by Amanda Helms
Read by Emily Rankin
Listen to the audio version
The box of Ninja Puffs proclaimed NEMESIS INSIDE! in screamy capital letters.
Jasmine poked the box as if it might bite her.
Her mother paused in putting away the pasta sauce. "What's wrong with the cereal? I
thought you liked ninjas. You're always watching that show about the fighting turtles, and for the
past three years you've asked for nunchakus for your birthday. Which, again, no."
"Mr. Radner gave 'nemesis' to us as a vocabulary word last month. I don't want one."
"It's only a toy."
Yes, but a nemesis toy. Sighing, Jasmine opened the box and pulled out the plastic-bagged Ninja Puffs, then turned the box upside-down.
Nothing came out.
"Well, you lucked out! The manufacturer must've forgotten it. How about the
marshmallows, though? Such interesting gray . . . blobby . . . things." But Jasmine was
investigating the box. Some of the glue on its bottom had loosened.
From the corner of her eye, she caught a small black blur charging for the toaster. "Look!"
Jasmine's mother click-clacked to the counter. "Oh, da--darn! Was it a cockroach?" She
pulled out the toaster; nothing behind it.
"No, I think it was the nemesis!"
"A battery-powered toy in a children's cereal? If the batteries exploded and leaked acid all
over . . ." Her mother's eyes glinted. Jasmine recognized that look; it was the same one she got
whenever she made a breakthrough on a case. "It's a lawsuit waiting to happen." She strode off to
Jasmine sighed. Her mother would be up till all hours researching the effects of battery
acid on children's digestive systems, probably.
On the counter, a three-inch cowled figure scurried behind the flour bin and out of sight.
Though Jasmine looked for half an hour, she never found it.
The next morning had Jasmine running late. She bounded to the staircase. "Mom, did I
leave my math homework on the table?"
"Responsibility, Jasmine. Find it within yourself. Embrace it."
Groaning, Jasmine hurtled down the stairs and to the kitchen table. No homework in
sight; just her mother at her laptop, looking over her briefs for the day's case. Jasmine flew back
upstairs as her mother called "Five minutes!" Where else could she have left her homework?
A scrap of paper lying on the edge of her desk caught her attention. She picked it up and
made out a 459 and a ÷ 18 and an =, but no answer, and certainly not the other fourteen problems
Her gaze drifted to the trashcan. She dumped it out. Shreds of her homework fluttered out
like a miniature math-encrusted snowstorm. Tears burned her eyes. The penalty for missing
homework was twenty new problems.
"Jasmine! It's time to go!"
She spun to leave, then paused. A flash at her windowsill, there and gone again: a
miniature katana held aloft in victory.
Those were some batteries.
That afternoon at tap practice, working her shuffle-hop, shuffle-hop, slide-slide-slide,
something stung Jasmine's foot. She ignored it. Shuffle-hop--
Searing pain ignited near her ankle.
She flung out her leg to shake off the pain but instead kicked Misty Bonneville.
"Mrs. Sturmvast! Jasmine did not practice her shuffle-hop, shuffle-hop, slide-slide-slide
at all and she is going to ruin our recital on Saturday! And she kicked me!"
"I didn't mean to, something hit me." Jasmine touched her ankle. A small bit of blood
streaked her fingers.
A tiny black figure shot across the stage of Dunderham Elementary's multipurpose room,
headed toward the storage closet slash dressing room.
It wasn't just batteries. A toy couldn't be that--that--malicious (another of Mr. Radner's
Mrs. Sturmvast, in her teal leggings and purple-rhinestone top, descended upon Jasmine.
"What's this?" Seeing Jasmine's ankle, she hissed. "Mice! We'll need maintenance to set traps."
Jasmine scanned the stage for the nemesis. "I don't think it's mice."
Mrs. Sturmvast tutted. "Rats are even worse. Let us hope for smaller, cuter rodents.
However, the show must go on! Jasmine, I'll need you to work extra hard on your shuffle-hop,
shuffle-hop, slide-slide-slide before the recital so that you're successful despite minor
inconveniences, or else we'll have to put you in the back on Saturday."
Jasmine inhaled. A nemesis wasn't a minor inconvenience!
Mrs. Sturmvast held up a ruby-tipped finger. "And that work will have to be at home--I'm
sorry, but suspension from the rest of today's practice is the punishment even for accidental
kicks. School policy, you know. Now, apologize to Misty, and then off to the nurse's station with
All the way to the nurse's office, Jasmine kept looking behind her, but the nemesis
remained in stealth-mode.
"What's going on with you today?" her mom asked, driving her home. "First you lose
your math homework, and now you're kicking Misty Bonneville?"
"I told you, it was an accident." She pulled up her foot to point to the SpongeBob bandage
on her ankle. "I think it was the nemesis. From the Ninja Puffs."
"Really, Jasmine." Her mother pursed her lips, refusing to look at Jasmine. Never a good
sign. "To say the toy followed you to school--"
Jasmine's mother shrieked and slapped at her neck. Stinging pain ignited in Jasmine's
More stings, and Jasmine's mother slapped at her shoulder and her arm. Their car swerved
amid a cacophony of honking horns. Jasmine's mother pulled them to the side of the road. Cars
streaked past, still blaring their horns.
Jasmine turned on the overhead light. She plucked at her arm, and her mother at her neck.
On both their palms lay miniature t-shaped throwing stars.
"It's not just a toy," Jasmine said quietly.
Her mother swallowed. "I think you're right."
Up ahead shone the lights for Supergrocery Plus! A grin spread across Jasmine's face.
"Can we go to the grocery store? I have an idea."
Back at home, Jasmine and her mother prepared for battle.
Her mother stood at the kitchen's entrance, clutching Jasmine's set of plastic throwing
stars. (Even though they lacked sharp edges and had been mother-approved, her mother insisted
that she, not Jasmine, wield them.)
Jasmine herself stood next to the kitchen table, wearing an old hockey mask. She spied
shadowy motion on the counter behind the sugar, but it disappeared when she looked at it head-on.
Smiling, Jasmine removed the box of Monster Flakes from the grocery bag. The box
featured a many-eyed and -tentacled green thing under the words MONSTER ALLY INSIDE!
Jasmine hefted a throwing star as she glared at the sugar. "You're our nemesis, are you?"
Over the top of the sugar bin, a black hood peeked at her. Jasmine met her mother's gaze;
her mother drew her shoulders back in the same posture she used while practicing her opening
remarks. She nodded.
Smirking, Jasmine returned her attention to the sugar. "Bring it."
She ripped open the box.