All proceeds from this book’s sales are donated to children’s charities and/or the Home For Wayward Garden Gnomes.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The gnomes are real, though. Most people have a few in their gardens, so they’re definitely real. They’re not alive, however.
But now, trolls? They’re not real. Or alive. That’s what the government says at least.
They tell us aliens and UFOs aren’t real either, though, so I don’t know. Because I’m pretty sure UFOs do exist. I saw one last night, I swear. It was a big yellow light in the sky that zipped that way, and then the other way, and then it blinked six and one-half times before it just went poof. It was a UFO. I know it.
So maybe trolls are real too.
Smelly bowling alley owners are real as well. That one is a well-established fact. Sorry, but it is.
But everything else, it’s all made up.
“As President of the Sardine Aroma Defenders (S.A.D.), I just want to go on record to say that we take offense to the gross misrepresentation of sardine fragrance in this book. Sure, it’s not the sweetest smelling fish out there. But personally, I once had the misfortune of meeting Mr. Luney myself. And all I’ll say is he stank way more than any sardine ever could.”
—Seymore Feshiface, President, S.A.D.
“I find it seriously alarming that someone could even pretend that garden gnomes might be more than the painted ceramic sculptures that they are. I can tell you for a fact that every report we’ve ever investigated of gnome animation was a direct result of gardeners spending too much time in the hot sun. This author should be ashamed of herself. Garden gnomes are not alive. Probably.”
—Agnes Biggunbuttum, Chairperson, National Association of Gnome-owning Gardeners (N.A.G.G.)
“Well, I’m not the least bit surprised to see she’s written a scandalous, made-up book like this. Given the amount of time she spent in the Principal’s office for the fabricated tales about gnomes she spewed in school, it’s exactly what she’s qualified to do.”
—Mrs. Nastibreff, K.A.Hunter’s third-grade teacher
“Troll-A-Rama is a work of staggering genius!”
—K.A. Hunter’s mother
May all the litter boxes you trod through be squeaky clean,
From the very second I laid eyes on it, I wanted my best friend’s bowling ball so badly it hurt. As in twenty pairs of my dad's old golf cleats grinding into my chest kind of hurt.
The new Furious Storm XG6, it was completely fierce, all black and silver with the tiniest of sparkly aqua swirls running through it. The thing just shone when Simon held it up to the florescent lights. The only problem was, holding it was all he would do with it.
"I don't get it. How come you won’t use it already?" I said to him and Denton, my other best friend. We were waiting to play our usual lane, lucky number sixteen. The computer still hadn't kicked in so we could start. “You've had it for days now. Don't you want to?"
“Sure,” Simon said. “But I’m not.”
I would have, though. I could just picture myself wrapping my hands around it, and then letting it roar down the alley. With a huge crash, it would knock into the pins, sending them flying every which way, so I'd have bowled the most spectacular strike ever. Because with a ball like that you could only bowl a strike—something I, the official Gutter King, had never been able to do before in my entire lifetime. If only it were mine.
“Come on,” I said. “You can’t be serious. You’re really not going to use it?”
Simon hugged the ball closer to his spindly chest, like he was keeping it safe from us, or something. "Not here I won't. You know the equipment's messed up. All those balls not coming back, people losing them left and right."
“But. Not even once?” Denton asked.
Simon shook his head so hard he wobbled for a second after he was done. "For the last time, there’s no way I'm using anything until things get fixed."
I snorted. He was going to be waiting a long, long time then. Thanks to its owner’s cheapskating ways, Luney Lanes was beyond run down.
Denton hugged his own ball, a bright red Tsunami 6016 that was nowhere as cool as the Storm, and stared at Simon. "But that could take forever.”
"It will take forever, you mean," I scoffed.
Simon just shrugged. "I can deal, unlike some people. How about you just get your own, huh?"
Like that was going to happen. The Storm had been a special edition, limited run, with only five hundred in existence. There was no way my parents could afford to buy me a ball like that. Not with my dad out of work. Simon knew that, too, so you'd think he'd have been nice and at least let me touch it.
Instead he spat on it.
He hucked a humungous loogie right smack on the top of it and said, "I'm going to the bathroom." But not before he smeared his saliva all over the surface of the ball until it looked like it had just rolled out of the shower. Even for Simon, who lived to gross people out, it was seriously disgusting.
"Why did you just do that?" I asked.
Simon set the ball down onto the scoring table with a loud clunk. He stepped back and admired his handiwork. "So you won't touch it. I won't be long, but still. I don't want to take any chances."
"You don't trust us?" Denton asked. His dark-brown eyes, which were always too big for his head and looked just like an owl's, had grown even wider. Almost as if he was genuinely surprised. "I can't believe you. We've been best friends since, like, forever. And you don't trust us!"
"Nope, not after the Pikachu incident," he said. Then he pushed his wire-rim glasses up the bridge of his nose, gave a final, critical look at his ball, and spun, running off to the bathrooms.
"That's unfair," Denton said to the empty space where Simon had stood. "He needs to quit holding that over us. That was years ago."
It had been two years ago, actually, way back when Pokémon were still cool. But I don't know how unfair it was. Not if you wanted to be honest. We did take his Pikachu, after all, especially after he told us not to. We'd just wanted to see how the insides worked, the part that made it squeal "Peek-a-choo" every time you squeezed it. We wouldn’t have opened it up had we known he'd never squeal again. Or that we'd be unable to close him back up, so his fluffy innards sort of spewed out all over the place. I swear we never would have.
Still, it wasn't right to hold something that had happened two years ago against us like that. He needed to move on.
"I can't believe he thinks we'll touch it," Denton said.
"I know," I agreed. And then, before I could stop myself, I reached out and touched the ball. It was wet and slimy. But I didn't stop.
"What are you doing?" Denton shrieked. "Are you nuts?"
I ignored him and picked up the ball. It felt damp and heavy. It also felt absolutely wonderful, exactly like I'd imagined it would.
"I can't believe you're touching that. It's been goobered!"
"It's just spit," I said. "It's not like he snotted on it." And really, Simon should have known better. Like Denton had said, we'd been best friends since forever.
"Put it down, Alex." Denton peered nervously over his shoulder. "He'll be back any minute. He’s fast, you know."
Maybe. But I could bowl faster. When you played as lamely as I did, it didn't take long to lose at all. And now that I was holding the ball, just like I'd imagined, I couldn't see how I could ever put it down. It was impossible.
I stepped up onto the lane. My legs trembled, and my arms shook under the ball's dead weight. The wooden floor creaked a long and ear-piercing eek-k-k-k under my ratty, purple bowling shoes. I wrapped both hands around the ball, spread my fingers over its stickiness, and wobbily held it in front of me. I tucked it near my chin.
“Alex! What are you doing?” Denton asked.
I ignored him. I closed one eye, squinted, and took aim. With a great, gasping breath, I dropped one hand, and just as Denton yelled "No," I swung my other arm back. . . only pretending.
But then a voice boomed out from behind me, an old, gristly, angry voice I knew way too well, and I froze.