Five-year-old Alan stumbled into his worn overalls and into the barn. The stench of manure mixed with the sweet scent of hay, created a perfume that jolted him awake. "Hey Bertha," Alan croaked, patting the cow's warm back. "Time for breakfast."
He plunked down to milk her and pulled out his math homework. "Two plus two . . . " he recited sleepily. "Five?"
Before he knew it, he was asleep. Bertha's warm wet nose nudged his ear, bumping him awake.
"Oh no," Alan groaned. dashing outside and grabbing his satchel.
He raced to school and was at his desk when he suddenly froze. He had left his homework in the barn.
"Please pass your homework to the front," Mrs. Stone commanded, rapping her palm with her pointer.
Gulping, Alan raised his hand. "Umm -- I k-kind of -- " stuttered Alan.
"Spit it out boy," Mrs. Stone hissed. "I haven't got all day."
"I forgot my homework in the barn," confessed Alan miserably.
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to go to the principal's office," Mrs. Stone commanded.
Alan sat on the hard bench outside the principal's office, kicking the cement with his sandals. Surrounding him were other kids waiting for doom.
"So what's he like?" a boy with freckles on his nose asked his friend.
"Who, Principal Whacker?" his friend retorted.
"Yeah," Freckles groaned.
His friend shuddered. "Oh, you don't wanna know. I still have some scars from last time."
Alan's heart thunked in his chest. How he wished he hadn't forgotten his homework. Bertha was probably eating it for breakfast at this very moment.
Whacker's door flew open, and a little girl skipped out smiling.
"Who's next?" Whacker grinned.
That's strange, Alan thought. Why is she so happy?
Whacker scanned the room for his next victim. Whacker pointed his finger at Freckles. "You," he barked. "In here. Now."
Five minutes later, Freckles emerged beaming. Scratching his head, Allan wondered why everyone came out so happy. He would find out soon enough.
"Mr. Klein!" Principal Whacker shouted.
Alan sat up poker-straight and quivered to his feet as Whacker led him into his office.
"So, Mr. Klein," Principal Whacker said, towering over his desk like an obese monster. "Do you know why you're here?"
"Yes," Alan squeaked.
"And you know the consequences?" Whacker roared.
"No -- " Alan gulped.
"Well you know, boy," Whacker said reflectively, "When I was your age, I forgot my homework too."
"You did?" Alan asked, with courage this time.
"Yup. My dog Buster loved to eat my homework for breakfast. Especially my math homework -- that was his favorite," Whacker laughed.
"So what happened?" Alan giggled.
"This happened," Whacker grinned, pointing to his desk. "I scare boys for a living."
Alan tried to imagine what it would be like to never leave school, and to work at a place where everyone was afraid of you.
"I'm sorry," Alan said, looking at Whacker sympathetically.
"Yeah," Whacker sighed. "That's what happens if you don't do your homework!"
Alan looked grave, and then he smiled. "Thank you, Principal Whacker."
And from that day on, Alan made sure Bertha never ate his homework again.
Special thanks to Janet Takahashi for illustrating this week's story. To see more of her work, visit janettakahashi.com.
For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids.