Norman was always up before anyone else, so he was raring to go. But Michael was a slow starter in the morning. He slid out of bed and tripped over a dirty sock left on the rug. Stanley had eaten only three of the four that Michael had put out last night for his dinner. Michael had discovered by experimenting that when the plants got more sunlight, they ate fewer socks in the middle of the night. He had taken Stanley out in the back yard for a while yesterday.
He asked Norman, "How many clean socks did Fluffy eat last night?"
"Four," said Norman. "Why didn't Stanley eat all of his? You're not going to leave that smelly sock there all day, are you? It'll stink up the whole room!"
Michael sealed the leftover sock in a plastic bag to keep it yummy for Stanley to eat later. He would rather put out too many socks than not enough. If the plants didn't get enough to eat, there was no telling what they would do. They were fastened to skateboards so they could be moved easily, but they had learned to pull themselves around with their vines. Once they had gone after orange juice in the refrigerator and made a giant mess.
As Michael brushed his teeth, he wished he could go back to bed. He had been up late reading with a flash light under the covers because he couldn't wait to find out what happened next in The Ghost of Creep Castle. He yawned and went down the hall to the kitchen.
At the table he rested his head on one hand and shoveled cereal into his mouth with the other.
Mom said, "Your chin's almost in your cereal bowl. Do you feel all right?"
"I'm just sleepy," he mumbled with his mouth full. When he finished eating, he folded his arms on the table and put his headdown.
"Wake me up when it's time to go to school," he said. Dad said, "It's important to get enough sleep. If you're this tired, obviously you didn't. Maybe you'd better-start going to bed half an hour earlier."
"No!" protested Michael, sitting up straight.
Mom looked at him suspiciously. "Were you reading with your flashlight under the covers again?"
"Uh, sort of. Just a little while."
"Tonight when you go to bed," said Mom, "I want you to hand over your flashlight."
"Yes," she said. "No arguing. What are you doing in school today?"
"Owl pellets," said Michael. "For science we're picking them apart to find bones of little animals the owls ate."
Norman stopped drinking his orange juice. "Oooh, yuck!" he exclaimed.
Mom made a face and asked, "Are those pellets what I think they are?"
Michael explained, "No. Mrs. Black said the owls cough them up."
"Owl vomit," said Norman. "Double yuck."
"Not exactly," said Michael. "It's the parts they don't digest, with fur and feathers. Like hair balls that cats hawk up."
Dad said, "Do you have to tell us about this while we're eating?"
Michael shrugged and grinned. "Mom asked."
"Aren't the pellets germy?" asked Mom. "Are you going to wear gloves?"
"No," said Michael. "Mrs. Black said the company that sells them to schools fixes them to be non-germy for picking through with bare fingers."
"Triple yuck," said Norman.
Mom said, "Wash your hands afterward anyway. Re member, after school we're taking Stanley and Fluffy to a plant place to get bigger pots and new soil. Don't dawdle on the way home."
Dad asked her, "Are you sure you don't want to wait till Saturday when I can go along to help?"
"The plantsare easy to roll on their skateboards," she replied. "The boys and I can handle it. The place is only about a mile from here. It'll be a nice walk."
She added, "On Saturday, we could take a day-trip somewhere. I wonder if the new rain forest exhibit at the Elmville Zoo is open yet."
"I don't think so," said Dad. "There would have been something about it in the newspaper and on TV. But it seems like it should be open soon." He picked up the newspaper. "Hmmm. Some vandalism was discovered at the park yesterday. Spray paint. Broken benches. What kind of idiots do things like that?"
"Mean ones," said Norman.
"Isn't there any good news?" asked Mom.
Dad turned the page. "Here's some plant news. All the local plant clubs are getting together to hold an auction sale. They're raising money to create gardens for children in the park."
'Good idea," said Mom. "What are they selling?"
"Rare plants donated by club members and professional growers," Dad read. "And our good neighbor, Barbara Smith, is one of the chairmen."
"Can we go?" asked Michael. "It'd be cool to see rare plants."
Dad replied, "We already have two rare ones that you see all the time."
Mom suggested, "We could donate them to the sale."
The boys shouted, "No!"
"Just kidding," she said. "We won't go back on our deal to keep them."
Norman carried his cereal bowl, juice glass, and spoon to the sink. He neatly rinsed and stacked them. He was all ready for school, clothes looking nice, hair combed. His backpack sat by the kitchen door with everything he needed already in it.
Michael shoved his dishes into the sink with the bowl atop the glass. They tipped over with a clatter.
As Norman went out the backdoor to get his bike, he was singing "Oh Susanna," hitting wrong notes as usual. He loved to sing. He was always cheerful and organized in the morning. Michael wondered if Norman did it on purpose to drive him crazy. It was hard to live with someone who kept acting so perfect.
Mom reminded Michael, "Tuck in the other side of your shirt. Tie your shoelaces. And comb your hair. Why do I have to keep telling you these things every morning?
Michael sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. While he tied his shoes, he tried to remember where he had put his homework. After a frantic search, it turned out to be in his backpack. He grabbed his jacket and opened the back door to go get his bike from the garage. Mom handed him his milk money and lunch, which he had left on the sink.
"Your shirt's still hanging out," called Mom. "Tuck it in. Have a good day!"
The ride to school in the cold fresh air made Michael feel wide awake. When he went around to the back of the building, where the bike racks were, he saw a police car. The custodian, Mr. Jones, was talking to two officers. Michael recognized one. He was known as Officer Tim to everyone at Edison Elementary. He often visited classrooms to talk to kids about how to stay out of trouble. Michael and Norman had gotten to know him well when they had been mixed up in a mystery. As Michael got closer, he saw why the police were there.
The plant which Michael grows from mail-order seeds develops an appetite for dirty socks. Sloppy Michael and his neatnik brother convince their parents to let them keep the voracious greenery.
Nancy McArthur lives in Berea, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. She teaches journalism part-time at Baldwin-Wallace College. She has a lot of plants, but none of them has eaten anything -- so far. The Plant That Ate Dirty Socksis the first book about Michael, Norman, Stanley, and Fluffy.