“Young man, just who are you addressing in that insolent tone?”
Josh turned around to see Mrs. Harbaugh towering over him. She stood with her hands on her hips and her graying hair pulled in a bun so tight she always looked like her face was going to rip.
Josh felt his face flush, “No one, Mrs. Harbaugh. I was just talking to myself. Sorry if I was too loud.”
Mrs. Harbaugh harrumphed, “I thought you might have been talking to Louie. He gets a bit snarky from time to time but we should always be polite to him.”
“He gets snarky?”
“Yes, it means smart-alecky. He has something of a twisted sense of humor. Don’t let him get to you. Just ignore him if he is rude.”
“You mean, you’ve heard him talk?”
The whole class began to laugh.
“Oh yes, all the time! I have tried to teach him some manners but, he doesn’t seem to understand etiquette.”
“How did I not know that?”
Louie’s voice came from behind him. “You’ve got a short attention span, or so I’ve been told.”
Mrs. Harbaugh spoke again, “See what I mean. Snarky. But enough of that, we have a class to conduct.” She turned on her heels and began addressing the class about the next lesson.
Louie said, “I am not snarky. I just have a weird sense of humor.”
Josh peeked at him, “It’s kind of rude if you ask me.”
The class got down to the business of the geography of Peru but Josh’s head began to hurt badly and he asked permission to go see the school nurse.
Sitting in the nurse’s office, Josh began to hear strangely muffled voices that sounded like they had bubbles in them.
“So you think that’s him, Thelma?”
“I sure do, Daphne. He matches the description I heard from Oscar.”
Josh started looking around to see where the voices were coming from and then noticed the two big goldfish in the nurse’s fish tank looked like they were staring at him. As soon as he looked at them, they swam off in opposite directions.
He shook his head as if he could make the voices go away but just made his head hurt worse.
The nurse came in and examined Josh.
“So young man, it looks like you got yourself quite an egg on your head. What happened?”
“I was ducking under a low branch on my way to school and didn’t duck low enough.”
“I’ll say you didn’t! That’s quite an egg on your head. Are you having any pain?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve been having a pretty bad headache and …”
“Nothing. I just have a really bad headache.”
“Well, I think that’s enough to send you home so your mom can take care of you. I don’t think you have a concussion. But you do need to rest and let the swelling go down.”
“I live real close by, I can walk home.”
“All right, but I’m going to call your Mom and let her know you are on your way.”
“Ok, thanks …”
Josh got two notes from the nurse, one for his teacher and one for his mom. He went back to his classroom and gave Mrs. Harbaugh the one for her.
She read it and told him to pack up his things and go home. As he was doing that, he looked at Louie and the hamster stuck his tongue out at him.
“See ‘ya later kiddo!”
A wave of pain shot through Josh’s head, so he ignored Louie, threw his backpack over his shoulder and headed home.
Instead of just a few animals talking, there now seemed to be a whole chorus of animal talk going on. It was like being in a crowded airport with all sorts of conversations going on around him. It made his head hurt even more.
Josh decided to take the same short cut home through Mr. Binkley’s yard and only had to duck under that low branch on the maple tree when . . .
“Ooooowwww!! That … hurt …” Josh put his hand on his head and felt a two very sore lumps the size of a small egg, saw stars and dancing chickens and then … everything went dark.
“Hey buddy, are you ok?” Josh thought he heard someone say and then he felt a big, wet tongue on his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw Howie; Mr. Brinkley’s dog licking his face.
He pushed the dog away and started to sit up when he saw his mom’s face. She was kneeling next to him and said, “Buddy? Are you ok? Mrs. Binkley called me and said that you knocked yourself cold ducking under this old tree limb.”
Josh looked at Howie and Howie just twisted his head, smiled curiously and let out a small “woof!”
“Is that all you have to say, Howie?”
Josh reached into his pocket for the note the nurse gave him for his mom and nothing was there. He then hurriedly checked all the rest of his pockets and looked around on the ground to see if he had dropped it.
His mom asked, “What are you looking for, Josh?”
Josh looked at his mom and said, “I guess nothing. You know, I think I just had a bad dream while I was knocked out. I had this dream that I heard …”
Josh put his hand on his head, but only felt one very sore lump.
Howie responded with another “woof.”
The cat said “meow” and the robin said “chirp.”
“Heard what?” his mom asked.
“Oh, nothing … maybe I better go home and lay down for a while.”
“I think that’s a really good idea. I’ll call the school and tell them you’ll be home sick today and then I’ll call the doctor to see if he wants to see you.”
As they walked toward home, Josh thought he heard Howie say, “See ‘ya later Buddy.”