Evan Baughfman
Short Stories

Someday, I hope to turn this story into a picture book, hence why the text is broken up by [page numbers]

Illustrator wanted!  Contact me, please!  I want to be able to read this book to my kids someday!




[PAGE 1]

Sprout wanted out.


Each day, the guinea pig gazed beyond her cage and grew curious about the world and its wonders.


Please don’t misunderstand.  Sprout enjoyed her life.   Often, her pretty person fed her crisp carrots and allowed her to explore the crooks and crevasses of the living room and the kitchen.  Sprout was also regularly entertained with melodious music, and don’t forget all the hugs and kisses!




[PAGE 2]

Still, the guinea pig watched the wilderness through the window and wondered:  What was it like to be out there?  Where would an adventure outside take her? 


Sprout was really quite fond of the frogs leaping and prancing in the nearby lily pad pond.  She wanted to hip and hop, skip and bop along the glassy water.


But how could she ever do that being some guinea pig’s daughter?




[PAGE 3]

One day, Sprout’s person opened the window.  “RING-RING!”  Sprout was lowered onto the loveseat as her person went into the other room to answer the phone.


Sprout was careful not to squeal as she sprinted across stands and shelves to the welcoming window.   Soon, she sat on the sill.  Sprout spread her arms out for a hug and jumped into the warm arms of the waiting world.




[PAGE 4]

The guinea pig plummeted through the leaves of a bush.  She stopped next to a beautiful butterfly.   Her wings were decorated with delicate designs.   Sprout smiled and said, “How can I look as pretty as you?”


The butterfly was sad and stuck in a spider’s web.  She said, “You don’t want to be like me.  I was too confident, flitting about everywhere without any care or concern.  Now I’m breakfast!”




[PAGE 5]

“You should be patient like the spider.  Wait for good things to come to you.” 


“I can help you,” said Sprout as a spider slunk out of the shadows.


“But I’m hungry, and butterflies satisfy my stomach!” said the spider.


Sprout asked the spider, “Can you teach me how to spin some silk?   I don’t enjoy eating beautiful bugs, but I’d love to catch a crunchy carrot.”




[PAGE 6]

The spider scratched his head and said, “You’re not like me.   I don’t think your body has what makes my webs work.”  While Sprout distracted the spider, the butterfly freed her wide wings from the web and flew away.  The spider spat at Sprout, “My meal moseyed right on out of here, and it’s all because of you!”




[PAGE 7]

The guinea pig was afraid until the spider started to sob.  “I want to fly from flower to flower and bask in sweet smells.  Why can’t the life of a bee also be for me?”


Sprout bolted from the bush and found a flower buzzing with the bumble of a busy bee.  “Excuse me?” said Sprout.  “Can I join you?”




[PAGE 8]

The bee peeked her head out from the hibiscus flower.  “Where are your wings?” she wondered.  “I have four and you have none.”  


“I don’t have any,” said the guinea pig, “but maybe they’ll sprout soon.”  


The bee snickered and said, “You are too big to ever be a bee.   But even big things can fly.”




[PAGE 9]

“If I were bigger,” began the bee, “I would fly up so high in that bright, blue sky.   Sure, flowers smell fresh, but I wonder if clouds smell best?   What I wouldn’t give to be an eagle, the king of the air, the most amazing creature up there.”


Sprout squinted as she looked at the silhouette of a soaring eagle stamped against the shining sun.  “Hey, eagle!” Sprout screamed. 




[PAGE 10]

The bird snatched Sprout from that very spot.   “Yay!” shouted Sprout as the eagle lifted her higher and higher.


“This is fun?” said the eagle.  Sprout gulped as she was dropped into a nest at the top of a tree.


Baby eaglets snapped at Sprout, but she dodged and danced around each attack like a piece of popping popcorn. 


“Stay still so my sons can have a snack!” scolded the eagle.  




 [PAGE 11]

“I don’t think so!” said Sprout as she leapt from the nest and fell to a branch below.  The eagle shouted from above, “You’re lucky!  If I were a squirrel, I would jump from branch to branch after you!”


“Leave us alone!” someone shouted.   It was a squirrel, his tail raised in a fluffy curl.  He offered Sprout an acorn. 

“No, thanks,” she said.  “Do you have any carrots?”




[PAGE 12]

“Sorry, no carrots here,” said the squirrel. 


“That’s okay,” said Sprout.  “Could you show me how to jump from branch to branch?  Maybe even show me how to climb a tree?  That would be exciting!”


The squirrel said, “Sure.  I’ve never seen a gopher in a tree before.  Just so long as you show me what it’s like underground afterward.” 


“I’m not a gopher,” said Sprout.  “What’s a gopher?”




[PAGE 13]

“A gopher is who I want to be!” exclaimed the squirrel.   “Follow me!”   The squirrel helped Sprout as they made their way down the tree.     


“Gophers dig tunnels and play underground,” the squirrel explained at the base of the tree.  “They also travel safely, because eagle eyes can’t see what’s happening beneath the earth.”   The squirrel led Sprout to the edge of a hole in the ground. 




[PAGE 14]

A furry critter popped his head out of the hole and said, “Hello, how may I help you?” 


“We both want to be gophers!” said Sprout.   “Digging tunnels and playing hide-and-seek underground sounds like such a good time!” 


“It is!” said the gopher.  “Come on in!”




[PAGE 15]

The gopher, squirrel, and guinea pig dug and darted through many twisted tunnels.  The gopher led them to a hole that exited beside a familiar pond.   The gopher asked Sprout and the squirrel if they knew how to swim.  They had no idea how to get around in a pool. 


“That’s why I want to be one of those trout,” said the gopher.   “What’s it like underwater?”




[PAGE 16]

 “I’ll find out!” said Sprout.  She took a deep breath, puffed her cheeks and lungs full of air, and slipped into the pond.  The water was cool and clear.  


With bubbles she snorted, Sprout spelled out for the trout: “C-A-N-I-B-E-A-F-I-S-H-T-O-O?”  


The trout asked, “Why would you want to be like us when you could live in water and on land like a frog?”




[PAGE 17]

Of course!  Frogs were Sprout’s favorite, after all!  Sprout swam to the surface and found a frog lounging on a lily pad.


“May I hip and hop, skip and bop with you?” Sprout asked.  


“Let’s go!” said the frog.  The two of them leapt across lily pads, lightly pressing on the pond, never falling beneath the water. 


The guinea pig giggled.  She said, “This is better than I ever dreamed!”




[PAGE 18]

Sprout told the frog,“I’m going to stay here forever with you!  Can I?  Please!” 


The frog’s hop stopped.  He looked back at Sprout and said, “Why would you want to stay here?  I watch you through that window every day.  You have a person who loves you and takes care of you!  You silly, little pig, I want to be YOU!”




[PAGE 19]

Sprout looked back at her house and could see the worried look on her person’s face through the window.  “You’re right, Mr. Frog,” said Sprout.  “Thank you, but I belong somewhere else!”


Sprout sliced across the water and sprinted across the grass, squealing, “I’m here!  I’m here!”  Her person’s excellent ears perked at the pig’s cries.  A door on the side of the house slammed open.  Sprout’s person ran toward her.




[PAGE 20]

The guinea pig was scooped up into a tight, loving hug.  “Never leave me again!” said her perfect person while she planted kisses on Sprout’s cheeks. 


“I won’t!  I promise!” replied Sprout.  She crunched a crisp carrot that appeared between her person’s fingertips.


Sprout now knew the world and some of its wonders, but, in her heart, home was the only place for her.   










This was my attempt to write an elementary-age mystery in less than 750 words for a magazine's contest.


Detective Walker and the Case of the Unknown Word


Ashley Walker re-read the same sentence in her book six times.

Her twin brothers, Mason and Jacob, were to blame for her trouble. The fourth-graders were supposed to be working together as teammates in a video game, but it wasn’t clear that the boys were on the same squad.  Mason screamed at his younger-brother-by-thirteen-minutes for ruining their mission, while Jacob threatened to throw Mason’s controller into the pool if he wasn’t given more respect.

After reaching beneath a bed pillow, Ashley inserted a pair of earplugs that she used nightly to quiet the boys’ snores.  She smiled in the silence and leaned against a stuffed animal cluster.

For the seventh time, she read the words, “Alondra didn’t know what to do about the quarrel and wished her father would return to pacify the mob.

Then, she read the phrase for an eighth time.  A ninth.  Tenth.

Perhaps Ashley couldn’t blame her brothers, after all.  One word in the text kept throwing her off:  “pacify”.

How was that pronounced?  Immediately, “p-a-c” reminded her of Pac-Man, an arcade game she watched Mason and Jacob play at some pizza place.  In that case, “p-a-c” sounded like “pack.”

So…“pack-if-eye”?  What kind of word was that?

Well, it had to be a verb, an action word, because it had “to” in front of it.

What did it mean to “pack-if-eye”?

Reading was fun, but it wasn’t always easy.

The sixth-grader remembered what her English teacher, Mrs. Jackson, had said in class that year:  “If you come across a word you don’t know while reading, become a detective and use the clues around the word to discover its meaning.”

Ashley sat up straighter.  Time to solve this mystery.

She put on her Detective Hat, which closely resembled her Thinking Cap.

Detective Walker was on the case.

Her book, Temporary Queen, was about Princess Alondra, a teenage girl put in charge of her father’s kingdom while he was away.  Alondra had to deal with problems the King usually handled himself.

Currently, Alondra listened to villagers complain about rats attracted to garbage that castle chefs dumped into the streets.  Villagers wanted the chefs to clean up their mess, and the chefs wanted villagers to know their place. 

Alondra didn’t know what to do about the quarrel and wished her father would return to pacify the mob.”

Ashley knew that “quarrel” was a synonym—another word—for “fight”.  She deduced that “quarrel” referred to the argument between the chefs and villagers.  The “mob” referred to all of the angry people who looked to Alondra for help.

In her mind, Detective Walker then did some re-writing of the passage, removing the unknown word altogether from the end of the sentence:

“…wished her father would return to pacify the mob.”

The newly formed sentence now looked like this:

Alondra didn’t know what to do about the quarrel and wished her father would return to _______ the mob.”

Detective Walker had to fill in the blank with a word that made sense.

“…and wished her father would return to punish(?) the mob.”

No, Alondra wasn’t a cruel person.  She wouldn’t want the King to hurt anyone. 

“…and wished her father would return to send away(?) the mob.”

No, Alondra didn’t want to ignore her people’s problems.  She wanted everyone to be happy and calm, to get along peacefully.

A lightbulb went off under the Detective Hat.

“…and wished her father would return to calm down(!) the mob.”

Yes!  That was it!  Alondra was only a teenager.  She didn’t really know how to calm down angry people.  She would want her father, the experienced King, to return so that he could restore peace.

Therefore, to “pacify” must’ve meant to “calm down” or to “create peace”. 

The word, though, still bothered the detective somewhat.  It sounded strange.  Was it really pronounced “pack-if-eye”? 

Wait a second!  When Mason and Jacob were babies, their parents always gave them the same things to calm them down, to bring them some peace and quiet.  The objects were called “pass-if-eye-ers”!  Or were they spelled “p-a-c-i-f-i-e-r-s”?  They had to’ve been!

To “pacify” meant to “calm down” or “to create peace,” and it was pronounced “pass-if-eye”.

Case closed!  Another word added to the detective’s vocabulary.

Someone screamed in anger, loud enough to be heard through earplugs.  Ashley saw Mason shaking a fist at Jacob.

Detective Walker put her story aside, stood from her bed, and went to her brothers, hoping to pacify them before either one took things too far.








The following is a short excerpt from a novel that I recently completed.  Victor, Victorious was actually first written as a play, but it didn't really work for the stage, because there were just too many scenes.  

Converting the script to prose took a lot longer than I had anticipated, but, in the end, I think it was worth it.  I was able to add details that strengthened the plot and characters.




Even though the full moon glowed bright, Victor Villa blindly ran along Huntley Park’s bike path, his heartbeat outpacing legs.








An impenetrable fog wall concealed a gnarled tree root that reached up for him from beneath crumbling concrete.

Victor’s bare foot (in his frantic state, he had of course lost one of his shoes) caught the root, and down he went. Hard. He cushioned his fall with his face, nearly jarring a couple of his teeth loose.

Dazed, the teenage boy paused for a moment, tasting blood, quickly deciding he would make a lousy vampire. Somewhere very nearby, a monster howled.

Now, Victor screamed.

“Help me! Please! Someone! Anyone!”

Which only drew the awful beast that much closer to him. Duh. 

What was he doing out so far past curfew? He was smarter than this! He was the last person who belonged in this horror movie scenario!

Victor stood, winced, realized that he had definitely screwed up his ankle. He steadied himself against a tree trunk. He was done for. A midnight snack.

A terrible stench, like a bathroom jammed wall-to-wall with wet dogs, filled his nostrils, found its way down his throat. He gagged, held back vomit for as long as he could. Which wasn’t very long at all.

The fog parted, and before him, maybe fifty feet away, was a giant wolf the size of a small car. The creature had crimson eyes and grey fur. It snarled, revealing switchblade teeth.

“No, help me!” Victor cried. It was worth another shot.

Suddenly, two police officers appeared in the grassy patch across from him. Their guns were drawn, aimed at the werewolf.

Officer #1: “I hate these things!”

Officer #2: “Yeah, I’m more of a cat person myself!”

Victor smiled, until he saw that their weapons were gripped in shaky hands.

The impossible animal turned its hungry gaze to the men. It growled and took a step in their direction.

Officer #1: “Freeze!”                                                 

The werewolf did not freeze. It took another step toward the cops. Another.

Perhaps it was thinking, Mmmmmm. Bacon.

Officer #2: “Yeah…um…stay where you are! You have the right to…um…remain silent!”

The werewolf howled. It charged at them. 

The officers fired round after round into the beast, but it remained unfazed, a locomotive with dripping jaws.

Officer #2: “When are they gonna give us silver bullets?!”

The werewolf leaped onto #1, which surely made him do a #2. He screamed in terror as the monster slashed at him with fangs and claws, gouging into his Kevlar vest, trying to get through to his internal organs.

His partner removed a can of pepper spray from his utility belt and hosed the beast down with the stuff. Annoyed, the creature smacked the man’s hand away. The officer accidentally sprayed himself in the eyes. He fell to his knees, crying out in agony.

Officer #1: “Help us! Please!”

Officer #2: “Someone!”

Officer #1: “Anyone!”

Victor shook his head in disbelief. He tried to hobble away from it all, but his ankle was a lead grapefruit.

Victor was prepared to call out for help again, but another voice beat him to it.

“Help!” yelled a girl. “Heeeeeeeeeellllllllllllp!”

The fog peeled back some more, revealing Mikaela Martinez, the little brown-eyed beauty from his Science class, crumpled in the grass behind the werewolf. She, too, held a wounded ankle.

What the hell was she doing there?!

The werewolf turned its attention from the cops to Mikaela. Licked its chops.

Victor balled his fists. “Leave her alone!”

Wow. He hadn’t expected to sound so confident.

The wolf didn’t even seem to hear him. It stepped toward Mikaela and snarled.

Miraculously, the pain in Victor’s ankle had vanished. Looking down at his feet, Victor saw that he was now suddenly wearing a pair of fresh Jordans. A bad-ass black and silver cape draped over his shoulders. A facemask covered his eyes.

He lifted from the ground, rising higher. Higher.

That’s right. He could fly, couldn’t he?

He wasn’t just average, helpless Victor.

He was someone better.

Once he remembered that, he zoomed over to Mikaela, falling from the sky like a gift from God. He landed with the grace of a ninja between the girl and the monstrous wolf.

Mikaela clapped her hands together. “Victorious!”

The teenage superhero looked over to the distressed damsel. “Sorry I took so long,” he said. “Was just waiting to appear at the most dramatic moment possible.”

“You sure did!”

His smile shone like a flashlight. “Don’t worry. I got this.” There wasn’t even a sliver of doubt in his voice.

Officer #1: “We’re saved!”

Officer #2: “Aaaagh! My eyes! My eyes!”

Victorious shouted to the monster, “Ready to fight a real hero?”

The werewolf glared at the new visitor.

“That’s right, come to me,” Victorious taunted. “I got you, homey.”

The beast then sprang forward, a razor-sharp blur, mouth open like a bear trap. Victorious met it halfway with a swift kick to the dome.

As it tumbled end over end, the werewolf tore craters into the well-manicured grass, ripping the sprinkler system’s piping out of the ground. Geysers of cold water spurted into the air. The wolf raked long nails into the earth, stopping itself after a few seconds. It shook the pain from its skull.

The monster dug its claws deeper into the terrain, lowered its head, tightened its back leg muscles. Ready to attack again, it sprinted across the grass toward Victorious.

But the hero was ready, too. He stood still, cracked his knuckles. He clenched, unclenched his fists at his sides.

Within moments, the werewolf was close enough to leap for him once more. Like uncoiled springs, the monster’s legs propelled its heavy body upward. The beast took flight above Victorious, splaying four sets of claws out, ready to shish kabob the hero a dozen times over.

Victorious would have none of it. He timed things just right, and, as the werewolf descended, the hero himself jumped.

He held out a stiff palm, rammed it up into the creature’s throat, gripping onto its neck like a vise. Then, they were off, above the treeline, rising into the sky at blazing speed.

Yes, the werewolf could jump. But Victorious could soar.

As wind roared past them, the wolf crazily swung for the hero, attempting to land a blow. However, that stopped once Victorious began to squeeze its breath away. And the higher he carried the wolf, the more the animal whimpered like a frightened puppy.

Victorious spoke to the beast, words spilling from his mouth in frosty plumes. “Alright, freak! Time for the pound! A pound…to your face!”

With his free hand, the hero punched the wolf beneath its bloodshot right eye. The force ripped the monster free of his grasp altogether. The horrible animal rocketed away from him, sailing over a passenger jet, vanishing behind some cloud cover.

Victorious chuckled coldly. He knew he had just launched the beast into space.

The full moon was larger now that Victorious was closer to it. He gave it the finger and then zoomed back down to the park. 

His controlled his descent so that he landed as softly as a feather next to the waiting policemen. Mikaela cheered.

Officer #1: “Wow.”

Officer #2, rubbing his eyes: “What did I miss?”

Officer #1: “You just missed the coolest thing I have ever seen.”

The cops high-fived Victorious and shook his hand.

Officer #2: “Thank you for doing what we couldn’t.”

Victorious nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Mikaela hobbled over to her hero but lost her balance after two pathetic steps. Victorious caught her.

“You saved me,” said Mikaela once he righted her, allowing her to rest against his solid chest. “How can I ever repay you?”

Victorious felt nervous. “Well…um…You can…well…If you wanna maybe sometime…”

Mikaela giggled. “Yeah?”

A balding, muscular Latino man with an unkempt beard stepped out from behind a tree. He wore a wrinkled, sweat-stained T-shirt and plaid pajama pants. In one hand, he held a half-empty bottle of beer.

“Victor!” the man yelled. “Victor!”

Victorious clutched Mikaela tight. He couldn’t believe it. “What…?” he squeaked. “What are you doing here…?”

“Victor!” shouted the drunk, his father. “Get up!”

Victorious backed away from this new monster. He allowed Mikaela to drop at his feet like a sack of flour. He didn’t even mind that she scuffed the Jordans.

“Ow!” the girl cried. “My wrist!”

It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Victorious had to get away. He just had to.

He made a weak attempt to fly, but it was like he’d forgotten how to do it. He couldn’t even jump more than a few inches. He felt as if his feet were stuck in tar.

Had to get away. Had to, had to. Get away. Get away now.

“Help me,” he pleaded to the cops. “I need your help!”

But they merely shrugged at him.

The glaring alcoholic closed in on Victorious.

“Hey! Victor!” yelled his father. “Get up!”


“I said, get up, damn it! Now!”

Victor’s eyes fluttered open to the sound of his father shouting. A black and silver Los Angeles Raiders blanket covered the better part of the boy’s head.

“Now, Victor!” his dad, Arturo, demanded, walking up to the bed. “I ain’t playing around here!”

Victor cursed softly. His dad had turned yet another awesome dream into a living nightmare.

“Come on!” Arturo screeched. “Move it already!”

God, he was an awful alarm clock.




This story was inspired by a few of my students, their dramatics, and their hatred for running the mile in P.E.

I gotta say, writing in the voice of this narrator was...interesting.


Why is the Mile So Long?

Alex was mad at me for being selfish, when I wasn’t even that selfish. I ate some of her chips at lunch. Big deal. Get over it.

I could’ve totally died from hunger. I had to make a life-or-death decision, and right there on the lunch table were those orange puffs. I went for them, and I’m still alive. I obviously made the right decision.

Except my stomach hurt a lot. It made noises like our apartment complex’s hot tub. I always thought Nana was just being mean, but there might’ve been a reason why she never let us eat fake cheese.

So Mr. Baltz couldn’t make me run the entire mile. No way.

I walked around the hot field, rubbing my belly, pulling on the huge sleeves of my shirt. They hung past my elbows.

I didn’t even look cute. The T-shirt was ginormous and made me look like I was in kindergarten, and the shorts went past my knees, making me look like a boy.

“Alivia,” Mr. Baltz said through his megaphone. “Move quickly. Show some effort.”

Mr. Baltz tried to be intimidating with that megaphone, but he sounded like a loud old lady with tissue stuck up her nose. That whistle he tweeted reminded me of the bird I couldn’t get to shut up outside my window every morning.

“Alivia, you have to get faster than twelve minutes or you’ll fail. Again.”

Fine. I got it. But if I exploded cheese, it was his fault.    

Mr. Baltz blew his whistle once more. His face was all red, and he looked like a tomato. I walked a little faster.

I was at the back of the group, behind everyone by like a hundred feet. The others looked kinda tiny. I wasn’t the only one walking, but I was the slowest. We looked like a parade of blue ants marching around the grass field.

My feet moved like snails. I looked down at the shoes I wore. I sighed. I couldn’t even see my pedicure.

My toes were so pretty that day too. If my sis hadn’t helped me paint them, my whole foot probably would’ve been pink. But Mr. Baltz said he was gonna call Nana again if I didn’t take off my sandals.

Good thing Sabrina always kept an extra pair of sneakers in her locker. But, man, they hurt! Why were her feet so tiny? I guess that’s why we called her a leprechaun.


Okay! I began to jog. Mr. Baltz was gonna make my muscles burn. Not the good burn that I sometimes got from cinnamon lip-gloss, either.

I was almost done with the first lap anyway. And I was moving faster than usual. The dude needed to give me a break and keep that whistle quiet. I didn’t like trying so hard. I wasn’t a track star.

A fly buzzed next to my right ear. I waved it away, and I accidentally hit it with the back of my hand. It buzzed louder, and I saw that the bug was actually bigger and more yellow than a fly.

Oh. My. Gosh. A bee. Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh.

I moved even faster. I began to wheeze. Was I allergic to bees? Maybe. Nana never told me. I could’ve totally gotten puffy and died right there on the field.

Die? In those clothes? In front of those people? I’d only ever kissed two boys! I never even told Robert I liked him.  

Alex would love it if I croaked and Robert never learned about my feelings for him. She was so jealous that he and I were a perfect fit. He was my missing puzzle piece.

“Get away from me!” I said to the bee. “Stay away from my hair!”

My hair was pretty, but it wasn’t a flower. If anything, my hair was sweaty.

My hairy was sweaty. Ugh.

No! The bee zoomed past my ear. It wanted to buzz right into my brain!

Forget that! I ran. A couple of my classmates were only fifty feet away now.

“Movemovemove!” Get outta my way. That bee was chasing me!

The closest classmate was Vincent. He was big and slow and slept during math sometimes. Man, he was sweatier than my head.

“I know you’re almost as lazy as I am, but come on!” I said as I approached. “Make way!”

He started drifting to the left. I was on the left! I was gonna knock him over like one of those football guys my uncles watch on Thanksgiving.

“Move to the right, Vincent,” I said. “A bee wants to kill me!”

He looked back at me, his cheeks bright and rosy. His tongue kinda hung out the side of his mouth like a panting dog. He moved back to the right.

Josh was only a few feet in front of Vincent. But Josh played baseball. What was he doing all the way back here? Faking another injury, I bet.

“Hey, Alivia,” he said as I passed.

I glanced back at him. Hey, the bee was gone. Finally!

Josh was smiling. I could see the gap between his two front teeth. Yep, he was definitely a faker. And the teacher had screamed at me. How unfair.

“Two more laps, Alivia. Keep up that pace.”

Huh. Mr. Baltz almost sounded pleased. Just send a swarm of angry bees after me, and I could run forever. I’d run all the way to China.

My stomach gurgled. Oh, no. The chips were doing a belly dance. Ugh. I needed to slow down. Maybe I’d only make it to Arizona, after all. That was close to California, right?

Mr. Baltz said, “One more lap, Alex. You’ve almost lapped your friend.”

What? I glanced back. Alex’s brown ponytail bounced behind her as she gained on me with each step.

I focused straight ahead. My legs pushed me forward.

There was no way Alex could run that fast. She couldn’t lap me. Only boys ran that fast.

Wait. She did have a boy’s name.

Her heavy footsteps slapped against the grass. I looked back again for like a millisecond. She was somehow only ten feet away. She played soccer after school, but this was just ridiculous.

I couldn’t let her distract me anymore. I looked ahead at Lani only twenty feet away.

One foot in front of the other. I pumped my arms. Back and forth. Back and forth. I took a deep, shuddering breath.

Ugh. The chips stabbed at my insides. Why had I eaten them? They weren’t even that good. They were stale. Whose mom puts chips in a sandwich bag anyway?

Suddenly, Alex was right next to me. She wouldn’t look at me. Fine. My eyes were scalding lasers.

She was just mad that I liked Robert. He dumped her three weeks ago. Get over it already.

“You’re nice,” he’d said to her, “but I need someone a little more dangerous.”

Sabrina, Natalie, and I had all been standing by the bathrooms when it happened. Alex cried when Robert walked away. He winked at me, but no one else saw it.

It was so magical. My heart felt like melted margarine. Nana doesn’t let us use butter.

I could be dangerous. I didn’t like knives or guns or firecrackers, but I talked a lot in class. Once, I took an unpaid pack of gum from the market on accident. Another time, at the train tracks, I poked a dead raccoon with a stick.

Alex said she hated Robert. So why couldn’t I have him? Weren’t friends supposed to share?

He was gorgeous and funny and knew what he wanted in girls. We weren’t in elementary school anymore. Our feelings were for real now.

Alex and I passed Lani. We were almost to Gustavo.

Dang, my legs hurt. They were gonna break off, and I was gonna fall in the grass and have to crawl the rest of the way.

A little patch of white flowers rested between Gustavo and us. Maybe I’d just lie down there and look up at the clouds to see if I could find a bunny hopping in the sky. I saw one once. Usually I saw turtles.

Nevermind! As we got close to the patch, I noticed that bees flew around the flowers. The buzzing bugs were everywhere!

Call the exterminator! Uncle Mike was an exterminator. I could tell him next time I saw him. When would that be? Christmas?

I sped up just a bit so I could get away from the bees. Alex fell a step or two behind me.

I kinda wished the bees would sting her. She was pretty much stepping on my feet. The front of her shoe brushed against my left heel.

Was she trying to trip me? How dare she! I could’ve tripped her when I had the chance, but I so totally resisted.

Alex was next to me again. I wheezed, and she didn’t.

Mr. Baltz said, “That’s it, Alex. Alivia, stick by her side.”

Um, I couldn’t. She was a cheetah. Maybe I could’ve been a cheetah too if chips weren’t tearing my guts apart.

Did Alex poison them? Oh, my gosh, she totally did. She actually wanted me to eat the chips.

She knew Nana got me outta the house so fast in the morning that I didn’t even have enough time to make a bowl of cereal. I lost my ID card, so I couldn’t get breakfast in the cafeteria before school, either.

Congratulations, Alex. Killer chips. The perfect plan.

But there I was. Right with her. One push…

“You’re mine,” I tried to say to her, but I could barely breathe. I sounded like Nana’s friend. The one whose living room was a smelly ashtray.

But Alex was quicker than a charging elephant. I knew from science that charging elephants were crazy fast.

My stomach wiggled. Whoa. The chips wanted out. I was gonna paint Alex with orange barf. And the front of me, too.

Time to give up. No need to get all gross out there. Not ‘cause of Alex. I had to let her go.

I pressed my feet hard into the ground to slow myself down. Alex zoomed past me, and soon her legs became a blur.

She was gone.

I suddenly felt like the sun was on top of my head. Waterfalls of sweat poured down my face. I reeked and was melting.

Why is the mile so long? Nobody ever actually has to run that far in life. That’s why God created limos. I imagined a pink limo with heart-shaped wheels when Alex stumbled.

Her arms spread out in front of her like a confused superhero, and she crashed to the grass right behind Gustavo.

I smirked a little. That’s what she got for being so full of drama. For hating Robert and me. For trying to poison and trip me.

Alex didn’t get up.

Was she having a heart attack? She rolled around in pain, shrieking. I stopped.

I remembered our sleepover last month where we ate pizza and watched scary movies and crank-called high school boys

with my sis at two in the morning. We had a lot of fun. We laughed so much.

We were friends.

I darted toward her. I was the cheetah now. Alexalexalexalexalexalexalex.

I reached her and knelt down right beside her. The dry grass poked my knees through the shorts. “What happened?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

Alex propped on her elbows. Tears streamed down her face and mixed with the sweat on her cheeks. There was no blood.

“I tripped,” she said. “My ankle hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” I said as I hugged her, and then I did what I do best. I screamed.

“Mr. Baltz, Alex twisted her ankle!”

I held her trembling hand. “Thanks,” she said.

“You’ll be okay. You just need some ice. You’ll look cute with a limp.”

She laughed, which led to a snort. We both giggled. She couldn’t help but to snort again. Finally, she hugged me back.

I knew she couldn’t hate me for long. We smiled at each other, and my heart was like margarine once again.

“Where’s Mr. Baltz?” I said. “Do I need to be louder or—Oh. Here he is.”

The teacher jogged up to us, his whistle bouncing on a lanyard against his chest. He held the megaphone at his side.

“Thank you, Alivia,” he said. “You only have about a lap left. Great time so far. Finish strong. She’ll be okay.”

Yeah. He was right. Alex wiped away tears and gave me a wave.

“Bye, Alex,” I said.

I gulped in some air and skipped into a jog. I didn’t have to be a cheetah. I just had to finish.

As I went around the field, I looked down at my shiny arms. The sweat kinda made my skin sparkle like glitter.

I grinned and picked up the pace.


This is the first story in a collection of 13 twisted tales set at Edgar Allan Poe Middle School. It was dramatized as a radio play in October 2016 by Chicago's Small Fish Radio Theatre and Thespinarium as part of their horror show, "The Creatures Inside". The radio show can be heard for free at http://www.smallfishradio.com/

Please, excuse the strange formatting here.


Inside the Edgar Allan Poe Middle School library, Gilbert stood before a towering bookshelf and groaned. “Man,” he said, “who would want to read any of these stupid books?”

A girl he recognized from P.E. class stood a few feet away.  “Hey,” he said in a loud whisper. “Hey, you. Girl!”

She thumbed through a collection of poetry and completely ignored him. But when did that ever stop Gilbert?

“Hey, girl,” he said louder. “Hello? Helloooooo, I’m talking to you. The longer you ignore me, the more annoying I get.”    

The girl turned, glaring at him. “What?”

“Hey,” Gilbert said, smiling. “What if an earthquake happened right now? A 10.0 on the Richter scale. Wouldn’t that be horrible?”

“What are you talking about?”

“During an earthquake, don’t you think these shelves would tip over? We’d be crushed like ants under all of these books.”

“Okay…Whatever.” The girl stalked off without a book of poems.

“Hey!” Gilbert shouted. “Where are you go—?”

“Shhh!” the librarian scolded from behind the checkout desk. She held a taut index finger in front of her lips.

Gilbert couldn’t believe he was actually wasting lunchtime in the library. It proved how badly he wanted answers, how badly he needed a solution to his problems.

He was a talker. No matter how many times his teachers called home, no matter how many times his mom took away his television, skateboard, and video games, his brain always came up with things for his lips to say. It wasn’t his fault medication hardly helped his gums from flapping.

Gilbert had heard rumors of a special book hidden among the plethora of titles in the library. A magical book of spells that supposedly solved students’ troubles.

He needed that book. Perhaps it would help to shut him up.

A voice whispered behind Gilbert. “Can I help you?”

He turned to find the librarian standing there. She was short with round glasses and dark hair. “Is there something in particular you that are looking for? And, please, whisper.”

Gilbert said in his quiet voice, “I want that secret book of spells everyone talks about.”

“Secret book of spells?” The librarian looked puzzled.  “There is no secret book of spells here.”

“Oh,” said Gilbert, defeated.

“There is only this book of spells.” 

The librarian grabbed a thin, gray book from directly in front of Gilbert. There was no title or numbered label on the spine or cover.

The woman handed the book over to Gilbert. “Be careful with this. It’s very delicate.”

The book was rough to Gilbert’s touch. “It feels weird.”

“It’s made of dragon skin,” replied the librarian, a grin upon her face. “Its pages are glued together with globs of venomous, reptilian spit.”

Gilbert snorted. “Dragons don’t exist.”

“They do on the island of Komodo.”

“Yeah, right! Where’s that?” 

“Look it up,” the woman said, stepping back.  “This is a library, after all.” She rearranged a couple of novels on a nearby shelf. “You can’t check out that book. But you are allowed to read it at your own risk.”

Gilbert gulped. “At my own risk?”

“Silently read the words inside your head, but don’t speak them if you aren’t ready for the consequences. Don’t read aloud what isn’t allowed.” With that said, the librarian turned and left Gilbert alone with the faceless book.

The book almost seemed to hiss as Gilbert opened it.  Blood-red words written in nonsensical phrases filled the yellowed pages.

On one particularly worn page was a drawing of a closed mouth. A few red lines of unintelligible language were scripted beneath the image. He recognized letters from the English alphabet, but the words they constructed made no sense to Gilbert. It had to be the spell to keep him quiet.

Gilbert looked around the room and found the librarian with her back turned to him. He took a deep breath and whispered the spell aloud.

Gilbert wasn’t even sure he was correctly pronouncing most of the words.  But at least he was giving it a shot.

Suddenly, the librarian was in front of him. “I thought I told you not to read that out loud! Get out of here!”

Before he could exit, the woman snatched the book of spells from his hands.

However, not before Gilbert caught one last glance at the drawing of the mouth on the page. The mouth was no longer closed. It now smiled wide, revealing rows and rows of jagged fangs between blistered lips.  


Later, in Science class, Gilbert’s palms itched. He did his best not to scratch. His mom had always told him scratching only made itching worse.

Gilbert raised his red right hand.  Miss Walker came over and wrote Gilbert a pass to the nurse’s office, if only to give herself a momentary reprieve from one of her more gabby students.

In the hallway, Gilbert looked at his left palm and discovered that he had dug a hole into his flesh with his fingernails. His heart sunk into his guts. The wound wasn’t bleeding, but he knew it was only a matter of time before it gushed.

He ran to the nurse’s office, not daring to look back down at his hands. Mercifully, the nurse had no other patients at the moment.

“Oh, dear.” She clucked her tongue like a worried hen.  “What did you do to yourself?”

“How bad is it?” Gilbert said.

And then he saw his hands. Each palm had a hole in it. The holes were the size of nickels. Neither hole bled, but he could see the tender pink flesh beneath the skin.

The nurse wrapped Gilbert’s hands in gauze and sent him back to class. At Edgar Allan Poe Middle School, only the kids with broken or detached limbs were sent home. 

The itching didn’t stop. It only increased. Outside his classroom door, Gilbert froze at the sound of muffled voices. 

The voices didn’t come from inside the classroom. No, these voices were coming from right there in front of Gilbert.

They were coming from his hands.

Gilbert took a deep breath and slowly unwrapped the gauze from his left hand. When he saw what was beneath the bandages,he nearly fainted.

The hole in his palm was larger now. Within minutes, it had somehow grown to the size of a fifty-cent piece. Only, now, the hole was a mouth. A mouth with rows and rows of fangs between its blistered lips.

The little mouth cackled in his grasp.

Gilbert tore the gauze free of his right hand and found an identical fanged monstrosity on his other palm. This one oozed drool and flicked a black, snake-like tongue up at him.

“Boo,” said the right hand.

Gilbert felt faint, rubbery in the knees.

“Don’t be too scared,” the left hand shrieked.

The classroom door opened. Miss Walker glared at Gilbert. “Messing around in the hallway, are we?”

“Yes!” said the right hand.

“Most certainly!” offered the left.

“What was that?” Miss Walker crossed her arms.

Gilbert shoved his hands into his pants pockets.  “N-Nothing,” he said to the teacher. “Can I come in?”

“Only if you can quietly take the quiz.”

“Yeah,” said Gilbert. “I can.”

“But we can’t!” one of his hands squeaked from inside a pocket. The other hand giggled.

Somehow, Miss Walker didn’t hear this and she allowed Gilbert into the classroom. The teacher placed the quiz in front of him and walked away.

Gilbert clenched his right hand into a fist, silencing the mouth. He freed the hand from his pocket and grabbed his pencil.

Almost immediately, the mouth began to chew on the pencil like a beaver feasting on a small tree. Wooden shavings spilled onto Gilbert’s desk.

“No!” Gilbert shouted. With his left hand, he tried to snatch the pencil away from the right. But the left hand wanted a piece too, and his hands began a tug-of-war over the pencil.

“Yummy!” said the left hand.

“Scrumptious!” declared the right.

“What was that, Gilbert?” fumed Miss Walker from across the room. “No talking during the exam!”

“But it’s not me!” he tried to explain.

“Yes, it is,” said a snooty girl sitting beside him.

Gilbert dropped the pencil to the desk and shoved his hands back inside his pockets. “I’m done.”

“You didn’t even start the quiz,” said Miss Walker.

“I forgot to study,” he said. 

“Idiot,” a hand snickered.

“Dummy,” offered the other.

Gilbert slumped down in his seat, and, for once, had nothing more to say.


“I’m so disappointed in you,” his mom said at the dinner table that evening. “Do you want to go to military school?”

Behind a full plate of spaghetti and meatballs, Gilbert shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

“Two teachers called me at work today! Two!” Her eyes fired lasers at his face. “They both said you were making voices in class? Now, why would you do that?”

“It wasn’t me,” said Gilbert.

“It was me!” said the hand in his left pocket.

“And me, too!” added the hand in the right. The fanged holes had chewed through his pants pockets and had been biting at his legs for hours.

His mom’s face was tomato red. “You just can’t help yourself, can you? I don’t appreciate the ventriloquist act, so you go upstairs.”

Gilbert didn’t even bother to fight back. He trudged upstairs, his belly rumbling.

As he closed his bedroom door behind him, his right hand tried to gnaw on the brass doorknob. He smacked the hand across the mouth, and it snapped at his left middle finger, drawing blood.

The blood from Gilbert’s bit finger trickled down into his palm. The left mouth darted a dark tongue to the blood, lapping it up like a vampire bat.

“Mmmm, better than pencil,” said the left hand.

“I want some,” said the right mouth.

“ShutupshutupshutupshutupSHUTUP!” Gilbert screamed, his cheeks wet, but the loud mouths merely laughed at him.

Gilbert reached under his bed, where his right hand attempted to devour a spider in a single bite. After a few seconds, he found what he was looking for.

Despite the protests from the chomping mouths, Gilbert managed to slide a pair of thick snow gloves over his hands. He then took out his mp3 player, placed headphones over his ears, and listened to his favorite tunes at full blast.

At least he drowned out the noisy hands for the rest of the night.


The next morning, Gilbert wore the snow gloves to school. His Math and Art teachers made him remove them during class. His hands spoke freely.

He realized that clapping his hands together seemed to stun the mouths into silence. But, when they came to, the mouths spoke louder than before.

After second period, Gilbert went to his English class. There, he showed his palms to Mr. B, a teacher who at least tried to understand kids before biting their heads off.

“It’s sad to say,” said Mr. B, “but these mouths aren’t even the strangest things I’ve seen at this school.”

“Can you help me?” Gilbert pleaded. “They’re driving me crazy!”

“Let’s go to the library together,” the teacher suggested. “See if we can’t get this sorted out there.”


Once in the library, Mr. B said to Gilbert, “Show me the book of spells. There must be a way to remedy this.”

Gilbert took the teacher to the correct shelf. He sighed in relief when he saw that the book still sat there, as if waiting for him.  Mr. B opened the book and read a few pages.

“Do you understand it?” Gilbert asked, hope rising within him like floodwaters.

“Not at all,” Mr. B said.

“So I’m going to be like this forever?”

“I have a plan. It might not work, but if you are willing to give it a shot...”

“No way, Jose,” said the right hand.

“I’m staying right here,” replied the left.

“Yes!” said Gilbert. “Please! Anything!”

“Very well,” said Mr. B.

The teacher wrote some sort of message on a piece of paper and handed it to Gilbert. On it, the teacher had copied the spell, but he had written each word backwards.

“Read it aloud,” the teacher instructed. “You’ll hopefully be able to pronounce the words correctly this time. The curse should be reversed.”

“It won’t work,” taunted the right hand.

“A failure, for sure,” agreed the left.

“Read slowly,” said Mr. B. “Carefully.”

And Gilbert did. He did his best to ignore the mouths. He read more carefully than he had read anything else in his life.

Gilbert looked at his palms. “I don’t think it worked.”

Suddenly, Gilbert’s legs turned to jelly. The room spun.  His vision blurred. He collapsed against a bookshelf, nearly bringing it down upon him.

Mr. B caught his student. “I’m taking you to the nurse, Gilbert.”

“Wait,” said the boy. Gilbert stood tall and strong.  “They’re gone, Mr. B. They’re gone!”

He showed his palms to the teacher. The mouths had vanished. Mr. B smiled wide and gave the boy a high five.

“Thanks,” Gilbert said. “I’m going to go get a snack before the bell rings. I haven’t eaten in over a day.”

“Good,” said a low voice. “I’m starving.”

Mr. B scratched his head. “Who said that?”

Gilbert’s spine tingled. He lifted his T-shirt and screamed.

“I’m hungry,” complained a gaping mouth in Gilbert’s stomach. “Feed me now.”











This is a short excerpt from a longer piece of fiction.  It is inspired by a book read by a lead character in Wes Anderson's film, Moonrise Kingdom.


Disappearance of the 6th Grade

It was the perfect weekend afternoon to sit by the window with a good book. Christy settled into her reading chair, turned to the first page of a novel given to her by her friend, Judith, and attempted to escape into a world where she wasn‟t the weird new kid at school. However, no matter how hard she tried to focus on the story in her hands, Christy couldn‟t hide from a simple fact: no one in the sixth grade seemed to be interested in getting to know her. She was invisible to everyone until a classmate—sometimes even a few “peers” at once—called her a rude name or threw objects at the back of her head.

It was like Christy had cooties, except sixth-graders didn‟t believe in that still. Did they?

Maybe they believed she had the Plague, but most sixth-graders wouldn‟t understand the reference. Would they?

Quite frankly, Christy‟s younger brother, Eric, should have been the weird new kid. He was the one obsessed with aliens, monsters, ghosts, and bugs, drawing some version of creature in the margins of his schoolwork. Eric wasn‟t quiet or shy like Christy, though, so even he made friends fast.

“Fourth-graders are not hard to impress,” she thought, and then she was momentarily transported back in time a couple years to a happier place: Mrs. Huntley‟s classroom, where she would often laugh alongside Judith, Hope, and Laura, people who understood, and cared for, her.

In her reading chair, Christy cried, something she only used to do when particularly powerful words moved her on the page. Lately, tears fell whenever she realized the previous chapter of her life was finished, and that the current chapter...Well, it was one she hoped to someday forget. She worried it would stay with her forever.

Suddenly, Eric, who didn‟t even have the decency to let her weep in peace, exploded through her bedroom door wearing a grotesque mask on his head and scaly claws on his hands. He hissed and growled like some reptilian mutant with strep throat and slowly crawled to his sister, looking up at her strangely, as if sizing her up for a meal.

“Eric!” Christy screamed. “A closed door means something, you know!”

“Yeah, it means you‟re doing something boring in here,” he said, voice muffled beneath the mask. “Lucky for you, I‟m here to change that.”

“Leave me alone!”

“You wish.”

Alone! I mean it!”

“But someone needs to pay attention to me. Dad‟s watching football. Mom‟s taking a nap.”

“Go away!”

Eric reached up to her with a claw. “I hunger for your attention.”

Christy slapped the claw away. “Stop it!”

“Make me.” He waved the claw in her face.

She grabbed Eric by the wrist and tore the prop from his hand. She threw it over him, out the door, and into the hallway. “Fetch,” she said.

With his bare hand, Eric removed the mask. He studied his sister‟s face. “You‟re really mad, aren‟t you?”

“Get out!”

“Come on, we can even do something you want. Play a board game? Anything.”

“No, I‟m reading.”

His gaze fell to the book in her lap. “I know how that one ends.”

“No, you don‟t.”

“Yes, I do. Want me to tell you what happens?”

Eric enjoyed reading comic books and the ending of every story on Christy‟s shelves.

Too often, their sibling quarrels took a turn for the worse when he would spoil the conclusion of something she had yet to finish or even begin. Mom told Christy he only did it to feel closer to her somehow, like he wanted to bond over similar interests in literature. But that wasn‟t the case. No, Eric only ruined the endings because he was an immature, spiteful piece of—

“The Hydrogoblin acts all cool, like he‟s going to let Marnie use her spaceship to get off the planet,” Eric said. “But, at the last second, he destroys the engines and tells Marnie, 'There's more we can accomplish with you here.' So, Marnie is stuck there, and I guess that means there‟s going to be another book, but you don‟t have it yet.”

Eric displayed a Cheshire grin. Ending spoiled. Mission accomplished.

Christy gritted her teeth and trembled, a volcano ready to burst. She clenched a fist, gripped the spine of The Girl from Jupiter with the other hand, and wondered, “How hard do I have to hit him to break his nose?”

She immediately shook that thought from her head. Not because she didn‟t want to hurt her brother—he‟d get his just desserts soon enough, and they‟d be delicious—but because she didn‟t want to damage the book.

“I hate you,” she said, because at the moment it was true. “And I hate this house! It doesn‟t even have locks on the doors!”

Eric laughed. “Idiot. There‟s a lock on the front door. And on the bathroom door.”

“I hate everything about being here!” The tears were back. Had they ever left? “I want to go back home! To our real school, to my friends! Why do I have to be stuck here with you?”

Eric stood. He pointed at her with a remaining claw. “Because someone put a curse on you!” He cackled like a maniac. He turned serious for a moment. “Oh, and because Dad got a new job.”

Christy‟s gaze fell away from her brother‟s, her frustration spattering against her legs in thick droplets. “Go, Eric. Before you regret it.”

The truth was, she could hurt him easily. She was taller and stronger than the little twerp.

She just didn‟t want the inevitable lecture from her parents about maturity and responsibility after Eric ran to them crying like a baby.

Eric ignored his sister‟s threat. He didn‟t take a step toward the door. Instead, he moved closer to Christy.

“It‟s about time,” he said, focused on something behind her on the other side of the window.

Christy turned in her seat. Someone was finally moving into the haunted house across the street. Christy wiped the tears from her eyes.

The old building was two stories tall, although a boarded-up window just below the slanting roof suggested a small attic was attached. The house was covered in rotting wood and peeling blue paint. Other windows were cracked and dark. Dying grass, thriving weeds, and a looming tree with bare branches decorated the graveyard...er...front yard.

Christy didn‟t really believe the place was haunted like Eric did. She was a skeptic, another thing that kept her from getting very close with her brother. She was just glad it wasn‟t the home they had moved into; she imagined it full of dust, spiders, and rats. When the family drove down the street for the first time months earlier, Christy had seen the for-sale sign on the haunted house‟s lawn and nearly had a heart attack, thinking it was their new abode.

Now, she stared at a yellow moving van and an old brown station wagon in the house‟s crumbling driveway. She wondered what her new neighbors might look like. Eric hoped for werewolves; Christy would have been happy with a smiling family, one with a nice daughter her age.

No such luck. A sole woman with a cane stood on the dark porch of the house. Christy and Eric watched for a few minutes as the woman directed burly men from the moving company in and out of the house. She didn‟t lift a finger to carry a single box, which was probably a good thing, because she looked quite frail.

“Look at her,” Eric said. “A fart could blow her over.” He giggled. Christy did not.

“Can you believe it?” Eric beamed. “An old witch just moved in across the street.”

Christy didn‟t believe it. At least, not yet.



This is a short excerpt from the first middle grade novel I ever wrote.

Most people don't enjoy going to see the dentist, me included.  Hence, this mystery's "spooky" setting at a dentist's office.

Bad for Your Teeth still remains to be the longest piece of writing I have ever produced.  



In blood red letters, the door said, Dr. Xander Sharp, D.D.S. I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. Most people probably didn’t see it, but I saw what those three letters really stood for. It was a taunt, a dare to the unsuspecting.

D.D.S. Deadly Dr. Sharp.

It was out there in the open. So clear. So obvious.

The back of my right hand itched like crazy, like it always did when I got nervous. I scratched and scratched.

“Jase, stop that.”

I turned to Mom’s voice. She and Grandpa stood behind me in the hallway outside the dentist’s office. They didn’t really expect me to open that door and step inside, did they?

Mom said, “It’s only a check-up, honey. Dr. Sharp just needs to see how your teeth are. If you’ve been brushing and flossing your teeth as often as I tell you to, the appointment should be nothing but smiles.”

“Dana, if he brushed and flossed as often as you tell him to,” said Grandpa, “he wouldn’t have any time to breathe.”

Mom ran her fingers through her thick, black hair. “I just don’t want his teeth to end up like yours.”

Grandpa has got to hate going to the dentist more than anyone I know, because he let his real teeth fall out of his head a long time ago, and now he has to wear fake teeth called dentures all the time. Well, he doesn’t wear them when he sleeps, I guess. At night, he keeps his slimy, little smile in a glass of water by his alarm clock.

Grandpa rolled his wise, gray eyes. “Oh, dentures aren’t anything to be ashamed of at my age.”

“But Jase is eleven,” argued Mom.

“You have a point there.” Grandpa stared at me. “Have you been brushing and flossing as often as your mother tells you to?”

“No. I like to breathe.” Grandpa smiled. “Atta boy.”

Mom sighed. “Well, I’m sure you do all that’s necessary.”

I looked away from her and scratched the nervous itch again. Maybe she was sure I did all that was necessary, but I definitely wasn’t. I brushed my teeth—most of the time. I flossed my teeth—a grand total of three times…I think. Maybe it was four times—no, definitely only three. Teeth take a lot of work. I’m a naturally lazy kid.

“You’ve made it this far, honey. Either you open the door, or Grandpa or I will do it.” “I won’t open it,” Grandpa said. He knew what the letters stood for, too, I bet.

“Fine,” said Mom. “I’ll open it.”

She didn’t have to. The door creaked open. A woman about Mom’s age stood inside the doorway next to a blonde girl who looked a little bit older than me.

“Oh, excuse us,” the woman said to Mom.   “Come on, Julie,” she said to the girl. “Dr. Sharp suggested we run right out and get you one of those electric toothbrushes, and I need to put the pork chops in the oven if they’re going to be ready by the time your father gets home for dinner.”

“Pork chops? Really?” said Julie. She sounded excited. Weird. She licked her lips.

Really weird.

“I didn’t know you liked pork chops that much.” The woman walked past us, and her daughter followed close behind.

Mom watched them as they went down the hall toward the elevator. She held the door open for Grandpa and me, but neither of us dared to look into the dentist’s office just yet. We instead followed Mom’s gaze to the mother and daughter. The girl pushed the elevator call button.

That’s when Mom carefully re-shut the door and took a couple steps toward Julie and her mother. “Excuse me?” said my mother.

The woman turned back just outside the closed elevator doors. “Yes?” she said. “Julie, is it?” Mom asked the girl who had turned around also.

The girl nodded. “Yeah. Hi.”

“Julie, this is my son’s first day seeing Dr. Sharp. Would you say he’s a good dentist? Is there any reason to be afraid of him?”

Mom,” I said through gritted teeth.

Julie looked at me and giggled. “You’re afraid of Dr. Sharp?”

I could feel my face growing red. I almost hid behind Grandpa. “Dr. Sharp is so cool,” said Julie. “You’ll like him.”

“He seems to be great with kids,” said Julie’s mom. “Other parents tell me nothing but good things.”

“That’s just wonderful to hear. Isn’t it, Jase?” “Whatever,” I said.

The elevator chimed an arrival and its doors slid open. Julie’s mom said to me, “Good luck. You’ll do just fine.”

Mom said to the woman, “Thank you very much,” and Julie disappeared with her mother inside the elevator. Its doors closed, and the hall was quiet once again.

Then Grandpa said to Mom, “I think you embarrassed your son a little bit there.” “With that woman and her daughter? No, I didn’t.”

Grandpa nodded. “I think you did. Jase here turned about as red as Adonis’s roses.” “Who’s Adonis?” I asked.

“In Greek mythology, Adonis was—”

“Dad, please, you know how I feel about that Greek garbage.”

Grandpa held his fingers together on top of his wrinkled, bald head. “Come on, they’re interesting stories,” he said.

Mom always made the same argument: “They’re too violent.”

“This one isn’t.” Grandpa looked at me. “Adonis was a boy who went out hunting one day, and he was gored to death by a wild boar. Skewered by the pig’s giant tusks, if you will. Anyway, beautiful red roses grew out of the pools of Adonis’s blood.”

“Dad!” Mom hit him playfully on the shoulder. “You said it wasn’t violent!” “I said it wasn’t too violent. It wasn’t too violent, was it, Jase?”

I grinned. “Nope.”

“Whatever. Did I embarrass you?” Mom asked me. “Was it that girl? She was pretty, wasn’t she? But aren’t you too young to have crushes on girls?”

“Dana, I met your mother when I was ten years old. The boy is not too young to have a crush on a girl.”

“I don’t have a crush on any girl!” I screamed. My face felt redder than ever. “I just don’t need other people knowing how I feel, is all."

“Really?” said Mom. “Then why have I heard so much complaining from you about coming here?”

“We’re family,” said Grandpa. “If you can’t annoy your family, who can you annoy?” “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” said Mom. “I just wanted you to see if there was any

reason to be afraid. It doesn’t look like there is.” “What if the guy’s got a hook?” said Grandpa. “What?” Mom and I said in unison.

“What if the guy’s got a hook for a hand? Now that would be something to be scared of.” Mom said, “Why would the dentist have a hook for a hand?”

“His name is Sharp, isn’t it? Hooks are sharp. It’s just a thought.”

 “I really doubt the man’s name has anything to do with his physical appearance.” Mom looked at me. “Don’t worry, he doesn’t have a hook for a hand. He wouldn’t be able to hold any tools if he did. It’s ridiculous. It’s kind of funny, not scary, if you think about it.”

I didn’t think it was funny. As Mom went back to the D.D.S. door, all I could think about was a shadowy figure hovering over me in a dark room, the only light around glinting off the tip of a steel hook where a hand should have been.