Bad Grains Sample Chapter
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In the quaint German town of Fels, Halloween takes a dark turn for eleven-year-old Jo. When her annoying older brother, Hektor, goes missing, Jo suspects he's playing a prank. But then both her father and grandma forget Hektor's name, and his stuff mysteriously disappears from his room.
With the adults of no help whatsoever, Jo starts her own investigation, and uncovers a gruesome legend: A monster lives in the rye fields, and it has been preying on the children of Fels for centuries, ensnaring them into its world under the roots. With two days until the gate between their worlds closes, Jo races against time to save her brother.
Armed with a trusty turnip lantern, and her brother's obnoxious best friend as her only ally, can Jo outsmart the ancient monster, or will the rye fields claim even more innocent victims? Embrace the magic of spooky season and join Jo on a pulse-pounding journey into German folklore where courage, friendship, and darkness collide.
Everything has its price, even if the price tag isn’t always visible.
Take recess, for example: Nearly every day, I buy a loaf of potato bread from the school kiosk. The price tag on the bread is obvious: A chunk of my allowance, and precious time wasted standing in line.
But I’m not just buying bread. The snack line gives me somewhere to be. The bread in my hand gives me something to do while I hover at the fringes of a group of girls, who meet below a stairwell to exchange collectible stickers. Chewing the bread gives me an excuse for why I’m never talking. Gives me the appearance of being sociable when I’m just hanging on.
The bread saves me from becoming a friendless loser, like my classmate Rani, who always spends her breaks outside, jogging around the building. Even on days like today when the rain comes pouring down.
Once the bell rings to signal the end of recess, Rani walks back in, dripping water across the school’s mud brown carpet floors. She smiles to herself; a blissful, carefree smile of pure freedom. From my spot under the stairs, I envy her.
But she, too, pays a price. The sticker girls all stop chatting. They stare at her openly, giggling and snickering. And when they make fun of her wild hair and wrinkled clothing, my envy of Rani quickly fades.
No, I tell myself: I’m much better off in the snack line. Better off with the sticker girls, even if we never talk.
By the end of classes, the rain has stopped, though the sky remains gray and overcast. A freezing wind ripples across the water puddles on Moth Street. I dance past the old carp pond, avoiding the cracks between the gray stone squares that make up the sidewalk.
Who knows the price of stepping on a crack?
Out crawls a monster and stabs you in the back!
It’s a silly game, but after a gruesomely boring day at school, a little silliness is just what I need.
Further ahead, I spot my brother walking home with two of his friends, Felix and Leon. I hasten my steps to catch up to them.
"Hektor," I call.
My brother ignores me.
"Hey, Jo," Leon mutters.
Felix says nothing, but does a sort of half-wave in my direction. Too cool for words.
"Where’s Daniel?", I ask, even though I’m secretly glad he isn’t here.
Daniel is the rudest, most annoying boy on the planet, and, unfortunately, Hektor’s best friend since grade school.
"He has the flu," Leon answers.
"More like he coughed once, and now his mom won’t let him leave the house. It’s totally going to mess up our raid tomorrow. She never lets him play when he’s sick," Felix groans.
I nod, but bite my lip to keep myself from offering my help. For one, I don’t have my own PC yet, and for two, Hektor is glaring at me with a pinched mouth, warning me to stay away. He’d rather lose the game than have his little sister join him. And I’m not about to risk his everlasting wrath for their stupid raid.
"Sucks for you," I say instead.
I skip past them, out from under the ancient oak trees by the dark pond, into the dreary light. Next to me lies the only farmer’s field within the limits of Fels. One of the few places where the sky looks wide open; where the houses don’t rise like walls, boring and unrelenting, cast in stone, like the entire town. But something is wrong with the field today.
I stop mid-step, staring out over the shoddy wooden fence that serves as a reminder that the field is private property, more than it actually deters trespassers. The field - I think it’s planted with rye, because the awns are too long for wheat, and too short for barley (the total extent of my agricultural knowledge, gleaned from a children’s game) - should have been harvested weeks ago. Back in July or August. I could have sworn it was, but here it is: two days from Halloween, full of caramel stalks flecked with black mold. A slight, rotten odor stirs beneath the damp-earth smell the rain has left.
The sidewalk slopes down toward a small stream that springs from a concrete tube under the road and divides the field neatly in half. The stream gurgles, gorged from the rain, and I watch with unease as it swirls and foams around the ancient, rusted grate over the concrete tube.
Back in grade school, a friend told me that foam on water means dead bodies, though no adult ever confirmed it. By now, I’m fairly sure she just made it up, but the thought still makes my stomach queasy.
Rap music blares into my thoughts. Hektor and his friends, ahead of me once more, have stopped to listen to Felix’s new favorite playlist off my brother’s phone. They’re chuckling about the rapper’s offensive language.
Hektor curses when it starts to rain again a moment later. While I take out my sunflower umbrella from my backpack, my brother glances down the street, and then across the field.
"Yo," he says, slurring his words, making himself sound like some rapper from Berlin. "Why we walkin’ around this thing? No one would care if we cut across."
Normally, running into the field would be a risky move, bound to anger the owner, and Farmer Schwarz lives just across the street, with an excellent view of the field from his living room. But he can’t be too worried about his crops if he’s letting the rye rot on the stalks.
"We’d be home in five," Felix muses, scrutinizing the field.
"We hurry, and we could still catch the entire episode of Ninja Summoner Zanzan at your house, Leon," adds Hektor.
"Nah, man, we’re gonna get our shoes all muddy and—" Leon starts.
"Are you a little girl or what?", snarls Hektor.
He gazes at me with a hint of an apology in his eyes, then he laughs, grabs Leon’s arm, and starts pulling him along, down into the rye. At the last moment, Hektor glances back at me again.
"See you at home, lame-o!"
They giggle as they make their way into the field. I can track their progress by the moving stalks, but suddenly, an icy wind ruffles the rye ears.
"Whatever! Oma promised she’s cooking something extra awesome for today, and I’ll steal all of yours," I shout after them, turning away.
Walking home the long way around is not so bad. Gives me time to consider the possibility of a hot chocolate this afternoon while the raindrops patter onto my umbrella. Hot chocolate and a new book from the book bus; preferably something spooky. It’s going to be the perfect start to my Halloween weekend.
When I glance at the field again, wraiths of fog are drifting across the stalks, blotting out the houses on the opposite side of the field, by Azalea Street. The boys, too, have disappeared.
A dog howls in the distance, sounding more like a wolf, but that’s impossible here in boring Fels. Still fun to imagine, and the fog looks kind of cool, with the field vanishing into it. Eerie, but cool. With a last glance at the half-rotten rye, I walk on.
When I get home, Grandma is clattering about in our steam-filled kitchen.
Thanks for reading my sample!