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The Magic Tunnel (Ending #1)

"Hey, Beth," her girl friend whispered, "where have you been? Did you get lost in this awful dark and dirty basement or something? Mr. Wilkins sent me down here to get you. I wish he had sent one of the boys. But it is the girls' side of the school "
"I...had trouble finding the closet in the dark," Beth (Billy) confessed, "but, I just found it."
The two girls half ran up the stairs to the first floor and Billy realized that "Bobby" was right, they were on the girls' side of the basement. As they walked up the next flights Billy's mind tried to figure out how he had gotten lost. Deep in thought he suddenly realized that they had reached the classroom.
When he opened the door he found that all of his boy friends had somehow changed into girls, just as he had, and that all the girls were now boys. And just as "Bobby" had said their teacher was not Mrs. Wilkins, it was Mr. Wilkins!
"Did you get lost, Miss Beth?" Mr. Wilkins asked with an edge to his voice as he considered how much time had been wasted while the silly girl wandered about the basement.
" Wilkins," Beth answered sweetly, "But, I did find the erasers after all."
"Good girl," Mr. Wilkins responded in turn causing some of the kids to giggle, "and thank you, Robin, for finding our little lost girl. Maybe we all can now get back to our math lesson."
Mr. Wilkins continued to write numbers on the freshly wiped black board, but Beth could hardly pay attention. Everybody was so different, yet she was the only one who knew!
Pretty soon it was time for recess, and all the kids went outside into the schoolyard with Beth joining her classmates at jump rope. While Susan and Linda held the ends of the long rope to get the beat of each swing started; Laura chose the order in which the other girls jumped into the swing, at first turn, one by one to the rhyming chant. Beth found herself surprisingly good at it as she moved into doubles with Laura skip for skip.
After she tripped out of her turn Beth played a hand clapping game with Mary: "Abla Blueble, Abla Blueble," the recited while they clapped each other's hands and their own. Soon Mary saw her turn at the jump rope and she left Beth alone.
Beth went over to the side of the schoolyard where she could see the boys playing touch football. She sort of wished that she were playing touch football too; but, then she thought about how much fun she was having playing with the other girls. She giggled at the strange thought that maybe she was thinking like a tomboy.
When the class bell rang they all went back inside where Mr. Wilkins gave them a sheet with words on it. They had to write down other words that sounded the same but were spelled differently.
Beth finished her sheet quickly. She would have been finished much sooner if it had not been for Jeff, who sat behind her and amused himself by pulling on her braid and whispering, "Ding, dong, bell, pussy's in the well..." She turned around angrily to warn, "Stop it!", but it didn't do much good until Mr. Wilkins' stern glance caught Jeff's eye. She seemed to be better at spelling than she had been as a boy. But would she be worse at math now?
At lunch time Beth (Billy) had a little problem - she couldn't find the right lunch box on the shelf at the back of the classroom with the other lunch boxes. Finally, she decided to wait until the rest of the class had picked up their own lunches. Billy's lunch box had been blue with pictures of trains on it, but the only one left was pink and decorated with flowers. But when Beth opened the box, sure enough, there was her name written on a plastic tape inside the lid: "Beth Harrison". Fortunately, it was the same lunch that his mother had packed for him that morning.
The rest of the day went by quickly with lots and lots to do without those long daydreaming moments that Billy seemed to feel in school. It was different being a girl. Beth actually looked forward to school work and adored working on the art project that Mr. Wilkins had suggested for the class. It was an exciting day and fun project despite the protests of the boys, and Beth decided that she really liked being a girl.
The final school bell rang and the children all formed into safety patrols for the walk home. Just this morning Beth had known her patrol leader as a red-headed boy named Carl, who was in the sixth grade and very grown up. But, now the redhead was a girl called Carol. Under Carol's watchful eye they had walked about four blocks from school when Billy's mind had a very frightening thought... Would everything at home be different too? Her parents would treat her as if she'd always been Beth, as if she'd always been a girl...
Suddenly Billy-Beth turned around, thinking that if she crawled through the tunnel things would return back to the way they were before, and she started running back towards the school in a swirl of flying skirts and petticoats, realizing that soon the doors would be locked and there might not be any way back until tomorrow!
Hearing someone running behind, Billy-Beth saw that Carol was chasing her and demanding that she rejoin the Patrol. She knew that Carol was older and could run faster, but Billy-Beth had to get back to the school before it was too late! She just had to!
A block behind was patrol #4, the one that always turned into Maple Street. Billy-Beth ran around the cheering kids up into someone's lawn fearing that Carol was getting closer and that in any second she would feel Carol's hands about her waist stopping her!
But, it didn't happen. Billy-Beth turned her head to look back only to see that Carol had ran smack into an old man, who was scolding the embarrassed young lady, who usually tried to be so grown up.
Billy-Beth ran the last three blocks to school. Would anybody still be there? Would the door still be open? She headed down the flight of outside steps that led to the girls' basement only to find the fire doors firmly locked! So was the girls' entrance!
She would have to go into the main front entrance to the school past Mr. Moraski's office to get to the inside stairs to the girls' basement where the tunnel might still be. And Mr. Moraski was the school principal! How could Billy-Beth explain why she had returned to school? Trying the front door Billy-Beth could see the Principal returning to his office, only it was Ms. Moraski! But just as frightening!
Fortunately the Principal hadn't seen Billy-Beth's entry into the school lobby causing Billy-Beth to realize that she still had to sneak past the Principal's office to make the girls' stairway. Deciding that her lunch box made too much noise she placed it just outside on the front entry landing and walked very softly down the hallway, almost on tippy toes, towards the office. As Billy-Beth neared the office door she paused by it. Her heart was beating so fast! She knew that she would have to run past the frosted door window! She could hear voices from inside the Principal's office. She waited just a second and then ran, hearing the slapping sound of her leather soles upon the tile floor!
"A little girl just ran past the door!" a voice exclaimed...
But, by then Billy-Beth was taking the steps almost two at a time as she half ran and half jumped down them boy fashion, ignoring her untended skirts and petticoats. When she reached the bottom she turned left, remembering how everything was opposite, and before she reached the girls' locker room she found in the darkness the narrow passage. She quickly moved the mops and broom aside, hearing the sound of people coming down the girls' stairwell in search of her. Pushing the mirror and pegboard away she opened the door only to pause at the thought of getting her pretty clothes dirty!
But, Billy-Beth's mind seemed clearer as she entered the tunnel, remembering to leave the little door almost shut to just a little crack. As she crawled through the tunnel she hoped that her pursuers would not notice the tunnel door. She felt very strange and frightened by the near total darkness as her hands felt the hard packed dirt and she wondered if there might be spiders and "things" in the passageway towards the faint crack of light ahead. For like the door behind her, the door ahead was nearly closed.
When Billy-Beth reached the other end she pushed the door opened and crawled out to stand up and brush her skirts before the mirror only to discover that she was once more a boy!
"I don't see him here. We'd better check the locker room," Mr. Moraski's voice sounded from somewhere beyond the narrow passage.
Billy knew that he wasn't out of trouble yet as he realized that poor Beth was probably trying to sneak out of the school in the opposite world, just as he was. He waited in the narrow passageway for a minute or two; and, after hearing the Principal and the others talking together as they went up the boys' staircase, he decided to make his way down the narrow hallway to the junction of the main corridor.
Just as he stepped out into the corridor he saw coming toward him, Mr. Jakubauskas, who seemed startled by Billy as if he had stepped out of nowhere!
"Billy..." the kindly janitor whispered as he came closer, "What are you doing down here so late? Did you leave something in the boys' locker room when you fetched the eraser this morning?"
"I...I..." a very confused Billy started to say, sticking his hand into his pocket to feel his long as he held the rock he could see the tunnel hallway but as soon as he removed it the hallway was gone!
"Never mind," the janitor sighed holding his finger to his lips as if to end the boy's confused words noticing that the boy seemed totally lost in his own thoughts. Smiling as if he were in on a secret he urged, "We have to get you out of here, Billy, so that Mr. Moraski won't find you. He takes things too seriously."
Quickly he led the way to the fire doors at the base of the boys' staircase and unlocked them for the boy. "Now, you get out of here, you little rascal. And be careful of the traffic!"
Billy paused in the school yard at the top of the outside steps to consider the fact that the rock was a kind of key to the tunnel and if he wanted to he could probably return to that other world where he was a girl. And she could come into his world, causing him to be suddenly hurled into hers'. For they both could not be in the same world at the same time. Could they? He wondered if there were other "tunnels". Where did they lead to: Beth's world, or others?
Billy ran about the outside of the school building, remembering where Beth had left her lunch box and there upon the top of the front steps he saw his own just as his mother's car pulled up in front of the school and she got out to run towards him.
"Billy?!" she exclaimed with concern as she approached. "Are you all right? Carl came by and told me you ran away from his patrol back towards the school. Did you leave something behind?"
"Uh...Yes, mom!"
"Well then what could have been so important?"
"I...sort of...left...myself!...I think!..." And then he started laughing so hard that his mother couldn't be upset any more over his silly behavior and all she could say was, "Well, don't do that again."
Billy climbed into the front seat and stared at the old school building wondering if the magic tunnel would still be there tomorrow. Would he go back again and have the courage to see his home in that other world, where he had always lived as a girl? What was Beth going to do? His thoughtful change in mood caused his mother to look at him in wonder as she smiled saying, "You are a strange little boy."
Billy smiled to himself, "If she only knew how strange "


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