I knew that dropping a daddy longlegs on Inky’s sketch book would totally freak him out. But he’s my best friend and I
also knew he wouldn’t be angry at me for long.
I cupped the daddy long legs carefully in my hands. You can’t pick it up by the legs because the legs just rip off and it
can get away. Inky was only a few feet away, sitting in the shade under the slide of his old swing set, totally
absorbed in his drawing.
I crept toward the swing set and got in position. I decided I’d dive-bomb the daddy longlegs on him and then make a
fast get away. I took off running but at the last minute my foot hit a root camouflaged in the dry brown grass.
“Ahh!” I screamed. Three things happened at the same time: 1. Inky looked up and screamed because 2. the daddy
longlegs was flying right at him and 3. I hit the dry, hard ground with my face and bit my tongue.
I laid there on the ground and my tongue throbbing but I couldn’t help laughing as Inky jumped from foot to foot,
whipping his arms around even though the bug was long gone.
“Is it on me? Is it on me?” he screeched.
I tasted blood and dabbed at my mouth with the edge of my t-shirt. Another blood stained t-shirt wouldn’t surprise my
mom. She told me once I kept that stain remover company in business all by myself.
“Relax, it’s not on you,” I called over to Inky. He stopped dancing and stood there panting. Then he turned and glared
“What did you have to do that for, Tony?”
“I was bored!”
“So you throw a spider on me?” His eyes bugged out behind his glasses.
“A daddy long legs isn’t even a spider,” I reminded him. He crossed his arms. “You shouldn’t let a little old bug scare
you so much. You don’t want people at school to think you’re a baby.”
“Like you’re not scared of anything,” he rolled his eyes. “I know exactly what you’re scared of.”
Inky was my best friend and I knew he was terrified of spiders. But that also meant he knew I was still totally scared of
the dark. But I also knew he’d never tell anyone.
“Ok, sorry,” I sighed. I stood up and went over to his old tire swing. He picked up sketchbook and looked at his
“You owe me another apology for making me wreck my drawing,” he frowned.
“Sorry sorry,” I flopped on to the swing. “But I’m still bored. And it’s so hot out here,” I complained. The scab on my
elbow itched but I forced myself not to scratch it. Instead I pressed my tongue against my teeth to see if I still tasted
“If you wore shorts you’d be cooler.” He turned to a fresh page in his sketchbook.
“I don’t want to get sunburned,” I reminded him.
“It’s true!” Kids like Inky with tan skin didn’t understand how pale kids like me feared sunburn. I already had enough
scabs, I didn’t need gross peeling sunburn skin, too. Not a good look for the start of middle school. I changed the
“When is your cousin getting here?”
Inky’s mom had said she would take us mini-golfing today, but she cancelled our trip because Mara, Inky’s cousin, was
coming. The arrival of Mara was a surprise, like my last dentist appointment that my mom claimed she forgot to tell me
about. Her arrival just about confirmed that the end of summer fun was here. Me and Inky still hadn’t done the big
stuff on our bucket list: 1. We hadn’t finished our new comic. 2. We hadn’t beaten the Combat Duty video game and 3.
We hadn’t camped out by ourselves in Inky’s backyard. I didn’t know Mara, but I knew having a girl hanging around for
two weeks meant none of that would happen.
“Not sure.” He didn’t look up from his drawing.
“And why is she coming?”
“Family emergency,” Inky said. “Her dad’s hurt. But my mom said we shouldn’t talk about it. We just have to be nice
and hang out with her.”
“That’s it then. Summer is done.”
“We still have two weeks left.”
“Doesn’t matter, dude. Three’s a crowd.’”
“What does that mean?” Inky asked.
“It means two people can have fun together but three people is too many.”
“We’ll still have fun with Mara,” Inky said. “She and I always had fun together when we were little.”
“What kind of stuff does she do?”
“Is she cool?”
“Pretty cool,” he said. “She older than us. She’s going into eighth grade.”
I laid back on tire swing. My legs hung way down over the side and my shoes dragged in the grass. I kicked my foot
against the dirt over and over and twisted the ropes of the tire swing into a tight coil then lifted my foot and spun
around and around. The wind cooled me off. I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my hair and my face as the cicadas
made a racket in the forest behind Inky’s yard.
“Sixth grade is going to be so much better than fifth,” I said.
“I liked fifth grade.”
“That’s because no one called you Scabs,” I muttered. I had prayed that all my scabs would heal over the summer and
people would forget that stupid nickname. But every time one got better, I tripped, or fell, or bumped into something
and a whole new scab started. It was hopeless. I couldn’t get rid of the scabs, but maybe I could do something else
that people would notice. Something cool.
Inky didn’t answer. His pen scratched on the paper of his sketchbook.
“We should do something cool in sixth grade,” I announced.
My tire swing slowed down but I kept my eyes closed as I thought.
“What about safety patrol?”
“Really?” Inky said. “Do you think I might get picked?”
I realized that if both of us got picked for safety patrol, I could get a better nickname. Was Captain Caution cool?
“I bet we could both get picked. Being on safety patrol would be awesome!”
“Seriously? You want to be on safety patrol?” said a new, girl voice.
I opened my eyes and saw a girl version of Inky. She had his tan skin, like my mom’s coffee when she poured in the
cream and long dark hair. I stared into her dark eyes and a tidal wave crashed over me. I tried to stand but my rear
end slipped down and I fell on the dirt with my legs sticking out of the center of the tire swing.
The dark-eyed girl laughed at me.
“Mara!” Inky hurried over. They could’ve have been twins.
“Ian!” she said. Ian is Inky’s real name. She gave him a little noogie.
“What are you doing on the ground, Tony?” Inky asked.
“I think I scared him.”
“No, you didn’t.” I scrambled to my feet.
“That’s just Tony, he’s a total klutz,” Inky said.
“I am not!” The words exploded out of me.
Inky looked surprised. “But all your scabs-”
“I just do dangerous stuff, that’s all.”
Mara looked at me with interest. “What kind of dangerous stuff?”
“Um,” I scratched the back of my head.
“You have some blood on your teeth,” Mara pointed at my mouth. I wiped it with the back of my hand.
“How did you get that?” Mara asked.
My eyes shot sideways and I met Inky’s glance.
“We were just fooling around. We got a little too rough.”
“You? Rough?” Mara raised her eyebrows as she looked at Inky. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” Mara turned back to
I held out my palms. The constellation of tiny scabs on my palms were only a day old and still pinkish red.
“How’d you get those?”
“Some rocks,” I blurted out.
“Rock climbing? Cool!”
Inky snorted. Being a rock climber was cooler than falling on the gravel getting out of my mom’s minivan.
“Any more what?” I felt like a parrot.
“He’s got lots more,” Inky said.
My usual outfit of long sleeves and long pants hid the scrapes on my shin and the scab on my elbow. I did not want
this girl calling me Scabs, too.
“Can I see them?” She smiled and my cheeks burned red-hot.
“You want to see my scabs?” I gulped.
“Why do you want to see his scabs?” Inky asked. “They’re gross.”
“No, scabs are awesome,” she said. “Because when they get better you have scars. My dad is in the Army and he told
me scars are like badges of honor to show you went through something tough and made it out alive. So, kid, let’s see
EDITOR’S NOTE: I was surprised…make that delighted… to receive this submission of Middle Grade Fiction. The stakes
are just right for so fourth through sixth graders. The dialogue sounds authentic. The tone is works. If you are an
adult, let this draw you into your past, share it with your kids, and delight in the intense innocence that is at the heart
of this story.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan is a writing mom on the run. Her non-fiction appears in FamilyFun,
AppleSeeds, Children’s Writer, PTOToday.com and Odyssey. Pagel-Hogan has won awards for adult fiction and poetry
but this is her first middle grade novel.