The “World room” was still quiet and warm. Through its triangular window, you could see ghostly white flashes lightening up the sky.
- Nils peered through it. “I can’t see very clearly but there doesn’t seem to be any car out there, want to see for yourself?”
- She slipped in and pushed her forehead against the glass: “Nope, not a soul.”
He tried not to show it but he was very worried now, with the storm and all, God only knew what had happened to his mother. He tried to lighten up the mood, mainly not to scare her as she seemed still so very young: “So I guess we’ll have to sit this out in here. At least we can keep an eye outside.”
He grabbed a chair and tried nonchalantly to put his feet up on one of the tables. She looked even more worried than him.
- “By the way, I’m Nils” He said. “What’s your name?”
- “Karin” she said nervously, getting closer to the window again.
- “Are you from this school? I’ve never seen you around I think.”
- She cleared her throat and answered without turning around: “No I’m from Saint Andrews, it’s a few kilometers down the road. It’s a school specialized for aspiring dancers. I come here every Friday evening for theater classes. If I had known the course was going to be cancelled, I wouldn’t have come – it’s a twenty minute walk! I was the only person present today with the summer break coming up”.
- “Yeah, lots of teachers were out today” he went on casually. “So when did you start…”
His sentence was left unfinished as Karin turned around and let out a small cry.
- “Are you ok?” She stared at him in total dismay.
- “Yes why?”
- “Your face seems to have frozen. I can hear your voice but your lips aren’t moving!”
- “What?!? You’re joking right ?” he said laughing nervously
- “No…” She came closer to him and touched his face. “Can you feel this?”
- Nils felt uneasy “No…” he lifted up his hand to his brow. Below his fingers his face had seemed to have turned into a mask of cardboard…He panicked. “What the hell? Oh my…”
As he was getting up to run to the bathroom, Karin’s mobile phone rang. The scene was so absurd; they both froze on the spot, unable to react. She took her phone out of her pocket and stared at it.
- “Pick it up” urged Nils.
- “.Hello…” she said hesitantly, holding it to her ear. “Yes…yes” “Mmmmh…I’m ok..” “Yes in front of the school…yes…ok thanks”. She hung up and looked at Nils, bewildered. “Calls are now getting through but the storm is moving towards town so the roads are still blocked.”
- “Was that your dad?”
- “Yes…he’ll be on his way as soon as they open the highway again.”
- “Can I …”
- “Yes off course, here’s the phone!” she said passing it over to him.
Nils’ face still felt stiff and flakey as though a mask had been stuck on it. “The call first!” he thought.
He dialed his mother’s number nervously. One ring, then a second, then :
- “Hello?” His mum’s worried voice picked up “Are you ok?”
- “Mum, jeez I’m glad to hear you. Yes everything’s fine, and you? Where are you?”
- “I’m home, we can’t use the motorway for the time being, the thunder storm is still passing through. As soon as they open it we’ll be on our way.”
- “Ok great, be careful driving here ok?”
- “Yes ok but is your..” The line was interrupted brutally. It seemed that the storm was still perturbing the coverage.
Without further ado, he passed the mobile phone to Karin and ran to the bathroom. He burst into the darkened room and hit the neon switch which came on with a squeaky sound. As the light became gradually stronger, Nils stared in horror at the face of an unknown boy looking back at him in the mirror. Shakenly he passed his fingertips over his cheeks. His skin felt a little less like cardboard but he still didn’t have any sensation in it… Its texture had turned into some kind of hardened leather, limiting his facial expressions. It felt as though he was wearing a mask behind which his anguished breath sounded muffled. Nils came closer to the mirror. A flicker in his eyes seemed to burn with something new. He then realized that his eyes were no longer blue but were getting gradually darker towards a hazelnut shade of brown. He backed away in shock. What was happening to him? His arms and thighs seemed bigger… and he could have sworn the sink only reached his navel when he’d come in a few moments ago. Now it was down to the level of his groin…Tears of panic filled his eyes as he ran out of the bathroom hastily towards the “World room”. Karin wasn’t there anymore but the room was now filled with sunshine as the rain had stopped outside. He went to the window and saw his mother standing close to Karin and what appeared to be her father. Weirdly her hand was resting on Karin’s shoulder. “How strange…” he thought. He turned around and went downstairs in a hurry. On his way down, his hair kept getting in his eyes so he had to push it back constantly in order to see where he was putting his feet. He marked a pause before going outside and passed his fingers through it: it was now much longer than it had ever been before…
The school’s entrance door opened wide on a sunny summer evening. Here and there, leaves were scattered on the ground and a branch or two seemed to have fallen victim of the passing storm. As the cleaning team was pulling in with its van a few meters away, Nils turned to his mother who was standing right in front of him.
- “There you are! Your father and I have been worried sick that we were unable to get to you on time.”
- The man put his arm around Nils’ shoulders and said: “I’m glad you took such good care of your sister son. It was the best solution to sit this out safely inside, you never know with storms.”
- “Yes we heard on the radio that some houses got their roofs destroyed in the surrounding countryside” his mum added with a quiver.
Nils looked at the man in bewilderment. In the window behind them he could see his own reflection; he was taller than before and seemed older too with a sleeker face. When he raised his fingers to his jaw he discovered that the skin had gone back to its normal texture.
Stunned, he turned to Karin. She was studying him quietly, the same way she had been doing earlier on when they’d left the pay phone.
- “Are you ok Greg? You seem worried.” she said.
- He shrugged at her calling him that “What? No…it’s just…”
In his pocket, he could feel the hard plastic of the ID card she’d handed him earlier on. “Gregory Solstic” he muttered softly. She stared at him, as if some strange memory had just passed through her mind, then she was back to normal.
- “We better be going” said his mum joyfully “Dad has a long way to drive to the south of France!”
- The man looked at his watch then turned to Nils, smiling: “we might still be able to beat the traffic, right Greg?”