top of page
Henry Rider 2 Finished.jpg

Chapter Three

Imagine, if you will, that you are a seven foot tall zit. A seven foot tall zit that decided one day to detach itself from the face of whatever teenage Godzilla you were born on, paint yourself up like a member of KISS, and go visit the local comedy club. You were having a great time, squeezing your gooshy zit body under the stage and eating all the laughter that came from the audience. Who knows, maybe somebody even dropped a moldy bag of Cheetos down there for ambitious young pimples like you to find.


But then suddenly everything goes quiet. And hot. Like, really freaking hot. So you come out of your hiding spot to find that—Gasp! Horror!—the comedy club is on fire! And not only that, but there's this totally awesome looking girl standing there with a giant hammer ready to smash your brain into death pudding. You wonder what happened to all the lovely laughing people—because critical thinking isn't really a giant zit's strong point, is it?—when suddenly you smell it.




Your zitty little eyes zero in on a dweeby, but still kinda cute, young man with a sparkly hammer in his hands. And by the whoopie cushion in the sky, he's glowing like he's just swallowed the freaking Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!


So what's a giant zit who's just had its day ruined to do?


If you answered, "Lasso the glowing kid with my freakishly long zit tongue," then congratulations. You win, I dunno, a tube of toothpaste.


"Gross!" Ethan yelled, digging in his heels as it began to reel him in. "Henry, a little help here?"


"What's the magic word?" I asked.


He slid forward a few feet. "Really? You think now's the time for jokes?"


"You've got about fifteen more feet before you're in any real danger."


He stubbornly tried to point his spellhammer at the maiam, but his arms were pinned firmly to his sides.


"Hey, Ethan," I said with a grin, "you look a little…tongue tied!"


"Just get it off of me, will you?"


I sighed. "Fine, fine. Grouchypants."


Raising Splatsy above my head, I slammed her down onto the maiam's tongue. It howled in pain and slurped it back into its mouth, spinning Ethan around and around before launching him across the club like an old fashioned top.


He stopped half a foot from the fire, teetered drunkenly, and fell toward—


"NO!" I yelled, powering up my shoes with magic and blasting toward him. I managed to grab him by the shirt before he did a belly flop right into the flames.


"Are you trying to get me killed?" he demanded as I heaved him back to safety. "Because there are easier ways to—"


The zit maiam's tongue clobbered me from behind, and I went flying across the club before I could ask what those easier ways were. Luckily, I was knocked away from the fire, so a table to the face was all the damage I took. Somehow, I managed to keep my grip on Splatsy, and I used her to hoist myself back to my feet. Ears ringing and head throbbing, I dug my inhaler out. A quick puff sent laughter surging through my body again, healing my wounds and chasing away the exhaustion that came from using too much magic.


"Thanks, Grandpa Teddy," I whispered, putting it back in my pocket.


With me out of the way, there was nothing between the maiam and Ethan. Ethan took a step back, the look on his face telling me he was half a second from panicking. I've never met a human who wasn't terrified of maiams—in fact, I'm pretty sure an instinctive fear of maiams, buried so deep they don't even know what maiams are, is why so many people are afraid of clowns.


All healed up and ready to go, I lifted Splatsy and charged across the club to help him. But just as I came within smashing distance…


"Cogito et creo!" he yelled, the fear vanishing from his eyes.


"Mustard crackers," I muttered.


Then a wave of force slammed into us, throwing both me and the maiam back across the club to where I'd just been. I hit the floor hard, and half a second later the maiam crash landed on top of me like a half-baked Hot Pocket—soft and squishy on the outside, but with a rock hard center.


"Eeewwww!" I screamed from underneath it. "Get off, get off, get off!"


I kicked up with my legs, and barely managed to throw Zitkenstein off of me. It fell to the floor again with a wet splat, and I jumped back to my feet. Right now, while it was lying helpless on its back, was the perfect chance to kill it! I ran to it, winding up for the final strike, and slammed Splatsy down onto its ugly face as hard as I could.


Except, Splatsy wasn't there.


"Zucchini noodles!" I yelled, watching my empty hands sink into the oozing, squishy skin right between its eyes. It felt like I was being sucked into a possessed bean bag chair! Those eyes—beady, black, and without a trace of sanity—widened in outrage, and I desperately tried to pull myself free.


"Henry!" Ethan yelled at me from across the club. The maiam's eyes slid over to him, and it growled.


"Gross, gross, grossss!" I whined as it oozed zit monster juice over my arms. I heaved backwards as hard as I could, and my hands finally came free with a sticky pop sound. A nasty smelling, crusty, yellow goo coated my arms all the way up to the elbows.


Trying to ignore the maiam ick on my hands, I turned and spotted Splatsy lying a few feet away—half in, and half out of the fire.


"Corn fritters," I muttered—and then got blindsided by the maiam's tongue. It wrapped itself around me before I could react, and raised me up so that my feet left the ground.


It began to reel me in, fangs glistening ominously in the firelight. It couldn't feed off of me. Ethan was the one it wanted. But it had finally figured out that I wasn't going to let it chow down on my friend's giggle juice without a fight, so it was going to get rid of me first.


"Cogito et creo!" Ethan shouted, and a blinding light flashed in front of me. I hit the ground. Forcing my eyes open, I saw the maiam roaring in agony, its tongue spewing black maiam blood as it thrashed around. No, only half its tongue. The other half was still wrapped around me. It fell off as I stood up, already beginning to shrivel and disappear.


"Nice shot!" I yelled, giving Ethan a thumbs up.


He smirked, actually looking confident for once, and raised the glowing spellhammer again. "Cogito et—"


A nearby table collapsed, catapulting a half-empty glass of booze into the fire.




A fireball taller than me exploded up from the floor, barely two feet away from Ethan. His head snapped over to look, and…


Uh oh, I thought.




I don't know what he was planning to do, but with his concentration shattered and the huge ball of fire at the forefront of his mind, the spellhammer's light turned red—and a pillar of flames burst out of it!


"Holy crap!" he screamed, holding it away from him as it sprayed fire as hot as dragon breath across the club. He shook it, as if he could put it out like waving a match, but all that did was spread fire to the few places that weren't already burning.


"Ethan!" I yelled. "You need to—whoop!"


I ducked, the flames passing right above me.


"You need to concentrate!" I finished.


With teeth gritted and eyes wide with panic, Ethan grabbed the spellhammer with both hands and squeezed the handle as hard as he could. Slowly, the inferno began to weaken—and the maiam came barreling out of the flames with a roar.


I cursed. Just my luck that Ethan would light everything on fire except the one thing we wanted to be on fire! Breaking into a sprint, I grabbed Splatsy out of the flames, and then wheeled around to intercept the maiam before it could get Ethan.


Here's a riddle for you: what's more awesome than a regular Splatsy?




I managed to jump in front of the maiam just in time, swung Flaming Splatsy in a wide arc, and slammed her into the maiam's gut. It stumbled backwards, pawing confusedly at the ring of fire I'd left on its belly, and I followed it up with a blow to its shin. The zit monster fell to its knees, and I wound up for the killing strike—


"Henry, look out!" Ethan yelled, and tackled me to the ground. Half a second later, the ceiling groaned, and a big chunk came loose, crashing down onto the spot where I'd just been standing and throwing up a cloud of orange sparks.


"Thanks for that," I said, furiously trying not to blush at the way he was lying on top of me.


"You just had to light the stupid place on fire, didn't you?" he grouched, rolling off of me—aww, what's the rush?—and getting back to his feet.


The maiam picked itself up, probably wondering how a simple trip to the club could have gone so wrong. Entire sections of its body were pulsing now, as if it had a dozen hearts hidden just beneath the skin, and a river of inklike blood was pouring from its mouth. It eyed Ethan, then me, obviously trying to decide what to do next in its tiny little brain—grab Ethan and run while it still had a chance, or finish me off to make sure I didn't give it any more trouble?


I raised Flaming Splatsy in the universal sign of I'm going to kick your butt whether you like it or not. The spellhammer lit up again in Ethan's hands. We glanced at each other, nodded, and—


The zit maiam exploded like…well, a zit. I'll spare you the details.


I could only stand there, staring in shock as the maiam's legs, which were all that was left of it, fell to their knees, then flopped onto the floor. Immediately, they began to shrivel up like chip bags thrown into a campfire. Both Ethan and I were covered in black maiam blood. So much blood that it had turned Flaming Splatsy back into Regular Splatsy. It was evaporating quicky, just like the body, but it still smelled like moldy gym socks that had been eaten and pooped out by a catfish.


"What…the hell…just happened?" Ethan asked, just as surprised as I was.


"I just did my worthless cousin's job for her. That's what happened."


I spotted a shadow between the flames, walking toward us as confidently as if it were fireproof. With every step, the sound of clinking chains echoed through the air.


I almost dropped Splatsy. Oh, no. No, no, no, please whoopie cushion in the sky, no!


"Henry, who is that?" Ethan asked, coming to stand beside me as the interloper's paintmarks came into view. They slashed diagonally across her face, forming a blood-red X. Her hair, the same vibrant red as her paintmarks, was cut short so that it covered her head like a helmet, making it look like a very specific piece of candy.


"That, Ethan," I answered with more dread in my heart than a thousand maiams could inspire, "is my Cousin Gumdrop."


I tightened my grip on Splatsy, fighting the urge to beat the arrogant smirk off my cousin's face. The way she held her hammer—smaller than Splatsy, but made of solid iron and with a chain that wound around her right arm—made it look like her guard was down, but I knew she could crush my squishy little head before I'd even lifted Splatsy.


"What are you doing here, Gumdrop?" I snapped.


The smirk disappeared, and her X-shaped paintmarks flashed with red light. The fact that she hated that nickname is the reason I made sure to use it every time I saw her.


"I'm doing your job," she said, her voice cold. "Since you obviously aren't up to the task."


My cheeks burned, turning blue instead of red. "We had it under control!"


She looked around at the burning building. “Clearly.”


Ethan put a hand on my shoulder. "Henry, we don't have time for—"


I pushed him out of the way.


"You only killed it because we'd tired it out!" I yelled. "If you'd tried that earlier, it would have made sour cream out of you!"


Cousin Gumdrop grinned at me, her face glowing like a jack-o-lantern in the firelight, and I nearly lost my cool again. Everything about her, from her posture to the glint in her scarlet eyes, was pure condescension, and it made me so freaking mad!


"We both know that isn't true, blueberry," she said, "but we can play pretend if you really want to."


The building groaned, the supports almost entirely burned away. I reached for the Escher Cube in my pocket. Ethan was right, we did need to skedaddle, and every second I spent here arguing with Cousin Gumdrop was—


"You should listen to your vending machine," she said, her voice cutting straight through my thoughts.


I put the Cube back.


"What did you just call him?" I demanded.


"Henry, don't!" Ethan tried to pull me away, but I slapped his hand off of me.


Cousin Gumdrop's grin widened. "Oh, my mistake. He's your broken vending machine, isn't he?"


"You shut your mouth!" I yelled.


"When was the last time you got anything out of him? Sounds to me like you should just throw him away!"


I ground my teeth so hard they hurt. "If you say one more word, I'll—"


Suddenly, so fast that I didn’t even see her move, the iron sledgehammer was pressed against my nose.


"You'll what, you pathetic little Blue?" Gumdrop asked, her paintmarks flashing again. "You'll attack me? You'll finally give me an excuse to end your miserable life?"


I froze. The iron hammer was cold, despite the heat being nearly unbearable. That look in her eyes…she wasn't bluffing. If I raised Splatsy against her, she wouldn't hesitate for a second before killing me.


And the worst part was, I wouldn't be able to stop her.


"Come on, Ethan," I said, backing away and trying to ignore the triumphant smile on Gumdrop's face. "We're leaving."


I shrank Splatsy down, hung her from my belt, and pulled out the Cube. Ethan joined me, and I…


I knew I should just go. Warp us both out of here while we still could. But the way I'd slunk away from her, like I was a puppy and she was my owner wielding a rolled up newspaper, made my blood boil inside my veins.


I looked at her. "You're just jealous that McGus chose me and not you!"


I expected her to scowl at me, but to my surprise her smile only widened.


"Things change, Blue. Things change."


"Henry!" Ethan yelled.


Forcing myself to look away from her, I grabbed the Cube and twisted it as hard as I could. The burning club vanished.


But the anger and shame stayed right where they were.

bottom of page