Bill waited impatiently for the teacher to call his name. It was Report Day in Mrs. Henderson’s room, the day when each child stood before the class and gave a talk. They were allowed to bring something to show and then tell about it, but it wasn’t called Show and Tell because that was for babies. Fourth graders were ‘way beyond that.
On Report Day, it was hard for Mrs. Henderson to keep order. There was a lot of fidgeting, whispering and note-passing. Fear of public speaking took root at an early age.
Bill was as nervous as everyone else. His past efforts hadn’t exactly lit the place on fire. In fact, his classmates’ faces took on a flat look of boredom when he spoke. But today he was actually looking forward to his turn. He had an important report about something everyone needed to know. He could hardly wait.
“William,” Mrs. Henderson said with an encouraging smile, “You’re next.”
He strode to the front of the room and began. “There is something called a UFO, an unidentified flying object, that looks like a fat Frisbee, and it has lights that change color depending on what’s happening. Amber for landing, blue for resting, red for flying.”
The kids rolled their eyes at each other and stifled their giggles behind open hands. Mrs. Henderson stepped forward and touched Bill’s shoulder. “William, today’s report is supposed to be factual, not a make-believe story.”
“This is factual,” Bill said. “There is such a thing as a UFO. I’ve seen it.”
“Now, William, it’s okay to have fantasies and I love your imagination, but remember, today’s assignment is to tell about a real person, place or thing.”
“But it’s real.” Bill didn’t mean to argue, but he couldn’t give up. He needed to say this, even if Mrs. Henderson didn’t want to hear it. “The UFO moves so fast it looks like a shooting star. Maybe you’ve even seen it and thought it was a shooting star. But it’s not. It’s a space ship and there are…beings…inside. And they’re not humans, exactly, but really good beings who would never hurt anyone. People shouldn’t be afraid of them, or chase them away.”
The class exploded in laughter, and Mrs. Henderson rapped on her desk to restore order. She had thirteen more reports to get through before the end of this very long Friday.
“William. Please take your seat.”
“But what about the rest of my report?” Bill asked, his face tense with anxiety.
“That’s all for today. Next week, I expect you to be prepared to follow the assignment.”
“Saucer Boy! Saucer Boy!”
The taunts began immediately when the children were dismissed for the day.
“Silly Billy’s got a flying space ship!”
“Billy, Billy, U-F-uh-O!”
Bill felt his face burn. He should have known better; would he never learn?
Ignoring the line of yellow school buses, he set off on foot. It wasn’t allowed; if you were a bus-rider, you were supposed to get on your bus. But Bill slipped away, losing himself in a crowd of town kids who walked home. He knew the bus ride would be torture today.
The family’s isolated farm house was a long trudge from school. It took him almost an hour, and when he got there, the door was locked. That wasn’t unusual. Bill got the key from beneath the third flower pot on the left and let himself in. Nobody was home, but he knew what had to be done.
Going directly to his room, he reached up to the top shelf of his closet and got down his duffle bag. In it he placed his favorite book, Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, his warm fleece jacket and his toothbrush. Last, he tossed in a couple of granola bars. That should be all he’d need. He went to the kitchen, poured a glass of milk and munched his way through most of a bag of Oreos. Then he settled down to watch cartoons. His eyelids slowly closed; it had been an exhausting day.
He woke instantly when amber light flooded the room. Casting one farewell glance around his home, he grabbed his duffle bag and ran out the back door. A deep blue glow emanated from the airship that rested silently on the grass. When a hatch slid open, Bill moved forward.