Gross Potions – What’s Eating Grandma?

Was the pink-purple glitter shark that swallowed Grandma really a 12-year-old shapeshifting girl? It’ll take magic and a global odyssey for the Gross Family to solve the colorful mystery. Brothers, Ethan and Gavin along with their spirited Grandpa set out to prove Grandma’s discovered link between science and magic.  

Can they make magic without Mom finding out they’ve even left the country? They’ll either change the world or ruin their summer. The journey starts today and the future of humankind may depend on the bravery of picky eater and his foolhardy brother.

Check out the first five chapters of book one of Gross Potions.

GROSS POTIONS //  chapter one

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of fig-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

William Allingham

You can’t outswim a mermaid in sneakers Grandpa Gross mused thirty feet below the surface of Lake Champlain. His legs were heavy, and he spent too much oxygen trying to remove footwear.  A quick glance up and Grandpa could see his beloved guitar floating beside the hull of a big boat. This is a disaster he thought.

Somewhere in the murky mess below was his wife, Bridget. Only minutes before, she called out the name Lizzie and jumped off the ferry and into the Lake. She had her quirks, but this took the cake. From the deep black below there came muffled boom and flash of light. The underwater fireworks lasted only for a moment before returning to black.

Grandpa needed to resurface, but he observed a glitter in the depths.

  What are you up to Bridget? He hadn’t been submerged two minutes and desperately need air. Bridget was underwater closer to five, but she could. She knew a trick.

The glitter grew and was closing in. No chance it was Bridget. It wasn’t something to wait for. It was something to swim away from. Grandpa started towards surface but stopped. He was low on oxygen but full of curious. He turned to face it.

The thing was massive. It was as fast, as big and as bright as school bus rolling downhill without brakes. Grandpa had just one-second to recognize what it was — a pink, purple glitter shark with mouth open to swallow him whole. He closed his eyes just as his last bit of air bubbled from his mouth and he remembered nothing more.

GROSS POTIONS //  chapter two

When your hair turns gray in the eighth grade, you get a nickname. Thomas pushed for the silver fox, but friends and even teachers preferred Grandpa. He rebelled later joining the Air Force, becoming a rock star, riding motorcycles; anything to not be the old geezer in the rocking chair.

One evening nearly sixty years ago Thomas fell asleep with short brown hair and woke up with a head of ash. A forgotten dream left a mark that became his calling card. All dreams, remembered or not, leave a mark.

Grandpa went from being fish food to standing inside a museum dedicated to his own history.  Rather than skeletons of fierce dinosaurs, there were animals from his life. His pets stuffed liked big game trophies. Large Marge, a cow his family owned when he was a boy stood mounted on a pedestal. His pet dogs and cats featured behind glass display cases. On the wall behind each animal, a small plaque with just their names. Even Tibbles, much-loved guinea pig, earn a display.

A long hallway in front of him contained dozens of windowed dioramas. They are rooms with life-sized scenes of drama filled with rare taxidermic animals. Dioramas were once the lifeblood of any natural history museum, and in Thomas’ museum, they were the featured exhibit.

Instead of frozen moments of grazing gazelles and lurching lions, the life-sized dioramas contained models of important moments of Thomas’ own life.

The first room displayed the day he was born. He looked like a slimy rat in the nurse’s arms. Across the hall a diorama of a swollen-faced brown haired Thomas, moments after his secret pet rattlesnake turned on him. There were inanimate versions of his younger self at Christmas, baseball with friends, playing guitar at his high school talent show. He looked like a superstar in the recreation of his last solo flight, dressed in his Air Force uniform posing in the cockpit.

  Handsome fella. Grandpa muttered. The last day he’d have short hair.

The windowed memory of the night he met Bridget backstage during a music festival was emotional. There were window displays from his music career, including one of him on stage at the Grammys. He remembered that day for being introduced as the greatest session guitarist in the history of rock ’n’ rock. In other words, the best guitarist no one ever heard of.

  And now I was dead?

The lights shut down back in the lobby and the darkness moves slowly towards him. He steps quickly bypassing all the moments of his 30s, 40s, and 50s. The window lights of his early life darkened. The dream was ending. It was being eaten away by something that buzzed like insects leaving nothing but emptiness behind.

The diorama at the end of the hall is partially covered with a hand-painted sign reading Coming Soon. In the whitewashed room, there are statues of his grandson’s Ethan and Gavin ready for display. In a bucket next to the boys are broken pieces of his beloved guitar. Leaning against the wall partially obscured by a blanket looks to be the statue of a massive pink and purple dog.

Grandpa looks to his right to find a diorama of the present day including a partial recreation of the ferry. Bridget is seated on a bench looking out at the water. Thomas strums his guitar beside her. The water the craft floated on was black as oil. The hills of Vermont painted on a back wall. A glittering, colorful shark fin frozen at the surface.

Grandpa glances back down the hall. The dark nears. So, leading with his shoulder he crashes into the present day diorama; the glass shattering into a million tiny diamonds. He thought maybe the world would jolt to life, but no luck. The water is painted on. The shark fin is made of styrofoam and the boat was cardboard. The Bridget character sculpted from soft wax looks nothing like her up close. He stands on the water motionless; the buzz growing louder and the dark soon enveloping him.

Dreams aren’t shortcuts and Thomas’ memory of this fantasy would vanish like all the others. Its clues lost because he couldn’t save them.  He couldn’t save anything without help or magic.

GROSS POTIONS //  chapter three

Grandpa owned one suit. It was forty years old, royal blue and smelled like the 1970s. He and Grandma were fond of the 70s and because it was her funeral, he wore the blue suit.

The only thing standing between Grandpa, in his blue suit, trimmed Santa beard, and wild Einstein hair and the two hundred or so family and friends is a microphone. The outdoor memorial held  at Grandma’s favorite location; a lush field surrounded by forest and hills. The sky would go from a deep blue to soft pink in short order.

“I’ve abandoned any idea this will be your standard funeral speech. I’m supposed to be a rock star right? I’m supposed to make poor choices. You know what they call a speech at a funeral?” Grandpa asks his grandsons sitting uncomfortably in the first row. A blank stare and a half shrug are all Grandpa gets. “It’s called a eulogy. Means truth in Greek. I’m no good at speeches but can spin a yarn. So we’ll go with that. I got a tale sure to sound wild and loose with the facts, but it happened. It’s truth and that kids, is what makes it a eulogy.”

“Your Grandmother was a biologist and the smartest person you’ll ever know. Her job was to discover foods to introduce to Americans. On one mission, Bridget and her team were in very southern South America, searching for a somewhat green blueberry that grew in this remote region. And when the team found it, they were disappointed to learn it tasted like burnt turkey and no one wants fruit to taste like an overcooked bird.

On their last evening in Ushuaia, which happens to be the southernmost city in the world, she called her boss back in Boston, with a big ask. Bridget wanted his permission to travel to Antartica, which was but a few hours away.”

Sitting next to the boys, their Mom April shakes her head. April is the mother to Ethan and Gavin and knows this story’s path.

“She wanted to go real bad. And why you ask? Because she thought magic was an actual thing and she could prove it scientifically.”

Really dad? Mom mumbles.

“Louis, her boss told her to forget the plan and come home. Can’t blame him, but if she listened to him, this story would have been about a blueberry, but it’s not.

She tracked down a pilot; a young fella named Tino. This guy was too afraid to say no to your Grandma, even if it meant flying four hours, landing on a strip of ice in the dark of night only to be back before anyone misses them. Bridget’s New York accent could be real persuasive as I’m sure many of you know.”

So why risk life and limb for a hunch? I’m not a biologist, but biologists say a rose grows on every continent except Antartica. Not true says Bridget.  She believed there was an Antarctic Rose because her research proved it.”

She recruited a colleague to join her and Tino flew the duo to Antarctica. This beastly plane did everything to keep the crew alive and it was paint-can-shaker of a ride. Grandma’s colleague passed out. Turns out, Tino was just a bus driver who misunderstood your Grandma’s broken Spanish.

Tino landed the tin can two miles from the sleeping volcano Bridget reckoned was home of this rose. Predictably, Antartica was freezing cold and Bridget was without gloves, hat or a proper jacket, so she ran.

Frostbite nearly took her nose. Ever seen what frostbite does to a face? It’s gnarly, but fortunately it didn’t take her long to find what she was searching for, a narrow opening at the base of the mountain. Geothermal warmth hurled from the cave like an open oven. She followed a long tunnel to the source of the heat, this massive chamber with a tall ceiling and a gigantic hot pool.

The cavern glowed bright blue from the water in the pool. Even more mysterious than self-illuminating water were the animals living there; foxes, turtles, frogs and birds. On the far side was a large dead tree. Next to the tree, another biological impossibility, a blooming rose bush.

Bridget didn’t have time to mingle, she ran to the bush. Its flowers were as white as the Antarctic snow. She picked a single petal from the flower and put it into a jar. Grandma left the bewildered animals and dashed out of the secret room. Imagine you’re just hanging out for decades in your cozy cave then suddenly some two-legged creature with clothes invades your space, steals something and takes off. Batty right?

Grandma was stoked. Think that’s the word. This discovery was a big darn deal. She sprinted to the plane never once looking back. But when she returned, Tino, the bus driving pilot, pointed out she had been followed. She turned around to see a small, white fox with a long bushy tail standing nervously behind her. Bridget scooped up her new friend and climbed aboard the plane.

By all accounts, takeoff was a miracle. According to Bridget, the plane dipped a wing or two into the icy Atlantic like a chicken wing into blue cheese. The fox snuggled on your Grandma’s lap warming her frosty hands during the trip north to South America.

The journey back to New England was long but victorious. She was already thinking next steps. So, back in Beantown when Louis called her to his office, she set the petal down on his desk like a trophy.

This guy had the discovery of a lifetime sitting right in front of him, but he canned her for not listening. She was never asked back and she never returned. The flower petal in the jar remained on his desk, but she no longer needed it. Did she prove magic was real? She hated that word. She called it super science and heck yeah it’s real.”

Grandpa ends the story. There is a smatter of polite confused applause. Grandpa removes his reading glasses and lifts his eyes from his notes. His faint smile quickly transformed into open-mouthed surprise. Something captures his attention. He raises the microphone to his mouth and asks.“What are you doing here?”

The two hundred guests in the audience swivel in their seats. Standing in the aisle at the last row is a young girl. She’s no older than twelve with shoulder length brown hair wearing a bright shimmering dress standing under a fiery pink and purple sky. The girl says nothing, but tears stream down her face.

“What happened, Lizzie?” Grandpa says. The cold tone of his voice surprises April and the boys. “Why did you take her from us?”

The girl spins and runs barefoot to the woods. Grandpa drops the microphone and its feedback creates an ear piercing squeal.  Grandpa walks down the aisle towards the woods.

“You see her right? A little help eh?” Grandpa pleads as he moves up the aisle. No one knows what to do. Ethan follows Grandpa. Gavin tries, but Mom grabs his arm. A few friends trail  Ethan and Grandpa into the woods to find a killer.

GROSS POTIONS //  chapter four

Taking his search deep into the woods Grandpa disappears from view. Worried about ticks, the family and friends who followed have given up, but they forgot the six-year-old. Ticks did not concern Ethan and he wasn’t alone for long.

“Wanna see a trick?” the girl in the colorful dress calls out. Ethan could hear her but couldn’t find her until she clues him in. “Up here.”

The girl was sitting on a tree branch fifty feet off the ground.  Her eyes were red and watery. She’d been crying.

“How’d you get up there?” Ethan asks.

“Wait, do you want to see a trick?” The girl repeats.

“Okay,” Ethan mumbles.

The girl stands up on the branch pausing briefly before leaping off like a high diver at the Olympics. Before her body can hit the ground, it transforms into a pink and purple osprey. She flies one loop around Ethan before settling on some leaves and grass next to him. The girl quickly transforms again into a massive pink, purple gorilla. Nervous, Ethan takes a step back, but the gorilla scoops him off the ground and carries him up the tree. The tree bends wildly under the gorilla’s weight until the animal places Ethan on a tree branch close to the top.

Ethan is too frightened to notice the gorilla leave. A few moments later the girl climbs to a nearby branch. Her dress is now backward, but Ethan doesn’t see this detail. He’s in survival mode; making as little movement as possible and hugging the heck out of the tree trunk.

“You’re Ethan right?” she says.

Ethan can only nod.

“I knew it. I was watching you. I’m Lizzie,” she says. She reaches out her hand to shake, but Ethan is unwilling to give up his grip. Lizzie shakes his pinky finger. “I didn’t kill your Grandma if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Okay,” Ethan says unsure if the word actually left his mouth. He wasn’t thinking about anything except maying falling.

“I loved her,” Lizzie protests. She points to her face. “Can’t you see how sad I am?”

“How do you turn into animals?“ Ethan mumbles.

Lizzie smiles, “I stole some magic. Best thing I ever did. Cause now I’m free.”

Someone at ground level calls for Ethan. It’s Mom. He looks down and sees her.

“Mom!” Ethan yells.

Mom looks skyward and almost falls to her knees in surprise. “Oh my…How did you get up there Ethan?”

“Lizzie carried me,” Ethan says pointing to where Lizzie was but is no longer.

“I don’t understand. Don’t do anything. I’ll get help.” Mom orders Ethan then screams. “Somebody help!”

Ethan continues to hug the tree trunk.  Looking a little further up he notices a brightly colored ant crawing up the bark.

It took an hour, a bunch of firefighters and a tree cutting company to get Ethan down. The gaggle of folk at the base applauds when his feet finally hit the ground.  Gavin hugs him, but Ethan is too sore to hug back.

Gavin had questions. Grandpa had questions. Mom blocked them all and ignored her own hoping it will all go away. And it did, but only for a little while.

GROSS POTIONS //  chapter five

TWO YEARS LATER   

Two years passed since Grandma drowned, was eaten or disappeared and all three are still viable options. Ethan has taken the path of science, ignoring sports and video games. It’s been so long since Lizzie gathered him for a tree-top conversation, the memory seems foreign. While Grandpa and his motorcycle have two years worth of miles to remote parts of North America searching for answers in folklore. He ignored his age and pushed on but his body needs more repairs than his bike. The path for each nears an end, no closer to magic or answers until an ordinary day forever changes them.

Mom comes in from the garden, her hands caked with dirt and confident the last frost of the season has passed. She planted her Gilfeather turnips, hoping they’d be prizewinners again this year. As she washes her hands, she realizes the house is too quiet. “What are those boys up to?” she wondered aloud.

A swift answer came in the form of a bang, followed by a noisy exchange of blame between her sons. She dried her hands and found Ethan, now ten, and Gavin, eight, standing at the midpoint of the stairs leading to the bedroom level. Between them sits a large metal desk they apparently could no longer manage to carry.

“Hey Mom,” Ethan says calmly as possible under the strain of the heavy desk. The only thing saving Ethan from being crushed is Gavin, whose face is a shade of red he’s never worn before.

Seeing her boys struggle, Mom leaps into action to save the day. First, releasing Ethan of the heavy burden by turning the desk on its side so it can rest while they regroup.

“I’m impressed you made it this far, but the desk needs to go back to the basement,” Mom says. “This is Grandpa’s, and you need to get his permission.”

“But you said it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission,” Ethan answers.

“It’s easiest to leave it where it was,” says Mom

“Where it’s collecting dust,” Ethan protests.

Mom inspects the desk. She feels its surface and then pulls her hand away slowly.

“This desk has bad mojo. Let the dust have it,” Mom explains with no hint of a smile.

“Mojo? What’s bad mojo?” Gavin laughs.

“Means the desk is cursed,” Mom replies. “Put your hand on it. How does it feel?”

The boys do as instructed. They answer in unison, “Ice cold.”

“And that’s how it always is, even on hot days like today,” Mom says. “It’s cursed.”

“Whadya mean?” Ethan pushes.

“According to Grandpa this desk stopped a torpedo and survived a train derailment,” Mom says with a shrug. “That’s the legend at least.”

“It was super light when we started,” Gavin adds. “But now it’s super heavy. Weird right?”

“That’s not because it’s cursed. Maybe if you ate more veggies you’d have more stamina,” Mom says.

“Hey, I eat my veggies,” Gavin argues. “Ethan’s the picky one.”

“Why the rush?” Mom asks ignoring Gavin. “What happened to your old desk, Ethan?”

“I was doing an experiment,” Ethan begins. “For the science fair.”

“He used dry ice!” Gavin interrupts.

“Where did you get dry ice?” Mom asks.

“I made it,” Ethan says with uncertain pride. “And it broke the desk.”

“It’s not like we wanted to break it,” Gavin says. “Science broke it.”

“How do you even make dry ice?” She asks then changes her mind. “Forget it. I don’t want to know. Just don’t make more, okay?”

“Can we just bring the desk to my room?” Ethan appeals. “I’ll make sure to get Grandpa’s permission and forgiveness.”

Mom wants to say no but doesn’t. “Alright. Alright. Heave ho boys.”

She directs them to the other side of the desk. The three work in tandem to lift it one step at a time, resting momentarily on each stair. In less than two minutes the desk arrives at its destination in Ethan’s room.

“It does look good in here, Ethan. May it provide you with much success and ignore all the bad mojo business,” she says. “Now, I need to order a pizza.”

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