Authors: B. A. Frade,Stacia Deutsch
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Don't make the same mistake Emma made. Don't read my book.
“Remember the time we were at the amusement park and the ride got stuck?” Sam asked as we walked up the middle school steps.
“And we were there for an hourâ¦” I added, adjusting my backpack straps as we went.
“And you started singing that hilarious songâ¦” Sam hummed a few notes.
“Hang on,” I interrupted. “Do you hear that?”
“What?” Sam cupped her ear.
I closed my eyes and listened. Beyond the normal morning sounds of the school buses in the distance, mixed with teachers' voices that drifted down the hallway, I distinctly heard a low-pitched whine.
“Is that a cat?” I asked, stepping back from the door to let some other kids pass by.
“I don't think so,” Sam said. I could see the scientist inside her perk up. “Come on, Emma. Let's find out.”
The first bell rang, which meant we only had ten minutes to investigate. I didn't mind being late to school, but that wasn't Sam's style. If she thought ten minutes was plenty of time, I was with her.
“Let's go,” I agreed.
We hurried back down the steps and toward the wild, untended bushes on the far side of the bus drop-off, by the sports field. The bushes were so thick, and filled with thorns, that we all knew never to reach in there. Any balls that were lost were lost forever.
That was where the whine came from.
“What do you think it is?” I asked Sam. My own imagination was flipping from cat to rat to three-headed toad to screaming banshee. I had a really good imagination. In my head, anything was possible.
Sam was more rational. She listened to the whine
and ran through the database in her head before answering, “Dog. Small dog. Terrier, maybe.”
I bent down near the source of the sound. She was
right. “It's a puppy,” I said, seeing the little white
furball tangled among the thorny branches. It really
was a terrier. The cutest one I'd ever seen, with big brown eyes and floppy ears. She wasn't dirty or matted. It was clear that this wasn't a stray or a dangerous animal: This was a lost dog that needed to go home.
“What do we do?” I asked again, my brain jumping from calling the fire department to digging a tunnel.
Sam set her heavy backpack on the ground and took the scissors from her pencil kit. I had a pencil kit too, but mine just had pencils and a few pens. Sam's had “supplies.” Using those sharp scissors, she cut through the brambles until the puppy was free. It bounded out of the bushes and leapt into my lap.
Sam bent to read the dog's tag. “Her name is Maggie.” She giggled as Maggie's long pink tongue popped out and licked her face. She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and said, “There's a phone number.”
Taking turns carrying her, we took the puppy to the school office and arrived, just as Sam had predicted, with plenty of time to make it to class. We even had time to wait while Principal Robinson called the number on the tag and spoke to the old man who answered. We could hear his excitement through the phone.
My heart soared as I hurried into my first-period class. We'd saved a puppy and helped an old man. It was a great start to the day.
I thought that with such a great start, maybe Mom would change her mind, so I texted her. She texted back. And just like that, the best day became the worst.
“She's ruining my life!” I dropped my head to the table and gave a mighty groan.
Sam put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Your mom probably doesn't mean to ruin your whole life, Emma. Just this one weekend.”
“Yeah.” I peeked up at her with one brownish-green eye, my lid partially closed, and my mouth formed into a scowl. “Easy for you to say. You're going to have the best weekend ever.” I sat up, keeping the scowl. “Starting in a couple hours, you get to spend three days with your cousins. I have to spend those same days with Mrs. L!”
“Ugh.” Sam shuddered as a chill went down her spine. “I didn't realize that was the actual plan. I thought you were kidding. Oh, Emma, you're right. Your mom
ruining your life.”
“Exactly,” I said, flopping forward again until my head banged against the lunch table. My long brown hair covered my face and muffled my voice when I complained, “I can't imagine anything more horrifying.”
Mrs. Langweilg was my upstairs neighbor. Mom called her “quirky,” but that was wrong. “Weird” was a better choice. Her crowded apartment was hoarder weird, she smelled funky weird, and her obsession over her ferret pets was creepy weird.
Nope. There was nothing “quirky” about Mrs. L.
“I wish your mom would let you hang out with us this weekend,” Sam said for about the millionth time since I had told her Mom was going away on business. “It's going to be an epic sleepover.”
“I bet that's why she said no.” I kept my head down. “She talked to your mom and found out that your parents are also going away for the weekend.”
Mumbling to the floor like this, I found that I was looking at the bottom of Sam's boyfriend jeans, staring at her ankles, which were sticking out of her bright red sneakers. Sam's dad was black and her mom was white, and I was struck by how pretty a shade of brown her ankles were. Anklesâ¦ this is what my weekend had come to. All I could think about were my neighbor's ferrets and Sam's ankles. It was depressing.
“It's only two nights, and they aren't going far,” Sam told me. “Just to a fancy hotel downtown. It's my mom and her twin sister's twentieth high school reunion. That's why the cousinsâ”
“Augh!” I moaned even louder than before. “Don't remind me!”
I couldn't believe Mom was forcing me to spend the weekend with Mrs. L instead of sleeping over at Sam's. I'd never met Cassie and Riley, but if they were anything like Sam, I was going to miss out on something truly amazing.
“Maybe you can use Mrs. L as a character in one of your stories,” Sam suggested as a way to cheer me up.
“Maybeâ¦” I said, considering the idea. I really like writing stories. I usually have a pen and some paper nearby for when I get inspired. I'm the only twelve-year-old in Madisonville Middle School who is published. Last summer, I wrote a horror story about a severed head that lived in the middle school gym. It was published in an online magazine.
“Nah,” I said at last. “âThe Langweilg Nightmare' is a story I don't want to write.”
As I closed my eyes, though, the story started forming in my head. It went like this:
After school, I change out of the brown leggings and patterned sweater I was wearing and put on an old, ugly T-shirt with baggy sweatpants instead.
I am on my knees, scrubbing the stains off the old lady's bathroom floor while Mrs. L is in the other room, sitting in her creaking rocking chair, knitting booties for those creepy pet ferrets.
The horrifying vision repeated itself, with me crawling on the floor in the kitchen, in the hallway, and across the bedroom.
I push away any thoughts of where those goopy stains might have come from in the first place. They are everywhere! And they never really go awayâno matter how much I clean.
This was a pretty exact description of how it had gone last time I spent a weekend upstairs. When I told my mom, she thanked me for being so kind to our elderly neighbor. She was so proud of me, blah, blah, blah.â¦
I guess some stories are better left untold.
“Emmaâ¦ Yo, Emmaâ¦” Sam gave me a shove. “Anyone home?”
“Huh?” I looked up.
“I've been talking to you for like five minutes. Did you hear anything I said?”
“No. Sorry. I was just thinking.â¦”
“Your brain is a mystery that science will never understand,” Sam said, gathering the trash from her lunch.
“I'd say the same about yours.” I grinned.
“Come on. I have an idea.” Usually, Sam wore her dark curly hair in a tight ponytail. Now it was loose and wild. I've always believed that Sam's hair could predict the futureâthe more it frizzed out, the more fun was on the way.
This was max frizz.
“During recess, I'm going to get some things together and plan activities for the cousins. You can help!” she told me.
That didn't sound fun at all. It sounded terrible. Planning things I couldn't doâ¦
“No thanks,” I told her. I hadn't eaten any of my lunch, so I stuffed the unopened paper bag in my backpack and stood up. “I probably should get a head start on my homework. I'm gonna spend recess in the library.”
“Oh.” Sam looked longingly outside the big window in the middle school cafeteria. There was a huge banner over the exit announcing the middle school winter dance in a month. And a poster for softball tryouts. If I had to pick between them, it would be dancing. I couldn't throw or catch to save my life.
Sam slung her backpack over her shoulder. “The library sounds great. I'll go with you. I'll find a new book to read.”
“Don't you have a stack of books next to your bed?” I asked. Sam was always reading at least two different books at the same time, sometimes three or four. My brain was busy, but hers was busierâin a different way.
“I've been branching into astronomy.” She smiled. “There's going to be a full moon thisâ” She cut herself off before she added “weekend.”
“It's okay, Sam,” I told her. “You don't have to feel sorry for me. I'll meet you in class.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
I nodded. I was grumpy and didn't want to drag Sam down.
She headed outside with some of our other friends while I went through the thick glass library doors, past the computer stations, straight toward the first empty desk.
I had just finished my assignment and turned to see a woman standing at the librarian's station. I didn't know the school had hired a new librarian. Our usual librarian was ancient. Mrs. Frankle had been my mom's librarian when she was in middle school. This librarian was young. Pretty. And somehow, she knew my name.
“Where's Mrs. Frankle?” I asked quietly. I hoped she wasn't sick, or worseâ¦ fired.
“Oh, she'll be back.” The librarian gave a small shrug. She had straight hair that was so dark it was practically purple. Her eyes were the same color as her hair. Or maybe they weren't. I couldn't tell. They seemed to keep changing. “What's going on, Emma? It looks like you're having a rough day.”
I turned my head away, confused. Was I supposed to know her name like she knew mine? Should I ask her who she was? Should I pretend I knew her? This was awkward.
I studied a dirty spot on my tennis shoes while I considered what to do.
“You seem unhappy. Would you like to talk about it?” she asked. I felt like she already knew what was going on with my mom, Mrs. Lâ¦ with everything.
I didn't look back up. “Not really.” I quickly added, “But thanks.”
“Sometimes the best listener is a book,” the librarian said, coming around from the station. “Writing in my journal always helps me get my head in order.” We always whispered in the library, but she was talking even softer than a whisper. I strained to hear her. “Do you keep a diary?”
“No,” I whispered back. “I only make up fictional stories. I never write about myself.” Even if I did write “The Langweilg Nightmare,” I'd create a character that wasn't me. I found that storytelling came easier when it wasn't personal.
“Today's a good day to make a change.” She flicked her purple-black-brown-green-gold eyes toward a nearby rolling cart. There were spiral notebooks on the top shelf above the books that had recently been returned to the library. “Take one.”
I didn't want to be rude, so I went to take a look. Even if I didn't use it as a diary, I could always use a new blank book.
She returned to the library desk and stood there while I decided. The librarian stood statue still, patiently looking at me, sort of staring, but not exactly. Those odd eyes seemed to bore through me, seeing me and, at the same time, looking at something beyond my head. I could feel their heat even as I turned my back to her and studied the book cart. I struggled to stay focused.
Most of the notebooks were the spiral kind, like the ones everyone buys the first day of school for class. They were in all colors and sizes. I ran my fingers across the metal bindings, pretending like I was trying to decide.
As I came to the end of the row, there was a book that stood out from the others. It was thicker and didn't have a spiral binding. Instead, it had a weathered brown leather cover with a small brass locking clasp. Etched into the front cover was a geometric design made entirely of similar-sized triangles in a deep golden color. There were so many triangles, they covered the entire surface, even peeking out from under the clasp.
There was no doubt that this was a special journal. I immediately wanted it.
“Can I really take one of these?” I felt like I needed to double-check with the librarian. She pushed up her glasses before responding, which made me wonder if she'd been wearing glasses when I first came into the library. I didn't think so.
“Yes,” she said with a sweep of her hand. “Whichever one speaks to you.”
That was a funny way of saying it.
I thought about asking specifically if she meant I could have the leather journal instead of one of the office-store kind, but she was no longer looking at me. She suddenly seemed busy; the phone was tucked between her shoulder and ear while she read something on the computer.
I told myself that since the leather one was with the others, she must have meant that one too.
“Thank you,” I said, a little louder than I should have. She responded, not by saying “Shhh,” but by pointing to the clock above the librarian's desk.
Recess was nearly over. I had to get to class.
I put the journal in my backpack and took off through the glass doors and down the hallway.