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R.L. Stine

Goosebumps - 12

(An Undead Scan v1.5)


 

 

Judith Bellwood deliberately tripped me in math class.

I saw her white sneaker shoot out into the aisle. Too late.

I was carrying my notebook up to the chalkboard to put a problem on the board. My eyes were on the scrawls in my notebook. I’m not the neatest writer in the world.

And before I could stop, I saw the white sneaker shoot out. I tripped over it and went sprawling to the floor, landing hard on my elbows and knees. Of course all the papers flew out of my notebook and scattered everywhere.

And the whole class thought it was a riot. Everyone was laughing and cheering as I struggled to pull myself up. Judith and her pal, Anna Frost, laughed hardest of all.

I landed on my funny bone, and the pain vibrated up and down my whole body. As I climbed to my feet and then bent to pick up my notebook papers, I knew my face was as red as a tomato.

“Nice move, Sam!” Anna called, a big grin on her face.

“Instant replay!” someone else shouted.

I glanced up to see a triumphant glow in Judith’s green eyes.

I’m the tallest girl in my seventh-grade class. No. Correct that. I’m the tallest kid in my seventh-grade class. I’m at least two inches taller than my friend, Cory Blinn, and he’s the tallest guy.

I’m also the biggest klutz who ever stumbled over the face of the earth. I mean, just because I’m tall and slender doesn’t mean I have to be graceful. And believe me, I’m not.

But why is it such a riot when I stumble over a wastebasket or drop my tray in the lunchroom or trip over someone’s foot in math class?

Judith and Anna are just cruel, that’s all.

I know they both call me “Stork” behind my back. Cory told me they do.

And Judith is always making fun of my name, which is Byrd. Samantha Byrd. “Why don’t you fly away, Byrd!” That’s what she’s always saying to me. Then she and Anna laugh as if that’s the funniest joke they’ve ever heard.

“Why don’t you fly away, Byrd!”

Ha-ha. Big joke.

Cory says that Judith is just jealous of me. But that’s stupid. I mean, why should Judith be jealous? She’s not nine feet tall. She’s about five-two, perfect for a twelve-year-old. She’s graceful. She’s athletic. And she’s really pretty, with pale, creamy skin, big green eyes, and wavy, copper-colored hair down to her shoulders.

So what’s to be jealous about?

I think Cory is just trying to make me feel better—and doing a lousy job of it.

Anyway, I gathered all my papers together and shoved them back into the notebook. Sharon asked if I was okay. (Sharon is my teacher. We call all the teachers by their first names here at Montrose Middle School.)

I muttered that I was fine, even though my elbow was throbbing like crazy. And I copied the problem onto the board.

The chalk squeaked, and everyone groaned and complained. I can’t help it. I’ve never been able to write on the board without squeaking the chalk.

It isn’t such a big deal—is it?

I heard Judith whisper some crack about me to Anna, but I couldn’t hear what it was. I glanced up from the problem to see the two of them snickering and smirking at me.

And wouldn’t you know it—I couldn’t solve the problem. I had something wrong with the equation, and I couldn’t figure out what.

Sharon stepped up behind me, her skinny arms crossed over her ugly chartreuse sweater. She moved her lips as she read what I had written, trying to see where I had gone wrong.

And of course Judith raised her hand and called out, “I see the problem, Sharon. Byrd can’t add. Four and two is six, not five.”

I could feel myself blushing again.

Where would I be without Judith to point out my mistakes to the whole class?

Everyone was laughing again. Even Sharon thought it was funny.

And I had to stand there and take it. Good old Samantha, the class klutz. The class idiot.

My hand was shaking as I erased my stupid mistake and wrote in the right numbers.

I was so angry. At Judith. And at myself.

But I kept it together as I walked—carefully—back to my seat. I didn’t even glance at Judith as I walked past her.

I kept it together until Home Ec. class that afternoon.

Then it got ugly.


 

 

Daphne is our teacher in Home Ec. I like Daphne. She is a big, jolly woman with several chins and a great sense of humor.

The rumor is that Daphne always makes us bake cakes and pies and brownies so that she can eat them all after we leave the class.

That’s kind of mean, I think. But it’s probably a little bit true.

We have Home Ec. right after lunch, so we’re never very hungry. Most of what we make wouldn’t make good dog food, anyway. So it mostly gets left in the Home Ec. room.

I always look forward to the class. Partly because Daphne is a fun teacher. And partly because it’s the one class where there’s no homework.

The only bad thing about Home Ec. class is that Judith is in it, too.

Judith and I had a little run-in in the lunchroom. I sat down at the far end of the table, as far away from her as I could get. But I still heard her telling a couple of eighth-graders, “Byrd tried to fly in math class.”

Everyone laughed and stared at me.

“You tripped me, Judith!” I shouted angrily. My mouth was full of egg salad, which dribbled down my chin when I shouted.

And everyone laughed at me again.

Judith said something, which I couldn’t hear over all the noise in the lunchroom. She smirked at me and tossed her red hair behind her shoulders.

I started to get up and go over to her. I don’t know what I was thinking of doing. But I was so angry, I wasn’t thinking too clearly.

Luckily, Cory appeared across the table. He dropped his lunch down on the table, turned the chair around backwards the way he always does, and sat down.

“What’s four plus two?” he teased.

“Forty-two,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “Do you believe Judith?” I asked bitterly.

“Of course I believe Judith,” he said, pulling open his brown lunchbag. “Judith is Judith.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped.

He shrugged. A grin broke out across his face. “I don’t know.”

Cory is kind of cute. He has dark brown eyes that sort of crinkle up in the corners, a nose that’s a little too long, and a funny, crooked smile.

He has great hair, but he never brushes it. So he never takes off his cap. It’s an Orlando Magic cap, even though he doesn’t know or care about the team. He just likes the cap.

He peeked into his lunchbag and made a face.

“Again?” I asked, wiping egg salad off the front of my T-shirt with a napkin.

“Yeah. Again,” he replied glumly. He pulled out the same lunch his father packed for him every single morning. A grilled cheese sandwich and an orange. “Yuck!”

“Why does your dad give you grilled cheese every day?” I asked. “Didn’t you tell him it gets cold and slimy by lunchtime?”

“I told him,” Cory groaned, picking up one half of the sandwich in one hand and examining it as if it were some sort of science lab specimen. “He said it’s good protein.”

“How can it be good protein if you throw it in the trash every day?” I asked.

Cory grinned his crooked grin. “I didn’t tell him that I throw it in the trash every day.” He shoved the rubbery sandwich back into the bag and started to peel the orange.

“It’s a good thing you came by,” I said, swallowing the last bite of my egg salad sandwich. “I was about to get up and go murder Judith over there.”

We both glanced down the table. Judith and the two eighth-graders had their chairs tilted back and were laughing about something. One of the eighth-graders had a magazine, People magazine, I think, and she was showing a picture in it to the others.

“Don’t murder Judith,” Cory advised, still peeling the orange. “You’ll get into trouble.”

I laughed, scornful laughter. “You kidding? I’d get an award.”

“If you murder Judith, your basketball team will never win another game,” Cory said, concentrating on the orange.

“Ooh, that’s cruel!” I exclaimed. I tossed my balled-up aluminum foil at him. It bounced off his chest and dropped to the floor.

He was right, of course. Judith was the best player on our team, the Montrose Mustangs. She was the only good player. She could dribble really well without getting the ball tangled up in her legs. And she had a great shooting eye.

I, of course, was the worst player on the team.

I admit it. I’m a total klutz, as I’ve said, which doesn’t get you very far on the basketball court.

I really hadn’t wanted to be on the Mustangs. I knew I’d stink.

But Ellen insisted. Ellen is the girls’ basketball coach. Ellen insisted I be on the team.

“Sam, you’re so tall!” she told me. “You’ve got to play basketball. You’re a natural!”

Sure, I’m a natural. A natural klutz.

I can’t shoot at all, not even foul shots. Especially not foul shots.

And I can’t run without tripping over my own Reeboks. And my hands are small, even though the rest of me isn’t, so I’m not too good at passing or catching the ball.

I think Ellen has learned her lesson: Tall ain’t all.

But now she’s too embarrassed to take me off the team. And I keep at it. I work hard at practice. I mean, I keep thinking I’ll get better. I couldn’t get any worse.

If only Judith wasn’t such a hotshot.

And if only she was nicer to me.

But, as Cory put it, “Judith is Judith.” She’s always yelling at me during practice, and making fun of me, and making me feel two feet tall (which I sometimes wish I were)!

“Byrd, why don’t you give us a break and fly away!”

If she says that one more time, I’ll punch out her lights. I really will.

“What are you thinking about, Sam?” Cory’s voice broke into my bitter thoughts.

“About Judith, of course,” I muttered. “Miss Perfect.”

“Hey, stop,” he said, pulling apart the orange sections. “You have good qualities, too, you know.”

“Oh, really?” I snapped. “What are my good qualities? That I’m tall?”

“No.” He finally popped an orange section into his mouth. I never saw anyone take so long to eat an orange! “You’re also smart,” he said. “And you’re funny.”

“Thanks a bunch,” I replied, frowning.

“And you’re very generous,” he added. “You’re so generous, you’re going to give me that bag of potato chips, right?” He pounced on it before I could grab it away from him.

I knew there was a reason for his compliments.

I watched Cory stuff down my potato chips. He didn’t even offer me one.

Then the bell rang, and I hurried to Home Ec.

Where I totally lost it.

What happened was this: We were making tapioca pudding. And it was really messy.

We all had big orange mixing bowls, and the ingredients were spread out on the long table next to the stove.

I was busily stirring mine. It was nice and gloppy, and it made this great glop glop sound as I stirred it with a long wooden spoon.

My hands were sticky for some reason. I had probably spilled some of the pudding on them. So I stopped to wipe them on my apron.

I was being pretty neat—for me. There were only a few yellow puddles of pudding on my table. Most of it was actually in the mixing bowl.

I finished stirring and, when I looked up, there was Judith.

I was a little surprised because she had been working on the other side of the room by the windows. We generally keep as far apart from each other as possible.

Judith had this odd smile on her face. And as she approached me, she pretended to trip.

I swear she only pretended to trip!

And she spilled her whole mixing bowl of tapioca onto my shoes.

My brand-new blue Doc Martens.

“Oops!” she said.

That’s all. Just “Oops.”

I looked down at my brand-new shoes covered in gloppy yellow pudding.

And that’s when I lost it.

I uttered an angry roar and went for Judith’s throat.

I didn’t plan it or anything. I think it was temporary insanity.

I just reached out both hands and grabbed Judith by the throat, and began to strangle her.

I mean, they were brand-new shoes!

Judith started struggling and tried to scream. She pulled my hair and tried to scratch me.

But I held onto her throat and roared some more, like an angry tiger.

And Daphne had to pull us apart.

She pulled me away by the shoulders, then thrust her wide body between us, blocking our view of each other.

I was panting loudly. My chest was heaving up and down.

“Samantha! Samantha! What were you doing?” I think that’s what Daphne was screaming.

I couldn’t really hear her. I had this roaring in my ears, loud as a waterfall. I think it was just my anger.

Before I knew it, I had pushed myself away from the table and was running out of the room. I ran out into the empty hall—and stopped.

I didn’t know what to do next. I was so angry.

If I had three wishes, I told myself, I know what they would be: Destroy Judith! Destroy Judith! Destroy Judith!

Little did I know that I would soon get my wish.

All three of them.


 

 

Daphne made Judith and me shake hands and apologize to each other after she dragged me back into the classroom. I had to do it. It was either that or be tossed out of school.

“It really was an accident,” Judith muttered under her breath. “What’s your problem, Byrd?”

Not much of an apology, if you ask me.

But I shook hands with her. I didn’t need my parents being called to school because their daughter had tried to strangle a classmate.

And I showed up—reluctantly—for basketball practice after school. I knew if I didn’t show, Judith would tell everyone that she had scared me away.

I showed up because I knew Judith didn’t want me to. Which I think is as good a reason as any.

Also, I needed the exercise. I needed to run back and forth across the court a few hundred times to get the anger out. I needed to sweat out the frustration from not being able to finish strangling Judith.

“Let’s do some fast laps,” Ellen suggested.

Some of the other girls groaned, but I didn’t. I started running before Ellen even blew her whistle.

We were all in shorts and sleeveless T-shirts. Ellen wore gray sweats that were baggy in all the wrong places. She had frizzy red hair, and she was so straight and skinny, she looked sort of like a kitchen match.

Ellen wasn’t very athletic. She told us she coached girls’ basketball because they paid her extra, and she needed the money.

After running our laps around the gym, practice went pretty much as usual.

Judith and Anna passed the ball to each other a lot. And they both took a lot of shots—jump shots, lay-ups, even hook shots.

The others tried to keep up with them.

I tried not to be noticed.

I was still simmering about the tapioca pudding disaster and wanted as little contact with Judith—or anyone—as possible. I mean, I was really feeling glum.

And watching Judith sink a twenty-foot jumper, catch her own rebound, and scoop a perfect two-handed shovel pass to Anna wasn’t helping to cheer me up one bit.

Of course, things got worse.

Anna actually passed the ball to me. I muffed it. It bounced off my hands, hit me in the forehead, and rolled away.

“Heads up, Byrd!” I heard Ellen cry.

I kept running. I tried not to look upset that I had blown my first opportunity of the practice.

A few minutes later, I saw the ball flying toward me again, and I heard Judith shout, “Get this one, Stork!”

I was so startled that she had called me “Stork” to my face that I caught the ball. I started to dribble to the basket—and Anna reached a hand in and easily stole the ball. She spun around and sent an arching shot to the basket, which nearly went in.

“Nice steal, Anna!” Ellen cried.

Breathing hard, I turned angrily to Judith. “What did you call me?”

Judith pretended she didn’t hear me.

Ellen blew the whistle. “Fast breaks!” she shouted.

We practiced fast breaks three at a time. Dribbling fast, we’d pass the ball back and forth. Then the one under the hoop with the ball was supposed to take the shot.

I need to practice slow breaks! I thought to myself.

I had no trouble keeping up with the others. I mean, I had the longest legs, after all. I could run fast enough. I just couldn’t do anything else while I was running.

As Judith, Anna, and I came roaring down the court, I prayed I wouldn’t make a total fool of myself. Sweat poured down my forehead. My heart was racing.

I took a short pass from Anna, dribbled under the basket, and took a shot. The ball flew straight up in the air, then bounced back to the floor. It didn’t even come close to the backboard.

I could hear girls laughing on the sidelines. Judith and Anna had their usual superior smirks on their faces. “Good eye!” Judith called, and everyone laughed some more.

After twenty minutes of fast-break torture, Ellen blew her whistle. “Scrimmage,” she called out. That was the signal for us to divide into two teams and play each other.

I sighed, wiping perspiration off my forehead with the back of my hand. I tried to get into the game. I concentrated hard, mainly on not messing up. But I was pretty discouraged.

Then, a few minutes into the game, Judith and I both dove for the ball at the same time.

Somehow, as I dove, my arms outstretched, Judith’s knee came up hard—and plunged like a knife into my chest.

The pain shot through my entire body.

I tried to cry out. But I couldn’t make a sound.

I uttered a weird, gasping noise, sort of like the honk of a sick seal—and realized I couldn’t breathe.

Everything turned red. Bright, shimmering red.

Then black.

I knew I was going to die.


 

 

Having your breath knocked out has to be the worst feeling in the world. It’s just so scary. You try to breathe, and you can’t. And the pain just keeps swelling, like a balloon being blown up right inside your chest.

I really thought I was dead meat.

Of course I was perfectly okay a few minutes later. I still felt a little shaky, a little dizzy. But I was basically okay.

Ellen insisted that one of the girls walk me to the locker room. Naturally, Judith volunteered. As we walked, she apologized. She said it had been an accident. Totally an accident.

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want her to apologize. I didn’t want to talk to her at all. I just wanted to strangle her again.

This time for good.

I mean, how much can one girl take in a day? Judith had tripped me in math class, dumped her disgusting tapioca pudding all over my new Doc Martens in Home Ec, and kicked me unconscious in basketball practice.

Did I really have to smile and accept her apology now?

No way! No way in a million years.

I trudged silently to the locker room, my head bent, my eyes on the floor.

When she saw that I wasn’t going to buy her cheap apology, Judith got angry. Do you believe that? She shoves her knee through my chest—then she gets angry!

“Why don’t you just fly away, Byrd!” she muttered. Then she went trotting back to the gym floor.

I got changed without showering. Then I collected my stuff, and slunk out of the building, and got my bike.

That’s really the last straw, I thought, walking my bike across the parking lot in back of school.

It was about half an hour later. The late afternoon sky was gray and overcast. I felt a few light drops of rain on my head.

The last straw, I repeated to myself.

I live two blocks from the school, but I didn’t feel like going home. I felt like riding and riding and riding. I felt like just going straight and never turning back.

I was angry and upset and shaky. But mainly angry.

Ignoring the raindrops, I climbed onto my bike and began pedaling in the direction away from my house. Front yards and houses went by in a whir. I didn’t see them. I didn’t see anything.

I pedaled harder and harder. It felt so good to get away from school. To get away from Judith.

The rain started to come down a little harder. I didn’t mind. I raised my face to the sky as I pedaled. The raindrops felt cold and refreshing on my hot skin.

When I looked down, I saw that I had reached Jeffers’ Woods, a long stretch of trees that divides my neighborhood from the next.

A narrow bike path twisted through the tall, old trees, which were winter bare and looked sort of sad and lonely without their leaves. Sometimes I took the path, seeing how fast I could ride over its curves and bumps.

But the sky was darkening, the black clouds hovering lower. And I saw a glimmering streak of lightning in the sky over the trees.

I decided I’d better turn around and ride home.

But as I turned, someone stepped in front of me.

A woman!

I gasped, startled to see someone on this empty road by the woods.

I squinted at her as the rain began to fall harder, pattering on the pavement around me. She wasn’t young, and she wasn’t old. She had dark eyes, like two black coals, on a pale, white face. Her thick, black hair flowed loosely behind her.

Her clothing was sort of old-fashioned. She had a bright red, heavy woolen shawl pulled around her shoulders. She wore a long black skirt down to her ankles.

Her dark eyes seemed to light up as she met my stare.

She looked confused.

I should have run.

I should have pedaled away from her as fast as I could.

If only I had known…

But I didn’t flee. I didn’t escape.

Instead, I smiled at her. “Can I help you?” I asked.


 

 

The woman’s eyes narrowed. I could see she was checking me out.

I lowered my feet to the ground, balancing the bike between my legs. The rain pattered on the pavement, big cold drops.

I suddenly remembered I had a hood on my windbreaker. So I reached up behind my head and slipped it over my hair.

The sky darkened to an eerie olive color. The bare trees in the woods shivered in a swirling breeze.

The woman took a few steps closer. She was so pale, I thought. Almost ghostlike, except for the deep, dark eyes that were staring so hard at me.

“I—I seem to have lost my way,” she said. To my surprise, she had an old woman’s voice, sort of shaky and frail.

I squinted at her from under my hood. The rain was matting her thick, black hair to her head. It was impossible to tell how old she was. She could have been twenty or sixty!

“This is Montrose Avenue,” I told her, speaking loudly because of the drumming of the raindrops. “Actually, Montrose ends here. At the woods.”

She nodded thoughtfully, pursing her pale lips. “I am trying to get to Madison,” she said. “I think I have completely lost my direction.”

“You’re pretty far from Madison,” I said. “It’s way over there.” I pointed.

She chewed at her lower lip. “I’m usually pretty good at directions,” she said fretfully in her shaky voice. She adjusted the heavy red shawl over her slender shoulders.

“Madison is way over on the east side,” I said with a shiver. The rain was cold. I was eager to go home and get into some dry clothes.

“Can you take me there?” the woman asked. She grabbed my wrist.

I almost gasped out loud. Her hand was as cold as ice!

“Can you take me there?” she repeated, bringing her face close to mine. “I would be ever so grateful.”

She had taken her hand away. But I could still feel the icy grip on my wrist.

Why didn’t I run away?

Why didn’t I raise my feet to the pedals and ride out of there as fast as I could?

“Sure. I’ll show you where it is,” I said.

“Thank you, dear.” She smiled. She had a dimple in one cheek when she smiled. I realized she was kind of pretty, in an old-fashioned way.

I climbed off my bike and, holding onto the handlebars, began to walk it. The woman stepped beside me, adjusting her shawl. She walked in the middle of the street, her eyes trained on me.

The rain continued to come down. I saw another jagged bolt of lightning far away in the olive sky. The swirling wind made my windbreaker flap against my legs.

“Am I going too fast?” I asked.

“No, dear. I can keep up,” she replied with a smile. She had a small purple bag slung over her shoulder. She protected the bag by tucking it under her arm.

She wore black boots under the long skirt. The boots, I saw, had tiny buttons running up the sides. The boots clicked on the wet pavement as we walked.

“I am sorry to be so much trouble,” the woman said, again pursing her lips fretfully.

“No trouble,” I replied. My good deed for the day, I thought, brushing a drop of rain off my nose.

“I love the rain,” she said, raising her hands to it, letting the raindrops splash her open palms. “Without the rain, what would wash the evil away?”

That’s a weird thing to say, I thought. I muttered a reply. I wondered what evil she was talking about.

Her long, black hair was completely soaked, but she didn’t seem to mind. She walked quickly with long, steady strides, swinging one hand as she walked, protecting the purple bag under the other arm.

A few blocks later, the handlebars slipped out of my hands. My bike toppled over, and the pedal scraped my knee as I tried to grab the bike before it fell.

What a klutz!

I pulled the bike up and began walking it again. My knee throbbed. I shivered. The wind blew the rain into my face.

What am I doing out here? I asked myself.

The woman kept walking quickly, a thoughtful expression on her face. “It’s quite a rain,” she said, gazing up at the dark clouds. “This is so nice of you, dear.”

“It isn’t too far out of my way,” I said politely. Just eight or ten blocks!

“I don’t know how I could have gone so far astray,” she said, shaking her head. “I was sure I was headed in the right direction. Then when I came to those woods…”

“We’re almost there,” I said.

“What is your name?” she asked suddenly.

“Samantha,” I told her. “But everyone calls me Sam.”

“My name is Clarissa,” she offered. “I’m the Crystal Woman.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard that last part correctly. I puzzled over it, then let it slip from my mind.

It was late, I realized. Mom and Dad might already be home from work. Even if they weren’t, my brother, Ron, was probably home, wondering where I was.

A station wagon rolled toward us, its headlights on. I shielded my eyes from the bright lights and nearly dropped my bike again.

The woman was still walking in the center of the street. I moved toward the curb so she could move out of the station wagon’s path. But she didn’t seem to care about it. She kept walking straight, her expression not changing, even though the bright headlights were in her face.

“Look out!” I cried.

I don’t know if she heard me.

The station wagon swerved to avoid her and honked its horn as it rolled by.

She smiled warmly at me as we kept walking. “So good of you to care about a total stranger,” she said.

The streetlights flashed on suddenly. They made the wet street glow. The bushes and hedges, the grass, the sidewalks—everything seemed to glow. It all looked unreal.

“Here we are. This is Madison,” I said, pointing to the street sign. Finally! I thought.

I just wanted to say good-bye to this strange woman and pedal home as fast as I could.

Lightning flickered. Closer this time.

What a dreary day, I thought with a sigh.

Then I remembered Judith.

The whole miserable day suddenly rolled through my mind again. I felt a wave of anger sweep over me.

“Which way is east?” the woman asked, her shaky voice breaking into my bitter thoughts.

“East?” I gazed both ways on Madison, trying to clear Judith from my mind. I pointed.

The wind picked up suddenly, blowing a sheet of rain against me. I tightened my grip on the handlebars.

“You are so kind,” the woman said, wrapping the shawl around her. Her dark eyes stared hard into mine. “So kind. Most young people aren’t kind like you.”

“Thank you,” I replied awkwardly. The cold made me shiver again. “Well… good-bye.” I started to climb onto my bike.

“No. Wait,” she pleaded. “I want to repay you.”

“Huh?” I uttered. “No. Really. You don’t have to.”

“I want to repay you,” the woman insisted. She grabbed my wrist again. And again I felt a shock of cold.

“You’ve been so kind,” the woman repeated. “So kind to a total stranger.”

I tried to free my wrist, but her grip was surprisingly tight. “You don’t have to thank me,” I said.

“I want to repay you,” she replied, bringing her face close to mine, still holding onto my wrist. “Tell you what. I’ll grant you three wishes.”


 

 

She’s crazy, I realized.

I stared into those coal black eyes. Rainwater trickled from her hair, down the sides of her pale face. I could feel the coldness of her hand, even through the sleeve of my windbreaker.

The woman is crazy, I thought.

I’ve been walking through the pouring rain for twenty minutes with a crazy person.

“Three wishes,” the woman repeated, lowering her voice as if not wanting to be overheard by anyone.

“No. Thanks. I’ve really got to get home,” I said. I tugged my wrist from her grasp and turned to my bike.

“I’ll grant you three wishes,” the woman repeated. “Anything you wish shall come true.” She moved the purple bag in front of her and carefully pulled something from it. It was a glass ball, bright red, the size of a large grapefruit. It sparkled despite the darkness around us.

“That’s nice of you,” I said, wiping water off the bike seat with my hand. “But I don’t really have any wishes right now.”

“Please—let me repay you for your kindness,” the woman insisted. She raised the gleaming red ball in one hand. Her hand was small and as pale as her face, the fingers bony. “I really do want to repay you.”

“My—uh—mom will be worried,” I said, glancing up and down the street.

No one in sight.

No one to protect me from this lunatic if she turned dangerous.

Just how crazy was she? I wondered. Could she be dangerous? Was I making her angry by not playing along, by not making a wish?

“It isn’t a joke,” the woman said, reading the doubt in my eyes. “Your wishes will come true. I promise you.” She narrowed her gaze. The red ball suddenly glowed brighter. “Make your first wish, Samantha.”

I stared back at her, thinking hard. I was cold and wet and hungry—and a little frightened. I just wanted to get home and get dry.

What if she won’t let me go?

What if I can’t get rid of her? What if she follows me home?

Again, I searched up and down the block. Most of the houses had lights on. I could probably run to the nearest one and get help if I needed it.

But, I decided, it might be easier just to play along with the crazy woman and make a wish.

Maybe that would satisfy her, and she’d go on her way and let me go home.

“What is your wish, Samantha?” she demanded. Her black eyes glowed red, the same color as the gleaming ball in her hand.

She suddenly looked very old. Ancient. Her skin was so pale and tight, I thought I could see her skull underneath.

I froze.

I couldn’t think of a wish.

And then I blurted out, “My wish is… to be the strongest player on my basketball team!”

I don’t know why I said that. I guess I was just nervous. And I had Judith on my mind and all that had happened that day, ending up with the disaster at basketball practice.

And so that was my wish. Of course I immediately felt like a total jerk. I mean, of all the things to wish for in the world, why would anyone pick that?

But the woman didn’t seem at all surprised.

She nodded, closing her eyes for a moment. The red ball glowed brighter, brighter, until the fiery red radiated around me. Then it quickly faded.

Clarissa thanked me again, turned, tucked the glass ball back in the purple bag, and began walking quickly away.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was so glad she was gone!

I jumped on my bike, turned it around, and began pedaling furiously toward home.

A perfect end to a perfect day, I thought bitterly.

Trapped in the rain with a crazy woman.

And the wish?

I knew it was totally stupid.

I knew I’d never have to think about it again.


 

 

I found myself thinking about the wish at dinner.

I couldn’t get over the way the crystal ball had glowed that strange red color.

Mom was trying to get me to take another helping of mashed potatoes, and I was refusing. They were the kind from a box—you know, potato flakes, or something—and didn’t taste at all like real mashed potatoes.

“Sam, you’ve got to eat more if you want to grow big and strong,” Mom said, holding the potato serving bowl under my nose.

“Mom, I don’t want to grow anymore!” I exclaimed. “I’m already taller than you are, and I’m only twelve!”

“Please don’t shout,” Dad said, reaching for the string beans. Canned string beans. Mom gets home from work late and doesn’t have time to make any real food.

“I was tall when I was twelve,” Mom said thoughtfully. She passed the potatoes to Dad.

“And then you shrunk!” Ron exclaimed, snickering. My older brother thinks he’s a riot.

“I just meant I was tall for my age,” Mom said.

“Well, I’m too tall for my age,” I grumbled. “I’m too tall for any age!”

“In a few years you won’t be saying that,” Mom told me.

When she looked away, I reached under the table and fed some string beans to Punkin. Punkin is my dog, a little brown mutt. He’ll eat anything.

“Are there more meatballs?” Dad asked. He knew there were. He just wanted Mom to get up and get them for him.

Which she did.

“How was basketball practice?” Dad asked me.

I made a face and gave a double thumbs-down.

“She’s too tall for basketball,” Ron mumbled with a mouth full of food.

“Basketball takes stamina,” Dad said. Sometimes I can’t figure out why Dad says half the things he says.

I mean, what am I supposed to say to that?

I suddenly thought of the crazy woman and the wish I had made. “Hey, Ron, want to shoot a few baskets after dinner?” I asked, poking my string beans around on the plate with my fork.

We have a hoop on the front of the garage and floodlights to light up the driveway. Ron and I play a little one-on-one sometimes after dinner.

You know. To unwind before starting our homework.

Ron glanced out of the dining room window. “Did it stop raining?”

“Yeah. It stopped,” I told him. “About half an hour ago.”

“It’ll still be real wet,” he said.

“A few puddles won’t ruin your game,” I told him, laughing.

Ron’s a really good basketball player. He’s a natural athlete. So of course he has almost no interest at all in playing with me. He’d rather stay up in his room reading a book. Any book.

“I’ve got a lot of homework,” Ron said, pushing his black-framed glasses up on his nose.

“Just a few minutes,” I pleaded. “Just a little shooting practice.”

“Help your sister,” Dad urged. “You can give her some pointers.”

Ron reluctantly agreed. “But only for a few minutes.” He glanced out the window again. “We’re going to get soaked.”

“I’ll bring a towel,” I said, grinning.

“Don’t let Punkin out,” Mom said. “He’ll get his paws all wet and track mud on the floor.”

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Ron grumbled.

I knew it was stupid, but I had to see if my wish had come true.

Would I suddenly be a great basketball player?

Would I suddenly be able to outshoot Ron? To actually throw the basketball into the basket?

Would I be able to dribble without stumbling? To pass the ball in the direction I wanted? To catch the ball without it bouncing off my chest?

I kept scolding myself for even thinking about the wish.

It was so dumb. So totally dumb.

Just because a crazy woman offers to grant three wishes, I told myself, doesn’t mean that you have to get all excited and think you’re instantly going to turn into Michael Jordan!

Still, I couldn’t wait to play with Ron.

Was I in for a big surprise?


 

 

Yes. I was in for a surprise.

My shooting was actually worse!

The first two times I tossed the ball at the hoop, I missed the garage entirely and had to go chase the ball over the wet grass.

Ron laughed. “I see you’ve been practicing!” he teased.

I gave him a hard shove in the stomach with the wet basketball. He deserved it. It wasn’t funny.

I was so disappointed.

I told myself over and over that wishes don’t come true, especially wishes granted by crazy women out wandering in the rain.

But I couldn’t help but get my hopes up.

I mean, Judith and Anna and the other girls on the team were so mean to me. It would be totally terrific to come to the game against Jefferson Elementary tomorrow and suddenly be the star of the team.

The star. Ha-ha.

Ron dribbled the ball to the hoop and made an easy lay-up. He caught his own rebound and passed the ball to me.

It sailed through my hands and bounced down the driveway. I started running after it, slipped on the wet surface, and fell face down into a puddle.

Some star.

I’m playing worse! I told myself. Much worse!

He helped me up. I brushed myself off.

“Remember, this was your idea!” he said.

With a determined cry, I grabbed the ball, darted past him, and dribbled furiously to the basket.

I had to make this basket. I had to!

But as I went up for my shot, Ron caught up with me. He leapt high, raised his arms, and batted the ball away.

“Aaaagggh!”

I let out a frustrated shout. “I wish you were only a foot tall!” I cried.

He laughed and ran after the ball.

But I felt a tremor of fear roll down my body.

What have I just done? I asked myself, staring into the darkness of the back yard, waiting for Ron to return with the ball. Have I just made my second wish?

I didn’t mean to! I told myself, my heart thudding wildly in my chest. It was an accident. It wasn’t a real wish.

Have I just shrunk my brother down to a foot tall?

No. No. No. I repeated over and over, waiting for him to reappear.

The first wish hadn’t come true. There was no reason to expect the second wish to come true.

I squinted into the heavy darkness of the back yard. “Ron—where are you?”

Then I gasped as he came scampering toward me over the grass—a foot tall—just as I had wished!


 

 

I froze like a statue. I felt cold as stone.

Then, as the tiny figure emerged from the darkness, I started to laugh.

“Punkin!” I cried. “How did you get out?”

I was so happy to see him—so happy it wasn’t a tiny Ron scampering over the grass—I picked up the little dog and hugged him tight.

Of course his paws got me covered with wet mud. But I didn’t care.

Sam, you’ve just got to chill, I scolded myself as Punkin struggled free. Your wish about Ron couldn’t come true because Clarissa isn’t here with her glowing red ball.

You’ve got to stop thinking about the three wishes, I told myself. It’s just dumb. And you’re making yourself crazy over them.

“What’s going on? How’d he get out?” Ron cried, appearing from the side of the garage with the ball.

“Must’ve sneaked out,” I replied with a shrug.

We played a few more minutes. But it was cold and wet. And no fun at all, especially for me.

I didn’t sink a single basket.

We finished with a foul shot competition, a short game of HORSE. Ron won easily. I was still on the O.

As we trotted back to the house, Ron patted me on the back. “Ever think of taking up tiddly-winks?” he teased. “Or maybe Parcheesi?”

I uttered an unhappy wail. I had the sudden urge to tell him why I felt so disappointed, to tell him about the weird woman and the three wishes.

I hadn’t told Mom or Dad about her, either. The whole story was just too stupid.

But I thought maybe my brother would find it funny. “I have to tell you about this afternoon,” I said as we pulled off our wet sneakers in the kitchen. “You won’t believe what happened to me. I—”

“Later,” he said, pulling off his wet socks and tucking them into the sneakers. “I’ve got to get to that homework.”

He disappeared up to his room.

I started to my room, but the phone rang. I picked it up after the first ring.

It was Cory, calling to ask how my basketball practice had gone after school.

“Great,” I told him sarcastically. “Just great. I was so fabulous, they’re going to retire my number.”

“You don’t have a number,” Cory reminded me. What a friend.

 

Judith tried to trip me in the lunchroom the next afternoon. But this time I managed to step over her outstretched sneaker.

I made my way past Judith’s table and found Cory nearly hidden in the corner near the trash baskets. He had already unwrapped his lunch and had a very unhappy expression on his face.

“Not grilled cheese again!” I exclaimed, dropping my brown paper lunchbag on the table and pulling out the chair across from him.

“Grilled cheese again,” he muttered. “And look at it. I don’t even think it’s American cheese. I think my dad tried to slip in cheddar on me.”

I opened my chocolate-milk carton, then pulled my chair in closer. Across the room, some boys were laughing loudly, tossing a pink-haired Troll doll back and forth. It landed in someone’s soup, and the table erupted in wild cheers.

As I picked up my sandwich, a shadow fell over the table. I realized that someone was standing behind me.

“Judith!” I cried, turning my head.

She sneered down at me. She was wearing a green-and-white school sweater over dark green corduroys. “Are you coming to the game after school, Byrd?” she demanded coldly.

I set down the sandwich. “Yeah. Of course I’m coming,” I replied, puzzled by the question.

“Too bad,” she replied, frowning. “That means we don’t have a chance of winning.”

Judith’s pal, Anna, suddenly appeared beside her. “Couldn’t you get sick or something?” she asked me.

“Hey, give Sam a break!” Cory cried angrily.

“We really want to beat Jefferson,” Anna said, ignoring him. She had dark red lipstick smeared on her chin. Anna wore more lipstick than all the other seventh-graders put together.

“I’ll try my best,” I replied through clenched teeth.

They both laughed as if I had made a joke. Then they walked off, shaking their heads.

If only my stupid wish would come true! I thought bitterly.

But of course I knew that it wouldn’t.

I figured I was in for more embarrassment and humiliation at the game.

I had no idea just how surprising the game would turn out to be.


 

 

The game felt weird from the beginning.

The Jefferson team was mostly sixth-graders, and they were pretty small. But they were well-coached. They really seemed to know where they were going. And they had a lot of energy and team spirit.

As they came trotting to the center of the gym for the opening tip-off, my stomach was fluttery and I felt as if I weighed a thousand pounds.

I was really dreading this game. I knew I was going to mess up. And I knew that Judith and Anna would be sure to let me know just how badly I messed up, and how I let the team down.

So I was really shaky as the game started. And when, in the opening tip-off, the ball was slapped right to me, I grabbed it—and started dribbling toward the wrong basket!

Luckily, Anna grabbed me and turned me around before I could shoot a basket for Jefferson! But I could hear players on both teams laughing.

And I glanced at the sidelines and saw that both coaches—Ellen and the Jefferson coach—were laughing, too.

I could feel my face turn beet-red. I wanted to quit right then and go sink into a hole in the ground and never come out.

But—to my amazement—I still had the ball.

I tried to pass it to Judith. But I threw it too low, and a Jefferson girl stole it and started dribbling to our basket.

The game was ten seconds old, and I’d already made two mistakes!

I kept telling myself it was just a game, but it didn’t really help. Every time I heard someone laugh I knew they were laughing at me, at how I’d started the game by running in the wrong direction.

When I looked up at the score for the first time, it was six to nothing, Jefferson.

The ball suddenly came sailing to me, seemingly from out of nowhere. I grabbed for it, but it slipped out of my hands. One of my teammates took it, dribbled, then passed it back to me.

I took my first shot. It hit the backboard—a triumph for me!—but didn’t come near the basket. Jefferson took the rebound. A few seconds later, it was eight to nothing.

I’m playing worse than ever! I moaned to myself. I could see Judith glaring angrily at me from across the floor.

I backed up, staying in the corner, away from the basket. I decided to try and keep out of the action as much as possible. Maybe that way I wouldn’t embarrass myself quite so much.

After about five minutes into the first quarter, things started to get weird.

The score was twelve to two, Jefferson.

Judith threw the ball inbounds. She meant to throw it to Anna. But Judith’s toss was weak, and the ball bounced to a short, blonde-haired Jefferson player.

I saw Judith yawn as she ran after the girl.

A few seconds later, the ball was loose, bouncing near the center of the court. Anna made a weak grab for it. But she seemed to be moving in slow motion, and the blonde Jefferson player snatched it from her hands.

Anna stood watching her, breathing hard, perspiration running down her forehead. I had to stop and stare. Anna looked exhausted—and we’d only been playing five minutes!

The Jefferson team dribbled all the way across the floor, passing the ball from girl to girl, as our players stood and watched.

“Let’s go, Mustangs!” Judith cried, trying to rouse everyone. But I saw her yawn again as she walked to the sidelines to throw in the ball.

“Come on, girls! Hustle! Hustle!” Ellen was shouting from the sidelines, her hands cupped around her mouth. “Run, Judith—don’t walk! Let’s look alive!”

Judith sent another feeble throw onto the floor. It bounced away from a Jefferson player. I scooped it up and started to dribble it, running full speed.

Just outside the key, I stopped, turned, and looked for someone to pass it to.

But to my surprise, my teammates were still far behind me, walking slowly, exhaustedly, in my direction.

As the Jefferson players swarmed around me, trying to take the ball away, I took a shot. It hit the rim of the basket—and bounced right back into my hands.

So I took another shot. And missed again.

Judith raised her hands slowly to catch the rebound. But the ball bounced right through her hands. She frowned in surprise, but didn’t make a move to go after it.

I grabbed the ball, dribbled twice, nearly tripped over it—and shot.

To my amazement, the ball bounced on top of the hoop, landed on the rim, and then dropped through.

“Way to go, Sam!” I heard Ellen shout from the sidelines.

My teammates uttered weak cheers. I watched them go after the Jefferson players, yawning and moving in slow motion, as if in some kind of trance.

“Pick it up! Pick it up!” Ellen was shouting encouragement.

But her words didn’t seem to help.

Judith tripped and fell to her knees. As I stared in bewilderment, she didn’t get up.

Anna was yawning loudly, walking toward the ball, not running.

My two other Mustang teammates also seemed to be wandering hazily in slow motion, making lame attempts to defend our basket.

Jefferson scored easily.

Judith was still on her knees, her eyes half shut.

What on earth is happening? I wondered.

A long, shrill whistle broke into my thoughts. It took me a while to realize that Ellen had called time out.

“Mustangs—hustle up! Hustle up!” she shouted, motioning for us to cluster around her.

I quickly trotted over to Ellen. Turning back, I saw Judith, Anna, and the others trudging over slowly, yawning, pulling their bodies with great effort.

And as Ellen shouted for everyone to “hustle up,” I watched them wearily approach. Then I realized to my amazement that my wish had come true!


 

 

“What is the matter, girls?” Ellen demanded as we huddled on the sidelines. She glanced from player to player, examining each one with concern.

Anna dropped down wearily to the floor, her shoulders slumped. It looked like she could barely keep her eyes open.

Judith leaned her back against the gym’s tile wall. She was breathing hard, and beads of sweat rolled down her pale forehead.

“Let’s get up some energy,” Ellen urged, clapping her hands. “I thought you girls were pumped for this game!”

“There’s no air in here,” one of the players complained.

“I feel so tired,” another one said, yawning.

“Maybe we’re coming down with something,” Anna suggested from down on the floor.

“Do you feel sick, too?” Ellen asked me.

“No,” I told her. “I feel okay.”

Behind me, Judith groaned wearily and tried to push herself away from the wall.

The referee, a high school kid wearing a black-and-white-striped shirt about five sizes too big for him, blew his whistle. He signaled for us to get back out on the floor.

“I don’t understand it,” Ellen sighed, shaking her head. She helped pull Anna to her feet. “I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”

I understood it.

I understood it perfectly.

My wish had come true. I couldn’t believe it! That strange woman really did have some kind of magical powers. And she had granted my wish.

Only not quite the way I had imagined.

I remembered my words so clearly. I had wished to be the strongest player on the basketball team. That meant I wanted the woman to make me a stronger, better player.

Instead, she had made everyone else weaker!

I was the same klutzy player I’d always been. I still couldn’t dribble, pass, or shoot.

But I was the strongest player on the team!

How could I have been such a jerk? I scolded myself angrily as I trotted back to the center of the gym floor. Wishes never turn out the way you want them to.

When I reached center court, I turned back and saw Judith, Anna, and the others trudging onto the floor. Their shoulders were slumped, and they dragged their sneakers over the floor as they walked.

I have to admit I enjoyed it just a little.

I mean, I felt perfectly fine. And they looked so weak and pitiful.

Judith and Anna really deserve it, I told myself. I tried not to grin as they slumped into their places. But maybe I was smiling just a little.

The referee blew his whistle and called for a jump ball to start things off. Judith and a Jefferson player faced each other at the center circle.

The referee tossed the ball up. The Jefferson girl jumped high. Judith made a real effort. I could see the strain on her face.

But her feet didn’t even leave the floor.

The Jefferson player batted the ball to one of her teammates, and they headed down the floor with it.

I chased after them, running at full speed. But the rest of my team could only walk.

Jefferson scored with an easy lay-up.

“Come on, Judith—we can catch them!” I shouted, clapping my hands cheerfully.

Judith glared dully at me. Her green eyes looked faded, kind of washed out.

“Pick it up! Pick it up! Let’s go, Mustangs!” I cheered energetically.

I was really enjoying rubbing it in.

Judith could barely bounce the ball inbounds. I picked it up and dribbled all the way down the floor. Under the basket, one of the Jefferson players bumped me from behind as I tried to shoot.

Two foul shots for me.

It took my slow-motion teammates forever to make their way down the floor to line up.

Of course, I missed both of my foul shots.

But I didn’t care.

“Let’s go, Mustangs!” I shouted, clapping my hands energetically. “Defense! Defense!”

Suddenly I had become both a player and a cheerleader. I was really enjoying being the best player on the team.

Watching Judith and Anna droop around and drag their bodies back and forth like tired losers was the biggest hoot! It was just awesome!

We lost the game by twenty-four points.

Judith, Anna, and the others looked glad it was over. I started to trot to the locker room to get changed, a big smile on my face.

I was nearly changed by the time my teammates dragged into the locker room. Judith walked up to me and leaned against my locker. She eyed me suspiciously.

“How come you’re so peppy?” she demanded.

I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I told her. “I feel okay. Same as ever.”

Sweat was pouring down Judith’s forehead. Her red hair was matted wetly against her head.

“What’s going on here, Byrd?” she demanded, yawning. “I don’t get it.”

“Maybe you’re coming down with the flu or something,” I said, trying to hide how much I was enjoying this.

This was great!

“Ohhh, I’m so tired,” Anna moaned, coming up behind Judith.

“I’m sure you’ll both feel better tomorrow,” I chirped.

“There’s something weird going on here,” Judith murmured weakly. She tried to stare hard at me, but her eyes were too tired to focus.

“See you tomorrow!” I said brightly, picking up my stuff and heading out. “Feel better, guys!”

I stopped outside the locker room door.

They will feel better tomorrow, I assured myself. They’ll be back to normal tomorrow.

They won’t stay like this—right?

Right??

 

The next day, the bad news hit me like a ton of bricks.


 

 

Judith and Anna weren’t in school the next morning.

I stared at their empty seats as I made my way to my seat in the front row. I kept turning back, searching for them. But the bell rang, and they weren’t there.

Absent. Both absent.

I wondered if the other girls on the team were absent, too.

I felt a cold shiver run down my back.

Were they still weak and tired? Too weak and tired to come to school?

I had a frightening thought: What if they never returned to normal? What if the magic never wore off?

Then I had an even more frightening thought: What if Judith and Anna and the others got weaker and weaker? What if they kept getting weaker until they died—and it was all my fault?

All my fault. All my fault.

I felt cold all over. My stomach felt as if I’d swallowed a rock. I had never felt so guilty, so horribly guilty, in all my life.

I tried to force these thoughts from my mind, but I couldn’t.

I couldn’t stop thinking that they might die because of my careless wish.

I’ll be a murderer, I told myself with a shudder. A murderer.

Sharon, our teacher, was standing right in front of me, talking about something. I couldn’t hear a word she said. I kept turning in my seat, staring back at the two empty chairs.

Judith and Anna. What have I done to you?

 

At lunch, I told the whole story to Cory.

Of course he just laughed at me. He had a mouthful of grilled cheese and nearly choked.

“Do you believe in the Easter Bunny, too?” he asked.

But I was in no mood for jokes. I was really upset. I stared down at my uneaten lunch, and felt sick.

“Please take me seriously, Cory,” I begged. “I know it sounds dumb—”

“You mean you’re for real?” he asked, his eyes studying my face. “I thought you were kidding, Sam. I thought this was a story for creative writing or something.”

I shook my head. “Listen, Cory—if you had been at the girls’ basketball game yesterday afternoon, you’d know I’m not kidding,” I said, leaning across the table and whispering. “They were dragging around as if they were sleepwalking,” I told him. “It was so eerie!”

I was so upset, my shoulders started to shake. I covered my eyes to keep myself from crying.

“Okay… let’s think about this,” Cory said softly, his funny, crooked smile fading to a thoughtful frown. Finally, he had decided to take me seriously.

“I’ve been thinking and thinking about it all morning,” I told him, still trying to force back the tears. “What if I’m a murderer, Cory? What if they really die?”

“Sam, please,” he said, still frowning, his dark brown eyes studying mine. “Judith and Anna are probably not even sick. You’re probably making this all up in your mind. They’re probably perfectly okay.”

“No way,” I muttered glumly.

“Oh. I know!” Cory’s face brightened. “We can ask Audrey.”

“Audrey?” Audrey was the school nurse. It took me a while to figure out what Cory was thinking. But I finally did.

He was right. When you were going to be absent, your parents had to call Audrey in the morning and tell her why. Most likely, Audrey would be able to tell us why Judith and Anna were not in school today.

I jumped up, nearly knocking my chair over. “Great idea, Cory!” I exclaimed. I started running through the lunchroom toward the door.

“Wait! I’ll come with you!” Cory called, hurrying to catch up.

Our sneakers pounded against the hard floor as we made our way down the long hall to the nurse’s office. We found Audrey locking the door.

She is a short, sort of chunky woman, about forty or so, I guess, with bleached-blonde hair pinned up in a bun on top of her head. She always wears baggy jeans and shaggy sweaters, never a nurse’s uniform.

“Lunchtime,” she said, seeing us stop beside her. “What do they have today? I’m starving.”

“Audrey, can you tell us why Judith and Anna aren’t in school today?” I demanded breathlessly, ignoring her question.

“Huh?” I was talking so fast, so excitedly, I don’t think she understood me.

“Judith Bellwood and Anna Frost?” I repeated, my heart pounding. “Why aren’t they in school today?”

I saw surprise in Audrey’s pale gray eyes. Then she lowered her gaze.

“Judith and Anna, they’re gone,” she said sadly.


 

 

I stared at her. My mouth dropped open in horror. “They’re gone?”

“They’re gone for at least a week,” Audrey said. She bent to lock the office door.

“They—what?” I squeaked.

She had trouble pulling the key from the lock. “They went to the doctor,” she repeated. “Their moms called this morning. They’re very sick. Both girls have the flu or something. They felt weak. Too weak to come to school.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was glad Audrey had been concentrating on the door lock, so she hadn’t seen the horrified look on my face.

Audrey hurried off down the hall. As soon as she was out of sight, I slumped against the wall. “At least they’re not dead,” I moaned. “She scared me to death!”

Cory shook his head. “Audrey scared me, too,” he confessed. “See? Judith and Anna just have the flu. I’m sure the doctors—”

“They don’t have the flu,” I insisted. “They’re weak because of my wish.”

“Call them later,” he suggested. “You’ll see. They’ll probably be much better.”

“I can’t wait till later,” I said in a trembling voice. “I have to do something, Cory. I have to do something to keep them from getting weaker and weaker until they shrivel up and die!”

“Calm down, Sam—”

I started pacing back and forth in front of him. Some kids came hurrying by, on their way to their lockers. Someone called to me, but I didn’t reply.

“We’ve got to get to class,” Cory said. “I think you’re getting all weird over nothing, Sam. If you wait till tomorrow—”

“She said I had three wishes!” I exclaimed, not hearing a word Cory was saying. “I only used one.”

“Sam—” Cory shook his head disapprovingly.

“I’ve got to find her!” I decided. “I’ve got to find that strange woman. Don’t you see? I can wish to have the first wish undone. She said I get three wishes. So my second wish can be to erase the first!”

This idea was starting to make me feel a lot better.

But then Cory brought me back down into my gloom with one question:

“How are you going to find her, Sam?”


 

 

I thought about Cory’s question all afternoon. I barely heard a word anyone said to me.

We had a vocab test near the end of the day. I stared at the words as if they were in Martian!

After a while, I heard Lisa, my teacher, calling my name. She was standing right in front of me, but I don’t think I heard her until her fifth or sixth try.

“Are you okay, Samantha?” she asked, leaning over me. I knew she was wondering why I hadn’t started my test.

“I feel a little sick,” I replied quietly. “I’ll be okay.”

I’ll be okay as soon as I find that weird woman and get her to erase her spell!

But where will I find her? I wondered. Where?




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