From the author: Somebody has been turning the other kids on the playground into stone, and since everyone at Eastville Elementary is fully human except for Marissa, a half-Medusa and a troublemaker, all eyes are on her. But Marissa didn’t do it, and she must catch the real culprit before Principal Mariucci expels her.
When most people get angry, they yell or hit or run away—but when I get angry, I turn people into rocks.
I can't help it. It just happens.
Some people just make me so mad. Like Billy Frumpton. He's bigger than everybody in my class and he always steals milk from the cafeteria, and he pulls my hair, even though it hurts and I tell him not to. My teacher, Mr. Thorpp, says it's because Billy likes me. I think it's because Billy's a big jerk.
One Monday when we were walking out of the art room, Billy got in line behind me. When Mr. Thorpp wasn't looking, Billy grabbed my braids and yanked.
"Billy!" I said. "If you do that one more time, I'm going to turn you into a rock!"
Billy laughed. "No you won't! You'll get in trouble."
He pulled my braids and I stopped walking and turned around. "I warned you!" I said.
"Crybaby," said Billy.
Then it happened. I got so mad and glared at him, and I felt this super cold feeling rise up through me and build behind my eyeballs. The next thing I knew, there was a Billy-shaped statue where Billy used to be.
Mr. Thorpp said, "What's going on back there? Marissa!"
I scowled at the Billy statue. "I told him so."
"The principal's office!" Mr. Thorpp ordered. "Now!"
I ran all the way to Principal Mariucci's office and tried not to cry. It was so unfair. Why didn't Billy ever get in trouble?
When I got to Ms. Mariucci's office, her secretary, Mr. Onizuka, said, "Good morning, Marissa. Didn't expect to see you again so soon. Who was it this time?"
I sniffed. "Billy Frumpton."
Mr. Onizuka said, "I'll let Ms. Mariucci know you're here."
Twenty minutes later, Mr. Onizuka let me into Ms. Mariucci's office. But when I went in there, Ms. Mariucci wasn't alone. My mom was sitting on Ms. Mariucci's couch, wearing her favorite big floppy hat, and she looked mad.
"Marissa," she said. "We have to talk."
Now I got nervous. My mom's way scarier than Ms. Mariucci, but then again, Ms. Mariucci's a normal human.
"Marissa," said Ms. Mariucci. "Your mother and I have been talking. We think that it's really time you got your... talent... under control."
"Billy's a jerk and he deserves to be a rock!" I said. "Besides, you can just use that special powder we gave you to change him back!"
"Marissa, that's not the point," said my mom. Her big floppy hat moved a little and she grabbed the brim and pulled it down. "People here in Eastville are very understanding because this is a small town and everybody knows us. But when you grow up, you'll find that the rest of the world won't be so forgiving."
"But it was Billy's fault," I said.
My mom glared at me. "It most certainly wasn't," she said. "It's your fault that you can't control yourself by now. I'm very disappointed in you, Marissa."
I felt like crying again. I stood up. "I can't help it!" I shouted. "I can't help it if I'm a freak! And if it's not Billy's fault, then it's yours!"
My mom's hat jerked and she put a hand on her head. "Marissa!"
"It's true!" I started to cry, even though I was trying really hard not to. "It's your fault I'm like this! I wish I'd never been born!"
I turned and ran out of Ms. Mariucci's office and into the hall. I tried to run out of the school, but my mom caught up with me and grabbed my arm. "Marissa! Marissa, wait!"
I thrashed, but she knelt down and hugged me so hard I couldn't get away. "Marissa," she said. "You're not a freak. I'm not a freak. And what we are is nobody's fault. It's just how we are."
My mom's hat moved, but her hands were busy holding me. A green snake slithered out from under her hat and flicked its tongue out at me.
"I hate being part Medusa," I whispered.
Mom said, "Let's go home."
We went into the parking lot and got into the car. Mom started the engine and left the school. "I still feel like a freak," I said. "Nobody likes me and nobody understands me. If I'm not a freak, why don't I have any friends?"
Mom paused at a stop sign. "People like you, honey," she said.
"They do not."
"Well, they should. You're outspoken and brave and independent, and I'm sure someday soon you'll have lots of friends." She turned a corner. "But honey, you'll make friends a lot sooner if you stop transforming people. You're a wonderful person either way, but it's harder for everyone to see that when you keep turning them into stone."
I wanted to say 'I can't help it', but I knew mom would argue.
We pulled into our driveway. "Marissa," Mom said. She turned off the engine and looked at me. "Just promise me you'll do your best to stop. Okay?"
I didn't want to promise. But what if she was right? What if I didn't have any friends because I kept turning everyone into rocks?
"Okay, Mom," I said. "I promise I'll try."
The next day at school during recess, I went to go play on the pile of logs near the swing set. I was climbing down the other side when I saw Sally Jenkins sitting on a log at the bottom—except that Sally was a gray statue.
"Sally?" I said. "Hello? Hey, can you hear me?"
"Marissa," shouted Mrs. Greene, the yard teacher. "What have I said about playing on the log pile? Come on, get off of there."
Mrs. Greene came over. She saw the statue of Sally and said, "Marissa! Geez! Weren't you sent to Ms. Mariucci's office just yesterday?"
"But I didn't do this," I said.
"Uh-huh," said Ms. Greene flatly. "You know the drill. Principal's office."
"But I didn't do it!"
"Tell it to Ms. Mariucci."
"But I mean it!"
"So do I," growled Mrs. Greene. "Move it."
When I stomped into Ms. Mariucci's office, Mr. Onizuka said, "Good morning, Marissa. Back so soon?"
Ms. Mariucci came out of her office. "Marissa?" she said. She sounded annoyed. "Again?"
"I didn't do it this time!"
Ms. Mariucci gave me a look. "Oh really. So who did?"
"I... I don't know, but it wasn't me! I was climbing on the log pile and Sally Jenkins was just sitting there, and she was a statue when I found her!"
Ms. Mariucci turned to Mr. Onizuka. "Get the..."
"...Stone Cure Powder," said Mr. Onizuka. He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a leather pouch. "I'm way ahead of you."
Mr. Onizuka left. Ms. Mariucci knelt down in front of me. "Marissa. This is ridiculous, and it really has to stop. Two days in a row? And after what your mother and I said to you?"
"I said I didn't do it!" I yelled. "Why won't anybody believe me?"
"Because nobody else in this school can turn people into stone," said Ms. Mariucci shortly. "I'm very angry with you, Marissa. Spend the rest of the day in my office helping Mr. Onizuka, and after school go to room 203 for detention."
I got so mad. I glared at Ms. Mariucci and this super cold feeling rose up through me, but then I suddenly realized what was happening. I was about to turn the principal into a rock!
I got scared and squeezed my eyes shut just as the cold stuff built up behind my eyeballs. It made my head ache, like when I eat a Popsicle too fast. But I heard Ms. Mariucci say, "Sit and wait for Mr. Onizuka," so I knew I hadn't turned her into a rock after all.
I like Mr. Onizuka, so I don't mind helping him, but I hate detention and I hate it when I'm right and nobody believes me. Even my mom thought I was lying. On the way home in the car she said all this stupid stuff about responsibility and promises and why I'm not making friends, and her snake hair slithered all over the place because she was mad. I got so mad myself I wished I could turn her into a rock, but I'm not dumb enough to actually try it.
The next day at school during recess, I went back to the log pile to go play on it, but Mrs. Greene was watching, so I sat down on a swing instead.
"Marissa!" whined Hal Levins. "You're in my swing!"
I kicked at the dirt underneath. "I don't see your name on it," I said.
"But I always swing there!"
"Not today you don't."
"Marissa, move!" Hal went up to me and tried to pry my hands off the chains. He pinched my fingers.
"Hal, quit it!"
"You're in my swing!"
"It's not your swing, it's anybody's!"
I got so mad. Hal was pinching my fingers and it really hurt, and I glared at him and this super cold feeling rose up through me, but I guessed what was happening. And even though Hal is a whiny baby, I didn't want him to hate me and I didn't want to get in trouble again.
I remembered what happened in Ms. Mariucci's office yesterday, so I squeezed my eyes shut when I felt the cold stuff build behind my eyeballs.
My head hurt again, but I heard Hal say, "I said it's mine!" so I knew I hadn't turned him into a rock, either.
I was still mad, so I got out of the swing and spat on Hal's shirt before I ran away to the jungle gym.
I was only there for a minute before Mrs. Greene yelled from across the playground, "Marissa! Principal!"
I turned around. "What? Why?"
Mrs. Greene and some kids were standing around the swing set. "You know why!" shouted Mrs. Greene.
I came over. The other kids giggled at me and I stuck out my tongue. Hal was sitting in the swing he wanted, except he was a Hal-shaped statue.
"Not again!" I said.
"My thoughts exactly," said Mrs. Greene. "Principal, Marissa."
"But I didn't do anything!"
"I'm getting déjà vu. Why am I getting déjà vu?"
"I didn't!" I shouted. "And I even let him have his dumb old swing! He should be happy he's stuck there!"
On the way to the principal's office I had to shut my eyes three times to keep myself from turning people into rocks. My head really hurt by the time I got there. "Marissa?" said Mr. Onizuka. "You don't look so good. Are you feeling okay?"
I stood still and screamed, "I DIDN'T DO IT!"
Mr. Onizuka opened a drawer in his desk and took out the leather pouch of Stone Cure Powder. "Who didn't you do it to?" he asked.
Mr. Onizuka nodded and said, "I'll be right back. Just go on into Ms. Mariucci's office."
I was furious, but Ms. Mariucci was even furiouser. She called up my mom and told her to come over, then said, "Marissa! I have had enough!"
I was so sick of nobody listening to me that I tried to ignore her. She kept talking. "Apparently yesterday's punishment wasn't enough. Three days in a row! This is inexcusable, even for you!
"I'm afraid I have no other choice. You're going on in-school suspension for the rest of the week. And if you do this one more time before the week is out..." Ms. Mariucci leaned forward. "I'm going to have to expel you."
I couldn't believe it!
I gave myself a headache because I didn't turn people into rocks, and I was in this much trouble anyway, more than I've ever been in my whole life!
I cried until my mom got there. "I'm trying so hard!" I said. "I'm trying so hard my head hurts, and I didn't do anything! You think I'm stupid? You think I want to get in this much trouble? You think I'm trying to get people to hate me and think I'm a freak?"
"Marissa!" said my mom sharply. "Keep your voice down. This is very serious."
"You're darn right it's serious! I'm trying my hardest and nobody believes me, and everybody still hates me!"
The rest of the meeting was so awful I don't even want to talk about it. Mom's big floppy hat fell off and the snakes hissed and danced around like crazy, and it ended with me crying some more and going home and staying in my room all day because Mom made me. She yelled at me some more about responsibility, but I didn't want to hear it so I yelled back about everybody hating me, and she left and I wished she had never met my dad. I bet if he were alive and hadn't died when I was little, he would've believed me.
I finally figured out what I had to do. I had to find out who had really turned Sally Jenkins and Hal Levins into rocks so I could prove it wasn't my fault.
But Ms. Mariucci was right: nobody else in Eastville Elementary was half Medusa. They were all regular human people.
So who did turn them into rocks?
The next day before recess I rushed so I was the first in line. As soon as we got outside, I ran to the bushes by the swing set and hid inside of them, so Mrs. Greene wouldn't see me. (I didn't want to wait in the wet bushes for half an hour, but I really didn't want to get expelled.)
After a long time of sitting in the dirt, I saw something moving in the log pile. It looked like a baby rooster, but it had bat wings instead of normal wings, and instead of a tail it had a long green snake.
It looked just like the kind of snake my mom has instead of hair.
And the whole thing looked kind of familiar.
Suddenly Billy Frumpton ran up to the log pile. He was chasing a girl I didn't know. Billy caught up with her and grabbed her ponytail, and yanked.
I got so mad at Billy. Then I noticed that the baby rooster thing was right near Billy's big ugly feet, and if he wasn't careful, he'd step on it.
I jumped out of the bushes. "Billy, stop, you'll smush it!" I shouted.
Billy turned to me. "Butt out, freak!"
The other girl got away from Billy and ran off to the tire swing. Billy ignored her and gave me a mean smile. Then he started to pretend to kick the baby rooster thing, just to make me mad.
Then I realized why it looked so familiar. "Billy, it's a cockatrice! I've seen pictures in my mom's books!" I got excited. I'd seen photographs of all kinds of weird animals in my mom's books, like gryphons and chimeras, but I didn't think any of them were really real.
"So what," said Billy, and he started to kick at it again.
"Hey!" Mrs. Greene yelled. "Billy and Marissa, get away from those logs!" She started to come over.
"Quit kicking at it!" I told Billy.
"Or else what?" said Billy, and he laughed.
Then the baby cockatrice opened its wings and hissed at him.
"I warned you," I said.
The cockatrice looked so mad at Billy. It glared at him, and the snake part turned around and glared at him too.
Billy turned into a rock just as I turned to Mrs. Greene and said, "Look!"
Mrs. Greene knows I can't turn people into rocks unless I'm staring right at them. She looked confused. "How did Billy...?"
I bent over and picked up the cockatrice. A bunch of other kids came over to see what was going on. "See?" I said. "It's a cockatrice. When they get mad, they can turn things into rocks, too. And this one's just a baby. I bet it got left in the log pile. I bet it lives there and it got scared because so many people were walking near its house."
The cockatrice made a little creaking noise and curled up in my hands. It was very warm, and kind of cute.
Mrs. Greene didn't know what to say.
I went to the principal's office.
When Mr. Onizuka saw me, he started to take out the leather pouch from the drawer in his desk, but then he saw the cockatrice. "What's going on, Marissa? What have you got there?"
"I want to see Ms. Mariucci," I said, "so I can show her my new pet. I'm going to take him home and be friends with him. His name is Stony."
Stony looked at me and creaked.
Who needs dumb old normal human friends, anyway?
This story originally appeared in Kisses for Kids.
From a mechanical forest that constructs itself to the streets of Kyoto 8,000 years hence, the sometimes whimsical, sometimes cutting short fiction of KJ Kabza has been dubbed “Delightful” (Locus Online) and “Very clever, indeed” (SFRevu). Collecting all of his work published before May 2011 (plus 5 new stories, notes on the stories, and an interview by Julia Rios), IN PIECES offers glimpses into other worlds—some not unlike your own.
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