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The Sasquatch Escape, Page 2

Suzanne Selfors

  She straightened, which made her a whole head taller than Ben. “That thing, last night in the sky. What do you think it was?”

  It sure looked like a dragon, he thought. But he didn’t say that out loud. “Maybe it was a bird?”

  “A bird?” She screwed up her face. “But it was huge, and it had a long tail. You really think that thing was a bird? Don’t you think it looked like a dragon?”

  “Dragons aren’t real.”

  She shrugged. “Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Hey, what’s your name?”

  “Ben Silverstein.”

  “I’m Pearl Petal. What are you doing in Buttonville, Ben Silverstein?”

  “I’m visiting my grandfather for the summer.”

  “The whole summer? Your parents sent you to this boring town for the whole summer? Are they mad at you or something?”

  Ben chewed on his lower lip as he thought about making up a story. He could tell Pearl that his parents had sent him to Buttonville because they were secret agents and they had to go on a dangerous mission. Or he could tell her that his parents were astronauts and they were headed to Mars for the summer. There were lots of stories that were more interesting than the truth—that his parents were having troubles and arguing all the time. Ben didn’t want to tell anyone the truth, especially not a girl he barely knew.

  “You sure wear fancy clothes,” Pearl said. “I get most of my clothes from the Dollar Store. These shorts only cost a dollar.” She pointed to her shiny red basketball shorts, which hung below her knees. Ben didn’t know how much his brand-new jeans had cost, but his mom had ordered them from a catalog. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

  “No,” Ben replied.

  “Me neither. It’s just me and my mom and dad. But my great-aunt Gladys, who has trouble remembering things, lives in our basement. She smells like menthol cough drops. Most of the people around here are old like Aunt Gladys. That’s because a lot of families moved away so they could find jobs, and they took their kids with them.” She took a quick breath. “There’s this one girl who still lives here named Victoria, but stay away from her because she can’t keep a secret. Believe me, I learned the hard way. I told Victoria that I’d found a nest of baby raccoons under my house and that I was feeding them table scraps, and Victoria told my mom and I got into huge trouble.”

  This girl sure likes to talk. “I need to go help my grandfather. He’s in the store.” Ben tried to walk away, but Pearl stepped in front of him.

  “You really think it was a bird?” she asked, lowering her voice. She leaned on the broom and stared at him.

  No, he did not think it was a bird. Ben Silverstein was no dummy. He knew what he’d seen. But never in a million years would he admit it. That would be like admitting he’d seen the tooth fairy.

  “I saw it before,” Pearl said. “Last week I saw it land on the roof of the old button factory. I think it lives there.” Then she smiled. “I’m going to investigate later. Wanna join me?”

  Grandpa Abe’s words replayed in Ben’s head. She’s a nice girl, that Pearl, but a bit of a troublemaker. Watch yourself. Ben didn’t want trouble. He wanted to go home.

  “I can’t go,” Ben told her. “I need to help my grandfather…make brisket.”

  Pearl frowned. “What are you going to do after you make brisket?”

  “Eat it.”

  “And then what?”

  Ben shrugged. “I’ll do something.”

  “Well, just so you know, there’s nothing to do in this boring town.” She pulled a stick of gum from her apron pocket and began to chew. She offered him a stick of gum, but he politely shook his head. “The bowling alley closed, and the movie theater only shows movies on Friday night. We don’t even have a swimming pool, unless you count the plastic pool over at the senior center, but it’s no fun because the seniors yell at you if you splash.”

  No swimming pool? Back home, Ben had a pool in his backyard. All his friends had pools in their backyards.

  “Well, if you change your mind”—she pointed to the embroidered words on her apron: YOU GET MORE AT THE DOLLAR STORE—“my family lives above the store. If you see any more birds, let me know.” She swept a white button into the street drain, then headed back across the intersection.

  If the town was as boring as Pearl said, this was going to be a long, uneventful summer.


  The Food 4 Less Market was tiny compared with the grocery store back home. Just five aisles and only one cashier. There was no barista making cappuccinos, no fancy bottles of water from Fiji. The grocery bags were plastic, not canvas, and the day’s special was bologna, not goose-liver pâté.

  Ben’s grandfather stood second in line for the cash register. He’d crammed a lot of groceries into his cart. There were kosher hot dogs, white bread, and mustard. There were frozen pizzas and egg rolls, bagels and cream cheese, a box of Sugar Loops, and two boxes of doughnuts. Ben smiled. No fruits or vegetables or stuff that was “healthy.”

  “Hello, madame,” the man at the front of the line said to the cashier. He wore a long black raincoat, which seemed odd, since the day was warm and sunny. “I wish to purchase this can of fish broth, this can of condensed milk, and some kiwi-flavored jelly beans.”

  The cashier, a girl with a pimple-covered nose, tapped her fingernails on the counter. “We don’t have kiwi-flavored jelly beans.”

  “Then could you be so kind as to special-order them for me?” the man asked. “I need them as soon as possible.” He pushed his long red hair behind his shoulders.

  The cashier took a piece of paper from a drawer. “How many do you want?” she asked.

  “Two thousand boxes.”

  “Two thousand boxes?” Ben blurted.

  “That’s a lot of jelly beans,” Grandpa Abe said as he leaned on the handle of the grocery cart. “You’ll rot your teeth eating that much candy.”

  The man slowly turned to face Ben and his grandfather. His red mustache was waxed so that it stuck out in individual strands. The mustache quivered as the man spoke, reminding Ben of a cat’s whiskers. “I appreciate your concern for my dental health, but there is no need to worry. I am not fond of kiwi-flavored jelly beans. I eat only meat.”

  “Only meat?” Grandpa Abe asked. “What about a knish? You like a good knish?”

  The man’s irises, which were shaped like black half-moons, suddenly swelled. His nose, which was upturned, started to twitch. He sniffed, and his gaze darted to Ben. “Are you the owner of a Chinese striped hamster?”

  “Yes,” Ben said with surprise. “How did you know?”

  With very sharp nails, the man plucked a little hair from Ben’s shirt. “The Chinese striped has a unique odor, quite different from the standard hamster.” He brought the hair to his nose, which twitched faster, as if powered by a little motor. “This one is male. Young. Tender. Delicious with pepper.” He licked his lips.

  Delicious with pepper? An eerie shiver trickled down Ben’s spine. He’d never heard of anyone eating a hamster. Who would do a thing like that?

  “You must be new around here,” Grandpa Abe said to the man. “Where are you from?”

  The man straightened. His nose stopped twitching. “I’m from…far away.”

  “Two thousand boxes will cost a lot of money,” the cashier said. “You sure you want to order that many?”

  “Money is of no concern.” The man reached into a trouser pocket and pulled out a wad of cash, which he set on the counter. Because Grandpa Abe and the cashier were staring openmouthed at the cash, they didn’t notice the little piece of paper that drifted from the man’s pocket and landed at Ben’s feet. “My employer would like the boxes delivered as soon as they arrive.”

  “Who do you work for?” the cashier asked as she picked up the wad of cash.

  “I am employed by the brilliant and talented Dr. Woo.” The man tapped his polished shoe. “As a matter of fact, if we could conclude our business, I need to get back to work. I am Dr. Woo’s

  “Buttonville has a new doctor?” Grandpa Abe asked. “What kind of doctor?”

  “A worm doctor,” the man replied. “Dr. Woo is renowned worldwide for her work with worms. She tends to their illnesses and needs.” Grandpa Abe and the cashier shared a confused look. “Do you have a pen, dear woman, so that I can fill out the order form?” The cashier handed the red-haired man a pen. While he filled out the order form, Ben reached down and grabbed the piece of paper. It was a recipe card.

  Ben read it again. Was this for real?

  The man finished filling out the order form, then handed it to the cashier. She read it.

  “It says here you want the jelly beans delivered to the old button factory, but the button factory is closed.”

  “Dr. Woo is renting the old factory. It will house her worm hospital.” Then the man collected his grocery bag, which contained the can of fish broth and the can of condensed milk. After a quick bow to the cashier, he strode toward the exit. Ben hurried after him.

  “Excuse me,” Ben called.

  The man turned on his heels. “Yes?”

  “You dropped this.” Ben handed him the recipe card.

  The man’s whiskers twitched as he took the card. “Thank you,” he said.

  “That’s a weird recipe,” Ben said. “Is it for the worms? At the worm hospital?” He didn’t know anything about worms, except that if you cut them in half, they still wiggled.

  “The recipe is not for worms,” the man replied. “Worms do not drink dragon’s milk. Only dragons drink dragon’s milk.” He offered no further explanation. He bowed again, then left.

  “Did I hear that man say something about dragons?” Grandpa Abe asked when Ben returned to the counter.

  “Uh-huh,” Ben said.

  “Oy gevalt.” Grandpa Abe shook his head, then began to stack his groceries on the counter. “Just what we need. Another crazy person in Buttonville.”


  While Grandpa Abe rattled around in the kitchen, Ben fed a piece of doughnut to Snooze the hamster. Then he opened the bedroom window. There was no screen, so he stuck out his head. It was late morning, and the sun streamed between his grandfather’s house and the house next door. A little path was worn into the side yard between the houses.

  “Today is Friday,” Grandpa Abe called. “Birthday day at the senior center.” Ben leaned on the windowsill. Going to the senior center didn’t sound like much fun. He could tell his grandfather that he had a stomachache. Or maybe he’d make up a better story—that he had a medical condition that made him allergic to other people’s birthday cakes.

  Then again, eating frosting might be better than hanging around the house, wondering what his friends back home were doing. Wondering if his parents were going to stay together. Wondering about that giant bird.


  A large black cat turned into the side yard and pranced up the path. His tail stuck straight up, and something swung from his mouth. The cat stopped beneath the window and stared up at Ben, his yellow eyes widening with surprise. He wiggled his bottom.

  “Oh no,” Ben said, “you’re not coming in here.” But before he could close the window, the cat leaped onto the sill, then jumped onto the bed. Ben threw himself at the dresser, standing between the cat and the hamster cage. “Don’t even think about it,” he warned. “Go on. Shoo.” Ben waved his hands toward the open bedroom door. “Shoo!”

  But the cat didn’t shoo. His pitiful victim dangled from his smiling mouth. Snooze the hamster stopped eating the doughnut and scurried into his nest. The rustling sound caught the cat’s attention.

  “Grandpa, can you please call your cat?” Ben hollered.

  “Here, Barnaby, Barnaby, Barnaby. Come get some yum-yums.”

  The sound of a can opener was apparently more interesting than a hamster’s rustling. With a leap, Barnaby soared through the air like a trapeze artist, landed gracefully in the doorway, then pranced into the kitchen. With a sigh of relief, Ben hurriedly shut the door. “And stay out,” he grumbled.

  He was about to tell Snooze that he wouldn’t let that bad kitty back into the bedroom when something squeaked.

  Ben leaned over his bed. There, in the middle of the quilt, lay Barnaby’s victim. Only it wasn’t dead. It wiggled and squeaked again.

  And then it shot a fountain of flame right at Ben’s face. “Whoa!” Ben cried, ducking as the flame whooshed over his head.

  As suddenly as the flame had appeared, it disappeared. Ben felt his face and hair to make sure nothing was on fire. Then a second flame shot upward, but this time, it reached only a few feet off the bed. The flame disappeared, and the creature squeaked again.

  A third flame emerged, but it was weak, like a sparkler on the Fourth of July. It fizzled and popped, extinguishing with a hissing sound. The little creature coughed.

  What just happened? How did…? How could…? Ben’s legs trembled.

  After a minute or two had passed and no more flames appeared, Ben knelt beside the bed. He wasn’t about to touch it, whatever it was. The creature’s body and wings were black, but one of the wings was torn. Was it a bat? Ben had seen photos of bats, so he knew they had all sorts of weird faces. Some looked like foxes, some like mice. There were dog-faced bats and monkey-faced bats. This one had a long snout, like a sea horse.

  He leaned closer and discovered a problem with his bat theory. Bats were mammals and covered with fur. This thing was covered with glossy scales.

  And of course, bats didn’t spout fire. As far as Ben knew, no animals spouted fire. No real animals.

  “Ben? Your mother’s on the phone.” Grandpa Abe rapped on the door. “Be a good boy and come talk to your mother.”

  “Okay.” Ben didn’t want to leave the creature, which coughed again and looked up at him with half-closed eyes. “I’ll be right back,” he whispered. He closed the bedroom window so the killer cat couldn’t sneak back in, and he made sure to close the bedroom door, too. He didn’t mention the bat to his grandfather, who was putting away groceries. “You can’t keep a fire-breathing bat,” he’d surely say. “It’s too dangerous. It’ll burn your ears off.”

  No need to tell him just yet. A fire-breathing bat was a pretty cool thing to find, and Ben wanted to spend a bit more time with it before he turned it over to an adult.

  “Hello?” Ben said as he picked up the phone receiver. The phone was one of the old-fashioned kind that attached to the wall.

  “Hi, Benjamin,” his mother chirped. “I just wanted to see how things were going. Is your grandfather feeding you?”


  “Good. Be sure to help him carry things. And be sure to help him with the chores around the house. He’s getting old. And be sure to keep your room clean, and be sure to brush your teeth, and be sure to…” She paused. “Oh, just have fun. I want you to have lots and lots of fun.”

  “I will,” Ben said, his gaze fixed on his bedroom door.

  “You’re not still mad that we sent you there, are you?” Silence filled the line.

  If asked that question five minutes ago, Ben would have told his mother that yes, he was really mad that she’d sent him to stay in a boring town in the middle of nowhere with a grandfather he barely knew. But with a fire-breathing bat lying on his bed—well, that changed everything.

  “I’m not mad,” Ben said. Barnaby the cat pawed at the bedroom door. Then he pressed his barrel-shaped body against the wood, a low growl vibrating as he pushed, trying to get in. “Uh, I gotta go, but don’t worry so much, Mom. I’m fine.”

  “Okay, sweetie. Your father and I just want you to know that we love you.”

  “I love you, too. Bye.” Ben hung up. “Shoo,” he said waving his hands. “Shoo.” The cat flicked his tail, then moseyed over to his water bowl. Ben cracked open the door and peered into the bedroom. The little creature lay in the exact same spot on the bed, licking its injured wing. “Grandpa Abe, are there any animal doctors in Buttonville?”

nbsp; “Apparently, we have a worm doctor,” Grandpa Abe said as he set a bag of potato chips in the cupboard. “This we need? A worm doctor?”

  “Yeah, but are there any other doctors? You know”—Ben searched his brain for the word—“a veterinarian?” He tried to keep his voice from trembling with excitement. “Just in case my hamster gets sick or something like that. Not for any other reason.”

  Grandpa Abe shook his head. “We should be so lucky to have a veterinarian in Buttonville. The nearest one’s a four-hour drive. Took Barnaby there a few months back when he got a bellyache from eating too many mice. That cat loves mice.”

  Barnaby wound between Ben’s ankles, rubbing his cheeks against Ben’s jeans. “I’m going to finish unpacking,” Ben told his grandfather. He didn’t want to seem rude, so he added, “And I’m going to keep the door closed so Barnaby doesn’t get in and eat my hamster.”

  “Okay by me,” Grandpa Abe said. He leaned across the counter and turned on the radio. Music from days gone by filled the kitchen. Grandpa Abe tapped his foot and hummed along to the swinging rhythm.

  With the bedroom door shut tight, Ben knelt beside the bed. The creature’s eyes were closed; its little chest rose and fell in quick breaths. A wheezy sound came out of its snout. Ben frowned. The nearest veterinarian was four hours away. Grandpa Abe would have to drive there, but that would mean telling him about the fire-breathing bat.

  The little creature suddenly rolled over. Was that a tail? Ben reached out cautiously, smoothing the quilt so he could get a better look. It was a tail. A long, barbed tail. He sat back on his heels, a huge grin spreading across his face. His whole body tingled.

  Bats didn’t have barbed tails. Bats didn’t have scales. Bats didn’t breathe fire.

  As impossible as it seemed, Ben knew what lay on his bed.