I Put a Spell On You, Also: The First Three Chapters

After I PUT A SPELL ON YOU came out a couple of years ago, I was working on a sequel. In fact, there's a whole draft or two floating around on my hard drive, the most recent is dated January, 2008. I've now decided to go in a totally different direction for it - I'll be bringing a couple of the characters back for the recently-announced ZOMBIE follow-up.

But I thought I'd post some of that original draft right here, anyway. I've always loved Floren's big speech in Chapter 3! The events portrayed in the book are years in the past by the time of I KISSED A ZOMBIE, but they did happen. It's all a part of the big overall story of Cornersville Trace.

So here are the first few (unpolished) chapters of I PUT A SPELL ON YOU, ALSO! I may post a few more to show what happened at the district bee.

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Jan 2008 Draft
by Adam Selzer 


charlatan - a faker or quack. Some people said that Coach Bluth, the gym teacher, really knew his stuff, but after Maria found out that he couldn't even do a single push-up, she knew he was a charlatan.

          You know how you call tell that the school doesn't really care about mental health?
          Well, for one thing, just about everyone in town is completely nuts. Not just weird - I mean, I'm a bit weird myself - but actually nuts. I think that about 95% of the people who get out of Gordon Liddy Community School, which only even goes up to sixth grade, are completely nuts. For one thing, most of them keep living in Preston, even after they get out of high school. You have to be at least a little bit nuts to do that.
          But the main reason I know that the school doesn't even care about this problem is that the chair in the guidance counselor's office is really, really uncomfortable. My butt always starts to hurt as soon as I sit down in it.

          "How are you feeling today, Jennifer?" asked Mrs. McGovern, the guidance counselor.
          "I'm in great pain," I said. "Do you have a pillow or something?"
          "I'm afraid not," said Mrs. McGovern.
          See? They care so little about mental health that they won't even spring for a lousy pillow for the guidance office. I kept planning to bring one of my own, but I always forgot.
          It was my fourth - and hopefully last - "post spelling bee trauma counseling" session. I didn't really need them, but they'd scheduled me for some right before the all-school bee, just as a precaution, after Marianne Cleaver, the biggest grade grubber in school, tried to declare war on me. She was in counseling, too. And she probably needed it, since she lost.
          "How's Marianne doing?" I asked.
          "She's coping," said Mrs. McGovern. "She wanted all her life to be a spelling bee champion. Now she's trying to figure out what to do with her life instead."
          "I'm sure she'll manage," I said.
          I was in the top five at the all-school bee - good enough to get me into the district bee, which was coming right up the very next day. Marianne had just missed it.
          Marianne had been "coping," all right.
          A few days after the bee, she came up to me on the playground and started shouting words at me.
          "Abnegation!" she shouted. "Brecciated!"
          I looked at her like I was a monkey doing a crossword puzzle.
          "What in the heck are you doing?" I asked. I sort of wondered if she had finally snapped. It had to happen sooner or later. In a town full of nuts, Marianne just might be the nuttiest.
          "Spell them!" she shouted. "Now! Fast! Go!"
          "Why in the world would I do that?" I asked.
          "Because you've got to get in shape for the districts!" she said. "And I'm going to train you! Start spelling. Now!"
          I walked away from her. But the next day, there was an article in the local paper saying that I'd hired her, my former rival, to become my trainer.
          "Jennifer knew she needed help to go the distance," it quoted Marianne as saying, "and she knew I was the one who could take her there."
          Apparently, she'd decided that if she couldn't put "spelling bee champion" on her college applications - which she'd started working on in kindergarten - she'd just put "trainer to spelling bee champions." Her applications will be mailed out in a big file containing stuff like her report cards, letters of recommendation, and hop scotch records from first grade.
          Even though I denied the story, I was still getting reporters from the local newspaper calling to ask how my training was going. It was totally embarrassing.
          But embarrassment was nothing new to me. When your parents are nuts, like mine, you sort of get used to it. A week before the all-school bee, my dad was arressted after dressing up like a burglar and trying to break into the office to steal the master word list. That's about as embarrassing as it gets.
          At the bee itself, Chrissie Woodward presented evidence that proved that Floren had arranged for Dad to break in - apparently, he'd bet money on me to win the bee. No one had seen Floren since, but he wasn't in any legal trouble. You see, all of the evidence Chrissie found, she found by breaking into his office. According to the United States Constitution, you need a warrant to search stuff like that, and Chrissie sure didn't have one. So he couldn't go to jail, but he could still probably be fired - I'm pretty sure that the Constitution doesn't say a word about Floren's right to be Principal.
          We were all still waiting to find out what was going to happen - Floren hadn't been seen in days, and some people thought he was going to resign that night at the Breakfast for Supper Banquet, the annual pancake dinner in the cafeteria. I sure hoped so - half the town turned up for the banquet every year. Seeing him resign right in front of everybody would be pretty sweet.
          And my Dad wasn't going to jail, either. The mayor had decided that it was best for the town just to "move on and focus on the upcoming district spelling bee," so he'd granted dad a pardon.
           I was glad Dad wasn't going to jail and all, but, seriously. The guy broke into a building over a stupid school bee. He could have at least had to do community service. Something that would get him out of the house, like cleaning up garbage along the highway.
          Spelling bees are a big deal around here. In most towns, I imagine that the local press couldn't care less who was training who for the bee, and I doubt that many towns had a big problem with people gambling on their spelling bees.
But Preston is a small town - we don't even have our own middle school or high school. The biggest local event is the bee, and people take it really, really seriously. They broadcast the school bees live on local TV, and if anyone from Preston wins the district bee and goes on to nationals, it's all anyone talks about for weeks. But that doesn't happen very often.
          In fact, no one from Preston had been to nationals since my big sister, Val, went eight years ago. She's in college now. And my parents are convinced that she only got into a good school because of her spelling skills. They might be onto something; when it comes to anything other than spelling, Val is really kinda stupid.
          "Are you nervous about the district bee tomorrow?" Mrs. McGovern asked.
          "Nah," I said. "I'm ready for the whole thing to be over."
          "Well, it won't be over if you win," said Mrs. McGovern. "It'll just be beginning."
          "Don't remind me," I said. "Hey, is Floren going to resign tonight at the banquet?"
          "I don't know," said Mrs. McGovern. "No one really does. No one's seen him since the bee."
          Most people thought Floren should have been fired - I mena, the guy had tried to rig the bee, which is high treason around here. Chrissie Woodward, the school's unofficial detective, even conducted long interviews with several people and submitted her results to the school board to get him fired. And in my interview, I think I made it pretty clear that I thought he had to go.
          I never did like Floren much. In fact, I always thought he was sort of a jerk. He was the kind of guy who would…well, who would try to rig a spelling bee. And try to deny that he'd done it, even when someone totally proved it. I wasn't really sure he knew the first thing about running a school. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that he'd never studied education a day in his life, and that the diplomas he had hanging on his wall, next to the portrait of Abe Lincoln, were as phony as my mother's eyebrows, which were mostly eyebrow pencil. That's what he was - a phony.
           When I was five, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a dinosaur. And they all thought that was cute and funny, so they didn't ask me WHY I wanted to be a dinosaur - it was so I could chomp people to bits. I don't believe in hurting people, but I figured it would be okay if I were a dinosaur. That's just what they do.
          Nowadays, I know I can't grow up to be a dinosaur - I want to be a hippie instead - but I still kind of wish some giant beast would come to town and eat Principal Floren.
          Know how he'd probably taste?

cacophonous - loud and harsh-sounding. Some students said that Harlan's cacophonous belch into the microphone had actually lifted the school off the ground.

          "Open your mouth, close your eyes, and you will get a big surprise," said Jason.
          I gave him a look across the table like "what am I, a kindergartner?"
          We were at the annual Breakfast for Supper Banquet, which they had every year the night before the district spelling bee. And, as class clown, I knew that there was absolutely no way that big suprise would be a good one.
          "Come on!" he said. "Just try it."
          "No way," I said. "You can't fool me."
          "Just for a second?"
          I opened my mouth, burped, and closed it again. He laughed, and so did Amber, his girlfriend, who was sitting next to him. It was wasn't a big belch - just the "big enough to remind him who he's dealing with" kind of belch.
          I am the king of belching.
          I suppose that's not as cool as, say, being the king of England, but those kind of kings are old fashioned now. They don't really have any power - I think the countries that still have 'em just keep them around so they can put somebody's face on their money and have someone to sing a song about before sporting events.
          See, right at the end of the all-school bee, I belched into the mic. A really loud, gut-shattering belch, with the volume on the speakers turned up as high as it would go - a move that involved a whole lot of planning. Some kids were even saying it lifted the school off the ground. I doubt that that's true, but it made me into a legend.
          And as King of Belching, I was treated just as well as a REAL king. People sang songs about me - the Good Times Gang, the troop of singers who show up now and then to sing us songs about peer pressure and smoking and stuff, wrote one about about how I belched into the microphone at the end of the all-school spelling bee. If there's a higher honor than that, I don't know what it is.
          And people certainly treated me like royalty in the school. Kids who are going to the district bee were always treated like celebrities, but I was actually being treated like a king around school.
          Not to brag, but the belch that made me king was quite a feat. Any kid can learn to burp on command, but I perfected the craft some time ago - being able to let about a really big, gut-shattering belch on command is a pretty useful skill for a class clown to have under his belt.
          I was a legend. A king. And when I walked into the Breakfast for Supper Banquet, they treated me like royalty.
          Little kids were coming up to pat me on the back and asking me to demonstrate my burping ability. Even the old people who came every year, even though they didn't have any kids or grandkids in school, were shaking my hand and winking at me. I don't much care for being winked at, but I guess it comes with the territory of being a king - you have to get winked at now and then. Totally worth it.
          They treated all of us who were going to districts like stars, of course - ever since the bee they'd had signs up outside of all the stores saying "On to D.C.!" and "Go Spellers Go!" Hedekker's Appliance Store even had a big sign up saying "Preston's Heroes" with pictures of all of our faces. But my face was the biggest. Not to brag or anything, but even though I hadn't come in first, I was the hero of the bee.
          I've never missed a Breakfast for Supper Banquet in my life. Even when I was a baby, my parents took me every year. I guess that means that the first meal I ever ate in this cafeteria was when I was just a few months old. I really hope I made some really rude noise or something to commemorate the occasion, something to make everyone know that I was a class clown in the making. Of course, when you're a baby, you're kind of limited in the kind of pranks you can pull. You can cry, of course, but that wears off. The best you can really do is really stink up the room at just the right moment. I did something like that.
          The first time I remember coming to the banquet is when I was in pre-school. I don't think I played any jokes that time, but I do remember being amazed at how excited people got about the spelling bee. They showed the video of highlights from the bee – that was one of the years that Jennifer's sister won – and the place just went nuts. People were screaming and cheering.
           Then, like they did every year, they brought the five kids who would be going to districts up on stage, and people treated them like they were the five people who'd been picked to go into space and fight the aliens off. Those kids were heroes. I didn't realize at the time how weird it was to make sure a big deal out of spelling bees – in fact, I didn't realize that it wasn't this crazy in every town until I was eight or nine. It's just a built-in part of life around here.
           Anyway, they had all five of those kids onstage, and everyone was going nuts, and my dad leaned over to me and said "you could be one of those kids someday, Harlan."
           Now, it seemed at the time like the day when I'd be that old was about a million miles away. Even if I made it to districts in fourth grade, like Jennifer's sister, that wouldn't be for five more years. That's a pretty long time for anybody, but to a pre-schooler, it's an eternity. Those kids onstage seemed so, so old to me. Just thinking of it now makes me feel old myself. And I'm only eleven.
           And now, it was finally my turn. I was going to be one of the five kids onstage for the Breakfast for Supper Banquet.
           And the banquet was a bigger deal than normal this year, partly becuse the bee was such a fiasco, and partly because Floren hadn't been seen since the bee. Some people thought he was dead - I knew he wasn't, but I was still pretty curious about what he was going to say. A lot of people thought he'd resign. I sure hoped so.
           I'd slipped away from my parents and was sitting down with Amber Hexam and Jason Keyes – only little kids sit with their parents – at a table towards the back of the place, wolfing down pancakes and bacon and soaking up pats on the back - I got so many of those that I was afraid people would wear a hole right through me. I'd already eaten a whole bunch of pancakes when Jason pulled his whole "open your mouth and close your eyes" routine on me - he was probably going to stuff my mouth full of link sausages or something. Just burping reminded him that, as class clown, I'm not the sort to fall for pranks easily.
           "Don't waste all your burps now!" said Jason. "You have to go onstage later. You're going to burp again, right?"
           I shrugged.
           "Come on," said Amber. "You have to do something!"
           "People expect you to do SOMETHING," said Jason.
           "Yeah," I said. "I'll just wing it, I guess."
           This is something that hadn't occurred to me, honestly. I had just been planning to go stand there and soak up the applause, but a lot of people were probably going to be disappointed if I didn't at least make a goofy face. But I couldn't possibly top what I'd done at the bee. Anything I did ran a risk of being a let-down to people.
           Just then, I looked over and saw Mutual Scrivener walk in with his parents.
           Mutual had been home-schooled up until a few weeks before, when they'd enrolled him just to get him into the spelling bee. They made him wear a blazer, suspenders and a tie to school. He had a bowl cut, the kind most people outgrow in kindergarte. When he'd first enrolled, he'd never heard rock music, eaten pizza, or, frankly, done anything fun in his life. But Jason and Amber had been doing a good job of corrupting him.
            His parents were just as weird-looking as I'd imagined them. His dad looked like a NASA engineer from the 1960's with a crew cut and thick glasses. His Mom looked like an old-fashioned librarian, only meaner. And older. She seemed like she should have been too old to have a son Mutual's age.
           "Hey, Mutual!" Jason shouted out. He and Amber waved him over, and he walked over and took a seat next to us – along with his parents.
           "Hey, man," I said.
           "Hello," said Mutual.
           "Good evening," said Mutual's father. They took a seat with us.
           I'm just about polite enough not to grown. The last thing I wanted that night was to be sitting with somebody's parents – we could throw any hope of getting some good swearing in right out the window. Still, I was curious about what a couple of kooks Mutual's parents must have been. They didn't even live in town - apparently, they were too nutty even to live in Preston. And that's saying something.
           Mutual was all right. He was weird, of course, but it wasn't really his fault. If he'd been in school with us all that time, we'd probably consider him a total dork. But, seeing as how he hadn't, there was hope. And the kid sure could spell.
           "Mother, Father, this is Jason and Amber. They have been friendly towards me," said Mutual.
           "It's a pleasure to meet you," said Mutual's mom. She stared at them in a way that made me think she must not have really been that thrilled to meet them at all – if looks could kill, they would both have been smoking, twitching heaps of guts on the floor right about then. I wonder what the heck she could possibly have had against them.
           "And this is Harlan Sturr," Mutual said.
           "What's happening?" I asked, holding out my hand. Neither of them shook it.
           "I know who you are," said Mutual's mom. "We read about you. You're the young man who belched in the middle of the spelling bee."
           "That's right," I said, proudly. "Probably the biggest belch in the history of the town of Preston, if I do say so myself."
           "Of course it was, man!" said Jason. "When would anyone have been able to match that one? Kids are saying the school lifted off the ground, you know."
           "Yeah," I said. "I heard. I don't think it's true, but I know that the walls rattled, at least."
           "Totally," said Amber. "I felt them."
           "You seem awfully proud to have caused structural damage to the school," said Mutual's mom. "And disrupted an otherwise orderly spelling bee."
           "Orderly?" asked Jason. "That was the least orderly bee in history!"
           "I don't know why you're all so surprised," said Mutual's mother. "That's the way the world works, you know. Every bee in which you've ever spelled has probably been rigged, just like every election, baseball game, and moon landing."
           No one said anything for a second – we all just kind of looked at Mutual's mom, sort of like the way you look at monkeys in the zoo. I only glanced at Mutual himself – he seemed like he wanted to just about disappear. It was only then that I realized that none of them were eating any of the pancakes or eggs – maybe they thought Mrs. Wells, the cafeteria lady, was trying to poison us. Her son was going to districts, after all. Maybe they thought she was trying to get rid of the competition.
           Just then, Mrs. Rosemary, Floren's secretary, walked up onto the stage that was set up at the end of the cafeteria. She was smiling like an idiot. Actually, she's always smiling, but this time she must have taken some kind of drugs or something. Normal people CAN'T smile like she was smiling right then. It's not possible.
           "Good evening, Preston!" she shouted into a microphone. "And welcome to the Annual Gordon Liddy Community School Breakfast for Supper Banquet!"
           Everyone went nuts. Like I said, people get really worked up about the banquet around here.
           "Thanks to all of you for coming out to support our spellers – we have a great team of kids going to districs this year, and I believe that we're going all the way to nationals!"
           The people started cheering again.
           "And now," said Mrs. Rosemary, "before we introduce our team for this year, lets relive the highlights of this year's all-school spelling bee!"
           The lights came down, and Mrs. Rosemary turned on a TV that was set up on the stage.  
           She began to play a video of highlights from the bee. The first thing it showed was Mutual spelling his first word. The crowd went totally nuts, like Mutual was a rock star. Then it showed me spelling my first word. Everyone cheered again.
           It went on like this for a while – they showed clip after clip of somebody spelling a word, and, everytime they did, the place went berserk. On one level, I knew it was pretty silly. It wasn't like they were showing clips of us announcing that we'd just cured a disease, we were just spelling words. But the energy in the room was infectious – I was excited. I was cheering.
           After a good ten minutes worth of clips came the moment I'd waited for most – the belch. I wasn't sure they were going to show it at all – they hadn't shown things like Marianne going nuts and missing here word or anything like that.
           But there it was. A close-up on my face when the judge said my word was "obnoxious." And then me saying "obnoxious…as in…." and then belching. Loud, long, and good.
           All the kids in the room cheered just as loud as they had when I did it during the bee. This time, there were adults cheering, too. People were pounding their fists on the tables and stomping their feet. There's no way to describe how awesome it felt.
           Someone shouted "take a bow, Harlan," and I stood up on my seat. Then people applauded again, even louder. Mrs. Rosemary actually had to pause the tape until it all died down.
           "Well," said Mutual's mom, as I sat back down, "it seems that they think you're quite the hero."
           I shrugged. "I'm not a hero," I said. "I'm just a guy who likes burping."
           Jason gave me a high five.
           There wasn't much more to show on the tape after that – just a couple more rounds went by before the clip of Jake Wells correctly spelling "aoubise" to win the whole thing. The image on the TV screen faded out, and the whole room applauded again, screaming their heads off.
           "Well!" said Mrs. Rosemary. "If that didn't excite you, then I don't believe you can get excited! Let's hear it one more time for all of our spellers!"
           And everyone applauded again.
           I am the belching king.
           I can do anything.

facundity - the ability to speak well. If the portrait of Abe Lincoln on the Principal's wall had started speaking, it would have surely showed great facundity. Especially for a dead guy.

           I showed up for the Breakfast for Supper Banquet alone, bundled up for winter – a knit cap and scarf that covered most of my face, so no one would recognize me. I sat away from everyone else, at a small table full of people who didn't have kids in school, but still showed up every year for the Breakfast for Supper Banquet to show their support for our spelling program. They were older people, but they sure seemed interested in spelling.
           "It's that new kid. The one with the funny name. Togetherness or something. He's gonna be the one that goes to nationals, I tell ya," said the old guy to my left. He'd told the others that his name was Walter. He worked down at the post office.
           "I'd really like to see that Harlan Sturr boy win," said the lady beside me. "My husband was a class clown, back in the old days, rest his soul. He'd love it if a class clown went to nationals."
           "That was quite a belch that kid let out," said Walter. "People kind of forget that he's a great speller, too. He's got a shot. But it's the new kid. He's the one to watch."
           "Harumph," said Frank, the retired firefighter who was sitting next to Walter. "That Sturr kid is awfully fishy, if you ask me. No respect for spelling. It's Van den Berg who's gonna take us to nationals. You remember how great her sister was, right? That kid could spell anything. This whole thing with the break-in is a big conspiracy, if you ask me."
           "Oh yeah?" asked Walter.
           Everyone knew about the break-in, because I was the one who'd found out about it. Floren had arranged for Jennifer's Dad to break in and steal the master word list. Because of me, they both got caught. I didn't say a word, though. I just let the old people talk.
           "Yeah," said Frank. "This whole thing with Floren is all a big set up. Probably some people from the other towns set him up. They forced him into placing a bet on the whole thing, and at least he had the guts to bet on the local kid, not some weirdo that showed up out of nowhere. Mutual's probably working for Shaker Heights, if you ask me. Those people set the whole thing up."
           "That could be," said Walter. "The new kid's quite a speller, though."
           "Quite a speller from another town," said Frank. "I don't trust him. Or anyone who supports him, for that matter. Floren did the right thing giving him that phony word list to screw him up, and people actually thought he should be in trouble for it!"
           None of them seemed to notice that I was even there. All good detectives learn to seem like they aren't even there. None of them realized that I was the one who had found out that Floren had tried to sabotage Mutual. Or that I was the one who hadd collected depositions from to give to the school board in attempt to get Floren fired.
           They kept on arguing about the spelling program while I looked around the room. Mutual had actually shown up. He was sitting with his parents at a table with Jason, Amber and Harlan, but he kept looking over his shoulder to the table where Jennifer was sitting with her parents and her big sister, who I guess came home from college for the banquet. Jake Wells, the kid who came in first, was behind the counter, helping his mom, the lunch lady, pass out pancakes and soaking up one pat on the back after another from the people in line.
           Mrs. Rosemary came out and showed the stupid video from the bee, showing only the highlights. There was nothing in there showing Jennifer missing her last word on purpose, or anything like that. And they certainly didn't show the ending of the bee, when I hijacked the camera to show footage of Floren trying to rig the bee so that Jennifer - the person he bet money on - would win.
           I knew that my evidence didn't hold up against him in court, since it was an illegal search and seizure., but that didn't mean that what he did was right. I really hoped that he'd resign. It as the only decent thing to do, and the only decent way to put the whole ugly incident behind us.
           The whole bee was a disaster, if you ask me, except for Harlan's belch. That, I had to admit, was a triumph.
           But the old people around me sure didn't think the whole thing was a disaster, judging from how excited the video made them. They were yelling and cheering. If it had gone any longer, they would have needed bibs to stop them from drooling on their pancakes.
           I forget sometimes how much this spelling stuff matters to people in town. Preston is a small town - not even big enough for a high school. We'll all be going to middle school in Cornersville Trace next year, since we don't have one of those, here, either. By doing well in spelling, people have something to take pride in. It's our way of showing the other towns that we exist, I guess. Still, if you think about it...it's only spelling.
           "Well!" said Mrs. Rosemary, as the video ended. "If that didn't excite you, then I don't believe you can get excited! Let's hear it one more time!" And people cheered again.
           "I do believe that we are going all they way this year," she said. "All the way to D.C.!"
           And people stared chanting "D.C.! D.C.! D.C.!" and stamping their feet and pounding on the tables like a bunch of Vikings.
           "And now," said Mrs. Rosemary, "here he is, the leader and voice of Gordon Liddy Community School, Principal Richard M. Floren!"
           The applause died down just a little bit - there were plenty of people like me who thought he should resign. I knew. There had been letters for the editor of the local paper calling him a crook, and a cheater, and, worst of all, suggesting that he wasn't the best person to lead us to the national spelling bee. That's high treason around here.
           Principal Floren appeared through the door of one of the hallways and began to walk up towards the stage, looking clean and sharp in a brand new suit.
           I was a bit surprised. I guess I expected him to be dirty and unshaven, with bags under his eyes that made it look as though he hadn't slept for a week. But he looked as slick as a used car salesman as he walked up to the microphone. He was sweating a bit, but, then, he always was.
           "Good evening, my fellow Prestonians," he said into the microphone.
           There was a smattering of applause from the people who supported him. I just sat and watched, hoping he was going to resign onstage.
           "Where've you been, Richard?" someone shouted.
           Floren smiled. "I don't know why people think it's such a mystery that I haven't been around," he said, casually. "It takes a lot of work to make this many pancakes!"
           People began to chuckle.
           "I'm just a humble Principal of a humble town," he went on. "You think I just had this much pancake mix in my pantry, all ready to go?"
           They chuckled again.
           "In all seriousness, though," said Floren, "I've been around the school, making structural repairs. The walls got a bit rattled after a certain someone belched into the microphone. Safety is a top priority of mine, and I sure didn't want the ceiling falling in on you people, even though I know some of you were hoping it would fall on me!"
           The chuckling was getting louder now. Floren was obviously trying to come off as a regular, likeable guy, and it was working.
           "I realize," said Principal Floren, "that this has been a difficult time for all of us here in Preston. I can only ask that you trust me, as you always have, when I tell you that what I did was done for the good of the school. And for the good of our town. I know that we value things like friendship and forgiveness, and I know that I can earn yours back."
           A few people applauded. I wasn't one of them.
           "What happened at the bee," Floren went on, "is an example of the indomitable spirit of our little town! In times of crisis, we small town people can pull together. I know that people in Cornersville Trace and Shaker Heights and the people in the inner city may think that we're all a bunch of backwoods hicks, but they simply don't understand the sense of community that we share here in Preston. They don't understand our pride, or our old fashioned values."
           "I've always said that about them," said Frank. "That's why I live here!"
           "Fellow Prestonians," said Floren, "I happen to have proof that they seek to make sure that we don't win the district bee. Forces are at work to rig the district spelling bee tomorrow!"
           People murmured nervously.
           "This is an assault on the small town way of life. They board does not share our values, our hopes, or our dreams. But there is one way that we can demonstrate the strength of our spirit to these other schools. I'm speaking, of course, of winning the district spelling bee and going to nationals!"
           The crowd cheered. Some of them stamped their feet. His plan was working. I could see right away what Floren was doing - he was trying to get the town to like him again by acting all friendly and throwing words like "pride," and "values" around like so much confetti. It was the oldest trick in the book. And people were falling for it hook, line and sinker. Even the ones who had thought that he should have been fired.
           Obviously, the man had no intention of resigning.
           "At the district bee," said Floren, "we will be represented by some of our finest students. I'm calling on all of you to give them your full support as they prepare for competition, for by winning the bee tomorrow, they can show the county school board exactly what we're made of here in our little town of Preson. I understand that some of you can't support me, and that's fine. I understand. But I hope that your feelings for me won't affect your support for our town or our spellers. Will the heroic students who will be competing at the district bee please come up onto the stage?"
           Harlan and Mutual walked up from the table where they were sitting. Jennifer left from the next table over, looking as though she was about to walk in front of a firing squad or something. Brittany Tatomir followed her, looking a lot more cheerful. Jake came out from the kitchen, where he'd been helping his mom. They all got up to the stage and stood in a row, facing the crowd.
           "These," said Principal Floren, "are the heroes who will be representing us next week at the district bee. First of all, Mutual Scrivener, our newest student."
           He pointed to Mutual, and people cheered.
           "His parents always hoped he would be a spelling champion, and, when it came time to to pick a school for him, they chose Gordon Liddy Community School. Did they choose a fancy school in the inner city?"
            "No!" people shouted.
           "Did they choose the slick, modern hallways of Cornersville North Elementary?"
            "No!" they shouted again.
           "No!" said Floren. "They chose Gordon Liddy Community school! They believed that we shared their old fashioned, down home values, and knew that we took pride in our spelling program. I am proud to have attracted such great talent to our town!"
           Everyone applauded, and Mutual grinned a tiny bit.
           "Plus," said Floren, "you'll notice that he's wearing suspenders. That's to help keep our spirits up!"
           People chuckled, even though the joke was lame.
           "And Jennifer Van den Berg," Floren went on, poining at Jennifer. "Who bravely resisted all of the attempts to rig the bee so that she would win. I am proud to say that giving her the list would have been totally unnecessary. She's the last student in the world who needs help with spelling!"
           People clapped, but Jennifer kept staring at the floor. I almost thought she was going to throw up right there on stage.
           "And Jake Wells," said Floren. "The son of a humble cafeteria worker, an average student who had never placed in the top three in the class bees before, but who studied hard, improved his skills, and came in first in the all school bee! My friends, Jake embodies the very spirit of Preston, a town in which everybody is somebody!"
           People cheered, and Jake smiled. I could tell he was proud – I would have been too, if I were him. Jake "Chow" Wells made a decent living in the cafeteria as the local Kid Who Would Eat Anything for a Dollar – most of us assumed that was all he could really do. He must have worked his butt off to be able to do as well as he had in the bee – even though Mutual and Harlan had both missed a word on purpose to let him win.
           "And let us not forget Brittany Tatomir," said Floren, pointing over at Brittany. "One of the shining stars of our spirit squad, she's going to show those out-of-town kids exactly what kind of spirit we have in Preston!"
           Brittany waved, and people applauded for her, too.
           "And last but not least," said Principal Floren, "the class clown who made good, Harlan Sturr!"
           I'm pretty sure that Harlan got the biggest applause of anyone, mostly from the kids, and all because of the belch. Kids were yelling and screaming like he was some sort of rock star. In a couple of years, no one will really remember who came in first at the bee, but they'll remember the kid who burped into the microphone.
           Harlan actually looked a bit nervous. But he raised his arms in the air and smiled, and the applause got louder and louder.
           "Ladies and gentlemen," said Principal Floren, "let's hear it for these five heroes!"
           The crowd went nuts. I mean, nuts. Almost as nuts as the kids had gone when Harlan belched onstage. People were stomping on the ground on chanting "D.C." again.
           "Friends," said Floren, "I have no doubt that these five heroes will not let us down. But I have bad news, as well. They don't just need to show the other towns what we're made of. They have to show some people in Preston, too."
           He opened the sports jacket he was wearing and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he held up in the air.
           "You see," he said, "several depositions were collected from students and faculty member and submitted to the school board for their investigations into my activities. I happen to have here in my hand a copy of the first page. Let me read to you from it."
           He brought the paper to his face.
           "Dear esteemed members of the school board," he read. "You stink."
           People in the cafeteria gasped.
           Floren kept reading.
           "In addition to stinking, you're probably nuts, too. If there's one thing I've learned from this whole business with the bee, it's that this whole town is nuts. It was just a spelling bee, people! And it wasn't even the district bee, just the local one. Get a grip."
           More people gasped.
           "Well, that's just terrible!" said Frank.
           I tightened the scarf around my face.
           I recognized the words he was reading. I was the one who wrote them.
           When a week went by and the school board hadn't fired Floren, I interviewed lots of people about what had happened. In the end, I pieced together the story of what happened using depositions from Jennifer, Harlan, Mutual, and a few other people and submitted my findings - more than two hundred pages - to the school board. I made it very clear in the cover letter - which Floren had just read from - that the pages were for their eyes only, and I had assured Jennifer, Mutual and Harlan over and over again that no one but the school board would ever know what they said. And I had meant it. Floren was not supposed to have a copy of any of the deposition, not even the first page.
           But he obviously did. Odds were good that he had a lot more than the first page.
           He put the paper down.
           "It is my understanding," he said, "that the full depositions contain the names of several people in town - including students - who are NOT proud to be from Preston. In their depositions, they question our beliefs and our ideals. They do not even want us to win the bee. And they are sitting among us right now."
           A bunch of people started murming and looking around the room at each other. I looked over to the side of the room, where my teacher, Mrs. Boffin, was sitting. I knew that she had requested to school board herself that Floren be fired, and she did not look happy in the least to realize that he wasn't there to resign.
           "People of Preston," said Floren, "we must not let these treasonous words and deeds discourage us. We must instead focus on our goals, our values, and our pride. We must pull together as a community and show these five heroes all of the support that they deserve as they represent our town, two weeks from today, at the district spelling bee. For if we stand united, I know that they will bring us all the way to Washington, D.C.!"
           And he threw the piece of paper in his hand down to the floor and stamped on it with his foot.
           The people in the cafeteria went absolutely berserk. They stood up to applaud. They screamed, they cheered, they pounded on the tables. Some people shouted "go, Harlan!" Others shouted for Jennifer, or Jake. Even Mutual's parents were on their feet, screaming and cheering as Mrs Rosemary stood behind Principal Floren, holding up a flag.
           Obviously, Floren was not planning on resigning.
           He was back, and worse than ever before.
           I took off while the crowd was still going nuts. I had a LOT of work to do.

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Adam's New Book: Sept 2013