Hal gaped at his cymbal bag, trying to process the horror he was beholding. The bag was lying on the salt-strewn bag of the drum room, its gaping maw ferociously ripped open and its contents spilling from its interior. His sheet music, sweat-stiffened cymbal sleeves, marching band baseball cap, math homework from last semester, a bag of goldfish that had been there since September, and his cymbals were scattered around the bag in a grisly minefield that resembled the dining hall tables after the dinner rush.
It was not the fact that his bag had been rummaged through and his stuff cast aside. It was not the fact that he’d finally found that one homework assignment that had almost destroyed his grade in that one class. No, it was a far worse truth that stilled him and made him simmer with rage: someone had stolen his tater tots.
He’d brought some with him today to save for after practice (yes, he was actually practicing in the off-season) and stowed it in what he’d believed to be a safe place: his cymbal bag. He’d only left it unattended for two minutes to use the bathroom, and when he’d returned, he’d stumbled upon this.
He bared his teeth as his hands curled into feral fists. All day, he’d been looking forward to his tater tots, and now he’d been robbed of the one thing that brought him joy.
He stormed out of the drum room in a seething mass of projectile spit and vivid expletives, his face redder than a strawberry. The main practice hall was vacant, but that did not stop him from ravaging the racks of chairs and music stands in desperation to catch the fiend who had betrayed him.
Out in the hall, a pair of unfamiliar band kids sat giggling as they scrolled through their phones. Neither of them possessed the plastic contained where his tater tots had been stored. An interrogation of a poor bloke who just came her to find his lost water bottle yielded similar results. He wasn’t stupid enough to go to the Fearless Leader, since even he knew the Fearless Leader had more important things to worry about, but perhaps a staff member had seen something.
“I’m sorry, Hal, but I haven’t seen anyone go into the drum room,” sighed a forlorn staff member. “I’ll let you know if I see anything.”
“It’s fine,” he growled, swallowing his fury. She was innocent, he reminded himself. She wasn’t sus.
Another round of fruitless interrogations finally prompted him to give up. He collapsed beside his poor, lonely cymbals and let out a baleful sob, curling in on himself as he mourned the loss of his dear most requested tater tots. What a cruel world this was. Someone had pilfered his precious, and he would never again behold the seven golden nuggets of shredded potato for as long as he lived.
Something brushed against his shoulder. He opened his eyes and found himself peering into the jaws of his ragged cymbal bag. Wistfully, he stuck his arm in and rummaged around in the vain hope he’d find his tater tots.
His hand brushed against something flimsy and plastic. He paused, an electric shudder running through him as it slowly dawned on him what he was touching. Shaking, he extracted the container and held it to the light, sobbing not from grief but from exultation as he counted seven glorious bundles of fried yumminess under the fluorescents.
He whooped in spite of himself and leapt to his feet, then executed a perfect jump-fist pump combination the likes of which the drum room had never seen. His most requested tater tots had not been stolen; they were in his grasp, uneaten and innocent, beckoning him to open the lid and devour every last crumb. He grinned, then yanked off the lid and seized the top tater tot, a greasy pseudo-cylinder that had long since cooled to room temperature.
The flavor was exquisite: salty, savory, potato-y, it permeated throughout his tongue and illuminated his soul. The colors in the drum room brightened, and the crud on the ground shined in a way that was eerily breathtaking. The stale bag of goldfish did not seem so unappetizing.
With a jolt, Hal whirled around. One of the upperclassmen darkened the doorway, her hands on her hips and her ponytail dissolved into frizzy strands. Hal hastily snapped the lid back on his container and met the livid girl’s gaze.
“Are you the one who stole my pączki?”