MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
BAILEY BUCKLEBY sat behind the register in the front room while his father fed the monsters in the back. A stack of Frisbees towered next to him for easy access. There had been no customers all morning, so he had been rereading his favorite book—In the Shadow of Monsters by monster hunter and photographer Dr. Frederick March—when four slouching tenth graders rolled through the front door with the Pacific fog. They had droopy eyes and bad ideas and gravitated to the back, feigning interest in the hermit crabs for sale. A purple curtain separated the front room from the back room, and the tenth graders knew that whatever was behind that purple curtain could make their small-town Saturday a lot more interesting.
“Hey, little seventh grader,” the one without a chin said, “what’s in the back?”
Shrieking pierced through the wall in perfect rhythm like an evil metronome. Mad chirping added a vicious melody. Barking as loud and deep as a bass drum boomed ROUMP, ROUMP, ROUMP!
“Those are dogs,” Bailey said, flipping the rusty shag of hair out of his bright green eyes. He was scrawny but tough, his arms and legs well scratched from frequent falls off his skateboard and even more frequent scrapes with monsters.
“Those aren’t dogs,” said the one with the caveman forehead.
“Cats.” Bailey shrugged, not even looking up from his book.
The sophomores didn’t appreciate being put off. They were in high school after all.
“Those aren’t cats.” The one with chronic burping burped.
“They’re cats and dogs. There’s also an extra-large parrot. Are you guys going to buy something or waste my time?”
But the high schoolers didn’t care about hermit crabs that made their homes out of plastic skulls. They didn’t care about the handmade shark tooth necklaces, the bins of saltwater taffy, the cheap straw hats, the easy-to-break sunglasses, or the snow globes of Santa with a bare belly kicking back on the beach. Only tourists bought that stuff, and the squishy fake whale blubber, and the T-shirts that read I ATE THE WHALEFAT, because the town of Whalefat Beach, California, was famous for its barbecued whale blubber sandwiches. Barbecued whale blubber sandwiches had been the town’s traditional lunch for three hundred years, because legend was that a giant whale had drifted ashore there and exploded, freeing its fifty inhabitants, who feasted off the blubbery remains of their former captor while building the town with their very own hands. To tourists, and even most locals, the story was amusing but too far-fetched to be believed. Bailey’s father said it was the absolute truth, and he claimed to be a direct descendant of one of those original Whalefatians, which made Bailey a Whalefatian, too.
The sophomore with three patches of fuzz on his face, who thought he had a full beard, snarled.
“Listen, Monster Boy. We know you have monsters back there, and we wanna see ’em.”
“Yeah,” Caveman grunted. “We wanna see ’em.”
Bailey looked up at them, annoyed that they hadn’t left yet. “Despite whatever rumors you idiots have heard, there are no monsters here.” Then, raising his voice a pitch higher to imitate his teacher Mrs. Wood, he shooed them away. “Run along, boys. Shoo!”
Bailey grinned, looking back down at his book, laughing at his own joke. The teenage thugs could barely stand the insubordination. Fuzzy made one fist, then another. “Listen, boy. You’re in seventh grade and we’re in high school. You have to respect the chain of command, son!”
Pft! In less than a second, Bailey pulled a Frisbee from the stack and whipped it at the center of Fuzzy’s forehead. He was momentarily stunned like a dumb cow. Bailey wasted no time, grabbed two more, and flicked his wrist. Pft! Pft! Two more to Fuzzy’s forehead for good measure. Bailey never missed.
“Hey!” Caveman yelled. Pft! Grab, flick, Frisbee to his forehead.
Pft! Preemptive strike on Burper. Burper stumbled backward. Pft! One more to the bridge of Chinless’s nose just for being ugly. Bailey’s accuracy was dead-on.
The boys grabbed their foreheads in pain, paralyzed with disbelief. The Frisbee injuries would leave welts on their foreheads for all their classmates to see Monday morning—undeniable proof that they had been defeated by a seventh grader.
Just one seventh grader.
And Bailey had plenty of Frisbees left.
“I don’t care what grade you guys are in. Read the sign above the door. Buckleby and Son’s Very Strange Souvenirs. This is my turf. I’m the son in Buckleby and Son’s, SON!”
“You think you can scare us off with Frisbees, little boy?” Caveman demanded.
Bailey Buckleby was a hunter and seller of monsters. He had dealt with far worse than these four adolescents. He leaned forward on the counter, his fingers crossing thoughtfully, like an adult.
“You want to know what’s in the back?”
The four thugs leaned forward, gaping and slouching, and there wasn’t a single twinkle of intelligence in any of their cold, dull eyes.
“You want to know what my dad and I are keeping back there? You want to know what’s back there that has my back?”
Bailey flipped his hair out of his eyes again and slowly reached under the register. He placed a portable baby monitor carefully on the counter, turning it to face them. The sophomores crowded together to look at the dark screen, and Bailey wondered just how long he could make these goons stare at absolutely nothing. He watched them with amusement for long stretched-out seconds until finally, with a wicked grin, he flipped the monitor switch to ON.
The screen lit up and showed them what was on the other side of the purple curtain.
Their eyes grew big.
And they ran.
Text copyright © 2019 by George Brewington
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by David Miles