CHAPTER ONE - NATHAN
Dear Mrs. Pediddle,
I think you should know that your lemons, and possibly your entire lemon tree, are super poisonous.
People are lucky to be alive, myself included.
I am supposed to be writing an apology letter for taking lemons from your yard without asking, and for making all of your hair fall out, and for destroying the brand new Metroburg Aquarium, and for making my parent’s house and large parts of the rest of town unlivable because of the incident with the raw sewage. Although, to be fair, that sewage came from all of the houses in town anyway, so I like to think of it as everyone’s mess, not just mine.
Your wig catching on fire is also something that I am being asked to apologize for, although fire is one of the ten basic elements or whatever, so really it was an act of nature. Making a wig out of oily-soaked strips of paper makes them flammable which, as it turns out, means they can easily catch on fire. Which yours did, and everyone else’s too.
And I’m supposed to apologize for ruining the town both in appearance and by contaminating the water supply, twice, the second time with potentially lethal fish. This, actually, is my fault for which I am willing to accept half of the responsibility if my evil sister Zara accepts the other half... and pays for all of the damages.
Speaking of damages, I am going to be filing a lawsuit against the Baozha Fireworks Company of Beijing just as soon as I find out where Beijing is, and how to file a lawsuit. Their fireworks really caused most of this mess anyway, and I should not be held responsible for that.
Speaking of who should be held responsible, while your poison lemons started all of this, the real person who should be apologizing is my sister, Zara.
It was her fault I started that lemonade stand in the first place.
I know everyone thinks she is a goody-two-shoes but she’s not.
Not at all.
The first thing you should know about my sister, Zara, is that even though she is only seven years old she is the smartest person in the world.
She was given a test a few years ago and she got the highest score out of everyone on the planet.
You know those tests you take in school? Well if you score high enough they make you stay during recess to take another test with the one or two other super-smart kids. Then if you score high enough on that test, they make you stay after school and take another, even harder test. Then if you pass THAT test they bring out doctors and scientists and other super-duper smart people to find out just how smart you are. You probably don’t know any of this because you were never asked to stay and take the super-smart test. Don’t worry about it. Neither was I.
But Zara was.
The second thing you should know about Zara is that she is evil. Seriously. It actually said so on her test! E-V-A-L… and then some other letters. It was a pretty big word but I understood the first part.
She uses her super-evil smarts to do really mean things. Especially to me! Like the time she put a plate of food under my bed and left my window open so that animals would come in while I was sleeping. My mom said it was my fault that I woke up with a raccoon sitting on my chest eating pizza crusts because I was always leaving food in my room. But I know it was Zara.
She always booby-traps her room so I can’t see what she’s up to and makes it so that I either have to crawl on the floor to look under her door, or so that I have to drill small peepholes behind the boy band poster on her door.
She plugged up most of the other holes so yesterday I had to drill a new one and all I could make out was a chemistry set sitting on her desk, next to a glass of lemonade.
“Why is a glass of lemonade so important?” you ask.
And the answer is, “Because Zara is out to get me if it’s the last thing she does”.
She even said so the last time we talked to each other, two weeks ago.
And she means it.
Zara is evil.
And Zara is going to get me back if it’s the last thing she does.
So let me explain how this whole thing is her fault…
CHAPTER TWO - SARA
Dear Metroburg Witch Museum,
My name is Sara Goode and I am writing about a letter my brother, Nathan, recently wrote to you. Hopefully you remember it. He claimed that I was a witch, that I could bring the dead back to life, that I cooked spells in large cauldrons, and that I cackle.
While these are all witch-like behaviors, I do not do any of these things.
In case you still don’t recall the letter, it might be helpful to know that in the letter he referred to me as “Zara” instead of “Sara”.
When I was born Nathan had a problem spelling my name. He kept writing the “S” backwards so that it looked like a “Z”. So instead of learning to spell my name correctly he just started calling me by the wrong name.
Also, the letter he sent to you was written in crayon, on the back of a pizza box.
He mentions that he thinks I am evil a lot, to a lot of people.
Babies in strollers.
Post Office employees.
Animals at the zoo.
Anyone who passes by the front of our house.
And now, you.
The reason Nathan thinks that I am evil is because at the start of the school year our second grade class was given tests to determine our reading, writing, and math levels. I love school and learning and I did really well on the tests. I did so good that they recommended I move ahead two grades.
But that would have meant that I’d be in the same class as Nathan and there was no way THAT was going to happen.
So I stayed in my regular class with my friends and I thought that was that.
But my parents were so proud of me that they stuck the test results on the fridge.
And then Nathan saw them.
He didn’t even bother looking at the 100%, but instead focused on the word at the top of the test.
I watched him try to sound out the word at least a dozen times with no luck. I told him to try and break the word into syllables to make it easier to manage.
“Eval…” he said. “Eval…”
And then it happened.
“This thing says you’re 100% evil!”
Before I could correct him he ran off to tell everyone in town that I rode around on a broom and had a wart on my nose.
Which I don’t.
CHAPTER THREE - NATHAN
Dear Metroburg Citrus Growers Association,
Before I apologize for giving lemonade, and lemons, a bad name, I want to be very clear about this: Mrs. Pediddle’s tree had a branch that hung into my yard. That’s how I was able to climb up into the tree in the first place. And if you think about it, that makes it tree trespassing, or what I like to call “treespassing”.
Before you get any ideas, by the time you read this I will have already copyrighted and/or trademarked the word “treespassing” so if you want to use it you’re going to have to pay me. A lot.
Mrs. Pediddle’s tree branch hanging over into my yard is important to know because she said I was the one who was trespassing last year when I accidentally turned her back yard into a go-kart track, which is why she installed the very large fence along our property line in the first place.
Anyway, after I climbed up the branch that was hanging over into my property, I was minding my own business playing a game called Tree Ball, where you take a bat and climb up into a tree and hit lemons, trying to knock them off their branches. This also works with limes, apples, oranges, and if you’re lucky enough to find one, grapefruit trees. Those babies really explode!
Before you get any ideas and try to turn Tree Ball into a major professional sport, I should tell you that I have already sent letters to several orchards (where they make trees), grocery stores (where they sell fruit), as well as the Association of Sports Startups (which I think is a real organization) to try and get this sport into the big time. If you would like to join my league you can send a check and I can put you on the waiting list. Since I don’t know how much joining the league will cost yet, just leave the amount part of the check blank and I’ll fill it in later.
Well, after I had been playing for a few hours I found that there were no more lemons in Mrs. Pediddle’s tree, but there were a LOT of lemons in my yard. So I decided to make lemonade.
Now here’s a funny thing about lemons that you might not know.
When you squeeze out the lemons it really doesn’t make that much juice!
So I added some water and then tasted…
So then I added some sugar…
Then I added some more sugar…
Then I added some more sugar…
Then I added some more sugar…
So I added some more water, but then the whole thing just tasted funny.
So I added a bunch of other stuff from the fridge, the spice rack, even the locked cabinet that I’m not supposed to go into that’s out in the garage.
It didn’t really help. In fact, it made it much, much worse.
That meant that since I wasn’t going to actually ever drink the lemonade, I only had one choice left. Sell it to someone else who would at least pay me for all my time and trouble of making that stuff in the first place.
Do you know the saying, “If life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade?”
Well there should be another saying that goes along with it, “If bad lemons make your lemonade taste awful, you should sell it to someone else so you can at least buy a new video game.”
So I left the lemonade in the refrigerator while I worked on a lemonade stand.
And that was when my little sister must have done whatever she did. I might not be as smart as her, but I know when she’s up to no good, because it is always.
When I finished making the lemonade stand I came back into the house and poured some of the lemonade into Jethro’s dog bowl. He lapped it up for about three seconds, which meant that whatever Zara did must have been pretty bad because I’ve seen him drink out of the toilet for much longer than that.
And that was when it happened…
All of Jethro’s hair fell out onto a big pile on the floor!
Have you ever seen a Saint Bernard with no hair? My dog looked like the world’s biggest rat. Seriously, it was frightening.
Anyway, I know you’re probably still wondering about the lemonade so let me get back to the point.
At first I blamed the whole thing on bad lemons, which of course was not the case. So I apologize for making your industry look bad. I know now that this was my sister Zara’s fault so if any laws were broken or fines are to be paid, please direct them to her.
CHAPTER FOUR - SARA
Dear Pricey Pets Pet Store,
I wanted to apologize for the negative review that my brother left on your store’s website regarding the hand-knitted dog sweaters.
The one we purchased actually works great as our dog continues to grow back his hair.
The reason my brother gave the sweater zero out of ten stars and wrote, “This is the dumbest piece of clothing in the history of dumb clothing,” in his review is because he could not get the sweater to go onto our dog, Jethro, correctly.
He was putting it on the wrong end.
He didn’t take the time to read the word “Sweater” on the tag and he just assumed that they were dog pants, where the arm-holes were leg-holes and the opening for the head was instead an opening for the tail and, as he referred to it in the review, “dog business”.
I could not find a way to remove his review so I have, instead, written two really positive reviews to make up for the difference.
I apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.
CHAPTER FIVE - NATHAN
Dear Metroburg Better Business Bureau,
I am writing in response to the several complaints that you have received about my lemonade stand.
First of all, you should know that the stand in question no longer exists, as it was burned up in the fire that also destroyed my house.
Second, the lemonade I was selling came from lemons belonging to my next door neighbor so that part is her fault.
Third, the money I made from selling the lemonade has already been spent. Most of it was on candy. The rest was spent on stupid dog pants that didn’t even work right. If anyone should file a complaint against a business it should be the Pricey Pets Pet Store and their terrible products.
And fourth, the stand was made entirely out of my sister Zara’s dolls and doll house so it’s mostly her fault anyway.
After the incident last year with the tree house I built that actually fell onto our real house, my dad threw away any spare wood and nails and tools and stuff that we had. So with no other choice, I took my sister’s old doll house that was in the garage and I flattened the roof and covered the whole thing in an old pink baby blanket. It worked perfectly.
I didn’t have a sign so I just glued a bunch of her dolls together with their arms and legs out in different directions so they spelled that words “Lemonaid”.
I know. I know. Lemonade is not spelled “Lemonaid”, but the glue had already dried by the time I put the sign together and I couldn’t fix it without breaking all of the doll parts. Besides, people would get the point. I read somewhere that something like one-hundred percent of Americans are bad at speling. And something like one-thousand percent are bad at math.
Anyway, I set the stand out at the end of my driveway and on one side of a piece of cardboard I wrote $20. On the other side I wrote the word FREE!
“That’s not how you spell ‘Lemonade’, Nathan Bad.” A girl named Abby said, walking up to the stand. “And are those Sara’s dolls all glued together?”
Abby is my sister Zara’s friend and like most of my sister’s friends she is two years younger than me, acts like she is smarter than me, and doesn’t like me very much. That’s why she changed my last name from ‘Goode’ to ‘Bad’.
“I know, Abby,” I told her, meaning that I knew it then, although I guess I didn’t really know it when I was putting on the glue. “Are you going to try some lemonade or not?”
“How much?” she asked.
I turned the cardboard sign over to show the word FREE.
“Yes,” I said. “I had a bunch of extra lemons anyway. And I wouldn’t think of charging any of Zara’s friends.”
Abby was looking at me like she didn’t trust me, so I put on my most innocent-looking face. My innocent face looks a lot like my regular face, only I try not to look like I’m getting her to drink lemonade that will make her hair fall out.
I guess it worked because she picked up a glass, sniffed it, and took a big gulp.
She spat a good amount of it back out, mostly all over my innocent-looking face.
“This tastes like battery acid drained through a dirty dish towel.”
I pulled out a book I had picked up at the library about starting a small business. I opened it to Chapter One – “Customer Service”.
It said, right in bold at the top, “The Customer is Always Right!”
“Correct!” I said.
“What?!?” Abby shouted. “Do you mean that there really IS battery acid in here, or that you drained it through a dirty dish towel.”
Neither of those things was true, but the book said that the customer is always right so I just smiled and nodded. Abby walked away angry, which is pretty much the only way I’ve ever seen her walk away from me.
So far my plan was going… well… as planned.
And then my neighbor, Mrs. Pediddle, showed up…
Mrs. Pediddle used to be a nice old lady who let me play in her yard and never asked me to clean up my mess.
Now she is a grumpy old lady who put up a big fence between my yard and hers and yells at me whenever I play in her yard and make a mess.
“Are those my lemons?” she asked, pointing at the lemon rinds in the plastic bag next to my lemonade stand. “I saw you playing in my tree even though I was shouting at you to get down and to stop knocking the lemons all over the ground!”
“Sorry. I must not have heard you,” I explained, which was true. I really hadn’t heard her. But she’s old and doesn’t shout as loud as she used to so it was probably her fault anyway.
“How much is your lemonade?” she asked.
I flipped over the sign, showing $20. Mrs. Pediddle almost passed out.
“Twenty dollars for lemonade? Made with MY lemons? I should charge YOU!”
I opened the small business book I borrowed from the library to Chapter Two - “Setting Your Price”. Pricing is basically where you take the cost of everything you used to make lemonade, like the lemons, water, sugar, and cups, and whatever else, and adding it up to get your total cost. Then you add a little bit to that for your time. Any money that you make above your cost is your profit. Pretty simple, right? Well not if you’re out for revenge instead of profit.
The reason I chose a price of either Free or $20 was so that I could give away the lemonade to Zara’s friends, and charge such a high price that everyone who wasn’t a friend of Zara’s would never every pay to drink it.
But I didn’t count on Ms. Pediddle.
“Since you used my lemons I shouldn’t have to pay anything!” Mrs. Pediddle said loudly, picking up a glass before I could stop her and drinking the whole thing down… which she then spat back up.
“This is horrible!” she screeched. “It tastes like dog dish water drained through dirty underwear!”
She walked back to her house shaking her head and muttering something.
Luckily, the next person who walked by was another friend of Zara’s named Bess.
Much like Abby and Mrs. Pediddle, Bess also didn’t like me.
But she did like lemonade.
Just not mine.
She also spat it out all over my face.
“Is this toilet water?” Bess asked, looking concerned.
“No. It’s made with lemons,” I explained, showing her the bag full of squeezed lemon rinds.
“Those are green. That means that they aren’t ripe.”
“Yeah, to eat,” I corrected her. “But you can still squeeze the juice out of them.”
Bess threw her hands up like she was frustrated, and walked away.
A few minutes later another of Zara’s friends, Claire, came walking by.
“Free lemonade!” I said, pointing at the sign.
“I wouldn’t drink anything you made, Nathan Bad,” she said.
“Zara helped,” I told her.
She looked doubtful.
“Seriously. She did,” I lied, wiping my face with a paper towel, getting ready.
“How much?” Claire asked.
“It’s normally twenty dollars but it’s free for you since you’re a friend.”
Claire just stared at me for a full three minutes. Seriously.
That’s a long time for someone to stare at you without speaking.
It gets uncomfortable.
And just when I thought that she wasn’t going to go for it, she took a glass and drank the lemonade. She also spat it out all over the place.
“This tastes like something died in a puddle and you scooped out the water and are calling it lemonade,” she said, wiping her tongue on the sleeve of her shirt.
I looked down at my small business book and in bold letters it said, “Always Thank the Customer!”
“Thank you,” I said. “Come back soon.”
Claire walked away as angry as I had ever seen her, which is saying something because I have seen her angry at me a lot.
Three more of my sister’s friends, Delilah, Emily and Fiona, walked up next. They saw the lemonade stand and stopped.
“What kind of lemonade is it?” Delilah asked.
“The kind you drink,” I said, not understanding her question.
“She means is it yellow or pink lemonade?” Emily explained like I was dumb or something.
I looked at the pitcher that was still about half full.
“Kind of green… I guess?”’
“I’m NOT drinking that,” Fiona said, pointing at the pitcher.
“But it’s for a good cause,” I said.
“What cause?” Delilah asked.
“I’m charging $20 a glass to save up enough money to buy Zara a new doll house and dolls. But since you’re friends I wasn’t going to charge you.”
The three girls all looked at each other, and then they looked at me in a way I had never seen before. They looked at me as if I was… nice. I liked it.
It occurred to me that there were things I did in my life that I thought were funny, but that might affect other people in a way that made them unhappy with me. And it also occurred to me that by being more kind and giving to others, that they in turn would be kinder and nicer to me. I saw, in a flash, how selfish I had been my entire life. From then on I was going to change my ways. I was going to be different. I was going to be the best version of me that I could possibly be!
And then I got hit with lemonade spray from three different directions.
“I don’t think this is lemonade. I think this is poison,” Delilah said, spitting on the ground.
“I think you used salt instead of sugar!” Emily shouted.
“Did a cat pee in this?” Fiona asked, pointing at the pitcher.
The three girls all walked away coughing and spitting.
“Have a nice day!” I shouted as they walked off, trying to remember what I had just been thinking about.
I didn’t have much of the lemonade left, and I could see Mrs. Pediddle through her kitchen window on the telephone.
And that was when Gloria and Hannah walked by. I poured the last of the lemonade into two cups.
“Why is my tongue burning?” Gloria cried, fanning her tongue with her hand.
I was about to explain that I added some hot sauce to cover the sour taste of the lemons but Hannah interrupted me by throwing up in the bushes.
“Thanks, Nathan Bad! Now we’re going to be late for the Planet Party!”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s where people get together once a month to plant trees, pick up trash, organize recycling, and do other things to help the planet.”
“Why? What has the planet ever done to help us?”
Gloria and Hannah stared at me for a full minute before walking off.
A full minute.
Not as bad as when Claire did it, but still awkward.
Either way, my mission was accomplished. All of Zara’s friends drank the lemonade that she had ruined, and I had my revenge.
Or so I thought…
CHAPTER SIX - SARA
Dear Guinness Book of World Records,
My name is Sara Goode and I am writing on behalf of my town of Metroburg, here in the United States of America. I was reading through several volumes of your books and I noticed that there is no, “Prettiest Town in the World” category, and I would like to change that.
Metroburg is a wonderful town full of amazing people.
From the natural beauty of our protected Metroburg Lake to our annual Flower Festival, we feel that our town has more natural beauty than any other town in the world. And we are about to open the new Metroburg Aquarium, which will offer visitors both an amazing resource to see all kinds of aquatic life, and because it is located at the top of Metroburg Hill it will offer amazing views of what we all think is the Prettiest Town in the World.
And we hope you will think so too.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
CHAPTER SEVEN - NATHAN
Dear Guinness Book of World Records,
I am writing on behalf of my dog, Jethro, who recently lost all of his hair.
He looks EXACTLY like a giant rat!
I don’t think that you have a Giant Rat category so you should start one.
If you think that he would not qualify for this because he is actually a dog, please feel free to create a Biggest Hairless Dog category.
Either would be fine.
CHAPTER EIGHT - SARA
Dear Metroburg Poison Control Center,
Thank you for taking the time to help my friends and I when we called you last week. We were very scared and we are very thankful for the help you provided.
We’re still not sure of exactly what was in the lemonade my brother made but we are all feeling better now, although obviously it is going to be a long time before any of us are back to normal.
And thank you for sending us the refrigerator magnets and stickers with the skull and crossbones on them. We will keep your number handy in case my brother tries to poison us again. We have placed the stickers on the front, and side, and top and bottom of all of our potentially dangerous household items so that he won’t need to read the list of ingredients to know if something is bad for you.
CHAPTER NINE - NATHAN
If I’m being really honest, I suppose that I didn’t ride my longboard to the park just for fun. Part of me was also curious to see what was going to happen next with Zara’s friends.
When I got to Metroburg Park there was a huge stage set up with banners and streamers and chairs all over the lawn.
The main banner over the stage read, “Guinness Book of World Records - Prettiest Town in the World FINALIST” and a big man in a little suit was putting on a wide sash that said, “Mayor”.
All over the rest of the park people were pushing wheelbarrows full of dirt and pulling wagons full of recycled newspaper. There were rows of tables where people were trading clothes and books and vegetables and furniture. There were booths where people were taking old things like baby t-shirts and making new things like quilts. A friend of mine from school was even showing people how to make skateboard decks out of old board games.
I had to admit that, except for all the hard work, it looked like a pretty fun event.
“Hello, Nathan. Would you like some fresh-pressed apple juice?”
“What?” I asked, turning around to see a friend of my mom’s, although I couldn’t remember her name.
“Some volunteers just picked these apples and made some apple juice from them. Would you like some?”
“How much?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s free,” she said, smiling.
I laughed and folded my arms.
“No thanks,” I said. “I’m not falling for that!”
I was just about to leave before somebody asked me to participate in the event when a band started playing near the stage. It wasn’t a good band. It was mostly made up of old people playing trumpets or trombones or whatever. The woman playing the big metal cymbals was tiny and every time she crashed them together it looked like she was going to fall over. So I decided to stay for that.
I sat in a chair as far away as I could possibly get, so I could leave without being noticed if things got even more boring. Seriously, it was the last chair in the back corner. There weren’t even people sitting back there. Just me.
People from all over the park started making their way to the chairs that were closer to the front. I saw Zara and her friends all sitting in a row right near the stage. The Mayor was shaking Zara’s hand for some reason.
When everyone was seated the band stopped playing (sadly, the tiny, old woman with the cymbals never fell over) and the mayor walked up to a microphone.
“Thank you all for coming today, and for all of your hard work. This Planet Party is helping to make our town even more beautiful and clean, and we owe it all to one special, young lady who organized the whole event. Ms. Sara Goode!”
Everyone in town started clapping and cheering as my sister stood up and walked next to the mayor.
“The first think you should know about Sara is that she is a pretty special little lady for caring as much as she does about the planet and this town,” the Mayor said.
More applause. Clap, clap, clap. Blah, blah, blah.
“She organized today’s Planet Party,” clap, clap, clap. “She is also organizing next week’s Flower Festival, which will include thousands of flowers, floats, and a grand parade!” Blah, blah, blah.
“And,” the mayor said, “Because Sara has taken such great care with this park and this town, and because of her letter writing skills, the folks from the Guinness Book of World Records are coming to visit. If all goes well, Metroburg will hold the first ever record for, ‘Prettiest Town in the World’
Clippity, clappity, yackity, smackity.
“Sara? Would you care to say a couple of words?”
Zara stepped up to the microphone. The entire town let out an, “Awwwww…” and looked at her like she was a puppy or something.
“Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for your kind words,” Zara said. “First, I’d like to thank all of my friends for helping me organize this event, and the upcoming Flower Festival. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Abby, Bess, Claire, Delilah, Emily, Fiona, Gloria and Hannah all stood up and joined Zara on stage.
And when they did, a funny thing happened.
At least, it was funny to me. I could tell because I was the only person who laughed, loudly, while the rest of the town looked pretty shocked.
As the girls stood on stage, a gust of wind blew through the park.
It wasn’t a strong breeze or anything, but just like when you blow on a dandelion and the whole thing flies apart, all of the hair on the girl’s heads blew off, swirled in the air for a minute, and then floated away on the wind.
When the breeze stopped, all of Zara’s friends were entirely bald!
Maybe it was my loud laughing, or the fact that I was lying on the ground holding my stomach, or perhaps because I was pointing at the girls on the stage. Whatever the reason, everyone turned to look at me. And they all looked pretty mad. Some started shouting, and the tiny, old woman crashed her cymbals at me.
Zara looked the maddest, which didn’t really make sense to me because she was the only one of her friends who hadn’t drank any of the lemonade. She still had all of her hair.
Anyway, I did the only thing anyone could do in a situation like that.
I ran, screaming, shouting that it wasn’t my fault.
In addition to being evil, Zara is also pretty fast. And her friends are pretty fast too, and they were probably a little faster than normal since they didn’t have all of their hair slowing them down.
I could feel their fingers on the collar of my shirt when I made it to the sidewalk where my longboard was waiting. In a few seconds I was picking up speed as I headed down the hill towards home.
I barely made it into my room before Zara and her friends started pounding on my door. I had to really lean my shoulder into it to keep it from opening.
“I know what you did, Nathan!” she shouted.
“What I did?” I asked. “YOU are the one who poisoned the lemonade. I tested it on Jethro before I gave it to anyone.”
I looked over and saw my poor, hairless dog shivering in the corner of my room. I kicked him a blanket. He really did look like the world’s biggest rat.
“I didn’t touch your stupid lemonade!” Zara said.
“Why does everyone’s hair fall out when they drink it then?” I asked, confident that I had stumped her.
Zara was quiet for a second. Then…
“What did you put in the lemonade?” Zara asked.
“Unripe lemons,” she corrected. “What else?”
“Well, the lemons were really sour so I added a bunch of sugar.”
“What else?” she asked, louder.
“Well…” I thought back to when I had made the lemonade. “It was still pretty sour so I added some hot sauce.”
“That’s dumb,” she said. “What else?”
“Well, then it was too spicy,” I explained. “So I added some milk, since milk helps make things less spicy.”
“Uggh,” I heard her say. “What else?”
“Maybe some pickle juice…”
“I like pickle juice.”
Zara was quiet again before asking, “Well? Is that it?”
I thought about it, trying to remember. “And maybe some rasons.”
“Raisins?” I heard Abby and a few of the other girls say through the door. “There weren’t any raisins in the lemonade.”
“They dissolved when I put them in the lemonade.”
“They dissolved?” Zara asked.
“Yeah. Dissolved. It means when something disappears when you stir it.”
“That’s not what it means, Nathan. What raisins did you use?”
“The jar of them that’s in the locked cabinet that I’m not supposed to go into out in the garage.”
I could hear Zara walk down the hallway and open the door to the garage. She returned a moment later.
I heard a bunch of girls gasping, then screaming, then everyone running out of the house.
“You didn’t put raisins in the lemonade, Nathan. It was something else. Something bad. And when we get back from the hospital you are going to be in big trouble!”
I heard Zara’s feet stomping down the hall and then the front door slam. It could have been a trap but I was pretty sure they were gone. And I had to go to the bathroom pretty bad.
I opened my door a crack and peeked out. The coast was clear.
On the floor, sitting in front of my door, was a bottle. Now that I was looking at it, it did seem like kind of a weird container for rasons. And it was strange that my parents would keep rasons in the garage in the locked cabinet where they kept the bug sprays and paint and stuff. And the label was kind of faded and hard to read. But it did say “rasons” right on it, although there were some spaces between the letters.
Looking closer, I could see that some of those spaces also had faded, worn letters:
R – A – something – something – something – something – S – O – N.
It occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t how the word “raisin” was spelled.
The middle letters, if you squinted your eyes, sort of looked like T – P – O – I.
I put all the letters together. R – A – T – P – O – I – S – O – N.
Okay. So maybe I screwed up.
But I knew exactly how I was going to fix it.
CHAPTER TEN - NATHAN
Dear Metroburg Poison Control Center,
Thanks for the awesome skull and bone stickers!
My little sister got ahold of them first and started putting them all over the bottles we keep under the sink and in our locked cabinet, but no one can see the stickers there! So I peeled them all off and put them on my skateboard, which now looks really cool.
Speaking of poison, I have a question. If it’s called Rat Poison, how come it’s bad for people? Shouldn’t it be called “People Poison”? Or, if it works on both rats and people, shouldn’t it just be called plain, old Poison.
That’s probably something you guys should think about.
Also, why a skull and cross bones? Did pirates used to drink a lot of poison?
Also, if there’s a Poison Control Center, why isn’t there an “Antidote Control Center” for people who accidentally drink antidotes? That would have been handy considering what happened after my sister and her friends went to the hospital.
Part of the problem was that I felt bad about my sister’s friend’s hair and possibly having poisoned them so I stayed up until two o’clock in the morning trying to make things right with no luck.
At first my plan was to make an antidote to the rat poison but no matter what chemicals I mixed together it always smelled awful and, every now and then, started smoking.
Then my plan was to make a drink that would help hair grow back. I tested some of them out on Jethro but he was still hairless.
No matter what crazy combination of foods, chemicals or poisons I tried, nothing seemed to work. So after each failed experiment I threw the nasty mixtures into a big bucket.
When I decided to get some sleep I knew that I had to get rid of the evidence so I tried pouring some of the bubbling mess down the sink.
But it melted the pipes.
I tried dumping the bucket into the toilet.
But then the toilet water started to boil.
I even tried dumping it behind the bushes next to the house, but when the liquid in the bucket touched the ground it set the grass on fire!
So I did the only thing someone in my situation could do…
I took the bucket to the lake.
Metroburg Lake is pretty much the most boring lake in the history of the world. They don’t let you swim in it. It doesn’t have any fish in it. And there is a big fence around it to keep people out.
It is technically called a “reservoir”, whatever that means, although I am pretty sure it’s Spanish for “boring lake”.
When I got to the lake I was kept out by the large chain link fence.
I splashed some of the liquid from inside the bucket on the fence and the metal started sizzling and falling away.
A few steps later I was at the edge of the lake, which was lucky because the bucket started sizzling until a hole burned through the bottom. All of the goo inside the bucket sploshed into the water before the rest of the bucket dissolved. All that was left was the handle!
And then I went home and went to bed.
And I fell into a deep sleep.
At least until all of the screaming stared…
CHAPTER ELEVEN - SARA
Dear Metroburg General Hospital,
Ten years ago my brother Nathan Goode was born at your hospital.
What is your policy on returns? Can we bring him back for a refund?
We are also happy to bring him back in exchange for no refund.
We would also consider paying you to take him back.
Please let us know if this is an option, and how much it would cost. I am sure we could set up a fundraiser or collection.
CHAPTER TWELVE - NATHAN
As it turns out, water is used in all sorts of stuff, like:
Brushing your teeth
Taking a shower
Flushing a toilet
And a lot of other stuff…
And as it also turns out, when people don’t have clean, poison-free water available they kind of freak out a little bit.
At least that’s what happened to everyone in town the next morning when they drank water from the tap, took a shower, or did pretty much anything else with water that got pumped into every house in town from the same place.
Turns out that the word reservoir is actually French, and it means, a pond or lake used to store drinking water. Who knew?
The first sign of a problem came when I sat down to breakfast. My dad was late for work so he was eating a piece of toast while drinking his coffee. Coffee, as you may or may not know, is made with water.
My mom was drinking orange juice, the kind from concentrate, which is the frozen stuff that you mix with water. Zara was glaring at me as she took a big gulp of water from a glass. Water that was made with… water.
My mom kissed my dad goodbye as he walked out the door, which is a whole other story for another time. Parents shouldn’t kiss in front of their kids. It’s super gross.
“Have a nice day at work, dear,” she said, right before screaming.
To be fair, my dad didn’t have that much hair in the first place so when it all fell out on the front porch it really wasn’t all that shocking. What was shocking was when my mom’s hair fell out too, making them both bald.
“This is Nathan’s fault!” Zara shouted from behind me.
I was about to deny everything when I saw that Zara’s hair had also fallen out. And then I had a better idea. Instead of denying everything I should just run.
I sprinted out the front door past my bald parents. Zara chased after me but slipped on the pile of my mom’s hair laying on the floor.
I ran past Mrs. Pediddle’s house, who I saw standing out on her porch, bald, pointing a finger at me.
“I know it was YOU!” she shouted.
I ran through the park where I saw parents pushing baby strollers, teenagers playing flag football, joggers jogging, and everywhere I looked everyone’s hair fell off in a big poofy lump.
And they were all pointing fingers, shouting and chasing after me.
It might have been because I was the only person in town with hair (I generally don’t drink water as I prefer soda, pop, energy drinks, or super high fructose juices) or it might have been because they all knew what I had done.
I made it to the edge of the park when the crowd almost caught up to me. Luckily, a police car pulled up and the crowd stopped.
“Thank goodness you’re here, officers.” I said, panting and trying to catch my breath.
Two very bald police officers stepped out of the car.
“We know it was you!” they shouted before they also started chasing me.
I ran through the center of town with a crowd gathering behind me. I ran past the fire department where bald firemen started chasing me. I ran past the library where bald librarians started chasing me. I ran past the barber shop that had a “Closed Due To Baldness” sign on the front door. In no time the entire town was after me!
I ran and I ran but my legs were giving out.
Feathers were raining down from the trees as birds lost their feathers. Hairless cats were chasing hairless mice through the fields. I saw a duck in a nearby pond who’s feathers fell out and he sank!
I barely made it back to my house where I ran in the front door, locked it, and pushed a chair up against the handle. No one was home. I looked out the peephole in the door and could see Zara and my parents in the angry crowd shouting, “Let’s get him!”
I saw my dad trying to put his key in the lock but luckily the chair I jammed up under the doorknob kept the door from opening.
“Wait!” I shouted. “I can fix this!”
The crowd stopped shouting for a second.
“You can get us our hair back?” I heard someone shout. “How?”
I thought about it for a second. It was a long shot. And it wasn’t hair, exactly, but it just might work.
“I have a plan,” I said.
It wasn’t a very good plan. And it was going to be a lot of work. But if I pulled it off the town wouldn’t try to kill me anymore.
And the best part is that it would make me very, very rich.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - NATHAN
I once read that for every problem there is a solution. The problem I was having, though, was that the solutions often led to new problems. Like this…
PROBLEM: The entire town was bald and blamed it on me.
SOLUTION: Promise to give them new hair so they don’t kill me.
PROBLEM: I don’t know how to make new hair.
SOLUTION: Make something other than hair that looks like hair.
PROBLEM: There was nothing in the house, other than hair, that looked like hair.
SOLUTION: Make something to cover their heads. Hats!
I checked my mom’s arts and crafts bin but there wasn’t enough yarn to make enough hats for the entire town. Plus, I didn’t know how to knit and I didn’t think my mom was going to help me anyway.
I checked in my dad’s bathroom drawer for the stuff he puts on his head to grow more hair but he didn’t have enough for the entire town. I could possibly make something using stuff in the kitchen and chemicals under the sink, but that didn’t work out so well last time.
In the garage, though, I saw something that might work: stacks and stacks of recycled newspapers that Zara had saved to recycle at the Planet Party.
I took a page from one of the newspapers and folded it, then creased the corner, folded again, and again, and again, then tucked and folded, creased, folded, tucked under, creased and tucked.
From one sheet of newspaper I had folded a very professional looking pirate hat. I tried it on and it worked great! Plus, right in the front of the hat was an ad for diapers and it had a picture of a big baby’s bottom right there, which I thought was pretty cool.
But again I ran into the problems and solutions thing…
PROBLEM: My hand was covered in newsprint from just making one hat.
SOLUTION: Wear gloves.
PROBLEM: If I wore gloves I wouldn’t be able to fold and crease hats properly.
SOLUTION: Don’t make hats.
I looked around the garage for something I could make that didn’t require so much folding and creasing and tucking AND that would cover people’s heads AND take advantage of all the recycled newspaper.
And then I saw it.
My parents had an old shredder that they used for recycling things that had their name and address and other important pieces of information on it. I used their shredder for getting rid of tests that had bad grades on them.
The thing about their shredder was that it was old. New shredders cut paper top to bottom AND side to side so that all the paper comes out looking like confetti. But my parent’s shredder just cut the paper into long strips. Strips that sort of looked like hair!
I spent the whole first half of the day shredding newspapers.
When that was done I spent the whole second half of the day spreading glue on my bike helmet and then pressing down handfuls of the paper strips so that they came out looking like a wig you could fit on your head. But it didn’t look quite right.
Most people’s hair didn’t have tiny letters and bits of pictures.
So I spent the whole third half of my day dipping the wigs in some old motor oil my dad had sitting in a plastic container from when he changed the oil in the car.
All of the wigs came out looking brown and black, which was more or less how most people’s hair looked. Mrs. Peddidle’s hair was all white so this would be an improvement for her.
Once the wigs dried I would be ready to give them to the townspeople who would most likely look upon me as a hero.
I saw my Small Business book and opened it to a chapter titled, Supply and Demand.
It said that if you had something that a lot of people wanted, you should set your price to cover the cost of the item plus a small amount for profit so that you could sell a lot of items and make a good amount of money. The newspaper and motor oil was free so I figured I could just give away the wigs, no problem.
But then I read the next paragraph. And it said that if you had something people wanted they would pay some money for it. But if you had something that people needed, they would pay a LOT of money for it!
I was going to make a lot more money that I ever could have with my lemonade stand.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - SARA
The first thing that occurred to me when all of my friend’s hair fell out was that Nathan had something to do with it.
The first thing that occurred to me when EVERYONE in the town’s hair fell out was that Nathan definitely had something to do with it.
My friends drank the lemonade so I could see how their hair would fall out. But the rest of the town? That meant that somehow Nathan’s filthy beverage had gotten into the town water supply. And that meant Metroburg Lake.
I might have mentioned this before but I love school, and I really love science, so I took my science kit down to the lake to take some water samples.
As I stood at the edge of the water and filled up some test tubes I saw a bald eagle in a nearby tree. I also saw a bald owl, a bald fox, and a bald deer in the woods.
And I saw something else.
The flowers around Metroburg Lake were gigantic, vibrant, and beautiful. They were the most amazing flowers I had ever seen!
Whatever concoction Nathan had created that caused people’s hair to fall out was also the perfect food for flowers. And with the upcoming Flower Festival, and the visit by the Guinness Book of World Records, my brother might have accidentally turned the town bald, but he also might have guaranteed that we make it into the record books.
At least that was what I was thinking at the time.
As we all know now, things did not turn out that way at all.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - NATHAN
You know how some people like to get up at the crack of dawn? Well, I like to get up at the crack of noon. Especially on non-school days.
I like to ease into it, too. Big stretch. Big yawn. Maybe kick some blankets onto the floor. Fall back asleep for a while. You get the idea.
That next morning, and technically it was still morning, I could feel the sun shining through my window and I could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.
At least until Mrs. Pediddle stuck her head in my window and started screeching at me.
“Are you going to sleep all day?” she shouted.
“Not all day,” I said, yawning. “Why are you standing outside of my window?”
“When are we going to get our hair back?” she shouted.
“Huh?” I asked, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.
I looked outside and the entire town was still there, in my back yard, in the driveway and outside of my room.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “I’ll meet you in the garage.”
I threw on some clothes and shuffled out to the garage. The black and brown oil had dried. They looked perfect.
I still had the lemonade stand in the corner of the garage so I broke apart some of the doll arms and legs that had been spelling L-E-M-O-N-A-I-D and re-bent them so that they spelled W-I-G-S.
I threw a bunch of wigs onto the table and opened the garage door.
The entire town was there and they did not look good.
Because the town water supply was tainted (their word, not mine. I prefer the word “enhanced”) they couldn’t take showers or brush their teeth or drink coffee or do a lot of other things that was now causing them to all look very grumpy and tired and mad.
“What’s this?” one of the townspeople asked. I think he was one of my old teachers.
“Wigs!” I said. “Just like your old hair only better. Now you can take your hair off to wash it and brush it instead of having to reach up over your head all the time.
“But my hair wasn’t black before,” a girl said. I think she used to be one of my babysitters or something.
“You can paint them whatever color you’d like!” I explained.
The town didn’t look like they appreciated all of my hard work.
“How much?” An old man asked. I think he was my grandpa.
I looked around for something to make a sign with, to let them know it was going to be $1,000 for each wig, but the crowd was in a hurry and the only sign I had was the one I had made for the lemonade. So I hung it up. I wouldn’t make as much money as I had hoped, but at least everyone would be happy. Or at least they would be less mad.
“Twenty dollars?!?” everyone shouted all at once.
I was about to explain that it was the only sign I had when they all started coming into the garage like they were going to hurt me, although I couldn’t really be sure.
“Let’s hurt him!” someone shouted. I think it was my doctor.
As the entire town tried cramming themselves into the garage I crawled under my mom’s minivan. I felt hands trying to grab my feet and pull me out when a small voice from out near the street shouted, “Good news! We removed the chemicals that were poisoning the lake and we have our water back!”
“Hooray!” everyone cheered, drowning out my disappointed, “Awwww.”
A few seconds later I could see hundreds of pairs of feet shuffling away.
When the coast was clear I crawled out from under the car and looked around to make sure it wasn’t a trick.
It wasn’t. The coast was clear. I was safe. But something was missing. Lots of somethings.
All of the wigs were gone.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - SARA
Dear Sunny Day Chemical Company,
Enclosed with this letter is a vial of liquid that would make an excellent plant fertilizer. It has been thoroughly tested and found to alter the growth properties of flowers, vegetables, trees, grasses, and more.
The chemical composition appears to aid the chlorophyll in the photosynthesis process as plants convert sunlight into energy, although I don’t have the specific lab equipment to completely test this hypothesis.
The one negative side effect is that the chemical is harmful to humans, and makes their hair fall out.
As all of your other chemical products have side effects that are much worse than just hair loss, I am hoping that you might be interested in taking a look.
Please be careful handling the sample.
If you do happen to somehow get the sample on your skin, or in your mouth, or even in your town’s water supply (hypothetically speaking), I have included a second vial with the antidote.
My hope is that you will purchase the formula and the proceeds will go to the restoration of the town of Metroburg, which was almost destroyed recently, as you may have heard in the news.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - NATHAN
I called the police about the stolen wigs but they didn’t seem very interested in arresting anyone. This was probably because they were also wearing wigs that they had stolen from my garage. I guess a crime isn’t a crime if everyone is in on it!
Anyway, I decided to clean up the garage since the crowd had made such a mess. I figured that I was probably going to get into a bit of trouble over the whole hair thing so any little bit helps. Two things about that:
Firstly, no, I didn’t get into a “bit” of trouble. I got into a “LOT” of trouble.
Number B, if I had known I was going to get into a lot of trouble, I wouldn’t have cleaned up the garage.
Cleaning is one of my least favorite things to do. Seriously, it’s on my list:
NATHAN’S LIST OF LEAST FAVORITE THINGS TO DO:
3. Wear pants
4. Wear shirts with collars and/or buttons
5. Eat vegetables, fruits, or other stuff that doesn’t come from a bag or a box or a can.
6. Listen to people
7. Wake up before noon
8. Go to bed before midnight
9. Eat French fries without ketchup
The list is actually much longer than that but I figured if I explained how cleaning is in the top ten of my least favorite things to do, that you’d understand how sincere I was in trying to make things right.
Which is why after the townspeople left I was cleaning up in the garage, putting away the dollhouse and the dolls and the empty bucket of motor oil.
I was sweeping up the little strips of newspaper that had fallen off the wigs and pushing them into a small pile in the driveway.
It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was beating down pretty good and it was getting really hot outside. I mention the sun and the heat because of what happened next.
Apparently newspaper is what scientists call, “flammable”, which means that it can easily catch on fire. And apparently motor oil is flammable too. And when you combine two flammable things it makes them super-flammable. And if you put super-flammable things near a heat source like a lighter or fireplace or in view of a bright, hot sun they have a really good chance of catching on fire.
I know this because right after I swept up the newspaper wig bits into a small pile in the driveway, sitting in the bright, hot sun they started to smoke. And a few seconds later they started to smoke even worse.
And then they caught on fire.
It wasn’t a very big pile of newspaper but it still made a pretty big flame. I ran over to the hose, turned it on, and had the fire out in just a few seconds.
I was spraying the little bits of burnt paper into the road and daydreaming about possibly becoming a fireman some day when I noticed Zara standing at the end of the driveway, arms folded like she was angry, with a ridiculous black newspaper wig on her head.
“You still have to pay for the wig,” I said. “I worked hard on those.”
“And you still have to pay for what you did to the reservoir!” Zara said, holding up a small glass full of nasty-looking yellow and green water.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I tested the water and found traces of unripe lemons, hot sauce, pickle juice, and a lot of other stuff. You dumped your weird lemonade into the reservoir and made everyone’s hair fall out!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told her.
Normally I don’t like lying but sometimes you have to lie in order to protect someone. In this case, that someone was me.
“Yes you do! You’re just lucky I was able to figure out a way to remove all the nasty things that you put into the lake so that blah, blah blah, blah, blah, blah blah.”
I should mention at this point that I have a medical condition that makes it so when people speak more than two sentences of words I kind of tune out. It’s such a rare condition that my doctor doesn’t even have a name for it and instead just calls it, “Being Easily Distracted” or B-E-D for short.
Anyway, Zara said a lot of things that were mostly not nice and that sounded like I was going to be in a lot of trouble but my B-E-D meant that I wasn’t really interested in what she was saying. What I was interested in was the black, oil-soaked wig on her head that was starting to smoke.
It was actually pretty funny. Zara looked like one of those cartoon characters that gets so mad that smoke comes off of their head.
I think I might have even laughed for a second or ten before the wig finally burst into flames.
Luckily, the garden hose was nearby so I grabbed it and quickly sprayed my sister’s wig really hard with the water. And her face. And then the wig. And then her face again.
“Hold still,” I said. “When you move I keep missing the wig!”
I was trying really hard not to laugh because Zara wasn’t moving at all but I was pretending that she was so I could keep spraying her in the face.
The wig finally fell to the ground where I soaked it really good.
Remember how I mentioned that newspaper and oil were both flammable? Well newspaper is a kind of flammable that is easily put out with water. But oil is a different kind of flammable that actually spreads around when you hit it with water. That means it takes a long time to put out an oily newspaper wig with a hose. It took about five minutes to put out Zara’s wig.
I mention this because of the sirens I heard in the distance coming from the fire trucks that were racing all over town.
I ran over to the backyard and climbed up a tree to see what was going on.
“Get out of my lemon tree!” Mrs. Pediddle shouted from her kitchen window. I was in her tree because it was taller than the one in my yard, plus I had built a small fort up there with some old scraps of wood and nails and stuff so it was a good lookout.
I could see the entire town from my fort and I watched as fire trucks raced around chasing small little smoke balls that were catching on fire and running around.
It took a moment to realize that the smoke balls were wigs, and they were racing around because they were on people’s heads.
I wanted to get a better look but at that point Mrs. Pediddle came out of her house wearing her black newspaper wig, swinging a broom.
She kept poking the broom into the tree trying to knock me out.
“I said get out of my tree. I’m going to call the police so you better blah blah blah blah!”
See? Two sentences. That’s my limit.
Anyway, the police never came.
But the fire department did.
And luckily they arrived just as Mrs. Pediddle’s wig burst into flames.
They sprayed her with so much water from the fire hose that it knocked her off of her feet and turned her back yard into mud.
“Not so hard,” the fire chief shouted.
“The hose is on the lowest setting, Chief,” one of the firemen shouted back. “It’s not meant to spray people.”
Just as the wig fire was put out the hose stopped spraying.
“What happened?” asked the Chief.
“The fire truck is out of water,” the fireman said.
“Let’s go back to the reservoir and fill up, then. There’s a lot more wigs out there to put out!”
And with that the fire truck roared away, sirens blaring.
And while Mrs. Pediddle was sitting in the mud, covered in water and dirt, I quietly climbed down from the tree, went into my house, and locked myself inside of my room.
And hid under my bed.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - SARA
The first sign that we had a real problem, other than the entire town’s hair loss and then the entire town’s fake hair bursting into flames, was when Metroburg Lake started getting low.
The fire trucks kept coming back to fill up so they could chase people around town and put out their fiery paper wigs. When that wasn’t enough my friends and I and some of the other townspeople who’s wigs has already been put out started a bucket brigade, where we dipped a bucket into the reservoir and then handed it from person to person until it reached the end of the line, and then that person would throw the water on someone who’s wig was burning.
Everything was going well for a while until I noticed that I had to keep walking out farther and farther into the lake to get any water at all.
When the last firetruck came and filled up there was a loud sucking sound as the last of the water was vacuumed out of the lake. All that was left was a huge crater of mud and bewildered frogs.
“That’s the last of it,” the fire chief said. “Luckily, it looks like all of the wig fires are out.”
Around the edges of the lake the beautiful, colorful, oversized flowers started to wither and die, their petals crinkling to the ground or blowing away in the wind.
“But what about drinking, or showering, or watering flowers?” I asked. “The flower festival is coming up.”
“Sorry, Sara,” the Fire Chief said. “We’re going to have to hope for rain… or a miracle.”
The bad news was that at that time of year we almost never got any rain.
The worse news was that, without any water, the beautiful flowers that were now thriving would all die, and we were going to have to cancel the Flower Festival.
And the worst news of all was that when we did finally get the water needed to fill up the reservoir, it wasn’t a miracle at all. Not by a long shot.
It was my brother…
CHAPTER NINETEEN - NATHAN
I hid out in my room for hours but no one ever came to get me.
At first I tried hiding under my bed but Jethro was already under there, shivering in fright, or in cold because he didn’t have any hair. Either way it creeped me out so I moved over to hiding in the closet.
I could hear fire engines racing all over and people screaming about wigs and fires but still no one kicked down my door.
And then everything got quiet.
So I decided to sneak out of my room to see what was going on.
Zara’s booby-trapped room was locked, as usual.
My parent’s car wasn’t in the garage.
The rest of the house was pretty quiet too. But the TV in the living room was on.
And there, on the couch, was Brenda the Babysitter.
I had told my parents, like, a gajillion times that I was too old for a babysitter but they kept paying her for basically just keeping me from having fun for a couple of hours.
I slid behind the kitchen counter to see what she was up to. The fact that she was just watching television and letting me do whatever I wanted seemed out of character for her.
“I know you’re there, Nathan Bad,” she said.
I ignored the play on my last name.
“And you’re just going to sit there and not tie me up and lock me in a room?” I asked, which is what she usually did.
Most parents leave babysitters with notes that include bedtimes, approved snacks and an emergency phone number. My parents gave her directions for how to tie knots, the number for the police department, and instructions NOT to let me eat anything with sugar in it after 6pm.
“I don’t care what you do,” Brenda said. “I’m getting twenty bucks and all I have to do is keep you in the house. So you can do whatever you want as long as it’s in… the… house…”
She said the last three words all long and drawn out like I didn’t understand them the first time.
“Where is Zara?”
“She’s with your parents.”
“Where are they?”
“At a town meeting.”
“What?” I asked. “A town meeting? And Zara gets to go? I want to go too!” This wasn’t true at all, but it irks me when Zara gets to do stuff that I don’t.
“Sorry, kid. You aren’t invited. Literally.”
She handed me a sheet of paper that had been sitting on the coffee table.
“Emergency Town Meeting – TONIGHT!”
1. Opening of the new Aquarium
2. Cancellation of the Flower Festival
3. Prettiest Town in the World Visit
4. Water Shortage
5. What to do about Nathan Goode.
Everyone welcome (except Nathan Goode). Meeting starts at 7pm.
I looked at the clock. 6:20 pm. That meant I only had, like, ten minutes to get there!
No matter what I did Brenda was going to try and stop me. So I did the only thing I could think of.
I grabbed the remote control off the coffee table, turned off the television, and threw the remote into the dining room.
“Hey,” Brenda shouted. “I was watching that!”
She got up from the couch and walked towards the other room. It was only four or five steps, but it was enough. She stopped walking when she realized what I was doing.
She whipped her head around but I already had her car keys in my hand.
She started running towards me but I had already opened the front door.
She chased me out onto the front lawn but I was already close to locking myself in her car where she couldn’t get me, until I noticed she didn’t have a car.
She had a pink moped.
For those of you who don’t know what a moped is, it’s not quite a bike, and it’s not quite a motorized scooter. It’s basically a scooter with pedals. And did I mention this one was pink, with flower stickers all over it, and a big basket on the front?
It was so lame that I actually thought about going back in the house and giving up but I read something in a book once that really stuck with me. “A winner never quits”. Or maybe it was, “A quitter never wins”. Actually, it might have been a saying on a poster. I don’t remember.
Either way, I didn’t know how to start the scooter so I rolled it down the driveway and starting pedaling. Fast. Which on a heavy moped means I was going much slower than a regular bike. I could feel Brenda’s hands on my shirt when I noticed a “Start” button on the right handle. I pushed it with my thumb and the moped roared to life. I twisted the right handle and the moped revved up and sped away.
Babysitter Brenda was shouting at me, “Get back here right now or you’re going to be in a lot of trouble!”
But I was already in a lot of trouble.
And the only way to NOT be in trouble was to make things right.
I had no idea how I was going to do that, but I knew where I had to go in order to try.
CHAPTER TWENTY - NEIL
Dear Sara Goode,
My name is Neil and I am an editor at the Guinness Book of World Records. Thank you so much for sending us your letter. I am coming to your town very soon to see for myself if Metroburg is, in fact, the prettiest town in the world. If it is, you will hold the record and be included in next year’s issue of our book.
I will be visiting your town in the next few days which, as you mentioned, coincides with the Metroburg Flower Festival and the opening of the new Metroburg Aquarium. Very exciting!
I am a big fan of flowers and fish so I think you already have a very good chance of winning.
In fact, after researching the town I already think that Metroburg is the prettiest town in the world so my showing up for a visit is really just a formality.
The only way your town would not hold the record for “Prettiest Town in the World” is if something happened that was so terrible, so completely awful, and so monumentally disastrous, that I would be somehow forced to not give your town the award.
Thank goodness there’s no chance of that happening!
I look forward to meeting you soon.
Guinness Book of World Records
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE - SARA
For the record, I was not the one who turned the Town Hall meeting into an angry mob that went after my brother. That was his fault. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. My parents hired a babysitter to keep him at home, although I don’t know why anyone is ever surprised when Nathan doesn’t do what he’s supposed to. Or asked to. Or told to. Or made to.
The meeting was to discuss the Flower Festival, the Prettiest Town in the World visit, the new Metroburg Aquarium, and to try and solve the water shortage. There was also an item on the agenda about Nathan and possibly shipping him off to a boarding school or military academy or zoo or any option that would keep the town free from Nathan-related catastrophes.
The mayor was standing on the stage, with the rest of the town sitting there all angry and bald.
“The first item for discussion,” the mayor said, “Is the opening of the new aquarium later this afternoon. Luckily it was filled with water before the reservoir ran dry so everything is fine.”
There was a huge, “Ahhhh…” as everyone in the auditorium sighed in relief.
“Speaking of this afternoon, were are expecting the representative from the Guinness Book of World Records to arrive today. Officer Smith with the police department will be on the lookout in the church tower and when he sees the judge driving into town, he’ll ring the church bell so you will all know he’s here.”
Everyone in the room applauded before the mayor continued.
“We are going to have to cancel the Flower Festival as the flowers that were to go onto the floats have all withered and died without water, which is a shame because there was a one-thousand dollar prize for the winning float. Still, I think the Guinness person will have a lot to love about this town if we can keep anything else from going horribly wrong. Which leads me to the next item on the agenda… Nathan Goode.”
When the mayor said his name, everyone in the town hall started grumbling.
“Does anyone have any ideas?” the mayor asked.
That was when my brother arrived.
And that was when everything went horribly wrong.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO - NATHAN
Town meetings are always held at the Town Hall, which is a large building that has a huge room inside that holds lots of people.
The good news was that I knew where the Town Hall was.
The bad news was that I had no idea how to get inside to see what was going on. The front doors were closed and there was a big, mean looking person standing guard with his arms folded next to a big sign that read, “No Nathan’s Allowed”.
A man was standing next to the guard, arguing.
“Come on! My name is Nathan Smith. I’m not that other Nathan!” But the guard wasn’t listening.
I rode the moped around back and saw a door without a guard and without a No-Nathan sign.
I went inside and a small set of stairs took me to a curtain behind the stage where I could see the mayor, wearing sunglasses, talking into a microphone.
Which leads me to the next item on the agenda,” the mayor said. “Nathan Goode.”
When the mayor said my name, everyone in the town hall started grumbling.
“Does anyone have any ideas?” the mayor asked.
I moved closer to the edge of the curtain so I could hear better.
I couldn’t really hear what the crowd was shouting but the mayor had a microphone so I could hear him just fine.
“No,” the mayor said. “I don’t think putting him in a zoo would work. It would be cruel to the other animals.”
The crowd laughed at that one, which was amazing to me because this town usually had no sense of humor. Someone in the audience shouted another suggestion but I still couldn’t hear it.
“No,” the mayor said again. “As far as I know we don’t have any way to give anyone amnesia and ship them off to another country.”
That seemed like a pretty mean idea to me, and I wanted to know who suggested it so I decided to peek my head around the curtain for just a second.
And that’s when it happened.
The reason why the mayor was wearing sunglasses, indoors, at a town hall meeting.
The glare from the lights off of everyone’s bald heads was blinding.
The light was so bright and shiny that I couldn’t see anything except spots.
I held my hands in front of my eyes but somehow got wrapped up in the curtain I was hiding behind and fell, pulling the fabric down around me.
“There he is!” the mayor shouted. “Get him!”
The townspeople in the audience all made a noise that actually sounded like a lot of individual, angry noises all jumbled together. So I ran. Fast.
I ran out the back door and hopped onto Babysitter Brenda’s pink, flowery moped. The townspeople were close, but not close enough as I sped away across the lawn and back to my house.
I had heard all I needed to hear.
I knew how to make things right with the town.
I knew how to keep myself from getting into any more trouble.
And the best part was, I also knew I was going to make myself a thousand bucks, easy.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE - NATHAN
When I pulled Babysitter Brenda’s moped into my driveway I expected her to come running outside all angry, but she didn’t. When I went inside the house I expected Babysitter Brenda to throw something at me or get super angry. But she didn’t.
Because she wasn’t there.
So far my plan was off to a fantastic start!
Phase One of my plan, which I called, “Operation Get Past Babysitter Brenda” was complete, so I checked that off the list in my head.
Phase Two, though, was a lot trickier since it was called, “Operation Break Into Zara’s Booby-Trapped Room” and it involved breaking into Zara’s booby-trapped room.
The most booby-trapped part of any room is usually the booby-trapped door. That’s because if you make it really hard to get into a room then the rest of the booby-traps don’t really matter as much. But when the most evil girl in the world sets up a booby-trap, you better expect trouble at every turn.
The easiest solution for the door would be to simply take it off its hinges, but the hinges were on the inside. So pushing the door open was required to get inside the room, which meant that any decent booby-trap would be set off when the door opened into the room.
So I had to get the door to open the other way.
I took the sheets and blankets off my bed and tied them all in a long chain.
I tied one end to Zara’s booby-trapped door handle. The other end I tied to Babysitter Brenda’s moped.
I revved it up, popped a wheelie, and the moped sped to the end of the driveway as Zara’s bedroom door came crashing through the house, down the hallway, and out the front door!
I ran back into the house and looked at all of the damage Zara’s door had caused. Pictures were knocked off the walls, huge scratches and dents were everywhere. The carpet was ripped in several places. I smiled to myself thinking about how much trouble she was going to be in since it was her door that did all of the damage!
I looked inside her room but couldn’t see any other obvious traps.
So I don’t know how your house is set up but ours doesn’t have a basement. Our house has a crawlspace, which means that there are a few feet of space between the bottom floor of the house and the ground. To get to the crawlspace there is usually a panel you lift up in the floor and then you can just hop down. They keep these panels out of the way since most people never go into the crawlspace.
The panel for our crawlspace was in Zara’s closet.
I lifted the panel up and, sure enough, there was the ground underneath.
With Phase Two complete now it was time for Phase Three, which I called, “Operation Dig a Well.”
The name wasn’t really accurate, though, as I had no intention of actually digging anything. I had a better idea.
Every birthday my grandparents usually send me a card with a check inside. The problem is that I don’t have a bank account so my mom takes the money and puts it in her bank account, and then gives me only a little bit of it, and only if I spend it on things that she approves of.
On my last birthday, though, my grandparents sent cash. And when I opened my birthday card I read it out loud while folding the money really quickly and hiding it in my shirt. When I finished reading the card I made a big show of opening the card wide and shaking to show that it was empty, but like maybe the money was hidden in there somewhere.
My mom told my grandparents, who mailed a check, which my mom was able to deposit.
So I was happy because I got to keep the cash.
My mom was happy because she got to put my birthday money in the bank for my savings account.
My grandparents were happy because they love to complain and ever since then they have been going on non-stop about the post office and how stamps used to cost a penny and how the post office people always read your mail before delivering it.
But most of all, the Baozha Fireworks Company of Beijing was happy when I found their website online, mailed them my birthday cash, and then they got to send me some really cool, illegal fireworks.
Everyone was happy! Or, at least, they were at that point.
So anyway, the fireworks I ordered were super-expensive, and shipping from China is even more super-expensive, so I could only buy three of them. They were shaped like rockets and they were each the size of my forearm. There was some kind of warning written all over them that I couldn’t read because it was in Chinese, with little drawings of big explosions and frowny faces and hands and feet flying all over. I think the point was to not be near the rockets when they went off but I couldn’t be sure. Thankfully, the fireworks people also included a box of matches, which was super-helpful since my parents removed all of the matches and lighters from our house years ago.
I took one of the rockets and lit a match.
I held it to the rocket fuse which started burning and spitting little sparks everywhere.
I pointed the rocket into the crawlspace underneath Zara’s closet.
And I waited…
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR - SARA
I would like to point out that after Nathan ran out of the Town Hall meeting where he yanked down the stage curtain, I was able to convince the townspeople not to chase after him like some kind of angry mob.
I explained that he is just a kid.
I explained that he has issues with not thinking about the long-term effects of his short-term actions.
I explained that when he does think things through, he usually only sees the benefit to himself even though it almost never works out that way.
This is important because when we talk about the angry mob that was chasing after my brother, it wasn’t the mob that almost formed at the town hall meeting. After the town hall meeting everyone went home or back to work.
It was the mob that formed shortly after, because of what my brother did next.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE - NATHAN
I read somewhere, “With no plan there is no attack. And with no attack there is no victory!” Or maybe I saw it in a movie.
Either way, it’s a great quote and it means that you need a plan if you are ever going to reach your goal.
And, boy, did I ever have a plan!
The firework was lit and the fuse was burning down.
I had it aimed at the dirt in the crawlspace underneath the house.
The firework was then going to shoot into the crawlspace and explode, creating a huge hole.
The huge hole would then fill up with water and make a well.
I would then have the only water in town since the reservoir was empty.
I would then sell that water to the rest of the town and become stinking rich!
It was a long fuse, which gave me time to think about things before the rocket took off. I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was something about my plan that was bothering me.
Was it that my plan was going to make a huge mess of Zara’s room?
Not really. That was a bonus.
Was it that my rocket looked a lot like a stick of dynamite with little cardboard fins taped to it?
A few seconds later the rocket shot out of my hand and sped through the hole in the floor. The rocket stuck itself, nose first, in the dirt. It was dark in the crawlspace so I couldn’t really see much except for the red glow of the fuse as it burned down to a tiny nub.
Eye protection! That was what was bothering me.
I took off my goggles so I could get a better look in the crawlspace.
And then the fuse went out.
And then nothing happened.
I leaned waaaaay over the hole and looked down. Nothing. The rocket was just sitting there in the di--
The rocket exploded in a huge cloud of dirt and bright orange sparks and swirly purple spinny things.
Zara’s bedroom window exploded outward.
I was thrown back against the wall and landed on top of her desk.
Zara’s bed and dresser were mangled and broken. Her room looked like the inside of a mud pie.
And the smile on my face was so big I thought my cheeks were going to break.
I climbed down off the desk to look in the hole. It was deep. Very deep. So deep that I couldn’t see the bottom.
But there was something very faint rising up through the darkness, bubbling and churning.
The entire house shook for a second and the liquid in the hole rose up faster and faster.
I threw the last two fireworks and the matches into a cardboard box as I ran out of the room.
A second later a huge stream of water shot out of the crawlspace and hit Zara’s ceiling, spraying everywhere. The water just kept coming, spraying out and wider, filling up her room like a bathtub. My plan was working perfectly!
The water kind of stank, bad, but that’s to be expected since it was coming right out of the ground. I’m not sure how they clean water to make it okay to drink, but that would be someone else’s problem.
While I let Zara’s room turn into a well I decided to complete Phase Four of my plan which I called, “Operation Make A Thousand Bucks”
I stopped by the kitchen and grabbed a bag of white, all-purpose flour and threw it in the cardboard box just as the water came down the hallway from Zara’s room and sloshed towards the living room. The water was muddy, and dark, and it really did smell quite bad.
I ran out of the house seconds before the foul liquid spread across the entire first floor.
I threw the cardboard box with the matches, two fireworks, and the bag of flour into the basket on the front of Babysitter Brenda’s moped.
Time to go make a thousand bucks!
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX - SARA
Okay. Now let’s talk about the mob of angry townspeople that wanted to go after my brother.
The police were after him because he stole a moped. The fire department was after him because he caused the drought and now there was no water left. The rest of the town was after him because he had caused all of their hair to fall out. And I was after him to try and save his life before anyone else got to him first.
Let me be clear about this. The moped, the poisoning of the water supply, the drought, the hair falling out, the burning wigs… those were all of the reasons were why they wanted to grab him back at the Town Hall meeting. I was able to talk them out of it the first time, but I wasn’t having as much luck the second time around.
Because what he did next was so much worse, I didn’t know what everyone was going to do to him, or how I was going to stop them.
To be perfectly honest, what Nathan did next was so bad that I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop them at all.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN - NATHAN
As it turns out I didn’t win the thousand dollar prize for best float.
And, as it turns out, a bag of flour poured on a moped that then speeds up and down the streets all over town makes a huge mess of everything.
When I rode to the center of town I grabbed the bag of flour and ripped open the top, pouring the white powder all over the basket, handlebars, seat, pedals… pretty much anywhere that wasn’t white, making sure I got it all over.
I accidentally left the bag of flour open in the basket with the fireworks, which meant that as I sped around looking for the start of the parade, the white powder flew off the moped and out of the open and started covering people, pets, buildings, pretty much everything in flour. I pulled over at the center of town looking for another float but the streets were more or less empty, and completely white.
The Mayor, covered in flour, ran out of the Town Hall.
“I hereby change your name from Nathan Goode to Nathan Bad!” the Mayor shouted.
“I don’t think you can do that, legally,” I said. I had already checked a few months ago after my sister and her friends had tried.
“Then I’ll do it illegally, right after we lock you up in jail,” the mayor yelled.
“Why? What did I do?”
“Do you mean besides poisoning the town’s water supply, creating extremely flammable headwear, causing a draught, stealing your babysitter’s moped, and now making a mess of the town?”
“But I can fix all of that,” I explained.
The mayor looked confused. “How?”
“First, do I win the thousand dollars for best float?” I asked.
“What float?” the mayor asked, looking around.
I pointed at Babysitter Brenda’s moped. “It’s not actual ‘flowers’ but it is ‘flour’ and I figured if—”
“No,” the mayor said.
“No! The Flower Festival was cancelled because of you, Nathan. Stop whatever it is you are doing and go home. I don’t want you to make things any worse.”
“But I can make everything right!” I said.
“No,” the mayor said. “You just make everything wrong.”
The way the mayor said it, the way his comment sort of spat out of his mouth… it hurt my feelings. I screw up sometimes and I might not always think things through, but I never mean to hurt anyone. Not really.
Okay, sometimes I try to hurt Zara but never seriously and it never works anyway because she’s so smart and usually knows what I am going to do before I do.
I realized that the that the only way out of this that did NOT involve me going to jail and that did NOT involve my last name being changed was if I cleaned everything up and brought back the water. And I knew a way I could take care of both things at the same time.
I reached into the flour-covered box in the flour-covered basket attached to the front of the flour-covered moped and took out one of the flour-covered rockets.
“What are you doing?” the mayor asked.
I lit it, and held it straight down, next to the curb.
“Saving the town,” I said.
A few moments later the rocket sparked and shot into the street drain where the water runoff usually goes.
The mayor, looking concerned, came closer, knelt down next to the drain, and looked inside.
Much like the crawlspace under my house, street drains are also very dark.
And much like the crawlspace under my house, when the firework exploded a second later, it made a VERY big mess.
The metal grate flew up and knocked the mayor over. Smoke and sparks shot out of the grate, a nearby manhole cover, and another grate down the street.
Buildings shook. People came out of stores and shops and restaurants to see what happened. They all “Oooh’d” and “Aaaah’d”, at first, pointing and smiling at the red and blue and gold fireworks spinning and twisting out of the openings.
But then there was another huge explosion, and more buildings shook, at which time a series of huge columns of water shot out of the grates and manhole covers up and down Main Street.
Water gushed up into the sky, raining back down.
The good news, at first, was that the water started cleaning away all the flour off of the buildings and cars and plants and roads.
And the townspeople, who had all been without water for days now, ran outside to feel the rain on their bald heads.
“Hooray for Nathan Goode!” the townspeople cheered.
Everything was going according to plan. Even the mayor was smiling.
Until everyone stopped smiling and started sniffing, and then when everyone stopped sniffing and started looking throw-upy.
“I know,” I said. “The water smells pretty bad since it’s coming right out of the ground. I’m sure it can be cleaned up, though. Filters or something.”
The townspeople outside of the Metroburg Café started throwing up their lunch all over the flour-covered sidewalk. The people coming out of the Metroburg Library started throwing up all over the flour-covered book return bin. The people in front of the Metroburg Post Office started throwing up on their flour-covered letters and packages.
“That’s not water,” the mayor shouted over the sound of the brown, oozing geysers of water. “Your rocket struck a pipe. This is all sewage!”
The thing about sewage that you might not know is that it runs through pipes under streets, under the crawlspaces of houses, pretty much a lot of places.
Another thing you might not know about sewage is that it is made up of rain water that runs off the streets, shower water that runs down the drain, and everything that you flush down the toilet. And by everything I mean mostly poop.
Lots and lots of poop.
The thing about white, all-purpose flour that you might not know is that when it mixes with water, or any liquid like, say, sewage, is that it makes a kind of dough. And if you haven’t played with dough before, it’s super sticky and hard to clean up.
This means that the entire town, and all the townspeople, the buildings, the streets, all of it was super-stinky, super-sticky, and hard to clean up…
“Get him!” the townspeople shouted over the sound of more grates flooding and manhole covers rocketing into the air as more and more sewage geysers exploded down the street.
The townspeople tried to catch me, but they had a hard time moving since they were all covered in wet, sticky dough and stopping every few seconds to throw up from the awful smell.
For my part, I had been in much messier and stinkier situations than this and was able to move just fine.
I tried to speed away in Babysitter Brenda’s moped but the tires were covered in thick dough and poo-water and it wouldn’t budge.
So I ran as the townspeople closed in.
And then the church bell started ringing.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT - SARA
Even now, after everything that happened, people often ask each other, “Where were you during the great Sewage Storm”, although some people refer to it as the Poo-Pocalypse. And by some people I mean my brother, Nathan.
When the sewage storm hit my friends and I were sweeping up the streets and using leaf blowers to try and clear away all of the flour that was all over the entire town.
As the slimy sludge was spreading down Main Street my friends and I immediately jumped into action and ran towards Metroburg Lake to try and keep the sewage from getting into the empty reservoir. Otherwise, that filth would then get into our showers and sinks and toilets instead of only going out of our showers and sinks and toilets.
Because Nathan is my brother, my friends and I keep a storage locker full of disaster supplies. We have flashlights, batteries, shovels, a portable generator, and sand bags.
We started shoveling sand into the sand bags and stacking them up along the road to try and divert the sewage stream away from the lake. We were making good progress too, and thought we were going to save the reservoir.
And we did… from the sewage.
But what we didn’t know was that the sandbags that were keeping out the sewage on one side, would also keep what came next on the other side.
The side that bordered the inside of the reservoir.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE - NATHAN
Because of my high metabolism my body runs on a diet of mostly sugary foods and sugar-filled beverages. And like your typical kid I spend at least six hours a day in front of the television, computer, or other electronic devices.
So as you can imagine, running really isn’t my thing.
I say this to show you how sincere I was in trying to make things right, or at least how sincere I was in not wanting to get caught.
I ran past the library and the post office and was trying to get out of town when the townspeople started getting even more wet from the sewage rain, which loosened the dough that was covering them, allowing them to run faster.
It looked like everyone was after me. I saw the bald, dough-covered mayor and bald, dough-covered Mrs. Pediddle and bald, dough-covered Mom and Dad, and even bald, dough-covered Jethro, my dog. There were hundreds of bald, dough-covered other people chasing me too, but I didn’t know their names. The dough was sort of sticking to them and dripping off in gross blobs at the same time.
As I ran down the road I saw a clean, blue car heading towards me.
The driver was looking up into the sky at the huge fountains of sewage that were raining down. I was waving my hands hoping he would see me, which he did but only at the last second. He screeched to a stop, missing me by only a few inches!
The man inside the car was also bald which must have been a coincidence since he wasn’t from town. He looked very scared.
I ran onto the hood and then roof of his car.
“Are… are those zombies?” he shouted up to me, pointing at the approaching townspeople.
“Yes they are!” I shouted back. “We better get out of here!”
I almost never lie but the situation sort of required it. I didn’t have time to explain that sometimes wet, dough covered, angry townspeople are even worse than zombies.
We needed to move fast and I needed this guy to get us out of here. Unfortunately, while I was thinking of escape, he was thinking about saving the world.
“We’ve got to take them out!” the driver inside the car yelled.
He stepped on the gas and drove right through the townspeople, who all jumped out of the way as he sped down the road toward the center of town.
“What’s your name, kid?” he shouted out the window.
“Pleased to meet you, Nathan. My name is Neil.”
He stuck his hand up and out of the window so I shook it.
“What brings you to Metroburg?” I asked.
“I work for the Guinness Book of World Records,” he explained over the wind and sewage rain and shouting townspeople who were diving out of the path of Neil’s car.
“Really! Are you here about my dog Jethro looking like the biggest rat in the world?”
“Um… no,” he said.
“Are you here to give us the record for Prettiest Town in the World?” I asked, trying to sound hopeful and upbeat even though Jethro would be heartbroken when he found out.
“I was here to visit your town. But now I’m here to destroy it.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
“I’ve studied zombies for years; read books, watched movies, studied their ways. They want to eat our brains, Nathan. And if they eat our brains there will be no one left to stop them from running out into the world and eating everyone else’s brains. I can’t let that happen. Neither can you.”
“Ummm…” I started to say but then stopped. How do you explain to someone that they have misinterpreted something as big as a zombie invasion? I didn’t know where to start but time was running out. And I needed Neil’s help.
“Okay. But we need to make a stop first.”
CHAPTER THIRTY - NATHAN
Since everyone was chasing on foot and we were traveling by car, we made it to the center of town before anyone could catch up to us. The filthy rain was still pouring down from the big sewage fountains and the dark, stinking water was gathering into small waves down the street.
“Pull over there,” I shouted from the roof as Neil sped down the road. “Next to my babysitter’s moped.”
When he stopped I jumped off the roof and grabbed the cardboard box out of the moped basket.
There was one firework left.
I tossed the box into Neil’s car and climbed back onto the roof as sewage skies and wet-dough zombie townspeople shuffled by in the distance.
Neil was quiet for a moment, his jaw hanging open in shock.
“What kind of town is this?” he asked.
“The Prettiest Town in the World?” I suggested, hoping that we still might be able to win the prize.
“This isn’t the Prettiest Town in the World. This is the Most Evil, Awful Town in the World. And we’ve got to get out of here. Look!”
Turning around I saw a line of cars speeding towards us. The cars were covered in dead flowers that had been decorated for the Flower Festival before it was cancelled because of the drought. Now they were full of wet, sticky, dough covered zombies… I mean townspeople.
And then it hit me.
I had an idea how I could save the town and make everything right once again but we were running out of time as the zombie-driven, dead-flower, parade-float cars got closer and closer.
“Neil… sometimes when life gives you lemons you just have to make lemonade. Unripe, possibly poisoned so that your hair falls out, lemonade.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to. Just do exactly what I say and we just might get out of this alive. We need to get to the top of Metroburg Hill, right now.”
“Where’s that?” Neil asked.
“There,” I said, pointing at the hill on the other edge of town where the brand new shiny aquarium was.
The aquarium that was due to open later that afternoon.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE - SARA
Dear Bigson Burlap Company,
Enclosed is a check that should cover the cost of 1,000 burlap bags. We would like them shipped to the return address on the envelope.
My friends and I used up the last 1,000 bags when we stopped an awful river of sewage from getting into our town water supply and now we need to replace them as soon as possible in case of another emergency. And by “emergency” I mean my brother, Nathan.
He was the reason for the sewage flood, but it wasn’t the only flood he caused that day.
The second one was much, much worse.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO - NATHAN
It’s funny sometimes, the things you think about when you’re riding on the roof of a car driven by a guy from the Guinness Book of World Records and an entire town is trying to kill you and eat your brains. Personally, I was thinking about a book.
I thought back to when Zara had started this whole mess and the book on starting a small business that I had read when I opened my lemonade stand. There had been a phrase that really stuck with me: “For Every Problem There is a Solution”.
And while the book didn’t say this, the one thing I knew for sure was that that the solution to almost any problem is usually fireworks!
I reached down from the roof and into the back seat window, grabbing the last rocket and showing it to Neil.
“Get us to the top of Metroburg Hill. Then I’ll launch this thing into the Metroburg Lake reservoir and making a huge hole that will fill up with water like a well.”
“Why would you want to do that?” Neil asked.
“Because of the drought.”
“There’s a drought?”
“Because everyone’s wigs caught on fire.”
“Everyone wears wigs?”
“Yes, because their hair all fell out.”
“Their hair all fell out?”
“Yes, because the water in the reservoir was poisoned.”
“The water was poisoned?”
“Yes, because of my evil sister, Zara.”
“Your sister is evil?
“Yes. Of course she is.”
“I think that’s the name of the girl who wrote us a letter about Metroburg being the Prettiest Town in the World.”
Neil turned on the windshield wipers as they pushed brown sludge and sticky dough back and forth across the glass. Brown, sludgy, dough-looking townspeople kept diving out of the way as he drove down the road past the center of town, underneath the gushing geysers of filthy sewage. “Obviously your sister IS evil.”
“I know… she was tested,” I told him.
“Are you sure you don’t want to get in the car?” Neil asked. “It seems really dangerous for you to be standing on the roof while I’m driving and swerving trying to run over zombies.”
“Sorry,” I explained. “I’m not supposed to get in a car with strangers.”
We drove past the bottom Metroburg Hill, by the sign for the new Metroburg Aquarium that was opening that day. We wound our way up the road and were almost to the top when the manhole cover in the middle of the street blew into the air, lifted by a massive column of sewage.
“Ummm,” Neil said. “I hate to rain on your parade… more than it already has… but I don’t think that plan will work.”
“I don’t have time to explain this to you, Neil, but my plan will work. You just get me to the top of Metroburg Hill and I’ll do the rest.” I looked down at the rocket in my hand and knew that my plan would work.
“I have no idea what you are talking about, but I completely trust you,” Neil said, stepping on the gas.
Until he stepped on the brake.
So hard that I fell off the roof, rolled onto the hood of the car, and landed on the ground, squishing the rocket. I probably should have been wearing a seatbelt.
“We can’t make it,” Neil said.
I followed Neil’s pointy finger and saw what he was talking about. A river of sewage was flowing across the road, blocking us. There was no way across. On the other side of the sewage, at the top of the hill, was the brand new aquarium, all shiny and pretty. Attached to the side of the building was a ginormous fish tank full of sharks and eels and manta rays and turtles and thousands of different kinds of fish.
I looked back the way we had come. At the bottom of Metroburg Hill I saw dozens of cars covered in dead flowers speeding and winding up the hill after us.
“This will have to do,” Neil said. “We’re probably high enough to shoot off your rocket.”
I looked down at the crumpled firework. It was the last one. I’d only get one shot at this. I had to make sure it went off perfectly.
“There is one way through the sewage,” I said. “Through the middle of it.”
Neil blurted out something about “impossible” and “going to get us killed” so I could tell he wasn’t on board with the plan. To be fair, though, I hadn’t really told him the plan. And to be even more fair, I didn’t really have a plan.
But I had an idea.
An idea so crazy that it just might work!
I climbed into the passenger seat window, reached my leg over and stepped on Neil’s right foot, pressing down on the gas pedal as hard as I could.
His car shot forward, plowing through the watery filth.
Where it immediately got stuck.
“Aaaahhh!” Neil screamed, which scared me so bad it made me scream too.
As the sewage moved under the car it made a disgusting bubbling sound, and the smell made it very hard to breath. Then there were four large POP sounds.
“I think the tires just exploded!” Neil screamed.
The sewage was so thick and strong that it started to move the car sideways, towards the edge of the road, and towards the huge cliff that dropped into the canyon down below.
“I think we’re being swept over the cliff!” Neil screamed even louder.
Out of options and out of time, I climbed onto the roof of the car once more, carrying the last rocket with me. Neil climbed up a moment later.
“We’re all going to die!” Neil screamed, a panicked look on his face.
“I wish, just once, I could go through an entire day without someone screaming that at me.” I said. “Here goes nothing.”
I reached into my pocket for the matches but they weren’t there. I looked down and saw them sitting on the dashboard.
Neil screamed, “We’re only a few feet from the edge of the cliff!”
“Plenty of time,” I lied. “Hold my feet!”
I leaned way over the edge of the car, protecting my face from the disgusting river of awfulness as it swept into the car.
Neil held my feet as I dangled over the sewage water and grabbed the matches off the dashboard.
Back on the roof of the car I tried lighting one match, then another, but the constant rain of poo-water kept snuffing out the flames.
“We’re going over the cliff! There’s not enough time!” Neil screamed.
I looked Neil in the eyes.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that there’s never enough time to make things right. But there’s always enough time to make things worse.”
I struck the last match and it lit, barely. I touched it to the wick of the rocket and hoped.
The wick sparked to life, and a second later the rocket ignited.
I pointed the crumpled top of the firework towards the top of Metroburg Hill, and towards the brand new shiny fish tank attached to the brand new shiny aquarium.
The bent rocket twisted and turned in the air, went up a hundred feet, then curved sharply and dove straight down... and into the fish tank.
Neil’s car was starting to tip over the edge of the cliff. We both stood as far to the non-cliff side as we could. We stared at the fish tank but nothing happened for the longest time.
Until it did.
A huge THWUMP sounded from inside the tank. Then… nothing.
The car was almost halfway over the cliff now and instead of screaming this or that about us dying, Neil was just plain screaming.
I had to admit that I thought we were done for, until I noticed a small crack working its way through the aquarium tank glass, extending out like lightning bolts as it split the glass in two, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out of the tank and down the road. It hit Neil’s car, pushing us back onto the road, then down the road, with the two of us trying to stand on the roof like we were on a big surfboard.
It was awesome!
As we coasted to a stop at the bottom of Metroburg Hill, the townspeople arrived in their dead flower float cars.
The aquarium water rushed past us, and past my sister and her friends who were stacking up a long line of sandbags that had been directing the sewage away from Metroburg Lake. When it hit the bags from the other side, though, it funneled all of the aquarium water into the reservoir, filling it up.
Neil was still screaming.
THREE DAYS LATER ...
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE - SARA
Dear Red Cross,
Thank you very much for supplying our town with tents and bottled water and food and all of the other items we so desperately needed. We are almost finished demolishing all of the houses and businesses that were destroyed by the sewage storm, including my own. Once that is complete, we will start rebuilding Metroburg even better than before!
I know that your organization does great work around the country and the world helping people affected by disasters, and even though almost everything we have was destroyed I am enclosing a check to donate to others who might also be in need of your help.
My friends and I went to www.RedCross.org and got lots of great ideas for ways we could volunteer. We plan on hosting another Planet Party next month (once Metroburg Park is re-opened) where we hope to organize a blood drive and donation campaign for the Red Cross as well.
On a side note, I am especially grateful that I do not have to share a tent with my brother while we sleep out in our yard so thank you for that as well. I am currently working on getting a lock for my tent zipper to keep my brother out. He keeps trying to break in and read my diary when I am not around.
Thank you again for all of your help,
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR - NATHAN
Dear Red Cross,
Thanks for my tent! It is pretty awesome. And thank you for the emergency food supplies as well, although I do have one suggestion. Because of my high metabolism my body runs on a diet of mostly sugary foods and sugar-filled beverages, so perhaps instead of bottled water you might want to provide more energy drinks, soda, and high fructose corn syrup.
Just a suggestion.
I was on your website looking to see if you had any tree-fort tent options (you don’t so there’s another suggestion) and I saw that you encouraged people to share their stories of survival.
So here’s mine…
One of my dad’s favorite expressions is, “Sometimes you take the good with the bad.”
I never really knew what he meant by it, and just assumed that he meant something about Zara that I was too young to understand. But I think I understand it now. Lots of unpleasant things happened because of Mrs. Pediddle’s bad lemons, but lots of good things came out of it too.
BAD THING: The town lost their hair.
GOOD THING: It grew back.
BAD THING: I almost died.
GOOD THING: I didn’t
BAD THING: The town ran out of water
GOOD THING: They got more water… sort of.
I should explain that last part.
When the rocket went into the fish tank it exploded causing all of the fish tank water to run down the hill, which then ran into the Metroburg Lake reservoir, filling it with all sorts of aquarium fish. So now the town reservoir is also the world’s largest fish tank which is awesome, but it also causes some problems.
Like yesterday when a seahorse popped out of my neighbor’s garden hose when she was washing her car. Or when my school principal was taking a shower and a barracuda tried squirming through his shower head. Nothing has happened to Zara yet, but I’m hoping some piranha find their way up and into our toilet once our house is finished being built!
Speaking of Zara, there’s more good and bad stuff you might want to know.
BAD THING: Zara was given an award and a sash that read, “Kindest Person on the Planet” for organizing the Planet Party.
GOOD THING: I was also given a piece of paper and a sash. The piece of paper was a bill, from the town, for all the damages that were caused by the wet dough and the sewage and destroying the aquarium. It had my dad’s name on it too so I figured I didn’t really owe all of that money myself. The sash read, “Worst Person on the Planet” which might not seem like a very nice award until you considered that I beat out every other person on the planet. That’s, like, a million people!
GOOD THING: Zara sold my lemonade recipe for a LOT of money to a chemical company that makes plant fertilizer. She then gave that money to the town to rebuild everything that was damaged.
BAD THING: It is MY recipe but I didn’t get any of the money.
BAD THING: The town did not get the record for “Prettiest Town in the World”.
GOOD THING: The town did get the record for “Scariest Town in the World”, although I don’t think that was really a record. I think Neil just made it up and gave it to us because he was so scared the whole time he was here.
He still hasn’t stopped screaming by the way.
So now it’s back to life as normal for me, except for the fact that our house has to be torn down because of all the sewage damage and now we’re living in tents in our backyard while we build a new house.
I tried to get my parents to build a tree house this time, in the branches of the lemon tree that hang over into our yard, but they wouldn’t listen.
I also tried to get them to just live in the tents we were already using instead of building a house at all, which would also be pretty cool, but they didn’t like that idea either.
Zara said that I should be allowed to live in a tree house while the rest of the family lived like normal people but my mom said no, although I saw my dad nodding his head, agreeing with her.
So it looks like we’ll be getting a regular house again and Zara will get her own room that she’ll probably booby-trap like usual.
Sometime you just have to take the good with the bad.
Speaking of bad, when I’m lying in my tent at night I can hear Zara in the tent next door writing something, scribbling away in her notebook. She says she’s writing in her diary which is convenient because you’re not supposed to look in other people’s diaries.
But I can tell she’s really drawing up plans to get back at me. I’m sure it’s something evil.
But I’m ready for it. Or at least I will be once I sneak into her booby-trapped tent and get a look in her diary to see what she’s up to.
Whatever she’s working on is probably something to get me back.
Which is why I’m going to get her back first…