Pearl smacked the alarm clock until the loud beeping stopped.
Is it morning already? she thought.
As she rolled over, something crinkled. She rubbed sleep crystals from the corners of her eyes, then rolled the other way. Crinkle, crinkle. What was that? Reaching under her pillow, she pulled out a piece of paper.
She still couldn't believe it hadn't been a dream.
What Pearl Petal held in her hand was a certificate of merit in the art of Sasquatch Catching. That's right. Sasquatch Catching. And it was signed by Dr. Emerald Woo, Veterinarian for Imaginary Creatures.
This was not the usual kind of thing found under a ten-year-old's pillow—like a comic book or a blue jay feather or a secret diary. But last weekend hadn't been a usual kind of weekend. Last weekend, Pearl met an escaped sasquatch. A real, living, breathing, furry, smelly sasquatch. And, being a clever girl, Pearl captured the sasquatch and returned it to Dr. Woo's hospital for Imaginary creatures. That was when she earned the certificate of merit. She'd done such a good job that Dr. Woo had made her an apprentice at the hospital. Today was going to be the first day of the apprenticeship. Maybe Pearl would meet a centaur or a fairy. Perhaps she'd meet a unicorn!
Susan Petal, Pearl's mother, walked into the room, a basket of folded laundry balanced against her hip. "Wake up, sleepyhead."
Pearl quickly tucked the paper under the blanket. As Mrs. Petal opened a dresser drawer, Pearl's mind raced. Where could she hide her certificate? Beneath the mattress was too obvious. Where, where, where?
"What time are you supposed to be at Dr. Woo's?"
"Eight o'clock," Pearl said. She'd set the alarm for 7 AM to be certain she'd have plenty of time to get ready. She didn't want to be late for her first day.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Mrs. Petal dropped three pairs of rolled socks into the top drawer. "Your father and I still expect you to get your chores done."
Pearl stiffened. "Yes, I'm sure. I'm totally sure. I really, really, really want to be an apprentice." She blew a lock of blond hair from her face.
"I don't understand why you're so excited about working at a worm hospital," Mrs. Petal said with a shake of her head.
Because it's not really a worm hospital, Pearl thought. But she couldn't say that. The sign on the hospital's gate read DR. WOO'S WORM HOSPITAL, but that was a big fat lie. No one was supposed to know that Dr. Woo worked with Imaginary creatures. Pearl had found out only because of the sasquatch incident, and afterward, she'd signed a contract of secrecy.
"Worms are cool," Pearl said.
"Cool?" Mrs. Petal opened another drawer and looked tenderly at her daughter. "Well, I guess working in a worm hospital is something to do. I know you get bored in the store all day. Your father thinks this apprenticeship might keep you out of trouble." Her gaze darted to the newspaper article that was framed and mounted on Pearl's wall. FIRE DEPARTMENT RESCUES GIRL STUCK IN TREE—AGAIN!
Pearl frowned. She didn't get into trouble on purpose, and she certainly didn't keep a troublemaking list. But Buttonville was a very boring town. Many of the shops had closed down, along with the bowling alley and the toy store. Most of the young families had moved away. There was almost nothing to do, so Pearl had to be clever. It wasn't her fault that other people didn't like some of her clever ideas.
"I was trying to get a woodpecker's nest," she reminded her mother. "I didn't need the fire department. I know how to climb out of a tree."
"Well, it's too bad Dr. Woo runs a worm hospital and not a bird hospital. You could show the doctor your lovely nest collection." Mrs. Petal tucked T-shirts into the drawer, then closed it. "Don't forget to eat your breakfast before you leave." Laundry basket in hand, she left the bedroom.
As her mother's footsteps faded, Pearl threw her blanket aside and scrambled out of bed. Her corner shelf was cluttered with old board games. She opened the lid to a game called Pot O'Gold. The golden pot was filled with plastic playing pieces—leprechauns, gold coins, and rainbows. What a perfect hiding place. No one in her family had played Pot O'Gold in years. She stuck the certificate of merit into the golden pot and set the lid back on top. Then she ran to the bathroom.
Five minutes to shower, five minutes to dress, five minutes to eat breakfast. That would leave plenty of time to walk to Dr. Woo's. Soon she'd begin her apprenticeship. Her scalp tingled with excitement.
What wondrous creature would she meet today?
Pearl had no idea what an apprentice should wear, so she selected her usual clothes—a pair of shiny basketball shorts that hung below her knees, a plain cotton T-shirt, and a pair of sneakers. The shorts were navy, the shirt was white, and the sneakers had once been white but, after five months of wear, were now the color of mud and starting to fall apart. She pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail because she liked the way it felt when it swayed back and forth. Besides, if her hair was hanging in her face, she might miss seeing something at Dr. Woo's. And that would be a shame.
Her breakfast plate sat on the table. The scrambled eggs, toast, and ham were still warm. Using all three ingredients, Pearl created a breakfast sandwich, something she liked to do whenever possible. Eating a sandwich for lunch was normal, but Pearl enjoyed them for breakfast and dinner, too. Spaghetti sandwiches were delicious and much easier to eat than trying to spin the long noodles onto a fork. Meatballs made great sandwiches, as did tuna noodle casserole, scalloped potatoes, and her all-time favorite, french fries and ketchup.
As she chewed, her parents' muffled voices drifted up the stairs. The Petals lived above the Dollar Store, which they owned and operated. It was one of the few shops still open in the little town of Buttonville. In the old days, most everyone in Buttonville had worked at the button factory, creating handmade buttons that were sold all over the world. But no one worked there anymore. Cheap, plastic buttons had become more popular than the exotic kind once produced at the Buttonville factory—buttons made from materials like cedar, porcelain, and oyster shell. For the last five years, the factory had been vacant. The lawn had grown into a weed-infested field, the windows had darkened with dirt, and the concrete walls had become drizzled in pigeon droppings.
But Dr. Woo had recently taken over the old building. She lived there now, along with creatures Pearl used to think could be found only in storybooks—not at the edge of her hometown!
She finished the breakfast sandwich, drank a glass of milk, then hurried downstairs to the Dollar Store.
Pearl's parents were busy unpacking boxes that had recently been delivered. They both wore green aprons embroidered with the slogan YOU GET MORE AT THE DOLLAR STORE. Pearl's apron hung on a hook near the cash register. She wouldn't need it today.
Pearl's father, Peter Petal, pulled a pair of yellow flip-flops from a box. "Look. Just in time for the nice weather." Then he held up a blue pair. "These are your size."
"Great," Pearl said. She kicked off her sneakers and slid her feet into the rubber shoes. They fit perfectly. And they matched her blue shorts.
"The mirrors came in," Mrs. Petal said as she peeled open a different box. Inside lay dozens of plastic mirrors, some big enough to hang on a wall, some small enough to tuck into a purse. This was the best part of owning the Dollar Store. Boxes arrived a few times a week, filled with all sorts of things—tubes of toothpaste, striped socks, glitter pens, sometimes even chocolate. Pearl could keep whatever she wanted. "Why don't you give this one to Lemon Face," Mrs. Petal said as she held out a tiny pink mirror.
In her rush to get to Dr. Woo's, Pearl had almost forgotten to feed the bird. She grabbed the pink mirror and opened the cage. "Hi, Lemon Face." The yellow parakeet was busy looking into a silver mirror that Pearl had given him a few months ago. She clipped the pink mirror to the cage, then filled the seed and water trays. Lemon Face scuttled to the end of his perch and began to twitter at his reflection in the new mirror. "He seems happy," Pearl said as the parakeet bobbed his head and sang a little song.
"He thinks he's made a new friend." Mr. Petal opened another box, this one filled with greeting cards. "That's why he stands there all day and talks to his reflection."
Pearl shrugged. It made sense, especially since Lemon Face's brain was about the size of half a chickpea. "I'm glad you like your new friend," she told him. Then she closed the cage and glanced up at the clock. 7:30. "Oh, I gotta go. See ya."
"Hold on, young lady." Mrs. Petal removed her Dollar Store apron and grabbed her purse. "I'm going with you."
"Huh?" Pearl whipped around. "Why?"
"I need to meet Dr. Woo before I give permission for you to work as her apprentice."
Pearl nervously tapped her toes against the flip-flops. "You don't need to meet her. She's real nice. I promise."
"Your mother needs to meet her," Mr. Petal said as he began to set the greeting cards into a rack. "We can't let you spend the day with someone we haven't met."
Pearl frowned. "But ..." The hospital was a secret. Parents weren't allowed inside. No one was allowed inside. Dr. Woo wouldn't like this. "But ..."
"What are you waiting for?" Mrs. Petal asked as she held open the Dollar Store's front door. She smiled her gap-toothed smile, which perfectly matched Pearl's gap-toothed smile. "You don't want to be late on your first day, do you?"
Pearl shook her head. How would she explain this to Dr. Woo? How would she keep her mother from trying to get inside the hospital?
Was her apprenticeship over before it had even begun?
As Pearl and her mother walked down Main Street, Pearl's flip-flops smacked against the sidewalk, the rhythm echoing off the brick buildings. Sunshine sparkled in the morning sky. A gray squirrel scrambled up a lamppost. A pair of pigeons flew out of the way. "Pearl, slow down," her mother called after her.
"I don't want to be late," she answered, her ponytail swinging with each eager step.
"And I don't want to twist my ankle." Mrs. Petal waved at Mr. Bundle, an old man who was sitting on a bench outside the Buttonville Barbershop. He scowled and didn't wave back, most likely because he hadn't forgiven Pearl for riding her bike over his foot earlier that year. She'd been trying to follow a butterfly and hadn't noticed the outstretched limb. He'd limped for two whole months.
Pearl passed right by Ms. Nod, who was unlocking the door to the Buttonville Bookstore. "Hello," Mrs. Petal greeted as she approached.
Ms. Nod peered over the rims of her red glasses. "I have not changed my mind," she said, blocking the doorway with her outstretched arms. "Pearl is still banned."
Pearl hadn't meant to get banned from the bookstore. But there was no sign in the store that read DON'T CLIMB THE BOOKSHELVES. How was she supposed to know that if one bookshelf tipped, the rest would fall like dominos?
"Well, I hope you'll change your mind," Mrs. Petal told Ms. Nod. "Pearl certainly loves your bookstore."
As she continued down the street, Mrs. Petal greeted everyone she passed. But Pearl didn't bother to say hello to anyone. She was in a hurry. And besides, some days it felt as if the entire town was mad at her for something or other. "She's a troublemaker," people would whisper behind her back. Pearl thought it wasn't fair to call someone a troublemaker when that someone didn't get into trouble on purpose.
But Dr. Woo wasn't mad at Pearl and didn't think Pearl was a troublemaker. And that was all the more reason why Pearl wanted to arrive on time.
With her mother close behind, Pearl charged around the corner and headed up Fir Street. A car driving toward them suddenly turned into a parking spot, its tires screeching. The driver's window opened, and a woman stuck out her head. "Yoo- hoo! Yoo-hoo!"
Pearl knew that voice. The sound was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, worse than a cat upchucking a hair ball, worse than a dentist's drill. It was a voice that left scratch marks in the air.
It belonged to Mrs. Martha Mulberry, Buttonville's busiest busybody. She squeezed through the car window until she was half hanging out, her red hair dangling in long, frizzy ropes. "Where are you two going this morning?"
"Nowhere," Pearl said, not slowing down. It was best not to talk to Mrs. Mulberry. That woman could smell a secret ten miles away. And once she uncovered a secret, she never kept it. In fact, Mrs. Mulberry gave secrets away as if they were pieces of candy on Halloween.
"Nowhere?" Mrs. Mulberry narrowed her eyes. "Clearly you are going somewhere."
"We're going to meet Dr. Woo," Mrs. Petal said.
Pearl skidded to a stop. Drat! Her mother had spilled the beans.
"Dr. Woo?" Mrs. Mulberry squeezed back into the car, threw open the door, then scrambled out. Dressed in red overalls, she looked like a huge radish. She hurried up to Mrs. Petal and stood facing her, hands perched on hips. "Why are you going to meet Dr. Woo?"
Before Mrs. Petal could answer, Pearl pushed between the two women. "No reason," she said. "Just a friendly visit." She grabbed her mother's arm and tried to pull her down the sidewalk. But Mrs. Mulberry stood in the way.
"If you are going to meet Dr. Woo, then I must go with you," Mrs. Mulberry said.
"No way," Pearl blurted. "You can't go with us."
"Don't be rude," Mrs. Petal whispered to her daughter.
"Can't go with you? That's absurd," Mrs. Mulberry said. "I've been trying to meet Dr. Woo ever since I learned that she'd moved into the old button factory. As president of the Welcome Wagon, it is my job to welcome her to town." She pointed to the words WELCOME WAGON, which were embroidered on the front of her red baseball cap. "I tried to get in on Saturday, and then again on Sunday, but the gate was locked. I yelled her name, but no one answered. Then I heard a strange noise coming from the old factory. It sounded like a growl."
It probably was a growl, Pearl thought. A sasquatch growl. But how could she keep Mrs. Mulberry from suspecting such a thing?
"Dogs growl," Pearl pointed out. "Maybe someone's dog was on the loose. Or maybe it wasn't a growl after all. Maybe it was a branch swaying in the wind."
"Growl or no growl, I'm going with you," Mrs. Mulberry insisted.
Mrs. Mulberry would ruin everything. Dr. Woo was trying to keep her hospital for Imaginary creatures a secret. What if Mrs. Mulberry pushed her way in? She was a very pushy person. And what if she caught a glimpse of an Imaginary creature? "You can't go with us, because we have an appointment and you don't," Pearl said, jutting out her chin.
"An appointment?" Mrs. Mulberry leaned close to Pearl. Her breath smelled like coffee. "Why do you have an appointment with Dr. Woo?"
Before Pearl could come up with a fake reason, Mrs. Petal smiled proudly and said, "Dr. Woo has asked Pearl to be her apprentice."
Mrs. Mulberry snorted. "Why would Dr. Woo want Pearl to be her apprentice? Doesn't she know that Pearl is a ... difficult child?"
Mrs. Petal's smile faded. She wrapped her arm around her daughter's shoulders and glared at Mrs. Mulberry. "She's not a difficult child. She's a wonderful child."
"Wonderful?" Mrs. Mulberry snorted again. "Wonderful children do not ring the Town Hall bell at the crack of dawn."
"I wanted to see if the dogs would start howling," Pearl explained.
"Wonderful children do not leave puddles of ice cream on the sidewalk," Mrs. Mulberry said.
"I was trying to see which flavor melted fastest," Pearl pointed out.
"Wonderful children do not cut the roses off other people's rosebushes."
"I said I was sorry," Pearl told her, having no exceptional explanation for that particular behavior. She'd simply wanted some flowers for her mother. "We gave you a new rosebush."
"A Dollar Store rosebush can never replace a rosebush from a gardening catalog," Mrs. Mulberry said with a roll of her eyes.
Mrs. Petal's cheeks turned red. "You have a right to your opinion, Martha, but your opinion is wrong. Dr. Woo thinks Pearl is wonderful, and so do I. Now, please move out of the way. We do not want to be late."
But Mrs. Mulberry didn't budge. And when Mrs. Petal tried to step around her, she blocked the way again. "If Pearl gets to be an apprentice, then my daughter should get to be an apprentice, too. Victoria!"
Excerpted from The Lonely Lake Monster by Suzanne Selfors, Dan Santat. Copyright © 2014 Suzanne Selfors Dan Santat. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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