The Big Stink
By David Lubar
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2010 David Lubar
All rights reserved.
Raising a Stink
"This stinks," Mookie said.
"It certainly rots," Abigail said.
I had to agree — it wasn't a good situation. But compared with being turned into a walking dead kid, it wasn't a big deal, so I tried to look on the bright side. "At least it's only for a week or two." I shifted around in the tiny seat. If I crossed my feet, I could barely fit my legs under the little desk. I almost felt like I was wearing it.
"Hey, you know what? We can pretend we're giants." Mookie grabbed his desk with one hand and lifted it up a couple inches. Then he growled and shook it.
"Cool. I hadn't thought of that." I stared at my desk and pretended it was normal size and I was huge. That was fun. Down at the boardwalk in Wildwood, they have this giant chair. You can sit in it and get your picture taken. They have a giant pencil you can hold, too. It makes you look like a miniature person. I guess this was the opposite. The miniature desk and chair made me look like a giant.
"Well, fee fie yippee foe fum," Abigail said. "That makes it all better."
"I smell the blood of an Englishman." Mookie sniffed. "No, wait. My mistake. I smell last night's bean soup."
"Eww." Abigail slipped out of her seat, staggered away from Mookie, and sat at the empty desk on the other side of me. "Mookie, you need to register your digestive system with the government as a toxic-waste dump."
He patted his gut. "It's more like a national monument." He sniffed again. "Actually, I can't smell anything. I think I'm getting a cold. But you don't see me acting all grumpy."
"Yeah, what's up?" I asked Abigail. "You don't normally complain this much."
"This place brings back too many bad memories," she said. "I never thought I'd have to revisit them."
"It's all good memories for me," Mookie said. "Crayons, songs, puppets. Tons of good stuff. Especially the cupcakes. I remember lots of cupcakes." He smacked my shoulder. "Remember?"
I thought back. "Sure. With big globs of icing."
"Parents baked them every time someone had a birthday," Mookie said. "I had three birthdays one year because Mom won two hundred cupcakes in a radio contest and she wanted to get rid of them. I guess nobody kept track. Or they just loved cupcakes as much as I do. We don't have cupcakes nearly enough now. I miss this place."
I remembered those cupcakes. They were green. I think they were made with broccoli or zucchini or something. But almost anything tastes great if it has enough icing on it, so nobody complained.
Mookie stood up on his chair and shouted, "Hey, any birthdays coming up? Don't forget the cupcakes. You have to bring them. It's a rule here."
I guess I had good and bad memories, which kind of canceled each other out. Back then, the art teacher was always putting my stuff on the display board and telling me I had talent. I'd had a mean first-grade teacher who yelled at all the kids and smelled like mouthwash, but she quit, and the teacher who took over for her was really nice. So, unlike Abigail, I didn't mind being here again — except that everything was too small for us fifth-graders. Not only were the chairs and desks tiny, but the water fountains were so low, they looked like they were made for dogs.
"Hey, come on. Birthdays?" Mookie shouted. He stepped up on the desk. I heard it groan, but it didn't break. "It doesn't have to be right now. It can be any time this month."
The bell rang and Ms. Otranto, our language arts and social studies teacher, walked into the room. She stared at Mookie.
"Sorry," he said as he climbed off his desk and sat back down. "I was taking a poll."
As Ms. Otranto walked toward the desk in front, which was full sized, she looked up at the drawings of nursery rhyme characters that lined the wall above the blackboard, sighed, and said pretty much the same thing I'd just said. "Don't worry, class. It's just for one or two weeks. We should be happy they had room for us. All the other fifth-graders have to double up and share classrooms."
So there we were, crammed into a first-grade classroom at Borloff Lower Elementary School while our own school — Belgosi Upper Elementary — got cleaned and disinfected. Apparently, the building had developed some sort of dangerous mold spore problem, thanks to the leak in the cafeteria ceiling. This had nothing to do with the giant slime mold I'd run into — actually, dived into — the other week. It was something that had happened to a lot of schools in the state. Either way, we were stuck here until the Board of Health said it was safe to go back to Belgosi.
Mold spores aren't good for kids to breathe. That's not a problem for me. I don't need to breathe. I could sit at the bottom of the ocean for a month without any problem. I could walk through a cloud of poison gas and not even blink. Mookie could turn every pot of bean soup in the whole universe into toxic gas bombs and I wouldn't care.
I'm sort of half-dead. I've been like that since my friend Abigail's mad-scientist uncle accidentally splashed me with a whole bunch of Hurt-Be-Gone. I don't feel pain. I don't need to sleep. I don't have a heartbeat, either.
As for being giants, I have to say Mookie nailed it with that description. Not only were the chairs and everything really small, but so were the Borloff kids. At Belgosi, we were already the big kids. Our school was for grades three through five. Being the fifth-graders, we were the biggest kids in the place.
Here at Borloff, we got to walk through the halls to our classroom with kids from kindergarten, first, and second grade. The kindergartners seemed especially small. I was almost afraid that I'd step on one, or that Mookie would trip over his laces, stumble into a group of them in the hallway, and crush them like bugs. Mookie trips a lot.
So we were the giants. Until the real giants shuffled into our classroom. Twenty of them. Big and scary. They didn't look happy.
The giants carried small chairs, which made them look even bigger. A man wearing a wrinkled green sportcoat and a stained red necktie walked in behind them. Even though he was a grown-up, and taller than most of the giants, he seemed kind of shrunken. He nodded at Ms. Otranto and said, "They found mold in the middle school. It appears we'll have to double up."
She turned toward us and said, "Pull your desks together as close as you can so Mr. McGavin's class can join us."
I jammed my desk against Mookie's, and Abigail scrunched closer to me. All of us pulled in and scooted forward. The big kids — I think they had to be eighth-graders — squeezed in around us and put their chairs down.
"Any of you have a birthday coming up?" Mookie asked them. "This is important. The right answer could mean cupcakes."
They ignored him.
Even after they sat, they were way taller than us. I felt like I'd been dropped into the middle of a redwood forest.
"Maybe we should read Gulliver's Travels to them," Ms. Otranto said to Mr. McGavin.
He laughed. "It would certainly seem appropriate."
The two teachers huddled together and continued talking. I glanced toward Abigail. "It's a book about a guy who visits giants and miniature people," she said. "It's actually an allegory."
"Thanks." I didn't need Internet access when Abigail was around. She could pretty much answer anything. Though, half the time, I didn't understand the answer. I guess I could have asked her what an allegory was, but I really didn't need to know. I was pretty sure it wouldn't be on our next test.
Ms. Otranto turned back to us and said, "What a wonderful opportunity this will be. Mr. McGavin and I have decided that we can create lessons that will be worthwhile for both our classes. We can all learn so much from each other."
I heard several snorts from the back of the room. "They're gonna learn pain," someone muttered.
I glanced over my shoulder and found myself staring at the biggest kid in the group. He looked dangerously familiar, with the mindless eyes of a slug and the thick skull of some sort of tree-climbing ape.
"Who's that?" I whispered to Mookie. "He looks like Rodney."
Rodney Mullasco was the school bully. I didn't like the thought of him being crammed into a classroom with little kids. Right now, somewhere in Borloff, an extremely unlucky first- or second-grader was getting his ear flicked.
"Oh no ...," Mookie said. "That's got to be Ridley."
"Rodney's big brother. I've heard he's even meaner than Rodney."
"Oh, great." I wasn't sure my own ears could survive a flicking from that monster. His fingers were the size of jumbo hot dogs.
"What are you worried about?" Abigail asked. "You've tackled evil enemy spies and slime monsters."
I pointed over my shoulder. "None of them looked this dangerous. And we're going to be stuck in here for all our classes. He can almost reach us from where he's sitting."
I turned back and stared at him. I can do that without getting noticed. Since I'm not really alive, people don't seem to sense that I'm staring. Of course, that works best when I'm behind them. It doesn't work very well at all when I'm looking right at them and they happen to glance in my direction.
Ridley caught my eye. I had to make a fast decision. If I looked away, he might decide I was scared, and he might also decide it would be fun to scare me even more. From what I'd seen, bullies like to pick a target for special attention. So it would be a bad idea to look away.
On the other hand, if I kept staring, he might think I was challenging him. That would be ridiculous, of course. He was almost big enough to put me in his pocket. But I had a feeling logical thinking wasn't his strong point. Stare or look away?
I didn't have to do either.
"Bee!" Abigail shrieked.
Everyone turned toward her as she leaped from her seat and swatted at the air. Kids near her ducked. I ducked, too, even though I didn't have to worry about pain anymore. I didn't want anyone to wonder why I wasn't scared. Ferdinand let out a scream and tried to squeeze under his desk. I noticed even Ridley had flinched. I guess eighth-graders weren't too big to be bothered by bees.
"Settle down, class," Ms. Otranto said. "The bee is more afraid of you than you are of it."
I'd bet she'd never been stung. I'd only been stung twice, but I still remembered how much it hurt. I turned around and faced forward. "I didn't know you were afraid of insects," I whispered to Abigail. I'd seen her lift a piece of rotting wood to study what was crawling around underneath it, or squat by a spiderweb while the spider was feeding.
"I'm not," she whispered back. "I'm afraid of seeing you get squashed by that monster. So I figured a distraction would be good."
"Thanks. It's usually Mookie who does something like that."
"He's too busy sniffling, sneezing, and begging for cupcakes. Besides, I don't think a gas cloud would have gotten Ridley's attention," Abigail said. "But he's definitely the type who would react to a panicked scream."
"I know what you mean." Bullies definitely had special radar for zooming in on fear. I hoped Ferdinand hadn't caught Ridley's attention when he dived under his desk.
Ms. Otranto and Mr. McGavin started our lesson. When it was time for math and science, our science teacher, Ms. Delambre, and the seventh-grade science teacher, Mr. Verne, came in.
After that, we got to go out for recess, just like at Belgosi. Except we had to share the school yard with the little kids and the big kids.
"Where should we go?" I saw there were already kids swarming over the swings and the other equipment. The big kids had snagged the ball field for kickball. Their version seemed to involve a lot of tackling, punching, pushing, and tripping. The little kids were playing hopscotch or tag.
We ended up sitting against the back of the building. That seemed to be the safest spot.
"Hmmm," I said as I watched kids running wild. "I don't see any teachers out here."
"I'll bet they all think someone else has playground duty," Abigail said. "With three schools crammed in here, there are going to be a lot of mix-ups."
"This makes me want to be real nice to the little kids," Mookie said as five enormous eighth-graders played catch with one of the smaller fourth-graders from our school.
"Yeah, I can really understand how they feel." I thought about BUM's mission. BUM was the group that was training me to be a spy. They'd told me about their goal when they first recruited me. We protect people who can't protect themselves. I was part of BUM. I had to protect that kid. I stood and started to walk across the playground.
Abigail caught up with me and grabbed my arm. "I know what you're thinking, but it isn't necessary. There are some mean kids out there, but most kids aren't like that. Most kids are pretty nice. Even the big kids. Look over there."
She was right. Four of the other big kids — two boys and two girls — were heading toward the bullies. They stopped the game. One girl even gave the fourth-grader a hug.
"I guess you just notice the mean ones more," I said.
"Especially when they're holding you up by your feet," Mookie said. He pointed across the playground, where Ridley was dangling Ferdinand over a puddle. "I hope he laced his sneakers real tight."
Lots of kids were watching, but nobody seemed willing to step up. "I gotta do something." I wasn't sure what. Maybe I could call in an air strike, or start a rock slide. Except we weren't anywhere near an air force base or a mountain of loose rocks.
"Wait," Abigail said.
"Nobody is going to stop him," I said. "It's up to me."
She tapped her watch. "Saved by the bell. Three, two, one, now!" At that instant, the bell rang, and Ridley dropped Ferdinand.
"You set your watch to exactly match the school clock?" I asked.
"Doesn't everyone?" Abigail said.
We headed in for lunch. They'd sliced up the periods so everyone could have a chance to sit and eat. Ours was the first of the three lunches, which meant the place was pretty clean. I didn't want to think what it would look like after the third group was finished. Probably like a trash pile.
"Some things never change," Mookie said as we reached the cafeteria.
He was right. It was just like the first day of fifth grade. "This stinks," I said.
"It definitely brings back bad memories," Abigail said.
Snot What I Wanted
"Where should we sit?" I asked.
The popular kids had already grabbed the nice tables. We ended up in the back of the room, near a noisy vent fan. The table had one short leg and rocked every time anyone moved.
Denali shook the table, then held up the bun that came with her soup. "Rock and roll," she said.
"Hard as a rock." Mookie bounced his roll off his tray. He sniffled, then wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
Denali put her roll on top of her head. "Rock on!"
"Hey!" Adam slapped his forehead, then looked up at the ceiling.
A drop of water had splashed on his head. I looked up over him. There was a leak in the ceiling — just like back at Belgosi. It wasn't raining outside, but that didn't matter — the water came from somewhere in the pipes.
"This isn't fair. How come we always get the worst spot?" I pointed across the room at the sunny table by the window where Shawna and her friends were giggling and chatting. The way the light hit them, they looked like one of those old Dutch paintings you see in the museums. "We have just as much right as they do to sit where we want. Or them." I pointed at the jocks.
Another drop hit Adam on the head. "I guess this place will get closed next," he said.
"Yay — no school anywhere," Mookie said.
"We'll never be that lucky," Adam said. "They'll find somewhere to put us." He got up and went to the other side of the table. Another drop fell and splashed on the empty seat. "Hey, Nate, pass me my burger."
I handed Adam his burger. He opened his mouth to take a bite; then, just before chomping down, he stopped and sniffed. He removed the burger from between his teeth, held it closer to his nose, and sniffed again.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"It smells funny," he said.
"It's cafeteria food," Denali said. "It's supposed to smell funny. They aren't allowed to sell anything that smells good. It's a state law."
"Not this funny." Adam thrust it under her nose. "Take a whiff."
Denali pulled back. "No way."
"How about you?" Adam asked Ferdinand. "Take a whiff." He held the burger out. Ferdinand screamed and dived under the table.
"Good thing it wasn't the chicken cutlet," Denali said. "That's really terrifying."
"Here." Adam turned toward Mookie. "You're the food expert. Is this bad?" "I can't smell anything." Mookie pointed at his nose. "I got a cold."
"No kidding, Abigail said. "You've been sniffling and snorting like a bloodhound all morning."
"No, I haven't." It looked like Mookie was about to say more, but instead he wrinkled his nose, shut his eyes, and let out one monster of a sneeze. Right on the burger.
"Hey!" Adam yanked his hand back and stared at the burger, which now glistened like a large light-brown gem. Or maybe the eye of a fly would be a better description.
"Sorry." Mookie wiped his nose with his palm. "I guess I messed up your burger." (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Big Stink by David Lubar. Copyright © 2010 David Lubar. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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