Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 19
Stories
Expendables
by Orson Scott Card
Schadenfreude
by Michelle Scott
Deathsmith
by Pete Aldin
Bonus OSC Story Serialization
Eye for Eye Part Three
by Orson Scott Card
IGMS Audio
Expendables by Orson Scott Card
Read by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Growing Pains
by David Lubar
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Growing Pains
    by David Lubar

Growing Pains
Artwork by Lance Card

I would have enjoyed the assembly a lot more if I wasn't sitting next to Augie Blockner. He's the biggest kid in our school, and he liked to make sure everyone knew it. When I took my seat, he poked me in the arm and said, "Hey, shrimp."

Okay -- I'm short for my age. But I'm not so short I'd be mistaken for seafood. I looked over at him and said, "Hi." It was the safest thing to do. If I ignored him, he'd get mean. If I tried some sort of wise-guy answer, he'd get even meaner.

Luckily, the assembly started before Augie could think of some way to make my life miserable. The program was actually pretty cool. They had five real football players on stage. These guys made Augie look like -- well, they made him look like he made me look. That's how big they were.

They talked about stuff like studying hard and staying in school. It wasn't really a message I needed to hear. I did okay in school, and I didn't have any plans to drop out of seventh grade to enter a life of crime.

They also talked about eating good food, and paying attention to nutrition. The biggest player in the group held up a sack of oranges in one hand and a head of lettuce in the other.

"This is what your body needs."

Another guy lifted a two-liter bottle of cola. "This isn't what you need."

The third guy showed us a picture of a cow. "Balanced meals are important," he said.

I zoned out as they went over all the food groups. I knew that stuff. They also warned us about steroids and all that stuff.

"Kids," one of the players said, picking up a small bottle of clear liquid, "this will do all sorts of evil things to your body. It just isn't worth it."

"Your young bodies are still growing and changing," another of the player said. "There's no telling how much this stuff could mess you up."

When the assembly ended, I realized I'd survived 45 minutes sitting right next to Augie. For the first time in my life, I was actually eager to get back to my class. Before I could stand, Augie grabbed my shoulder and said, "Come on. Let's meet them."

"What?"

He pointed to the stage. "Let's sneak back there and meet the players. I've never met a real football star."

"But we'll get in trouble." I didn't feel like spending the next week in after-school detention, or writing a three-page essay.

Augie tightened his grip enough to let me know I'd find myself in even more trouble -- or at least, more painful trouble -- if I didn't do what he wanted.

"Why do you care if I come?"

"I might need a distraction."

I didn't like the sound of that. I could picture him ripping my arm off and batting me to the ground with it. Then he could stroll past the teachers who were busy trying to stop the spurting blood. As I was imagining various ways I could be used as a distraction, Augie dragged me out the side exit and down the hall to the door that led back-stage.

After we slipped in without getting caught, I relaxed a bit. It would be amazing to see the players face to face -- okay, face to bellybutton -- even if I got in trouble later. Maybe this would turn out all right. It would definitely be cool to get an autograph.

Except, there was nobody there. The players must have headed out the instant the assembly ended. Oh boy -- Augie was going to be unhappy about that. But at least it meant I'd be able to get to my class quickly enough to avoid trouble.

"Hey, wait," Augie said. He lumbered over to the far corner of the room, where all the music stands had been shoved. "Someone forgot a bag. Cool. Maybe there's a football or something in there."

Augie slid a large canvas bag out from under a folding chair. He unzipped it and started pulling stuff out. I wanted to tell him to stop, but I was pretty happy he was distracted.

He tossed out a bunch of clothes, and some posters like the ones that they'd put up in the classrooms.

"Anything interesting?" I guess I was sort of curious.

He shook his head. "Nothing good." He started to pull his hand out, then reached in again. "Wait. What's this?"

He pulled out a small bottle. There was one word on the label, right beneath where his thumb curled around it. GROWTH. Augie looked at it the way a starving kid looks at a whole pepperoni pizza.

"Be careful," I said. 'You don't know what's in there. And you don't know how much to take. You're a lot smaller --"

"I'm what?" Augie said. "Are you calling me small?"

I managed to gulp and say, "No," at the same time. It hurt my throat. I'd just wanted to warn him that the right dose might depend on how much he weighed.

Augie unscrewed the cap and raised the bottle to his lips. I had a tough decision to make. I could try to talk him out of it, and maybe get hurt. Or just keep my mouth shut. One bottle couldn't do all that much harm, could it? It was a pretty small bottle, and he was a pretty big kid.

Yeah, it could do a whole lot of harm. It could be super concentrated. For all we knew, there might be 100 doses.

I walked over and grabbed Augie's arm. "Stop!" It was like grabbing a fence post.

Augie stared at me the way I'd stare at a chihuahua that was tugging at me sneaker laces. "What are you doing?"

"Don't drink it. You don't know what'll happen. They're all grown up already. This stuff is for them. You're still growing normally. Why mess with that?"

A strange expressions flashed across Augie's face. I could almost see him thinking. I shuddered as he nodded. "Yeah. You're right. I'm growing. But you're not. You need this more than I do." His grin was pure evil now.

"Why don't we share it?" I couldn't believe my mind was still working well enough to find a way to stall him. Half the bottle would do less damage to me than a whole bottle.

"Not a bad idea." Augie drank down his share of the liquid. Then he wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

I tried to spin away, but he grabbed my jaw with his free hand. "Open wide."

"No!"

As he moved the bottle toward my mouth, I kicked him in the shin as hard as I could. I think he was more startled than hurt. Either way, the kick was enough loosen his grip. I raced for the door. Augie was right behind me. Just when I was about to grab the knob, I felt myself rise into the air. Augie had me by the back of my neck.

He turned his wrist so I was facing him. "You're gonna suffer now, shrimp," he said.

I braced myself for a flood of pain. Then I started to move away from Augie. Which made no sense, since I was dangling from his grip like a cheap sweater on a clothes hook. But I was definitely moving. Somehow, my body was inching away from his.

I looked around for an explanation. When I found it, I was even happier that I hadn't drank any of that liquid.

Augie's arm was getting longer. The growth stuff was working. I was also moving higher. I guess his legs were growing, too. Everything was growing.

No. Not everything.

That's the second thing I realized. As I watched his fingers curl around the bottle and his arm extend from his sleeve, I knew it wasn't his whole body that was reacting to the stuff he drank. Not his flesh, veins, or muscles. It was just his bones.

Augie wasn't all that smart, but I guess he knew something was wrong. And I guess he forgot all about me, because he let go of my neck. I dropped from his grip and hit the ground hard, but I was happy to be free, and really happy that I hadn't taken a swig of that liquid.

He was staring at his hands now, as his fingers grew even longer. He still had the bottle. When his thumb shifted, I saw another word above GROWTH. I guess I already knew what it was. BONE. Yeah, Augie hadn't found the football guys growth formula. He'd found one for bone growth.

His bones were sure growing.

His head was swelling, too. The flesh stretched tight on his face as his skull got bigger. He looked like one of those really old celebrities who'd made too many visits to the plastic surgeon.

When he opened his mouth to scream, I noticed that even his teeth were growing.

Well, I guess Augie got his wish. He was a lot bigger. But the growth seemed to have stopped, now. It's good for him he didn't drink the whole bottle. I don't think his skin could have stretched that far without tearing. He was pretty much pushed to the limit. I shuddered at the thought of his bones bursting through his flesh.

He was still staring at his hands, but I don't think he was seeing anything right now. I was pretty sure he was numbed by the shock.

"Augie? Hey, Augie?" I didn't bother to add, "Are you okay?" because that would have been one of the top ten stupidest questions of all time.

He didn't answer me.

"I'll go get the nurse," I said. It was the only thing I could think to do. Not that it would help much. I opened the door, then stopped and went back. I pried the bottle from his hand, found the cap, screwed it back on, and put the bottle in my pocket.

The stuff was obviously dangerous. But what if I just took one drop? Yeah, one little drop at a time. Just enough to make me grow a little bit. That would work. I knew I could handle it. I was a lot smarter than Augie. And one day, I'd be just as big.


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