Authors: B. A. Frade,Stacia Deutsch
“Did you get a lot of homework done?” Sam asked, plopping into the desk next to mine with a whoosh. She dropped her backpack on the ground between our desks. It clanked.
“What?” I had almost forgotten why I'd gone to the library in the first place. “Oh, yeah, I did.” I glanced at her backpack. “What's in the bag?”
“During recess I began âcollecting' things from school forâ” Sam stopped herself. “I'm so sad you can't come over.”
“Good afternoon, class.” Mr. McCarthy entered the room.
My conversation with Sam ended because Mr. McCarthy began collecting book reports. It didn't really matter what Sam was planning with her cousins. It was probably better not to know, since I wasn't going to be there anyway.
“Please take out paper and a pencil,”
Mr. McCarthy said, pushing up his thick black glasses.
“We're going to do some free writing. The topic for this assignment is âMy Plans for the Weekend.'”
I wanted to scream. He had to be joking!
First, we had to write about ourselves, which I didn't like doing. And second, we had to write about the weekend, which, for me, wasn't going to be fun at all.
I considered writing a Cinderella sob story about a teenaged girl scrubbing the floor with her toothbrush. But I couldn't do that. I'd get a zero for not doing the assignment correctly.
Resigned to writing a pathetic paragraph about myself, Mrs. L, and the ferrets, I reached into my backpack for a sheet of lined paper.
My hand brushed the leather journal. I felt a small electric shock, like after scooting on carpet in socks and then touching something.
I paused. Shook the feeling off. Then dug deeper in my bag. I had put in a new pack of lined paper before leaving home this morning. Where was it?
The back of my knuckles leaned against the journal as I bent over to sort through my stuff. That odd shock I'd felt before felt more like a magnet now. My fingers felt heavy against the journal, and I had this sensation that if I'd only turn my hand around, to face it with my palm, it would leap into my hand.
I rotated my wrist, and sure enough, the book seemed to lean into my palm. And with that was the strong sensation of wanting to take it out of my bag. I felt like I desperately wanted to write in that journal. Right now. Right here.
And why not? There was nothing stopping me.
The new librarian had suggested I start a diary. And Mr. McCarthy wanted a personal essay. He never collected free writingâjust looked at it in classâso I wouldn't have to give up the book. I let it fall into my hand.
Yes. I could do two things at once: start the diary and do the assignment. Now seemed as good of a time as ever to crack the first page.
I set the journal on my desk and carefully bent
back the cover. The pages inside weren't white or lined.
They were yellow, like the yolk of an egg, and the paper was thicker than regular paper. I ran my hand over a page, feeling the roughness, then, on impulse, bent down to smell it. The journal smelled woodsy: damp dirt and fresh pine mixed with smoky campfire. When I sat back up, the scent of wet dog lingered.
The book seemed like something from an antique store. I wondered why the librarian had been so willing to give it away.
Closing my eyes for a second, I imagined myself writing with an old-fashioned quill, instead of a plain old number two pencil. I let the image fade, then got started. At the top of the first page, I wrote:
My Boring Weekend
I underlined it twice for emphasis.
Uncertain what to write next, I leaned back in my chair.
I'd never had a problem getting started, but now I felt all blocked up. With this fancy journal lying across my desk, it felt like I needed to say something important. Something interesting. The pressure was on, and the words weren't flowing.
I chewed on my fingernail and glanced over at Sam, who always complained about free-writing assignments. She was already feverishly filling the second side of a page and working so furiously that she'd probably fill three more before I even began.
With a deep breath, I decided to dive in.
I guess I should call you that.
I can't believe that Mom is leaving me behind again! What did I do to deserve another weekend of bathtub scrubbing and ferret socks????
Okay, that wasn't so hard. I wondered why I'd always resisted keeping a diary. All I had to do was write down what I was feeling. My emotions poured out onto the page: mad, disappointed, annoyedâ¦ left out. I quickly filled one page and turned to the next.
Mr. McCarthy was wandering the room, helping students who were stuck. I hunched over my work so he wouldn't think I needed him, because I didn't. I was writing faster and with more emotion than ever before.
So, to sum it up: My plans are to have the most boring weekend in the history of the universe. While Sam gets to have the best weekend ever. Life is so unfair!
Pausing my pencil, I couldn't help glancing over at Sam, who was obviously describing in detail her own amazing weekend plans. Sam raised her head, smiled sympathetically at me, then continued on a new page.
I looked back at the journal, quickly rereading what I'd written. When I got to the bottom of the page, I gasped.
“Whoa! What? How theâ” I didn't realize I'd spoken out loud until I noticed that the entire class was staring at me.
“Is something wrong, Emma?” Mr. McCarthy asked, eyebrows wrinkled with mild concern.
“No. Nothing,” I muttered, but my heart was racing. “Just getting into the assignment.”
“All right. Keep your thoughts to the page, then, okay?” he said with a smile.
I nodded as he turned away to help Duke Garcia, the new kid who'd just moved into the house next door to Sam, retrieve his crutches.
Sam kept her eyes on me. “What's up?” she mouthed.
“Nothing,” I repeated, and looked back at the journal.
Right under where I had written
Life is so unfair!
, in a scratchy scrawl that was somehow cooler than my own handwriting, a reply had appeared:
Unfair, you say?
A familiar shiver went up my spine. The kind that comes when I'm reading something scary, which I do a lot to get in the mood to write my own stuff. The feeling usually comes during the first few pages, where everything seems so “normal,” but in the pit of my belly I know something dreadful is about to happenâ¦ and keep happening.
Sam doesn't understand why I like that feeling. She could read the same stories as me and have a thousand reasons why “whatever” could never happen. These are some of our best late-night discussions.
It's hard to explain to someone practical and grounded how a burst of adrenaline pumping in your head is enjoyable, but it isâenjoyable. Usually.
Today, not so much. From the moment I saw someone else's writing in the journal, I was feeling like a spring, wound up and ready to pop.
Where'd that writing come from?
I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't asleep. Okay. I was definitely awake.
I shut and rubbed my eyes, fully expecting that when I opened them, the extra words would have disappeared. But when I peeked back at the page, there was even more strange, scratchy writing.
The Scaremaster doesn't want
you to have a boring weekend.
You started the story, and now
I will finish it. My way!
“Augh!” I jumped up from my desk, knocking over my chair. Lightning fast, I slammed the journal shut and threw it into my backpack.
My pencil clattered to the floor and rolled to where Mr. McCarthy was standing. He bent low and picked it up.
“I believe you dropped this,” he said, walking slowly over to my desk. I could hear snickers echoing around the room as I tipped up my chair and sat back down at the same time that he returned my pencil.
My face felt red, and my mind was racing. All eyes were on me, and I had to focus on the most important pair. Mr. McCarthy stood over me for a long beat, then asked the same question he'd asked before. “Is something wrong, Emma?”
“No. Nothing,” I said in a rush of breath. The room was blazing hot.
The concern I'd seen in his eyes when I'd first interrupted class had turned to suspicion.
“I need to see your assignment,” my teacher said. With a meaningful sideways glance, he told the class to get back to work and mind their own business. I could actually feel their curious heat shift away from me.
“I finished it,” I told him. “All packed up and put away.” I gave him a small, stressed-out smile.
“Take it out, please,” Mr. McCarthy said. He gave me a stern look over his glasses.
“No thanks,” I replied. “It's really good. You can trust me. I have big plans for the weekend.”
“You do?” Sam cut in. “I thought you couldn't come over because of ferret-sitter?”
“Exactly. Ferrets are fabulous.” I glared at her, hoping she'd get the point. I didn't want to take the journal out of my backpack. That thing was possessed, and until I could get it away from school, I had to keep it closed. “I love ferrets.” I quickly added, “And their little-bitty socks.”
I couldn't show anyone the journal. Nobody would believe that those words had just appeared. Certainly not my mom. She would think I was working on a new story. Even
wondered if I had made up what had just happened.â¦
Sam would be the worst one to tell.
My best friend was a bit of a mad scientist. Whatever she was collecting at schoolâI had no doubt it was for an invention or experiment. Sam was grounded in exploring reality and for sure would never believe in an ancient-looking, supernatural, possibly demonic book that could write back.
I had to figure out what was going onâ¦ and I had to do it on my own.
I glanced down at the journal in my bag. If there was a way to get out of class, I could just take it back to the library and pretend nothing unusual had happened today. But Mr. McCarthy was blocking my direct path to the exit. Plus, he was still waiting for me to hand over the journal.
He held out his hand impatiently, and I stalled, thinking about what to do. The truth wasâ¦ I didn't want to give up the book. Not yet. There was a part of me that was curious. A part of me that wanted to know why that book felt like it belonged to me. Why, of all the journals on the rack, I had picked that one. Why it shocked meâand why it wrote to me. I wasn't making this stuff up, and like Sam the scientist, I wanted to find out the reasons.
One thing was certain: I wasn't touching that thing again before I had a chance to come up with a strategyâ¦ and that would take longer than I had at this moment.
Too much time had already passed since Mr. McCarthy had asked for the book.
I tapped my fingers on my desk, looked up at Mr. McCarthy, and gave him a huge, albeit fake, grin. “So, uh, what are
plans for the weekend, Mr. McCarthy?”
He didn't answer my question. Raising one eyebrow, he said, “Show me the journal.”
I shook my head.
He pointed to my backpack. “I'll have to give you a zero.â¦”
That ended the debate. I had no choice.
“Oh, fine,” I gave in. I pulled the book out of my bag, part relieved and part confused when it didn't shock me this time. Without a word, I handed it over and didn't dare to breathe as he opened the cover to the first page.
He read silently.
My blood was racing. I felt hot. Sweaty. And cold. With chills.
Then, after what seemed like forever, he closed the cover and handed the book back to me with a laugh. “What a creative way to approach the assignment.” Mr. McCarthy had a small Santa belly that shook as he chuckled. “Keep up the great work.”
And with that, he moved to the other side of the room, where Genevieve Lee had a question.
I studied the book. What had made Mr. McCarthy
laugh like that? Why wasn't he freaked out? There were so many questions spinning in my head.
Moving with extreme caution, I raised the edge of the cover, peeked under the leather binding, and turned to the first page.
“Huh?!” I whispered it this time, but the room was so quiet that the entire class turned to look at me yet again.
I ignored their stares.
My words were gone! Every pencil mark. Every period. It was as if the book had reset itself.
Now, on that same yellowed page was a title. It said:
Tales from the Scaremaster
And below that, the story began, in handwriting that looked a lot like mine.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Emma.â¦
I quickly shut the book again, shoved it deep into my backpack, and sat there, nervously tapping my foot on the floor until, finally, the bell rang. I had to get through two more periods before I'd have time to investigateâand maybe by then I'd feel calm enough to open the journal again. I told myself to act normal.
Act like nothing interesting was going on. It was going
to be a long afternoon pretending that I didn't have a talking book in my backpack, but I could do it.â¦
Sam and I were on our way out of class when Mr. McCarthy stopped me. “Hey, Emma, I didn't know you kept a journal.”
I was calm. Cool. Perfectly normal. “Just got it today. Thought I'd explore keeping a diary.” I gave him a big grin because everyone knows that teachers love students who do extra, unassigned work at home.
“It's a nice book. Unique,” he said. “Where'd you get it?”
I decided to be honest. “The new librarian gave it to me.”
His expression was odd. “We don't have a new librarian. I saw Mrs. Frankle at the staff meeting this morning.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I was at the top of a roller coaster, about to drop from the highest point. What was going on? No new librarian? “Maybe it was an assistant?”
“I don't think so.”
And with that, my mental roller coaster went over the edge, and I was in a free fall. My stomach flipped over, and I felt wave after wave of nausea.
“Are you sure?” I asked, one last-ditch effort. Maybe he was confused. “Mrs. Frankle was here this morning as in todayâ
today, this morning
“I'm positive, Emma.” Then, as if he had better things to do, my teacher said, “Well, time to get ready for the next class. Enjoy the journal, Emma. Happy writing!”
He pulled out a folder and began reviewing his notes. For him, the conversation was over. For me, it had just begun.
Sam was waiting for me at the door to walk to science together.
“What did McCarthy want?”
As she asked it, I blew past her, down the hall, running like an Olympic athlete into the library. I was out of breath, heart racing, brain on overload, when I shoved open the doors to findâ¦
Mrs. Frankle sitting at her desk.
“Hello, Emma,” she greeted me. “Can I help you find something?”
“Where's the new librarian?” I asked in a voice that was way too loud. “The young one with the funky eyes.”
“I'm the only librarian here,” she said in her library voice. “Yesterday, today, and always,” she added with a throaty chuckle.
“Where's the cart?” I rotated on my heels to look for the cart with the journals. It was gone.
“What cart?” Mrs. Frankle said, coming to me. “The book cart has been broken for a month. A wheel fell off, and it's not in the budget to fix it.” She was clearly concerned about me. “Sweetie, are you all right? Should I call your mother?”
“During recess today, there were journals on a cart right there!” I pointed to the empty spot near her desk.
My voice was so loud she put a finger to her lips. “Shhh.” Then she whispered, “No, there weren't. I've been here all day. No cart. No journals. No new librarian.” Mrs. Frankle put the back of her hand on my forehead. “Hmmm. I don't think you have a fever. But to be certain, I think I should walk you to the nurse.”
I lowered my voice and assured her, “I'm okay. I had a bad dream last night about the library and came to check it out.” I pinched my lips together and added, “Must have been my imagination.”
Mrs. Frankle laughed and pushed up her glasses, which I realized were the same ones the other librarian had been wearing! “You're just like your mom. She had a big imagination too. I used to have to warn her not to read scary stories before bed.” She put an arm around me and walked me into the hall. “Say hello to your mom for me, won't you?”
“Yeah. Sure,” I said absently while I looked deeply into Mrs. Frankle's eyes. She probably thought I was staring, but I had to see what color they were. The answer was brown. Just brown, no flecks of any other color.
But the glassesâ¦
I pulled myself together. “I'd better go. I'll tell my mom what you said.”