There was one more class before school would finally be over.
I was nervous the whole time and couldn’t sit still. Daniel and Nicole, though, had chosen to completely ignore me.
While our biology teacher Mr. Wolfram explained the central nervous system, I kept watching them. I waited for the slightest twitch from them, but there was nothing. For minutes on end, they didn’t move at all, almost as if they were frozen. Only once in a while did they note down a sentence. Apart from that, they simply stared ahead, as if wholly absorbed in Mr. Wolfram’s class.
The moment the class ended, I threw my things into my backpack and hurried from the school building.
At the dorms, I started up my PC again and opened the school’s homepage. If this new scholarship and the school trips were legit, there had to be something on the website. I clicked, scrolled, and searched through the whole page. Yet, all I found were pictures of sports teams, events, and information about our athletic scholarships. There was nothing about this supposed new scholarship at all!
As I checked out the page, it looked as if the site hadn’t been updated in years! Apart from some pictures, that is.
I leaned back in frustration and took out my phone. Within moments I’d sent Kim another message, apologizing for my stupid friends and telling her about Daniel and Nicole.
Her answer arrived immediately. Stefan, in her class, had acted exactly like them. She told me she’d tried her best not to interact with him or watch him too closely, though. When I read her message, I remembered how they’d stared at me, and I cursed myself. If they were now part of this whole thing too, wouldn’t they inform whoever was responsible about me snooping around?
Suddenly, I felt terrified, and my eyes wandered to the door. After a short while, I couldn’t fight the urge to check the hallway anymore. I went up and peeked outside to see if anyone was watching me. Even though everything was clear, I didn’t feel safe and quickly locked the door behind me.
I kept searching for more information online, but nothing substantial came up. I told a few online friends on a discord server about what was going on, but they weren’t helpful at all. They were either shitposting as usual or taking my story as another attempt at a silly joke.
Posting on Reddit and online forums got the same results. One comment informed me about the chances of viruses altering people’s behavior. It was a weird and confusing post, and I didn’t even understand half of it. The rest was even less helpful, filled with movie references or jokes about pod people.
When I searched for what could replace people or teachers, the results were either fictional stories or discussions about AI. I read on and realized that quite a few people seemed to wonder if AI would ever be able to replace real teachers. I clicked from article to article and discussion to discussion reading a bit here and there.
I was about to give up when I started to think about what I’d actually seen. The teachers’ behavior, their way of moving, and talking. Mr. Thomas had walked in an almost mechanical, robot-like fashion. His monotonous way of speaking, his empty eyes, and the way he’d repeated the same answer over and over again. Could this be what was going on here?
Why’d something like that… Alright, no. Stop, you idiot. This is insane. Robots invading my school and replacing people? For what? To improve the school’s academic record and get more funding? I shook my head and almost started to laugh. Almost.
Still, there was the construction and renovation of the west wing. There was this strange new scholarship and those field trips. Could the school administration really be behind this whole thing?
No, don’t be stupid, idiot. There’s no freaking way, right?
I opened WhatsApp and started typing another message to Kim. I rewrote it several times before I actually sent it.
It didn’t take long for her to read my message about robots. For a long while nothing happened. She started typing once or twice but never replied. I couldn’t blame her. I rubbed my temples and started wondering what the hell I was even doing. For all I knew, she might be thinking that I snapped.
I kept waiting for a reply a bit longer before I started typing another message. I’d barely started when I heard a quiet thud from outside. I froze up instantly, feeling goosebumps on my arms.
I stared at the door anxiously and could almost see Daniel forcing it open and coming for me.
“Hey, idiot, open the door!” I heard Erik’s familiar voice calling out to me in a low voice.
Freaking idiot, why’d he have to scare me like that? I took one look at the clock and saw that it was already close to eleven in the evening. God, I wasn’t in the mood to hang out with anyone, especially not at this time of the night. I decided to stay as quiet as possible and to pretend that I was already asleep.
Soon another thud followed.
“We can see that you’ve got the lights on! Hey, open up already! The hell are you doing in there? You thinking about that Asian chick or something?”
When I heard someone snicker behind him, I knew Martin was there as well. Finally, I sighed, got up, opened the door, and gave the two of them a deep frown.
Before I could say anything, they pushed past me and barged right into my room.
“Guys, really? What do you want? It’s already-”
“Oh, come on, stop being such a dickweed!” Erik cut me off.
Martin had already flopped down on my bed. He eyed the article still open on my computer for a while.
“Dude, what the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Fucking nothing,” I said and quickly minimized my browser.
“The hell was that? Some weird porn?” Erik asked, grinning.
“Nah, just another article about robots and shit,” Martin laughed.
I sighed. “So, why exactly are you guys here?”
“Well, did you make up with her?”
I gave Erik a puzzled look before I realized who he was talking about.
“God, I told you guys, I’m not dating her!”
“Yeah, not the way you handle things,” he said. With that, the two of them started laughing again.
“No, that’s not what this… ugh, you know what, forget it!”
“So, what’s up with you and all that…? I don’t know, robot stuff?” Erik asked.
“And conspiracy theories,” Martin added. “Here, listen to this. The solution to our education crisis might be AI.”
“The hell are you doing? Get away from my computer!”
I pushed Martin back onto the bed and closed off the browser for god.
“It’s because you’re reading all those freaking books,” Erik said. Then he pointed at my shelf filled with books on astrophysics and science-fiction novels.
“Maybe you should give it a try for once, you might actually learn a thing or two?” I said, grinning at the two of them.
They both laughed. “Not bad, dude, not bad,” Martin finally said.
“Now look, we’re going to sneak out tonight, and with me, I mean you, Martin and me,” Erik started. “Klara’s waiting for him and would sneak us into the girl’s dorm to hang out. Maybe we can even have… what’s her name again, come along!”
“Kim. I mean, what? If Mrs. Richter notices, we’re going to be in deep shit!”
“Nah, the old bitch’s probably asleep by now.”
“Yeah, but she’s going to-”
“Jesus, will you light the hell up? You’ve been sitting in your room for weeks now. Don’t you want to have fun for once?” Martin asked.
“Well, I’ve been to track,” I started but didn’t continue. God, he was right about everything. I’d been thinking about nothing, but the school, the teachers, and whatever was going on. Freaking robots replacing teachers? Maybe I’d snapped after all.
“We’ve even brought a couple of those!” Erik said, presenting me with three six-packs he’d somehow stored in his backpack.
“How in the hell did you even get those?” I asked, but all I got was a wide grin.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” I finally asked them.
A few minutes later, we’d made it outside and were sneaking alongside the dorm building.
“Alright, Klara’s room is at the end of the girl’s dorm. She told me to knock on the window twice, and then she’ll let us in,” Martin explained in a low voice.
Erik and I nodded.
We made our way to the school, ran past, and finally reached the girl’s dorm without any issue. The moment we rounded the corner of the building, a flashlight focused on us.
“Who are you? What are you doing out here?” a deep male voice called out to us.
“Shit, it’s Mr. Siegert!”
In an instant, the three of us booked it and ran from the building. The old security guard called after us, but he reacted way too slow. We were already far away when he started to come after us.
Instead of running back to our dorm, Martin and Erik ran straight towards the construction area near the west wing.
We soon noticed a small group of trees nearby and hid behind them. It wasn’t much in the way of cover, but we saw that Mr. Siegert was still far off.
We giggled as we saw him stumble around, jerking his flashlight beam here and there. Eventually, he gave up and continued on his routine patrol. His distant curses made us laugh our asses off.
“Shit, why’d we have to run into him? Especially tonight!” Martin cursed.
“Heh, thought you’d get lucky, didn’t you?” Erik asked with a grin.
Martin mumbled something to himself and proceeded to kick one of the trees next to us.
“Bet the old bastard’s going to keep looking for us all night, especially around the girl’s dorm,” Martin said, frowning.
I shrugged. “Well, what do we do now?”
Martin took out his phone and started typing furiously. It didn’t take long before a reply arrived. He started cursing again. It was obvious that he was texting with Klara.
“So, what’s she saying?” I asked him.
“She’s saying she’s not going to sneak out! Doesn’t want to get in trouble and all that. Shit! Hey Erik, how about you hand me one of those?”
With that, he pointed at Erik’s backpack. Instead of replying, Erik grinned and threw him a can, then he took one for himself and handed me another one.
Together the three of us sat down right between the trees and started drinking our beer. For the first time in weeks, I was truly able to relax. While Erik and Martin talked about sports and girls, I sat there, looking up at the sky. There were so many stars out tonight.
My solitude was cut short when the two of them started to ask me about Kim again. I told them once more that they’d got it all wrong. The two of them grinned at one another, but for once, they left it at that.
We’d started on the second six-pack and were starting to get buzzed when Martin turned towards the scaffold of the construction area.
“Bet the view from up there’s awesome,” he mumbled.
Erik and I both turned and looked. You probably had a great view of the school and the nearby mountains from up there. Still, there was no way I’d climb up there in the middle of the night.
Martin, however, never cared about such silly things like safety or danger. Before Erik or I could even say a word, he’d already started to make his way up the scaffold. Moments later, he’d already made it to the second level and continued up to the third one.
“Yo, be careful, man,” I called out, slurring the words and took another sip of my beer.
“And who do we have here?” Mr. Siegert’s deep voice reached Erik and me. When we turned around, he held the flashlight straight into my face.
“Oh shit,” I cursed and was about to run when he spoke up again.
“You better not try anything, Schmidt,” he addressed me, “and you, Brandt.”
When we heard our names, we both stopped instantly.
The old man grinned. “Well, boys, guess you’re not so quick now. Tell you what, I really don’t mind you drinking and hanging around out here, but this is a school, and we’ve got rules, you understand?”
We both nodded.
“Now then, I’m going to let tonight slide, so you head back to your dorms and get some sleep. If I catch you drinking out here again, though, I’ll have to report you.”
Once more, the two of us nodded. I turned around once more to have a look at the scaffold, but Martin was nowhere to be seen. That asshole must’ve watched the whole thing and was hiding somewhere.
“Lucky, bastard,” I whispered to myself.
“What was that, Schmidt?”
“Nothing,” I answered.
Erik and I had barely taken a few steps when Mr. Siegert spoke up again.
“Oh, and Brandt, I’ll be taking the rest of those,” he said, pointing at his backpack.
Erik’s eyes grew wide, and his face changed to a look of utter despair as the old man started to search through his backpack.
While the old man was busy collecting the remaining cans, I heard something. It had to be Martin. I bet he was up there, watching the whole thing and laughing his ass off! Then I heard it again. It didn’t sound like someone moving around up there. It sounded more like something was grinding against the scaffold. What the hell…
“Now then, back to your rooms, boys!”
With that, the old man gave us a push. As we stumbled on towards our dorm, the glimmer of his flashlight was a constant companion.
He kept watching us until we’d carefully climbed through my window. The moment we were inside and had closed the window, Erik cursed in frustration.
“Bet the old bastard took the beer to drink it himself! Did you see how his eyes lit up when he took those cans?”
“What? No, I didn’t, but you’re probably right,” I answered, still staring out the window.
“Yo, Steven, what’s the matter?” Erik asked, suddenly pulling out to new cans from god knows where.
“How in the hell-?” I asked.
He shrugged, pointing at the third six-pack that he’d stored under my bed.
“You never know, so better be prepared!”
I grinned and took the can.
“Where in the hell is he?” I asked after a while, staring out the window again.
“Who do you think? Martin! Shouldn’t he be back by now?”
Erik shrugged. “Probably afraid he’s going to get in trouble as well. Bet he’s going to wait there till morning.”
Well, he’d got a point, that really sounded like something he’d do.
We each finished two more beers before we finally called it a night. By that time, I was pretty much wasted. I slumped down on my bed before Erik even stumbled from the room. I don’t know how late it was, but it must’ve been at least two in the morning.
I was woken up by my phone alarm, and at first, I had no idea what was going on. I barely remembered falling asleep and only vaguely recalled that Erik had been in my room. It was only moments later that I felt a splitting headache.
I groaned, turned off the alarm, and lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Freaking Erik, freaking Martin, and freaking beer. I felt like absolute shit. While the ceiling lamp was spinning above me, I closed my eyes again.
There was no way I’d be able to get up.
It wasn’t long before loud knocks against my door shot jolts of pain through my head.
“What the hell,” I called out.
A moment later, my door was pushed open, and I was greeted by a furious Mr. Richter.
“Steven, it’s time for class, get up!” she called out.
I mumbled something, rubbed my temples, and curled up under my blanket.
“Now what’s the matter with you? Everyone’s leaving for school already!”
“Sorry, I’m not feeling well, I think I’m sick.”
The dorm mother wouldn’t have any of it.
“I’m not going to repeat myself, you hear me? Get up! Now!”
Cursing under my breath, I stumbled out of bed. When she saw the state I was in, her frown deepened. It soon changed to a knowing smile when she noticed the deep circles under my eyes and saw me rubbing my temples. There was also no doubt that I still reeked of beer.
“See, Steven, that’s much better.”
“Seriously, Mr. Richter, I feel like absolute shit, can’t I please stay in my room today?”
“Nonsense Steven,” she said with a short laugh. “Class is important. If you aren’t dying, you’re going to class!”
She gave me a quick once over, then nodded to herself.
“Doesn’t look like you’re dying, Steven, so get going!”
I groaned but made my way to the bathroom.
As I stumbled to school, I cursed at myself for going with Erik and Martin last night. Why the hell did I always go along with their shenanigans?
The moment I got close to the school building, I saw Miss Marx outside. I felt her eyes resting on me as I walked towards the front door. In an instant, my thoughts and worries came flooding back, and with it, my anxiety.
For my first two classes, I tried my best to stay under everyone’s radar. I lay on my desk, barely listening, and watching. My head was still a throbbing, pained mess. For the first time, I was thankful that whatever had happened to the teachers made them ignore the state I was in.
My third class was language studies, however. It didn’t take our stern, old language teacher long to notice that something was wrong with me.
“Now what’s the matter with you, Mr. Schmidt?” he called out shortly after he’d started class.
I saw Erik out of the corner of my eye. He had to hold back from laughing out loud.
“I’m not feeling well today,” I mumbled.
“You sure look it,” he said. “Want me to take you to the nurse’s office?”
At first, I wanted to say no, but when another jolt of pain shot through my head, I nodded. Maybe this was my chance to get out of here and crawl back into bed.
I gathered up my things as fast as possible and let him lead me outside. I didn’t care what people thought was going on. Yet, when I noticed Daniel and Nicole focusing on me, I hurried from the classroom.
“Well, Mr. Schmidt,” the teacher started, “I heard a little rumor. Apparently some of the boys went out last night to get drunk. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing but nonsense, right?” he asked, staring me down.
“Yeah, probably,” I pressed out.
“Well, I hope so. Should those rumors be true, those boys would be in a lot of trouble.”
Once more, he eyed me curiously, but I simply nodded. It was clear that he knew that I’d been one of those boys, and it was clear that he was giving me a warning.
“But I guess you’ve simply got a stomach ache, right? Heard it makes the rounds these days. Well then, here we go.”
With that, he left me standing in front of the nurse’s office and made his way back to class.
For a while, I looked after him.
I stared at the door of the nurse’s office. This headache was killing me. Maybe the nurse could give me something against it? I reached out, but at that moment I heard something.
When I turned, I saw Mrs. Wolf at the other end of the hallway. Her eyes grew wide when she focused on me. I saw her mouth open, but no words came out.
For a few seconds, she stared at me before her mouth grew into a hard line. She started to walk into my direction, and I saw her hands twitch ever so slightly. It looked almost as if she was fighting the urge to ball them into fists.
With each step, she got closer to me, and with each step, her eyes grew wider.
“What are you doing out here, Steven?” she called out to me in a shrill, almost cracking voice.
When I heard that, panic took hold of me, and I hurried off. There’s no freaking way I’d stay here any longer.
“Classes are in session, Steven!” she called after me once more, this time her voice sounded different, almost distorted.
At this point, I couldn’t bear it anymore and started to run towards the front door of the school building. I didn’t turn around, but I heard Mrs. Wolf’s coming after me. I could almost feel her empty eyes digging into my back.
Moments later, I’d made it outside. I didn’t stop running until I brought a considerable distance between me and the school building. When I turned around, I saw her standing at the door, looking after me. Her head was strangely crooked, and with each passing second, she crooked it a bit more. When her mouth turned to a grin, I ran towards the dorms.
When Mrs. Richter saw me, she frowned deeply.
“The nurse sent me home, stomach flu,” I burst out before she could say anything and pushed myself past her. This time she didn’t protest, but I saw her shake her head.
Once I was back in my room, I threw myself on the bed. The headache was still there, but after a while, I dozed off.
My phone’s vibration woke me up around noon. I sat up, almost feeling like a human being again. I took out my phone and saw multiple messages from Kim.
‘Two more students were invited to that weird field trip!’
‘Hey, why don’t you answer?’
‘Meet me at lunch, kay?’
‘You’re okay, right?’
Shit, I thought when I saw all those messages, she probably thought something had happened to me.
‘Sorry, not going to be at lunch today. I’m at the dorms. I felt like shit, so I snuck out.’
‘Okay, I’ll keep you posted about everything. Get well soon.’
I read the last part twice and was about to reply. When I didn’t know what to write, I put the phone away again. I lay in bed for another half hour before I went back to my computer.
I started to look around again, but I gave up after a while, not sure what I was even doing.
It was in the afternoon that Erik announced himself with a loud knock against my door. I cringed at the loud noise as my head started to throb again.
“Man, you really went all out last night! A lightweight like you should go easy on the booze!”
“And whose fault is that?” I retorted.
“Definitely not mine. Didn’t force you to do anything.”
“Yeah right, come on dude, I’m still feeling like shit.”
“Well, and you’re in big shit! You really thought you could run off like that? Oh yeah, great news nerd, you got invited to that stupid field trip!”
“Yeah, guess you’re Mr. Thomas’ favorite after all. You’re the only one he called during physics class. Well, no surprise there, you being all buddy-buddy with him and that.”
“Shit,” I cursed.
When Erik heard that, he raised an eyebrow. “Thought you’d be all excited for it.”
“Why’d I be,” but then I broke up remembering Martin. “Hey, has Martin been back yet?”
“Nope, haven’t seen him. Maybe they caught him hiding on the scaffold. If they did, he’s in deep trouble, well, almost as deep as you.”
“Let’s check his room, maybe he’s back by now!” I said and hurried into the hallway.
Moments later, we stood in front of his room. We knocked and called out a few times, but got no answer. When we tried to open the door, we found it still locked, most likely from last night.
“Hey, have you seen Martin, he’s in your class, right?” Erik called out to another student walking past us.
The boy shrugged. “No clue, haven’t seen him all day.”
“Shit man, where the hell is he?” I wondered out loud.
“No clue, you think he’s still hiding out there?”
“Let’s go and check!”
Erik looked at me for a moment, a bit confused about the urgency in my voice, but then he shrugged.
We left the dorm and went into the direction of the construction area. The moment we got closer, I could see two people standing nearby. One was Mr. Wolfram, the biology teacher, the other made me stop in my tracks. It was Mrs. Wolf.
Erik took a few more steps before he stopped as well and turned towards me.
“The hell’s the matter with you today? You sure you aren’t still drunk? Did you down the other two beers that I-”
“We can’t go there!” I pressed out. “If they see us, they’ll probably figure out we were out there with him,” I improvised. “I’m in enough trouble already!”
“Whatever, I’m going to give him a call. Hell, for all I know he’s hiding at Klara’s room.”
With that, Erik took out his phone. It rang for a while before he took it down again. “Voice mail,” he said, frowning. Right away he started to type a message. He was quiet for a bit. “Shit, why isn’t it being delivered? Martin never turns his damned phone off!”
I didn’t say anything. In my mind, a voice started to tell me what had to be going on. Last night, or maybe today, they got him. Whoever’ they’ were.
“Alright, man, I got to go to track anyways,” Erik finally said. “Not everyone can be hungover all day.”
With that, he ran off towards the tracking field.
“Oh, fuck off!” I called after him.
It was later that night that I went over to Erik’s room. I’d been restless ever since he went to track. I’d tried to call Martin myself and set him half a dozen messages, but none of them were delivered.
When I stepped into his room, he looked up. “Want one?” he asked, holding up yet another can of beer. It was a pure mystery where he got them from.
When he saw me grimacing, he laughed.
“Alright, man, did you see Martin at track?”
“Nope, still haven’t seen him. Did you reach him?”
I shook my head. “Sent him a ton of messages and tried to call him a few times, but nothing.”
“Damn, where is he? I’m starting to get worried myself,” Erik said.
“What if something happened to him?”
“Like what? You think they caught him hanging around on the scaffold?”
“No, something different.”
With that, I started to tell him everything I’d noticed during the past weeks. I told him once more about how weird the teachers had acted and that I thought they’d been replaced. Then I followed up with my ideas about the field trip, the renovations, and how it all could be connected.
Erik made a few comments. At first, he was joking and calling me out about robots and aliens like usual. The longer I went on, though, the more closely he listened.
Eventually, he held up a hand.
“Dude, I’ve got no clue how you come up with shit like that, but it’s starting to get creepy. Write a book or something about that stuff, but… shit, man. You really believe it, don’t you?”
I looked at him, saw his expression, and knew I’d hit home with a few of the points I’d made.
We were both quiet for a while.
“So, then why’s nobody else noticed anything? How come you’re the only one who’s figured it this…? God, I don’t even know, alien invasion of whatever it is, out?”
“What about Kim? She noticed that things were strange as well! Maybe there’s others who noticed things, too.”
“Yeah, sure, you’re weird Asian girlfriend who’s into conspiracy theories is a good indicator.”
I frowned, but this time I let it slide. “Tell me, dude, when was the last time you actually paid attention to anything not related to sports?”
At that Erik’s face turned dark. “Shit man, you know what, you’ve got a good point there. So you’re telling me only the nerds like you’d ever notice anything?”
I nodded, disregarding the word ‘nerd’.
“And what’s why you think they’re taking them away under the guise of that field trip?”
I was about to continue when my phone started to vibrate, telling me I’d just gotten a message.
“I bet that’s Kim, she probably has something else to tell me.”
When I looked at my phone though, I saw that it wasn’t her. Martin had finally replied to my messages.
Moments later, Erik’s phone vibrated as well.
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