late for class…” I said, trying to be as casual about this as possible when I was actually completely petrified.

“Five minutes,” he said in reply casually, as if I’d have any idea what that was supposed to mean.

“I don’t have five minutes, man, I need to go!” I said, struggling a little to pull the backpack away from his grasp, but the guy was stronger than he looked, and his grip held firm. I was going to take the unsavory sort of route and ask the teacher running the homeroom at the time to get Paul to let go, but that was when I noticed something even more peculiar than my current restraint. The teacher was gone, the students likewise, and no one else was coming in. There was a first period class in this room, I knew that for a fact, several of the other homeroom kids would always stay after the rest of us left for that very reason… Or at least Paul always did… At that moment I’d realized he was the only one I ever noticed stay behind while the rest of us left. It looked like I was now going to be learning a little more about that.

The five minutes passed and everything seemed to go quiet aside from the next bell, signifying my lateness for that first class of the day, and I was probably going to get chewed out for that, but at that point I was going to happily welcome such an experience if I got out of this unsettling situation intact.

“I’m going to close the door now, don’t try to run off, I’ll do my best to explain all this to you,” Paul said, releasing me and making his way over to the door. My one chance to escape from this madness, and yet I found myself doing exactly what I was told, not moving an inch. Maybe I was so unnerved by this I couldn’t move, or maybe, much as I didn’t want to admit it openly, I really was intrigued by just what I was going to find out here. Paul shut the door, making sure to lock it before turning around and facing me, his expression softening into the first truly friendly sort of face that I’d ever seen on him. It had the strangest combination of looking both forced and genuine, as if he wasn’t faking it but he was so unused to reacting that way that it was straining the muscles of his face to maintain such an expression.

“It’s been a while… I’m sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer, thought I could somehow get you back by just throwing out random things every morning but you weren’t showing any progress,” he said to me, like he truly, earnestly thought I was supposed to take all this reveal as the most casual thing in the world.

“Paul, what the hell are you talking about?” I said. It was all I could really muster to say. I watched him, tried to somehow get a read on his movements, or at least some kind of tell in his eyes, but the way he was acting was so different from the usual enclosed introvert he usually was that it felt like I was talking to a completely different person, I could hardly look him in the eyes for more than a few seconds before I was too perturbed by the contrast and had to avert my gaze slightly.

“They really did a number on you, huh? I couldn’t believe an agency that small had the capacity to create a mind-altering substance so potent,” he said, walking closer and suddenly grabbing at my jaw with one hand, inspecting my terrified face thoroughly like I was some kind of laboratory experiment.

“P-Paul, can you just… please, drop the act or whatever the hell this is, I… really don’t have time to play along with this,” I said, still trying to somehow futilely talk my way out of this, because trying to simply up and leave seemed like suicide at this moment, what with literally no one else watching this turn of events. No witnesses, just Paul and me.

“So absolutely nothing is ringing familiar in that head of yours, huh? Shit… I thought maybe keeping you here would somehow trigger something, but that’s obviously not the case considering that look you’re giving. Guess I should just try and explain myself.”

“Yes, for the love of god do, because yeah, man, you’re really starting to freak me right the fuck out right now,” I told him, finally just admitting to it right then and there.

“You had a codename for a while, I3, don’t remember? You don’t remember what you’d been trained for, for years, Project Scholastic? None of that’s ringing a bell?” he asked, looking somewhat desperate as he spoke, perhaps looking almost as unnerved as I was at that moment.

“No! What kind of gibberish are you spurting? I don’t know any Project Scholastic, I’ve never called myself I3 before! What is this, some kind of game you’ve been working on with that computer of yours that you never show anybody?” I said, shivering a little as I broke away from his grasp.

“Right, so none of that computes for you…Then tell me this, do you have any lapses in your memory? Does it feel like you’ve forgotten some things in the past, like, to the point where large chunks of your life just feel like hazy, foggy moments that lack any sort of clarity?” he asked, and I wanted to protest and say I’d never experienced that sort of thing once, but that wasn’t true, not at all.

“I… Yeah, I mean, of course, doesn’t everybody? I mean, it’s just a few murky parts of my memory, I figured I just didn’t bother to remember them really, I mean, how does this have anything to do with… anything?” I said.

“All those major lapses aren’t natural my friend. Recently you were captured during a mission of ours, and you were injected with a mind-altering substance that selectively removed major periods of time concerning your involvement with our organization. It was the ideal way for them to get you out of the way without killing you and having to cover up the entire thing,” he explained, not that I really wanted to know about any more of this, but like always, I’d attempted to humor him as best I could.

“Y-yeah? So then… just what was our organization, huh?”

“I can’t tell you upfront unless the memories come to you, I’d hoped this whole thing would’ve been that final push, I really did, but unless you fully agree to be reinstated like this, and basically start anew within our ranks, I can’t explain much more, it’d unfortunately cause a compromise that they would rather not risk. And before you ask, I can’t explain who they are either unless you choose to follow me,” he said, and with the forlorn look in his eyes, I think he knew exactly what I was going to decide on.

“Paul… maybe one time I was like that, maybe I’ve secretly been working some super spy business with you and uncovering some crazy shit, but, if that’s really the case, if you’re not messing around here, I’m sorry, that time’s past… I want to just live out a normal life, I want to just continue on with how things are. I don’t think I can put up with all this crap in the first place, it’s just… It’s too much,” I said. He sighed at that but nonetheless gave a nod.

“I understand, as unfortunate as it is. You were a helluva partner all these years, almost like a brother to me really… If it makes you feel any better, you can just pretend all this shit we’ve discussed was just me being over-imaginative. I’m sorry I made you late for class, I assure you it won’t happen again,” he said, motioning for me to leave. I was unsure of doing so for a moment, but, I’d made my decision and I was going to stand by it. If what he was telling me was true, I felt now I just wanted to let that secret life I’d once kept go. I liked normalcy now, I liked thinking I had a lot of life left in me, and that apparent old life sounded like it was far too risky far too often. I merely gave him an uneasy nod and walked out of the room, hearing him mutter something about carrying on before I was out of ear’s reach. The next day, in class, Paul wasn’t there. The teacher said his family had moved away on sudden notice. I never heard from him again, and sometimes I wonder if that was for the better or not.