It all started one morning before school a few weeks ago.
I was standing in the school yard with my friends Jack Japes, Jenny Friendly, Gretel Armstrong, and Newton Hooton.
Jack was telling us about a fish he'd caught over the weekend. Like most of Jack's fishing stories, it was entertaining, but mostly untrue.
"You should have seen it!" said Jack, spreading his arms as wide apart as he could. "It was this big!"
"In your dreams, Jack," said Gretel, rolling her eyes.
"It was no dream!" said Jack. "You should have seen the way it fought! It practically pulled me off the boat and down into the water!"
Newton gasped with fright.
Newton was always gasping with fright.
Newton was scared of . . . well, pretty much everything, I guess.
You name it, he was scared of it. He was even scared of the word it on the grounds that you could never be quite sure what it referred to.
"Don't worry, Newton," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "Jack's just exaggerating."
"No," said Newton, shaking his head. "I'm not scared of that."
"Then what are you scared of?" I said.
"THAT!" said Newton, pointing behind me.
"Uh-oh," said Gretel.
"Uh-oh," said Jack.
"Watch out, Henry!" said Jenny.
I turned around to see the Northwest West Academy bus roaring past the school. I also saw an object being thrown from one of the windows of the bus, and the next thing I knew I was covered in milk.
Sweet, sticky, banana-flavored milk.
"See you at the games, Northwest Southeast Central losers!" yelled the familiar voice of Northwest West Academy school president, Troy Gurgling. Then the bus disappeared in gales of laughter and a cloud of black, foul-smelling smoke.
I stood there, dripping with milk.
"Are you all right, Henry?" said Jenny with a worried look on her face.
"Yeah, I'm fine, thanks," I said. "Just a bit more banana-milky than usual, I guess."
"Do you want me to take you to Mrs. Bandaid?"
Mrs. Bandaid was the school nurse. Her solution to every injury or illness was to apply Band-Aids. Lots of Band-Aids.
"No," I said. "I'm not hurt . . . just a bit sticky."
"A bit stinky, you mean," said Fred Durkin, arriving with his brother, Clive.
"Yeah," echoed Clive, "really stinky. Good one, Fred!"
"Thanks for your help," said Gretel, stepping in front of them and flexing her muscles. "Now run away and play like good little boys."
"I was just leaving, anyway," said Fred, eyeing Gretel warily. "Something around here stinks like rotten bananas."
"It didn't before you came," said Jack.
Fred glared at Jack. "Why, you little pip-squeak squirt, I'm going to squeeze your head so hard that it pops!"
Gretel stepped in between them, her arms folded across her chest.
Fred stared at Gretel, his eyes narrowed to two black slits. "One of these days, Armstrong," he said quietly, "one of these days…"
"You're going to learn some manners?" suggested Gretel.
"No," said Jack, peering out from behind Gretel. "He's going to take a bath!"
Fred stared at Jack.
Jack stared at Fred.
Fred glanced at Gretel.
Gretel jerked her head. "Move it," she said to Fred.
Fred shrugged. "Come on, Clive," he said. "Let's go somewhere where it doesn't stink so much."
Fred turned and walked away.
"Good one, Fred!" said Clive, running after him. "Good one!"