I balanced up on my tiptoes, stretching to grab the plastic bin off of the top shelf of the storage closet. “Come here, you bugger,” I growled up at it, my fingers brushing against the handle but not quite able to wrap around it.
Who had decided to put the popsicle sticks all the way up on the top shelf, anyway? It must have been one of the clueless parents, I decided. They came in on Fridays to help out in the kindergarten class, doing their best to foster the growth of their precious little angels, but not considering more obvious issues.
Issues like the fact that the teacher of their little terrors was barely five feet tall – on a good day.
I paused for a moment, considering whether I should tell the kids that we weren’t building with popsicle sticks after all. They wouldn’t take it well, I knew. Jason, especially, would probably throw a tantrum.
Last time Jason threw a tantrum, the class hamster ended up dying. I needed those popsicle sticks.
Finally, after making a little half-hearted jump in the air, I managed to get my fingers wrapped around the handle of the plastic bin full of extra popsicle sticks. I grinned – but then my grin turned upside down as I dropped back down to earth, and the box came sliding off the shelf above me.
I bit my lip to hold back the curse words I really wanted to shout out. I was well aware that a dozen impressionable young minds waited outside of the closet, ready to repeat any words that they happened to hear from inside. “Oh, gosh,” I muttered instead, wishing that the word carried any sort of real impact.
Where had that voice come from? I stopped – which was a bad idea, as that big plastic box of sticks came plummeting down, right in front of me. It shot down to the ground, about to burst open and scatter sticks everywhere-
-and then paused, floating a single inch above the ground.
I looked down, confused. Where was the explosion, the burst of mess as the box’s contents went everywhere?
“Over here, twatty!”
“Hey, now,” I said automatically at the bad language, as I turned towards the source of the voice. The rest of my scolding died in my throat, however, as my eyes fell upon the speaker.
The man stood on one of the shelves in front of me, venerable in a white robe with a long, thick beard cascading down from his chin. He looked like he’d been wandering around in a desert for years, somewhere without a razor or pair of scissors. His bald head rose like a mountaintop, cresting up in the middle of a halo of white hair, and he held a thick wooden staff with a gnarled top in one hand.
He would have been majestic, intimidating, and almost prophetic in appearance – if he had been more than eight inches tall.
“What the heck are you?” I asked, staring at this tiny little moving, clearly alive man in my preschool supply closet.
“I?” he challenged me, drawing himself up to his full little height. “I am Gosh, and I am so tired of you lot taking my name in vain!”
“Excuse me?” Had I accidentally eaten one of my roommate’s pot brownies? Or maybe some of his LSD? Did he even have any LSD?
I looked down at the box of popsicle sticks, still hovering just above the floor. All of this had to be a hallucination, I decided. Instead of falling in front of me, that box actually clonked me on the head, and I was lying on the ground and bleeding out right now as I imagined all of this. Hopefully, one of the students would open the door and call an ambulance for their poor, injured teacher.
“You heard me!” the little man snapped. “I’m Gosh! And you’ve been using my name far too liberally!”
“You’re a hallucination,” I retorted, pointing at him with a finger. “Seriously, how do I wake up from this?” I tried pinching myself a couple times, but it didn’t do anything.
The little man narrowed his eyes, and lowered his staff to point out at me. A bolt of static electricity leapt from the tip of his staff to my finger, and I yelped at the stinging pain.
“You jerk!” I yelled at him, not caring if the kids outside heard. After all, if this man was a hallucination, they were also hallucinations. “What was that for?”
“For using my name in vain!” the man shouted back. “I should smite you, strike you down with the fury of a thousand warriors!”
“You should keep a civil tongue in your head,” I told him, speaking more out of instinct from working with small children for years. “Otherwise you’ll get a star taken away.”
Of course, the god didn’t have stars. Only the children had stars, earned at great expense and displayed on a chart for everyone to see and admire.
Behind me, I heard small fists pounding on the supply closet door. “Miss Harriet, are you coming out?” I heard a young voice call out petulantly. “We wanna play with popsicle sticks!”
“Coming, kids,” I shouted back, reaching down and grabbing the floating box in front of me. On the shelf, the god (or Gosh?) jumped up and down, shouting something else at me and waving his staff around, but I ignored him.
Maybe the hallucination would go away if I ignored it. I reached out for the handle of the closet door – and yelped as another bolt of static electricity jumped from the man’s staff to hit me, this time in the tush! I spun around, glaring furiously at him.
“What is your problem!” I snapped. Whoops. I was supposed to be ignoring the hallucination.
Gosh started shouting again, but I couldn’t stand listening to him any longer. I threw open the closet door and stepped out, leaving it open.
I found myself in front of a rapt audience of children, all staring back at me. “Miss Harriet, who were you talking to?” asked Rachel, blinking up at me.
“Who’s that??” Jason shouted, pointing into the closet.
Oh, great. They could see Gosh, too. “Can we play with him?” Jason asked, a predatory glint in his eye.
Gosh had stopped shouting, looking apprehensively down at this seven-year-old with the sticky fingers and the perpetually dirty face, sizing him up. In Jason’s mind, a short little man was even better than a hamster.
“Go ahead,” I sighed, dropping into the chair behind my desk.
There. Let’s see this Gosh character deal with a bunch of rowdy kindergarteners.