All of MacDonald Hall was on edge. Students and teachers alike walked around tense, eyes darting everywhere, hyper-vigilant for anything unusual.
It was April Fool’s Day and MacDonald Hall had two legendary jokers. It was their time to shine and everyone knew it.
Wilbur Hackenschleimer went to his mini-fridge. Cautiously he cracked it open. Nothing happened. He sniffed - nothing but fridge. He opened the door and scrutinized the contents intently. They looked normal. Nothing had been swapped with Elmer Drimsdale’s mould experiments. It looked like nothing had been touched. He grabbed a chocolate milk and cracked it open and took a careful taste. Nothing but fresh, chocolate milk.
Chris Talbot examined his paints. The labels appeared to be correct. He opened a couple of tubes and sniffed - just paint. No tomato paste, no icing, no anchovy paste - just paint labels on tubes of paint. He frowned.
In Dormitory 2 room 201, Elmer Drimsdale pulled open his curtains to count his plants. They were all there and the labels hadn’t been swapped around. None of his reagents had been tampered with. His Pacific salmon poster still lacked facial hair. He shook his textbooks but no risque pictures fell out. Hmmm.
Students were bumping into door jambs, desks, and each other as they filed into class. They were looking everywhere but where they were going. Most of them were looking up. The ceilings, however, were unoccupied. Larry Wilson, the office messenger, leaned over to Mark Davies and whispered, “Anything yet?”
“Nothing,” Mark whispered back, “And the school newspaper Publisher template hasn’t been touched and none of the headlines have been altered.”
That’s when Bruno and Boots walked in and took their seats. Bruno Walton and Melvin “Boots” O’Neal, residents of Dormitory 3’s room 306, royal pains in the tuckus. “Perry says Bruno’s been smirking like that all morning,” Larry whispered.
Bruno was indeed smirking. And Boots? Boots was wearing his “halo over devil horns” smile that looked oh so puppy-dog innocent and was absolutely not. Everyone stared at them, wondering what they were up to.
The realization hit all at the same time and everyone - even the teacher - nosedived to check under their desks and seats. Nothing. With sighs of relief, they all got back into their chairs. “If we can start class now,” the teacher sighed. He sifted through his papers and found that his lesson plan had not been switched with the script for Cats.
In the dining hall, every ketchup bottle was scrutinized and tasted. Every one was found to be ketchup, not Sriracha. Wilbur rushed for the Sriracha bottles and found them to be Sriracha, not ketchup. Also undiluted. “What the hell is going on around here?!” he growled.
In the Headmaster’s office, Mr. Sturgeon found that his playlist was, in fact, his playlist. Tommy James and the Shondells were still Tommy James and the Shondells. The Beatles were not actually the Gorillaz in disguise. And nothing was actually its Weird Al Yankovic parody version. He was a little disappointed by that. He looked up in time to see movement. “Wilson? Everything alright?”
Larry stepped around the heavy oak door, “Nothing yet, sir,” he reported, “But they’ve been smirking all day. They’re just waiting for something.”
“Clearly,” the Headmaster sighed, “Keep me informed.”
George Wexford-Smythe III had once had the unfortunate experience of having Boots as his roommate and he knew what the oh-so-innocent-looking blond boy was capable of. He stared at his stock tickers, expecting them to start scrolling “Klaatu Barada Nikto” any second now. Every time clean-eating Mr. Fudge opened his door, he expected to see another pizza delivery. Arnold Wensleydale approached his barbell and deadlifted not painted styrofoam but seventy-five kilos. The chalk turned out to be chalk and not icing sugar. Tension was running high and tempers were starting to fray.
“What have you done?!” Perry Ellis screamed.
Bruno and Boots just looked at each other, smiled identical halo smiles, and chorused “Nooooo-thing!”
Every salt shaker was tested and found to be filled with salt. Every sugar shaker was tested and found to be filled with sugar. Soy sauce bottles contained no Worcestershire sauce. Pillows were punched and dresser drawers were emptied, looking for something, anything. The whole campus was on the verge of freaking out.
The only person who walked without fear was Sidney Rampulsky. The boy was a walking pratfall, so he’d never been pranked.
Rob Adams slammed his fist onto the rec hall table, “I say we corner them, beat the snot out of them, and force them to tell us what they’ve done!”
“Death to Bruno and Boots!” Pretty soon the voices gathered into a roar.
“What seems to be the trouble?” The mob fell quiet and every face turned to see the sight they dreaded the most - The Fish! Mr. Sturgeon’s cold, fishy stare roved the room, staring into each and every soul. “I said, What seems to be the trouble?”
“Well… um… it’s April Fool’s day…” Rob began.
“Yes,” the Fish acknowledged, “And what, exactly, has happened?”
“Well, Bruno and Boots…”
“I mean, they’ve always…” added Marvin Trimble.
“Yes,” the Headmaster acknowledged again, “And what have they done this year?”
“Anything?,” the Fish said, sounding uncannily like the devil guy in the old Caramilk commercials and causing several boys to shiver. “….Nothing?” There was silence. “And yet you have whipped yourselves up into a rabble frenzy intent on doing violence, and for what? A mere suspicion. Boys, I am very disappointed in all of you.” Now every eye was gazing at the floor. “Go to bed. All of you,” the Fish said, then his voice dropped to a whisper, “Now.”
* * * *
In Room 306, Bruno and Boots pulled the curtains closed, changed into their sleep clothes, and climbed into bed. They looked at each other… and burst into hysterical laughter. “Oh my God, that was the best day ever!” Boots gasped.
“Boots, my man, you are a genius,” Bruno wheezed, “And here I was upset!”
“That went even better than I hoped!” Boots screeched, “When Perry screamed at you!”
“I thought I was gonna lose it!”
Boots did a perfect imitation of Perry’s “’What did you do?!’”, then Bruno joined him on “Nooooo-thing!” and they both collapsed onto their beds, crying with laughter.
Three sharp, firm knocks on the door brought them upright. They exchanged a glance - that didn’t sound like Mr. Fudge’s knock. “Um, come in,” Bruno called.
The door opened and both boys froze in their beds. “Good evening, Walton, O’Neal.” Mr. Sturgeon stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
“G-good evening, sir,” Boots stammered.
“I couldn’t help but overhear you celebrating another successful April Fool’s Day, except that nobody can identify precisely what you did.” The Fish stared at each of them in turn, “Did you, in fact, do anything?”
“No, sir,” Boots shook his head.
“We couldn’t think of anything to do this year,” Bruno admitted.
Boots hugged his blanket a little closer and confessed, “So I… might have suggested we just… do nothing and just… let people think we did something.”
“It’s not like we lied about it,” Bruno added hurriedly, “Whenever anyone asked what we did, we said ‘Nothing.’”
“So it was a psychological prank,” The Fish said.
Mr. Sturgeon considered whether to tell them of their near miss from their colleagues.
“Um, sir?” Boots asked, “Are we being punished?”
“No,” the Headmaster said finally, “After all, you didn’t actually do anything. And it’s provided an opportunity for a lesson in mob mentality and jumping to conclusions in absence of evidence, despite previous patterns. In the end, though, despite the wishes of some of your classmates, nobody was harmed. Good night, boys.”
“Good night, sir,” they chorused.
The door closed behind Mr. Sturgeon and he made his way out of Dormitory 3, out onto the campus towards the Headmaster’s cottage. His wife was waiting up for him and poured him a cup of tea, “Well?”
“Mildred, you won’t believe it - They didn’t do a darned thing!”
“Nothing at all! They let people think they’d done something.”
“The whole campus was in a uproar!”
“I know!” the Headmaster chortled, “It was brilliant! Quite possibly the best joke of their entire career!”