Excerpted from The Gecko and Sticky: Sinister Substitute by Wendelin Van Draanen; illustrated by Stephen Gilpin Copyright © 2010 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Doozy of a Day
The day did not start well for Dave Sanchez.
First, his alarm didn't go off.
Then his little sister, Evie, stubbornly stayed locked inside the bathroom (because she knew that Dave really, really, really needed to use it).
This was followed by several mishaps (including a frantic search for gym shorts, a stubbed toe, and a broken plate of scrambled eggs).
And (as if he wasn't running late enough already) his gecko lizard decided at the last minute to stay home.
"Come on, Sticky!" Dave whispered into the crack behind his bookshelf.
"I don't think so, se–or," the gecko replied. "That scary se–orita is making you slice and dice frogs today, remember?"
Allow me to pause here a moment to clarify something:
Yes, the gecko talks.
Let me also make clear right off the bat that this is not some silly story where make-believe animals act all cutesy-wootsy and talk to each other.
No, this story is quite true.
This gecko is quite real.
And don't worry--I won't be springing talking cats or dogs or cows or burros (or monkeys, for that matter) on you. The gecko and only the gecko talks, and that's because . . .
Well, nobody's really sure. Some people believe Sticky is bewitched or cursed or possessed or a shape-shifting evil entity who's plotting to ruin lives, but people are often fearful of things they can't explain. So let's get on with Dave's manic morning, shall we? It is, after all, in the middle of going from bad to worse.
"You're still here?" his mother gasped when she saw Dave crouched beside his bookcase. "You're going to be late for school!"
"I know, Mom!" Dave snapped, and since the fact that Sticky could talk was top-secret (because Sticky had vowed to never speak again if Dave spilled the beans to anyone), he simply gave up on the lizard, grabbed his backpack and bike, and left for school.
Unfortunately, his neighbor Lily was also running late for school, and she was in no mood to follow Dave and his dorky bike down seven flights of stairs.
"Out of my way, delivery boy!" she said, trying to squeeze past him.
So Dave (who had his bike hoisted onto his shoulder) swung to the left at the next landing in an effort to get out of her way. But Lily had been trying to squeeze past him on the right (a no-no maneuver in any traffic situation, be it highway or stairway) and got smacked against the shoulder by the rear tire.
"Ow!" she cried as she stumbled into the wall.
Dave apologized, but Lily Espinoza was not the sort of girl who accepted apologies from dorky boys who hoisted their bikes up and down stairs. And after she was done using language that made Dave want to retreat like a turtle inside his bike helmet, she stormed past him and charged off to school.
It was, I'm sure you'll agree, a doozy of a day already, but then a new wave of misfortune began:
As fate would have it, Dave got a flat tire and had to lock his bike to a streetlight and run the last three blocks to school. He was, of course, late. And late at Geronimo Middle School meant lunchtime detention.
"Here you go, Mr. Sanchez," the attendance secretary said, handing Dave a slip that would allow him to get into his first-period class.
"Thanks," Dave sighed, and shuffled off to pre-algebra, where, to his dismay, he couldn't find his math homework. Unfortunately, his teacher, Mr. Vye, did not believe in late homework. He believed in zeroes and detentions and parent conferences, but late homework? Oh no.
In his next class, he could find his homework, but he'd done the wrong questions. (Right numbers, wrong page.) Ms. DeWitt was sympathetic, but her allowing him to make up the assignment (and, consequently, doubling the social studies homework that night) was almost worse than receiving a zero.
Then in language, Dave sat in his seat and discovered there was some sort of puddle on it. (He didn't want to know or imagine what.) His backside now looked sadly soggy, and, of course, this was the day Ms. Huff called on him to go to the board and conjugate the verb "to lie" (by which, unfortunately, she did not mean the "to lie" that means "to tell an untruth," but rather the one that means "to lie down").
Dave had never been so glad to get to P.E. and switch out of his clothes, only someone had broken into his locker and stolen his shirt. (His shorts, you may recall, were with him, as he'd had his mother repair an embarrassing rip in the inseam.)
"Oh great," he grumbled, and trudged over to Mr. Wilson's office to get a loaner.
"Last loaner for this quarter, Mr. Sanchez. Next time, your grade drops."
"But someone broke into my locker!"
"Uh-huh," his teacher replied, and without question this "Uh-huh" meant, "Yeah, right."
"It's true!" Dave countered. "People get stuff stolen from their lockers all the time--can't you do something about it?"
"Uh-huh," Mr. Wilson said again. "I can get you to click your lock closed, and if you don't, I can give you a loaner and dock your grade."
"But I did close my lock."
Now, I could tell you the rest of the conversation, but why subject you to it? Obviously, Mr. Wilson didn't believe Dave. Obviously, Dave was upset (and, I might add, rightly so).
So after P.E. had ended and Dave had collected two shin bruises for his efforts in soccer, he was (as I'm sure you can imagine) in one bad mood. And he was trudging off to the cafeteria to serve his lunchtime detention (looking every bit as grumpy and glum as he felt) when he bumped into Lily Espinoza.
This time, however, there was no bike involved. This time she was bubbling with excitement. "Did you hear?" she asked Dave.
Dave was a little stunned, as Lily wasn't treating him at all like he was her dorky, dangerously klutzy neighbor. She seemed actually happy to see him.
"Uh . . . hear what?" Dave asked.
"The Crocodile is absent!"
"Ms. Krockle is?" Dave pumped a fist. "Yes!"
To his continued surprise, Lily pumped her fist, too, then moved on to further spread the giddifying news.
Well! What, you may ask, could this Ms. Krockle be like to evoke such a response from both Lily and Dave (and, in truth, from each and every member of the seventh-grade class)?
Let me attempt to explain:
Ms. Veronica Krockle is severe.
And worse than both those combined, sarcastic.
"Another stellar performance," she would tell a failing student. "The studying must have been exhausting. Really, do take some time off to recuperate."
She had sarcasm down to a science.
But not only was she painful to be around, she was painful to look at.
Imagine a woman with too many teeth, too little hair, a snarl for a mouth, and ragged yellow fingernails. Then put that woman in a knee-length lab coat and high-heeled black boots, and you have a pretty fair picture of Ms. Veronica Krockle.
Ms. Veronica Krockle, who, I might add, relished the slicey-dicey dissection of frogs.
Yes, of all the fizzy-foamy, smoky-choky labs her students did in science, dissecting frogs was the one she really looked forward to. For weeks before the scalpels came out she would chortle and snort in anticipation. Fainting girls, green-gilled boys, queasy, squealing students . . . Ms. Veronica Krockle would not miss it for the world.
And yet . . .
And yet on this particular frog-slicing day she was absent.
It was, in fact, her first absence in the nine years she'd been teaching at Geronimo Middle School. Never had phlegmy colds or fiery fevers or scratchy rashes or sties in the eyes or great gusting bouts of gas kept her away.
She was there, without fail, each and every day.
So this was, truly, a rare and joyous occasion.
But it was also strange.
Ah, yes. As Dave would soon discover, it was very strange indeed.