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THE BOY WHO CRIED, “WOOL!”
The Aldritch family was on vacation. They’d driven their camper to a gorgeous campsite in an area called Mammoth Hills. The leaves were just turning their fall colors, and the air was crisp and cool enough to make long hikes comfortable. Mr. and Mrs. Aldritch loved camping. So did their two oldest children, Mark and Mandy. Their next oldest child, Teagan, didn’t care about camping either way, but she definitely didn’t like what happened every time the family went anywhere.
“Teagan,” Mrs. Aldritch said as she laced up her hiking books. “I expect you to keep an eye on your little brother.”
“But, Mom—” Teagan said.
“Listen to your mother,” Mr. Aldritch said as he tucked his flannel shirt into his sturdy jeans. “Keep an eye on Conrad.”
Teagan stared at her father, hoping for a bit of mercy. She got nothing. Once again, she was stuck watching the youngest member of the family.
As they headed away from their campsite toward the trail, Teagan whispered to Conrad, “Please behave. Okay? I don’t want to have to chase you all over the woods.”
Conrad, who was a bit overloaded with excess energy, didn’t answer his sister. Instead, he flung his hand out, pointing ahead of the family, and screamed, “Wooooollll—”
“Shush,” Teagan said, clamping a hand over her little brother’s mouth. They’d gone to a petting zoo the other week, and Conrad had been scared by the sheep. Teagan waited until she was sure there would be no more shouting, then relaxed her grip and led Conrad along.
Ten minutes later, it happened again.
“Wooooollllll—” Conrad started to scream.
Teagan clamped down again and looked around. Far off, near the crest of a tall hill, she saw something that might have been a sheep. Or maybe it was a mountain goat. Whatever it was, there was no reason to be scared.
“Calm down, okay?” she said. “They won’t hurt you.”
Teagan dropped her hand. “I don’t get it,” Teagan said. “You’re so quiet at home.”
Her little brother could sit all day looking at books about dinosaurs and prehistoric times. He’d stare at a drawing of a pterodactyl or a cave bear for hours. But get him outside, and he ran around and shouted like he was being chased by a pack of zombies.
Conrad screamed again at the base of the hill.
Teagan looked up as she silenced her little brother. It had gotten a bit foggy. “Maybe we should turn back,” Teagan said. Conrad’s fear was making her nervous.
“Nonsense,” her dad said. “The trail is well marked. The view at the top is supposed to be spectacular. We might even see a bald eagle.”
“And we aren’t quitters,” her mom said.
They hiked up the hillside. Near the top, Teagan saw Conrad tense up his whole body. She reached out to silence him. But then, she decided she’d had enough.
“I’m just going to let him scream,” she said. Maybe then her parents would appreciate what she had to deal with.
It turned out Conrad had more to say than just wool.
“Woooolllllymammmmmoth!!!!!” Conrad screamed.
He’d finally managed to get the whole name out. He’d spotted it way back, because he had better vision than the rest of his family. And it had terrified him. He’d been too scared to say much, and his sister hadn’t helped by stopping him every time he’d managed to speak.
There was no stopping him now. He screamed the warning again.
And there was no stopping the wooly mammoth. It charged down the hill. So did the rest of its family, which was also enjoying a lovely walk among the colorful trees in the crisp autumn air.
The Aldritches got knocked silly as the herd stampeded past them. Except for Conrad, who had the sense to leap out of the way and not stand there staring with his mouth open.
Eventually, bruised, battered, and aching, the Aldritch family managed to get back to their tents, which had been trampled flat.
They never went camping again.
And from that day on, Teagan always listened to whatever Conrad had to say.
ALL YOU CAN EAT
Roddy Vangorf loved candy. So it was no surprise he loved Halloween. Roddy was also one of the laziest kids ever born. So it was also no surprise, despite his love of candy, that he hated having to walk door-to-door all over his neighborhood and beyond to get a sackful of sweets. Even worse, he had to put on a stupid mask.
Then, five years ago, Roddy got a late start going out for trick-or-treating. He’d only gone one block and had hardly gotten close to having enough candy for even a single night, when he stopped to lean against a tree and rest. Unfortunately for them, three other kids also decided to rest, right down the street. A ghost, a soldier, and a pirate stopped walking and put their bags down.
Roddy wasn’t interested in the other kids. But he was interested in the bags. They bulged like the inflated cheeks of a trumpet player.
“That’s a ton of candy,” Roddy whispered. He couldn’t peel his eyes away from the bags. “Maybe two tons.”
He leaned away from the tree and crouched over. “They have more than they need.”
Like a panther, Roddy sped down the street toward the three kids. Without even pausing, he snatched up one of the bags and flew past the victims.
He was half a block away, and darting between a pair of houses, before the three kids even seemed to notice they’d been robbed of one-third of their candy.
Their cries of “Stop!” and “Hey!” barely reached Roddy’s ears as he skittered across a backyard. Soon enough, he was tucked safely in his room, with his treasure spilled out on the floor in front of him.
He didn’t feel an ounce of guilt as he tore the wrapper from a chocolate bar and crammed it into his eager mouth. He felt wonderful.
A year later, he decided to repeat his perfect Halloween technique. It didn’t take Roddy long to spot a group of six superheroes. Spider-Man was lagging behind the rest of the group. He kept switching his bulging sack of candy from hand to hand.
“I’ll save you,” Roddy said. He smiled at his cleverness. He was going to rescue Spidey from the agony of lugging all that sweet goodness.
He took off, pushed himself to full speed, and snatched the bag right out of the weary hands of the solitary superhero.
Copyright © 2019 by David Lubar
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Bill Mayer