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"Luke, we have something, uh, important to tell you," says a boy's father.
The boy is sitting across from his parents at the dining room table. He's been called down here from his room, where he was happily rereading a comic book (Doom-Kids' Berserk Revenge!) and sampling from his collection of candy bars.
"All right then, Luke," says the father, looking stern. "No use beating around the bush. Here it is: You're not actually our son. Got it? Today your real parents will come and take you back with them."
"Huh?" says Luke, and he blinks.
"Luke, please don't make this more difficult than it has to be," says the mother.
"But . . .like it here," says Luke. "I like you guys. You're cool parents."
"Well of course we are!" harrumphs the father. "But haven't you ever wondered why we're slim, handsome, attractive people, full of positive energy and style? And you're kind of a porky, boring schlub, always whining and stuffing your face?"
"My God, do you stuff that face of yours!" says the mother, with a laugh that reflects contempt more than sympathy.
"B-but you're my mom and dad -- don't you love me?" blurts Luke, the full horror beginning to dawn on him.
"Didn't you hear? We're not your mother and father!" mutters the father through clenched teeth.
"Love you? How could we?" says the mother. She laughs again. "What an absurd idea! I mean, I suppose you're a decent enough kid and all -- but -- "
"But I like it here. It's my home!" cries Luke.
"Of course you like it, it's a huge, marvelous, well-furnishedhouse!" snaps the father. "We're wealthy and successful people, my wife and I, who wouldn't want to live with us? But the party's over, bud. So go upstairs and get packing."
"No, wait -- " sputters Luke.
"That's the doorbell," says the mother, standing up. "Must be your real parents now. My, they're early."
A stumpy, dumpy man and a stumpy, dumpy woman come into the dining room and throw their arms around Luke. "Son, it's great to see you again," they tell him, wiping away tears.
After he's given five minutes to pack, they drive him away in a truly smelly old car, with a brief, sudden stop to confiscate and throw out his collection of candy bars. "We don't tolerate that stuff, Ebenezer," he's told. That's his real name, apparently.
By evening he's lying numb in his new bedroom, which is a small, airless room in a small, dark, airless house next to a loud expressway. No more comics allowed either.
And that's how suddenly, and chillingly, a person's whole life can change.NASTYbook. Copyright © by Barry Yourgrau. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.