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Zombies in the Classroom: Chapter 1 Preview

“Brilliant,” said Cricket, eyeing the dreamcatcher James held toward her. “B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T.”

“Um . . . okay,” said James, placing his dreamcatcher on the desk.

“It’s one of our spelling words,” said Cricket, tying the final jewel on her own dreamcatcher. The spelling test was tomorrow, and Cricket always aimed for a perfect score. “If I use the words in a sentence, it will help me remember how to spell them.”

“Hmm. That wasn’t a sentence.” James raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, whatever.” She flicked his arm with her fingers. “Aren’t you glad Mr. Gaines found these purple stones?” She plucked one of the crystals from the box and held it up to the gleam from the window. A ray of light reflected off the stone and a long transparent orb shot out of it.

James nodded without looking at the crystal. He seemed less than impressed. Glancing at Mr. Gaines, their art teacher, he whispered, “They match his hair.”

Cricket smiled and watched Mr. Gaines as he danced around the class. His graying dark hair was slicked back at the sides. Short purple spikes adorned the top of his head. “I love his purple hair!” She held up her dreamcatcher, admiring how the amethyst in the center caught the sunlight and reflected it around the room. “And I love this purple stone.” She rose on her toes and touched her free hand to her heart.

James rolled his eyes. “So you said. I guess you taking your time to choose all your supplies came in handy,” he said. “All the students who snatched up their materials right away got white stones. What’s the deal with these things anyway?” asked James, referring to the dreamcatchers.

“Haven’t you made a dreamcatcher before?”

James shook his head.

“Weren’t you listening to Mr. Gaines?”

“Er . . . um,” stammered James.

“Never mind. I know you don’t pay attention in class. That’s what you have me for. What were you daydreaming about?”

James stared at Cricket, his mouth agape, his face turning redder by the minute. It was unusual for him to be embarrassed. Why was he acting so weird?

Cricket didn’t wait to find out what had distracted him this time. “I’ll spare you their Ojibwe history, because I’m sure you don’t care—”

“I care,” James interrupted. “I just . . . I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.”

“Maybe the dreamcatcher will help,” said Cricket. “Mr. Gaines said they’re for protection, but they might calm your mind too.” She shrugged. “He said we should hang them above our beds to keep us safe at night and bring us good dreams.”

“That’s for your little brother,” James said. “It’s not like I’m scared of the dark. You should take mine for Manny. He needs it more than I do. Maybe it will help him stop stuttering?”

“James! I should never have told you that,” Cricket said, placing her hand on her hip.

“What? I’m not going to say anything.”

“And it’s called disfluency, not stuttering.” Cricket scrunched her brow.

“Sorry. I forgot.” He placed a hand on Cricket’s arm.

James was a good secret-keeper. That was one of the many reasons he was her best friend. “I’m serious, James. Promise me you’ll hang your dreamcatcher and see what happens?”

“I don’t know. It all seems kinda dumb.”

“Puh-leeeese.” Cricket drew out the word as long as possible, knowing James couldn’t resist when she begged.

James let out a long huff of air. “Fine. I guess it won’t do any harm.” 

The class went silent. At the doorway was Mrs. Gaines and her two-year-old twins. Diana Dearborn ran over to the girls and knelt beside their stroller.

“Hi, girls,” she said in a loud, squeaky voice.

Mrs. Gaines smiled sweetly. “Hi, Diana.”

Cricket turned to James and lowered her voice. “She’s so fake. If Mrs. Gaines knew how she treats the rest of us, she’d never hire her to watch the twins.”

Mr. Gaines practically skipped over to his family, a big smile plastered on his face. He took a brown paper bag from his wife then bent over the stroller and tickled each daughter’s belly before taking the bag back to his desk. He motioned for his wife to come into the classroom.

“Come and see the dreamcatchers the students made.”

Mrs. Gaines parked the stroller at the front of the classroom and began making her way around the desks.

Diana glared at Cricket as she passed by on her way back to her desk. “Good luck in the spelling test tomorrow, Cristine,” she said, her voice thick with sarcasm.

“Ugh,” Cricket said to James. “I hate it when she calls me that.”

“Don’t let her bother you. You know how she is.” James glanced over his shoulder, eyeing Diana.

“Will you help me study tomorrow? Before school? I can’t let her beat me.”

“Sure. Not that you need to study. You’ll do fine. You always do.”

“Fine isn’t good enough,” said Cricket. “I have to ace it.”

James rolled his eyes. “Perfect is overrated.”

“Tell that to my parents.”

James frowned as if he didn’t know what she was implying. What did he know? His mom was the best. She seemed to let him do whatever he wanted.

That night, before bed, Cricket thought back to James’s words about perfect being overrated. For her, it wasn't an option. She had no choice but to be perfect. Manny’s speech problems were enough for Mom and Dad to deal with already. Plus, she saw how some of the kids made fun of Manny. Nobody would make fun of her. She’d make sure there was nothing they could make fun of her for.

She tiptoed into the kitchen. Both her parents sat in the living room watching TV. Slowly, she opened the junk drawer, trying to make as little noise as possible. Seeing nothing that would work to hang her dreamcatcher, she pushed a few things aside.

“What are you doing, sweetie?” Mom asked, her eyes still glued to the TV.

“My pen ran out,” she lied, pretty sure Mom wouldn’t want her putting a whole in her bedroom wall to hang something as silly as a dreamcatcher.

“Did you find another?”

Cricket could tell from the volume of Mom’s voice she was still facing the TV. Spotting a tack as she shoved some batteries aside, she replied, “Yep,” and headed back to her room.

As she pushed the thumbtack into the drywall above where her pillow sat on her bed, she was reminded that Mr. Gaines had said the dreamcatcher was for good dreams and protection. She was a little old to fear bad dreams, and she wasn’t sure what she needed protecting from—other than Diana Dearborn’s bad attitude. She should be hanging the dreamcatcher in Manny’s room. Was James onto something? Would the dreamcatcher protect Manny from the bullies at school? But did the dreamcatcher have to be over Manny’s bed for it to help him?

She glanced in the direction of Manny’s bedroom. The door was open just a crack as it often was when he’d gone to bed. No light shone from inside his room. She slipped the dreamcatcher over the tack and wished for protection for Manny and a perfect score on the spelling test tomorrow.

Read the next chapter here.