The students who sit in the middle of the classroom are a peaceful, if lazy, sort. Too tame and fearful to sit in the back of the class, and too lazy to sit in the front, they claim hold to one seat between the extremes of rambunctious ne’er-do-well and elite try-hard, and stay there all year. While they can come in all shapes and sizes they tend to all wear unassuming clothes and dark colors, and devote much of their time to leisure (i.e., drawing, eating, or daydreaming) or making sure cozy existence is maintained. They are quite content to lie unnoticed by the teacher, all year keeping their grades at a level just good enough for them to not have to fear being singled out. However, as tame as they might be, no other clique (for the middle classroom dwellers do stick together against those from the outside) has as great a natural proclivity for sneakiness. For example, it is not uncommon to find one of them nibbling quietly on some contraband snacks in class or to see a hole one of them has made for themselves out of his/her textbooks to hide drawings from prying eyes.
Bill Gabbins is a sophomore who has resided in the middle of the classroom for all of his high school career. He has mastered the arts of building a proper home for himself in all of his classes and of keeping his grades a convenient, unremarkable level. Bill has never wished for a different kind of education; he did not yet know that soon his way of life was going to change.
Bill was daydreaming merrily when he noticed a tall stranger heading towards him.
“Bill Gabbins,” the stranger said in a deep voice. Bill eyed him uneasily. The man was old compared to Bill, but he had a kind, intelligent spark in his eye and seemed slightly familiar, “do you remember me?”
“Aht,” a stoccato exclamation escaped bewildered Bill, “Yeah,” the stranger raised an eyebrow, “Oh, aren’t you Ganen, the senior who sets up the music for the dances? I didn’t recognize you for a minute.”
“Yep, and I came here to ask if you wanted to join a study group.”
“A-a study group? Um thanks, but I don’t think so. I’m fine by myself, in my seat over here. Also, please excuse me, but I must ask you to leave. I have to get back to work,” Bill pointed to an old worksheet written so sloppily that it was impossible to tell what subject it was for. The senior left and Bill went back to his old ways.
A few periods later Bill sensed someone coming up next to him. He turned to see a burly, unkempt fellow from the back of the class plop down next to him and start to furrow through Bill’s bag. Soon more of this intruder’s ilk filled in around Bill. Bill watched horrified as they found his stash of cookies in his pencil case and quickly devoured them.
“What are you doing?” Bill nearly screeched.
The unexpected guests paid no heed to Bill’s questions. Finally, their leader addressed Bill, “I’m Thorald. So you’re our thief. You don’t look like much, but Ganen said you could do the job. So what’s the plan?”
“Thief? I’m no thief! And what are you talking about?” Before Thorald could continue Ganen entered the class and sat by the group.
Bill learned that Thorald and his friends had lost their home in the back of the class because the teacher had moved them to the front in an effort to improve their grades. Their only hope to reclaim their lost kingdom was to ace this math test on trigonometry. Unfortunately, they did not think they could pull this off on their own. What they needed to pass were notes. Of course, only the fair, honor-roll students of the front of the class took good notes, and only the best notes, the notes of the fierce Kaida Haze would allow Thorald and his study group to be victorious.
Bill’s role in their journey was to steal Kaida’s notes. If Thorald passed, Bill would be rewarded graciously with pizza from the snack bar. Bill agreed to be part of Thorald’s study group for this one unit after which he would return to his peaceful, lazy life.
The study group set out immediately for Kaida’s corner of the research wing. They dodged assaults by unfriendly upperclassmen, the nagging complaints of unhappy group project members, and narrowly escaped the claws of helping hands prototypes. On their journey, Bill found a sticky note with a triangle inscribed with the words, “One Shape to rule them all, One Shape to find them; One shape to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” Around the triangle “SOH CAH TOA” and “All Students Take Calculus” was written. At first Bill could not make sense of what was written on the note, but when he touched the note he was suddenly filled with a complete knowledge of trig. He knew that sin graphs had an amplitude of 1 and a period of 360 degrees and he knew how to use the law of cosines and the law of sines to solve a triangle.
Bill thought of showing his study group what he had found, but something stopped him. He was afraid that they would take it from him. He felt that since he found it, it was his. Then he thought of just teaching them the trig so that he wouldn’t have to risk his neck to steal from Kaida. This was tempting, but he knew that they would wonder where he acquired all his knowledge. So he pocketed the note, and pretended that he hadn’t found anything.
Eventually, the group arrived at Kaida’s spot in the research wing. Bill waited for her to start reading her history textbook before he slowly crouched down and moved towards the bag lying behind her chair. To him, her golden notebook was shining like some ancient heirloom from a time when kings and queens ruled the lands. He reached out to touch it, but the rustling sound caught Kaida’s attention who turned to see the thief. Bill watched as a fire grew in her eyes. He fled. He knew he would not be able to return.
When he related his tale to Thorald, Bill was crushed to see the disappointment of his study group. Thinking fast he told them that he had seen a glimpse of Kaida’s notes and told them all he knew about trig. In reality he was really just teaching them what the note he had found had showed him. Everyone believed his tale except Ganen who remained suspicious. After the study group had returned to class and Bill was back in the middle of the room, Ganen pulled him aside.
“I know what you found,” he said as Bill denied finding anything. Unable to get a confession out of Bill or convince him to get rid of his treasure, Ganen left him with the following words, “take care. Do not let your academic integrity be corrupted by the things around you.” Bill folded the note and put it into the farthest corner of his book bag. He couldn’t bare to part with it, but he wouldn’t use it to cheat. Bill was a different person than he was before, for one of the first times he studied for his test seriously, trying to prove to himself that anyone, even he, could learn trig with a few tricks. He memorized the cheater chart, SOH CAH TOA, All Students Take Calculus, and the trig graphs.
He finished his trig test with time to spare, and was hopeful when he saw that Thorald had too. A few days later Thorald was back to his home in the back of the class. The day after that Bill walked in to find two whole pizza pies lying on his desk. They all had passed. Bill returned to his life as a middle-classroom dweller, but tales of his daring theft separated him from the rest of his lazy, tame neighbors. Bill was more than he once was; he was the most surprising of heroes