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Illustrations by Victoria Assanelli
Featured illustration by Afu Chan
Episode 1: Hana’s Recorder
An entire year had passed since the defeat of the giant raisin. Hana spent most of her time during that period living life as normally as possible, which was not really all that normal considering she could make things out of her dandruff. Even though she kept her power a secret from everyone except for James and Henri – her two closest friends – there was no way for her to hide her dandruff, as everyone except for the blind noticed it right away: her shoulders were the snowy peaks of mountains whenever she wore something darker than a shade of white, and the only thing dandruff shampoos did for her was make her smell like dandruff shampoos.
It was soon after she discovered she could make things out of her dandruff that the monsters came. For a while she did not even know which was worse: the monsters or her dandruff. Even though she had been able to use her dandruff to save the entire world, she still would have been more than happy to see her affliction go away. All she wanted was to go back to being a regular private school girl.
James and Henri did not help matters. There had been many times when James or Henri would call upon her powers for either their own amusement or something resembling practicality – after they had become used to how absolutely disgusting it all was, anyway.
James would ask to see a dandruff-o’-lantern for Halloween and – after a lot of sighing on Hana’s part – pop, crunch, there it was. During winter Henri asked Hana to put together a dandruff igloo to help keep them warm while they waited for a bus, observing that the dandruff would blend in with the snow and anyone passing by would not notice anything strange. So, after swallowing down her embarrassment, Hana formed a small dandruff igloo to protect them from the chill of the winter wind. It worked well enough for the first ten seconds or so – that is, until the musty smell got to them, causing them to hastily squeeze out of the front entrance. The entire structure collapsed messily around them.
Whenever something like that happened, Hana tried to make herself feel better by thinking about how, at the very least, she no longer had to use her dandruff powers to fend off mysterious monsters. The only monsters spring brought were the spores that affected her allergies. Whenever she sneezed, a cascade of dandruff would fall from her head.
By the time summer rolled around, Hana had nearly forgotten many of the bizarre hardships she had suffered through the previous summer, but the lessons she learned remained with her. She learned that even a person’s worst quality could be turned into something useful. She also learned that some cats are trustworthy while others are not – and that goes for lobsters as well.
The only real challenge she was currently facing was being stuck with a recorder in music class while everyone else got the cool instruments. James played his guitar and Henri played the trumpet. Hana played the instrument with the high, thin tones that was quickly drowned by every other instrument, and that included the flutes.
‘At least it’s better than having to fight a giant raisin,’ James said as they practiced under the sun after school. ‘Right, Hana?’
‘Barely.’ She looked at her recorder in disgust, then set her lips on it while sighing. Dogs began barking in the distance.
‘It’s like you’re conducting an orchestra,’ James said. ‘Symphony in Dog Minor.’
Hana threw her recorder into the school’s grassy field from the path they were practicing on. Then she walked over to it and picked it up.
A sudden blast of sound made them jump straight into the air. They turned to see Henri releasing the spit valve on his golden trumpet, which somehow seemed to be even brighter than the sun.
‘Gross!’ Hana said as Henri’s built-up saliva darkened the path. ‘Do you have to do that here?’
‘Yes,’ he said as he finished up. Then he played a short melody that they had been practicing in class. ‘That sounds about right.’
‘Why don’t we all practice together?’ James asked.
‘Sure,’ Henri said. ‘It’ll be easier for us to learn our instruments’ strengths and weaknesses if we hear them played together. Are you ready, Hana?’
‘Yeah, I think so,’ she said after quickly playing the notes with just her fingers. ‘Okay, let’s go.’
They started up a song but then James and Henri came to a sudden halt, leaving Hana’s recorder to trail off with a sad, high-pitched whistle.
‘Are you playing it correctly?’ Henri asked. ‘It sounds a bit . . . off.’
‘I’m playing it exactly right,’ Hana said defensively.
‘I think what Henri means to say is that it sounds like an insect dying,’ James explained.
Hana threw her recorder into the field again.
‘Why don’t you just make a dandruff recorder that sounds as good as Henri’s trumpet?’ asked James.
‘Because I want to throw up just from thinking about that,’ Hana said. She reclaimed her recorder and inspected it, looking for a switch or button that needed to be pressed before it could sound good. All she found were the same old holes that made the same old horrible sounds. ‘Do you think my parents would be upset if I dropped out of music class?’
‘Come on, Hana, you can’t give up that easily,’ Henri told her. ‘Besides, it’s not that bad, and the teacher wants everyone to have their own unique instrument. Give it time and you might even find something to like about it.’
‘I think it looks kind of cool,’ James offered.
Hana looked at it again. It looked like every other recorder she had seen, dark brown with a beige mouthpiece, foot joint and ring where its two pieces connected. It also suffered the indignity of being made out of plastic.
She then looked at Henri’s trumpet. It was bright, well-polished and could lead an army into war with its clean, proud sound. James’ guitar was a bit beat-up since it was his own guitar from home, but that only made it all the more cool. There was even a sheath on the front of the case for his aluminum baseball bat to slide into. James never went anywhere without his aluminum baseball bat.
‘Somehow I think you guys are trying to trick me,’ she said.
‘Just give it some time,’ Henri repeated.
Hana narrowed her eyes at them. ‘Okay, I’ll give it some time,’ she said. ‘But I’m going to go do it on my own, where nobody can hear me. I don’t want anyone laughing at my nasty recorder.’
‘We’re not going to laugh at your nasty recorder,’ Henri tried to assure her, but she had already started off across the field.
She could hear James starting up an intricate melody on his guitar as she stalked away, her head swimming with frustrated thoughts of her recorder. She exited the field through a hole in the fence and headed towards the cement wall of a nearby apartment complex’s parking lot. This was where she sometimes went when she wanted to be alone for a bit after school – in the summer, anyway. She liked to lean her back against the cement wall where it gave off shade, so that it cooled her skin.
She sat there and held the recorder loosely, twirling it in her hands before letting it fall into her lap. Then she picked it up again and quietly practiced a simple tune that had been taught to her in class.
Hana realised that her recorder sounded a lot less obnoxious when she played it gently. But if she played it gently in class then there was definitely no way anyone would be able to hear it. All she could do was groan, and she imagined that even that sounded better than her recorder.
A spirited melody suddenly surrounded her and she sat up completely straight, jolted out of her thoughts. She had never heard anything so beautifully played before, but she could not tell what type of instrument it was being played on. She stood up and looked all around her but there was nobody to be seen.
The hidden performance ceased in answer. From around the corner of the parking lot wall appeared a boy dressed in a green private school uniform, with an emblem on his vest that Hana had never seen before. He had messy black hair and his cheeks were dotted with freckles, and he looked to be around her age. He walked towards her with his hands held behind his back and the light of mischief in his eyes.
‘Hullo,’ he said.
‘Were you the one who was playing that music?’ Hana asked.
The boy nodded and then revealed his hands. In them he held a recorder much like Hana’s – in fact, she could not distinguish any differences between the two.
‘Please don’t tell me you were playing that music on a recorder,’ she said.
The boy smirked. ‘Why? What’s wrong with that?’
‘I’m not going to show you what’s wrong with that because then you’ll laugh.’
‘Oh. You know, I thought I heard an insect dying before, so I raced over here to see if I could help.’ He then gestured to the recorder in her hand. ‘Were you playing that?’
Hana quickly realised that he was making fun of her. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
‘Kohlrabi,’ the boy said, bowing theatrically.
‘I think I had that before,’ Hana told him, thinking back to dinners past, ‘and I didn’t really like it.’
He smiled wryly at her. ‘And your name?’
‘Well, Hana, I do believe we’re rivals, so it’s only fair that one of us should be better than the other.’
‘Why should we be rivals?’ She wished that, instead of being a mischievous boy, he would turn out to be a mischievous leprechaun that would teach her the secrets of the recorder. But such strange happenings rarely worked in her favour.
‘Because we’re from rival schools,’ Kohlrabi explained. ‘I’m green and you’re blue. I know how to play the recorder and you know how to inflict pain upon it.’
‘And I’m not a jerk,’ Hana snapped back, frustrated with his behaviour. ‘I’ve never even heard of your school before.’
Kohlrabi shrugged while smiling his irritating smile. Hana made a sound like that of Henri’s trumpet and then headed off in a huff. She refused to look back, even when she heard Kohlrabi’s recorder start up. Each sweet note was like a dagger in her ears.
‘What a jerk!’ she muttered under her breath.
She walked up the street until she reached the corner of the block and could no longer hear Kohlrabi. All she heard was the sound of cars in the distance and the gentle rustling of leaves. She looked from side to side and, once she felt that no one was watching, she brought her recorder to her lips, closed her eyes and tried to play like Kohlrabi had played. The notes did not come out anything like his, however, and when she opened her eyes it was to an old bloodhound staring up at her.
‘What do you want?’ Hana asked the dog. ‘Or are you just here to make fun of me, too?’
The bloodhound flopped its ears and, once it realised there was nothing of interest at hand, walked away at a leisurely pace. Hana looked down at her recorder and hoped it was not what had attracted the dog. She very apprehensively decided to test this by playing a quick melody. The dog’s big ears immediately perked up and it swiftly turned around, once more gazing at her with its large, sorrowful eyes.
‘Oh brother,’ she groaned. She reached into her hair, pulled out a dandruff bone and then tossed it as far away from her as she could, which was pretty far considering all the practice she had from throwing baseballs.
The dog did not even flinch when she threw the dandruff bone, however, but after a few moments of intense, silent staring it trotted away. Hana scratched her head in confusion, accidentally building up clumps of dandruff under her fingernails. She looked at them and made a face, and then she hurried home to wash her hands and clean out her recorder.
On her way home she noticed all of the dogs watching her from behind the gates of houses. Each of them sat as still as a garden gnome or gargoyle, completely motionless except for their eyes, which followed her as she walked. She had heard that any expression of emotion on a dog’s face was a figment of imagination, put there by the person seeing it, but she had a very sinking feeling that all of these dogs had a conspiratorial look. She could see it in their shifting eyes.
She clutched her recorder to her chest, bit her lower lip and tried not to turn her head in their many different directions. Like the dogs, the only parts of her head that she moved were her eyes. A bead of sweat formed on her temple and trailed down her cheek, and by the time it reached her chin she had made it out of the neighbourhood.
From there she ran home.
Hana only managed to catch her breath when she had made it safely inside her house, her back resting against the fully-locked front door. She was too afraid to think, and when she could think she thought about how afraid she was: she did not like dogs in general, so having every single canine in the city stare at her was a bit much. Dogs were barbaric, slobbering beasts to her, and she often refused to go near one for fear of being bit. Cats, on the other hand, she could certainly deal with.
Hana’s sister Sara came down the stairs and took immediate notice of the recorder, seemingly not noticing the panting state that Hana was in.
‘Is that it?’ Sara asked as she landed on the main floor, pointing at the recorder in Hana’s trembling hands. ‘Is that the recorder?’
‘Um, yeah,’ Hana said. She was suddenly feeling too exhausted to be confused.
‘James called to warn me about it,’ her sister explained. ‘I’ll go get some earplugs out of the kitchen drawer.’
Hana managed to roll her eyes. ‘Could you please get me a glass of water while you’re in there?’
Once her sister had disappeared into the kitchen, Hana turned around and peered out the peephole, seeing if she could spy any lurking dogs. Luckily all that she spotted were her elderly neighbours. They walked with crooked backs and wooden canes, and the sight of such fragile, gentle people put her more at ease. She began to wonder if she was just being paranoid about the whole dog thing.
Hana took off her shoes and then her sister returned with a glass of water.
‘Thank you,’ she said as she took it from Sara’s hands.
‘PARDON?’ her sister shouted. Hana winced.
‘I said “thank you”,’ she repeated at her original volume.
Sara took an earplug out of one of her ears. ‘Pardon?’
Hana rolled her eyes. ‘Nevermind,’ she said.
Sara shrugged, put her earplug back in and then ran back up the stairs, nearly tripping over the final step.
‘Don’t run up the stairs!’ Hana called up, but her sister returned to her room without hearing the belated advice.
Hana went into the living room and plopped herself down on the couch, setting her backpack beside her. The house was eerily quiet and she realised it was because the tv was not turned on. Usually when she came home it was to her parents watching a crime show. She imagined they were either out getting groceries or renting some kind of monster movie.
She closed her eyes and enjoyed the uncommon silence. Then she remembered Kohlrabi and opened her eyes again, now two furious orbs filled with fire. She went into the kitchen to see if there was any kohlrabi she could smash to make herself feel better, but there was not even a leaf of it to be found in the crisper. This did not surprise her as she had only ever had kohlrabi once before in her life. Still, the stem of the plant had such a unique shape that she could easily recall it in a very detailed way, and this gave her an idea. She carried her shoes to the back door, put them on and then ventured outside.
She walked alongside the rows of roses and other bright flowers that her family grew in their garden and circled around to the blind spot behind the garage. There she crouched down and shook out a small mound of dandruff over a patch of grass, and with no little intensity began forming a white, greasy kohlrabi out of her fallen flakes. Then she stood up, towering over the dandruff kohlrabi like a merciless giant, and brought her foot over it.
Her foot came crashing down, exploding the kohlrabi into a million different pieces.
‘Jerk!’ she cried, and then she sighed a sigh of relief, glad to have gotten rid of her pent-up aggression. She returned to the house feeling lighter and more at peace.
After depositing her shoes at the front once more, she collected her recorder and backpack from the living room and brought them up to her own room, where she closed the door and practiced on her bed. She played with different tones and breathing styles until she found a way of playing her recorder that she felt the most comfortable with. Her ears did not mind what her lungs had settled on, either, and Hana was finally finding herself somewhat happy with her cheap instrument.
She practiced until her parents came home with dinner, and not once during all that time did she hear a dog bark outside her window. The only dog that appeared that night was the mutated Chihuahua in the monster movie her parents had rented. Hana and Sara thought the Chihuahua looked like their uncle, only with more hair.
For the remainder of the night Hana dealt with her homework, and Kohlrabi never entered her mind. When she fell asleep it was to a dream of dogs whistling angrily at her.
When she woke it was to her alarm clock’s obnoxious honking. She had fallen asleep upside-down and was thus in the prime position to kick the alarm clock off her bedside table, which she managed to do expertly, but that only sent it closer to her head. After a few more insistent honks she sat up, groaning loudly. She turned the alarm clock off with her toes while rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
There was no music class today but she wanted to bring her recorder anyway, to show James and Henri how much she had improved in the span of a night. She jammed it in her backpack between her geometry assignment and math textbook, and after breakfast she headed off to school with her sister, the morning light golden on the streets.
‘Did you remember to do your homework last night?’ Hana asked her sister as they walked.
Hana grabbed Sara and pulled the earplugs out of her ears. She stuffed them in her skirt pocket and then slapped Sara’s hand away when her sister tried to reach for them. Sara crossed her arms and pouted, but that only lasted until Henri flew by on his bicycle and waved at them.
‘I’ll see you in class!’ he called back, and both of the girls shouted ‘Okay!’ in unison, despite Sara being a few years younger than them and taking her classes in a different part of the building.
Soon they reached the school and parted ways at the gate. Hana saw Henri’s bicycle securely locked at the bike rack as she passed it, but of course James’ bike was nowhere to be seen; he would undoubtedly be late for school as always, and it was such a common occurrence that their homeroom teacher had given up on punishing him for it. Hana, however, did her best to make James feel guilty about it when she could.
She found Henri already sitting at his desk when she arrived in class. He looked up at her and smiled, and then held up a sheet of paper with some writing on it.
‘What’s that?’ she asked as she took her seat behind him.
‘I had some spare time last night so I wrote up a little song for you to play, if you want,’ he explained, passing the paper to her. ‘I figured I’d write something that played to your strengths. You can use it to practice.’
She looked at the music he had written and thought it surprisingly good. ‘So basically you can do just about everything,’ she said.
‘Nah, writing music for a recorder is incredibly easy,’ he told her, and Hana tried not to get upset at this remark.
‘Well, just so you know, I think I’m better at it already,’ she said while cockily waving the paper in front of her. ‘I’ll show you and James at recess.’
Henri laughed good-naturedly at her not-so-modest composure. ‘I’m looking forward to it,’ he said.
The clacking of dress shoes entered the class and their teacher entered along with them, and many minutes after their teacher started class came James. He quickly and quietly took his seat behind Hana, but not long after this he asked her what he had missed.
‘Shh!’ she shushed him, and he bewilderedly got out his pencil and notebook and jotted down the random information that had been written on the board.
Eventually recess came and Hana led James and Henri to a spot under a large tree in the school’s field. They sat in its shade together and then Hana took out her recorder.
‘Oh please no,’ James said. ‘Please no, it hurts so much.’
‘Shush!’ she said. ‘I can’t believe you called my sister to “warn” her, by the way.’
James shrugged. ‘I was just doing my part.’
‘Whatever. Prepare to be blown away.’ She then took a deep breath, brought the recorder to her lips and played as well as she had played last night.
‘That’s actually kind of pleasant,’ Henri told her when she had finished.
‘Yeah,’ James agreed. ‘I’m impressed. I don’t even hear any barking, so I guess that means you’re no long the Dogged Piper.’
‘Thanks! I guess I just needed some time with it on my own.’
‘It’s certainly paying off,’ Henri said.
Hana nodded, but then she suddenly remembered Kohlrabi. ‘Actually, this jerk from another school caught me playing yesterday and made fun of me. He could play his recorder better than you can play the trumpet and even better than James can play guitar. He pretty much chased me away just by playing his recorder. Grr! Just thinking about it makes me mad.’
‘Which school was he from?’ Henri asked.
‘Um, the green one,’ Hana said. ‘He said his name was Kohlrabi.’
‘Really? I love kohlrabi,’ James said. ‘My mother makes it for me all the time.’
‘Where did you see him?’ Henri asked. Even though he held a neutral expression, Hana felt she could detect a hint of vengeance in his words.
‘Over by that big cement parking lot thing, at those apartment buildings over there,’ she answered, pointing in its direction. ‘Why?’
James caught on. ‘We’ll go there after school,’ he told her. ‘You can play your recorder while Henri and I hide behind a bush or something.’
‘I’m not sure I like where this is going, to tell you guys the truth,’ she told them. ‘But thanks anyway.’
‘C’mon, it’s not like we’d actually fight him,’ James said. ‘We’ll just scare him a little.’
‘How about you make a dandruff—’
‘I’m going to have to stop you there, Henri,’ Hana said, and Henri closed his mouth. ‘I’m not making a dandruff anything.’
‘We’ll think of something else,’ Henri said respectfully.
‘Yeah, like maybe a dandruff—’
Just then the bell rang and they decided to continue the discussion at lunch. When that discussion came around, the trio managed to formulate a plan, and when school ended they agreed to set that plan in motion.
The plan was for James and Henri to hide behind some bushes while Hana lured out Kohlrabi with her recorder. Then James and Henri would jump out from behind the bush and scare Kohlrabi away. They could not think of anything more perfect.
They set up the trap where Hana had first met Kohlrabi. James and Henri found a bush large enough to hide the both of them, and they crouched down behind it while Hana leaned against the cement wall of the parking lot. Once she was ready, she set the recorder to her lips, and as soon as she began playing they could hear the barking of dogs.
‘Dogs again?’ James whispered to Henri behind the bush.
‘Maybe it means they enjoy her music,’ he whispered back.
They soon noticed that Hana seemed to be playing a lot more notes than was possible for her fingers. Before they could think on this, however, out came several dogs, a row of them ranging from German shepherds to pit bulls. They marched up to Hana and growled at her. She stopped playing and called out for help. What was even stranger than the dogs was how the sound of a recorder kept going even though she was now holding onto hers as a protective weapon.
James and Henri stood up, ready to rush out and save Hana from the dogs, but that was when they noticed something lurking behind the bush about a metre to the right of them. There they saw a boy in a green school uniform, crouched down and playing a recorder as he peered out at Hana. He had a mischievous smile on his face. James and Henri stared at him, and then the boy noticed them and stopped smiling. He let the recorder fall from his lips.
‘Get him!’ James yelled out, and he and Henri rushed towards the boy, tackling him before he had a moment to think.
When the dust had settled, James was straddling the boy’s chest and holding his wrists against the grass while he writhed beneath him. Henri, seeing that James had the situation under control, went to see how Hana was holding up. All of the dogs had ceased growling at her and were now looking around their surroundings as if in a daze. One of them even whimpered. They trotted off in separate directions when Henri brushed past them to reach Hana.
‘What happened?’ she asked him, warily watching the dogs as they walked away.
‘I think we found Kohlrabi,’ he told her, and she looked past his side to see James holding down her self-professed rival.
They went to their captive and looked down at him.
‘We meet again,’ Hana said.
Kohlrabi stopped struggling. ‘Okay, I give up. Let me go and I promise I won’t run away.’
Hana nodded at James and James let him go. Kohlrabi stood up and wiped the dirt from his pants. He then reached for his recorder, which had landed nearby, but James set his foot on it.
‘I think you have some explaining to do,’ Hana said, crossing her arms.
‘Ugh. I didn’t expect you to have hired goons,’ Kohlrabi said, looking at James and Henri contemptuously. ‘I was just doing what any rival would do.’
‘And that would be using your recorder to make Hana think hers could attract dogs?’ Henri asked.
‘Of course,’ Kohlrabi said, straightening his uniform.
James lifted his foot from the recorder and grabbed it before Kohlrabi could. ‘So you can control dogs with this thing?’ he asked.
‘Yes, but only me,’ Kohlrabi said. ‘An idiot like you wouldn’t be able to control a fly with it.’
James brought the recorder to his lips and played random notes in an obnoxious, jazzy manner. The dogs that had walked off before now came racing back, barking wildly as they circled Kohlrabi. ‘Looks like it’s the recorder after all,’ James said, smiling triumphantly, and Kohlrabi’s growl was even louder than the dogs.
‘Do you promise to leave Hana alone from now on?’ Henri asked.
‘That’d be like asking me to promise not to breathe air,’ Kohlrabi stated. ‘Now give me back my recorder.’
‘Okay,’ James said, and then he played the recorder wildly again. The dogs lunged at Kohlrabi, giving him a start, and then they chased him far, far away, back to whatever school he had come from.
‘Here,’ James said, handing the recorder over to Hana. ‘Maybe you can use it again if he ever comes back.’
Hana looked the recorder over and then broke it on her knee. She let the pieces fall to the ground.
‘I guess that means “no thanks”,’ James said.
‘It was stupid. Who ever heard of a recorder that could control dogs? I’d rather just forget the whole thing happened and pretend Kohlrabi doesn’t exist. It’s not like we had even heard of his school before now.’
‘Which school was that, again?’ Henri asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Hana said. ‘The green one.’
‘Man, if I ever see someone from that green school I’m gonna clobber them,’ James said.
‘What? No! That’s precisely what Kohlrabi wants.’
‘Okay, then if I ever see Kohlrabi again I’ll just clobber him.’
Hana sighed. ‘No more clobbering. I already broke his stupid dog recorder and now I’m starting to feel bad about it. It’s a good thing recorders are only like five dollars each.’
‘Or you could just – you know – make a dandruff recorder and give it to him,’ James suggested.
Hana pulled out a dandruff recorder and threw it at his head.
To Be Continued In Episode Two: Of Ghosts & Pizza