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Hats Off
    by David Lubar
Hat's Off
Artwork by Lance Card

Freddy and I were busting our butts cleaning out his parents' tool shed. Freddy's father had offered us each a couple of bucks to do the work, which was fine with me. Of course, it turned out to be a lot more work than either of us counted on.

"Man, it's amazing how much junk you can put in one of these sheds," I said as I collapsed on the ground next to a huge stack of tools and boxes.

"Tell me about it," Freddy said. He opened a small box. I remembered it since it had weighed about eight million pounds and I'd nearly busted my gut carrying it out of the shed.

"What's in it?" I asked.

"Fishing magazines," Freddy said. "Dad hasn't fished in years. Guess it goes in the recycling pile."

I helped him drag it over. We'd decided to sort everything into three piles: recycle, keep, and throw out. Toward the end of the cleanup, I opened a box that was filled with hats.

"HEY DAD!" Freddy yelled toward the house. "You want any hats?"

"No," his father called back through the open window. "Toss 'em."

"We should keep these," I said, lifting one of the hats from the box. It looked like a baseball cap, but it didn't have a team name. All it said over the brim was ENERGY. I put it on my head.

And I felt great.

"Hey," Let's load those recyclables into your Dad's van," I said.

"Hold on," Freddy said. "I'm beat."

"Not me," I said, lifting the box of magazines. "I've got tons of --"

"Tons of what?" Freddy asked.

"Weird," I muttered. I'd been about to say energy.

"What?" Freddy asked again.

I reached into the hat box and grabbed another one. It promised HAPPINESS. Before Freddy could say anything, I plunked the hat on his head.

"All right!" Freddy shouted, grinning at me. "Come on. Let's get moving. Man, I'm glad we're doing this." He laughed and grabbed a box.

That was fine with me. We loaded the van. I'd just put in the last box when I heard Freddy say, "Hey, what a great surprise. There's Millard Thwaxton. Hey, Millard, how ya doing?"

"Hold it, " I said, grabbing Freddy by the arm. But it was too late. Millard was the meanest kid in town. And Freddy just got his attention.

I snatched at Freddy's hat, figuring he was too happy for our own good. It was stuck. I reached up and tried to get mine off. It was stuck, too, like a jar lid that's threaded on the wrong way. I felt it might come off if I worked on it, but I didn't have the time right now. Millard was rumbling our way.

"Keep talking," I said, running toward the back yard. I tore through the box of hats and searched for one that might save us. I passed on ANGER and CURIOSITY. The first would get us killed and the second didn't seem too promising, especially if it made Millard curious about the best way to cause us pain. I grabbed KINDNESS. That would do the trick, and make the world a better place.

I got back to the front just in time. Millard had reached Freddy and was playing that bully game where the other player always loses.

"What did you say to me?" he asked.

"I said hi," Freddy told him. "And I meant it. I'm awful happy to see you."

"That some kind of a joke?" Millard asked.

"Hey, have a hat," I said, tossing the cap to Millard.

He grabbed it and stared at me. I was afraid he'd just throw the hat away. Or throw me away. But he put it on.

He shoved it on his head. Backwards. With the brim facing away. I wondered what that would do to the kindness.

I found out right away.

"I'm gonna smash both of you," Millard said.

Freddy and I took off. At least I had lots of energy for running. And Freddy seemed pretty happy. For the moment. But when meanness caught up with him, it wouldn't be pretty.

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