Authors: Nash Summers
Tags: #Contemporary, #YA, #MM
For Teagan, who makes me laugh.
Thank you to my beta readers Lori and Sara for your input, suggestions, and also listening to me complain while I was writing. Your help has made my little story so much better.
Thank you to Anyta Sunday not only for beta reading and editing, but for the encouragement. Your help made a world of difference.
“Well, that’s it, then. My life is over. This is the end, the finale, the bittersweet conclusion. The curtains have drawn, we fade to black, the orchestra hushes. Nothing further, everything lost, little gained, really.
Oh, he was so terribly young and so terribly brilliant to have had his once bustling life ravaged so, and left for naught but scraps.”
Benji didn’t even look at Maps. He was too busy clicking away on the mouse and swiveling in the chair in front of Maps’ desk.
“Are you even listening?” Maps asked from his seated position on his bed.
“That depends,” Benji said without looking away from the computer screen. “Have you stopped your babbling?”
“Not babbling. Being dramatic—rightly so, I believe.”
Arms crossed over his chest, Maps sat on his bed and watched the back of Benji’s black head of hair.
Benji was half Korean, half Caucasian, and all smarminess. His hair was longer in the front, perpetually hanging in front of his small nose and brown eyes. He always wore band T-shirts from bands he’d never listened to because he thought it was ironic. Maps thought it was dumb.
“Oh, please, Maps. I’m just moving down the block. It’ll take you less than fifteen minutes to walk there.”
“Walk!” Maps shook his head, even though Benji couldn’t see. “I shan’t be walking to any houses, Benji, especially not ones that far away. What if I have a brilliant idea in the middle of the night and absolutely
to tell you? What then? Should I walk a
to tell you about my brilliant idea? Is that what you want, Benji? Me wandering around at all hours of the night, on my own, in some strange neighborhood, begging for muggers and hooligans to have at me? You’re becoming quite the bad influence.” He waved his hand in the air dismissively. “All right then, off with you.”
Benji sighed as he turned in the computer chair to face Maps. “I’m going to miss you, too.”
Maps stopped abruptly. “Miss me? But we’ll still see each other every day, right? It’s only a few blocks away, right? Just less than a fifteen minute walk, right? Benji, isn’t that right?”
“Isn’t it exhausting being you?”
“Of course,” Maps said. “But isn’t anyone who’s anyone constantly exhausted? Think about it. The greatest minds of mankind—constantly in need of a nap or some coffee.”
“Maybe your new neighbor will have the energy to listen to you.”
“What if they’re someone who only wants me for my body?”
Benji threw his head back and laughed.
Maps scowled. So he was a little on the skinny side, but he’d fill out. At least that’s what his mom said. His dirty blond hair wasn’t ever particularly anything, but it was just hair and didn’t need to conduct a train or orchestrate a three-ring circus. It just had to sit on his head, and it was doing a fine job of that. And yeah, maybe his glasses were a little nerdy, but there wasn’t a single thing unattractive or funny about visual impairment.
Benji swiveled in the computer chair and turned towards Maps. “Some days you’re too much.”
“I’d like to think I’m the absolute right amount.”
Benji stood up and sat next to Maps on the bed, playfully shoving him. “We’ll still talk on the phone, okay?” he said. “And we’ll text all the time and chat online on all the forums. And, shit, we have Bio, Advanced Physics, Spanish, History,
English together. We’ll see each other all the time.”
“It won’t be the same,” Maps said quietly. Maps was used to looking out his bedroom window on the second story of the house and being able to see Benji’s window just a few feet away. They’d grown up together. Spent every waking minute together. Hell, there wasn’t anything they didn’t share with each other.
“If I had the choice,” Benji said. “I’d stay here. But my Burger Flipper salary isn’t enough to live on. Plus, I’m only sixteen and I hear that judges can be real sticklers about that sort of thing.”
The sadness Maps felt was written all over his face. He didn’t want his best friend to move away, even if it was only a few blocks in another direction.
But now Benji was moving away. No more Big B and Mappers—or Master Maps and the B-Kid—or Baps.
Maps’ life as he knew it, was over.
“I have the worst luck,” Maps said to himself. He was sitting on his front lawn conducting an experiment to see if feathers turned hard when dipped into ketchup and dried. A large piece of corrugated cardboard stretched out before him, a tub of ketchup and a plastic container of feathers beside it.
He dipped the feathers into the tub and laid them out to dry. Splotches of red landed all over his face, glasses, hands, pants—well, practically everywhere. He couldn’t see through one of his lenses, but was too giddy with his results to stop to go wash it off.
“Mattie, dear,” his mother called from the front porch. He hated being called Mattie. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Experimenting.” Maps had learned long ago to stop trying to explain his genius to any of the members of his family. They just didn’t understand.
“Why don’t you just look these things up on the internet, Mattie? Wouldn’t that be easier?”
“Nothing rewarding ever came from something easy, Mom.”
She sighed and put her hands on her hips. They looked alike, Maps’ mother and him. His mother had the same dirty blond hair as he did, but hers was longer and cut nearer her shoulders. She wasn’t particularly tall, but she was rather thin, and had bright blue eyes that somehow managed to take on a touch of the devil when she was mad—especially when she aimed that madness at Maps. Her long summer skirt waved gently in the wind as she stood on the freshly painted white porch and looked down at her son.
“Well, I have some errands to run. Will you be all right here by yourself?”
“Are you sure?”
“If you say so.” She didn’t look like she was convinced. “But no experiments in the house. And don’t please, Mattie, don’t dig up my new flower garden.”
“I’m sixteen and not a Labrador—I think I can handle it.”
“You won’t dig up my garden?”
“Of course not.”
Of course he would. He needed the bugs that lived near the plant roots.
His mother walked down the sidewalk and stood next to him. “I’ll be home around dinner, okay? Oh, and the neighbors should be moving in sometime later today. Why don’t you go over and say hello?”
“Because I’m going to ignore them forever and one day they’ll be so offended by the lack of my presence that they’ll have little choice but to move away and let Benji move back in.”
“They didn’t kick Benji out of his house, honey.”
She explained it to him like he was four years old and didn’t actually understand why families had to move away. She had this sweet, sad smile on her face as she leaned forward to look at him, as if talking slower and having her face closer to his would make him understand better.
“Oh,” Maps said suddenly. “Can you also get some oats at the grocery store?”
“Dare I ask why?”
“I want to see how much more flammable dry oats are than wet oats.”
His mother just gave him
then began to walk across the lawn to her car in the driveway.
“So, no oats?” he called after her, but she didn’t reply. “Nah, she’ll get the oats.” He was used to people walking away from him.
Maps spent the next twenty minutes finishing up his elaborate ketchup dipping, then left the feathers on the lawn to dry. He headed inside, leaving drops of ketchup behind him in a trail all the way to his bedroom. Sitting down on his computer chair, he picked up the phone and speed-dialed Benji.
“What up, home-bread?” Benji asked on the other end of the line.
“The new neighbors are moving in today. I was wondering if you’d come help me catch a raccoon so I can shove it down their chimney.”
Benji laughed, but Maps didn’t understand what was so funny. It was a great idea.
“Maybe they won’t be so bad, Maps.”
“They’re going to be bad—worse than bad, probably. They’re going to be terrible. Worse than terrible, they’ll be awful. Worse than awful, they’ll be dreadful.”
Maps heard Benji whispering to someone else there with him. “Hey, can you call me back in like, twenty minutes? My brother needs to use the phone and apparently it’s life or death.”
“And you agreed?”
“My mom is making me.”
“Shame. I’ll call you back,” Maps said, then hung up.
Feeling a prickling sense on the back of his neck, Maps spun around in his computer chair and glanced at the doorway. Something flashed before his eyes, just a blur, and for barely a second, but he’d seen it. Something had been standing in his bedroom doorway and just like magic, had vanished.
“What. The. Shit.”
His eyes were huge, probably bugging out of his skull. He stared at the now vacant space in the doorway, too petrified—not that he’d ever admit that out loud—to move.
“H—hello?” he called out.
“Oh god, oh god. Oh god.” Maps grabbed the phone off his computer desk and quickly dialed Benji’s number. Unfortunately, it was Benji’s older brother who answered.
“What?” Assface said.
“Rude!” Maps squawked then hung up the phone, appalled. Some people had no manners at all, and no social etiquette. Maps’ mom would have a fit if Maps answered a telephone like that.
While Maps sat in his chair and bristled for a few seconds, he forgot what he’d been doing. Then suddenly, the very distinct tune of his mother’s musical jewelry box came to life.
The tune floated down the hallway like a song of imminent death.
“Okay, I can do this. I can do this.” Maps stood up on wobbly legs. “I can’t do this.” Maps sat down on wobbly legs. “No, I can. I can do this.” Maps stood up again and rolled his chair away.
He looked around for something to grab.
Ah hah! Perfect!
He picked up an umbrella.
He set down the umbrella.
What am I going to do with this? If the monster is a rain cloud, I’ll really have foiled its plans.
Maps took two steps toward the door, stopped, took two back, and grabbed the umbrella.
At least it was something.
He stood in the doorway and held his new weapon out at his side like a baseball bat and squatted down. “Hello?”
“I have an umbrella and the end is extremely pointy!” It was duller than his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. “Makes for good, uh, stabbage, and such!”
Still no one answered. He crept forward toward his parents’ room at the other end of the hall. Everything was quiet except for his footsteps and the song coming from the jewelry box of death. Half way there, the jewelry box slammed shut and the music stopped.
Maps resigned himself to the fact; he was going to die.
Still, like the brave soldier he was, he pushed forward, stopping only just outside of his parents’ door. He stuck the umbrella out in front of him as though the monster would impale itself on it for him and he’d save the day.
“Okay,” Maps pep-talked himself, “you can do this. You’ve seen
The Karate Kid
. You know some shit.”
Maps counted to three. On three, he jumped out into the doorway, thrust the umbrella out in front of him, slid his thumb along the handle, popping it open, and began to spin it wildly in circles as though he were Penguin from Tim Burton’s
And that’s when he heard it.
From a child.
“Nope!” he yelled into his parents’ bedroom, turned on his heel, and booked it back to his own bedroom down the hall.
He power-slid—for some reason—along the carpeted floor, grabbed the telephone off the cradle in one swift motion, then sat in the corner with his umbrella still opened, held out in front of himself like a shield.
Maps dialed Benji.
“Hello?” Benji answered.
“They’re here,” Maps whispered in reply.
“The Children of the Corn.”
“I told you they’d come for me; I just knew it. I had a feeling, and I told you and you didn’t believe me and still forced me to watch that dumb movie and now they’re here in my house to kill me.”
A few moments of silence passed before Benji spoke up. “What?”
“This is no time for foolishness, Benji. I have to go.” And then Maps hung up.
He went back to the doorway and called out, “I know you can hear me, Child of the Corn!” Then paused for a moment to laugh at his hilarious joke. “But there’s nothing Maps Wilson is afraid of!”