New Middle Grade Novel

Now that I have an author webpage, I thought I should post author stuff. Here’s the first chapter of my newest MG novel.

Henry Murkwood did not want to end up in foster care. 

He had a perfectly good mother, thank you very much. Just because he couldn’t produce her for a parent-teacher conference did not mean he was unsupervised, or a delinquent, or “at risk.” 

Mrs. Gibbons stopped him in the hallway right after seventh period when Henry was minding his own business.  “Have your mom call me. Or we could even do a Zoom call. Unless there’s a problem? You can talk to me, you know.” She leaned forward, as if this was the moment Henry was supposed to open up and share. 

“Yeah, she’d like to, but she works. A lot. Usually weird hours.” Henry said as he tried not to peer over Mrs. Gibbons’ expansive shoulder, looking for an escape route. 

Mrs. Gibbons eyebrows practically met in the middle of her forehead. “We have many parents who work, Henry, and yet they still manage to come in for conferences.” 

“Right. But, she’s uh, sick. She can’t possibly make it to school.” 

“I thought she worked.” Mrs. Gibbons said, and this time her eyebrows disappeared under her cap of middle-aged, sensible hair. 

“She does! I mean, she works so much she makes herself sick. She’s very dedicated.” 

“What does your mother do, exactly?” Mrs. Gibbons asked. 

“She…uh…” Henry thought as fast as he could. There was a poster behind Mrs. Gibbons’ head announcing a concert. “She’s a jazz guitarist.” 

“A jazz guitarist. Really.” Mrs. Gibbons folded her arms across her chest, a look of pure disbelief on her face. 

“Right. See, she has rehearsals, and concerts. And she travels, too. Oh, wow, look at the time. I have to get home to feed the dog.”

Henry smiled in what he hoped was some kind of reassuring fashion. He decided not to wait for Mrs. Gibbons to ask him more questions and instead, he just turned around and walked away as quickly as he could, without having it look like he was hurrying. Casual. Very casual. 

As soon as he rounded the corner he breathed a sigh of relief. Mrs. Gibbons was a pain, but she wasn’t the only one. Henry knew that there were a few teachers who had decided that since no one had ever seen or heard from Henry’s parents, he must be an orphan. And if he was an orphan, they were determined to “help.” 

As bad as he had it, his sister Dawn had it even worse. Because she was younger, and arguably cuter, the interest in rescuing Dawn from obvious neglect had reached a fever pitch. Everyday, Henry had to field phone calls and text messages from his sister’s concerned teachers, asking if they could just meet Mrs. Murkwood, just for a few minutes. 

Henry was running out of excuses. 

He signed all the permission slips, he filled out all the paperwork. He texted back when this, that, or the other teacher tried to contact his Mom on her phone. This had been going on all year. Right now, it was December. Ideally, he would be able to hold them off until June. Then next year, the process would repeat itself, but if he could just hold out until high school, he was pretty sure no one cared who your parents were by the time you got to ninth grade. 

He wasn’t sure why his teachers were so determined to meet his mother, anyway. Henry was a good student. He did his homework, he participated in classes but not enough that people saw him as a know-it-all or a show-off. He had friends. He took a shower everyday. He combed his hair. He didn’t act out. 

Really, what did his teachers need to see his mother about?

Henry thought about hiring a stand-in, someone who could just pretend to be his mother for a few minutes, perhaps on a video call. He could pay them some money and then everyone could stop stressing out about his imagined lack of supervision. 

He couldn’t very well tell his teachers why his mother really couldn’t come to school, or why she couldn’t even talk to them. Henry’s Dad had disappeared a long time ago. This wasn’t so unusual. Actually, it would weirder if he were still around. Not that he could tell his teachers that, either. 

No, the reason his mother couldn’t come into school was because she had been cursed by a rival vampire and was gradually turning to stone. Obviously, there was no way anyone was going to believe that, except that it happened to be true. 

When she was first cursed, at the beginning of the school year, things went on almost normally. She still made dinner, still made Dawn and Henry do their homework. As time went on, she moved more slowly, but she could still walk and talk. She still took care of Henry and his sister. 

Gradually, patches of cement-like crust formed on her skin. Her fingers and toes got it first, and then it started to spread. Then they grew larger and larger, like a giant grey rash. Her joints cracked when she moved. She struggled mightily, but she could barely move at all these days. She spent most of her days in bed, exhausted from the effort of trying to function. Even when she talked, her voice sounded raspy, like she had swallowed rocks. But Henry could still talk to her. It just took longer than normal. 

What Henry needed to do was break the curse so that his mother could go back to being a normal, everyday vampire and he wouldn’t be under the constant threat of going to an orphanage. Or foster care. He could resume life as a perfectly normal, 12-year old vampire. All he had to do was figure out how his mother got cursed in the first place, and then reverse it. Or defeat the wizard who cast the curse. Either way. 

If only his teachers knew what he was really up against, they would treat him with a lot more respect. 

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