Thursday, October 24, 2013


I thought it would be fun to share a short story I wrote some time back for a contest. It was a pretty big hit, so I hope you all enjoy it.


“Fifth graders,” bellowed Mr. Bradley. “I’d hate for us to miss the field trip due to your poor organizational skills.”

The noise in the room quieted to a dull roar as kids began scrambling. I sighed and slammed my geography book closed, shoved it into my desk, and began gathering scraps of trash from the floor. I was just rising with my hands full of pencil shavings when I cracked heads with my best friend, Hunter.

“Good one, Josh,” said Hunter, rubbing his forehead.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, then stepped around Hunter and prepared to head off toward the trash can. Hunter grabbed my ankle and hissed, “I gotta tell you something.”

I glanced over to make sure Mr. Bradley wasn’t watching, then bent down. “What’s up?”

Hunter had barely opened his mouth when a pair of pink Sketchers stopped directly in front of us. “Too late,” whispered Hunter. He began shoving odds and ends into his desk.

I stood and faced Donna Poindexter, or public enemy number one. She stood there with her pointy nose, freckles, and attitude, smirking like I was toe jam. “What do you want?” I asked.

 Her smirk grew. “Wow, Josh, I know you have like no class or anything, but by now even you should have figured out how to engage in appropriate conversation.”

I tossed the trash back on the floor and picked up my chair to place it upside down on my desk, making sure it came close enough to Donna’s face to make her back up. “Hey, watch out!” she cried.

“You watch out,” I said. “In fact, why don’t you watch out the window and see if your broom is ready. You are taking it to the pumpkin farm, aren’t you?” A snicker from Hunter made me smile, even though what I really wanted was for Donna to just leave.

But she didn’t. So I scooped up the shavings once again and headed over to the trash. She stayed with me like a bad case of stomach flu. And her mouth was still running. “I just wanted to let you know that Felicia Warden is going to ask you to sit with her on the bus. Bye.” She opened her lips in her version of a smile, and turned with a flip of her lame pony tail.

Against my will, my gaze searched the room until it zeroed in on Felicia. She was a new kid – had moved into the old Anderson place a couple of weeks ago. I wished Felicia was a boy, because I wanted to get into that house and see what it was really like. The older kids said it was haunted, ever since old man Anderson had been found hanging from the rafters in the tower. Hunter and I had been planning for years to break into the place and check it out, but now that we had finally found the courage, the place had sold and the Warden’s had moved in. No way was I going to some girl’s house, even if it was to check for ghosts.

I went to get my jacket and almost ran smack into Felicia. She was even scarier than most girls. Her glossy black hair hung loosely halfway down her back, and it had an unreal shine to it, almost like the light came from her hair rather than reflected off it. Her wide eyes were too intense, like she knew what you were thinking. Too weird. And her skin looked so soft, I almost wanted to reach out and touch it. Some of the guys called her a witch, but I didn’t think so. She was scary, but in some way I hadn’t figured out yet.

I was backing away in a hasty retreat when Mr. Bradley’s voice jarred into my skull once again. “Okay, folks, time to load up. And since we’re running late, forget your usual buddy. Grab the person closest to you and head out.”

I spun around, looking for Hunter. He was still over by our desks, and Donna had a death grip on his arm. Hunter was staring at me, a wild-animal-caught-in-a-snare look on his face. Then I felt a warm hand on my arm, and a tug toward the door. “Come on,” said Felicia. “Let’s hurry so we can get good seats.”

The ride to the pumpkin farm turned out okay. Felicia wasn’t anything like Donna. She asked questions about me. What sports I like. My favorite movie. If I like to read. And when I told her that Hunter and I were interested in paranormal stuff, she seemed interested and asked intelligent questions. It wasn’t a bad ride, even though I would have preferred being with Hunter. But I figured I’d catch up with him once we unloaded.

Hunter was waiting for me just outside the bus, with that blood-sucking leech, Donna, still attached to his arm. I jerked my head toward him. “Come on, let’s go shoot the corncob cannon.”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah, about that. Donna thought it might be nice if the four of us went through the corn maze together. That okay with you?”

I stared at him. This was my best friend, who knew better than anyone how much I detested all girls, especially Donna. What had she done to him during that ride that couldn’t have been more than what, a half hour? I looked at Donna's mean face. I knew those were fangs peaking out of the corners of her smirky smile. Then I looked at the traitor who had been my best friend since preschool. “Sure, Hunter, that’s fine. Just let me stab myself in the heart first.” I turned and stalked off in the opposite direction.

We’re supposed to stay with our buddy on field trips, but I no longer had one. I wandered around for a while in the middle of the pumpkin patch and threw stones at the fat orange pumpkins. I noticed a really big one up the hill a little way, with some kind of strange growth on top. I made my way in that direction to check it out.

When I got closer to the pumpkin, I laughed out loud. What I thought was a growth turned out to be a big black cat, curled up on top of the pumpkin, sleeping in the sun. He opened one eye as I approached, and I gasped in surprise. Then a voice behind me made me jump. “Isn’t he beautiful?”

Great. You sit with a girl on the bus, and she decides she owns you. What else could ruin my day? But Felicia had been nice, so I turned to her and returned the favor. “I thought only white cats could have blue eyes.”

“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Maybe he’s a magic cat.” Then she smiled.

I looked closely to see if she was making fun of me. Apparently not. “Don’t let Donna hear you say that,” I warned. “You’ll find out what she’s really like if you do. She says there’s no such thing as magic, and she’ll never let you live it down if she thinks you do.”

Her laugh surprised me. “I’m not afraid of Donna,” she said. Then she changed the subject. “Have you picked out your pumpkin yet?”

I looked at the cat again. He was still sprawled out on top of the big pumpkin and was watching us intently. He didn’t look particularly threatening, so I reached out toward him. When he let me pet him, I could feel the heat coming off him from lying in the sun. It felt good. He must have liked it, too, because he began to purr loudly.

“I kinda like this one,” I said to Felicia, meaning the cat.

She misunderstood. “I think he’s already picked this one for his own. He might not like it if you take his favorite napping spot.”

I wasn’t sure if she was laughing at me, but I still felt my cheeks heat up. “Yeah, well, it’s probably too big to carry back to the bus, anyway. I’ll find something else.” I turned and headed down the hill.

“Hey, come back,” called Felicia. I turned and saw her standing beside the pumpkin. The cat was nowhere in sight. I walked back up the hill, but only to figure out where the cat had run off to.

Felicia pointed toward the pumpkin. “I’ll help you carry it if you’d like,” she said. “Or we can get a wagon.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” I was still looking for the cat. I turned back to Felicia. “Did you see where he went?”

She waved a hand in dismissal. “He said he had to find a mouse for an afternoon snack.”

I looked at her again. Most girls would never say something like that without pretending to gag, or shudder in disgust. Then I realized exactly what she’d said. “The cat told you he was looking for a snack?”

“Sure,” she said. “Cats talk to me all the time. Now let’s get this pumpkin down the hill so we can challenge Hunter and Donna in the maze. I’m sure we can beat them.”

That afternoon, we were all gathered around the craft table, preparing to carve our pumpkins. Of course, Donna made a point of telling the whole class how much bigger and better her pumpkin was than mine. I looked over at Hunter and rolled my eyes. Then an unexpected voice had everyone in the room turning toward Felicia. “Your pumpkin may be bigger than Josh’s, but I don’t think it’s better. In fact, I think his will surprise everyone.”

I couldn’t help glancing over at Donna. Her face contorted in anger. Great. Now she would make Felicia’s life miserable, too, and Felicia wasn’t bad for a girl. In fact, I kind of liked her. In a non guy/girl kind of way, of course.

Donna’s waspy voice stung. “And why would that be, Felicia? Because you like him?”

“Okay, class, let’s get back to business,” said Mr. Bradley. 

I’d never been more relieved to hear his voice. I picked up my plastic pumpkin carving blade and prepared to plunge it into the top of the pumpkin, imagining it was Donna’s black heart.

“Stop,” whispered Felicia as she reached out and put her hand over mine. A burst of snickers echoed around the room, and I quickly dropped the tool and pulled my hand away. Not like her hand burned me or anything. It was warm, but not that warm.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I just think it would be better if you made small, careful cuts.” She smiled shyly. “It’s such a nice pumpkin. You don’t want to accidentally mess it up.”

I looked around, but everyone was busy with their own pumpkins. Everyone except Donna, that is. Her eyes were nearly popping out of her face as she gaped at Felicia and me. Then she put her hand over her partner’s ear and began whispering loudly. I heard loser, and girlfriend and witch before turning back to my pumpkin.

When I had carefully cut a huge circle around the top of the pumpkin, I put down the carving tool and began wiggling the stalk back and forth to loosen it up. Then I pulled it off, and got the surprise of my life.

A large black cat with sky blue eyes lay curled in the bottom of the pumpkin. He slowly stood, stretched, and leaped out onto the craft table. 

Everyone gasped, including me. Then the whole room erupted into chaos as we began wondering aloud how the cat had managed to get into the pumpkin. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I knew. When I turned to face Felicia, she smiled, and I noticed for the first time how perfect her face was.

“Nice pumpkin, Josh,” she said. Then she leaned over and said, in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, “Come by after school and I’ll show you around our house. It’s haunted, you know.”


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