Adrienne Kress is a writer and an actress born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of two high school English teachers, and credits them for her love of both writing and performing. She also has a cat named Atticus, who unfortunately despises teeny hats. Look for her online at AdrienneKress.com and follow her on Twitter at @AdrienneKress.
In which we meet Sebastian.
This story begins, like most stories do, with a pig wearing a teeny hat. And I’m sure right now you’re thinking to yourself, I’ve read this story before. But please let me assure you that this isn’t that pig in a teeny hat story you’re reading, but the other one. The one you haven’t read. Yet.
Unless you’ve read this story before.
And also, I’m lying. I must confess that this story doesn’t literally begin with a pig wearing a teeny hat, but figuratively does. This story actually begins with Sebastian coming home from school. Because that’s a pretty regular thing that Sebastian did, school being a regular thing that one does when one is twelve.
Well, okay, I guess technically this story began with me telling you it begins with a pig in a teeny hat, but let’s pretend that it began with Sebastian coming home from school.
So, this story begins with Sebastian coming home from school.
Sebastian had to take the Y train and the number 42 and the Blue Express to get to and from school. He also had to walk for twenty minutes. It wasn’t that his school was across the country or anything, but the city he lived in was really big. And he went to a special school that happened to be far away from where he lived. It was for grades four to eight and focused on math and the sciences. Sebastian, you see, had always been rather good at math and science.
It wasn’t really that surprising that he was. As he had learned, thanks to science, his skills had kind of been hardwired into his DNA from the beginning. Both his parents worked at the university in the physics department. His older brother was studying to be an actuary, and his brother’s twin sister was already an accomplished engineer who specialized in bridges.
It was a family of pragmatic minds, and Sebastian fit in perfectly. He was able to contribute to conversations around the dinner table and was equally as amused as his parents and brother and sister were by the usual math- and science-related jokes told during their meals together. He was happy in his family, happy in his school, and sure about his place in the world and his future on the planet. He had the goal of being a neurosurgeon when he grew up. And, yes, his cousin and best friend, Arthur, teased him about being a zombie: “Brains! Brains!” But that was okay--he felt confident that his life choices were wise and good ones.
He was equally as confident that the path he took every day to and from school was wise and good. It was the quickest and most efficient, and what could be wiser and . . . gooder . . . than that? The trains and buses he chose were not only the ones with the fewest stops, but also the ones with the least amount of walking distance between transfers. And the walk from the station to school was by far the shortest route.
But Arthur. Oh, Arthur. Arthur, though Sebastian’s cousin, had a recklessness to him. It was probably what interested Sebastian most in his friend, and what frustrated him most as well. And it was, obviously, Arthur who messed everything up.
On the day that changed it all, Arthur had accompanied Sebastian back to his house. This happened on occasion, though always with a quick call home to Sebastian’s parents, of course, to confirm that such spontaneity would be welcome. Arthur was generally a lot of fun to be around, but that day he was a little grumpy. He had gotten a C on his biology exam and was in a ranting kind of mood.
“I think Mrs. Brown just has it in for me.”
Sebastian had kept quiet for most of the rant, but this was getting ridiculous. “That makes no sense.”
“What?” Arthur asked, clearly surprised at the interruption.
“Well, did she grade your paper wrong? Were there questions you got right that she said you didn’t?”
Arthur stopped walking. Sebastian sighed. He stopped walking too. He glanced at his watch, which was the kind of watch that you set by a satellite and therefore is never wrong. Stopping was not part of the getting-home-efficiently plan.
“You could be on my side, you know,” said Arthur, his lower lip twitching so subtly that Sebastian wouldn’t have noticed it had he not accidentally been staring right at it.
“I’m not not on your side,” Sebastian answered honestly.
“Well, you’re not not not on my side either.”
“I just don’t understand how she has it in for you.”
“Oh, for . . . You know what, Sebastian? Never mind.”
And then Arthur did something that was truly shocking. He turned down the wrong street. It was the street that ran parallel to the correct street, the street that in two more turns would take them directly to Sebastian’s front door. This street, Sebastian had observed back when he’d been mapping out his route at home, was not a good street. This street wasn’t even really a street. It was a dead end. It would mean they’d have to walk up it and then back down it again.
A complete waste of time.
“Arthur, come on!” Sebastian called out after him.
But it was too late.
Oh, how too late it was.
He could have continued home on his own, but Sebastian knew that was the wrong move to make at a time like this. His cousin was upset, and Sebastian was a good friend, so, reconciled to the waste of time, he followed Arthur.
This street was very similar to the correct street. Terraced brownstones lined both sides, wrought-iron gates kept trespassers at bay, and leafy green-turning-gold trees canopied overhead. Arthur was almost two-thirds of the way down the street, and Sebastian had to jog to catch up.
“I’m sorry,” he said when he did.
“Yeah?” Arthur stopped and glared at him. “For what?”
“For . . .” Darn. Arthur knew him too well. “Okay, I don’t know what for.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Can we just forget all this and go home?”
Arthur stood silently for a moment. And then he nodded. “Would be nice if you had my back once in a while, though.”
Sebastian was thrown by that comment. “I do.”
“Yeah, not really. You always take . . . logic’s side.” Arthur continued up the street.
Sebastian personally considered that a compliment, though the way Arthur said it, it was clearly not meant to be taken as one. But he didn’t really have time to process what he was supposed to feel. Instead he called out: “Hey! You can’t go that way, there’s a dead end!”
“No, there’s an alley up ahead. I can see it.”
There was? Sebastian was surprised--he hadn’t noticed an alley when he’d set his route, but he shrugged and kept walking. An alley would make up some much-needed time.
Sure enough, as Sebastian caught up with Arthur, he could see that his cousin was right. There was indeed a dark, narrow alley that opened up onto the street they needed to get back on their path. Sebastian felt a wave of relief and happily ventured into the dark shadows.
Of course for some people, this would have been a slightly scary prospect. Alleys in general tend to have an air of mystery that can be awfully ostentatious but this alley in particular was, well, for want of a better word, creepy.
“Kind of creepy,” said Arthur from behind him.
Sebastian pulled some small comfort from his vast armory of logic. “It’s just dark because the walls block out the sun. Don’t be scared.”
“I’m not scared,” Arthur said, but it was clear to Sebastian that the words were meaningless.
So Sebastian tried to make him feel better. “First of all, the street is right there,” he told his cousin, pointing to the other side of the alley. “Second, chances are no one ever comes here. It’d be different if we were downtown, but this is a residential street. No one has any reason to hang out back here.”
“Yeah, well, what about them?”
Sebastian turned and looked to where Arthur was pointing. On the red brick wall beside a door he hadn’t even noticed was a plaque. It read:
The Explorer’s Society Established 1887
Sebastian shrugged. “Okay, I guess the people who belong to the society come here. But that’s not scary.”
“It’s not?” Arthur looked at him warily.
“What’s scary about explorers?”
Arthur had no answer, and so they continued on down the alley. They came out on the other side, connected with Sebastian’s regular route, and walked the rest of the way home, unfortunately arriving at his house five minutes later than normal. Arthur stayed until dinnertime, when he decided to go home after a fruitful afternoon of helping Sebastian map out another third of the dark side of the moon.
Yes, after all the excitement, it had turned into an altogether average day. That is to say, on the surface. Sebastian, though, was not feeling remotely average at all. No matter how hard he pretended he was--and indeed pretended so well that Arthur was none the wiser--he couldn’t pretend well enough to fool himself.
The thing was that Sebastian, ever since he’d seen it, had been attempting to put the sign for The Explorers Society out of his head. He attempted to do it over dinner when he asked for the “society” of ketchup instead of “bottle.” He attempted to do it when he asked if they could watch a show on the Explorer channel. And he attempted to do it lying awake that night, staring at his ceiling, which was covered with an accurate map of the stars for that time of year. All he saw in his mind’s eye was that strange sign with those words: The Explorers Society.
Try as he might, he couldn’t shake that sign. Of course, it wasn’t the sign itself that disturbed him so, though he did find its font rather impractical. It was what the sign meant. While it seemed to be obvious, Sebastian simply refused to believe that it was possible that it meant what he thought it meant. Who actually did that for a job? Surely there was no living to be made being an explorer. Surely everything had already been explored.
He figured the sign had to mean something else altogether. Maybe it was a society full of people with the last name Explorer. Or maybe they had neglected to add an apostrophe before the s and there was just one explorer and this was his or her society. That made more sense to him. He could conceive of one reckless person choosing to be an explorer. But many?
It was simply too far-fetched.
You might wonder why it got to him like this. After all, there are many other signs out there that can be equally puzzling. But, no, it was this particular sign and the words written on it that had captured him. And it was likely not about the word “Society” or the “The” either. Those two words he’d seen often. In fact, he saw the word “the” several times a day. No. It was the word “Explorers” that was gnawing away at him. It was as if the word had awoken something deep within him, and it scared him a little. See, the thing was, he found the word “Explorers” rather . . . exciting. And he just did not consider it appropriate to feel like that about that particular word.
Sebastian wondered, could he be experiencing his first identity crisis at twelve years old? It was impossible to say, as he’d never had one before to compare it to, yet as he went to school the next day he felt utterly miserable. So miserable that he raised his hand to answer questions only sixteen times.
As the clock ominously ticked down the minutes of the day, Sebastian’s stomach got tighter and tighter. He knew he could avoid the sign if he chose. All he had to do was follow his usual route home. As a further precaution, he made sure Arthur had no interest in coming over. After all, it had been Arthur and his reckless behavior that had started all this. The thing was, for the first time, possibly ever, Sebastian didn’t trust himself. He just didn’t know if he could make it all the way home without choosing to look at the sign again. He really needed to get this sign out of his head.
Soon enough it was the end of the day and soon enough Sebastian found himself on the 42 attempting to calm his breathing and clear his mind, and then on the Blue Express dreading the inevitable arrival at his stop. And when finally he was walking that last dreaded stretch home, he clenched his hands into fists and tried everything he could to feel, or at least give the impression of looking, totally and completely normal.
Sebastian followed his regular route and every step he took closer to the wrong street made him more and more miserable. His regular route took him right past it, and he just had to walk by, he had to ignore it. When he was finally crossing the street he made a concerted effort not to look up toward the alley. He even held his breath. And then he was across and turning up the correct street. A heavy weight lifted off his shoulders, and for the first time that day, Sebastian smiled.
And that’s when it happened.
The pig in the teeny hat.
1 Funny thing, no one actually knows what an actuary does, not even actuaries. Some have speculated that’s where the name comes from: “What do you do?” “Actually, I have no idea.”
2 Though they remain not nearly as pretentious as culs-de-sac.
3 Like: Do Not Enter (why would someone put a door there, then?) or Back in Five (Five what, I ask you. Five what?).
4 That had nothing to do with how Sebastian was feeling, by the way--the clock in his classroom just happened to tick ominously. Just as the clock down the hall in 4B ticked reluctantly, and the clock in the principal’s office ticked appreciatively.