Title: The Haunted Purse
Author: Kimberly Baer
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
That old denim purse Libby Dawson bought at the thrift store isn’t your run-of-the-mill teenage tote. It’s a bag of secrets, imbued with supernatural powers. Strange items keep turning up inside, clues to a decades-old mystery only Libby can solve.
Filled with apprehension and yet intrigued by the mounting pile of evidence, Libby digs for the truth. And eventually finds it. But the story of the purse is darker than she imagined—and its next horrific chapter is going to be all about her.
“Your purse ate your homework,” Ms. Eckhart said dryly. “Is that what you’re telling me, Libby? I must say, that’s a new one.”
I was at Ms. Eckhart’s desk, standing close enough that a hushed, private conversation should have been possible. Yet the conversation we were having was anything but hushed, at least Ms. Eckhart’s end of it. Of course, that was Ms. Eckhart: show-offy, look-at-me-ish. She wanted the class to hear when she said something clever or sarcastic, even if it was at the expense of a student.
Physics class hadn’t officially started, but my classmates were in their seats, facing forward, unabashedly eavesdropping.
“I don’t know what happened to it,” I mumbled. I pivoted slightly, turning my back on my classmates. “This morning, right after breakfast, I zipped it in here—” I yanked open the middle compartment of my big denim purse. “—and I didn’t unzip till I got to class. My homework just—disappeared!”
“Disappeared!” Ms. Eckhart echoed. “Like magic, huh? Well, hand it in tomorrow. But I’m going to have to dock you one letter grade.”
“What? That’s not fair! Let me look again. It’s got to be here,” I said desperately.
I upended my purse, and a mini avalanche cascaded onto Ms. Eckhart’s desk: my wallet, a calculator, a hairbrush, a notepad, three pens, two pencils, my most recent grocery list, the key to my apartment, and a scattered rainbow of hair scrunchies.
Everything but my physics report.
Ms. Eckhart stared in mild disgust at the pile of purse-debris cluttering her desk. “Libby, please gather up your belongings and take your seat.”
“Now,” she said crisply, handing me my wallet. “We have a lot to cover today.”
I used my arm to herd my pile of stuff back into my purse and slunk to my desk, carefully avoiding eye contact with my classmates.
I didn’t hear one word of the physics lecture. It wasn’t because I was thinking about the missing report, though there was lots to think about there. No, I was thinking about Ms. Eckhart and what had just happened between us. I knew I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it did.
Ms. Eckhart was a newish teacher, even younger than my mother. Unlike my mother, though, she couldn’t be called pretty. Not with that stunted forehead, those big teeth. Prominent brow and deep-set eyes. Ms. Eckhart had one of those faces that made you think, yeah, we really did evolve from apes.
Still, she did her best with the package she’d been given. Her artificially red hair was always stylishly tousled, her face glowed beneath perfect makeup, and she dressed like a slightly more sophisticated version of the most popular tenth-grade girls.
Which was probably why she fit in so well with them.
I didn’t know much about Ms. Eckhart’s past, but my guess was she’d been less than popular in high school and was trying to make up for that now by hanging with the cool kids. The weird thing was, today’s cool kids were a bunch of fifteen-year-olds! But nobody seemed to mind. The popular people clustered around Ms. Eckhart’s desk every morning, chatting and laughing like she was one of them.
There was a social hierarchy in Ms. Eckhart’s classroom, and every student knew their place. I wasn’t in the cool crowd, but I was still on Ms. Eckhart’s favored list as one of the top students. As a teacher, Ms. Eckhart probably felt she had to acknowledge academic ability. But generally, she looked down on the not-so-popular kids. The meek, quiet kids. The poor kids, like me.
I was pretty sure I’d just lost my spot on the favorites list. All I’d ever had going for me was my status as a first-rate student. I’d just blown it by acting like a deadbeat.
A brick of despair settled in my chest. There would be no more cheery greetings: “Hey, Libby! How was your weekend?” No more cross-eyed smiley faces on my A-plus tests. No more getting to wear Ms. Eckhart’s very own cardigan sweater when she saw me shivering in a threadbare tee shirt on a forty-degree morning.
The bell rang, signaling the end of class.
I shoved my physics book into the middle compartment of my purse. There was a crunch as the book hit something papery. Baffled, I withdrew the book and peered into the gaping mouth of my purse. There was my physics report. Two pages folded in half, slightly crumpled from the assault by my physics book.
The classroom emptied out around me. I caught Ms. Eckhart peeking at me; she hastily went back to writing in a notebook. I knew she was hoping I’d leave without speaking to her.
I approached her desk. She didn’t look up until I cleared my throat.
The fact that she didn’t call me Libby said a lot.
I thrust the report at her. “I found it. My report. It was in my purse after all.”
“Oh. Well.” She took the report from me. Her eyes moved back and forth like she was reading it, but I think she was just trying to decide what to do.
“Technically it’s still late,” she said.
“Why couldn’t you find it earlier?” she asked, as though this mattered.
I shrugged, my lips pressed tight. She moved her eyes back to the report, like she couldn’t stand the sight of me. “Okay,” she said. “I won’t lower your grade this time.”
“But this can’t happen again.”
I needed to get to algebra class, but I stayed where I was. Ms. Eckhart shifted in her chair and said in a tight voice, “Was there something else?”
Yes, I wanted to say. Something weird is going on with my purse. Something supernatural, and I don’t know what to do about it. Can you tell me what to do?
But because we weren’t friends anymore, I said, “No. There’s nothing else.”
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Kimberly Baer is an author and professional editor who was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a town marginally famous for having endured three major floods—and she lived there during one of them. She currently lives in Virginia. Kim has had her nose in a book practically since birth, and she decided early on that she wanted to be on the giving end of the reading experience as well as the receiving end. Her first story, written at age six, was about a baby chick that hatched out of a little girl’s Easter egg after somehow surviving the hard-boiling process. Her recent focus has been on writing middle-grade and young adult fiction.