Toothbrush, interlude

The old toothbrush sat on his throne and contemplated what to do. He sat in his lofty castle with its dark halls and brooded over the sounds his troops made.

Screams of terror could be heard from far away. Looming footsteps shook the ground; followed by a sound not of this earth. Steal bent back in loud complaint.

“The east towers have fallen, sire,” said the aid.

“Form ranks,” said the toothbrush, “Let every man who can fight prove himself.”

Messengers were sent to relay the last orders of the old toothbrush. He chose to go out fighting. The three months that had been declared the law of the land for each toothbrush to reign, and then give up the throne, had gone. It was now the sixth month and a new toothbrush had yet to show. 

“Send the order for every man for himself,” said the old toothbrush, “We will not let our kingdom go into decay.”

They were empty words. The old toothbrush knew his abilities were lax. Were it not for floss and mouthwash the kingdom would be lost. There had to be hope. The dental appointment would arrive soon and with it a new toothbrush. 

–From the book of short stories, “I Am Lettuce, Who Are You?”

Excerpt from the short story, “When Medieval Fantasy Meets Modern Dentistry” by Hudson Jamison Toaster-Tabby, submitted June, 1983. Arthur T. Pearl-Lion Publishers, inc, Topeka, KS.

Flammable Darkness, Interlude

 

Sparks. Find something that makes more sparks. The black slime creature had evaded the sparks sent out by the broken portal generator.  June ran to her kitchen with a crazy idea.

In the kitchen June kept a brown paper bag full of sparklers. They were leftover from last year’s July 4th.  She grabbed the bag and her cigarette lighter and ran back to the utility room.

June smoked, but not in the house. She never let her son see her do it, knowing the risks and all the scary stuff cigs were supposed to do. For once her bad habit could do something to save her life.

A sparkler was lit. The creature’s slick body reflected the light emitted from the sparkler. It slowly backed away toward the wall. June threw the sparklers at the creature. Not good enough. The creature evaded it until the sparks went out. Then it started to advance.

June went for bear and lit all of the sparklers, throwing them at the creature. So many sparks, so much light.

There was an audible wail as the sparks did their damage. It didn’t take much to quickly incinerate the creature until it was all smoldering ash.

FOOM

The creature exploded like one of those puffball fungi, filling the room with black, purple, and blue smoke. The smell of death and rotting flesh and decay washed over the room. June, lightheaded, was covered in the ash and ran out of the room coughing and sick to her stomach.

The ash was filling the house. June had to get out of there. she ran to the kitchen, opened the door, and out of the house. the whole house was filled with the smoke and ash, becoming clearly seen by the neighbors. Someone called the fire department. An ambulance was also sent.

*

“Oh thank God you’re safe,” said June’s mother Carol. Along with June’s mother were Frank and Anne, friends of June. Their children had invited little Eddy to stay over. Eddy was there to visit too.

June had been sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation while fire and rescue personnel searched the house. The entire inside of the house was covered in black soot and it had been determined that the fire started in the utility room.

“What happened?” asked Carol.

“I don’t remember. Electrical shortage maybe,” said June, “I feel fine.”

“No, I mean what happened to your eye?”

There was a bandage on her eye. June touched the gauze lightly.

“It doesn’t hurt. I don’t remember it being here.”

In walked a nurse to check on June. she politely asked friends and family to leave the room. Then a tall man in a black suit with a white overcoat showed up. June assumed he was a doctor.

“Hello, ma’am. I’m Doctor Thomas Phasmid. In addition to your smoke inhalation, we’ve done some tests on the type of smoke. It isn’t anything we’ve ever seen.”

“Why is my eye covered?” asked June.

“Well that’s what baffles us,” said Dr. Phasmid, “It appears the smoke infected that eye, but we were unsure as how to treat it.”

“I feel fine.”

“You’re also on pain killers. The infection was spreading. We  removed the eye.”

 

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

 

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Coach Headsman, interlude

“Look, Luthar, unlike you, I don’t like being seen,” said the former basketball coach for Bernard Berenson Middle School.

Jeroboam Steadman had, in life, been the most celebrated Men’s basketball coach at Bernard Berenson Middle School in twenty years. The trophy cases were filled mostly because of his leadership.

At the very height of his glory days, Coach Steadman was killed in a terrible accident when a metal ceiling beam fell during a game. Rumor had it that coaches at rival schools paid to have the beams loosened.

The old gym was named Steadman Court, post-humous in his honor. A few weeks later it was no longer used for night games and a new one was built that year.

Newspapers stated the new gym was built for expansion sake and to invite new growth to the school. Off the record interviews stated a different reason.

Disturbing sightings started to surface in the old gym of a flying human head, behaving like a giant bat, in the furthest corners of the metal rafters of the ceiling.

Eye witnesses claimed it was Coach Steadman looking to make sure the bolts were tightened. Soon after students ventured inside the Steadman Court, saying “Watch out for Coach Headsman!”

Yet as a specter, Coach Steadman wanted little to do with haunting. He had been blessed with a rare type of Briostone that allowed him to remain in human form almost year round.

Instead of using a second chance at life to continue with a sports career, Coach Steadman could be found at his favorite sports bar “Irving’s,” seated on a bar stool and eating pretzels.

Gordon Luthar had located “Coach Headsman” Steadman and insisted that they meet. Luthar had forgotten that Coach Steadman was as curt a specter as he had been in life.

“Yes, I know you make your appearances complex,” said Luthar, “Which is why you are a member of the Unseen.”

“So what?”

Coach Steadman was eager to get back to watching the game.

“There’s a particular young man who wants to investigate the other specters on campus. You included. Do you mind moving your appearance date to the day after?”

Each specter was different in how they viewed being sighted without a decent Briostone. Some were fine with it. Luthar knew Coach Steadman found it embarrassing to be seen when he made an appearance.

“Sorry, Luthar,” said Coach Steadman, “I used to give you tribute every month, but now I answer to loftier authorities. The kid can see me or not. I really couldn’t care.”

“You have a membership with the Unseen only because of your unique class Briostone,” said Luthar, “It does not require much ether to work, so you make your ghastly self rarely seen. But rarest sightings generate the most ether.”

Coach Steadman sipped his beer with a shaky hand and stuffed a few pretzels in his mouth. His cool composure was fading fast.

There was a reason Luthar was able to sway all the specters on school grounds, hailing him with a tribute of ether each month. He had a way with words.

‘Why do you hide in here, Coach?” asked Luthar, “Who are you supporting that needs all that ether?”

“I’m tellin’ ‘ou noffin’, Luffar,” said Coach Steadman with his mouth full.

“I believe you said something similar to me before,” said Luthar, “Back when I offered to let you have your rare occurrence, in exchange for tribute. A small amount of ether given to me was all I requested. I ask it again. Unless you want to lose that goldmine, and, perhaps, anger whoever you’re working for.”

“No, you’re not serious. I’ve had that gym from day one!”

“I am not getting any tribute from you lately,” said Luthar, “Why should I let you stay on such a lucrative schedule?”

Luthar’s words finally soaked into Coach Steadman.

“Oh. Ok, so this a blackmail deal?”

“You know specters who are scarier than me,” said Luthar, “See what strings you can pull. I do not want Roger Flair to write anything revealing the truth about the school.”

From “Fall from Autumnway” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

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Beauty and Exoskeletons, Interlude

Victoria Swansoncrop

 

Victoria’s luminescent yellow-green eyes were now curiously staring at Whartleburg. Having recently arrived via Channel Teleporter, thanks to June, she was expecting Whartleburg to take her under his wing.

“Who are you supposed to be?” asked Whartleburg. But he knew already; His instinct told him so.

“I’m June’s sister.”

Whartleburg didn’t know how to handle the revelation.

“I’m Whartleburg.”

The two stared at each other. For ten seconds, the world was frozen in time and nothing else mattered. Whartleburg suddenly could not move. He was transfixed in place, only able to see Victoria’s luminescent green and yellow eyes. Instinct told him it was a common trap that praying mantis type Enzectozoids used to catch their prey.

But then another image entered his mind. Salyria, tall and pale, her lavish gown, a wedding gift from Spider King Ahab, the same color as her sapphire eyes. Her long dark hair danced in the winds that endlessly chase at the height of her window outside the granite prison walls.

Her eyes were saddened, yet strong, determined to wait, knowing in her heart that Whartleburg would save her. At that moment her eyes met his. She saw Whartleburg from afar and her inward gaze was turned outward.

Salyria while in her prison was not helpless. Though not built for combat, she could still encourage the heart. She spoke briefly and the vision was gone:

Remember Salyria. Should Whartleburg give up now, all his efforts to oppose Spider King Ahab would be in vain.

Whatever huntress’ charm Victoria unknowingly had sent out shattered like glass, and Whartleburg was no longer smitten. He no longer saw the great beauty in the exoskeleton of Victoria Swanson, June’s sister. Instead he saw a confused, scared Enzectozoid woman. She needed training.

Whartleburg woke up and sprang to his feet.

“Hey, you’re alive! Thank God you’re alive!” Victoria was saying.

“You thought I was dead?” asked Whartleburg.

Victoria nodded.

“You were unaware of what you did? It’s called a Hunter’s Glare trap.”

“Hunter’s what?!”

“Lady, I cannot train you,” said Whartleburg, “Only a master in the Maantisazian school of Enzectozoid marshal arts can do that now.”

“What’s that?”

“The Maantisazian school is for Enzectozoids who are mantis, wheel bug, or other assassin types.”

“Who, me?” exclaimed Victoria, “I’m no killer.”

“Then show me,” said Whartleburg, “Put your hands up. Like you are praying.”

Victoria reluctantly put her hands up in front of her.

“Now close your eyes.”

At first she refused but Whartleburg convinced her it would be ok.
Whartleburg then picked up a rock and threw it right at Victoria.

Victoria quickly shot out her hand and snatched the rock out of the air. She looked at the stone, amazed she caught it. But then she realized the rock had been perfectly cut into three pieces.

“How’d I do that?”

“Your instincts make you attack anything that comes near. Until you can train, you cannot be yourself without causing violence,” said Whartleburg.

Just then, a swirling blue storm cloud boiled forth out of nothing six feet from the ground. From out of the swirling tempest emerged a giant. Muscular, white beard, light blue skinned and balding, The giant was sent to destroy the stronghold.

“My liege!” ran Whevelbor panting. “Reports have come in. The enemy knows the fortress is taken.”

“That explains why the giant is here,” said Whartleburg.

“My army has provided us transportation,” said Whevelbor.

Close to the fortress were several old military Jeeps.

“All we need to do is not get caught,” said Victoria.

“Can you still fight, my liege?” asked Whevelbor.

“It’s been a long day,” said Whartleburg, “But we must escape.”

Whartleburg raised his arms to summon his battle axes, but he knew already that he still did not have the strength to use them fully. The axes appeared, but then faded and returned whence they came.

“Alas, I need more strength,” said Whartleburg.

“What if I helped?” asked Victoria, “All we need is a distraction, right?”

“You’re not trained yet,” argued Whartleburg.

“Perhaps I can help,” said Whevelbor, “I happen to know the instructor for Maantisazian school of Enzectozoid marshal arts. I cannot use his instruction myself, but let me pass on what I know.”

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

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Subsistence, interlude

Hey, hey watch this!”

The skateboarding seventh grader gained momentum up the concrete ramp for the gym used for handicapped wheelchair users, across a level area past the building entrance. He jumped over the guardrails with the help of a homemade ramp he had made in woodworking class. He tried to use the skateboard to glide down the descending rail, but nearly midway lost his balance. He did not land well, crashing onto the sidewalk.

“Woe, dude, that was so gnarly!” said his friends, who were also skateboarders.

It was after school at 5 p.m. and the deviant seventh grade skateboarding clique were beginning to get rowdy.

 

The seventh graders at Bernard Berenson Middle were, simply put, lesser forms of eighth graders. They were the great divide; the servants of the eighth graders, guardians against scummy sixth graders.

But they were only the guardians and servants of the cool crowd. Those eighth graders who were average or lowly were either seen as other seventh graders and befriended or were picked on, depending on the seventh grader.

But all these particular seventh graders thought about was the next rad trick on a skateboard after school. They weren’t really into the social agenda. Therefore, they were left to themselves.

So when Shawn Skipperson, the next skateboarding seventh grader, sped up the ramp, over the guardrails, successfully pulling the guardrail gliding stunt, for a few seconds, only to fall into a large open gutter drain— no one heard his fall. And no one expected the drain to close by itself.

The boy’s friends looked for him. He wasn’t far, just in an obscure place, on the blind side of the gym. But they did find him.

“Dude, Shawn, why’re you in there?”

“Major bummer, man! Get me out!”

The three boys pulled on the grate to the drain. It would not budge.

“It won’t open!”

“Ah c’mon, man, it’s dark down here.”

Something stirred.

“I think all the teachers are gone, right?”

It got closer.

“Well let’s try again to open the grate, ready?”

Ssss.

“Holy crap, guys! I just heard something!”

“Pull!”

The three boys pulled again on the grate. It started to open. Something was weighing it down.

SSSuuubsss.

“C’mon, guys, please hurry!”

SSSubssisssss! 

Shawn’s legs were pulled back from under him. He fell to the ground on his belly. He was being pulled backward, away from the light of the grate.

Ssssubsssissstence. 

 

“Ok, got it?”

“Glad I had these on hand. Yeah, now put your crowbars in the grate opening for leverage. Yeah, that should do it. Now Pull. Pull. Pull! PULL!

It had been two minutes since they had heard anything from Shawn.

Good thing Mr. Hind, the assistant basketball coach, was still around to lock up. With his help the boys were able to open the grate. He had also called the police. Paramedics were on their way.

The grate behaved like a great weight was attached to it. They got the grate open, but it slammed shut.

Mr. Hind called again.

“Shawn. Shawn, can you hear me?”

Nothing could be heard from Shawn. But soft, barely audible words could be heard seemingly far below.

Subsssistence. More. Subssistence.

From “Fall from Autumnway” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

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Captured, the enemy plays dirty, Interlude

A vision set in greyscale. The skies overhead now weep. Colorless curtains fall on the just and the unjust. Whartleburg is seen powerless, on the ground, defeated.

 

Whartleburg had cut through the forces of wicked Spider King Ahab. Nothing could stand before Whartleburg’s might and as he fought, he could feel the oppression lifting. But the last of the giants was different from the others. This one used cunning.

“I have a message for you,” he said to Whartleburg.

“You must atone for what you did to my kingdom,” said Whartleburg.

“You will not listen to me, even if it’s from your beloved?” asked the giant.

“You have only to listen to my spinning blades,” answered Whartleburg as he threw his axes at the giant.

“You only have two of those magnificent axes,” said the giant,”And those mandibles are only good for close range combat. What happens if you lose them all?”

The giant caught the axes with his bare hands. No one had ever done that. Who was this heathen? He gave the signal. Armed guards dressed in black armor brought forth a beautiful maiden in a tattered dress. Salyria. Her long dark hair flowed over her face. She looked up. When their eyes met, Whartleburg ran to her but was immediately blocked.

“I’ll tell you what,” said the giant, “His Arachness decried he will give you Lady Salyria with his blessing. But you must turn yourself in.”

Whartleburg looked at the giant, expecting an answer. Then he looked at Salyria. Her blue eyes pleaded with him. Alas, he agreed.

“If I can have her back, and rebuild my kingdom, then I will turn myself in,” said Whartleburg.

The guards released Salyria. She walked up to Whartleburg. For the first time in ages, they embraced. The smell of her hair was as it had always been, the smell of the sea. But there was a sudden change in the air. Even as Whartleburg held his fiancee, her eyes changed color.

Whartleburg felt a sharp pain in his back. He immediately pushed the imposter Salyria to the ground and removed the knife. She had been concealing it in her sleeve and took advantage of the embrace.

The real Salyria was still far away, trapped in a granite tower. There was no way Spider King Ahab would ever let her go. Not even if Whartleburg turned himself in.

He called for his axes, and they answered in a flash of light, but the damage was done. The knife had been laced with insecticide poison. The damage had been done. He sank to his knees.

 

“How the tables have turned,” says the final giant. He smiles big, revealing missing teeth. Then he kicks Whartleburg in the side.

“I’ll never eat an apple again because you knocked my teeth out!” screams the giant. His underlings await the command to finish him off. But orders are orders. They want him brought in alive. A simple antidote injection removes the poison.

“His Arachness has plans for you.”

 

It was a month later. Whartleburg was sentenced to death. For now he was held in chains, forced to eat on an hourly basis. The food-grade insect market was a rich industry, and they loved Enzectozoid meat. They were going to sell him off piece by piece to the highest bidder.

Yet on the night before his execution, Whartleburg heard loud knocking from within the prison walls.

“My liege, is that you?” came a voice from inside the wall.

“Who are you?” said Whartleburg.

The chains suddenly came loose from the wall. A long snout poked out briefly.

“I’m called Whevelbor. My army is ready to get you out.”

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

Next chapter: “Metamorphosis

Previous chapter, “Insurmountable Odds.”

 

Veiled in Red, Interlude

Roger was slow at many things. At eating. At test taking. He was slow at finding courage for simple things, such as telling the one girl, out of many in his class, that he liked her. Roger was slow in all these things and more. Yet he still found himself acing the latest test in the gifted math class. How’d he pull that off?

The one thing Roger was not slow about was how white his skin turned, right at midnight, as he put his head to the fourth grade lunch table, listening, when the anomaly suddenly appeared. Roger’s hair stood on the back of his neck.

She was beautiful. From behind the lifted curtains, a red light illuminated her and the stage. Draped in a scarlet, transparent, red veil that covered her whole body, she couldn’t have been older than twenty-four. An air of sadness could be felt as she silently, gracefully, danced on the stage of the theatre at the back of the cafeteria. The sounds that came from the table as Roger put his ear to it were of church bells.

It was everything that was described to Roger. The school librarian had even loaned him a book on the various ghosts that haunted Bernard Berenson Middle. “The Red Veil Phantom” was rated #15 of 24 specters found all around the school grounds, ranging in poltergeist activity and frequency of appearance. Wrestling his fear under control, Roger pulled out his phone. He set it to camera mode to record. Now he had to stay there for a full twenty minutes.

Suddenly the Red Veil Phantom stopped dancing as the stage light suddenly turned off and the darkness suddenly became totally black. The sounds from the table went silent. Slowly, quietly, Roger could hear strange sounds. The sharpening of iron.

slikt

slikt

SLIKT, SLIKT, SLIKT

Then a dialogue, first a female voice:

“Alas, Hector my love, why do you do this?”

“Eugenia, Eugenia, my love, my bride,” said a smooth male voice,
“If I cannot have you to myself, THEN NO ONE SHALL.”

Now a ring of steel, as if two knives were clanged together; a sudden spark was seen on stage. A sudden ripping of flesh, a curdling scream that sent Roger’s heart into his throat, followed by the sounds of water. But it wasn’t water.

Roger suddenly felt warmth. And a smell, no, a stench. It was familiar to him, he had to deal with it when his brother gashed his leg and had to be sent to the ER. Blood. The smell of blood.

It was everywhere. The book never covered this. All it covered was the red apparition dancing. The darkness lifted, but Roger wished, wished with all his might, that it had just stayed dark. Blood was everywhere. On the walls, on the curtains, on the stage, on the tables. It was also on Roger.

He couldn’t leave. Even if he could, he was plastered to the table. Roger wanted to run out the door screaming. He was panting, cold from fright, and had ten minutes left.

The red stage light turned back on. On stage now could be seen the woman in the red veil, but now she was held in an embrace by a suave, older gentleman in a white dress shirt and black pants. He held in his hands two long knives soiled red. The couple stood still for at least two minutes. Roger thought it would be over soon. Then the man turned his attention away from the red veiled woman. He then turned to Roger.

“Who are you?” said the man, “I will not allow suiters.”

He suddenly stepped down from the stage and walked toward Roger.

“Answer me this: who are you to court MY WIFE?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Roger, “I’m just here for another eight minutes, then I’ll be out of your hair.”

The man scoffed. “Eight minutes? You will not last one more, much less eight.”

He brandished the bloody knives. The blood dripping from them was still warm.

“I’m going to make you specter number twenty-five,” said the man.

Excerpt from “Fall from Autumnway” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

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Reminiscence, Interlude

Little Eddy scraped the peanut butter onto the toasted bread.

“Mom, when is Whartleburg coming back?”

“I don’t know, Sweety,” said June, his mother.

“Well, do you think we should leave a sandwich for him?”

They were in the kitchen making lunch: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the only food Whartleburg seemed to enjoy. Two months had gone by since Whartleburg had gone into the fire portal. Had he not done so, other minions would have found their way to the house of Eddy and June.

June thought about that strange, kind, protector. Her thoughts at first had been to see him as a monster, demon, or giant insect. But as he helped around the house, and watched over Eddy, his presence grew on June. It for some reason brought back memories of when her husband had been around. She smiled and brushed her long light brown hair behind her left ear. Whartleburg never promised to return, but it’d be nice if he did.

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

For the next chapter, “Captured, the Enemy Plays Dirty.”

For the previous chapter go “Insurmountable Odds.”

 

The-scariest-homemade-costume-I-could-find-from-a-show-you-never-heard-of, Interlude

wpid-20151112_175906.jpg

 8th graders were, for the most part, treated like gods and goddesses, being the highest grade at Bernard Berenson Middle. In a peculiar, unexplainable reasoning, 8th graders were blessed with the ability to do subtle things other grades could not get away with. They had more freedom in the school, for one thing. However, in order to do these things, one had to take their eyes off themselves and focus on others. Consequently, for groups like the jocks and the cool people, most of whom were oft full of hot air, they never realized their true nature.

The jocks, especially the select popular crowd, were too focused on being cool. They had long since abandoned their childhood; but to Roger they seemed dull and boring. They had all dressed as simple as possible: A mask here, some face paint there. Nothing scary, just enough to fit in.

“Hey, Roger, nice costume!” said one of the jocks in Roger’s class. It wasn’t a complement. Roger wasn’t fitting in according to cool 8th grade protocol. To the cool crowd, he was portraying a lesson in what not to do.

Roger, however, didn’t care. His plan for wearing the elaborate getup was two-fold. The first part was winning the costume contest. He arrived in a homemade costume, made from cardboard and aluminum foil, to become “Sliver Fang Espro of the martial arts school of ‘Potentate Leviamath'” from his favorite video game, “Enzectozoid Chronicles: Mandibles of Justice.” He had spent many hours with the help of his older brother to get the costume perfect. It looked like a humanoid metallic shark had eaten him.

When the 8th grade jocks and the cool kids saw the costume, they thought Roger’s maturity level was still in third grade. But Roger didn’t care. Let them kid. They weren’t the reason he showed up at the dance. Suddenly the music stopped and Miss Long, the seventh grade english teacher, strode up with a microphone.

“Ok, everyone. Those who witch— I mean, wish— to be part of the costume contest, stand in the center of the gym and form a line! Whoo hoo!”

Everyone adored Miss Long. Trim figure, early twenties, curly blond hair, she was one of those teachers who was young enough to relate to youth, but mature enough not to give busy work, or lots of homework. Tonight she was dressed like a smart phone, glasses and everything. Even in that dorky costume, from afar some of the boys still had a crush on her; a love which would never be returned.

Five minutes later, Roger received second place for his costume. First place went to one of the sixth graders, a quiet young man dressed like an old southern gentleman. That mask looked amazing.

Time went by rather fast for Roger. He danced his heart out, embarrassing the 8th grade jocks even more. He slow danced with every pretty girl he could get to agree to dance with him. One of them was Beth Azure.

She was Miss Long’s younger second cousin and, under normal circumstances, looked strangely just like her. Tonight she was dressed like a mime, complete with black and white striped long sleeve shirt, suspenders, and black pants, black socks, and white tennis shoes. Her blond hair, which normally extended past her shoulders, was neatly tucked under a black newsboy hat. The finishing touch was her painted face; it made her look more like a witch doctor than a mime, but was good enough to win her third place.

“Congrats on winning second place,” said Beth.

“Thanks,” said Roger.

“Sliver Fang Espro, right?”

“Yes. From Enzectozoid Chronicles.”

“My little brother plays that game!” said Beth. “He also collects the toys. And he watches the cartoon.”

She quickly pulled out a smart phone.

“May I?”

Roger let her take a photo of his costume.

“He’s a big fan,” she said, “Literally. It’s all he ever talks about.”

Roger didn’t know what to make of that comment. Was Beth also a fan?

“So how well do you know Enzectozoid?” asked Roger.

“Me? Not much,” she said. “I’ve only read the books. Twice through.”

There were, so far, four books in the Enzectozoid Chronicles series. They were all best sellers. Book #5, Claws of the Scorpiozzo, was due in January.

Roger could feel his heart thumping in his chest. “Um, I like your costume.”

“Aw, thanks,” Beth smiled and looked away toward one of her friends. Then she looked back at Roger. Awkward silence. Their eyes met. It was dark. Roger leaned in toward Beth. He couldn’t see clearly, but he wanted to know for himself.

“Your eyes… have some purple in them,” mused Roger aloud.

“…Really?” said Beth.

She had always been the studious, calm type personality. Though many had tried, none had ever succeeded in charming Beth Azure. But for the first time, and possibly the last time that night, something dramatic, unexplainable, happened when Roger inadvertently complemented Beth’s eyes: She blushed.

“BUZZZZZ! Buzz Buzz Buzz! BUZZZZZ!”

Suddenly, from out of no where, a couple zoomed in between Roger and Beth.

“Buzz Buzz Buzzzzz!”

Hands clasped in classic ballroom fashion, and running from point A to B, seventh grader Tim and his date Joy, dressed in matching bee costumes, laughing as they ran up and down the gymnasium. They randomly targeted slow dancing couples, running past them, circling them, and running back up to rest. The whole time they buzzed like bees gathering pollen as they ran.

“Bumble Ballroom” was a self-chaperoning method of dance introduced and encouraged by Miss Long. It was designed to interrupt other couples, ensuring the atmosphere was kept light.

Whatever spell the song playing had cast was now broken. To Roger it was like waking from a dream. The song was about over anyway.

“Are you doing the dare?” asked Beth.

“Yes I was planning on it,” said Roger.

“Well, how do you know it isn’t some prank?”

Roger swallowed.

“I really don’t. But I agreed to a dare and cannot back out.”

“Well, most of the school knows about it. I’ve read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow over the Summer. Ichabod Crane was also played a cruel joke. Please don’t follow in his footsteps.”

The last slow song of the night ended and Beth looked at Roger with a funny look in her eyes. She quietly gave Roger a small mirror.

The mirror was strange. It was round and fashioned to look like a human face with his mouth open. The mirror was placed where the mouth gaped open.

“If it’s a ruse, you can just record the dopes and put it on YouTube. But if it’s real, well…” Beth trailed off and gave Roger an impish grin to reveal perfect braced teeth. Even that look made Roger’s heart flutter. He then did something uncharacteristic.

“Um, Beth, if I don’t make it,” he said hesitantly, “I just wanted to say—-”

“Roger it’s almost midnight,” said Beth, “Be careful, and good luck.”

Now remember, at the beginning of this post, that 8th graders, even the uncool types, were blessed with being able to get away with certain things other grades cannot? This challenge was one of those things. Whether intentionally done or not, the cafeteria doors were left unlocked. It was two minutes to midnight when Roger opened the doors, exhaled, and slipped inside.

The other reason Roger donned a scary costume was for the dare. Maybe he could out-spook the spook? It was the scariest costume he could think of. There he was in the cafeteria, alone, in the dark, arriving to the challenge early. Two minutes before the ghostly challenge would start at midnight.

Excerpt from “Fall from Autumnway”
from the curiously long book of short stories, “I am Lettuce, who are you?”

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