I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. Yes, I’m a “nosy kiddo,” as my Opa likes to say, but it’s more complicated than that. Now, I’ve got detention but only I know what really happened.
The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago during our seventh-grade biology class. Our teacher is named Mr. Wurtz and he always has at least two scarves on. That seems dangerous to me, with all the bunsen burners around. Like a superhero with a cape.
Same as every other day, I was sitting next to my best friend Jonah at one of the long, black tables with the weird rubbery top. Our textbooks were all open to the pages he was referencing when someone knocked on the classroom door. It was one of the ladies who works in the front office. Not the one who makes you feel like you’re going to be sent to the principal just for breathing; it was the nice one. She had a big box with a delivery label on the side.
Mr. Wurtz stopped mid-sentence when he saw the box. His eyes went as wide as volleyballs as he took the box and headed to his desk in the front corner of the room. He stood there for a bit, ripping at the box while us kids exchanged glances.
The whole thing was strange. First, teachers never seem to get deliveries during class. Second, Mr. Wurtz never gets excited or even angry. Once someone drew a cartoon of him strangling on his scarves on the chalkboard one day and all he did was look at it for a moment, erase it without a word, and start his lecture. I like watching other people get in trouble when it’s bad – and that was pretty bad – but it was like watching a firework turn out to be a dud.
Today, you’d think the fireworks had landed on another bigger pile of fireworks, Mr. Wurtz was so pumped. After he’d stripped all the packaging, he turned around to display his prize.
In his hands was a stuffed dog. Not like a stuffed toy that looks like a dog. It was an actual dog that had lived and died and they put stuff inside it to make it look alive again. It looked a lot like my Oma’s dog, Mausi. My nose curled involuntarily as its beady eyes gazed out at us.
“Is that real?” someone asked without raising their hand.
“Yes. I paid a great deal of money to preserve my old buddy, here. His name is Jasper.”
Mr. Wurtz set Jasper down on the shelves near his desk, next to a stack of science trivia books.
I leaned over to Jonah and whispered, “Do you think he’s going to keep it here? In class?”
Jonah shrugged and turned back to the notepad he’d been doodling on most of the period.
That night, the nightmares began. Undead dogs, mostly Shih Tzus, were everywhere. In my bedroom, in the school hallways, and nobody cared. They sniffed and drooled on me, and followed me everywhere even as body parts rotted and fell off. Some limped and some crawled. I woke up sweating, relieved to be in my bedroom, alone.
I told my mom about the nightmares and Mr. Wurtz’s new friend. She was only half-listening, her eyes on her work laptop. “You need to stop watching those zombie movies,” she clucked.
My dad was no help either. He pointed out that it was dead and can’t hurt me. My dreams made it feel otherwise.
Back in class, it was hard to focus. Every time I looked up to the front of the class, Jasper was there, glaring. My foot pumped fast, leaving my knee to bounce against the chair leg and squeak. When the bell rang, I ran so fast it felt like I could have left tire tracks.
For the next few days, the nightmares continued. It didn’t matter where I went, hordes of stuffed Shih Tzus appeared. I got on planes and boats to escape, but every time I turned around they were there. They weren’t trying to eat me like regular zombies but it was somehow worse that way. They just watched, waited, followed, and occasionally nipped at my heels.
My mom asked if everything was okay. She said she hadn’t seen such dark circles under someone’s eyes since I was a colicky newborn, whatever that means. I shrugged and shoved some eggs in my mouth.
At the beginning of class, Mr. Wurtz also asked if I was okay. I glanced up at Jasper and back at him, preparing to explain why I didn’t seem okay.
Jonah walked up then and reached out for our special fist bump. I returned the bump but he didn’t walk away. “What’s up, Mr. Wurtz!”
My cheeks reddened at the thought of admitting I was afraid of Jasper and wanted him to remove it. Instead, I grunted, “Thanks for checking on me, Mr. Wurtz,” and walked to my desk with my head down. Anything to avoid Jasper’s death stare.
After two weeks of nightmares, the bad dream evolved. Instead of Mr. Wurtz and my classmates in science class, it was stuffed Shih Tzus filling the seats and teaching the class. They yipped and growled and seemed to understand each other, but I had no idea what was going on.
At breakfast, my mom pressed her hand to my forehead. “Feeling alright, hon?” I shrugged.
I had tried to explain the bad dreams multiple times now but my parents only made me feel like a scared, little kid, even though I was well into puberty and almost as tall as my dad. They mentioned going to see a counselor and the words ‘anxiety’ and ‘insomnia.’ I didn’t think it was that complicated, and certainly didn’t want to talk about feelings with some stranger. I’d been perfectly fine before this stupid stuffed dog showed up.
It was time to take matters into my own hands.
Over the next couple of days, I walked by the science room even when I didn’t need to just to observe Mr. Wurtz and figure out when Jasper might be alone. Mr. Wurtz arrived just before the first bell, and only left his class unattended twice. Once was to grab a sack lunch from the teacher’s lounge, which he ate alone in his classroom. The second was during his shift for Study Hall during fourth period.
After fourth period began, I feigned a stomachache. With a hall pass for the nurse, I walked the long way around to the science room. I paused at the entry to the library to make sure Mr. Wurtz was settled in, then made a dash to his classroom.
I opened the door as quietly as possible, despite the squeaky hinges, and closed it behind me with only a slight click. I looked up at the corner where Jasper had been so prominently displayed.
“What?” I asked myself.
The dead thing was not on its shelf. I neared the sacred area that is the teacher’s desk, looking around as if I was trying not to step on broken glass. Nothing.
I stepped backward and began looking in the tall cabinets, then around the classroom. Had my nightmare fuel been moved? Or removed? If I was a religious kid, I would have gotten on my knees, but time was of the essence.
I headed back to fourth period. My teacher stared, confused, “Back so soon?”
“Oh,” I said, confused by her surprise until I remembered. “My stomach got better before I got to the nurse.” She raised an eyebrow, gestured to my seat, and resumed teaching.
Someone giggled and made a fart sound. I sat back down, cheeks bright red and heart leaping with joy. Jasper was gone!
The next day, I got called into the Principal’s office. The mean-eyed admin glared at me while I signed in on the waiting list and took up one of the empty seats. When I walked in, my mom and Mr. Wurtz were both seated in front of the Principal, looking serious.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Sit down,” mom commanded.
What followed was ten minutes of accusations. I had left the classroom and the cameras saw me go into the science room, but there was no camera inside the classroom to show I was innocent. Only the hallways and common areas had those.
“I didn’t do it. I mean I was going to–” I stopped myself.
“What were you going to do?” asked the principal.
“I don’t know, I hadn’t really planned it out. Shove it in a cabinet maybe?”
Mr. Wurtz finally spoke up, voice cracking. “Why?”
In a smaller voice, with even more cracking, I admitted, “It makes me uncomfortable.”
Mr. Wurtz nodded but clearly didn’t believe me. My mom looked on with a raised eyebrow while I hoped she’d piece things together and have my back. Instead, she whispered, “Are you sure?”
I nodded, angry. “Yes! It wasn’t in there when I went in there. I swear!”
Everyone was quiet for a while as the principal took some notes. He cleared his throat and said, “I’m giving you one week’s detention for abusing your hall pass. However, if we find anything more incriminating, it will be more.”
I nodded again, this time with a heavy sigh. Mom seemed to be holding her breath, and maybe words behind them.
That night, I slept like a rock.
At school, I ran into Jonah just before the first-period bell. “Did you hear what happened to Mr. Wurtz’s creepy dog?” I nodded but before I could tell him about my meeting with the school principal, he lowered his voice and leaned in as if he were about to share a secret.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. That thing was clearly stressing you out and you were so twitchy and I couldn’t work on my comic book so I got rid of it.”
I laughed. “What?” I blinked a few times, hoping his words would start to make sense in my brain. “When?”
“I shoved it in my gym bag in between classes.”
“And where is it now?” I pictured it being blown up with cherry bombs or dropped in the river across town.
“I left it on Mr. Wurtz’s doorstep. He lives a block over from me. Figured he’d want it back.”
A few days later, Mr. Wurtz came into class with not two but three scarves stacked around his neck. His under eyes were darkened and he had a noticeable twitch on the right side of his face.
Before he had a chance to close the classroom door, Mr. Wurtz called me to his desk. “Jasper has been found.”
“That’s good, right?”
“It means you’re in the clear, once you finish detention.”
I nodded and turned to go, then stopped. “Are you going to bring him back to class?”
He shook his head no, busying himself with some papers on his desk.
Jonah approached and asked, “Are you okay, Mr. Wurtz?”
Mr. Wurtz nodded quickly but did not look up. “Yes, nothing for you to worry about. Just some bad dreams.”