Thursday, October 31, 2019

PART-TIME MONSTERS by Jay Asher

Before becoming a YA author, I wrote (and unsuccessfully tried to publish) novels for young children. One of those books almost sold. Set in fourth grade, it was called The ChocoBarn Cow and won an award that earned me a free trip to New York City where I met with several editors. One of the editors even wanted to buy it, but the publisher said, "Nope." I later changed the title to My Udder Life, which didn't help. But I still think it's a cool story!

So I moved on and eventually wrote Thirteen Reasons Why. (That got a lot of nopes, too, but you only need one yep.)

Since today is Halloween, I thought I would share the first two chapters of another novel for young children I wrote years before I got published. This has never been professionally edited, but I still love it! (You can find the first two chapters of another unpublished book I wrote by clicking here.)

This one is called...


Part-Time Monsters
 by
 Jay Asher


Chapter 1

            “You can’t be Wolfman,” Mario said. “I’m Wolfman.”
            “Then there’s going to be two wolfmen,” Paul said. He used a rock to carve his initials into the treehouse floor. “Because I am not going to be Frankenstein’s Monster. He’s too slow and stupid.”
            Mario leaned his back against the treehouse wall and propped his arms on his knees. “Then you’re perfect.”
A trapdoor behind Paul pushed open and Danny climbed into the treehouse.
“I could hear you guys arguing from across the yard,” Danny said. “And there’s only room for one Wolfman in the Monster Club.”
            Paul looked up from his carving and pleaded to Danny. “I was Wolfman for Halloween. I obviously like Wolfman more than he does.”
            “You were a stupid Wolfman,” Mario said. “You attached the hair with Crazy Glue and had to get it removed by a doctor.”
            “So?”
            “So,” Mario said, “that means you’re stupid enough to be Frankenstein’s Monster.”
            Danny was glad he didn’t have to argue over his monster. Since Monster Mansion was his treehouse, he got first pick. He chose the master of all monsters—Dracula.
            “Frankenstein’s Monster is tall,” Mario said. “Which one of us do people call Tall Paul?”
            “That’s not a good reason,” Paul said.
            “You’re also the only one of us with a scar,” Mario said. “Just like Frankenstein’s Monster.”
            “It was only seven stitches,” Paul said. He pressed a finger above his eyebrow to show Danny. “You can hardly see it anymore.”
            Danny threw his hands in the air. “I’m out of this one,” he said. He stood and walked around his bickering friends to the bookshelf. The bookshelf was small, only up to his waist, but it contained every monster book they could find. There were the traditional books on vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and mummies. There were books on monsters from Africa, South America, Asia, and nearly every place on Earth. But the book Danny picked was the smallest book they owned—101 Monster Jokes. The jokes were dumb, but they were so dumb, he knew Paul and Mario would stop arguing just to shut him up.
            “What is a ghost’s favorite flavor?” Danny asked.
            Mario turned away from Paul and whined, “Not that book again.”
            “Boo-berry,” Danny said.
Mario threw a crumpled bag of potato chips at him.
            Danny read another. “What did Grandma Dracula say when the Boy Scout helped her cross the street?”
“Enough jokes,” Paul said. “We still need to figure out who’s going to be—”
            “Fang you very much,” Danny answered.
            “Would you close the book already?” Paul said.
            “Wait. I’ve got one,” Mario said. “How are the jokes in that book like a vampire?”
            “How?” Danny asked.
            “They both suck!”
Paul rolled onto his back laughing.
Mario made a lunge for the book but Danny dodged the attack.
“Unless you two stop fighting, I’ve got ninety-nine more jokes to go.”
            “Fine,” Paul said. “But school starts tomorrow and I just thought we should have all our monsters picked by then.”
            “The only ones who know about the Monster Club are its members,” Danny said. “That’s us. If we take a little longer deciding, it’s no big deal. Paul, there are plenty of monsters besides Frankenstein’s.”
            “He’s right,” Mario said. “You can be a mummy.”
            Paul shook his head. “Too slow and stupid.”
            “How about a fish monster?” Danny said. “You can be the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
            “You know I can’t do that,” Paul said. “I’m allergic to fish.”
            “This is stupid,” Mario said. He flipped open the latch of the window shutters. “We’re asking you to pretend you’re a monster, not eat yourself.”
            “You can be a zombie,” Danny said, forcing a smile so Paul might think it was a good idea.
            “Right,” Paul said. “There’s a monster known for his brains.”
            Mario pushed open the shutters. “We’d better go, Paul. It’s getting dark.”
Paul and Mario lived next door to each other a few blocks up from Danny. Danny used to be jealous that his two best friends lived so close to each other. That’s why he built the treehouse—so they would visit him as much as possible.
It worked. Paul and Mario were there nearly every day after school and all summer long. They even came over when Danny wasn’t there.
            Danny re-shelved the joke book as Paul and Mario slipped into their jackets.
            “Tomorrow,” Mario said, “we’ll be the oldest students at Foothill Oaks.”
            Paul propped open the trapdoor and started down the rungs nailed into the side of the tree. “And it’s the first official day of the Monster Club.”
            Mario followed Paul down the tree.
            Danny pulled the trapdoor shut above him as he left Monster Mansion. When his feet hit the grass, he turned to his two best friends and said, “Tomorrow, we enter monsterhood.”


Chapter 2

            “Stupid zipper.”
Up in the treehouse was colder than down on the ground and Danny’s jacket wouldn’t zip more than halfway up his chest.
            Paul had called soon after waking up, asking Danny to bring Monster Encyclopedia to school. He wanted to choose his monster during lunch.
            Danny heard the school bus struggling up the hill toward his house. He shoved the thick book into his backpack and zipped it shut. He dropped the bag through the trapdoor onto the damp grass and climbed down after it, skipping the bottom three rungs. Flinging the bag over his shoulder, Danny raced around his house to the sidewalk just as the bus came to a stop.
            “Almost missed it,” Erica said. “Again.”
            Danny rested his hands on his knees, catching his breath. “No, I was watching,” he said. “I just didn’t want to stand out here and freeze to death.”
“You wouldn’t be so cold,” Erica said, “if you’d zip your jacket all the way up.” She climbed the stairs into the bus and vanished into a crowd of students.
            “Good morning, Speedy,” Miss Winchell said.
            Danny grabbed the railing and pulled himself up the steps. “Good morning.”
            Miss Winchell held out her palm and wiggled her fingers. “You got your bus pass with you?”
            Danny reached into his jean pocket and pulled out a crumpled slip of pink paper. “I like your sweater,” he said, unfolding the pass. “It matches the bus.”
            Miss Winchell smiled. “Glad you noticed.”
            Danny flashed the bus pass and searched for an empty seat.
            “Hold up,” Miss Winchell said. “Let me see that pass again.”
            Danny handed her the paper. “What’s the matter?”
            Miss Winchell scanned a finger across the bus pass a few times. “Says here you don’t take this bus anymore.”
            “What?” Danny asked. “Where?”
            Miss Winchell pointed to the top line of the paper. “You should be on bus twenty-three.”
            “There is no bus twenty-three to Foothill Oaks.”
            Miss Winchell pointed to the next line down. Beside the word ‘School’ it did not say ‘Foothill Oaks’ as usual.
            “Bradbury?” Danny said. “What’s that?”
“Never heard of it,” Miss Winchell said. “Maybe your parents signed you up for some new private school or something.”
            “Without telling me?”
            Mrs. Winchell bit one side of her bottom lip then looked into her rear-view mirror. “I really have to meet my schedule.”
            “What am I supposed to do?” Danny asked. He looked around the bus. He had always ridden the same bus with the same people to the same school. Did his parents really change all that without telling him?
            Miss Winchell placed her hand on the lever that pulls the door shut. “I’ll swing by when I’m done and see if you’re here. But right now, I have to go.”
            Danny slumped his way back down the steps to the curb.
            “Good luck,” Miss Winchell said, a worried smile on her face. She pulled the lever to close the door.
            Watching the bus drive away, Danny stood motionless, his shoulders weighed down by his backpack. He watched the bus round the corner to the next street and disappear.
            A steady breeze rattled the bus pass Danny held loose by his side. Behind him, the rumbling of another engine grew louder. Turning around, Danny saw a second yellow bus climbing the hill. It approached the curb and Danny read its number.
Bus twenty-three slowed to a stop with the door right in front of him. The door swung open. Danny looked up at the driver and immediately took a step back. The driver’s skin was gray and chalky. His eyes, as large as Ping-Pong balls, stared straight ahead at the street.
            “Is this the…um…bus to…uh…?”
            The man’s unblinking gaze never shifted from the front window. He spoke in the gurgle of a clogged drain. “Bradbury.”
            Danny backed away further. He looked at his pass, at the name of the school. “That’s what it says. Bradbury. That’s where I’m going.” His feet remained frozen.
            The driver pulled a lever and the door closed with Danny still outside. Danny watched the driver put his hand on the gearshift, ready to leave, as if instructed to stay at each stop for only a certain amount of time.
            Danny knocked on the door’s glass.
            The driver pulled the lever and the door reopened. “Bradbury.”
            Danny crept up the steps and showed the driver his pass. The driver’s eyes never moved so Danny shoved the pass back into his pocket.
Walking down the center aisle, no one scooted over to offer Danny a place to sit. Most of them just glared at him or looked him up and down. Reaching an unoccupied seat in the middle of the bus, Danny began to sit.
“Taken,” a voice said.
            Danny glanced around, but he couldn’t tell who said it so he started to sit again.
            This time the voice was louder—meaner—and coming directly from the seat. “I said this seat is taken!”
            Danny decided to walk a little further.
            The very last bench was empty, spanning across the aisle from one side of the bus to the other. Danny closed his eyes, held his breath, and carefully sat down. No one said a word and the bus drove forward.
            Danny sat in the very center of the long seat, clutching his backpack to his chest like a bulletproof vest. He could feel the thick Monster Encyclopedia between his arms. At that moment, he couldn’t care less if Paul ever chose a monster. They wouldn’t even be in the same school anymore.
            The bus weaved its way up and down the city streets, collecting more students every few blocks. Sometimes the door opened and no one would enter, but Danny swore he still heard footsteps shuffling up the aisle. Every time that happened, he sighed with relief when the footsteps stopped before reaching the back of the bus.
            Several students boarded the bus in black-hooded pullovers and sunglasses. Danny watched as they sat down and unrolled sunshades over their windows with gloved hands before removing their glasses and pushing back their hoods.
For most of the ride the students sat quietly, much quieter than on his old bus. Danny couldn’t tell if they were excited or nervous about the first day of school.
            “Here we go,” a boy in front of Danny said.
            The bus filled with whispers. Fingers pressed against the windows on the right side of the aisle as they drove past a large cemetery. Danny wondered how much longer until they got to school.
            Suddenly, bus twenty-three turned onto a gravel road that wound through the gravesites. Danny pressed his back into the seat and watched granite headstones pass on both sides.
             The bus rocked from side to side as it continued up the road. It turned left onto a narrow dirt path which led directly toward the oversized rusty doors of a white marble mausoleum. Behind the mausoleum, on both sides, was a large brick wall covered in dark ivy.
            Danny remembered hearing that an entire family was buried inside that mausoleum. But when knocked upon, the heavy doors would echo back several times as if the room was completely empty. Not that Danny had ever tried, but he knew people who had.
Danny’s heart pounded against his chest. He strained to see the name etched above the doors. As the bus drove closer, the name became clear.
Bradbury.
They continued forward and the mausoleum grew larger, filling the front windows of the bus. The driver pulled a lever and a stop sign swung out from the left side of the bus.
Danny gripped his backpack tighter.
The stop sign rammed into the harp of a marble angel. Instead of falling off its pedestal, the angel rotated toward the mausoleum.

The metal doors opened inwards, scraping against the floor of the mausoleum, and bus twenty-three drove into darkness.

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