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I continued shouting his name as I walked through our crooked gates and trudged down the hill toward town. Every few minutes I turned back and stared at our lair growing smaller and smaller until it eventually disappeared. I kept thinking, “This could be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.” But I kept trudging forward.
Eventually, the sounds of the birds faded and the sounds of a city emerged with dogs barking and cars whooshing by and various beeps of the crosswalks beckoning pedestrians forward.
Eventually, I made it into town, where cars whizzed by me and people chattered. A few pigeons eyed my crust.
The pigeons glared at me. All they could see was a giant lunch just standing before their eyes.
“Scram!” I shouted.
I felt a tap on my wood-fired back and let out an ear-splitting shriek. I spun around and stood face-to-face with a girl. She had curly black hair and thick black glasses that she wore over her dark brown eyes.
“How did you get it to look so real?” she said, tapping my crust.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Your outfit. How did you get it to look so real?”
“It is real,” I pointed out. “These are real sweatpants. They’re pure cotton. Or maybe a cotton blend. I really don’t know. Feel them. See, they’re absolutely real.”
“No, I mean your pizza costume.”
“Oh, it’s not a costume. I’m a real slice of pizza,” I pointed out. “See, smell my pizza pits,” I said lifting my arms and letting the cheesy aroma.
“You’re telling me that you’re a real pizza?”
“Always have been for all eleven years of my life,” I answered.
“I’m not buying it. If you’re a real pizza, why haven’t you gone bad and started growing mold? By now, you should have completely decomposed.”
“Wait, I’m five and a half feet tall. I’m alive and I’m talking to you right now and yet you’re having a hard time believing that I haven’t gotten moldy?”
“Good point,” she admitted. “But I just . . . this is way too weird.”
Weird. That word stung. I stared at the ground.
“I didn’t mean it that way. Weird is good. I’m weird. I wear it like a badge,” she said, pulling out a badge that had the word “WEIRD” in large black letters. “It’s my weird badge.”
“My name’s Iris,” she said, holding out her hand. I shook it reluctantly, terrified that she would squirm at my cheesy hand.
“Amazing,” she said. “Your hand really is made of cheese. It’s sticky but doesn’t leave a residue.”
“I’m Tony. Pizza Tony,” I said.
“Like the pizza place down the corner?” she asked.
“Yep, that’s what I’m named after.”
“It’s nice to meat you,” she said poking me on a pepperoni. “See, meat you. Get it? Because you’re partly made of it meat and . . .”
“I get it,” I mumbled. Was she making fun of me? I couldn’t tell.
“Look, I need to go. I’m trying to find my dad. He’s been gone all morning and I need to track him down.”
“I understand. I’m on a mission as well. See, I was eating breakfast and a giant robot crashed through the window. It was awful. I mean, the robot was awful. Not the breakfast. The breakfast was fantastic. It was a crepe filled with chocolate and whipped cream and basically it was a dessert for breakfast. It was breaksert. Anyway, I need to find the robot.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it’s attacking the city,” she answered.
“But why you?”
“Why not?” she shrugged her shoulders.
“Well, good luck finding that robot,” I said nervously.
She snapped her finger. “I have an idea. We can team up. I’m a detective of sorts.”
“Thanks, I appreciate the offer but I really think I should just talk to the police and . . .”
“You think they’ll listen to a slice of pizza?” she asked. “They’ll think it’s some kind of joke. They’ll think you’re in a costume. I guarantee.”
“I hadn’t considered it.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll help you find your dad first and then you can help me find the killer robot that’s on the loose and then we can be the ultimate crime fighting team. We’ll be famous. They’ll make action figures and comic books and . . .”
“Wait, what? Go back. Did you say that it’s a killer robot?”
“Well, it’s not really a killer robot. Net yet, at least. For now, all it’s done is shrunk a few people’s underwear. Oh, and it’s thrown ice at people. But it is getting more and more destructive. It seems to have a mind of its own. I’m guessing artificial intelligence fueling machine learning. In a few hours, it’ll be deadly.”
“It shrunk their underwear?”
My stomach fell. I didn’t want to believe it.
“Okay, I guess I can join you.”
Iris pulled a notebook out from her pocket and grabbed a pencil out from her hair. “Okay, Tony, let’s think this through. Where would you expect to see your dad?”
“At home,” I answered.
“Did he ever go anywhere? Any restaurants or stores or anything like that?”
“He almost never left our home and when he did, he always told me. I think someone kidnapped him.”
“Any broken windows or busted locks?”
“I didn’t see any, but I wasn’t really focused on that,” I admitted.
“Any other signs of forced entry?” She tapped the pencil on her notebook.
“I don’t really know what that means,” I admitted.
“No scuffs on the floor? Nothing around the door jam?”
“I didn’t really check,” I admitted. “But I called his cell phone but all I got was the sound of machines.”
“Okay, good, this is helpful. Now we’re onto something. Were they clanging together?”
“I don’t know.”
“Was it more of a metal hitting metal sound or more of an electronic sound? I mean, a machine can have all kinds of sounds. Just describe it for me.”
“It was more like a humming sound; almost like a refrigerator or a microwave or stove or something like that.”
“So you think he’s being held hostage in a kitchen of some sort?”
“Maybe. Yeah, maybe he’s in an industrial kitchen.”
She scribbled furiously on her notepad, but when I peaked over her shoulder, I realized she wasn’t taking notes at all. She was drawing a unicorn on roller skates. I mean, it was a nice unicorn and the detail on the roller skates was phenomenal but it had nothing to do with this case.
“Aren’t you supposed to be taking notes?” I asked.
“Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?” she raised an eyebrow. “Because I’m not telling you how to be a pizza, am I?”
“No, I just . . .” She stuck her finger in the air to silence me. “I don’t need you to pizza-splain how to solve mysteries. Got it?”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
“Let’s continue,” she cleared her throat. “Was anyone talking when he answered his phone?”
I shook my giant pizza head. “Nope. I didn’t hear any voices.”
“No voices at all?”
“Nope. Look, maybe we should go back to my lair and look for clues.”
“You live in a lair?” her eyes lit up.
“Well, kind-of. It used to be a lair. Now my dad just uses it to classify birds and build bird houses.”
“Ooh, that sounds exciting.”
I glared at her.
“What? I think that sounds fascinating.” She pulled out a Middletown Birder Club card. “See, I’m a total birdwatcher. When I’m not solving mysteries, I’m watching birds.”
We walked a few blocks south and headed toward the edge of Old Towne. People stared at me and pointed their fingers. I wanted to crawl under a table and hide.
“I really think we should look for clues at my place,” I said.
She shook her head. “We need to ask around. What does your dad typically wear?”
“A white lab coat,” I answered.
“Your dad is so cool,” she responded. “My dad wears golfing shirts even when he’s not golfing. I mean, who does that? Do baseball players walk around in their jerseys all the time?”
As we crossed Maple Street, a deafening explosion shook the ground. Smoke filled the air as customers streamed out of the shops screaming and running in the midst of the rubble. Iris grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the alley behind the hardware store. To my surprise, my cheesy arm stretched all the way out as I remained stuck on the sidewalk, unable to move.
“Clear the street! The robot is attacking!” a police officer shouted.
I couldn’t move. All around me, townspeople darted down the streets, grabbing their children and toward the town square. Not me. I remained firmly on the ground, my arm stretched all the way across the alley.
“Look at that pizza. He’s fearless. He’s refusing to move in the face of danger,” a man pointed out. The opposite was true. I was so scared I simply couldn’t move.
The man at the flower stand grabbed his phone.
“Call that bat-themed hero guy,” his wife demanded.
“I can’t. It’s the middle of the day. He won’t see the signal.”
“Call that spider boy dude, then,” she retorted.
“No can do,” he said. “The buildings are too short and too spread out. He’s not going to be able to help us.”
“How about that man made of steel? What’s his name? Superior Guy? Something man? I can’t remember.”
“Remember, he’s banned from the city for changing his clothes in front of a pay phone.”
“He had tights on. I’m not sure what the big deal was.”
Crash! A nearby building shook, showering the street with debris. I coughed on the dust and smoke.
The couple continued their conversation unphased. “I told them they shouldn’t have gotten rid of the payphone stalls,” his wife said, shaking her head. “Such an embarrassment. Where’s a hero supposed to change their clothes? A dirty restroom stall? Makes no sense. Remember how he ended up wearing his underwear on the outside of his tights? That’s what happens when you’re trying to change so fast and you don’t have a payphone stall. They need to bring those back.”
“His real problem was flying in without a flying license. You’ve got to follow regulations,” her husband said.
Right then, everything went dark. I stood still under the enormous robot shadow.
“Tony, we need to get out of here!” Iris yelled. She squeezed my hand but I couldn’t move. I was stuck.
Then I felt it. A rush of freezing air blasted toward the building. An icy spear shot past me, narrowly missing my face. Another ice spear flew toward me. I jumped and again dodged it.
“It’s a giant pizza, mommy!” a three-year-old boy yelled.
I looked over to him but his mom trapped behind a pile of debris.
“Mommy, it’s a giant pizza!”
Another icy bolt crashed down, this time narrowly missing the child.
“Someone do something!” I yelled. “There’s a kid here. Someone help!”
I looked over to the floral stand but the husband and wife had already left. The street was empty.
“Someone help! Please help! Anyone! Do something!”
It was clear that nobody was coming.
- What do we know about Iris so far? What can we explain about her as a character based on her actions? How can we describe her based on her words?
- How might the situation Tony is in right now change him as a character?
- What is your overall impression of the story so far?