Authors: Gitty Daneshvari
rs. Wellington and Schmidty somberly returned to the dining room as the children chatted over the remnants of lunch. The old
woman resumed her place at the head of the table, whereupon Schmidty quickly reapplied her lipstick and rouge. The fresh coat
of makeup left Mrs. Wellington looking more like a clown than ever, albeit a terribly sad clown.
“My most sincere apologies for exiting lunch so abruptly,” Mrs. Wellington said solemnly. “The loss of
Grace greatly disturbed me. I can’t help but wonder what’s next? Stealing my false eyelashes? I will not allow it! We must
fight this evil force! We must band together as an army!”
“Mrs. Wellington, I hate to interrupt, but I think you should know I’m a pacifist. That means no military organizations for
me,” Theo explained. “However, I am open to joining a
especially if there are matching jackets involved.”
“Yes,” Hyacinth squealed, “we should totally get matching jackets. And let’s start a scrapbook/yearbook for all the memories
“Do I look like the scrapbook type?” Lulu responded wryly.
“Contestants, whether it be for an army or a posse, we must be strong. We must face our fears, if only to save me and my worldly
possessions. So reapply your lipstick, we’re going to the Fearnasium,” Mrs. Wellington announced stoically before exiting
the dining room.
“My mum prefers I not wear lipstick for another two years, so perhaps I’ll apply lip gloss or ChapStick,” Madeleine said to
Schmidty and her fellow students.
“Do you have any flavored ChapSticks?” Theo asked. “Maybe cherry or root beer?”
“Theo, it’s not food,” Lulu snapped. “You can’t eat it.”
“Celery is feeling left out because she doesn’t have any lips,” Hyacinth said glumly. “Maybe we can apply eye shadow instead?”
“I believe it best we call off the makeup,” Schmidty declared as he headed toward the Great Hall. “Once a ferret is in eye
shadow, we’re only one small step away from Macaroni in false eyelashes and rouge. And frankly, last time that occurred, he
wasn’t himself for days after.”
Lulu, Madeleine, Garrison, and Theo, with Hyacinth attached to Theo’s arm, followed shortly thereafter. Mrs. Wellington sauntered
femininely down the Great Hall, keeping in perfect synch with the ticking of the pocket watch embedded in the floor. She stopped
in front of the faded plywood door to the Fearnasium and began fiddling with its lock.
“There is no greater preparation for any army than mental preparation,” Mrs. Wellington asserted as she spun the combination
“I thought we agreed to call it a
” Theo interjected.
“Yes, of course, the posse.”
“Madame is never so flexible with me,” Schmidty said sulkily.
“Sometimes it takes a man with a sash—a hall monitor, to be exact—to lay down the law,” Theo boasted while puffing out his
“I’d like to call for a moratorium on Theo discussing being a hall monitor, effective immediately, to last for the remainder
of his life, or at the very least
life,” Lulu stated loudly to the group.
“Joke all you want to, Lulu, but we both know that with the first sign of trouble, you’re going to call—”
“Garrison,” Madeleine interrupted. “Sorry, Theo, but I think we can all agree that Garrison is far calmer under pressure and
a great deal braver than you are. But please believe me, if I ever wanted to make a sandwich, you would be my first call.”
“Finally,” Mrs. Wellington mumbled as she opened the door. “Welcome back to the Fearnasium, a gym for exercising your fears.”
The vast room roughly measured the dimensions of
half a basketball court and was packed with contraptions, dentist’s chairs, coffins, needles, tombstones, puppets, and so
much more. After decades of use, the Fearnasium was rather well stocked with the objects of nearly every childhood phobia
imaginable. And if additional information were needed, there was always the Fearclopedia, a wall of leather-bound books spanning
the spectrum from Aeronausiphobia to Zeusophobia.
“After me, contestants,” Mrs. Wellington announced as she led the pack past an aquarium holding tiger sharks, taxidermied
owls, and miniature trolls in clear little plastic bags.
“I would just like to remind everyone that
there’s nothing fantastic about using plastic
,” Theo said as he pointed to the heap of plastic-encased trolls.
“Your slogans suck,” Lulu moaned.
“Hey, Lulu, why so hostile? I’m not the enemy. Carbon footprints are the enemy.”
Before Lulu could respond, a graveyard of antique porcelain dolls silenced her with their cracked faces, missing eyes, and
chipped paint. As Madeleine, Theo, Hyacinth, Garrison, and Lulu moved, they felt a multitude of beady black eyes following
them, while an
up-tempo song wafted through the air. The computer-generated music sounded much like the theme song to
The Price Is Right
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
” Mrs. Wellington proudly announced as the group rounded a corner to see a bright and shimmering stage come into view. Bulbs
flickered and flashed in a million colors as the music grew louder and Mrs. Wellington grabbed a microphone.
“Contestants, please take the stage,” Mrs. Wellington beamed manically into the microphone.
Overstimulated by the loud music and flashing lights, Hyacinth ran onto the stage and began jumping up and down. With her
fists pumping and legs kicking, she was quite a sight. Even Celery appeared alarmed.
“I’ve never been on TV before!” Hyacinth screeched as Madeleine, Theo, Garrison, and Lulu took their places behind the row
“Before we start today’s game of
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
, I’d like to thank our studio sponsor—me. So thank you, me!” Mrs. Wellington belted out in a loud and overly confident tone.
only speak when spoken to, and always speak when spoken to! Heeerrrrre we go!”
“From the great state of Rhode Island, we have Miss Lulu Punchalower,” Mrs. Wellington said with her strange game-show-host
“And, Lulu, we would like to know, what’s the worst that could happen if you were trapped in a bathroom without any windows?”
Lulu stared at Mrs. Wellington as small balls of spit exploded from her overly pink mouth. “Um, I guess I would yell and scream
and bang on the door until someone heard me.”
“Well, I’d be freaking out too. My left eye would throb and my chest would tighten…”
“But you wouldn’t suddenly be drenched in curdled milk?”
“What? No!” Lulu quipped as a cascade of sour lumpy milk splashed down on her. “That smell,” Lulu said, gagging.
Mrs. Wellington quickly hit an obnoxious buzzer.
“Remember, contestant, only speak when spoken to, unless you want more milk. And now, on to contestant Theo Bartholomew, from
the great city of New York!”
Theo froze, unnerved by the sight and stench of Lulu.
“So, Theo, we would like to know, what’s the worst that could happen if you didn’t spy on your brothers and sisters?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe injury, arrest, even death!” Theo theatrically shot back.
“Yes, well, those things could happen even with you watching them. We want to know what’s the worst thing that could happen
if you couldn’t watch them.”
“Well, I would probably age at least two years in the course of one night, just from all my worrying.”
“But you wouldn’t be pelted with moldy cheese?”
Theo braced himself for the onslaught of moldy cheese but it didn’t come, much to Lulu’s annoyance. The girl was covered in
two-week-old milk and was adamant that the others suffer similar fates.
“No, I don’t think that seems very likely, unless we were at an old-cheese warehouse,” Theo said calmly.
“And what about being splattered in fish oil?”
As Theo’s lips formed a response, thick and smelly oil washed over him.
“But I’m a vegetarian!” Theo protested as Mrs. Wellington turned to Madeleine.
“And now, from all the way across the pond, Madeleine Masterson, we would like to know what’s the worst that could happen
if a spider sat next to you on a bench?”
“Well, I would grow terribly tense and nauseous, and then my skin would crawl as I fought the urge to vomit.”
“But even if you did in fact vomit, you wouldn’t be doused in honey and feathers?” Mrs. Wellington asked as a crude mix of
honey and chicken feathers covered the young girl.
Garrison and Hyacinth, both tense with anticipation, surveyed the messy and smelly fates of their peers.
“Hyacinth, the youngest member of the group, from downtown Kansas City, we would like to know, what’s the worst that could
happen if you were left alone?”
“Well, I would cry and feel really scared and disoriented.”
“But you wouldn’t be soaked in day-old bathwater, would you?”
Hyacinth, with Celery on her shoulder, closed her eyes as the brown water cascaded over her small body.
After Garrison was creamed by a puree of moldy peaches, the filthy, sticky, stinky, moldy fivesome, all of whom had indeed
experienced the worst that could happen to them, were hosed down outside and sent for showers.
inner was an awfully mild-mannered affair compared to lunch. There was no plate smashing or messages from Celery. The long
and arduous day had depleted everyone both mentally and physically, resulting in little to no conversation at dinner. And
when Hyacinth requested that Mrs. Wellington force Madeleine and Lulu to let her sleep in their room, the old woman merely
shrugged. Apparently she too was more than a tad exhausted.
Garrison, Theo, and a pajama-clad Macaroni fell fast asleep within five minutes of returning to their room. Theo didn’t even
bother to do his usual mental goodnight to his parents and siblings. Tonight he simply closed his eyes and snuggled up to
the snoring bulldog.
Unfortunately, the girls were not so efficient in falling asleep. But one must remember that they had both Hyacinth and Celery
to contend with. The prospect of sleeping alone in her room had pushed Hyacinth into a state of absolute hysterics.
“Please,” Hyacinth said with big buglike eyes as she dropped to her knees in front of Lulu, “just let me sleep on the floor.
You won’t even know I’m here. Celery and I don’t snore or talk in our sleep. We’re so quiet we’re almost invisible.”
“No way, kid. I have had more than enough of you and that ferret today.”
“Lulu, perhaps we’re being a tad harsh,” Madeleine said. “She
“Yeah, I’m only ten and I’m immature for my age, so really it’s like I’m eight. Who would make an eight-year-old sleep alone
in a strange old house while a burglar is on the loose and that other weird guy, Abernathy…”
“Lulu,” Madeleine said firmly, “we simply cannot leave her alone.”
“Fine,” Lulu acquiesced. “You can sleep in the doorway. That way, if the burglar comes back, he’ll trip over you first.”
“Lulu, is that morally correct?” Madeleine protested. “Using a child as our alarm system?”
“It’s totally fine. We’re in the gray area between right and wrong. Nothing to worry about, Maddie, I promise.”
Hyacinth and Celery laid their pink sleeping bag in front of the door as Madeleine put on her night veil and crawled into
bed. Lulu watched Madeleine closely, remembering the days when she insisted on wearing the veil everywhere. They really had
come a long way since last summer. Perhaps there was something to Mrs. Wellington’s methods after all.
Early the next morning, Theo cracked open his sleepy brown eyes, unsure exactly what was happening. He couldn’t put his finger
on it, but something was terribly wrong. He attempted to call for Garrison, but he couldn’t. There appeared to be something
wedged in his mouth. Theo’s mind immediately jumped to the burglar.
Was it possible that he had been tied up without ever waking? But wait, his arms and legs were wholly unrestrained. Theo lifted
his left arm slowly off the bed. His stomach began to rumble as his hand neared his mouth. As Theo’s fingertips grazed something
rough, similar to a wool sock, the boy began to perspire. He started to pull the object out of his mouth. Seconds later, he
recognized what it was—a ferret.