looked back at her, and presently a little smile began to play around the comers of his mouth.

'Why are you smiling, Robert?' she asked softly.

'I don't know,' Robert said, and went on smiling.

'Tell me, please.'

Robert said nothing.

And went on smiling.

The outside sounds of children at play were distant, dreamy. Only the hypnotic buzz of the wall clock was real.

'There's quite a few of us,' Robert said suddenly, as if he were commenting on the weather.

It was Miss Sidley's turn to be silent.

'Eleven right here in this school.'

Quite evil,

she thought, amazed.

Very, incredibly evil.

'Little boys who tell stories go to hell,' she said clearly. 'I know many parents no longer make their ... their spawn ... aware of that fact, but I assure you that it is a true fact, Robert. Little boys who tell stories go to hell. Little girls too, for that matter.'

Robert's smile grew wider; it became vulpine. 'Do you want to see me change, Miss Sidley? Do you want a really good look?'

Miss Sidley felt her back prickle. 'Go away,' she said curdy. 'And bring your mother or your father to school with you tomorrow. We'll get this business straightened out.' There. On solid ground again. She waited for his face to crumple, waited for the tears.

Instead, Robert's smile grew wider - wide enough to show his teeth. 'It will be just like Show and Tell, won't it, Miss Sidley? Robert - the other Robert - he liked Show and Tell. He's still hiding way, way down in my head.' The smile curled at the corners of his mouth like charring paper.

'Sometimes he runs around ... it itches. He wants me to let him out.

'Go away,' Miss Sidley said numbly. The buzzing of the clock seemed very loud.

Robert changed.

His face suddenly ran together like melting wax, the eyes flattening and spreading like knife-struck egg yolks, nose widening and yawning, mouth disappearing. The head elongated, and the hair was suddenly not hair but straggling, twitching growths.

Robert began to chuckle.

The slow, cavernous sound came from what had been his nose, but the nose was eating into the lower half of his face, nostrils meeting and merging into a central blackness like a huge, shouting mouth.

Robert got up, still chuckling, and behind it all she could see the last shattered remains of the other Robert, the real little boy this alien thing had usurped, howling in maniac terror, screeching to be let out.

She ran.

She fled screaming down the corridor, and the few late-leaving pupils turned to look at her with large and uncomprehending eyes. Mr Hanning jerked open his door and looked out just as she plunged through the wide glass front doors, a wild, waving scarecrow silhouetted against the bright September sky.

He ran after her, Adam's apple bobbing. 'Miss Sidley! Miss Sidley!'

Robert came out of the classroom and watched curiously.

Miss Sidley neither heard nor saw. She clattered down the steps and across the sidewalk and into the street with her screams trailing behind her. There was a huge, blatting horn and then the bus was looming over her, the bus driver's face a plaster mask of fear. Air brakes whined and hissed like angry dragons.

Miss Sidley fell, and the huge wheels shuddered to a smoking stop just eight inches from her frail, brace- armored body. She lay shuddering on the pavement, hearing the crowd gather around her.

She turned over and the children were staring down at her. They were ringed in a tight little circle, like mourners around an open grave. And at the head of the grave was Robert, a small sober sexton ready to shovel the first spade of dirt into her face.

From far away, the bus driver's shaken babble: '...crazy or somethin ... my God, another half a foot . . .'

Miss Sidley stared at the children. Their shadows covered her. Their faces were impassive. Some of them were smiling little secret smiles, and Miss Sidley knew that soon she would begin to scream again.

Then Mr Hanning broke their tight noose, shooed them away, and Miss Sidley began to sob weakly.

She didn't go back to her third grade for a month. She told Mr Hanning calmly that she had not been feeling herself, and Mr Hanning suggested that she see a reputable doctor and discuss the matter with him. Miss Sidley agreed that this was the only sensible and rational course. She also said that if the school board wished for her resignation she would tender it immediately, although doing so would hurt her very much. Mr Hanning, looking uncomfortable, said he doubted if that would be necessary. The upshot was that Miss Sidley came back in late October, once again ready to play the game and now knowing how to play it.

For the first week she let things go on as ever. It seemed the whole class now regarded her with hostile, shielded eyes. Robert smiled distantly at her from his front-row seat, and she did not have the courage to take him

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