It was the worst nightmare that Miles had had in a long time, and by far the most real-seeming. He had been running from someone who he couldn't see, whose voice was the only thing that Miles could discern, and above all towered a laughing mad doctor with a machine of uncertain design scanning the horizon. It was clear to Miles that this was a dream, but he couldn't shake the fact that he really felt as though he were there unlike any other dream he had before. He was unusually relieved to be awoken by his alarm clock if it meant that he'd stop having to have that nightmare.
It was the first day of high school, and Miles was rather alarmed to discover that what he'd thought was his alarm going off at 6:30 AM to give him an hour to prepare was, in fact, his alarm going off at 6:57 AM, and that he was, furthermore, halfway through hitting the snooze button a fourth time when he gained the proper consciousness to discover himself precariously hanging halfway out of bed. As disconcerted as he could be while being extremely relieved at the same time, Miles extracted himself from his bed (by some miracle, not head-first, as his position would have suggested) and readied himself for his school day.
He wasn't able to move quite fast enough. He'd heard people talk about "flying" through their tasks. He wished he could actually fly; it would have made his prep so much easier.
As it was, though, Miles found himself trying to eat an extremely hurried breakfast that his mother had prepared for him to expedite things at about 7:12, not having packed his bags for school out of sheer tiredness from moving in the previous day, and wondering how in the world he was intended to eat, pack, brush his teeth, and get to school in the next 18 minutes, when the doorbell on the house that Miles's family had just moved into rang.
Miles wasn't paying enough attention to hear what exactly happened by the door, so it took him very much by surprise when another boy about his age abruptly appeared in the room and announced, almost without breathing, "Hi I'm Maurice your parents told me about you can I help you pack your bags to help you get to school on time?"
"WHAT," said Miles rather indistinctly through a mouthful of cereal.
"I'm Maurice," the boy explained from Miles's bedroom, where noises indicated that he was helping pack Miles's backpack. "I've run into your parents a few times before, it's been good, we're all pretty chill. I noticed you hadn't appeared by the bus stop, so I thought I'd come over and help. Do you mind if I finish packing your bags to help you get to school on time?"
"Um, OK," said Miles, happy to have the help even if he wasn't quite sure why he was being helped or who was helping him. "There's a bus stop?"
"Yeah, but nobody uses the bus any more," said Maurice, appearing with Miles's fully-packed backpack and zipping it closed. "Weird, huh? OK, I have to be somewhere else, see you at the schoolhouse!" Maurice then disappeared from the room.
"What was all that about?" Miles asked as his father entered the room (at the speed that one would expect from someone walking in a normal fashion).
"What the boy said is true," said Miles's father. "More or less. We do know who he is; your mother and I were friends with his parents several years ago. He's a good boy."
Miles was too rushed to ask more questions, and hardly processed anything for the next several minutes as he successfully managed to just barely get out the door and arrive at school on time. Once he was there, however, he did have a bit more time to process things as he got to class, allowing him to notice another boy with glasses go by animatedly talking to a girl about flower pots being amazing before Miles arrived at his first class. Entering the room, ominously marked "Robotnik", Miles made his way to his seat and sat down in it.
Miles had been sitting in his seat for about 3 seconds before Maurice suddenly appeared and sat down as well.
"Wow, we have seats right next to each other!" said Maurice. "That's pretty cool!"
Miles, who was feeling a lot more positive towards Maurice after he helped make up for Miles's sleepiness, nodded cheerfully at him and was about to respond when the teacher, a rotund man whose uniform was adorned with a garish tie, strode into the room and glared at Maurice.
"Did I hear you saying that you have seats next to each other?" he demanded. "Absurd! From now on, NOBODY will have seats next to each other!"
An awkward silence permeated the room, with the exemption of a couple of stifled giggles from a few students who had arrived somewhat earlier.
"Stop giggling!" the teacher demanded. "I'm aware of the logistics of my own classroom! Your seats can all be spaced so that—" The teacher did a double-take, swallowed, and said, "And the first item on the program is "Cell Coverings"! You all will be covering cells for the next several chapters, and it'll become more if you don't shape up!"
Miles was pretty sure that that was not what covering a topic meant, but knew better than to argue with the teacher.
He was also too busy trying to figure out why he felt as though he recognized the teacher...
After a mostly uneventful morning period, Miles entered the cafeteria on schedule and joined the line heading towards the lunch counter, finding himself just behind the boy with glasses who he'd seen earlier. The boy was still talking just as animatedly as before, and on the same topic.
"...To finish my thought from earlier," the boy was saying, "yellowish flower pots are usually the most efficient type to employ, because flower pots dyed by iron oxide yellows are generally inexpensive. This gives the greatest bang for the buck and lets you buy an unprecedented number of flower pots for greatest use in science projects."
"Ah," said the girl ahead of him in the lunch line, sounding extremely distracted.
"So then," the boy said, "you can also use seven flower pots to—oh hi Maurice!"
"Hey guys!" said Maurice, who had just shown up adjacent to the cafeteria line. "Oh wow, all three of you are right next to each other in the line here! Funny how these things work out. If I didn't know better, I'd think someone had contrived that for plot convenience! Ha ha. Anyway, Miles this is Farran, Laura, Farran and Laura this is Miles, I think you'll get along together pretty well, oh hang on I gotta scoot, see ya!" And Maurice left, shouting something indistinctly at a large boy across the room who was obstructing the lunch counter line.
Farran tried to turn around to wave to Miles, slipped, and started to fall over. Instinctively, Miles shot out a hand to grab him. Fortunately given Miles's low strength, Laura had done the same, with the two of them apparently being enough to stop Farran from falling headlong to the floor.
"Thank you both kindly!" said Farran, getting himself back into position on the lunch line. "Miles, I will greet you from behind, because now is not the time. Maurice has informed me of your existence, which is excellent! Are you a fellow opponent of d19s as a replacement for d20-1s?"
"Um, what—why...?" said Miles, who was still too busy trying to remember everyone's names and catch anyone falling to properly figure out what he was intended to say.
"Farran's mostly wondering if you're interested in roleplaying games," Laura explained. "He won't judge you one way or the other."
"All right..." said Miles, coming to grips with what was going on around him. "Yes I am interested—"
"Yay!" said Farran, doing a double fist pump and almost falling over backwards. "We have one more member of our tiny group! Phenomenal!"
"Wait, what?" said Miles, wondering what he had suddenly committed to and how.
"d24's are better!" Maurice called over.
"WHAT," said Farran, seeming extremely alarmed.
"Just kidding," Maurice called back, causing Farran to sigh rather animatedly in relief and almost fall over for the third time in a couple of minutes.
"Are you all right?" Miles asked Farran, genuinely concerned for the mental and physical health of this boy he'd just met.
Farran turned towards Miles, cautiously enough this time that he managed to just barely avoid falling over. "Maurice and I have been friends for a long time," he explained, apparently not noticing why Miles was asking. "We're good. Oh also, sorry, I didn't mean to draft you into anything. I'm just overly excited by new acquaintances. And existing acquaintances. And—oh, it's my turn at the lunch counter," said Farran. "Sorry, I'll talk to you later!"
Miles made a mental note that he was probably going to have to deal with large amounts of unusual activity a lot this year and had better get used to it.
He wasn't completely expecting the sort of unusual thing that happened that afternoon. He should have expected some of it from elementary school, but even so, he was preparing himself for overly chatty people, not this.
After school, Miles decided to walk home, given that everyone else was doing likewise. About 5 seconds later, he realized that he had paid so little attention when Maurice had helped him get to school earlier that day that he had no idea how to get home at all.
Fortunately, there was a not-too-difficult solution. Mustering his courage, Miles made his way over to where Maurice was in the schoolyard.
"Maurice?" said Miles. "I'm sorry, I completely forgot how to get home. Would you be able to help me get back? I'll try to remember this for tomorrow…"
"Oh sure!" said Maurice. "Happy to help. I wasn't doing anything over here anyway. Here, why don't I walk you back, it'll help you remember the directions more if I show you in real-time."
Miles had been so bewildered that day that he accepted the offer silently and started walking back with Maurice, who gave him directions as they went.
A few blocks later, Maurice was explaining, "And you cross here at Bridge Street." Pointing to a nearby sign for direction, he explained, "Then, you turn left at 6th and—OH NO RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"
Miles had to take a moment to ensure that this wasn't just another prank. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed enough, though. Behind himself and Maurice, he saw the boy who'd been obstructing the cafeteria line rapidly approaching with a malicious look on his face. This was enough to make Miles follow Maurice as fast as he could.
After a block or two of running, Miles turned a corner into a dead end of sorts and found the cafeteria boy directly facing him a few yards away, with Maurice standing between the other boy and where Miles was about to be. Miles pulled up sharply, looking around for any other ways to evade the boy.
"Well, well, well," said the cafeteria boy. "If it isn't Maurice Ogilvie and his new friend. What've you been doing not showing the new kid all the sights yet? You haven't really moved in until you've had the full experience..." He cracked his knuckles and grinned evilly.
"Scourge," said Maurice. "What do you want?"
"The usual," said Scourge. "Fun. What's more amusing than doing things to the ones who don't expect it yet?"
Miles, who had been looking for any stores or the like he could enter to get away from Scourge, realized abruptly that he actually did expect Scourge. He had the same voice as the one who'd chased Miles in his nightmare that morning.