A Workshop With Marie Mitchell & Mason Smith
The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, Lexington, KY
June 22-26, 2009
The following is a story written by 16 children during one of our writing workshops.
Yipppp. Yipppp. YIPPPPP!
“Samantha, shut Tiny up!” I yelled to my younger sister.
I can’t stand her annoying Chihuahua. It’s bad enough being cooped up at home with that big-mouthed, small-brained mutt, but it’s even worse at our Lake Cumberland cabin during summer vacation.
“Make me, Dermot,” Samantha challenged from her bed on the fold-out couch.
Before I could holler back, something caught my eye out the bathroom window. I spit my mouthfull of toothpaste into the sink and opened the blinds higher. The bushes moved just an inch away from the screen.
In the shadows below the bush, glowing yellowish-green eyes stared back up at me. And they weren’t friendly.
“Mom! Dad!” I screamed, running into their bedroom.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked, closing her Twilight book.
She’s on book number four, Breaking Dawn, while I’m still half-way through two, New Moon. We discovered we both enjoy the vampire series—Mom for the romance and me for the gore.
“Th-th-there’s something out there,” I sputtered. “I saw it in the bushes. It creeped me out.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Dad assured me. “It’s just your imagination. I told you not to read those Twilight books before bed.”
“No, I really saw something strange. Don’t you want to check it out?” I asked.
“You’re just tired,” Mom said, unconcerned about the danger lurking outside. “Go to bed. Even 10-year-olds need their sleep.”
There was no point sticking around. I could tell by Mom’s tone that I wouldn’t convince them to investigate.
I shuffled back to the living room where Samantha and I camp out. She was already snoring. She’s just finished kindergarten and can’t stay up as late as me. Even with the covers pulled up to her chin I could see her small nose, large ears, and as usual her black pigtails unevenly spread across the pillow.
Luckily, I look way different than she does. I’m going into fifth grade next year, and despite what my friends say, my ears do not stick out. My black hair is straight and tends to stand up, like a porcupine’s quills, all over my head.
Meanwhile, Tiny had switched from yipping to whimpering. He was scared of something. Although Tiny terrorizes me on a daily basis, tonight we were on the same team. We both sensed that something creepy was crawling around outside.
Then, talk about bad timing, the stupid dog started running around in circles, pointing toward the door. For non-dog owners, that’s the universal sign for “I gotta go to the bathroom.”
“You can’t be serious,” I scolded.
But he was. And it didn’t look like he could wait much longer.
I opened the door just wide enough for Tiny to slip through, then closed it—fast. I wasn’t going to let anything get past me—natural or supernatural.
“One, two, three …” I counted to sixty, figuring the dopey dog could do his business in one minute or spend the entire night outdoors.
Right as I rounded sixty I heard a pitiful puppy cry for help. I didn’t want to get into trouble if something happened to the dumb dog. So I cracked the door open and peeked out.
Just my luck. Not a brown paw, curly tail or scrawny body to be seen.
Until . . . a chilling “hiiiiissssssss” from our dirt driveway brought the terrified
Chihuahua scampering from behind our ugly green van—his tail tucked between his legs.
I opened the door wider, letting Tiny clear the threshold before slamming it shut. I bolted the door then stacked a table and some chairs against it for more security.
I barely closed my eyes that night—watching and waiting for “it” to come crashing through the door. Whatever “it” might be.
The next morning I woke up, groggy and amazed that I’d slept at all with some blood-thirsty creature prowling outside our cabin.
I shook my sister. “Wake up, Sam,” I pleaded, hitting her with a pillow.
“Go away, Donut,” Sam mumbled, using her pet name for me, which I hate.
“Whatever,” I said, spying a giant-sized note on the refrigerator.
“Gone to get the boat ready for today. Fix Sam some breakfast. Meet us down at the dock at nine. Love, Mom and Dad,” I read aloud for my sister’s benefit.
I glanced nervously out the kitchen window, expecting evidence that the mysterious monster may have eaten Mom and Dad. But there were no signs of a struggle. And with the sun shining this morning I felt safer than I did last night, so safe that I decided to venture outside.
Still, I grabbed my Louisville Slugger baseball bat for insurance. I half-expected a Kentucky version of Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster or Count Dracula to jump out at any second and devour me for breakfast.
“Lock the door, Sam,” I ordered. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, call Mom on the cell phone.”
I crept down the driveway searching for clues about what scared Tiny last night. I found footprints near the van. The prints were bigger than a squirrel’s paw but smaller than a deer’s hoof. I knelt down for a closer look.
Wow! I’ve seen enough pictures from my parents’ biology classes to know the print belonged to a water animal. It had a webbed foot, with claws—sharp claws that dug deeply into the dirt. That meant the monster must weigh a ton.
Crack! Snap! Snort!
I spun around to face what was behind me. I hoisted the bat to my shoulder to attack it first. But before I could swing, I heard a scream.
“Don’t hit me!” Sam pleaded. She and Tiny had followed me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “I told you to stay inside.”
“I was scared,” Sam squeaked. “What’s going on?”
I could argue with Sam later about not doing what she was told. Maybe our parents would even ground her—no television for a week! But since she was already here, I showed her the footprint.
She was impressed. “Whoa, what ginormous thing made that?” she wondered, scooping up Tiny for protection.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” I promised.
Surprisingly, I was more curious than afraid now. Plus, being the oldest, I couldn’t let my sister know I was even the least bit scared.
“Ewww, what’s that over there?” Sam asked, holding her nose and pointing toward the bushes.
The remains of a partially-eaten raccoon littered the path leading down to the lake. I carefully stepped over the carcass, then started down the steep steps to our boat dock. Sam and Tiny trailed behind.
When we reached the bottom, our boat was gone—and so were the tracks. They ended at the water. Tiny began his irritating yipping again, this time at a log floating in the lake.
“Stupid dog,” I hollered. “Shut your trap. It’s just a log.”
But the yipping continued. I threw a stick at the log to distract Tiny.
Splash! The ripple in the water caused the log to turn toward us. I stared in disbelief as yellowish-green eyes glared straight at us. The log monster floated closer to us. Its breath smelled like rotten eggs, like he hadn’t brushed his teeth after his late-night raccoon snack.
We stepped back from the water. Sam gripped my arm so tightly it cut off my circulation. The log creature surged ashore like the toy torpedo we play with in the swimming pool. I could see its pointy teeth, sharp claws and scaly skin.
“Oh, my gosh!” I said. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. “What’s an alligator doing in Lake Cumberland?”
“Do something, Dermot!” Sam screamed at the top of her lungs.
I gripped my bat like the bar of a roller coaster. The gator hurled himself at us. His jaws opened wide, the better to swallow us in a single bite.
I swung my bat using every muscle in my body. The alligator latched on and it became a tug of war. He cheated by snapping the bat in two, leaving only splinters behind.
The alligator was a hundred times bigger than Tiny, but the dog must have thought he suddenly developed some superpowers because he began growling, barking and snapping at the alligator’s tail. Maybe Tiny just had a death wish that was about to be granted.
The gator turned on Tiny, opening his massive jaws to gobble up the little dog. I closed my eyes, unable to watch. A shrill whistle, followed by the sound of a boat motor, startled us all. It was enough to interrupt the gator’s feeding frenzy.
I’ve never been so glad to see Mom and Dad. They were speeding toward us in our motor boat.
The alligator froze, momentarily distracted by the noise. Then it slithered back into the water as Sam snapped a picture on our cell phone.
I’m happy to say that was as close as I ever got to the newly discovered “Cumberland Lake Monster.” Dad, who teaches biology at Buckner County High School, explained that global warming has allowed a lot of species—including alligators—to move into areas they had never occupied before.
So, Samantha and I had stumbled onto a genuine scientific discovery. Our names were even in the local newspaper although the reporter misspelled Dermot. We gave Tiny some of the credit, too.
The Chihuahua’s constant yipping still annoys me, but his bravery—when facing a charging, chomping reptile—prompts me to cut him some slack. Hey, I even toss him an occasional treat when I’m in a generous mood.
Tiny still enjoys snapping at me, in fact nearly every time I pass by him. So maybe he can’t actually tell the difference between a family member and a lake monster! That doesn’t matter now. He realized the difference when it really counted.
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