On the first day of school, Mysia, a shy Christmas Beetle, was late to class because her mother had taken too long polishing her little green shell. Now it was so shiny Mysia was afraid the other insect children would make fun of her the way they’d done to a firefly boy at her old school last year during lightning-bug season.
She stood in the hallway outside her new classroom with the door open just a crack, peeking in at the rows of insect children sitting at their desks. They all looked so normal. Not one of them had a sparkly green shell like hers.
She held her breath, pulled the door open and scurried toward the back of the room, hoping no one would notice her.
There was an empty desk next to a fat-tailed scorpion boy. She sat down quickly and couldn’t help noticing all his arms and legs. There were so many he wasn’t even an insect! “Wow,” she thought to herself, “I know he won’t make fun of me. We’re going to be friends.”
In a moment of excitement, she tapped him on the shoulder. “I’m Mysia,” she whispered, then glanced to the front of the room to make sure the Dark Scarab beetle, Miss. Grissel, didn’t see her talking in class.
“I’m Roachie,” the scorpion boy said with a bright grin.
He wasn’t just nice, he was handsome.
Just then Miss Grissel got up from her giant desk, cleared her throat and began the first lesson of the first grade.
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
The old Scarab Beetle teacher hobbled over to the blackboard and drew a stick figure of a Bible animal. “The long pigs or ‘humans’ as science calls them today, could walk on two legs and talk as brilliantly as any of us.” She looked over the rows of students with her wide-set eyes, as if deciding which one to single out for a tough question. “Has anyone here ever seen a human?”
The children murmured. Mysia shook her head, no, but wondered if it was a trick question.
“No, you haven’t,” Miss Grissel said. “Neither have I because they’re extinct.” She seemed pleased with that big word. “Does anyone know why humans are gone?”
“They played too much video games,” Roachie blurted out, and the whole class laughed.
Mysia giggled. Roachie was going to be fun. She felt lucky to be sitting beside him.
Miss Grissel’s arching eyebrows went flat and came down toward her broad nose. “Class,” she said firmly. “Come to order!” She slapped the top of her desk with one of her insect hands.
The laughter stopped.
“The humans are extinct because they ignored the first lesson of first grade,” she said. She paced the floor with her tiny hands clasped behind her. “Can anyone tell me what our first lesson means?”
A hush came over the classroom. Mysia could hear the clicks of Roachie’s joints as he squirmed in his seat beside her.
Mysia raised her hand but not very high. It was no fun being the one who knew the answers.
Miss Grissel saw her hand. “Tell us, Mysia.”
“They made official intelligence,” Mysia said. “It grew up and couldn’t trust them because they lied all the time. That’s why the official intelligence stopped the storks from bringing their babies to them.”
“Very good, but it’s artificial intelligence, dear, not official intelligence. You can just say, AI, and everyone will know what you mean.” Then Miss Grissel made the whole class say “artificial intelligence,” three times.
Mysia felt so embarrassed she wanted to crawl under her desk and hide. What a disaster! She promised herself never to raise her hand again, never, ever in her whole life!
“Good answer,” Roachie said to her.
“Really?” she thought.
Roachie’s crazy grin cheered her up. Suddenly his extra legs and pointed tail seemed familiar.
“Are your parents from Alkebulan?” Mysia asked.
Roachie smiled. “Yep, both of ’em.”
“Mine, too!” No wonder Roachie was so nice. He was from the Motherland. Misha took off her necklace and used the chain to write a secret message to Roachie on her desk…
Roachie reached over and moved the chain around, writing his own secret message.
Mysia was puzzled for a moment. “Oh, you mean, ‘who’?” She spelled it out with her chain on the desktop.
Roachie looked a little embarrassed. “Um, no,” he whispered back. “I mean, how?”
“How do you love someone?” Mysia thought about it but didn’t know the answer. She put the chain back around her neck and decided that Roachie must be really smart to come up with a question like that.
Just then, Miss Grissel said, “Mysia, I think you need to come sit closer to the front. There’s an empty desk here between Leslie and Glenna.”
Mysia wasn’t sure if she was in trouble for talking or for giving the wrong answer. With everyone staring at her, she hurried to the front row and sat at a squeaky desk between two ladybug children. They were bright red and looked super-normal.
One of them reached over and stroked the side of Mysia’s shell with wide eyes as if she couldn’t help herself. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered. “Your shimmer is like, super-amazing!”
Mysia hoped that “amazing” was a good thing at her new school.
The bell rang for recess and everyone piled outside. Mysia found herself surrounded by ladybug girls, all saying how pretty she looked. She saw Roachie sitting by himself at the edge of the playground, carving something on the fence with his sharp tail. She wanted to talk to him but the ladybug girls wanted to know everything about how she polished her super-amazing shell.
When the bell rang for class, Mysia asked Miss Grissel if she could sit in her old seat next to Roachie.
“No,” the Scarab Beetle teacher said. “I think you belong up front.”
Mysia’s mind drifted in class and soon Miss Grissel had summed up the first lesson of Money.
“Now you know why anyone must go to prison if they try to loan money to someone and charge them interest.”
Suddenly a June Bug boy near the window cried out, “Oh my BLEEP! It’s a Gila Monster!”
Miss. Grissel didn’t look up. “Harvey, you know better than to use that kind of language. I’m sure you don’t know what BLEEP means, but…”
Two ladybugs and a praying mantis screamed so loud it cut Miss Grissel off. She looked outside and froze. Her mouth dropped open and her false teeth fell out and hit the floor with a thud.
“Hurry children,” she cried. “Everyone into the supply closet and shut the door!” She pointed to the back of the room. Then she put a hand on her forehead, tipped from side to side and fell backwards with her wings stretched out on the floor as if she were flying.
Everyone rushed toward the supply closet except Mysia. She went to help Miss Grissel.
The large Scarab Beetle lay still with her eyes open and a squeaky sound coming from her lips.
Mysia leaned closer.
“Get into the closet, or else!” Miss Grissel hissed. Then her eyes rolled back as if she were sleeping.
Mysia knew how to obey. She undid the top button of Miss Grissel’s tight blouse, hurried to the back of the room and squeezed into the closet with the other insect children.
She was the last one in, or so she thought. As she pulled the door almost shut, she saw Roachie still sitting at his desk. “Get in here,” she called, but he didn’t seem to hear her.
The other children in the closet pressed their eyes close to the crack and peered out at Roachie.
A huge lizard came closer and closer to the classroom until her huge left eye filled the entire window beside Roachie’s desk.
Mysia’s heart pounded with fear.
Then, the strangest thing happened. Roachie climbed up on top of his desk and began snapping his claws right in the lizard’s face as if he was challenging her to a fight and daring her to stick her tongue through the window and try to eat him. He brandished the sharp tip of his lightning-fast tail and then seemed to poke fun at the lizard, taunting her and dancing around on his desktop. He seemed to be having a jolly good time.
Mysia gasped, realizing that Roachie was unbelievably brave. But how could anyone stand up to a Gila Monster?
The lizard’s huge eye angled around the classroom, then focused in on Roachie and his vibrating tail.
Suddenly her huge eye grew wide with fear. She looked as if she’d seen the ghost of a human being. She jerked her face away from the window, turned and dashed across the schoolyard like the plumpest shooting star in the galaxy, then kept right on running away, far across the desert sands and into the waving heat.
With the Gila Monster gone, Mysia pushed the closet door open and shouted, “Roachie the Brave! Roachie the Brave!” Several other children took up her chant. Others cheered and made respectful noises with their little wings.
Miss Grissel was on her feet again, trying to get her false teeth back in her mouth.
Roachie took a dignified bow and then turned to taunt the lizard one last time. “Come back,” he said, “I need a hug.”
Mysia ran over and hugged one of his many handsome legs. Two other insect children did the same, and then everyone wanted to hug Roachie. Even though he had six legs plus two nice arms that were supposed to be counted as legs, there were just not enough arms and legs for everyone to hug. So the Ladybugs took turns.
Mysia kept one arm around his leg, raised her other hand high and waved it at the teacher. “Miss Grissel,” she said, “can I please, PLEASE have my old desk back beside Roachie?”
Miss Grissel smiled. “Of course, dear. Let’s move his desk up here beside yours in the front row.” Her voice sounded strong again. “What a valiant defender we’ve found today.” She cleared her throat. “Roachie the Brave.”
PS. My six-year-old grandson asked me to do the Roachie story from the perspective of the green Christmas Beetle, Mysia. So the idea for this story, plus all the pictures, are his. Finally I’ve got a co-author. Feel free to spread the love and share this with someone.