My newest book, From the Bottom of the Cauldron: Tales of Witch Training, follows a group of students as they go from class to class, training to be witches at a pretty crazy witch school.
Here’s the description about the book and one of my favorite stories from it.
When your mom gives you a mop for flying broom class… and that teacher with foot problems cares more about finding a sensible pair of shoes than he does about who becomes his next pair… yeah, it’s kind of like that.
Meet the kids at the Academy of Witch Training, the only official training school for kid witches. These are their stories. Welcome to school. If you’d like to join, here’s a little advice: watch out for classmates who might want to chew your brains out. Don’t think that 1000-year-old lunch lady really wants to hear your career advice, and don’t have your mom write a note excusing you from witches brew class because you’re allergic to eye of newt. In other words, it’s a lot like regular school, only witchier.
This is the fifth story from the book. It’s called The Hair. It takes place at lunch. Hope you like it.
Nobody looked forward to lunch more than Timmy Munching. Even though he pretty much snacked all day, he was still always starving at 12:30 when lunch came around. And Timmy loved cafeteria food. Square pizza, beef teriyaki dippers, Salisbury steak – he bought them all.
“I don’t know why I eat here so much,” Jason Pomp said to Timmy when they were standing in line one day. “I read school cafeterias are some of the dirtiest places on earth. In fact, Donovan doesn’t buy anymore. He says he always found a hair in his food when he bought lunch.”
They both looked over at Donovan Phobe, who was already sitting at a lunch table. He had four layers of napkins laid out on the table in front of him, then he had his lunchbox placed over the napkins and his food on top of the lunchbox. He squirted a dollop of hand sanitizer into his palm and shook his hands around to dry them.
“Yeah, that kid’s just paranoid of germs,” Timmy said, wiping his nose with his finger. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Jason moved up a little in line. “I don’t know. Donovan thinks Mrs. Hair puts hair in everyone’s food. He says it’s her secret ingredient. He’s never eaten here without the hair.”
“He’s crazy! That’s just her name.”
“She chews gum,” Jason said. “What kind of lunch lady chews gum?”
“So,” Timmy replied, inching up the line.
“And she smells funny.”
“She’s like 1,000,” Timmy replied. “Everybody smells funny after they hit 900 or so.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “She should be retired by now, that’s what my dad says. And that just comes from poor planning.” They moved along, even further, reaching the food. Jason continued. “Those old witches never planned well for retirement. Good thing I already have enough saved up to retire even though I’m just a kid. My dad’s investment guy says he wishes everyone could be as smart as me, but they can’t, so I guess they have to be a lunch lady forever. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Hair?”
Mrs. Hair looked at Jason. She smelled like gum mixed with hate mixed with old square pizza. Timmy wasn’t sure if she’d heard his friend’s comment or not. He could tell Mrs. Hair was making an expression of some sort because the hair on her upper-lip wart was moving a little, but he couldn’t tell if she was smiling or scowling.
She poured a ladle-full of glop onto a food tray and handed it to Timmy. “Ah, you kids,” she chuckled. “You sure keep me young.” She coughed a little on the tray as she handed it over. Timmy snatched it before the germs could land, or so he hoped. He looked over at Donovan, who seemed to be shaking his head in a “don’t do it” kind of way.
“And you! You’re right about me and my retirement,” Mrs. Hair said to Jason when it was his turn. She chewed slowly on her extra large wad of gum, drooling a little gum spit onto her apron. Her long gray hair blew behind her in wild strands from a mysterious nonexistent breeze. “That’s good advice. I should learn to be smarter.” She put a dollop on his tray and smiled. “I like you, kid. I’m gonna give you an extra. An extra scoop of mixed rice.”
“No fair,” Timmy thought. “Jason gets extra for that advice?” Still, he was happy to know what the glop was. And when he turned his head sideways a little, it kind of looked like rice.
Mrs. Hair plopped the second scoop onto Jason’s tray and smiled, pink bubble gum coated her gray slivers of fragile teeth stumps. “An extra, special for you,” she repeated.
The boys sat down at the lunch table next to Donovan.
“She gave you ‘The Hair,’” Donovan said when they got there. “She for sure gave you ‘The Hair.’”
“Dude, Timmy’s right. You are paranoid,” Jason said, opening his little plastic bag of napkin, spork, and knife. “What do you think? Our thousand-year-old lunch lady has a bag of hair she sprinkles on all the lunches?” He made a “crazy” motion with his finger. “Besides, Mrs. Hair seemed very thankful I pointed out that she should’ve planned better for her retirement. Isn’t that right, Timmy? She even gave me an extra spoonful of rice. Man, I should bottle my advice and sell it to old people.” Jason picked up his square pizza and went to take a bite.
That’s when Timmy saw it. At first, he almost didn’t see it, the long gigantic hair coiled around his friend’s pizza. It was gray, almost see-through, but it was there all right. Timmy’s finger shook as he raised it, pointing at the pizza.
Donovan saw it next. His mouth fell open and he almost dropped his potato chip bag, but thankfully, he caught it before it landed anywhere with germs. “The Hair!” he yelled.
Jason’s eyes focused on the pizza in front of his face. He saw it too. “Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t almost eat that,” he said, unwinding the long gray strand from around his pizza. “I’m going to get that woman a hairnet for Christmas.”
As soon as the hair was removed, maggots poked their squirmy white heads out from under the cheese, inching along the top of the pizza like they’d been released from prison. The pepperoni suddenly had fuzzy green mold rings all over it. Gooey snot lines coated the crust.
Jason screamed and threw the pizza at Timmy, who screamed and threw it at Donovan. Donovan began to heave. He swatted the pizza onto the floor under their bench, and the three boys managed to kick it over to the girls’ side of the table before they could notice.
“I told you!” Donovan said, over and over again. He cupped his hand and squirted a large glob of hand sanitizer into his palm. The other boys grabbed it from him when he’d finished and took some too. “I told you, but you didn’t want to believe me,” he said, squirting another glob. “The Hair is real.”
Timmy’s stomach rumbled. He was still hungry. He looked at his pizza. From what he could tell, it seemed fine. He lifted the cheese. Nothing weird squirmed out. He inspected the crust, and smelled the pepperoni. It just smelled like yummy school pizza. No mold. No snot. No maggots.
Jason was busy inspecting his rice, too. He swirled his spork in the middle, lifting up a big spoonful and looking it over. “Seems fine,” he said. “I guess, it’s a good thing she gave me an extra spoonful of rice. I’m starving, but there’s no way I’m eating any pizza.”
That made Timmy wonder again if he should trust the pizza. He looked his slice over a second, and a third, time. He lifted it over his head and looked at the bottom. It was just plain white bread. He glanced around the cafeteria. Everyone else was laughing and enjoying their pizza like normal. No one was freaking out over their lunch. Jason probably just got the only bad piece. Timmy opened his mouth to take a bite.
“Sure you want to do that?” Donovan asked.
“That was definitely gross,” Timmy said. “But I think other people would be freaking out too if there was really something wrong with the pizza. I’m pretty sure Jason just got a bad piece.”
“Whatever,” Jason said, chewing his rice. “I’m just glad the rice is good.” Jason shoveled another huge spoonful into his mouth, and a long gray hair dangled from his lips. He paused.
The other two boys looked over when Jason stopped eating and saw it too.
Donovan screamed. “You got two hairs!” he said, shaking his head. “That’s unheard of. Two hairs. I told you. I told you.”
Slowly, Jason pulled the hair out of his mouth. This one was even longer than the first. He pulled and pulled. It seemed never ending. His eyes watered into tears. His face lost all its color. His lips bunched from one side to the next, in a confused, almost sad, kind of way, like a terrible realization was sinking in. He spit the rice onto the table, but it wasn’t rice anymore. Head lice and white worms slithered around where his chewed food should’ve been. He looked at his tray. All the rice had turned into tiny white worms or lice, and the peas were no longer peas – they were mushy, sticky boogers.
Jason ran to the water fountain and rinsed his mouth out as Mrs. Hair looked up from her station and smiled. Her long hair still blowing wildly even though there wasn’t any wind.
Timmy and Donovan grabbed their stuff and took off across the lunchroom to a table far away from the lice.
“I told you!” Donovan said. “Her secret ingredient, ‘The Hair.’ Pull the hair out of your food, and you’ll see the truth about it. There’s always The Hair.”
“You’re crazy,” Timmy said. His stomach rumbled wildly. He was really hungry now, but then, he was always really hungry.
“Five minutes!” Mrs. Hair yelled from behind the counter. She seemed to be looking right at the boys. “Lunch is over in five minutes!”
Timmy had to make a decision, fast, though it really wasn’t much of a decision. His pizza seemed fine, and he was hungry.
“Don’t eat that!” Donovan said as Timmy lifted the pizza up to his mouth.
This time Timmy saw it. There was a hair, tucked under his cheese and wrapped around the pepperoni.
Donovan saw it too. He screamed. “The Hair! You got The Hair!” His voice seemed low and frantic, almost like it was coming at Timmy in slow motion.
Timmy went to pull the hair out from his pizza, to see for certain if Donovan was right. To see if pulling out this secret ingredient would magically show the truth about his food. But he stopped himself, and instead shoved the whole thing in his mouth, hair and all, quickly chewing and swallowing it down. Then he dug into his little mound of mixed rice.
“Delicious,” he said, already wondering what was on the menu for tomorrow.