I was in the school cafeteria when I was contemplating how to make a good prank to Amaze My Friends and increase my social standing when I saw the beginning of an idea. A cricket. A dead black monster of a cricket as big as my thumb. We had them at home too. We would follow after my stepdad after spraying pesticide in the cracks around the base of the home and watch them crawl out, kick a few times in defiance and eventually die.
I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I didn't know yet what I was going to do with it but I knew it was a treasure in the world of pranks.
Put my little insect friend in someone's food was too obvious and probably dangerous. My victim might not notice it and eat it. This would ruin my prank and possibly poison the prankee. I made that plan B. Maybe plan C.
In a locker wouldn't work. I couldn't get credit for a dead bug in a locker. Smashed in a book, in a gym bag all had the same problem. I was getting discouraged when I glanced over at Michelle Wilson rubbing the side of her head behind her ear. This escalated into her shaking her head sideways the way swimmers do to get rid of pool water.
I had my idea.
"Hey Michelle, Is there something in your ear?" I yelled from across the cafeteria table.
"No, just water" she replied
"Want me to look at it?" I offered
"No, gross" she answered and started pounding the side of her head like a clogged ketchup bottle.
I wasn't entirely defeated. I could still rescue this prank. When the whistle blew announcing the end of our lunch hour I made my way over to stand in line next to Michelle.
Keep in mind I held no animosity toward her. She was a sweet girl and was generally nice to everyone. She wasn't a target so much as the person who set me up the best.
"Oh no wonder" I said, "there's something in your ear. Let me get it"
Before she had time respond I reached, out brushed my finger tips against the inside of her ear and with a flourish I produced my cricket. I held him by the back legs so he could be seen at his full height, his eyes and rather large mandibles facing his victim. Then, in a stroke of genius, I gave the legs little twist to mimic life. It was a beautifully executed marriage of magic and prank.
Maybe it was too good. Michelle didn't react with anger and flying fists that my sister and trained me to expect. First her eyes bulged to the point of exploding as she took in my little friend and the idea that he had just come out of her skull. So that her eyes wouldn't feel self conscious about their new increased girth her mouth joined in and gaped open to a size more appropriate to a bass.
The words "Oh Shit" were yelled into my brain by my own inner voice and my stomach sank. This was a mistake. I braced myself for the scream that was building up.
But the scream never came. In the next second Michelle's over inflated eyes showed only the whites. I had the sensation of falling as her head moved away from mine and it was a moment before I realized she was the one falling. When she hit the floor arms, legs and books exploded away from her like ripples in a pond. Two hundred students went silent.
The cricket was gone before she hit the ground and a teacher was on her checking her breathing and pulse in seconds. We were shoo'd out of the cafeteria. An hour later, from the window of my algebra class, I could see her being wheeled into an ambulance. An oxygen mask covering her face.
This did not go as planned.
For the rest of that day, a Thursday, I waited for the call to the office. Or was it going to be the police this time? Was I going to go to jail for a prank? Friday came and I contemplated feigning illness so I could stay home. It was too obvious though. I went to school just like an innocent person would.
I learned that Michelle had been kept over night in the hospital for observation but was probably fine. No call came from the office. The police didn't show up. Maybe she hit her head hard enough that she had amnesia like on the soap operas. I knew brain damage was a terrible thing to wish on someone who did nothing to deserve it but my ass was on the line.
My stomach was in knots and I couldn't eat all weekend. I knew I had blown it this time. I was done for. I heard stories of Juvy from wayward cousins and bad kids at school. It was worse than gym class.
Monday came. I had worried myself so sick it wouldn't have taken any talent to convince my mother to let me stay home. I went to school though. Whatever punishment coming my way couldn't be worse than what I was doing to myself.
The grapevine told me nothing except that Michelle was there. I didn't have classes with her but we tended to sit at the same table for lunch. When the time came, when she had her opportunity to confront me... Nothing.
She was of course the star of the day. Everyone wanted to know what had happened.
"I don't know" I heard her say, reveling a little in the attention but not embellishing, "I was just standing there then all of a sudden I was looking at the ceiling.". I overheard the story repeated for the sixth time before it completely dawned on me that she had no memory of the cricket or of me. I was off the hook. I was going to get away with it!
There are few feelings greater than getting away with something you know you did. People will tell you that God knows what you did or that you will feel better if you confess but they're just screwing with you.
I decided to avoid Michelle as much as I could to avoid any accidental memory triggers. I also decided that I would never pull that prank again. Probably. It was hard to believe myself because, except for the fainting and the hospital visit, it was a pretty good prank.
Our Senior year I had a class with Michelle and a few times I caught her staring at me. It was now five years after the cricket incident and I had nearly forgotten why I was avoiding her. One day towards the end of the school year she was standing next to me, in the cafeteria, and she gave me a funny look.
"Hey Steve, " she asked a little tentatively "This sounds weird, but did you ever stick a bug in my ear?"
I used my most indignant voice "No!". Then I rolled my eyes like she was the craziest girl in Missouri and walked away.