Give Me Your Soul and I’ll Give You a Pepperoni

I was nervous about third grade (mostly because of fractions), but Miss Hanover was pretty great. She taught us lots of stuff that wasn’t fractions, like English and drawing.

We even sang a song together every morning. It was called the “Wake Up! Wake Up!” song and it was real easy. I really liked school, and I liked learning things.

And then I met the new girl. Sara.

Sara was shorter than me, but she had bigger eyes. Dark eyes. She always smiled, and you could see her smile in those big, dark eyes. Right away, I didn’t like her.

She didn’t talk a lot, not on that first day, but I saw her eat lunch with Tori and Anthony, the twins. They both seemed to like her a lot. They seemed to trust her. She even peeled off the pepperonis from her pizza and gave them to Anthony.

He was kinda fat.

When we did arts and crafts that afternoon, I traded places with Jennifer B. so I could sit next to Anthony. I wanted to talk to him.

“Hey,” I said. We were both drawing elephants. He was concentrating on his elephant, so he didn’t even hear me. “Hey!” I said again.

He smiled, and his breath smelled like pizza.

“You ate lunch with the new girl, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “Sara. She was real nice. She even sold me her pepperoni.”


“Yeah. She’s real funny. I asked if I could have them, but she said she’d only give them to me if I gave her my soul.”

“Your soul,” I said.

“Yeah. She’s real funny.”

I didn’t say anything else to Anthony. He was too busy with his elephant, and I was too busy thinking about stuff.

Anthony sold his soul.

I knew about souls because of Nana Weiss. She was really religious. Before she died, she went to church three times a week and whenever anything bad happened, she mumbled religious words and did these hand gestures over her chest.

She talked about souls a lot. And salvation. And a bunch of other scary things. Souls were important, and if you didn’t have a soul, you’d go to the Devil.

Anthony probably didn’t understand what he did, buying pepperonis and stuff. He probably didn’t realize that he was tricked.

But I didn’t say anything. Not then. I just watched him as he finished his elephant. It was a happy elephant. It was orange.


At dinner that night, I asked Dad about souls. It was just the two of us, eating beef noodles and mashed potatoes. Mama was always better at cooking. I missed her a lot.

Dad asked me about my day, about any new songs that I learned. He liked when I talked about singing stuff. I didn’t answer him, though. Instead, I asked, “Dad, what’s a soul?”

He looked at me real serious and fake-smiled. I hated when he fake-smiled. He said, “Rosie, is this about Mama?”

But it wasn’t about Mama. It was about Sara, and Anthony, and pepperonis. “No,” I said. “I just wanna know.”

“A soul is like a spirit,” he said. “It’s what goes up to heaven after you die.”

“Does everyone have a soul?” I asked.


“Can you lose your soul?”

“Honey, finish your noodles.”

If Mama was still alive, she wouldn’t fake-smile at me. She’d tell me everything I needed to know. Dad made me angry sometimes.


The next day at school, I saw that Sara was making a lot of friends. She talked a lot, too. At recess, she played tetherball with Wendy and Evan, who were the two coolest kids in our grade. Everyone thought she was real fun.

I checked out the jump rope from Miss Hanover, but no one wanted to play with me. Not even Billy M., and he was the poor kid.

In the afternoon, we learned about dinosaurs. Miss Hanover drew a T. rex on the board, and it was real neat. It had little arms and big teeth. She talked about how dinosaurs lived a long, long time ago, before there were even people.

I liked learning about dinosaurs, until Sara raised her hand and asked, “Why did all the dinosaurs die?”

Miss Hanover answered, “No one really knows. But it’s good that they did, because otherwise there’d be big, scary T. rexes running around the city.”

Sara still didn’t lower her hand. She said, “But if they all died mysteriously, isn’t it possible that the same thing could happen to people?”

For the first time ever, Miss Hanover didn’t have an answer. She fake-smiled, just like Dad. And a lot of the other kids whispered to each other.

After that, Sara was the most popular girl in class. From then on, she was the girl who knew things that Miss Hanover didn’t. She was the girl with secret ideas.


The next day, Sara sat on the monkey bars while a whole line of kids waited to talk with her. They looked so excited, like they were waiting for Santa’s lap. I pushed my way though them.

“Sara,” I said. “My name’s Rosie. I need to talk to you.”

I think she could tell from my expression that I wasn’t one of the other kids. I wasn’t going to ask for a pint of ice cream or something.

She snapped her fingers once—loudly—and told the other kids to come back during the next recess. Then she gestured for me to sit next to her. I did.

I was a little scared.

Sara’s eyes were so dark, I could see my face reflected in their blackness. Other than that, she looked real normal. Her t-shirt had Spongebob on it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” She used this fake, baby doll voice. Her dark eyes shined in the sun.

“I mean, I know you’re buying souls. And I just want to find out why.”

She giggled. She sounded like a horror movie. “Me? Buying souls?”

“If you don’t want to admit it, I could just go ask Anthony. Or Rick. Or any of your other customers.”

Sara stopped giggling. With the tip of her foot, she drew a line in the dirt, a line that separated us. “I’m just playing a game. That’s all. Just a game.”

But I knew it was more than a game.

“Do you need anything?” she asked. “A new bicycle, perhaps? How about a new mom?”

I didn’t answer her, because I didn’t trust the words that would come out of my mouth. Sara was dangerous. She could twist my words, and if I said the wrong thing… then she’d have me.

I walked away. I had to.

As I left, I heard Sara shout out to Evan, “Hey. Come here a second. I have an offer for you.”

That was when I was absolutely, 100% certain. Sara was the Devil. She was everything that Nana Weiss had warned me about. She was going to take everyone’s souls, unless I did something to stop her.

I ate lunch with Billy M., who was really poor and sometimes had dirty shirts. He always got in a lot of accidents, but never at school. Always on the weekend. I think his dad was mean to him.

At lunchtime, I told Billy M. everything about Sara, but he didn’t believe me. He said there was no place in the world for flights of fancy, but I didn’t know what that meant. I think he copied those words from somewhere.


Two days passed. During those two days, I watched as one-by-one, the other kids sold their souls to Sara. I tried to warn people, but I couldn’t be too obvious about it. So I said little things—tiny little things—about Sara lying, about unfair deals, about a bunch of stuff. But no one understood me.

Finally, at recess, Wendy came up to me and told me to stop saying mean things about Sara. Wendy was never my friend, but she always seemed nice to me. She was smart, too. I couldn’t believe that she would blindly trust Sara like that.

“You don’t understand,” I told her. “Sara is tricking us. She’s stealing our souls, and giving us stupid little things like—”

“My parents are back together,” Wendy said.


“My parents were getting a divorce, and now they’re not. Sara did that. It wasn’t a trick.”

Behind me, a group of kids burst into screams and applause. I spun around and saw Evan jump through the air and dunk a basketball. He jumped so high, it looked wrong. Unnatural.

“Sara did that, too,” Wendy whispered. “Evan asked to be better at sports, and now…”

Evan let go of the hoop and landed back on the ground. Everyone clapped.

“That’s cool,” I said, “but it’s still not right. Sara is using us.”

“I can’t talk to you right now,” Wendy said, and she walked away.

I was helpless. I thought I could convince people through logic and reason, but no one would listen. Everyone was blinded by slam dunks and free bicycles. Whatever game this was, Sara was winning.

I saw Miss Hanover standing at the edge of the basketball court. She was clapping like the rest of them. She was an adult. She was the smartest adult I knew. She’d understand.

“Miss Hanover?”

It was weird. It was like she pretended not to see me.

“Miss Hanover,” I said again. “Can we talk?”


“There’s something wrong with Sara,” I said. It wasn’t the best way to start my explanation, but it would have to do. Once Miss Hanover hears me out…

“Young lady!” she said.

“Just give me a second. I’ll explain everything.”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” she said. Her eyebrows looked mad.

“But why?” I asked.

Miss Hanover was very serious. Her mouth got small. She said, “I think you’re being a little mean to the new girl. It’s okay to feel jealous sometimes, but—”

“No, I’m not…” But there was nothing I could say. Miss Hanover didn’t believe me, she would never believe me, and arguing would only make things worse.

The crowd once again burst into applause. I guess Evan did something cool.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Don’t apologize to me,” Miss Hanover said. She nodded her head toward the edge of the playground. I turned and saw Sara dangling from the monkey bars. Alone. I guess she told the other kids to go and watch Evan play. Her black hair hid most of her face.

“You want me to…”

“Go over there,” Miss Hanover said. “Talk to her. She could use a friend.”

Oh God.

I did not want to talk to Sara. She was dangerous, tricky. If I said the wrong thing…

“Go,” Miss Hanover urged. I never thought her voice sounded mean before.

I trudged across the playground. I wanted to turn back, to look once more at Miss Hanover. That way, if I was murdered, she’d always have that image of my face in her brain, and she could think about my face and feel guilty. I didn’t look back, though. I needed to be strong.

The monkey bars shined in the sun.

“Why, hello there. It’s so nice to see you, Rosie.” She pretended like I was an old friend, or a cousin she hadn’t seen in a long time. I almost expected a hug.


She jumped off the monkey bars perfectly. Like an acrobat. Her hair was wild. “I wanted to let you know,” she said, “that my game is going extremely well. I think I’m winning.”

“Your game…”

“My game,” she said. “Things have been easier than I thought.”

My hands balled into fists. I’d never fought anyone before—not even my older cousin Gretchen when she flicked my nose and ran away. But right then, I wanted to hit her. I wanted to…


I didn’t know what I wanted. I just wanted to do something.

“I’m going to stop you,” I said.

“Oh, Rosie,” she said, and her voice was cold. “I hope you know this is all pretend. This game. None of it’s real.”

And she giggled. She waited for me to argue, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. So she added, “Come on. Hang upside-down with me. It’ll make you feel woozy.”

Miss Hanover was watching, so I did. I thought about falling and breaking my neck and blaming it on Sara, but that would’ve been difficult.


That night, I knew I had to talk to my dad. It didn’t matter if it was one of his sad nights. It didn’t matter if he tried not to listen. I would force him to hear me. And then he’d give me all the answers I needed. And then everything would be okay and Sara would be gone forever.

So before dinner, I waited for him in the living room.

He saw my serious face. “What’s wrong, honey?”

“Dad,” I said. “I need you to tell me about souls again.” It wasn’t a question.

He breathed real loud, like he was expecting me to ask that question. Then he sat down on the couch and patted his knee. I sat down on his knee.

“Honey,” he said, “your mama is in a better place. She was really sick. You saw how sick she was. And now, she’s up in Heaven with Nana Weiss and Comet.”

“Dad,” I said again. “I need you to tell me about souls.”

“You know what souls are, Rosie.”

“Yeah, but can you sell your soul?”

He flinched. He looked like that time bird poop dropped onto his cheek. “I…”

“Dad, I know about the Devil. Nana Weiss told me all about him. I just wanna know, can you sell your soul?”

“Okay,” he said. “Listen. Some people believe that the Devil is a real person walking around the Earth. But I don’t. I think…”

“But if he is… a real person, what would he do?”

Dad breathed again. I think I kept surprising him. “If the Devil were real… some people believe that he’d trick people into selling their souls. He’d offer them little things, stupid things, in exchange for their souls. And the people would be happy, at least for a little while. But that kind of happiness would fade really quickly, and then they’d be damned.”

I wasn’t sure what damned was, but I remember hearing it before. I thought it was a bad word.

“Is that the only way to lose your soul?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said. “If people do bad things, really bad things like murder and violence, then they’d lose their souls.”

“So if the Devil tricked you into doing something bad, then he wouldn’t need to buy your soul? He’d already have it?”

“Rosie, I think that’s enough questions for tonight.” He pointed upstairs to my bedroom. Sleep time.

But I still had one question left. The most important question. I needed to know how to stop the Devil.

“Please, Dad. Just…”

“Upstairs,” he said.

I loved Daddy so much, but sometimes he couldn’t understand things. Not like Mama could.

If I was gonna stop Sara, I’d have to do it without his help.


The next day at school, I followed Sara around. I saw her talking with Jessica at recess. Then with Ben. Then with Billy M. I wasn’t sure, but I thought those were the last three kids who still had their souls.

Except me. I would never sell my soul.

Then, when school was over, I didn’t get on the bus. Instead, I followed Sara as she walked home. When she got to the street, she turned left, which was where the poor houses were. I stayed far enough away, so she wouldn’t see me.

When she got to the first row of houses, she kept walking. Then she passed the next row. And the next. Pretty soon, there were no houses left. Just empty fields.

And the cemetery.

Sara walked right into the cemetery. I realized with a gulp that this was her home.

I hadn’t been there since Mama’s funeral, but everything looked exactly the same. The gate was an Addams Family gate, and the grass was so perfect that it looked fake. Some of the graves were small, and some were big, and some were giant angel statues. I always thought that was unfair. It was like we were ranking our dead people by how important they were.

Mama got a nice black stone with her face cut into the top part.

I walked real quiet and hid behind a tree. Sara was sitting Indian-style in front of a big gargoyle statue. She rocked back and forth and chanted.

I started getting scared. Her words weren’t in English.

Then she wasn’t chanting anymore. She was talking, talking in that weird, old language. And even though I couldn’t hear anyone else, it seemed like someone was talking back to her. She was real casual. It reminded me of every afternoon, when I tell Dad about my day.

For about ten minutes, she chatted in that other language. Sometimes she laughed. Sometimes she paused, listening to the other voice that I couldn’t hear. When she was finished, she kissed the gargoyle statue.

I flattened my body against the tree. I knew that if Sara saw me, something very bad would happen.

But she didn’t see me. Instead, she stole a rose from one of the nearest graves and slid it into her hair. Then she walked deeper into the cemetery, and I didn’t follow.

I should’ve done something while I was there. I should’ve talked with her, or called for help, or found a camera and taken her picture. But I was scared. I was real scared. So before she could tell that I was watching, I left.

I walked back home. And the entire walk, my hands were shaky and I think I was crying.

Dad didn’t hear me come through the front door, even though I walked really loud. He was sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking beers. He was thinking about Mama again.

This was one of his sad nights.

I needed to talk to him so bad, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t make him sadder. He deserved to be happy. He deserved a quiet daughter.

So I ate dinner in silence. And when it was time for bed, I walked upstairs and tucked myself in.

That night, I didn’t dream.


I got to school early the next morning, so I could talk with Miss Hanover. She was alone in the classroom, writing homework stuff on the blackboard. She looked real pretty today. She had a flower dress.

“Miss Hanover,” I said.

“Rosie! Hi!”

I startled her.

“Miss Hanover, I need your help.”

“Is this about homework?” she asked. She knew it wasn’t about homework.

“It’s about Sara,” I said. I knew that she’d be mad at me, so I had to talk real fast so that she could hear me as much as possible before she interrupted me. “I was following her last night, and Sara doesn’t have a house. She lives in the graveyard. And everyday, she makes deals with the other students, because she’s the Devil and she’s trying to buy souls. And…”

The teacher grabbed my shoulders to steady me. I didn’t realize that I was shaking.

“Now, Rosie. Do you really believe this?”

“Of course. I saw her.”

“Rosie, I love your imagination. Yesterday, you drew a blue lobster and it was beautiful. But you can’t imagine that kind of stuff. It’s harmful, and it’s mean.”

“But Miss—”

“I need you to stay away from Sara from now on. And if I ever hear you talking about the Devil again, I’ll have to take you to Principal Murphy. And then your parents— your, uh, father, will be very upset. Understand?”

“Yes,” I lied.

It was hopeless. Adults didn’t believe me. And if I tried to convince the other kids, I’d get in big trouble. Probably expelled, like when Trey brought a cigarette to school. No, worse than a cigarette.

So I promised myself that I would just keep quiet.

And I would’ve too, except Sara winked at me in the middle of math. She sat on the other side of the room, smiled real big, and winked at me. She wouldn’t just let me ignore her. She had a plan. And if it didn’t involve me, it might involve the hundreds of other kids left in this school. All my classmates already sold their souls, but there were plenty more kids in town.

The bell rang for recess. This was my chance to stop her once and for all.

I was the last kid to leave the classroom. No one asked me to play with them, probably because I was acting weird. I didn’t care, though. Friends didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was stopping Sara.

She was alone on the edge of the playground. By the tetherball courts. She was humming to herself and it looked like she was waiting for me to show up. When she saw me, she said, “Rosie! What a surprise!” but it didn’t sound like a surprise.

“I know what you are,” I said.

“And what am I?”

“You’re a devil. A bad thing. You live in the graveyard.”

She didn’t respond for the longest time. Then, out of nowhere, she said, “Thomas likes his new bicycle.”


“And Wendy’s parents are getting back together. And Evan is now the third best basketball player in school. Boy, you should’ve seen him dunk. And Billy M., he—”

“Stop it!” I said and my voice echoed. “You’re not helping us. No matter what you say, you’re—”

“And Billy M. is safe from his father. Forever. I am helping you. All of you.”

Her eyes got darker. They were smiling—her eyes—but I couldn’t look at them.

“Look at me, Rosie, because you’re the only one left.”

“You’re never going to get my soul,” I said. And I shoved her in the shoulder. That was a bad decision.

As soon as my hand touched her, as soon as we made contact, I could feel her inside my thoughts, digging around in there. Then she smiled brighter.

“No worries,” she said. “I don’t need anything from you.”


“I already have your soul.”

Shadows got darker. The wind was cold.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

Sara started to walk around me in little circles. Like a shark. I wanted to close my eyes, but I knew that would be bad.

“People don’t always sell their souls,” Sara said. “Sometimes, they lose them. Sometimes, they do bad things, and then they don’t have any souls anymore.”

“But I’ve never done anything bad,” I said. I tried to make my voice sound strong and confident, but it didn’t work.

Sara stopped circling me. Now we were face-to-face again. She looked taller. She leaned real close—our noses almost touched—and she said, “Beep. Beep. Beep.” But the way she said it wasn’t human. She sounded like hospital machines. “Your mama was real sick, right?”


“And you took care of her, right?”


“And on the night she died, you stayed with her in the hospital and held her hand and talked with her and the entire time you wished that she would just die.”

“No. I didn’t.”

But that was a lie. Sara knew it, and I knew it, too. My mama was so sick, and she couldn’t eat anything anymore. And she could barely see me. I hated what she had turned into. I just wanted things to stop. So I prayed a little. And I wished that she would die.

And she did.

“I’m sorry, Rosie,” Sara said. “I can’t buy your soul, because you lost it. You lost it as soon as you made that wish. But hey, at least you got what you wanted. At least you got a dead mama.”

I don’t know how I got the broken tree branch. It was probably at my feet the whole time, but it sure felt like it just appeared in my hands. It was a little heavy, but not very heavy. Without thinking, I leaned forward and jammed the tree branch right into Sara’s stomach.

She moaned and made a gurgle sound. Then she fell backwards.

That was when the bell rang. Time to leave.

Sara stayed on the ground, and red stuff spread under her like butterfly wings. She was dying, just like Mama, but when Mama died, she didn’t laugh. Sara laughed.

I stood over her body, and she looked so proud. Like she’d finally finished painting a beautiful picture. Before she died, she said one word: “Gotcha.”