Authors: Stephanie S. Sanders
Into the Woods
Henchmen Don't Give Hugs
Grand Theft Baby
On the Road Again
The Plot Thickens
A Lock-Picking Princess
For Ben, Kyra, and Kaelyn. You know why.
Remember, even the best death ray is no guarantee of success â¦”
My raven quill quivered furiously as I doodled on my parchment, pretending to take notes. At the front of the dungeon room, Master Dreadthorn droned on and on
The Master's lecture on the history of villainy had ceased to be interesting nearly an hour ago when he'd finished talking about supervillains and moved on to evil theory.
“You'll notice this is explained in the chart on page one thousand nine hundred seventy-eight of
Centuries of Villainy â¦”
Blah. Blah. Blah. His voice began to sound like a balloon that had been filled with air and squeezed at the end so that the air leaks out slowly, morphing the Master's voice into a long series of whiny squeaks that never seemed to end.
Oblivious, I continued doodling a series of cartoon boxes. In the first one, goblins came upon an unsuspecting cat. In the second box, the goblins attacked, taking the cat by surprise. In the third, the cat sprouted bat wings and fangs. I was just finishing up the final cartoon in which the cat was extraordinarily fat and licking his lips with a forked tongue, the ground around him littered with a few detached goblin body parts, when I noticed the room was strangely quiet.
“Interesting notes, Rune,” a smooth, menacing voice said from just behind my left ear. I turned slowly to find the Dread Master staring at me. Busted.
“Uh â¦ um â¦,” I stammered stupidly.
“What is white when it's dirty and black when it is clean?” the Master asked.
“Uh â¦ um â¦,” I stammered stupidly some more. Master Dreadthorn liked to torture studentsâespecially screwups like meâwith riddles that were impossible to answer.
“Your hair?” I said, smiling up at the Dread Master. He didn't return the favor. I quickly explained. “You know, because dandruff is white and would make hair dirty.”
Master Dreadthorn bored into me with his ink-black eyes. I tried desperately to save myself. “But not your hair. I don't mean your hair because obviously you don't have dandruff, and your hair's not dirty, and that's not the right answer, is it?”
“The answer is a blackboard,” he said. “Detention, Rune. Midnight. In my study.”
Any ordinary kid at any ordinary school would've gotten off with just a warning. I mean, I tried to answer his ridiculous riddle, right? But this was no ordinary school.
This was Master Dreadthorn's School for Wayward Villains. It's like military school for children whose parents were evil. Bad guys.
And how does a child end up in evil villain military school? Simple. By trying to be good.
Except me. I mean, I hadn't exactly done something good. I was placed in the school because of my family. I never knew my mom, but my dad is a warlock. A very powerful warlock, sure, but nobody a non-villain would've heard of. Nobody the Grimm Brothers would have written home about. His name is Veldin Drexler. But everyone here just calls him Master Dreadthorn.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“You are so dead,” a voice said next to me as I shuffled down the murky cave tunnel with my books. It was Wolf Junior. The torches that lined the wall were extra-acrid today, making my eyes sting.
“Rune, are you crying?” another voice asked from beside me.
It was Countess Jezebel, Dracula's daughter. She was here because once she told her dad that hot cocoa tasted better than blood. He might have overlooked that little incident if he hadn't found her supersecret stash of chocolate the next day. Turned out Jez had never really taken to the vampire diet; she'd been switching out her blood for other foodâmostly of the cocoa varietyâfor years. Count Dracula has a very important image to maintain. A vampire daughter who didn't like blood? It was extremely embarrassing.
“No, Jezebel. I am
crying,” I answered.
“Looks like tears to me,” Wolf said.
Jezebel and I looked pretty much like normal humans (except for her fangs and ultrawhite skin). But Wolf Junior, on the other hand â¦ he looked just like his dadâBig Bad Wolf Senior. Only, Junior walked around on two legs instead of four. His pink doggy tongue lolled stupidly from his snout as he panted in anticipation of my anger.
“Just plug it, Wolf,” I said. “I'm not in the mood.”
Wolf Junior was here because when he was six, he saved a human child from drowning. Then his dad found out. It wasn't pretty. He huffed and puffed and shipped Wolf off to this place.
“And suck that ugly thing back into your mouth. Your breath smells like a fart swamp,” I said.
Wolf stuck his tongue out even farther at me, muttered something that might have been “
,” and shuffled ahead to join the rest of his pack of brown-nosers. And they really had brown noses â¦ or black ones or beaks. They were the half-breeds, or halfsiesâchildren of animal villains who'd taken on human forms long enough to produce kids. Halfsies were the result.
Technically, Jezebel and I were halfsies too: villain fathers, human mothers. Real, full-blood villains were rareâprobably because two full-grown villains were more likely to kill each other than get married and have kids. Neither Jez nor I ever got to know our moms.
“His hair, Rune? The answer was so obvious. Chalk is white. It makes a blackboard dirty,” Jezebel said.
I just glared at her.
“Whaddaya think he's going to do to you?” Jezebel asked me.
“Who?” I asked. But I knew what she meant.
“I'll find out at midnight, won't I?”
“It'll probably be scrubbing slug slime off the floors. Or maybe gathering dragon fire for the torches. Or it might beâ”
“Cat-a-bats, Jez! Don't you have some chocolate cookies to bake or something?”
She huffed, turned up her nose, and stormed down the hallway. The truth is, Jezebel was rightâthese were all valid possibilities. Detention was usually a painful or demeaning task. No chalkboard erasers for me. No writing “I will not doodle in History of Villainy class” a hundred times on the blackboard. And I'd screwed up a lot lately too. I had a funny feeling that this time the punishment would be severe.
I slinked back to my dormitory, where my roommate, Chad, was reading
Spells for Dummies.
A villain can't be named Chad?
“Hey, Rune,” he said. “Want to try my latest batch of cookies?”
Chad was the son of the witch who tried to eat Hansel and Gretel. She wasn't really much of a mom, either. She'd pretty much shipped him off to school and never talked to him again, except for the occasional letter.
Chad wasn't too good at most spells, but he was a great cook. We always had plenty of gingerbread men on hand with gumdrop buttons and everything. Only, Chad always had to break their heads off with his toy guillotine so the other kids wouldn't make fun of him.
“You heard?” I asked.
Chad looked up shyly from his book, his puppy-dog eyes framed with thick, ridiculous glasses. A fresh tray of cookies greeted me from my bedside table.
“Heard what?” Chad asked. He was trying to play dumb, but I wasn't fooled. Not only was Chad bad at spells, he was also a bad liar. Not a good sign for a villain-in-training. Not good at all.
“You wouldn't have baked me cookies unless you'd heard,” I said. Of course, that wasn't really true. Chad would've baked cookies just for the fun of it.
“I heard. Whaddaya think it'll be? Scrubbing slug slime?” he asked, closing his book and hopping down from the top bunk of his bed.
The bottom bunk was vacant. We used to be three, but Ivanâa huge kid who was rumored to be the son of a giantâdidn't qualify as a villain. He lost his place at the school after the first month. Turned out his dad really wasn't the giant from the top of the beanstalk. He was actually just some jolly green guy who talked human kids into eating their vegetables. Kind of embarrassing for Ivan.
“Slug slime is getting a lot of votes tonight,” I said.
I threw down my books on the bed and picked up a gingerbread man, chomping off his left arm. I noticed Chad hadn't chopped off this batch's heads yet, and when I bit the tiny cookie's arm off, I could see why. The little man's frosting mouth turned from a smile to an O of alarm as he shrieked in agony.
“My arm! Oh, my
I nearly dropped the cookie in surprise. “That's new,” I said, raising one eyebrow at Chad.
“Yep. I bewitched the cookies to scream when you bite them. The ones with blue gumdrops ooze red frosting when you bite off their heads. I discovered I'm not too bad with spells if I use them in conjunction with baking.”
,” I said, munching appreciatively until the muffled screams of the cookie were silent.
Love of baking and lack of lying capabilities weren't Chad's only unvillain-ish attributes. He also didn't look the part. Take me, for instance. Sure, I had the black hair and pale, waxy complexion (with a few zits now and then), not to mention my dad's black eyes. But I also
the part. I wore the swirling black velvet cloak, the black leather boots, the high-collared button-up shirts. Okay, I tripped on the cloak sometimes, the boots gave me blisters, and the shirts gagged my throat, but it was an
Chad, on the other hand â¦ Let's just say if someone met him in a dark alley, they wouldn't exactly cringe in fear. Their neck hairs probably wouldn't even prickle. In fact, once the blond, curly-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced, bespectacled form of Chad emerged with a tray of freshly baked gingerbread cookies, most people would want to adopt him.
“Take some to the Dread Master. Maybe it'll soften him up,” Chad suggested.
“Anything's worth a try,” I said.
Midnight (otherwise known as the hour of my impending doom) wasn't that far away, actually. All the classes at Master Dreadthorn's School for Wayward Villains were held at night, underground. Mostly it was because half the student body couldn't endure sunshine. We got a lot of vampires and troll halfsies. Sure, they didn't erupt into flames or turn to complete stone in the sun. They were just halfsies after all. But the vamps would get nasty rashes, and the trolls would turn
to stoneâusually their legs or just one arm or something. Which reminded me â¦
“Hey, Chad, did you hear about Orksy Toren?”
“No, what'd he do this time?”
“Well, that girl from Mad Science classâyou know the one? With snakes on her head? Anyway, she dared him to go outside. In the sun.”
“He didn't do it!” Chad said.
“Oh, he did. It was hilarious! Orksy ended up turning his butt into stone for three hours. He just fell over on his rump and had to be dragged to the nurse.”
“Trolls are so dumb,” Chad said, rolling his eyesâwhich looked really weird because his glasses magnified his eyes so they looked huge. He turned his gaze toward my desk. “Oh, Newt's looking kinda ashy. I think he's hungry.”
I lifted the lid to a glass tank and pulled out Eye of Newt, my pet salamander. When I was just a kid, I'd jinxed him in Spelling class (spell-casting, that isânothing so normal as learning to spell
). I accidentally turned Newt into a Cyclops. Master Stiltskin, the Spelling instructor, let me keep him.
“For practice,” he had said. Out of all the Villain Masters at the school, Master Stiltskin was the least villain-ish. He was a really old warlock with a hunched back and long, white hair and an equally long, white beard. Rumpelstiltskin had been his granddad. The guy who could spin straw into gold? But now Master Stiltskin was retired from villaining. He just taught Spelling as a hobby.
“Hey, Newt,” I said, stroking the salamander's slimy back. He turned his one eye up at me and blinked. Or winked. “Ya hungry?”
Eye of Newt flicked out his tongue at me; his black body smoldered red. I set him back in his glass tank, pulled out a container of fire ants, and dumped them into Newt's cage. Quick as lightning, his tongue flicked out like a flame and licked up all the ants. Happy and full, his back caught on fire.
“Now, quit that, Newt. You'll singe your woodchips,” I said before turning back to Chad.
“I heard there's a field trip to Mistress Morgana's next full moon,” Chad said.
“What! No! Are you kidding me? We have to endure those snobs again?” I said.
Once a month, during full moon, classes were halted so the werewolves could rant and rave while the rest of us went on field trips. I'm not talking zoos and museums. Villain field trips meant visiting graveyards or caves or sometimes even stealing artifacts or magical items from wealthy, important humans. The next full moon was just a few days away.
Mistress Morgana's School for Exemplary Villains was the hated rival of our own school. Morgana's was for all the snooty, boot-licking villain kids who were never good a day in their evil lives.
“That means a trip down the coast,” Chad was kind enough to point outâI get a little seasick.
“Great, I get to barf all the way.”
Morgana's school was located in an extravagant castle perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Talk about
. They had it so cushy there.
Mistress Morgana was a sinister beauty who'd been turning black hearts crustier since the days of King Arthur. She and her band of wicked high-and-mighties were always rubbing our noses in the fact that we all had (at least once in our lives) been good and, therefore, less than perfect.
“Yep. Since it's harvest moon, there's going to be a Plot,” Chad said. I thought I saw him quivering just a bit.
“No way!” I said.
A Plot was like the equivalent of a sporting event or dance for villains. Kids were usually selected by lottery to participate. It typically involved something evil and dangerous to be carried out on unsuspecting humans. Most people have heard about thefts of famous paintings or an illness like chicken pox making a whole town sick at once. Those were the result of villain school Plots. The extinction of the unicorn? A Plot. Mount Vesuvius? Another Plot. The myth that green, leafy vegetables are good for kids? That was one of the worst Plots ever.