he Magic Tunnel (Beginning)
Billy arrived before anyone else that morning to sit on the stone steps leading to the boys' entrance of Westvale Street School. Having nothing else to do, he took the small rock that he had picked up on the way out of his pocket and tossed it back and forth, from hand to hand, watching how the morning sun glittered on the glasslike crystals buried into the iron-heavy rock. After a few moments of this exercise he became tired of it and wondered what else he could do to pass the time before the class bell rang. He decided to get up and look around the schoolyard. So he stuffed the rock back into his pocket and walked about the schoolyard hoping to find a lost rubber ball or something else interesting. As he approached the building again he noticed a smooth granite slab embedded into the brick wall close to the door. It had the number "1890" chiseled into it. "Wow, this school is old!" Billy thought trying to figure out just how old it really was. He knew that it was 1959, so 59 plus ten from the last century was 69. Sixty-nine years! That was older than his grandfather. He walked along close to the building studying the red bricks and thinking about how wonderful it was that these same bricks were still there after all those years and hadn't broken up. He looked upwards at the granite-framed windows with many panes, some with pictures by children in various grades taped onto them. Billy thought about the children who must have been students here 20, 30, or even 40 years ago, that were now grown up and drove cars and had children of their own. Billy was so lost in his thoughts that he hardly noticed that the schoolyard was filling up with kids. A classmate named Larry surprised him from his thoughts by tapping him on the shoulder and asked him if he wanted to play touch football. Billy never turned down an opportunity to play football. So he ran back with Larry to where the other boys waited. But, when Larry counted out the boys it turned out that there were nine, one too many to play. Therefore, someone would have to sit out the game. Billy volunteered, with thoughts about continuing his exploration of the school building grounds. He stood by and watched a couple of plays and then left to walk to the bush-hedged wall of the building where the kids didn't go so often. He squeezed behind the fire escape wondering if, just maybe, a boy back around 1925 (about the time his dad went there) had carved his name onto a brick. He found no inscriptions; however, he had to stop looking because he had almost reached the girls' side of the schoolyard, and boys weren't allowed on that side. He paused and watched the girls at play. A lot of them were jumping rope while holding their colorful skirts and lacy petticoats with one wrist as they skipped through the loop being swung by two girls holding the ends of the rope and shouting a skipping chant. A couple of girls were throwing a soft inflated ball back and forth underhanded style, causing Billy to wonder what it must be like to be a girl, to play so gently. Just then the class bell rang and all the pupils filed into the school. It was a busy morning in Billy's class starting with math drill sheets handed out as a surprise quiz. Billy did his quickly, but he would have been even faster if it hadn't been for Jill, the girl who sat behind him, who whispered things he couldn't hear while she giggled. Billy would turn around to "Shhh" her with his finger in front of his mouth, but she just giggled from delight of having attracted his attention. Following the quiz Mrs. Wilkins began to write the problems and answers out on the blackboard until she began to clear space by erasing the previous day's lesson only to have her eraser separate from its back in a loud clatter of three pieces, hitting the blackboard rail in a cloud of chalk dust that sprayed all over her before the pieces hit the floor. All the students burst into delighted laughter as she brushed her dark suit off. Mrs. Wilkins frowned towards the class to re-establish her authority over the children while she walked over to her desk to check for another eraser. Finding none she went to Billy's desk. "William, downstairs in the basement, across from the boys' locker room is the storage room where Mr. Jakubauskas keeps some school supplies. There should be some erasers there. Would you please go and bring me a new one?" "Yes, ma'am," Billy responded, knowing that Mrs. Wilkins liked him and trusted him to run such errands. Slipping from his seat he made his way from the classroom to the boys' hall staircase. He repeated the teacher's instructions in his mind as he walked down the familiar steps, taking a little jump at each half-landing turn with his hands in his pocket, using his elbows for balance each time. Each time he jumped he felt the heavy rock in his right pocket as he thrust his hand into it, and the rock seemed to be warmer to the touch. At the bottom of the last flight he looked down the darkened hallway. "Across from the boys' locker room..." he repeated aloud to himself while he walked down the corridor studying the wall opposite of where the boys' locker room was. Despite his sharp eyes he walked all the way to the end of the hall without seeing a single door to a storage room. Had Mrs. Wilkins been wrong? He turned around to return down the dark corridor for another look. Just as he was about to reach the stairway again he noticed a very narrow hallway on the side where the storage room was supposed to be, hidden by dark shadows. Where was he? He wondered why he had missed it the first time. Something was very wrong. But, maybe it did lead to a storage room? So he turned into the short narrow hall to discover that the ceiling bulbs were out, causing it to be even darker than the main hall. At the end of the hall there was a dim ceiling bulb that revealed what appeared to be a blind passage with two dusty old mops and a dirt-caked broom covered with spider webs propped against an old wooden pegboard that had an old-fashioned carved wood-framed mirror leaning against it. It appeared as if the pegboard were being used to cover something hidden by the shadows. "Nobody has been here for years..." he mused aloud, liking the sound of his voice in the small silent hallway as he moved the mops and broom, causing dust to fill the air. Brushing the mirror off he gingerly moved it to one side only to discover that the pegboard was much heavier. But he managed to move it aside to reveal, to his surprise, a little square door only about 2 1/2 feet high set into the concrete wall. Well, this certainly wasn't Mr. Jakubauskas' storage room... Bending over he managed to pry open the door with his Scout pen knife. Moving to his hands and knees he looked inside, wishing that he had a flashlight with him. But, a light came from the back, way in the distance. It was a tunnel. To where? Now he was even more curious and his mind wandered to thoughts about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as he crawled on his hands and knees along the hard-packed dirt with no thought about his teacher's errand. The tunnel was long and straight and as he reached the other end he realized that it had a little open door similar to the one he had left behind. He poked his head out and stood up, feeling a bit dizzy in the dim light to become totally confused. For, here at the other end of the tunnel, was everything just as he had left them when he entered the tunnel. It seemed that the same two dusty mops, the dirty broom, wooden pegboard, and old-fashioned mirror were exactly in the same place as he had left them to crawl into the tunnel, until he realized that everything was exactly opposite! Still feeling a bit dizzy he sat down to look towards the light far down the tunnel, only to catch his reflection in the dusty mirror. In absolute disbelief his eyes grew wide in fear, and as he opened his mouth to protest, his reflection, who looked very much like him, gazed out at him from the mirror to mimic his surprised expression. Only this person had on black patent leather T-strap shoes, white tights, a ruffled petticoat, and a white princess skirt styled dress with red ruffles at the hem, sleeve cuffs, and circular collar to match the red fabric belt! The long black hair reached down to well below her shoulders tied into a thick braid secured at the end by a rubber band and decorated with a pretty red bow to match the trim of her dress. From his own dizziness he could feel the weight of the braid, and his lower body felt different than it had ever felt. As he adjusted his blouse, he suddenly became aware of two slight swellings on his chest, one on each side, that hadn't been there before. He looked down at his skirted lap and realized that he had turned into a girl! His height was about the same, as was the color of his eyes and hair ... it was still definitely Billy in there, only the alternative, female version. "Hello ?" Billy called out, in a voice slightly higher than what he was used to. There wasn't time to be amazed, for just then there was the distant sound of a girl's voice calling from the distance. Perhaps from the staircase? Not really knowing what to do, Billy, or whoever Billy was now, quickly brushed out her skirts, pushed shut the little door, and re-covered it with the pegboard and mirror before she propped the pegboard just as Billy had found it with the dusty mops and dirty broom. Walking down the narrow hall she dusted her hands again hoping that she hadn't gotten all icky and dirty. Brushing her skirts to be certain all was neat she felt in her skirt pocket the pretty rock that she had found on the way to school as Billy. Suddenly, at the end of the little hall to her right on the way back towards the stairs was Mr. Jakubauskas' closet! The little girl (or was it Billy?) decided that the thing to do was to finish what she had set out to do. She stopped to open the closet door to discover that the walk in closet contained supplies neatly arranged on shelves to the left with some women's clothes and things hanging on a closet bar to her right. Dismissing the clothes from her wondering mind she took an eraser while Billy thought about the janitor wearing dresses? Just as she turned and closed the closet door she heard footsteps nearby and she saw that it was Billy's classmate Bobby, only Bobby was a girl too!
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