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Zombies Don't Cry
By Rusty Fischer
Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 Rusty Fischer
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Curse of Third Period Home Ec
My Home Ec class is cursed. Well, that is, if you believe my best friend, Hazel (who's always been a tad prone to histrionics, so—all I'm saying is maybe you shouldn't believe her).
We're now two weeks into Muffin Madness Month in Third Period Home Ec, but do you think that matters to Hazel? No, not one bit. How do I know? Because, while I'm stirring together the dry ingredients for our Mexican cornbread muffins, Hazel is still staring at Missy Cunningham's empty stool.
Just like she did yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.
And before she started staring at Missy Cunningham's empty stool, it was Sally Kellogg's. And before that, it was Amy Jaspers'. (Hmmm, come to think of it, there might be something to this Home Ec Curse after all.)
"Come on, Hazel," I say with mounting irritation. "Those eggs aren't going to break themselves."
"Ugghh." She sighs, sliding them over our flour-dusted cooking station so I can do the deed. "You know I'm a vegetarian. A strict vegetarian. Breaking eggs? That's like committing murder." When I raise an eyebrow, she counters, "Well, at least, poultry abortion."
Hmm, for a strict vegetarian, she sure didn't mind when I swung by to pick her up for school this morning with a bagful of Egg McMuffins on the passenger seat. I guess it's not really "egg abortion" once they're slathered on a hot steaming grill, fried in crackling grease, covered with Canadian bacon, and slid into a toasted English muffin with a bubbling blanket of American cheese.
I shake my head, not amused, and glance at the butter-stained recipe card before breaking in the four eggs. "Thanks for the help," I say, waving a floury hand in front of her eyes, which have glazed over completely while she's been staring at Missy's empty stool. "Hazel, seriously, enough with the whole Home Ec Curse thing, okay? It's been over a week of this now, me cooking muffin recipe after muffin recipe, you staring at Missy's empty stool. You're starting to creep me out already."
"Creeping you out?" She finally glances in my direction. "You're the one baking like there's no tomorrow, like nothing's going on here, like we're not in some kind of ... cursed ... Home Ec room."
"Cursed." I scoff. "Hazel, quit overdramatizing things. I mean, I know it's physically impossible for you not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but at least try. For me? Just this once? Statistically speaking, it's not even that big a surprise that we've ... lost ... a few students this year."
Hazel looks at me like I'm an alien pod person who's just inhabited her best friend's body and hasn't quite gotten a grasp of these things called human emotions yet. "Lost? What's that, some kind of code for 'not one, not two, but three of your fellow Home Ec students have died since the school year started'? Not gone missing, not run away, not gone on to star in an episode of 16 and Pregnant. Died! As in, dead, forever, six feet under, worm food! And let me remind you, Maddy, it's only mid-October. That's, like, well, that's like one student a month! If that's not a curse, well, I don't know what is."
I'd look around to see if anybody is listening, but ever since our fellow students have started dropping like flies, Home Ec class really is a ghost town lately. Most students transferred out after Missy's accident last week, and the rest, like Hazel and I, really, really needed the easy A to round out our college transcripts. Otherwise, trust me, coolest Home Ec teacher on the planet or not, Hazel and I would have bugged out after "accident" number two.
"No, it's not code for anything," I finally answer, "but, I mean, accidents do happen." As I argue, I can't help but wonder who I'm trying so hard to convince.
"Yes, Maddy, accidents do happen—to old people, to sick people, to careless people, to reckless drivers, to stoners and drunks. But to little Missy Cunningham, who never crossed a bike path without a crossing guard in tow? To Sally Kellogg, who was so fat she could have fallen down a flight of stairs and bounced right back up without a scratch? And to poor Amy Jaspers, who, God love her, was so scared of her own shadow she only left her house to come to school and go right back home every day? Come on, Maddy. Wise up. I don't see why you're ignoring the facts. I mean, you're supposed to be the logical one in this best friendship. So why am I the one making the most sense right now?"
I give Hazel a knowing scowl and open my mouth to lecture her, but before I can, she sees where I'm headed.
"And, Maddy," she says, "please don't give me the 'I'm the coroner's daughter, I think I would know if our Home Ec class was cursed' speech again, okay? I've heard it three times this week, and I don't need to hear it again."
"Well," I say, using my frustration at Hazel's unreasonableness to mix the lumps right out of our muffins, "I am the coroner's daughter, and I like to think I would know if our Home Ec class was ... cursed. There, I said it, but only because it's true, Hazel."
And it was. Back in August, Amy Jaspers fell into a ditch and broke her neck on the way to school one morning. Coroner's determination? Accident. Then, in September, Sally Kellogg choked on a chicken leg. Coroner's determination? Accident. And finally, last week, poor Missy Cunningham fell asleep while driving home after work late one night and drove into a light pole. Coroner's determination? Accident. It just so happened, all three girls were in our junior Home Ec class. (Emphasis on were.)
Hence, Hazel's new fascination with the fabled Curse of Third Period Home Ec.
"Girls?" Ms. Haskins nods toward our oven timer, which indicates fifteen minutes left. "Cutting it a little close this morning, aren't we?"
You know that one teacher in school who's cool enough to be your best friend? Who's hot enough to be your girl crush? Who's fashionable enough to be a guest judge on Project Runway? Who's smart enough to make Alex Trebek look like one of those clowns from Jackass? Well, at Barracuda Bay High School, that role is currently being played by none other than our Third Period Home Ec teacher, Ms. Haskins.
Ms. Haskins still has one of those young girl voices, a little throaty, a little scratchy, like maybe she could be a VJ on MTV or a spokesperson for a young, hip bikini company.
I mumble something about "stubborn lumps in our batter," and Ms. Haskins winks knowingly before moving on to the next table. The perfume wafting from her sultry departure quails on anything we could ever bake for her.
I look at Ms. Haskins as she walks away.
Hazel does, too. "At least Ms. Haskins is still in mourning," she says. "You could learn a thing or two about sensitivity for your fallen classmates from her."
I have to admit, ever since her Third Period Home Ec class became "cursed," Ms. Haskins' wardrobe has shifted from the fun, funky, vibrant red tones she wore the first week of school to a dowdier black-and-white and black-and-gray and black ensemble.
Today she has on sensible but stylish black pumps, a semitight gray skirt, a black beaded tank top under a matching gray, summer-weight blazer with black buttons. She always wears her hair up on cooking days, and today it's held in place with two black wooden chopsticks. And, of course, her glasses are black with sleek, stylish rectangular rims.
At last the muffins are done, and I open the oven to reveal a bubbling tin full of soft, crusty Mexican cornbread hissing steam and oozing another fresh A for dear old Table 2. The smell is enough to rouse even Hazel from her staring match with Missy's barren stool. She and I split the first muffin and share our approval.
Then I slice them, plate them, and promptly hand them over to Hazel. It's a tradition during "share time," the last ten minutes or so of class when we go around the room sampling each other's mostly delectable muffin creations, that Hazel does the presenting.
Forget the fact that I did all the work, that I beat the eggs and sifted the flour and poured the batter and Hazel's done nothing but stare at Missy's stool all morning. This is Hazel's show, and I'm merely the assistant chef. After all, this isn't about Hazel getting us another A or Hazel pleasing Ms. Haskins or even Hazel helping me. As usual, this is all about Hazel.
Not that I mind all that much. In the 11 years since we've been best friends, ever since she walked up to me in my backyard one summer day and said, "I'm your new neighbor; we're going to best friends. Any questions?" it's always been about Hazel.
Hazel the Girl Scout.
Hazel the wannabe fashion designer.
Hazel the head of Cheer Club.
Hazel the class secretary.
But that works for me. Hazel likes to be out front; I'm happy hanging in the back. Hazel likes to talk; I like to listen. Hazel likes bright pink; I like faded khaki. Hazel likes to make the introductions; I'm happy being quickly forgotten.
It's not that I'm a wallflower, per se. Far from it. I have my own style, low-key as it is, my own friends (okay, my own friend), my own passions, my own pursuits. It's just that, well, none of them are quite as interesting—or quite so obvious—as Hazel's.
So we go around the classroom, mostly deserted now, the dozen or so students still brave, or stupid, or desperate, enough to sit in Third Period Home Ec sharing hooded smiles and muffin slices while Hazel works the room.
"Like the crusty tops?" she asks Table 4 with a flourish. "I added butter for the last five minutes."
Mimicking pouring a can with her bubblegum-pink-painted fingers, she stage whispers to Table 6, "The secret to the fluffy innards is leaving in just a little juice from the can of Mexican corn."
Also an utter fabrication.
At last we find ourselves lingering a few steps away from the darkest, coldest, emptiest corner of the room, and Hazel's show abruptly, unapologetically ends.
"Good luck," she whispers, already backing away from the dreaded Table 9.
"Come on, Hazel," I say. "Don't do this to me again. Just once it'd be nice if you came with me back here and had my back."
"No way," she says, inching back, back toward the safety of Table 2 and our own little neck of the Home Ec class woods. "I tried that the first week of school, and he practically spit my pig-in-a-blanket back on the serving tray."
"Just ... Hazel ... please." My back is turned to Table 9. It's all to no avail. Already she's perched her ample rump on her tiny stool, arms crossed tightly across her chest and texting God-knows-who to keep from looking guilty (it's not working). And so it's up to me again to face Table 9 all by my lonesome.
Not that I blame Hazel, of course.
After all, it is here that Bones sits. Bones, he of the gangly six feet four, 160-pound frame, of the ever present white ski cap, even in Florida's trademark 90-degree weather, the shiny white track suit, and the spotless white sneakers.
But it's not his height or even his weight that earned him the nickname Bones. (Come to think of it, I don't even know his real name.) It's his nearly skeletal face. Pale as the white plate on which only a few slivers of our Mexican cornbread muffins now remain, his cheeks are hollow, his eyes shrunken, his lips razor thin and pulled back from his large, almost horselike teeth.
And his eyes—ugghh—they're this kind of filmy yellow, like maybe he hasn't quite gotten over some rare disease or something. I mean, I know I shouldn't make fun of a diseased person, and normally I wouldn't but there's something so inherently unlikable about Bones that it's impossible to have any charity in my heart for him what. So. Ever.
I would skip Bones' corner altogether and get right back to explaining to Hazel why our Home Ec class isn't cursed, but it's not only how the muffins taste that affects our grade. Presentation is a big part as well. (Hence Hazel's weekly "come taste my world-famous muffins" tour.)
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Ms. Haskins watching my performance, so I stride right up to Bones who, high atop a stool at his station, subtly looks down on me. "Care for a nibble, Bones?" I don't know why I say it; it just comes out. Abject fear will do that to a person.
He snickers. "Anytime, Maddy. After all, you do look good enough to eat." His voice is deep, like black-hole deep, and dry; we're talking fall-leaf dry.
"Of the cornbread," I insist, deadpan, holding out the plate for emphasis.
He shakes his head.
"Your loss," I say under my breath as I turn around. I'm thinking, Phew, at least that's over with for the week!
Then he reaches his hand out to grab me, and it's like my arm's being dipped in ice water up to the elbow. The cold from his skin is jarring, not just unsettling or flinchworthy but actually jarring, and his grip is like a steel bear trap on my arm.
"Let ... me ... go," I whisper, struggling to break free. On my fourth or fifth yank, he finally unhands me and I would be sailing across the room if his better half, Dahlia Caruthers, weren't standing right there to catch me.
"Watch it!" She shoves me off of her and back into Bones.
I shiver, again. It's like bouncing from one glacier to another. Gheez, they really need to work on the ventilation back here; these kids are freezing to death. (Maybe that's why they're so mean all the time.)
"Sorry. I was just offering Bones a taste of our cornbread."
Dahlia smiles, inching forward, her own plate held high. Whereas my plate is mostly empty, hers is almost completely full. I can see why. While, thanks to Hazel—or so she would have the class believe—our cornbread is fluffy and moist, tender and juicy, theirs is dry and thin, almost like Mexican biscotti left out for a month.
"Try a little of this," Dahlia says.
Though Bones is a decade out of style and centuries out of touch, Dahlia is on the cutting edge fashionwise, her violet bangs cut clipper-straight across her powdered white forehead, her lashes thick and black, her maroon lip gloss creamy and sparkly at the same time.
The weird thing is, and maybe this is why they're a couple but ... she has yellow eyes, too. Don't get me wrong. They're much easier to take on Dahlia than they are on Bones, but who'da thunk the only two folks in Barracuda Bay High School with yellow eyes would hook up?
Her look is somewhere between Goth and glam, with a heavy dose of glitter and gloss for good measure. Today she has on high-heeled black wedges, burgundy hose, a leather miniskirt, and a sheer platinum bustier under a white leather jacket. Barely five feet five, she is Mutt to Bones' Jeff (or is it Jeff to his Mutt)? Either way, even though she's actually an inch shorter than me, she seems a foot taller, thanks, no doubt, to her brass balls and titanium confidence.
I notice that somehow Dahlia has managed to nudge me even closer to Bones. So now, with an oven on one side and a row of fake kitchen cabinets on the other, I am effectively hemmed into their dark little corner of our Home Ec universe. Over Dahlia's head I see Ms. Haskins bent over her grade book, her back to me, so I turn to Dahlia and grab a biscotti-slashcornbread plank and take a bite to keep the peace and get out of this cold, dark corner alive.
Wow, it's bad. Deathly bad. Just ... awful.
"Well?" she says.
I hear the stool slide out from beneath Bones. I can feel his eyes on my back as he stands to his full height; if we were outside, he might block out the sun.
I cough, then swallow dryly. "Not bad. I'm thinking maybe next time, less flour and more butter ... you know, to make it a smidge flakier." (Did I just say smidge? I did, didn't I?)
I'm stammering, trying to find anything nice to say, when the bell finally rings. I smile, thinking, Saved by the bell, but Bones and Dahlia hardly budge. If anything, they move closer.
"Guys, seriously, didn't you hear? The bell. I'll be late to Art class."
Dahlia and Bones snicker as they gather up their books and stand to one side. Dahlia's yellow eyes grow small and suddenly cruel. The room grows ten degrees cooler, but between the two of them I might as well be standing in a walk-in freezer, so there's not much farther down the Celsius scale we can go here.
"Well," Dahlia says, "we wouldn't want that now, would we?"
"Quite right," Bones says. "The world needs more artists."
Dahlia looks around the room and settles her glare on me. "Yeah, Bones. Kind of like this class needs more warm bodies."
The laughter oozes out of them, like steam from fresh-baked Mexican cornbread (only colder, and deader, and not quite so steamy).
I open my mouth to say something, to defend my fallen classmates—Missy, Sally, and Amy*mdash;to preserve their honor against these, these ... creeps ... and they're practically daring me to. Like they want to talk about the Curse of Third Period Home Ec, like they can't wait to tell me something, anything, I don't already know.
Excerpted from Zombies Don't Cry by Rusty Fischer Copyright © 2011 by Rusty Fischer. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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