Once upon a time, there was a biiiig group of little girls running around a small hilly backyard and every child was special in their own little way. One had wings, another had claws, and there was even a girl amongst them who could only be described as happy ooze. However, it could have been said that the most special of the lot was the one who bore no fantastical traits whatsoever.
“Thanks for bringing everyone here today, Miss Jocular,” said the man watching from the wooden patio of his and his daughter’s home. “I thought this would be a good way for Jane to learn her numbers.”
“No problem, Mister Jefferson, no problem. This’ll be really good for the rest of the kids too.” A woman with a snake’s body from the waist-down smiled, both at the children and her fellow adult.
Little Jane Jefferson had never spent a day in a preschool or daycare. She was two and a half years old and had no friends. Not one human, not one monster, and not one imaginary.
So her constantly worrying father, who once sheltered his daughter away from the world, decided that she should get a bunch at once from a local preschool before enrolling in it. But only after a trial in just how much education and friendship Jane could possibly collect from the experience.
“Children! Gather ’round, children!” shouted their teacher as she slithered forward off the wooden patio she was watching from. And so they did, legs and feet scuttling, pounding, and in one case crawling across the ground together in front of her in a big slapdash cluster.
“Today, we’re going to review numbers with Jane. When I call your name, please line up here next to me and Mister Jefferson. After we’re done here, he’s prepared a special snack for all of us, so let’s show our thanks by behaving, okay?”
“Yes, Miss Jocular.” The voices of the girls rang out like a choir, full of energy and attentiveness. They numbered fifteen in all but only five were called forward by their serpentine teacher. While they were eagerly answering and being shifted around by both hand and rattlesnake tail, Mister Jefferson silently coaxed his daughter over.
They exchanged more than a few words, a happily bouncing Jane constantly nodding and cheering about meeting new people her age who were all so soft, fluffy, smooth, tough, and everything in between. Mister Jefferson was more apprehensive however, unsure if being amongst these bestial kids everyday except weekends (and even then, Jane might want to visit someone’s home or vice versa) would leave his daughter unharmed or in an appropriate learning environment. But still, he let her go do the activity. Under a watchful eye and with a first aid kit stashed under the patio’s table of course.
“Okay, Jane, stand over here,” started Miss Jocular, keeping a loose grip on the human toddler’s shoulders. “What I want you to do is count how many feet-”
And as if it were a signal, Jane threw up arms and shouted “Feet!” And then so did everyone else under the age of forty, bouncing and yelling the somehow fascinating word repeatedly before falling silent under the lamia’s patient gaze. Some were still practically vibrating on the spot though.
“Count how many feet everyone in line has and hug each one from lowest to highest.” The lamia finished. Technically, some of her students had legs but no feet and Miss Jocular knew it. ‘But why should that be important right now?’ Is what she thought.
Jane began by scampering up and down the line, looking every girl in the eye and at their feet or lack thereof. One of them tried to grab the little zipping human but was so slow to move that it was three passes before her stretching fingers were noticed. In fact, the giant (so to speak) slug had done so little that she had accidentally given a hint to Jane.
“Molly has one feet!” The little redhead proclaimed somewhat erroneously, surging forward into the green haired girl’s slightly slimy embrace. Eventually. Jane waited very patiently for an ecstatic Molly to finally put both arms around her and then let go. Following that was a very slight delay as Miss Jocular pulled the human girl free from the giant slug’s liquid embrace and Mister Jefferson cleaned it off with paper towels.
“City has two feet!” Six talons was more like it. Cittasena, whose name nor species would never be pronounced correctly by a fellow student in all her days at preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school, gave a sharp artificial buzz from the instrument between her smiling lips. Jane fell into Cittasena’s fire-coloured wings and chocolate skin, being very careful to avoid the kazoo that was always in the gandharva’s mouth. Two short bursts of sad sounding fvvvvs accompanied the two parting, and they both even waved goodbye.
“Rose has three feet!” But only by cheating. Rose was a blue slime and hadn’t actually been called up by Miss Jocular for the activity. She just pushed her way forward, eager arms flinging slime as they were thrust forward and lower mass arranged to look like her father’s beloved camera tripod. The lamia noticed the formless muck’s enthusiasm too late and decided to just let it be. Jane had to be paper toweled again though.
“Irma has eig-” For a brief moment, Mister Jefferson thought that his daughter had caught some disease from the two slimy students. But Jane was swiveling her head between Irma the arachne, who was anxiously tapping forward for her hug, and Rose. Tears welled up in the spider girl’s many eyes as her new human friend toddled over to be squeezed by a very happy looking blue slime again. “Rose has seven feet!”
Irma pouted with all her might, whining wordlessly as if she were about to burst into tears. Miss Jocular tried to calm the bright red arachne, whose pale skin was starting to match her carapace, but couldn’t stop the sudden kidnapping. As soon as the blue almost-octopus left Jane with a need for paper towels again, Irma used the strength of four pairs of legs to jump forward and squish the human against her.
Despite the suddenness of it and the concerned adults that started to hover over the two, Jane was not shocked at all. She proclaimed, “Irma has eight feet!” But she had to shout it several times before those words pushed away a tantruming Irma, a peeved Miss Jocular, and a frightened (of Jane being stabbed by spider legs) Mister Jefferson. Even more paper towels and another hug between Irma and Jane settled things nicely afterwards.
Rose has nine feet! Or at least, that’s what the human girl would have shouted had Miss Jocular not finally forced the blue slime back into the part of the class that wasn’t participating (which greatly improved Irma’s mood). That didn’t stop the ooze from forming a jumble of nine leggish thingamabobs and constantly pointing at herself though. In the end, Jane took a look at a monster that was actually standing in line and stated, “Banunu has nine feet!”
Banunu, a rather serious girtablilu (who thought the word referred to her mom’s special brownies and not to scorpionwomen), corrected Jane. What hung behind her, in a rather low position for a girtablilu, was her tail. It helped her keep balance but otherwise was not involved in how she walks. Banunu explained all this while accepting Jane’s tight embrace, in turn almost cradling the redheaded human in swirl patterned teal and purple cloth. The scorpion girl had spent the most time with Jane earlier, following or being dragged along to play with just about everyone in the class. As a result, Banunu started wanting a sister and considered the human girl that was in her arms to be hers for years to come.
Finally, fearless little Jane stepped up to the last new friend in line. Like Irma and Banunu, she had a hard shell. Like Molly and Rose, she could be slimy. But unlike the first two, this shaggy-haired monster was so long that all those shell parts moving together so smoothly creeped out her classmates. And unlike the last two, this gaunt fiend’s slime was poisonous and thankfully did not cover or make up her entire body.
“Peach has one huddid feet!”
Jane meant hundred. Ookumade, centipede monsters, were generally considered gloomier than zombies, scarier than ghosts, and more off-putting than the smelliest wet dog. Unfortunately, Peach fell into the stereotype but Jane didn’t care. She hugged the dark purple shelled, sickly gray skinned, dark haired, seemingly evil-eyed monster so hard that the rest of the class started thinking, ‘Well, she can’t be THAT scary if Jane’ll touch her.’ And that’s how Peach started developing a nature as sweet as her name but also a lot of clinginess towards whom she believed to be the source of her popularity.
“Very good, Jane,” Miss Jocular cooed, “Your father made you the best at numbers, didn’t he?”
“Yes!” She cheered, turning not towards Mister Jefferson but to her new friends, eager to play with them again.
The rattlesnake woman was very much satisfied with Jane’s enthusiasm and willing to be social but the grown man was not.
“Jane,” he began sternly. “Do you know what numbers are missing?” Mister Jefferson stood tall, legs spread a shoulder’s width apart and arms folded behind his back, looking more like a soldier than a father in that moment. He didn’t like how Irma clung to his daughter with her arms. He didn’t like how Peach clung to his daughter with her eyes. He always felt the need to be careful around children, monsters, and now he was taking note of monster children.
“Yes, Daddy.” The human toddler didn’t spin around, still facing Miss Jocular’s class. She ran around the line that had been arranged to test her and dashed beyond it into the rest of the students that were standing back. “Kara has four feet,” werecat, “Rose has five feet,” cheater, “Anne has six feet,” soldier beetle, “Juno has ten feet,” cancer, “Rose has elev-”
“Uh, good, good, stop, stop. Jane, Anne, Juno, come over here to get dry.” Mister Jefferson had to admit, his daughter would have gone on and on all the way up to ninety-nine if he’d let her. Most of that time would be spent in Rose’s goop but the numbers would have been hugged out. Jane had a strong connection with the other kids too, even after only spending less then an hour running, jumping, and flying around his backyard.
“Well, Mister Jefferson? I can’t guarantee that other subjects can be reviewed so easily or that everyone will stay friends with her, but it might be extremely difficult to prevent your daughter from wanting to go to school from here on out.” Miss Jocular laughed.
The worried man thought otherwise, if only to comfort himself. “What friends she does make will protect her and clearly she can learn better with them than with just me.” But he believed his words a little, and such a feeling would grow each day. He called his energetic daughter over and asked, even though he knew the answer, “Jane, do you want to go to school?”
And not only did Jane answer, so did everyone else.
And then he served ice-cream cake. It was delicious.