About the Author

Eric Walters

Eric Walters is the author of many acclaimed and bestselling novels for children and young adults. His novels have won numerous awards, including the Silver Birch, Blue Heron, Red Maple, Snow Willow, Ruth Schwartz, and Tiny Torgi, and have received honours from the Canadian Library Association Book Awards and UNESCO's international award for Literature in Service of Tolerance.

Eric lives in Mississauga with his wife, Anita, and three children, Christina, Nicholas, and Julia. When not writing or touring across the country speaking to school groups, Eric spends time playing or watching soccer and basketball, or playing the saxophone.

To find out more about Eric and his novels, or to arrange for him to speak at your school, visit his website at www.ericwalters.net.

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Books by this Author
90 Days of Different

90 Days of Different

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"Is there somebody else?"
"No, of course not!" he protested."
"You're not going to give me that old 'It's not you, it's me' line, are you?"
"Oh no," he said, shaking his head. "It's definitely you."
"What?"
"It's you. It's definitely you."

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A fond la planche

A fond la planche

(Grind)
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"All I'm saying is that if you took it down a notch or two, you'd make the jumps and save the injuries."
    "I always makes the jumps," I argued.
    "What are you talking about?"
    "I make the jumps. It's the landings that I'm having trouble with."

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A fond la planche!

A fond la planche!

(Grind)
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Je réussis toujour les sauts. Ce sont les atterrissages qui me posent des problèmes.

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A reventar

A reventar

(Stuffed)
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Primero tratan de amenazarme. Después tratan de sobornarme. Y ahora hacen las dos cosas a la vez: tratan de sobornarme y me amenazan si no acepto el soborno.

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A Reventar

A Reventar

(Stuffed)
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A toda velocidad

A toda velocidad

(Overdrive)
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—Tenemos que irnos de aquí. No podemos hacer nada. Ya hay gente ayudándolos y llamando a la policía. Lo único que podemos hacer es buscarnos un problema.
Titubeé.
—¡Dale! ¡Vamos!
Comencé a mover el carro. Tenía un ojo en la carretera y otro en el espejo retrovisor tratando de ver el accidente. Vi luces rojas intermitentes en la distancia. Por un momento quité el pie del acelerador. Entonces lo pisé hasta el fondo, gané en velocidad e hice una izquierda.

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Al limite

Al limite

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—Lo único que digo—continuó Wally—es que si le bajaras un poco a la velocidad, sólo un poco, podrías hacer el salto y evitarte las heridas.
—Yo siempre hago los saltos—discutí.
—¿De qué estás hablando?
—Yo hago bien los saltos. Lo que no me sale es el aterrizaje.

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Al límite

Al límite

(Grind)
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Alexandria of Africa
Excerpt

Chapter One

My mother tried to straighten the collar of my blouse and I brushed her hand away.

“I’m just trying to make sure you look all right,” she said, sheepishly.

“I look as good as I can . . . in this outfit,” I said. “But not as good as I could have looked if you hadn’t picked out my clothes for me.” I was just so glad that none of my friends were there to see me dressed like this: boring brown secretary skirt, white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, beige pantyhose, and flats . . . shudder!

My mother’s style was pretty much classic–nothing but the best–but it was old-people fashion. She wasn’t up on the latest.

“She was just doing what I instructed her to do,” said my lawyer, Mr. Collins. “Appearance means a lot.”

I huffed. I knew more about appearance than he ever would. The nerve of this man to decide how I should dress! Wrinkled suit, a stain on the tie, and the width of his lapels was so far out of fashion that it was almost back in again. For the amount of money my parents were paying him, you’d have thought he’d have the cash to dress better.

I heard the sound of a door opening and I spun around in time to see my father rushing in to the courtroom. Nice of him to find the time to make it.

“Sorry, traffic was terrible,” he said.

Traffic is always terrible when you don’t get into your car on time, I thought.

He came up and gave my mother a little kiss on the cheek. It looked really awkward. I hadn’t seen them kiss for years before the divorce, so what was this all about? Were they putting on a show just for me, or demonstrating how sophisticated they were to people in general? Divorced, but still friends. It sounded like an episode for Dr. Phil.

Either way, it was just wrong on so many levels. Like a little show of affection was going to make me forget those last few years? The yelling and screaming, the threats, the household objects chucked at each other? I wasn’t about to forget. In fact, I still used all that ammunition to my advantage. A little bit of guilt goes a long way, and a lot of guilt goes even further.

My mother didn’t look well. She was really pale, and I thought she was even shaking a little. She looked so fragile. Whoever said it’s impossible to be too thin never met my mother. She was painfully skinny. I always thought that a strong wind might blow her away and she’d just go flying off into the sky. Funny, she did look a bit like a bird.

My father glanced at his Rolex. “It looks like the judge got caught in traffic as well,” he said. “Do you think he’ll keep us waiting much longer?”

“His court, his time,” Mr. Collins said.

“It had better not be long. I have places to get to,” I said.

“You’d best put that attitude away, young lady,” my father scolded.

I wanted to tell him that my attitude was something I’d inherited from him, but I didn’t say a word. Never mind, I think my expression pretty well said it all.

“You just let your lawyer do the talking,” my father warned me sternly.

“First I’m told how to dress, and now I’m not allowed to talk. Is it all right if I breathe the way I normally do?”

My father shot me a look, and I knew I’d be pushing it to say anything else, although I was severely tempted.

“She’s just a little nervous, that’s all,” my mother said.

She put an arm around my shoulder but I edged away from her grasp.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she continued.

“I’m not nervous, and I’m certainly not scared,” I snapped.

“Maybe you should be afraid,” my father said. “This isn’t a joke. This is a court of law.”

I started to chuckle but stopped myself. We both knew–we all knew–that my last trip to court was no big deal, just a slap on the wrist. It cost my parents time and a lot of money in legal fees, but for me it was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. This wouldn’t be any different. It wasn’t like I was going to get life in prison for stealing a couple of tops and a purse.

“I’m sure there’s nothing to be concerned about,” my mother said. She turned to my lawyer. “Right?”

“We can hope,” he said.

“For the money I pay your firm I expect more than just hope,” my father said. “I expect certainty.”

“Nothing is certain in a court of law. The outcome is solely in the hands of the judge. You have to hope he’s in a good mood . . . that he wasn’t caught in traffic.”

“I’m sure it will go just as well as the last time, sweetie,” my mother said, soothingly.

“I’m afraid that might be the problem,” said my lawyer. “Generally, judges are quite understanding the first time you appear before them, but I don’t think Judge Roberts will be happy to see you in his court again so soon. Sometimes they feel that you’re not just breaking the law but defying them. They take it very personally.”

“How can he take it personally?” I asked. “It’s not like I stole his clothes.” Unless he’s wearing something frilly under that black robe, I thought.

“But you did defy him by violating the terms of your probation,” Mr. Collins said. “He might feel that, in essence, you lied to him.”

“Lied? How did I lie?”

“You gave him your word that you would not break the law again. And yet here you are, less than two months later, back in his court.”

“But it helps that she pleaded guilty in the pre-sentencing, right?” my mother asked.

“It certainly shows that she is willing to accept responsibility for her crime.”

“Crime? I didn’t kill anybody. I only took a few things, a few little things.”

“Breaking the law and violating probation aren’t generally considered ‘little things’ by most judges. They tend to take the law rather seriously. That’s why they decided to become judges in the first place.”

“And I even offered to pay for them right then and there,” I said. “I pulled the money out of my purse, but the store people wouldn’t take it.”

“Stores usually operate on the premise that you pay willingly for their products, not simply offer to pay if you get caught trying to take them. They’re funny that way.”

Now I was getting attitude from my lawyer! Actually, where was my real lawyer? Why did I have this junior associate instead of the lawyer I’d had the first time I was in court? This guy was way too young to be a lawyer. And how good could he be if he couldn’t afford better clothes, or shoes that didn’t look like they came from Payless?

“You need to know that this could be serious,” he said.

“Whatever,” I snapped. “What’s he going to do, throw me in prison?”

There was an uneasy silence and I felt a shiver go up my spine. I looked from my mother to my father. Both were looking at the floor and not at me.

“He can’t send me to prison . . . can he?” I asked my lawyer.

He smiled. “Of course not.”

I felt a rush of relief. How stupid of me to even think–

“Prison is only for adult offenders. You’d be sent to juvenile detention.”

The anxiety came rushing back, only worse.

“Could you please explain to us what juvenile detention is?” my father asked.

“It’s a secure setting for young people who have committed crimes but are not old enough to be placed in an adult facility, i.e., a jail.”

“What does that mean, secure setting?” I asked.

“Locked doors, bars on the windows, locked rooms.”

“But that sounds like a jail!”

“It is,” he said. “It’s a kiddie jail. Cells, guards, no personal possessions, including, of course, no telephones.” He pointed at my purse. He’d made me turn off my phone and stash it in my purse because it had been ringing so much while we were waiting to come into court. Was it my fault that I was popular?

“You would share a room with two or three other prisoners,” he continued.

“I’d be with prisoners?” I gasped.

“You would be a prisoner.”

“Mr. Collins, isn’t that a little bit harsh?” my mother asked.

He shook his head. “That’s what they’re called. People who are in detention are prisoners. Most rooms have one or two sets of bunk beds and a shared toilet in the corner.”

“The toilet is in the room? That’s . . . that’s just disgusting!”

“And, of course, you’re issued a standard detention uniform.”

“You mean I couldn’t wear my own clothing?” I gasped. “But what would I wear?”

“Everybody dresses in the same jumpsuit.”

“But nobody wears jumpsuits any more! They’re so yesterday!”

“That’s what they wear. Orange jumpsuits.”

“Oh God! I look awful in orange! Everybody looks awful in orange!” I felt my lower lip start to quiver. I was on the verge of tears–the real kind, not the trying to-get-my-own-way type!

“Please, Mr. Collins, there’s no point in getting into any of this,” my mother said. She wrapped an arm around me. This time I didn’t brush it away.

“It’s my job to let you know what might happen,” he said.

“But you’re scaring her!”

“Still, detention time is one of the possibilities.”

“How possible?” my father asked.

“It’s hard to say.”

“Ballpark it for me. What do you think the odds are of her serving time?”

“Umm . . . I hate to make a prediction . . . maybe less than a 10 percent chance.”

“I like those odds,” my father said. “I’ll always take a business deal where there’s a 90 percent chance of success.”

Suddenly this had become a business deal? I didn’t know whether I should be honoured or insulted. After all, I knew how much his business meant to him.

“And if it all did go south and she was sent to detention, what sort of time would we be talking about?” he asked.

“There are established guidelines for each offence, but the judge has a lot of discretion within those guidelines.”

“So, what’s the worst-case scenario? How bad could the damage be?”

”Up to six months.”

“Six months!” I exclaimed as I jumped to my feet. “That’s crazy! It was just a few things! It wasn’t like I killed somebody! I’ll tell the judge I won’t do it again!”

“Unfortunately, that’s what you told him the last time,” Mr. Collins said.

“Anyway, just calm down,” my father said. “You can’t lose your cool. People smell fear in business deals.”

“This is my life, not a business deal!” I protested.

Everything is a business deal. Besides, we’re not talking about what will happen, just what could happen.”

“But you won’t let me go to juvenile detention, will you, Daddy?” I pleaded.

“Your father has very little say in this,” Mr. Collins said before my father could answer.

“But still, six months for shoplifting, that makes no sense,” my mother argued.

“This wouldn’t just be for shoplifting. It would include the charge of violating probation and also the reinstatement of the original charge of vandalism.”

“How can that be fair?” I protested. “I even paid for her car to be repaired.”

“Your father paid,” Mr. Collins said. “And that doesn’t change the fact that you pummelled a car with a golf club, causing thousands of dollars in damage and terrifying the girl who was in the car during your temper tantrum.”

Hey, it wasn’t a temper tantrum. It was about getting even, getting back, not letting somebody get away with something. I almost smiled at the memory. She deserved to have a golf club taken to her car. Now that little tramp would think twice before trying to steal anybody’s boy­friend again.

“A lot will depend on the pre-sentence report, prepared by the court-appointed social worker,” Mr. Collins explained.

“Have you seen it?” my father asked him.

“It’s only for the judge to see.” Mr. Collins turned to me. “Do you have a sense of what the report might say?”

“How would I know?”

“The social worker did interview you. You were there.”

“Of course I was there,” I snapped.

“Well, how did the interview go?”

“It went fine . . . I guess.”

“You guess?” my father asked.

“Well, she was late and I had an appointment to have my hair done and I couldn’t hang around.” I turned to my mom. “You know how hard it is to get an appointment with Mr. Henri and how angry he gets when you’re even a minute late.”

“He can throw quite the little hissy fit,” my mother confirmed.

“Please don’t tell me you blew off the interview because of some haircut!” Mr. Collins exclaimed.

“First off, it was a style, not a cut.” I almost said something about him desperately needing a good stylist because apparently he cut his own hair, but that was beside the point. “And second, I did do the interview.”

My lawyer let out a big sigh of relief.

“Although I refused to answer some of her questions.”

The shocked look on my lawyer’s face actually startled me.

“Well, some of her questions were just so personal. I thought, Who does she think she is? What right did she have to ask me questions?”

“She had the right to ask you anything she wanted,” Mr. Collins said. “She had the authority of the court! She was asking the questions that the judge wanted the answers to!”

“It wasn’t just the questions,” I said. “It was the way she asked them. She was totally rude. She had quite the attitude.”

She had an attitude?” Mr. Collins questioned.

I knew what he was implying but I chose to show some class and ignore him.

“Yes, the nerve of some woman who shops at Wal-Mart, and doesn’t even have the sense to have her bag match her shoes, to think that she could sit there and judge me!”

Mr. Collins put his head down on the table. How unprofessional! Not to mention that from that angle his hair was even less flattering. Forget the hairstyle, a shampoo would have been helpful for a start.

The door off to the side of the bench sprang open and a large man in a uniform came in.

“All rise for the Honourable Judge Roberts!”

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An African Alphabet

An African Alphabet

by Eric Walters
illustrated by Sue Todd
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
tagged : alphabet, africa
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Au pas, camarade

Au pas, camarade

(Branded)
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

«Il y a des causes pour lesquelles je suis prêt à mourir, mais aucune pour laquelle je serais prêt à tuer», dit M. Roberts. Qui est l'auteur de cette citation?

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Batcat and the Seven Squirrels

Batcat and the Seven Squirrels

by Eric Walters
illustrated by Kasia Charko
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Bedtime 123

Bedtime 123

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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When the sun goes down
   One moon rises
   Two stars come out
   Three owlets rest high in the treetops

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Between Heaven and Earth

Between Heaven and Earth

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Between Heaven and Earth Unabridged Audiobook

Between Heaven and Earth Unabridged Audiobook

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Beverly Hills Maasai
Excerpt

Chapter One
 
 
The phone rang again, startling me so much that the nail polish brush jerked off my toenail and onto the white separator holding my toes apart. If any polish spilled on my new duvet, someone was going to have to pay!
 
“You’re awfully jumpy, Alexandria,” Olivia said, lounging at the end of my king-size bed.
 
“I’m not jumpy. I just don’t like the sound of ringing phones.”
 
The phone kept on ringing.
 
“Carmella!” I screamed.
 
“Just ignore it,” Olivia told me.
 
“I have been ignoring it,” I said.
 
This was the third time it had rung in the last ten minutes, and it was really starting to get on my nerves. Where was Carmella? It wasn’t like the call was going to be for me—anybody who knew me called on my cell—and it certainly wasn’t my job to be answering the home phone.
 
Four . . . fi ve . . . six . . . seven rings. You’d think the person on the other end would have fi gured out that nobody was going to answer. Couldn’t they just leave a message and move on? Were they deliberately trying to get on my nerves? And where was Carmella? She was supposed to get the phone. That was part of her job.
 
“Carmella!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
 
“Either she’s out or she’s ignoring you,” Olivia said. “We’ve had a couple of maids like that. Some of them pretended that they didn’t understand English.”
 
“Some of them probably didn’t understand English,” I argued.
 
The phone stopped ringing, and I let out a sigh of relief.
 
I took the brush and dipped it into the bottle of polish, careful to take just enough. The way to get great nails—aside from using the very best polish money could buy—was to apply many, many thin coats. Some people either didn’t know that or didn’t have the patience, but I knew how important it was to have the details just right.
 
The secret to a great look is in the details. Any fool with a little bit of money can buy the right clothes or designer accessories—and there certainly are enough fools in L.A. with money to do that—but there’s an art to putting them together the right way, to making the look work for you. It’s easy to tell the pretenders from the contenders—although I was no mere contender . . . more like the champ!
 
“My mother says that good help is almost impossible to get,” Olivia said. “Do you have any idea how many maids we’ve gone through in the past year?”
 
“You’re on your seventh,” I said.
 
“Yes . . . that’s right,” Olivia said. She looked surprised.
 
“Your mother told my mother,” I explained.
 
“We even caught one drinking on the job!” Olivia exclaimed.
 
“Really?” I tried to sound shocked, but if I’d worked for Olivia’s family I might have started drinking too.
 
“She was going right into the cabinet and drinking my father’s private stock.”
 
“Oh, really?” I said. “Does that remind you of anyone you know?”
 
“That was ages ago,” she protested. “And I was only fi fteen.”
 
“As opposed to the old woman of sixteen that you are now?” I asked.
 
“Sixteen is much older than fi fteen,” she argued. “You’d have to agree with that.”
 
Actually, I did agree. “Touché.”
 
“Besides, it was my father’s alcohol I was drinking,” she added. “It wasn’t like I was stealing from somebody else . . . but you’d know all about that.”
 
So she was fi ghting back! I tried not to react. There was no way I was going to let her know she was getting to me.
 
“We all make mistakes,” I said casually. “Some of us learn from them.”
 
“Not necessarily the fi rst time,” she said, and chuckled.
 
Again, I didn’t react, although I really had the urge to see how her face would look with nail polish all over it.
 
I’d been caught shoplifting once. And before that I’d dented a girl’s car to pay her back for her catty comments about my at-the-time boyfriend. They were mistakes, and I’d paid for them. But really, I wouldn’t change anything that happened to me as a result, even if I could. The whole thing worked out for the best. There was no doubt about that. None whatsoever.
 
I didn’t answer. I just kept my complete focus on my toenails.
 
“You’ve had Carmella for years, haven’t you?” Olivia said.
 
“She’s been with us forever. I think we hired her when I was, like, three.”
 
“Thirteen years is a long time. You know, that’s when you have to be careful,” Olivia said.
 
“Careful?”
 
“Yes. Once they earn your trust, that’s when they start to slack off, or worse yet, things get up and walk away.”
 
“You’ve had maids who stole from you?” I asked.
 
“My mother had her favourite necklace, a very expensive necklace, go missing.”
 
“And the maid took it?”
 
“That’s why my father fi red her.”
 
“And did you call the police? Was she charged?”
 
“My father said it was too hard to prove anything. He said Manuela would just deny it and it would be her word against ours.”
 
“That’s too bad,” I said.
 
“My father said we could have made a claim through our insurance company.”
 
“Could have?” I asked.
 
“Well . . . ”
 
Olivia looked sheepish, and I knew there was more to this story, something she didn’t want to say. I might have let her off the hook if she hadn’t brought up my mistakes fi rst.
 
“Well, what?” I asked.
 
“Funny thing,” she said, although her expression wasn’t very amused. “It turns out it really wasn’t stolen. It had fallen behind the dresser . . . We found it a week or so after she was canned.”
 
“After you found the necklace, did you rehire Manuela?” I asked.
 
“Of course not!” Olivia protested. “That would have been too embarrassing. Besides, it’s not like it’s hard to fi nd another maid.”
 
“Or even six more,” I said.
 
The phone started ringing again. This time it set off my little Pomeranian, Sprout, who had been sleeping peacefully in his doggy bed but now was barking his yappy head off. As if the phone’s incessant ringing wasn’t bad enough by itself without the dog turning it into a duet.
 
“Carmella!” I screamed.
 
“At least our maids all answered the phone,” Olivia chuckled.
 
I’d had enough of the ringing—and of Olivia. I got to my feet.
 
“What are you doing?” she yelled. “You’ll ruin your nails!”
 
“I’ll take that chance.”
 
I hobbled forward, trying to walk on my heels, with the toe separators keeping my toes apart and up in the air.
 
“Carmella!” I screamed again. “The phone!”
 
That was a pretty stupid thing to yell because obviously if she’d heard it ringing she would have known it was the phone.
 
I went into my parents’—my mother’s—bedroom. There was a phone on her night table. Delicately I picked it up, trying not to smudge my fi ngernails.
 
“Yeah?” I snarled.
 
There was no answer. Had I stomped all this way for a hang-up? No, there was no dial tone, so there had to be somebody on the other end. Was it one of those stupid telemarketer calls where they make you wait for them? So rude!
 
“Hello? Is anybody there?” I demanded.
 
“Hello?”
 
It was a male voice with a foreign accent. Was it Spanish? If this call was actually for Carmella I’d be so angry—
 
“Hello,” he said again. “Could I speak to Alexandria . . . Alexandria . . . I think the last name starts with an ‘H.’”
 
“This is Alexandria. Alexandria Hyatt.”
 
Stupid telemarketer. If he was going to harass people he should at least know their full names. I should just hang up on him right—
 
“Alexandria, I did not recognize your voice.”
 
And just why did he think he should? It had to be some stupid telemarketer—we got them all the time. At least some of them were slick enough to get your attention, but this guy was simply hopeless.
 
“I thought that you were not home, or that I had the incorrect telephone number,” he said. “I called many times and no one answered.”
 
“That was you calling?” Now I was really mad.
 
“It was me.”
 
“When we didn’t answer the fi rst three times, didn’t you understand that maybe there was nobody home?” I demanded.
 
“That is why I called back again and again.”
 
Strange, there was something about his voice that did sound familiar.
 
“So why are you calling?” I asked. I just wanted to get to his pitch so I could blow him off.
 
“You told me to call.”
 
“What?”
 
“You said to call you. You gave me your telephone number.”
 
“Who is this?”
 
“It is Nebala.”
 
I was so shocked I almost dropped the telephone, grabbing it, smudging a nail as I caught it. “Nebala—my Nebala—from Africa?”
 
He laughed, and I recognized the laugh even more than I had the voice. “Do you have many other Nebalas in your California?”
 
“Of course not! I’m just so shocked, so surprised, so happy to hear your voice!”
 
“And your voice is very pleasant to listen to also,” he said.
 
I pictured Nebala in my head, in full Maasai costume—red blanket and dress, wearing sandals, a bow over his shoulder and a konga club under his blanket—standing there somewhere in Kenya with the phone in one hand and his spear in the other.
 
“I just can’t believe I’m talking to you!” I exclaimed.
 
“The elders in my village still think of phones as being magic, too.”
 
“I don’t mean the phone part. I mean talking to you. It’s unbelievable that we’re talking, that you called me!”
 
“Very believable. You gave me your telephone number and I just pushed the buttons. Very easy.”
 
“But it must be costing you a fortune to make this call.”
 
Long distance from Kenya would be incredibly expensive, and it wasn’t like he had a lot of money—like anybody in his village had a lot of money.
 
“Not too much, I do not think. I put in two of those silver coins. I think that is not much money.”
 
Silver coins? I tried to remember what the different Kenyan coins looked like, but it wasn’t coming.
 
“I wish to ask something of you,” Nebala said.
 
“Of course. What do you want to know?”
 
“Do you remember that when you left Kenya, you said that someday you would welcome me to come to your country, to your land?”
 
“Of course I remember!” I exclaimed. “That would be wonderful! I told my parents about everything in Kenya, but I especially told them all about you and Ruth! My mother and father said they’d be thrilled to meet you someday!”
 
“I would be honoured to meet them. They must be very wise people.”
 
“And I could show you around L.A. the way you showed me around Kenya.”
 
“That is so kind.”
 
“I owe you,” I said. “I don’t know what would have happened to me if you hadn’t been there for me in Kenya.” Because being “there for me” actually meant saving me from a herd of elephants—something not a lot of my friends could have helped with.
 
“You are strong without my help. You are so strong you could even be a Maasai.”
 
I laughed. “I don’t think anybody would ever mistake me for a Maasai. I think I sort of have the wrong skin colour.”
 
“You have the heart of a Maasai.”
 
I knew what a compliment he was giving me.
“Thanks, but I don’t think I could kill a lion.”
 
He laughed. “Of course not. You are a woman. Even Maasai women do not kill lions.”
 
“It would be wonderful if you could come to California. But it’s awfully far from Africa!”
 
I didn’t mention how expensive the plane fare would be—way more than he could ever afford.
 
“It is very far,” Nebala said. “Even your country is very big, and far from one place to another. It is a long way from New York to the other side in California,” he said.
 
“It would be a long walk.”
 
“It is a long airplane ride,” he said. “But a Maasai could walk from one side to the other of a country even as big as America.”
 
“I know, I know, because Maasai can walk without stopping,” I said.
 
“Never needing to stop from sunrise to sunset.”
 
It was something they prided themselves on. I could picture him with that long, bouncy stride. Given enough time, I was sure he could walk from New York to L.A., or even from Africa to L.A. if there wasn’t an ocean in the way. I imagined him moving along the interstate, and the shocked looks from the drivers of passing SUVs and cars and transport trucks.
 
“To walk across your country would take more than one hundred days,” he said.
 
“I don’t know,” I said. I guessed he must have been looking at a map. “I’m not sure if anybody has ever done that before, walked across the country.”
 
“A Maasai could walk that distance.”
 
I wasn’t about to argue with that. They were pretty stubborn and determined people.
 
“And if you did come here, you know I would insist that you stay at our house,” I said. “We have a big house with lots of extra rooms.”
 
“I was hoping you would allow that.”
 
“That would be wonderful, if you did come someday.” That sounded like I was blowing him off. “I’d like it if you could come someday soon.”
 
“Yes,” he said. “Soon, very soon. Alexandria, I am at the airport.”
 
“In Nairobi?” I exclaimed.
 
“LAX. I am in Los Angeles.”
 
That time I did drop the phone.

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Boot Camp

Boot Camp

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"Altitude," Jerome said, answering the confused looks on our faces, "is how high you fly. You need to have a good attitude if you want to fly high. You have to believe."

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Branded

Branded

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Broken Strings
Excerpt

The bell sounded. People jumped to their feet and gathered their things.
“And don’t forget there’s a unit test on Friday!” Mr. Herman, our math teacher, called out over the noise.
A collective groan rose up from the class. Some people started to argue for a postponement till Monday to give them more time to study. On any other day I would have stuck around and joined in the argument. But not today. Today I needed to get out of the classroom as fast as I could. I had something more important to think about than a math test. I threw my books into my bag and joined the crowd funneling out of the room. I’d gone only a few steps when I almost bumped into Natasha, my best friend. She flashed me a big smile. Smiling was the last thing on my mind.
“Are you ready, Shirli?” Natasha asked.
“No!”
“We don’t have to go,” she said. “We could go to the mall, get a soda instead, maybe buy something.”
“And just not look at the cast list?” I asked.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
“Tash, I’ve waited all week. Do you really think I can wait another day?”
She flashed that smile again. “Patience is a virtue.”
“This coming from you, the least patient person I know?” I asked.
“Okay, you’re right, and I was just joking. Let’s go and look.”
The hallway was packed, and it felt as if we were salmon fighting our way upstream. We were the largest junior high in New Jersey, but the building didn’t seem big enough to hold all 1,600 of us who called this place our home away from home. We squirmed and shuffled our way forward.
“You know you have nothing to worry about,” Natasha said.
“Thanks. Neither do you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Shirli. You know that.”
Natasha and I had been friends, and pretty much inseparable, since third grade—like two peas in a pod, or peanut butter and jam. But there was a big difference between us. Natasha had never been in a school show before. In fact, she had only tried out this time because I’d practically dragged her to the auditions. It really didn’t matter to her whether she got a part or not. The problem was that for me it mattered way too much.
“Ms. Ramsey really likes you,” she pointed out. I knew she was trying to reassure me.
“She likes everybody,” I said.
“It’s more than that. I think she sees herself when she looks at you.”
I laughed. “Like she’s looking in some sort of fun-house mirror?”
Ms. Ramsey was our drama teacher. She was in her early thirties but looked a lot younger. She was blond and slim and moved in this slinky, smooth way like someone who’d had years of dance training. We couldn’t have been more different in appearance, but I guess I had the same way of moving, thanks to my own dance classes.
“I didn’t mean the way you two look,” Natasha continued. “Ms. Ramsey is so beautiful.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. You’re really pretty, but not like her. You look more like me!”
Well, true, we did look a lot alike, even though my family was eastern European and Jewish, and Natasha’s was Portuguese and Catholic. But where the heck was this going?
“I mean she sees you as being talented like her.”
“Thanks, Tash.” Now that was a compliment.

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Caged Eagles

Caged Eagles

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Desperately I looked around for a way out. We couldn't get over the fence. The strands of barbed wire on top of it would rip us to shreds. Behind it, in the distance, the baseball game was going on. Why couldn't I have been there? The only way was the street...we'd have to dodge the cars. I took a step toward the street, but Sam put a hand on my shoulder.

"Nope," he said, shaking his head. "We're not running any farther."

"But...but...we can't fight them...we can't win," I stammered.

"We can't win, but we're going to fight them. Get rid of this," Sam said as he pulled the "I Am Chinese" button off my shirt and then took off his and stuffed them both in his pocket. "Cover my back and I'll cover yours."

They came forward slowly. They knew there was no place to go.

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Camp 30
Excerpt

Chapter One

august 7, 1942

 

“great shot, jack!” I exclaimed as the newspaper skittered across the porch and bumped into the front door of the house.

“I'm getting to be as good with my left arm as I am with my right,” Jack said. Good thing, too, because my brother's right arm was encased in plaster to allow his broken wrist to mend.

“You do the next one,” he offered.

“Sure.” I was trying to sound confident even though I wasn't. I pulled a paper out of the bag slung over my shoulder, folded it, cocked my arm and let it fly. The paper flew end over end, slammed into the porch railing and fell back into the bushes.

“You throw like a girl,” Jack said.

“Shut up!” I snapped. I walked across the grass, retrieved the paper and tossed it over the railing and onto the porch.

“Maybe I should call you Georgia instead of George.”

“I'm telling you to shut up!”

“And just what are you gonna do to make me?”

That was a good question. My brother wasn't just older, he was bigger and tougher, too.

“You gonna tell Mommy on me? You gonna tell her that I was mean to her little baby boy—I mean, baby girl?” He laughed at his lame joke and then reached over to tweak my cheek. I knocked his hand away.

“Oh, so you want to fight me, do you?”

He dropped his newspaper bag to the pavement and started bouncing around, fists out like a prizefighter.

“I can take you with one hand tied behind my back!” He put his broken hand behind him. “Does little Georgie think he's a tough guy now 'cause he's just turned twelve? I'm still your big brother and I'll always be your big brother!”

“You'll always be two years older than me but that doesn't mean you'll always be two years bigger than me.”

“Ooh! That sounds like a threat,” Jack replied, and he jabbed me in the shoulder. It hurt but I tried not to react.

“Maybe I should knock you around now before you get so big and tough that I won't be able to.” He laughed and punched me again.

“Stop it now!” I yelled. I was used to this kind of teasing from my brother, but I wasn't really in the mood for it.

“Or what, Georgie?”

“Or this.” I slipped the newspaper bag off my shoulder and let it drop to the ground. “Deliver your own papers.” I turned and walked away.

“Come on, George, I was just goofing around!”

I kept walking.

“Don't be such a baby!”

I didn't even slow down.

“Okay …; you win!”

Now I stopped and turned around. “Win what?” I asked.

“I won't do it again,” he said. I started to walk back. “At least I won't do it again today.”

That was what I'd expected. It was good enough for now. I picked up the bag and slung it back over my shoulder. We walked along again in silence. It was a hot day—a real scorcher—and we were nowhere near done.

“You're awful quiet today,” Jack said.

“Just thinking.”

“That's a first.”

I shot him a dirty look.

“So what were you thinking about?” Jack asked.

“I was thinking about how all of this is pretty strange.”

“Delivering papers is strange?” Jack asked as he tossed another paper up onto a porch. I wished he would hit the bushes every now and again.

“Yeah.”

“How do you figure that? We're on the same route, same houses, delivering the same paper we always do,” Jack said.

“That's what's so strange,” I replied.

Jack shot me a my-brother-is-an-idiot look.

“Just think. After everything that's gone on over the last few weeks—all those things that nobody would believe even if we could tell them—here we are acting like absolutely nothing happened. It's like it was all just a dream.”

“Maybe for you. I carry around a reminder everywhere I go,” he said, holding up his arm. “And every time I look in a mirror or try to eat anything.”

“How is your jaw?”

“Better, but still not perfect, not by a long shot.”

Jack's jaw had been fractured at the same time his wrist had been broken.

“But think about it,” I continued. “Here we are delivering the Whitby Reporter, the paper that Mr. Krum used to own, and now he's dead, and—”

“He's lucky he is dead or he'd have to deal with me!”

“Or Bill or Little Bill or the other agents at Camp X.”

“Keep your voice down!” Jack cautioned.

I looked around. “There's nobody to hear me. Besides, talking to you is the only thing that reminds me it was real.”

“Then just don't talk about that stinking Krum! He was nothing more than a Nazi, a traitor, a spy!”

Jack took another paper and heaved it onto the porch of the next house. This time it smashed against the door with a thunderous crash. The glass at the top of the door rattled and shook, and for an instant I thought it might shatter.

“You almost put that one through the door,” I said.

“At least I hit the door instead of the railing or the—”

“Young man!” We turned back around. A woman—an old, wrinkled woman who was probably at least seventy—was poking her head out of the door Jack had just hit with the paper.

“Do you realize that you nearly scared me half to death?” she called out.

“Sorry, ma'am,” Jack said. “It sort of got away from me. I'm not so good with my left hand.” He held up his right arm to show her the cast.

“I nearly jumped right out of my skin. It sounded like somebody shooting at my house.”

Jack and I exchanged a look. It had been loud, but nothing like a gunshot. We knew, from right up close, what that sounded like.

“I imagine I should just be grateful to be getting my paper again,” she continued.

After Mr. Krum's death the paper hadn't been published for two weeks. Then, on the front cover of the first new issue, was the story about how he'd died.

“I was so saddened to hear about the publisher's death in that automobile accident,” she said. “Mr. Krum was such a nice man.”

Without looking I sensed my brother stiffening beside me. I knew he wanted to say something—about how Krum had really died, about what sort of man he really was—but he couldn't. He was—we were—sworn to secrecy under the Official Secrets Act.

“Say …; your arm …; Were you one of the boys in the car? I heard that two of Mr. Krum's paper boys were in the car with him when he died.”

“We were both in the car,” I lied. Neither of us had been in the car with Mr. Krum when he'd died, because he hadn't really died in a car crash.

“How awful for the two of you!” she exclaimed. “Thank the good Lord that you both survived.” She paused. “I heard it was mechanical failure, that something went wrong with his steering.”

“That's what we were told,” Jack said.

“I'm sorry for raising my voice like that,” she said. “You boys have been through a lot …; I was just so startled by the sound. My Harold—my son—says I'm as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It hasn't made it any easier with him serving overseas. He's fighting in Africa.”

“Our dad is there, too,” I said. “He's with the St. Patrick's Regiment.”

“I'm sure you're as proud of him as I am of my Harold. But pride doesn't chase away the worry, does it?”

She was right about that.

“And it doesn't make my nerves any better to hear about all those strange goings-on up at Glenrath,” she continued.

I felt a chill go up my spine.

“Glenrath?” Jack asked, trying to sound innocent and ignorant. “What's that?”

“Your family's not from around these parts, are they?”

“We've only been here a couple of months,” I answered. “We moved down here from our farm so our mother could work at the big D.I.L. munitions plant in Ajax.”

“Lots and lots of newcomers here in Whitby since the war. To us old-timers the Sinclair farm is called Glenrath. It's down by the lake, right by Thornton Road. The Sinclairs pulled up stakes and sold it, must be nearly a year ago now.”

“Don't know it,” Jack said, pretending.

“And you haven't heard about any of the commotion around there?”

We both shook our heads.

“Explosions, planes coming and going, lots of strangers. I heard it was some kind of secret training place for spies, that's what I heard.” She said the last few words so softly that her voice was barely audible.

“That's pretty hard to believe,” Jack said.

“I've heard stories,” she said. “Maybe it's only gossip, but there's often truth in gossip.”

“We haven't heard anything at all,” I said.

“Nothing?” she asked. “Not a thing?”

I shrugged, and Jack shook his head.

She started to chuckle. “Funny, you two are delivering the news but you know a lot less than anybody else in town.”

She'd have been shocked to find out what we really did know—probably a lot more than anybody else in Whitby!

“I guess we're just too busy working to spend time wagging our tongues,” Jack said.

The amused expression on her face was gone now—she looked as though she'd just bitten into something sour.

“We have more papers to deliver. Good morning, ma'am.”

Jack turned and started away. I gave the old woman a wave goodbye and hurried after him.

“Stupid old biddy,” Jack said as I reached his side.

“That was strange.”

Jack shot me another look.

“I mean her wanting to talk about the camp.”

“Other than the weather and the war, what else is there to talk about around here?”

“It reminded me of the way Mr. Krum always tried to pump us for information, that's all.”

Jack burst out laughing. “So you think that the old woman is a German spy too?”

“She could be!” I said defiantly. “You never can tell.”

Jack stopped snickering. “You know, considering all we've been through, I guess maybe you're right.”

“I am?” I asked, shocked that Jack was agreeing with me.

“I've learned the hard way that things aren't always what you think they are.”

“So you think she could be a German spy?”

“She could be Adolf Hitler's mother for all I know.”

It was my turn to laugh.

“More likely she's a spy for our side, though,” Jack went on.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe she was told to talk to us to see if we'd reveal anything about Camp X, if we'd break the Official Secrets Act.”

“We'd never do that!”

“I know that, but maybe Bill doesn't,” Jack said.

“Bill trusts us,” I argued. Bill was military, in charge of security at Camp X. We'd gotten to know him pretty well after blundering into the camp and landing in a load of trouble.

“It really doesn't matter if he trusts us or not as long as we don't say any—” Jack stopped mid-sentence as a familiar-looking white panel truck slowly passed us, moving up the street. At the intersection it came to a stop, flashing its tail lights, and then turned to the right, disappearing behind a stand of trees.

I turned to Jack. “Is that the same truck?” We'd been seeing it—or one just like it—all over the neighbourhood.

“Maybe, maybe not. Even if it is, it doesn't necessarily mean anything.”

“But did you notice how slowly it was driving when it passed us this time?”

“It was probably looking for a number on one of the houses,” Jack said. “Whitby's a small town. It's probably just a coincidence.”

“Well,” I said, “I'm going to keep my eyes open and just see if—”

We both saw the truck as we turned the corner. It was pulled over, a hundred feet down the road.

“Another coincidence?” I asked.

“One more than I like. Come on, let's go straight ahead up the street.”

“But we have to deliver some papers down that way,” I said, gesturing toward where the truck was parked.

“We'll come back for them at the end of the route.”

I knew it meant a longer walk, but I wasn't going to argue. We started to cross the street. I looked at the truck. It was covered with dust and dirt, and the window was up despite the heat, and—

“Owww!” I howled as Jack punched me in the shoulder. My head spun around. “Why did you do that?”

“Don't look at it,” Jack ordered. “If they are looking at us, we don't want them to see us looking at them.”

“Why not?”

“Figure it out for yourself!” he snapped.

What I figured was that maybe Jack was getting even more paranoid than me. What I knew for sure, though, was that Jack was mostly right—and even when he wasn't right he was still bigger than me. And I didn't want another punch.

We crossed the road and continued up the street. If the truck reappeared now it would be a whole lot more than just a couple of coincidences.

“Third house in on the other side gets a paper,” Jack said.

“Oh, yeah, right.” I dug a paper out of the bag and started across the street. Looking back, I was relieved to see the empty road. No panel truck …; not even a kid on a bike. I trotted up the front walkway, getting close enough to the house to make sure my toss landed on the porch. I threw, and the paper skidded into the door. I started back across the street, looking both ways, and there it was—a white panel truck coming down the road toward us from the direction we were heading.

“Jack?”

“I see it. Get over here.”

I scrambled to his side. “Is it the same one?” I asked.

“I can't tell. Maybe.”

The panel truck moved slowly down the street. The sun was reflecting off the windshield and I couldn't see who was driving or if there was anybody in the passenger seat. It slowed down even more and came to a stop right beside us. I slid over so Jack was between it and me. Then the window rolled down and a young woman stuck her head partway out.

“Excuse me!” she called. She had a heavy accent …; but it wasn't German. French, maybe. “Do you boys know where is King Street?”

“That's in the centre of the village,” Jack answered. “Go back down to Highway 2, turn left and you'll find it.”

“What is …; highway?” the woman asked.

“It's a big road,” Jack said, “with lots of cars. And when you get there, go that way,” Jack said, pointing to his left.

“Ah,” the woman said, nodding her head and flashing a big, friendly smile. She was very pretty. “Could you show me on this map?” she asked, holding it up and partway out the window.

“Sure, easy,” Jack said, smiling back. He walked across the road to the driver's-side window. I trailed behind him. I think we were both feeling a little silly about our earlier suspicions.

“It's not hard,” Jack said. He took the map from her hands. “You just take this road right here and then—”

Out of nowhere two men dressed in black raced around the side of the truck. “Both of you, not a word!” one of them warned. The two men pinned us against the side of the vehicle.

“Into the truck!” one of them ordered. I looked down. There was a pistol in his hand!

 

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Camp X

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Excerpt

Chapter One

august 7, 1942

 

“great shot, jack!” I exclaimed as the newspaper skittered across the porch and bumped into the front door of the house.

“I'm getting to be as good with my left arm as I am with my right,” Jack said. Good thing, too, because my brother's right arm was encased in plaster to allow his broken wrist to mend.

“You do the next one,” he offered.

“Sure.” I was trying to sound confident even though I wasn't. I pulled a paper out of the bag slung over my shoulder, folded it, cocked my arm and let it fly. The paper flew end over end, slammed into the porch railing and fell back into the bushes.

“You throw like a girl,” Jack said.

“Shut up!” I snapped. I walked across the grass, retrieved the paper and tossed it over the railing and onto the porch.

“Maybe I should call you Georgia instead of George.”

“I'm telling you to shut up!”

“And just what are you gonna do to make me?”

That was a good question. My brother wasn't just older, he was bigger and tougher, too.

“You gonna tell Mommy on me? You gonna tell her that I was mean to her little baby boy—I mean, baby girl?” He laughed at his lame joke and then reached over to tweak my cheek. I knocked his hand away.

“Oh, so you want to fight me, do you?”

He dropped his newspaper bag to the pavement and started bouncing around, fists out like a prizefighter.

“I can take you with one hand tied behind my back!” He put his broken hand behind him. “Does little Georgie think he's a tough guy now 'cause he's just turned twelve? I'm still your big brother and I'll always be your big brother!”

“You'll always be two years older than me but that doesn't mean you'll always be two years bigger than me.”

“Ooh! That sounds like a threat,” Jack replied, and he jabbed me in the shoulder. It hurt but I tried not to react.

“Maybe I should knock you around now before you get so big and tough that I won't be able to.” He laughed and punched me again.

“Stop it now!” I yelled. I was used to this kind of teasing from my brother, but I wasn't really in the mood for it.

“Or what, Georgie?”

“Or this.” I slipped the newspaper bag off my shoulder and let it drop to the ground. “Deliver your own papers.” I turned and walked away.

“Come on, George, I was just goofing around!”

I kept walking.

“Don't be such a baby!”

I didn't even slow down.

“Okay …; you win!”

Now I stopped and turned around. “Win what?” I asked.

“I won't do it again,” he said. I started to walk back. “At least I won't do it again today.”

That was what I'd expected. It was good enough for now. I picked up the bag and slung it back over my shoulder. We walked along again in silence. It was a hot day—a real scorcher—and we were nowhere near done.

“You're awful quiet today,” Jack said.

“Just thinking.”

“That's a first.”

I shot him a dirty look.

“So what were you thinking about?” Jack asked.

“I was thinking about how all of this is pretty strange.”

“Delivering papers is strange?” Jack asked as he tossed another paper up onto a porch. I wished he would hit the bushes every now and again.

“Yeah.”

“How do you figure that? We're on the same route, same houses, delivering the same paper we always do,” Jack said.

“That's what's so strange,” I replied.

Jack shot me a my-brother-is-an-idiot look.

“Just think. After everything that's gone on over the last few weeks—all those things that nobody would believe even if we could tell them—here we are acting like absolutely nothing happened. It's like it was all just a dream.”

“Maybe for you. I carry around a reminder everywhere I go,” he said, holding up his arm. “And every time I look in a mirror or try to eat anything.”

“How is your jaw?”

“Better, but still not perfect, not by a long shot.”

Jack's jaw had been fractured at the same time his wrist had been broken.

“But think about it,” I continued. “Here we are delivering the Whitby Reporter, the paper that Mr. Krum used to own, and now he's dead, and—”

“He's lucky he is dead or he'd have to deal with me!”

“Or Bill or Little Bill or the other agents at Camp X.”

“Keep your voice down!” Jack cautioned.

I looked around. “There's nobody to hear me. Besides, talking to you is the only thing that reminds me it was real.”

“Then just don't talk about that stinking Krum! He was nothing more than a Nazi, a traitor, a spy!”

Jack took another paper and heaved it onto the porch of the next house. This time it smashed against the door with a thunderous crash. The glass at the top of the door rattled and shook, and for an instant I thought it might shatter.

“You almost put that one through the door,” I said.

“At least I hit the door instead of the railing or the—”

“Young man!” We turned back around. A woman—an old, wrinkled woman who was probably at least seventy—was poking her head out of the door Jack had just hit with the paper.

“Do you realize that you nearly scared me half to death?” she called out.

“Sorry, ma'am,” Jack said. “It sort of got away from me. I'm not so good with my left hand.” He held up his right arm to show her the cast.

“I nearly jumped right out of my skin. It sounded like somebody shooting at my house.”

Jack and I exchanged a look. It had been loud, but nothing like a gunshot. We knew, from right up close, what that sounded like.

“I imagine I should just be grateful to be getting my paper again,” she continued.

After Mr. Krum's death the paper hadn't been published for two weeks. Then, on the front cover of the first new issue, was the story about how he'd died.

“I was so saddened to hear about the publisher's death in that automobile accident,” she said. “Mr. Krum was such a nice man.”

Without looking I sensed my brother stiffening beside me. I knew he wanted to say something—about how Krum had really died, about what sort of man he really was—but he couldn't. He was—we were—sworn to secrecy under the Official Secrets Act.

“Say …; your arm …; Were you one of the boys in the car? I heard that two of Mr. Krum's paper boys were in the car with him when he died.”

“We were both in the car,” I lied. Neither of us had been in the car with Mr. Krum when he'd died, because he hadn't really died in a car crash.

“How awful for the two of you!” she exclaimed. “Thank the good Lord that you both survived.” She paused. “I heard it was mechanical failure, that something went wrong with his steering.”

“That's what we were told,” Jack said.

“I'm sorry for raising my voice like that,” she said. “You boys have been through a lot …; I was just so startled by the sound. My Harold—my son—says I'm as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It hasn't made it any easier with him serving overseas. He's fighting in Africa.”

“Our dad is there, too,” I said. “He's with the St. Patrick's Regiment.”

“I'm sure you're as proud of him as I am of my Harold. But pride doesn't chase away the worry, does it?”

She was right about that.

“And it doesn't make my nerves any better to hear about all those strange goings-on up at Glenrath,” she continued.

I felt a chill go up my spine.

“Glenrath?” Jack asked, trying to sound innocent and ignorant. “What's that?”

“Your family's not from around these parts, are they?”

“We've only been here a couple of months,” I answered. “We moved down here from our farm so our mother could work at the big D.I.L. munitions plant in Ajax.”

“Lots and lots of newcomers here in Whitby since the war. To us old-timers the Sinclair farm is called Glenrath. It's down by the lake, right by Thornton Road. The Sinclairs pulled up stakes and sold it, must be nearly a year ago now.”

“Don't know it,” Jack said, pretending.

“And you haven't heard about any of the commotion around there?”

We both shook our heads.

“Explosions, planes coming and going, lots of strangers. I heard it was some kind of secret training place for spies, that's what I heard.” She said the last few words so softly that her voice was barely audible.

“That's pretty hard to believe,” Jack said.

“I've heard stories,” she said. “Maybe it's only gossip, but there's often truth in gossip.”

“We haven't heard anything at all,” I said.

“Nothing?” she asked. “Not a thing?”

I shrugged, and Jack shook his head.

She started to chuckle. “Funny, you two are delivering the news but you know a lot less than anybody else in town.”

She'd have been shocked to find out what we really did know—probably a lot more than anybody else in Whitby!

“I guess we're just too busy working to spend time wagging our tongues,” Jack said.

The amused expression on her face was gone now—she looked as though she'd just bitten into something sour.

“We have more papers to deliver. Good morning, ma'am.”

Jack turned and started away. I gave the old woman a wave goodbye and hurried after him.

“Stupid old biddy,” Jack said as I reached his side.

“That was strange.”

Jack shot me another look.

“I mean her wanting to talk about the camp.”

“Other than the weather and the war, what else is there to talk about around here?”

“It reminded me of the way Mr. Krum always tried to pump us for information, that's all.”

Jack burst out laughing. “So you think that the old woman is a German spy too?”

“She could be!” I said defiantly. “You never can tell.”

Jack stopped snickering. “You know, considering all we've been through, I guess maybe you're right.”

“I am?” I asked, shocked that Jack was agreeing with me.

“I've learned the hard way that things aren't always what you think they are.”

“So you think she could be a German spy?”

“She could be Adolf Hitler's mother for all I know.”

It was my turn to laugh.

“More likely she's a spy for our side, though,” Jack went on.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe she was told to talk to us to see if we'd reveal anything about Camp X, if we'd break the Official Secrets Act.”

“We'd never do that!”

“I know that, but maybe Bill doesn't,” Jack said.

“Bill trusts us,” I argued. Bill was military, in charge of security at Camp X. We'd gotten to know him pretty well after blundering into the camp and landing in a load of trouble.

“It really doesn't matter if he trusts us or not as long as we don't say any—” Jack stopped mid-sentence as a familiar-looking white panel truck slowly passed us, moving up the street. At the intersection it came to a stop, flashing its tail lights, and then turned to the right, disappearing behind a stand of trees.

I turned to Jack. “Is that the same truck?” We'd been seeing it—or one just like it—all over the neighbourhood.

“Maybe, maybe not. Even if it is, it doesn't necessarily mean anything.”

“But did you notice how slowly it was driving when it passed us this time?”

“It was probably looking for a number on one of the houses,” Jack said. “Whitby's a small town. It's probably just a coincidence.”

“Well,” I said, “I'm going to keep my eyes open and just see if—”

We both saw the truck as we turned the corner. It was pulled over, a hundred feet down the road.

“Another coincidence?” I asked.

“One more than I like. Come on, let's go straight ahead up the street.”

“But we have to deliver some papers down that way,” I said, gesturing toward where the truck was parked.

“We'll come back for them at the end of the route.”

I knew it meant a longer walk, but I wasn't going to argue. We started to cross the street. I looked at the truck. It was covered with dust and dirt, and the window was up despite the heat, and—

“Owww!” I howled as Jack punched me in the shoulder. My head spun around. “Why did you do that?”

“Don't look at it,” Jack ordered. “If they are looking at us, we don't want them to see us looking at them.”

“Why not?”

“Figure it out for yourself!” he snapped.

What I figured was that maybe Jack was getting even more paranoid than me. What I knew for sure, though, was that Jack was mostly right—and even when he wasn't right he was still bigger than me. And I didn't want another punch.

We crossed the road and continued up the street. If the truck reappeared now it would be a whole lot more than just a couple of coincidences.

“Third house in on the other side gets a paper,” Jack said.

“Oh, yeah, right.” I dug a paper out of the bag and started across the street. Looking back, I was relieved to see the empty road. No panel truck …; not even a kid on a bike. I trotted up the front walkway, getting close enough to the house to make sure my toss landed on the porch. I threw, and the paper skidded into the door. I started back across the street, looking both ways, and there it was—a white panel truck coming down the road toward us from the direction we were heading.

“Jack?”

“I see it. Get over here.”

I scrambled to his side. “Is it the same one?” I asked.

“I can't tell. Maybe.”

The panel truck moved slowly down the street. The sun was reflecting off the windshield and I couldn't see who was driving or if there was anybody in the passenger seat. It slowed down even more and came to a stop right beside us. I slid over so Jack was between it and me. Then the window rolled down and a young woman stuck her head partway out.

“Excuse me!” she called. She had a heavy accent …; but it wasn't German. French, maybe. “Do you boys know where is King Street?”

“That's in the centre of the village,” Jack answered. “Go back down to Highway 2, turn left and you'll find it.”

“What is …; highway?” the woman asked.

“It's a big road,” Jack said, “with lots of cars. And when you get there, go that way,” Jack said, pointing to his left.

“Ah,” the woman said, nodding her head and flashing a big, friendly smile. She was very pretty. “Could you show me on this map?” she asked, holding it up and partway out the window.

“Sure, easy,” Jack said, smiling back. He walked across the road to the driver's-side window. I trailed behind him. I think we were both feeling a little silly about our earlier suspicions.

“It's not hard,” Jack said. He took the map from her hands. “You just take this road right here and then—”

Out of nowhere two men dressed in black raced around the side of the truck. “Both of you, not a word!” one of them warned. The two men pinned us against the side of the vehicle.

“Into the truck!” one of them ordered. I looked down. There was a pistol in his hand!

 

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Catboy

Catboy

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"I don't like cats," Simon said. "They're dirty."
   "They're not dirty," I said, defending Blinky and all of catkind. "They wash themselves all the time."
   "They wash themselves with their tongue," he said and made a face like he was grossed out. "But if you love cats, then this is the place to be. There are dozens and dozens of them here. I'll show you."
   My desire to get out of the junkyard wasn't as strong as my curiosity. Why would there be dozens of cats here?

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Ed special

Ed special

(Special Edward)
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—Tu as été accepté en édu spéciale? demande Kevin, suffoqué.

—Pas encore.

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Ed Special

Ed Special

(Special Edward)
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Elixir

Elixir

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End of Days
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It looked like a giant butterfly fl uttering through space, the wings of its solar panels extended to gather in the power from the sun’s rays. Different instruments attached at strange angles gave it an awkward and fragile look. But it was strong—strong enough to survive as it sailed silently across the frigid, bleak, black expanse of open space.
 
With each second it left Earth farther and farther behind. But attached to the satellite was a small part of its planet of origin, a gold disc showing a diagram of our solar system and an illustration of a man and a woman with their hands open in a gesture of friendship. No one could hope to predict, but maybe, just maybe, this wanderer might someday meet somebody in its travels.
 
First it travelled toward the giant of the solar system, the planet Jupiter. The journey of 759 million kilometres took nearly three years. Arcing into a perfect elliptical orbit above the poisonous atmosphere, it began its task. The lifeless satellite bristled with activity as it observed, recorded, analyzed, and transmitted information. Never before had man observed this mysterious planet at such close range. With this job completed the satellite was ordered out of orbit. Using its booster rockets and the gravity of the planet, it was slingshot farther out toward the more distant planets at the very edge of the solar system.
 
It was connected to Earth by a continuous trickle of information, like the string on a kite. Travelling at 300,000 kilometres per second, the signals raced back to Earth as the satellite continued on its relentless journey. With each passing hour it moved a further 17,000 kilometres away from Earth, and to places never before visited by man or his instruments. Six years after leaving Jupiter, having made close passes of five different planets, it passed beyond the outermost orbit of the outermost planet. In breaking this imaginary line, it left behind the solar system of its birth, but it refused to die. It kept travelling, kept recording, kept transmitting.
 
No one could have believed that despite the passing of eleven years and more than 24 billion kilometres, the satellite still had the will to live. As it rocketed farther and farther it continued to send back its messages: a faint, feeble voice coming from somewhere out there. Like a little lost child in the dark night sky, it called out, “I’m here. I’m still here.”
 
The scientists who had dreamed and conceived and then watched the life of the satellite would have marvelled at its continued existence. But the country that had sent this satellite skyward, the Soviet Union, no longer existed. It had been broken into smaller pieces, none of which now had the will or the resources to track the ongoing journey away from our solar system. The satellite called out, “Look at this!” but nobody was there to hear.
 
Thirty-three years after its launch, twenty-two years after it left our solar system, the satellite cruised toward a small planetary body. With the gentle pull of gravity it settled into a perfect orbit. This new home was a lifeless chunk of rock with a diameter of 500 kilometres, roughly one-sixth the diameter of Earth’s moon. This became the centre of the satellite’s universe as it sailed around and around and around, once every fourteen hours. And like the good machine that it was, it started to observe, record, analyze, and transmit its findings.
 
Just by chance, somebody was listening. The satellite transmitted its messages in its only true language, the language of mathematics. Its faint signals were accidentally heard and translated.
 
At first nobody thought it could be possible that the traveller still existed. This was cause for great celebration. With each orbit, at fourteen-hour intervals, as it faced toward Earth, it sent back information. But the messages didn’t seem to make sense. Somehow the satellite appeared to be moving closer. Somehow the world that it was attached to was moving closer. And the one message that the satellite wasn’t transmitting was the most important—perhaps the most important message in the history of mankind.
 
“I’m coming back, I’m coming home . . . and I’m not coming alone.”

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Fly Boy

Fly Boy

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Full Court Press

Full Court Press

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I never sounded as confident as Kia did because I never felt as confident as she did. She was always that way - completely sure of success until she failed. Me, I was sort of the opposite. Completely positive it wasn't going to work out until the final moment of success. I knew that Kia was already convinced we should try out for the team, and that I was probably fighting a losing battle at this point. I just didn't know. This wasn't just the big kids at our school, but the big kids at other schools.

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Grind

Grind

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"All I'm saying is that if you took it down a notch or two, you'd make the jumps and save the injuries."
    "I always makes the jumps," I argued.
    "What are you talking about?"
    "I make the jumps. It's the landings that I'm having trouble with."

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Home Team

Home Team

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Hoop Crazy

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House Party

House Party

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I followed them into the living room and was met by a mass of people. My sudden courage seemed to deflate. How could I ever get this many people to leave?

Just then I heard the sirens.

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Hunter

Hunter

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Hydrofoil Mystery

Hydrofoil Mystery

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In a Flash

In a Flash

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There was a playful combat everywhere. I didn't have time to look around, but there had to be close to a hundred people around me, yelling, laughing and swinging their pillows.
On the edges of the battle other people watched. THere were grown-ups holding their kids by the hand or loaded down with shopping bags, looking stunned or amused or confused. Some laughed and pointed, and others hurried away like they were scared. There had to be almost as many people watching as there were participating.
One of the pillows burst, and a million white feathers shot into the air like a billowing cloud! The crowd—watching and fighting—erupted into gasps and screams and laughter.

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Innocent

Innocent

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Innocent Unabridged Audiobook

Innocent Unabridged Audiobook

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Juice

Juice

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“What happens between you and me stays here. It’s nobody’s business but ours.”
“But isn’t using steroids sort of like cheating?” I asked.
“It would be if you were the only one doing it. Half the kids on the line who are standing across from you, trying to block you, are on the juice. We’re just trying to give you what you need to even up the score.”

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Jungle Land

Jungle Land

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Laggan Lard Butts

Laggan Lard Butts

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Our school teams always lost. It didn't matter what sport—basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball or hockey—we sucked at them all. I'd been on all our school teams every year since grade six and we'd never had a winning team. Forget winning team, we'd hardly ever had a win.

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Long Shot

Long Shot

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Off Season

Off Season

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Overdrive

Overdrive

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"We have to get out of here. There's nothing we can do. Besides, there are already people there to help and to call the police. There's nothing we can do but get in trouble."
I hesitated.
"Go! Get out of here!"
I got the car moving. I had one eye on the road in front and the other on my rearview mirror, trying to see the accident. I saw flashing red lights behind me in the distance. For a split second I took my foot off the accelerator. Then I pressed down harder, picked up the speed and took a quick left turn.

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Power Play

Power Play

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Prince for a Princess

Prince for a Princess

by Eric Walters
illustrated by David Parkins
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Ricky

Ricky

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Road Trip

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Royal Ransom

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Run

Run

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Safe As Houses
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chapter one

Suzie and I huddled beneath the umbrella. It gave us at least some protection from the rain that had been coming down in buckets all day. The whole schoolyard was filled with kids bobbing about under umbrellas or in bright yellow slickers. A few of the boys from my Grade 8 class just turned up the collars of their denim jackets, like the rain wasn’t any great inconvenience. They were too busy trying to look cool to even attempt to stay dry. Most of them were all wet even when it wasn’t raining . . . although a few of them were cool even without the jacket. I looked around. I was waiting for Suzie’s brother David, but I was hoping to catch sight of Donnie Davis. He was nowhere to be seen. Too bad.

Almost everybody was rushing to get away from the rain and home or to a friend’s house. All my friends were going over to Debbie’s to listen to some 45s on her new record player. Debbie had all the new songs–“Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Bill Haley, both versions of “Sh-­Boom,” by the Chords and by the Crew-Cuts, and “That’s All Right” by Elvis Presley . . . Elvis was so dreamy . . . he would have been my favourite even if he couldn’t sing.

I sighed. I hadn’t even been invited. Everybody knew there was no point. I couldn’t go, and asking me would have been cruel. Instead I was standing here, my saddle shoes soaked through, waiting. Couldn’t David ever get here on time?

Suzie was pressed close against my leg, dressed in her little yellow raincoat and matching hat. It wouldn’t have been nearly so dreadful if I were just babysitting her every night after school. She was a nice, sweet, friendly little Grade 2 kid. Nothing like her brother at all.

“How about if we just leave him here this time?” I asked.

Suzie giggled. We’d talked about this before. It was something we’d both have loved to do, but of course we couldn’t. I was responsible for her brother as well, even if he didn’t like it. I had to admit–­at least to myself–­that I understood why he felt he didn’t need a sitter. He was in Grade 6 and should have been able to take care of himself. But his parents didn’t trust him to watch out for Suzie, so I was in charge of both of them.

I looked at my watch–­it was almost ­three-­thirty. School had let out over ten minutes ago. That meant he wasn’t just dawdling–­he had a detention. David had to stay after class at least three times a week. Sometimes it was because he hadn’t finished his work. Sometimes it was because of his behaviour. That boy just didn’t like to be told what to do, and he loved to argue about why he shouldn’t. I was tired of having those arguments with him. I could only imagine how much he must have annoyed the poor teacher who was stuck with him all day.

“Did he get in this much trouble at your old school?” I asked Suzie.

“Not as much,” she replied.

They had moved to our neighbourhood this past summer. Mr. McBride had bought some land by the river. It seemed as though there were new houses going up there all the time. My father said they were “springing up like mushrooms.” This was the third straight day of rain, so if what he was saying was true I guessed I could expect to see a dozen more there tomorrow.

Our house sat up on the hill overlooking the valley. I could see all those new houses from my bedroom window. Some seemed to go up all at once, started and finished in a few weeks. Others were ongoing projects, built little by little while the owners lived in them. That was the case with the McBrides’ house. They had had the outside shell built for them–­foundation, walls, roof, electrical, and plumbing–but then it was up to Mr. McBride to finish the inside. He was an accountant. I hoped he was better with numbers than he was with a hammer and saw because the work was going pretty slowly, and even I could tell that it wasn’t being done particularly well.

“Here he comes,” Suzie said.

David came out of the front doors. He didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. He sort of swaggered toward us. He was carrying his school bag slung over one shoulder and he wasn’t wearing a raincoat. I knew he had probably been sent to school in one this morning, so either he’d left it on a hook in his cubby or it was stuffed inside his bag. I could have asked him, but what was the point? It would only have led to an argument, and it wasn’t as if I could physically force him to wear it.

“I’m not putting it on,” he said defiantly, as if he were reading my mind.

Apparently he wanted an argument. Big surprise.

“Not putting on what?” I asked innocently.

“My raincoat. I have one, but I’m not going to wear it.”

“What do I care?” I asked. “It’s not me who’s going to get soaked to the bone.”

I took Suzie’s hand and spun around, starting to walk away before he had a chance to react.

He scrambled to catch us. “My mother would want me to wear it.”

“Then maybe you should.”

“Are you telling me I have to?” he demanded.

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“But you should,” he argued. “That’s your job, to make me do things that I don’t want to do. You’re the babysitter, aren’t you supposed to make me do things, or at least try to make me do things?” He was really trying to get into it.

“They don’t pay me enough to do that. Wear it or don’t wear it. I don’t care. Although your mother probably will when I tell her that you didn’t wear it.”

“You’re going to tattle on me?”

“No, I’m not going to tattle. That would be so childish. I’m going to report to your mother. That’s one of the things that babysitters do, tell the parents what their children did. She won’t be happy.”

“You’d better not tell her. She’ll be just as mad at you for not making me put it on.”

I shrugged. “Maybe she’ll be so angry she’ll even fire me.”

“She might,” he said smugly.

“And then she’ll hire somebody else.”

“Couldn’t be anybody worse than the sitter we have.”

“And you’d have a long, long time to learn to like her, because she’d probably be your sitter for the whole school year . . . maybe all of next summer.”

“No way! We’re only having a sitter until my birthday in January. Mom promised.”

“She promised that it would only be to January if you proved you were responsible. Do you think it’s responsible to have a detention after school, to not put on your raincoat, to fight with your sitter?”

He started to say something but stopped himself. I had him, and he knew it. He didn’t want a babysitter now, but what he really didn’t want was to put up with a sitter for any longer than necessary. The way out involved co-operating–­unfortunately, not something that David was good at. At this rate, he might have a babysitter right through high school, and until he was married. Then his wife could be in charge.

David dropped back. I looked over my shoulder. He had put down his school bag and was pulling out his raincoat. I allowed myself a smile.

“I like having you as a babysitter,” Suzie said.

“And I like being your babysitter.”

We came to a stop at Weston Road. There were cars splashing along in both directions and we backed away from the road to avoid being sprayed. I squeezed Suzie’s hand. We’d just wait for a big gap before we crossed and–David stepped onto the road! He dodged one car and then sprinted the rest of the way, reaching the safety of the sidewalk just before a truck rumbled by.

I waited for the light to change down the block at the corner so that our stretch of road would be free of traffic. Carefully I led Suzie across.

“You should be more careful of traffic,” I warned him.

“You call this traffic?” he asked. “Traffic is what we have in Toronto, not up here in the sticks.”

David was always making fun of Weston. He acted like it was a million miles north of the city instead of a thirty-minute car ride. I knew it wasn’t the city, but it was a pretty big town and a really nice place to live. I liked Toronto, but I didn’t really want to live there. I guess the way David didn’t want to live here.

We turned onto my street, Hickory Tree Road. My house wasn’t far ahead, just where the street curved, but we were heading to the McBride house, down the valley and across the Humber River. Their house was almost exactly twice as far from school as my house, a twenty­minute walk instead of just under ten. Twice as long was twelve times as miserable when the weather was like this. Thank goodness I wouldn’t be walking with them all through the winter.

The road followed the lip of the valley, overlooking trees and grass and river. With all the rain, the Humber was brown and angry and wider than usual. It had burst its banks and was spreading out onto the flats. That wasn’t so unusual during the spring floods, but it was strange to see it happen in the fall.

My house was just up ahead. I would have loved to have gone inside. I could have changed my clothes and dried my hair. Mom would have made me a snack and a hot cup of tea, or maybe hot chocolate. I knew I could have hot chocolate when we got to the McBrides’ but it would be me fixing it for all of us. It always tasted better when somebody else made it. Actually, it tasted best when my mom made it.

I looked up. Mom was standing in the window. She was always there, each day, as we passed. I knew she was just worried–­she was a worrier by nature–­but it still felt as though she was spying on me, like she didn’t trust me. It was embarrassing to have your mommy standing over you, watching and–­she waved and smiled. I waved back weakly and gave her a little smile in return.

It was always such a strange thing to just walk past my house as though it didn’t belong to me. I guess after six weeks I should have been getting used to it, but I wasn’t. By January it might be different. Part of me would miss the money, but it would be nice to have my time back again. Time to spend with friends, or do my homework, or just not be responsible for two children. It was only a couple of hours each night, but sometimes the time really dragged. Funny how slowly time moves when you want to be someplace else.

This job sort of fell into my lap. My father runs a garage, and he had fixed Mr. McBride’s car. He’d mentioned to my father that they needed a sitter every night for a couple of hours, from the time school dismissed until he and his wife arrived home, usually around six. It would only be for a few months, until David was older and able to look out for both himself and his sister. My father volunteered me, and when they offered me the job I jumped. I’ve always liked kids. I thought someday I might want to be a teacher. It was good to have my own money. I had my eye on a new record player like Donna’s.

I had to walk them home from school, get them a snack, help Suzie with her homework, and, in the words of Mr. McBride, “try to stop David from doing anything too stupid.” That last one was the real work. He was very creative in finding new and exciting ways to cause me trouble. After six weeks of taking care of him, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to ever have children–­at least not boys.

I also tried to straighten up the house a little every night. I’d wash the snack dishes, and the breakfast ones if they hadn’t been done. In all the disorder of a house being constructed I needed to find some order. Once they’d had their snack and Suzie had done her homework, we’d sit on the chesterfield and turn on the television. The McBrides had the biggest television I had ever seen. Not that I’d seen too many–­only a few of my friends had one–­but their set was huge. It sat on the floor in a big, solid wooden cabinet with four legs. The screen had to be fifteen inches across, and the reception was so much better than on other sets. When the weather was good the picture was so clear that the faces were like you were looking right at the real person. If, that is, the real person was black and white and grey.

There was only one thing wrong with their television. Because their house sat at the bottom of the valley the only signal they could get was the CBC station from Toronto. They couldn’t get either of the Buffalo stations which meant they didn’t get any of the top American shows, as David constantly complained–another lousy thing about living in Weston. For me, one station was better than none, and that’s what I got at home. We didn’t have a television, and I didn’t know if there was one in my immediate future.

While Mr. McBride hadn’t yet attached the kitchen cupboards, he had just installed a big antenna on the roof of the house. Of course, true to form, he hadn’t actually run a wire down and hooked it up to the television yet, but when he did he hoped to get those extra stations. But my father said that unless the antenna was higher than the sides of the valley he wouldn’t be getting any new stations.

We got to a long set of wooden steps that led down the hill toward the river. They were wet and slick and slippery, and I held Suzie’s hand even tighter. At the bottom we started along the gravel footpath. It was slightly elevated, and that rise put us above the surrounding grass, which was now more like a series of big puddles, so numerous and large that they were almost linking together into a shallow lake, an inch or so deep. There had been so much rain that it couldn’t soak in or run off, it was just pooling up.

By the time we came to the footbridge that crossed the Humber the noise of the river had risen to a roar. The water raced by, brown and foamy and angry. Caught in its flow were tree branches, bobbing and bouncing along in the current. Some of the larger branches were now jammed into the underside of the bridge, trapping other garbage that had fallen in.

Suzie slowed down as we got closer to the river. She was always nervous around the bridge. She didn’t like crossing it. Today I wasn’t so crazy about it myself, even though it was a big, solid, wood-and-metal construction with high railings on the sides, anchored at both ends in gigantic concrete pilings. It was safe and secure, and there was nothing to worry about. My brain knew that. I just wished my stomach didn’t have so many questions.

“So, what did you do in school today?” I asked Suzie as we started across, to take her mind off the rushing water below.

“We had a spelling bee, practising the words for the test on Monday.”

“I hate spelling bees,” I said.

Actually, what I really hated was the strange feeling in my stomach as the water rushed underneath our feet. I could just see it through the narrow cracks between the planks. It made me feel like I was being pushed sideways.

“I like spelling bees because I win a lot,” Suzie said.

“Maybe that explains why I don’t like them.”

With each step toward the middle the roar of the water got louder, and Suzie’s hold on my hand got stronger. For a little kid, she had one strong grip.

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Saving Sammy

Saving Sammy

by Eric Walters
illustrated by Amy Meissner
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Say You Will
Excerpt

The bell rang, and instantly books were slammed shut and people started to get to their feet.

“Everybody sit down!” Mrs. Tanner yelled out.

The noise lessened but didn’t stop.

She moved over to the door and took up a position directly in front of it. Nobody was leaving without going through her, and while she wasn’t big, she was formidable. Nothing short of a truck was going to move her out of the way.

I slumped down into my seat. I knew this teacher well enough to understand that she wasn’t going to be letting anybody out until she was good and ready.

“I’ve got all day!” she said. “Or at least all lunch period, so talk as long and as loudly as you want.”
Kids shushed each other until the last people sat back down and closed their mouths.

“Just because the bell rings, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to dismiss you. You so-called intelligent young people are acting more like Pavlov’s dogs,” Mrs. Tanner said.

“Are you calling us dogs, Mrs. Tanner?” Taylor asked with a playful smile.

Taylor—head cheerleader, perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect clothing, perfect everything else—was as far away from a dog as you could possibly imagine. Although, if she were a dog, I could see her as a well-coiffed white poodle wearing a sparkling, bejewelled collar.

“Of course I’m not calling any of you dogs. I have great respect for dogs. I’m referring to Pavlov and his famous experiment involving canines, bells, and salivation. A discussion of Pavlov certainly isn’t out of place in a sociology course.”

“Still not getting you,” Taylor said, and there was supportive head-shaking and a chorus of murmured agreement.

“Nobody here knows about Pavlov and his dogs?” Mrs. Tanner asked.

Those paying attention just shook their heads, while the others were much more interested in the door, the clock, their pending lunch, and the grumbling in their stomachs. Or they were simply too busy looking at Taylor. That wasn’t unusual.

Girls stared at her to find out how to act or what to wear, while guys just plain stared at her, often with eyes and mouths wide open. Personally, I often looked at the people looking at her instead. That girl could cause guys to walk into each other, or into open lockers or closed doors, or trip and stumble up or down stairs.

Before this semester, Taylor had really been somebody I only knew of rather than knew. I guess everybody in the school knew who she was, but I’d never even thought of talking to her. That changed when we were partnered up for a project in Mrs. Tanner’s class. We ended up spending a lot of time after school, mostly in the library, working together. She really was
nice, and she was pretty smart, and she laughed at my stupid jokes and made me feel comfortable. I didn’t get that feeling around most people. To top it off, we got a 97 on the assignment.

In the back of my mind I assumed that once the project was finished we’d be finished. But instead, she kept going out of her way to talk to me, or just say hello, and not just in class but around the school. I got the feeling that we’d really become friends. I liked that. Watching Taylor—and people in general—was for me more than just idle curiosity. It was part of my ongoing quest to figure people out. Sometimes human interaction left me a bit confused. Sometimes it left me a lot confused. But I was working at it. That was part of my high school journey: to try to figure people out, and by doing so to become more like them, and, I guess, less like me.

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Shaken
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
 
 
I looked up at the board behind the counter and then at the clock suspended from the ceiling. We’d be boarding in less than ten minutes if the flight was on time—were Air Canada flights ever on time? I took a sip from my Timmy’s—the last good cup of tea I was going to have until we got back on Canadian soil in two weeks.
 
I guess I shouldn’t have complained. It was a small price to pay, because it also meant leaving behind the winter weather of January in Canada for the tropical warmth of Haiti. Technically it was their winter, too, but that just meant that the temperature would be down in the low thirties. It was also their dry season, so not only would there be no snow, there’d probably be no rain, either. I’d been checking the weather reports on the Internet every day since Christmas. The coldest day had been thirty-one degrees, with the long-range forecast predicting two weeks of nearly perfect weather. Hot, dry, and not only away from winter weather but away from school. This extended Christmas holiday was more like an extended Christmas present!
 
If this had been the summer, with no school and good weather at home, I would have kicked up a lot more fuss about being dragged along in the first place. It probably wouldn’t have done much good, but I’d have at least tried to make it so uncomfortable for my father that he would have found somebody to take care of me in Toronto while he went. After all, he wouldn’t have wanted me to be an embarrassment.
 
And that, of course, was the biggest downside to all of this—my father was not only coming along, he was the leader of our little mission trip to Haiti. All of the other kids—with the exception of my sister, of course—got to leave their parents behind. But my father would be there, front and centre, all the time. And the worst of the worst was that there was some sort of bizarre expectation that I would be a good role model on this trip, a reflection of his goodness. Barely three months into his appointment at a new church, with a new congregation, I knew that everybody was still watching us closely, and this little trip would be 24/7 observation. I pulled my cap down lower on my head, slipped on my sunglasses, and went to reinsert my earbuds.
 
“Air Canada Flight 950 to Port-au-Prince will begin boarding shortly for executive class, business class, and those passengers requiring additional assistance or travelling with small children.”
 
I always thought it was strange that those groups were put together—were businessmen like children? Did executives require physical assistance because their wallets were so big?
 
My father got to his feet. “Could I have everybody gather around, please?” he called out.
 
The rest of our group got up—some practically leaping to their feet in response to his request. If I’d put on my earbuds sooner I could have maybe faked not hearing, but that wasn’t going to work now.
 
We all trailed after him into an open space away from the seating area.
 
“Could we all gather in a circle, please?” he called out in a loud voice.
 
Oh, goodness, now I knew what he was going to do. Maybe I could slip away or—my little sister, Sarah, took my hand. She knew what was going to happen next, too.
 
Kids started tentatively taking places and sort of shuffling and bumping until a rough circle of people formed, with my father on the far side, directly across from where I stood. “Please join hands,” he commanded.
 
Suddenly there was more significance to the person each one of us was standing beside. Some quickly grabbed hands while others hesitated or rubbed their hands against their pants to wipe away the sweat. Sarah was already holding my right hand and a girl named Naomi grabbed my left—she obviously wasn’t worried about the sweat factor because I could feel the wetness of her palm. I had the urge to take away my hand to wipe it off but she held on with an iron grip that was well beyond what I’d have expected from somebody of her size.
 
“As we get ready to take the next step, I want to take a moment to ask for God’s blessing. Please bow your heads in prayer,” he ordered.
 
I lowered my head slightly but kept my eyes open.
 
“O God, you called Abraham your servant out of Ur and kept him safe and sound in his wanderings,” he said.
 
His voice was much louder than it needed to be to reach our little circle. The looks on the faces of other passengers waiting and walking past were a combination of curious, amused, disgusted, and embarrassed. Take out the amused and curious and that was basically how I was feeling myself. I almost closed my eyes to hide, like a two-year-old who covers his eyes and figures because he can’t see you, you can’t see him. That made no sense, but still I lowered my gaze so I wasn’t looking beyond the circle any more.
 
“Be for us a support when setting out, shade from the sun, a mantle against the rain,” he called out, “and provide friendship along the way.”
 
Friendship along the way? I raised my gaze to carefully, discreetly look around the circle. There was my father, a woman next to him named Iris, another much older woman from our church congregation named Michelle, and fifteen kids, including me and my sister. The oldest was only a year older than me at seventeen, but most were my age or a year younger. My sister, at twelve, was the youngest and had been allowed to come along only because my father was leading.
 
I could look at people with impunity. Every head was bowed, every set of eyes tightly closed, as ordered, so nobody could see me looking. And, if somebody did look up, who were they to tell on me since their eyes were open, too?
 
I looked from person to person. I knew most of these kids, by appearance if not by name, but there was nobody here who I’d have even remotely considered a friend, nobody I spent time with outside of the obligatory church events, and, quite frankly, nobody I wanted to spend time with. The few friends I’d been able to make since we’d moved were at school—a couple of guys from the basketball team, some people I ate lunch with—but nobody who went to our church, or, for that matter, any church.
 
Our little group had five boys and ten girls. That would have been good odds for the boys if the girls had been hot. But they really weren’t. The style theme for this trip was a combination of Baptist bland and fashion faux pas. The dress code, apparently, was clothing your mom bought for you that you didn’t have the good sense or the guts to refuse to wear. Naomi—the one holding my hand in a sweaty iron grip—was the best-looking of the bunch. If she’d dressed better she could have actually been good-looking, period.
 
I really didn’t much care about the kids, though. I was more concerned about Iris. Okay, concerned wasn’t the right word. I was more annoyed by Iris. There she stood, head down, eyes closed, standing at my father’s side, holding one of his hands. No surprise there. I actually would have been shocked if she hadn’t been standing there.
 
Iris was one of those women . . . those . . . those . . . groupies who seem to be drawn to ministers. They flirt and flit around ministers, volunteering for committees and fawning over the pastor as if every word from his mouth is gold. My mother had pointed them out to me. They’d been at every church we’d ever been assigned to. It was stupid and really rather insulting that they behaved that way even around my mother, and . . . I guess that wasn’t a problem any more.
 
Iris was single, at least a few years younger than my father, and dressed in a style that was almost too revealing, almost too young, but not quite. I was positive that she was only coming on this trip because my father was leading it. But so far, in spite of her advances, my father wasn’t biting. Not yet, at least. Maybe he was still too hurt. Maybe he was being respectful. Maybe he still couldn’t get my mother out of his head. I knew I couldn’t.
 
“Bear us up in fatigue and defend us under attack!” my father said, his voice rising, taking on that minister-like quality, a sort of Southern twang that evangelists pick up once they get going. I just wasn’t sure what he thought was going to happen . . . defend us from attack? Were we going to Haiti or Afghanistan? Was this a mission trip or a military operation?
 
“If it is your will, protect us, Lord!”
 
If it was God’s will to protect us? Talk about making up an excuse. So, if something did happen it wasn’t because God didn’t listen or didn’t care, but because he’d decided to do something bad. Yeah, right, God sat up on his throne thinking, “Yep, I’m going to kill that girl Ashley because she didn’t pray hard enough.” What a cop-out: It is God’s will . . . God works in mysterious ways. People use that quote like it was something that Jesus said, or as if it was a quote from the Bible when it’s just a line from some old hymn—and not even a good hymn.
 
My father continued with his sermon . . . his prayer. I had to hand it to him, he did know the Bible, and he could throw out a good sermon, prayer, or service. If I hadn’t heard this one so many times before, I would have been more impressed.
 
My father had an impressive repertoire of well-rehearsed ad libs, set pieces, and quotes that all sounded completely spontaneous. Didn’t fool me, though. I’d heard them all a million times before. He was like a live remix tape, a “best of ” compilation available only on TV from Time-Life, like music from the Seventies . . . no, that wasn’t right, I liked music from the Seventies.
 
Strangely, that was one of the few things my father and I still had in common. He loved the music from the Sixties and Seventies. I’m not sure how his congregation would have felt about him grooving on Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Stones, but it was at least something we could agree on, listen to, and talk about. He definitely didn’t think that Eric Clapton was God, but he probably thought he was as close to God as a guitar player could get. Well, maybe Hendrix fit in there, too.
 
As my father continued to ramble on, I couldn’t help but think what would have happened if a bunch of Muslims had gathered to praise Allah and say prayers before they got on a plane. Well, really, I didn’t need to wonder. The whole bunch of them would have found themselves in a back room being stripped down and exposed to a cavity search. God may be great in all religions, but there was a definite advantage around here if your God was from the Bible and not the Koran.
 
“With your grace let us fulfill the purpose of our trip and return safe and sound to our homes.” He paused. “Amen.”
 
“Amen,” we echoed.
 
Everybody looked up and released hands. Everybody except the girl holding my hand.
 
“I think you can let go now,” I said.
 
“Oh, yeah, sorry!” Naomi started to blush.
 
Great. I hadn’t meant to make her feel bad, I’d just wanted her to let go of my hand. I knew she had a little crush on me. I’d made the mistake of being nice to her after church one day and she’d taken that as a sign of interest instead of polite indifference.
 
I shuffled away, trying to wipe the sweat from my hand on my pants nonchalantly, without her noticing.
 
“This is very exciting,” she said as she trailed after me.
 
“Yep. Exciting,” I agreed.
 
“I’m sure we’ll fulfill the purpose of our trip,” she added enthusiastically.
 
“The purpose?” Did she mean making my father look like a good Christian leader, or making a bunch of rich, white teenagers from a rich suburb feel that they were somehow doing something for the world?
 
“You know, helping to build the addition to the orphanage and caring for the needy,” she said.
 
“I’m sure we’ll do something,” I agreed, “although I’m not sure I’d want to live in any house that a bunch of kids helped to build . . . unless you’re a trained bricklayer and didn’t tell anybody?”
 
She looked confused. “No . . . I’ve never done anything like that before. Have you?”
 
I chuckled slightly. So much for subtle sarcasm.
 
“No. And I’m afraid I’ve never trained as a bricklayer, either,” I said.
 
“General boarding will commence for all remaining passengers on Air Canada Flight 950 to Port-au-Prince,” the P.A. announced.
 
“That’s us,” I said. “See you on board.”
 
“That would be great . . . maybe we’re seatmates.”
 
“Maybe,” I said. I didn’t really care. I was going to put on some headphones, watch a movie, and try very hard to ignore whoever was sitting beside me. Especially if it was my father. No, I probably didn’t have to worry about that. My guess was that Iris would somehow manage to snag that seat.

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Sketches

Sketches

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Skye Above

Skye Above

by Eric Walters
illustrated by David Parkins
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Sleeper

Sleeper

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Sleeper Unabridged Audiobook

Sleeper Unabridged Audiobook

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Special Edward

Special Edward

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You've been designated special ed?" Kevin gasped.
"Not yet. They still have some testing to do, but they're letting me work there on a trial basis."
"Wow," Kevin said. "I can't believe that you did it...you fooled them."
"It wasn't hard."
"You're, like, a genius," Ahmad said. He sounded impressed.
"An evil genius," Cody said.
"There's nothing evil about this. Nobody gets hurt. Besides, I don't want any more talk about me being a genius. I'm just Ed... special Ed.

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Splat

Splat

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Splat!

Splat!

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I reached down and picked up one of the tomatoes. It was so overripe it was squishy and soft to the touch. My fingers sunk in, almost breaking the skin. I tossed it a few inches up into the air and caught it again. Nice weight. Nice.
Keegan still had his back to me. There was a slight wind—left to right—so I'd have to take that into account. I drew my arm back and threw the tomato. It flew through the air, slightly spiraling, toward him and—splat! It smashed right into the back of his head and exploded into a thousand pieces of pulp!

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Stuffed

Stuffed

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“So, do we have a deal?” Mr. Evans asked.
“Unbelievable,” I muttered under my breath.
“I don’t understand,” Mr. Evans said.
“The whole thing is unbelievable. First you try to threaten me.
Then you try to bribe me. And now you do the two together, trying to bribe me and threatening me if I don’t take the bribe.”
“I don’t like to think of it in those terms,” he said.

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Surfer Dog

Surfer Dog

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Tagged

Tagged

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I was going to kill Oswald when I found him. What was he up to?

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The Bully Boys

The Bully Boys

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The Eric Walters Seven 2-Pack

The Eric Walters Seven 2-Pack

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The Falls

The Falls

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The Matatu

The Matatu

by Eric Walters
illustrated by Eva Campbell
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The conductor picked his way down the aisle, collecting fares, making change and giving tickets.
    "All the way to Machakos?" he asked Kioko's grandfather.
    "Yes, to the end."
    "Eighteen shillings for two."
    "Eighteen?" his grandfather asked. "He is so small, you should only charge half the fare for him."
    "He is small. If you want a cheaper fare, we can tie his feet together like the chickens and put him on the roof."
For a moment, Kioko thought they were serious, but then the men laughed.

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The Pole

The Pole

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The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three

The Neighborhood Book 1
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1

“Can’t you keyboard a little bit faster?” Todd asked.

We were in the computer room during study hall, our second-to-last class of the day. Not exactly where I wanted to be, but there were worse places to be than hanging with my best friend—even if we were working on his essay.

“It’s not the speed of my fingers that’s slowing us down. I can only type what you say. And you’re not saying anything,” I answered.

“Come on, Adam, I’m counting on you to fill in the blanks on this thing.”

“It’s your essay.”

“Don’t you want me to pass?” Todd cajoled.

“Of course I want you to pass.”

“Then you’d better get busy, because that whole passing thing isn’t likely to happen if you don’t contribute.”

“You wouldn’t need my help if you didn’t wait until the last minute to do your homework, you slacker,” I said.

“It is not the last minute. This isn’t due until final period.”

“Which is in forty minutes,” I replied.

“That’s my point. It won’t be the last minute until thirty-nine minutes from now. If I handed it in now, technically it would be early.”

This was Todd logic at its finest. He was almost impossible to reason with but totally impossible not to have a laugh with. The freshman girls seated on either side of us in the computer lab seemed to agree as they started giggling.

“Please don’t encourage him,” I said.

“And now you don’t want me to be encouraged. What sort of best friend are you?” Todd demanded. “If you ladies want to offer me encouragement, please feel free.”

They giggled again. This was obviously becoming more about him trying to impress them and less about helping me help him avoid flunking another assignment.

“Why didn’t you just do this last night?” I asked.

“I was worn out from football practice. Physically and mentally. You’d have been worn out, too, if you hadn’t quit the team.”

I snorted. “I didn’t quit. I just didn’t try out this year.”

“Same thing.”

“It’s not the same thing. I chose flying lessons over football.”

“What kind of normal sixteen-year-old chooses flying lessons over anything?”

“One who wants to be a pilot.”

“Just like Daddy.”

“Sure.” My father was a commercial pilot for Delta. He had been in uniform at the breakfast table and said he was heading to O’Hare this morning. I knew he would be taking off on his return flight soon, so he’d be home in time to read with the twins before they went to bed.

“Personally, I’d rather be like your mother,” Todd said.

“My mother is a woman,” I pointed out. “And I gotta tell you that picturing you in a dress, heels, and makeup is a bit unnerving.”

“First off, I want to be a police officer, like your mother. Second, the idea that you are picturing me in a dress, makeup, and heels is more than a bit unnerving,” he replied. “Just how long have you been fantasizing about me as a woman?”

Once Todd got started it was hard to turn him off.

“Excuse me!” Todd called out. Everybody in the lab turned to face him. “How many people find it disturbing that Adam has been picturing me as a woman?”

Lots of hands went up.

“Ignore him, please!” I protested.

“Adam, don’t be ashamed, embrace your feelings!”

“Let me know when you’re done, Todd.”

“In this day and age it’s important that all of us accept you for what you are and how you feel. In fact, I take it as a compliment that you fantasize about me.”

“I don’t fantasize about you!”

“Don’t be embarrassed. I’m sure you’re not the only one who fantasizes about me.” He turned to the girl on one side. “Right? You must admit I’ve entered your dream world at least once or twice.”

She stopped laughing and looked like she was choking on something.

“Don’t be shy,” he said. “Embrace your feelings, too. Live the fantasy and you could become part of the total Todd experience.”

She turned beet red, gathered up her things, and practically ran away. The other two girls beside us pretended to ignore us now.

“Nice,” I said.

“Mean, possibly. Fun, tremendously. That’s why God created high school—so kids in older grades could torment kids in younger grades.”

I knew that Todd could be neither embarrassed nor contained. He was as relentless as an avalanche. All I could do was redirect him.

“Since when did you decide you wanted to be a police officer?”

“Recently. I decided it would be cool to run around with a gun,” he said.

“The fact that you don’t have a gun right now is at least a small blessing for all of us.”

“I’ll ignore that crack—but if I had a gun I would force you to play football.”

“Like I said, I have no time.”

“You could have time for both football and flying lessons if you didn’t waste so much time on school. That’s my solution.”

“And just how is that working out for you?” I asked.

“It would be going extremely well if somebody would stop giving me a hard time and help me finish up this essay.”

“Let’s just get it finished. I have to get out of here right after school. I have a flight lesson.”

“Okay, Orville Wright,” he said.

“Hey, better Orville Wright than Orville Redenbacher. Three more lessons and then I solo.”

“When you get your license, do you know who I want to be the very first person up in the air with you?”

“You?”

“I was thinking anybody except me!”

The two girls to my left started giggling again—as well as a couple of other people in the lab.

“You better not insult the man who has your future at his fingertips or—”

The lights suddenly went out, the computer screen went blank, and everybody in the lab collectively groaned as we were thrown into darkness.

“What happened?” I wondered.

“Power failure or something. More important, did you at least save my essay?” Todd questioned.

“I saved it . . . a few minutes ago. It’s almost all there.”

“But I need all of it there! What am I going to tell Mr. Dixon?”

“You’ll tell him about the power failure.”

“He won’t believe me!”

“Of course he’ll believe you. The lights are out everywhere, so I think he might have noticed.” I gestured to the darkened hall. “This isn’t just a power failure in the computer lab. Besides, I’m sure everything will be back on soon,” I said.

“Soon may not be soon enough, and he won’t believe me that it was almost done. You have to tell him!”

“Why me?”

“He’ll believe you! You hand in your assignments on time, you never skip class, you do your reading, and you’re always polite to teachers. You are such a suck-up!”

“It’s called being responsible.”

“Suck-up . . . responsible . . . different words for basically the same—”

“Hey, my computer is down, too,” the girl beside us said.

Everybody’s computer went off,” Todd said. “Computers need a magical substance called electricity.” He turned to me. “Today’s younger generation doesn’t understand much.”

“I understand that this is my laptop and it has a battery,” she said.

“The battery must be dead.”

“But mine went down as well,” another boy said.

“Mine, too,” a girl at the other end of the lab added. All of them were on laptops.

“Well, that’s because . . .” Todd turned to me. “Well, Adam?”

“How should I know?”

“Didn’t you win the science fair last year?”

“That was for designing a two-seated ultralight, not because I know everything about electricity.”

“Come on, you know everything about everything. I wouldn’t let you do my homework if you didn’t. Can we go and find Mr. Dixon and explain to him about my paper?”

I wasn’t going to do that. But I did want to see what was going on. I gave a big sigh and got to my feet.

_______________

The halls were filling with kids. The only light was coming from classroom windows and scattered emergency lights running on batteries. Classes had ended unexpectedly, and everyone was streaming out. There was a lot of laughing and loud conversation as kids enjoyed an early break.

“Can I have your attention, please!” a deep voice boomed. “Please, everybody, stop where you are!” It was our vice principal yelling through a handheld bullhorn. “We need everybody in the gym for a brief assembly!”

There were groans from the crowd.

“I say we head for the doors,” Todd said. “In this commotion there’s no way they’re going to be able to stop us from leaving.”

“What about the assembly?”

“And you wonder why I call you a suck-up?”

We headed down the stairs, only to find two teachers at the exit deflecting the river of students toward the gym.

“So much for leaving,” I said. I knew Todd was disappointed, but I really did want to hear what they had to tell us.

We went with the flow. The gym was dimly lit with just a few emergency lights. It was already crowded, and I felt a little claustrophobic as we pushed in. The bleachers were filled to capacity and we were herded onto the court, shoulder to shoulder. I was grateful to be taller than most everybody else. Did they really think they could cram fifteen hundred kids into this space?

“My phone isn’t working,” Todd said.

“You know there are lots of dead spots in this school.”

“No, I mean it’s as blank as the computer screens.” He showed it to me.

“Your battery is dead. Your phone needs that magical substance called electricity to—”

“My phone is dead, too,” a girl said.

“Same here,” somebody else added.

All around us people who had overheard were pulling out their phones. There was a chorus of disbelief and upset. It was strange how they seemed more upset about their phones not working than there being no electricity.

I pulled out my phone, just to confirm things. It was off—as per the school rules—but when I pushed the button to turn it on, it remained blank. I knew my phone was fully charged. The cell phone towers probably needed electricity to work. Is that why we weren’t even getting a screen? No, that didn’t make sense. Even without the towers there should have been power to run other apps.

“Can I have your attention!” Our principal was on the stage with a bullhorn. “Please!” he called out. “We need everybody to listen carefully . . . Please stop talking!”

There was a murmur of conversation that faded to a semisilence, an acceptable level of cooperation.

“As you are all aware, we have a power failure,” he started. “We’re assuming that it’s probably countywide, as there is a complete breakdown in telephone service, both landlines and cell phones, which must be related to the power failure.”

The crowd noise went up as those who hadn’t noticed previously all pulled out their cell phones to confirm what he’d said.

“Quiet down, people! The sooner we can finish here, the sooner you can all go home!”

A cheer went up from the crowd and then applause.

“Silence, please!” The noise faded. “Whatever the issue is, I’m confident it is being addressed and will be corrected shortly.”

For some reason I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be so simple. I was still thinking about why the batteries in the laptops had gone dead.

“We’ve decided to cancel final period today and let you all go home early.”

A cheer went up from the audience once again.

He raised a hand to quiet everyone. “You can stay here in the gym to wait for the buses. If you’re driving or walking, keep in mind there will probably be no functioning traffic lights, so please be careful. Dismissed.”

There was an even bigger cheer as we all started for the exits.

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The Taming
Excerpt

The noises in my head got louder. It was like I was a walking construction site. Metal crashed into concrete and a relentless hammering pounded “Run, Katie, get off the stage, freak, hide, hide.” Instead I clutched my script tighter. I was projectile sweating. I knew from auditions last week that gripping the pages with my wet hands would end up moulding my script into a rock-hard and useless bow tie. “Cut and run, Katie. Go!
 
I focused on my most important audience member. Ms. Cooper smiled at me like I’d just discovered penicillin. “That was lovely, Katie. Nice tone and perfect clarity. I’m sure our director would agree.” Travis nodded and gave me his signature A-OK sign.
 
We were in the middle of our first read-through in our first script meeting. Travis hadn’t taken over the reins from Ms. Cooper yet. That would happen in first rehearsals, starting tomorrow. It should have been more reassuring that the director was an actual friend. Thing is, Travis was just as surprised as I was that I got the lead. So how was he going to save me when they realized the massive mistake they’d all made when they gave me Katherina, the shrew, the lead role? It could get ugly.
 
Ms. Cooper flipped through her manuscript. “Katie, page thirteen of your script, please. Everybody else just pay attention to Katie’s rhythm here. I want you all to think about her pitch and near-perfect feeling for the language.”
 
Oh dear God, why would she say that? Now they were all looking and would feel compelled to hate me. Even I felt compelled to hate me.
 
I didn’t unfurl my mangled Taming of the Shrew script. I knew the speech she meant. The rest of the cast, including Josh, my Petruchio, sat and faced me. I searched for signs of contempt and couldn’t find any. It was confusing.
 
“Centre stage, dear. Josh, pay attention,” Ms. Cooper said.
 
I stepped forward into the key light and prepared to respond to Ms. Cooper’s reading of Petruchio’s lines. Josh looked like he’d rather be performing surgery on himself. Everyone said that Josh had been tapped for the lead because of his physical presence, which, in all honesty, was significantly smouldering. I think Ms. Cooper and Travis both hoped that Josh would magically develop actor chops through rehearsals. At the moment, our dumpling-ish, five-foot- nothing, pastel-wearing drama teacher was a more convincing Petruchio than Josh was. And Josh knew it.
 
“Ready, Katie?” she asked.
 
I nodded and listened for my cue. This part was bad, the waiting for my cue part. The construction noises stopped just in time for my new obsession to take over. I scanned the stage searching for the horror-movie machinery. This was where the vat of pig’s blood would tip over and drench me and my colossal actor pretentions and everyone would hoot and laugh and . . . wait a minute. What pretensions? I hadn’t asked for the lead. I was never gunning for the part of the fiery and crazed Katherina. I was going for costumes and crowd scenes. It was Ms. Cooper who’d insisted I read for Katherina on the last day of auditions. I’d wanted to die, kill her, and blow up the school, in that order . . . until I read that first speech out loud.
 
Standing in the middle of the stage, under a spotlight, facing a motley audience of our future director, Travis, and Lisa, two of my best friends—okay my only two friends—plus a few teachers, six detention students and a couple of straggling stagehands all with their eyes trained on me, waiting . . .
 
And my head exploded. I loved it. Acting hit me like a sucker punch and I loved, loved, loved it! I was someone else, but as that someone, I was heard and I was seen. Invisible Katie became visible Katherina. Every nerve ending fired and I came alive. You’d think I would have choked and screwed up my speeches. But I didn’t, not once. Unbelievable. I liked being up there, and it immediately became very, very important that I stay up there. Somehow I was more me on that stage than I was anywhere else. I didn’t understand it, but there it was.
 
The first miracle was that when the cast list was posted yesterday, Katie Rosario had been picked for Shakespeare’s shrew. The second miracle was that no one laughed or rolled their eyes when the list was posted. Josh was really pissed. Not at me being picked as his Katherina, but at his being picked for Petruchio.
 
“No offence, Katie, you’re brilliant.” He shook his head. “But you’ll be dragging my sorry butt from one end of the stage to the other.
 
I apologize in advance. I just needed the credit. I don’t know what the hell Cooper and Travis were smoking.”
 
The most popular boy in the entire school, a star basketball player, not only saw me, but he was asking forgiveness for as yet unspecified crimes. I may have been in a fog, but I was clear enough to recognize that my life had just been turned on its head.
 
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied. “You’ll be a perfect Petruchio, Josh.”
 
Now Ms. Cooper was prompting me. “Anytime, Katie, starting at line 280.”
 
 “Call you me daughter?” I spat.
 
It was the speech that a furious Katherina throws back at her father. She knows her father doesn’t love her and is only interested in getting her off his hands. I got that—just exchange my mother for Katherina’s father.
 
Now I promise you.
You have showed a tender fatherly regard
To wish me wed to one half lunatic,
A madcap ruffian and a swearing Jack
That thinks with oaths to face the matter out.
 
I spaced out again for a bit while Josh fumbled for his response. He had real trouble following the language. I don’t know why I didn’t, but I didn’t. Shakespeare made sense to me. From grade nine on, I’d been reading the plays in secret. I loved the way that Shakespeare’s words felt on my tongue, and I trusted him. I got him, and now look where that had got me. What would be the price I’d have to pay for this? There was always a price.
 
As soon as my lines were done I was Carrie in the Stephen King movie again, the 1976 one with Sissy Spacek, not the 2002 poseur version. I’d been YouTubing the pig’s blood scene ever since I got the part. Red rivers of blood stream daintily down Sissy Spacek’s stunned face until it eventually obliterates her shoulders, her arms, her prom dress. Poor thing, she thought her life had changed too.
 
“Katie?” It was Travis, our, my, director. I turned to him.
 
“Remember that by the time you get to ‘I’ll see thee hanged on Sunday first ’ you have to have established yourself as loud, crude.
 
Katherina is a wild animal that has to be tamed. Give Petruchio something to tame.”

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The Wild Beast

The Wild Beast

by Eric Walters
illustrated by Sue Todd
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tagged : african, africa
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Three on Three

Three on Three

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Triple Threat

Triple Threat

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"You tell 'em, girl!" one of the guys at the fence yelled out, and the others started laughing. The three guys didn't look like they thought it was that funny. Actually, it wasn't. This was no laughing matter. And getting people who were big and angry even angrier was not a good strategy.

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Underdog

Underdog

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Excerpt

Coach was running us like there was no tomorrow. I guessed that was the idea. For everybody except twelve of us there wasn’t going to be a tomorrow because he was picking the team after this tryout.

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United We Stand

United We Stand

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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CHAPTER ONE
My eyes opened ever so slightly. The bed felt warm and soft, and all I wanted to do was sleep some more. But there was light coming through the window and I thought I really should get up . . . probably. I sat up and stretched and looked down at my hands. They were both cut, and there was a line of stitches extending from the palm of my left hand almost up to the wrist. My hand was throbbing. Then it all came back to me.

It was like some sort of bizarre dream–no, a nightmare–but I knew it was all real. There was the evidence, right there on my hands–the cuts, the gash that I got crawling through the debris and the dust storm and then scrambling away, unable to see or breathe, on all fours. I remembered thinking that I’d survived the plane crashing into the building, the explosion, the fire, the mad rush down the stairs, and the collapse of the building, only to die, suffocating, in the dust and debris.

I started to cough like I was still somewhere in that cloud of dust. There was something stuck in my throat. I continued to cough until I spat it out into my hand–thick, black phlegm. God knows what it was, but I figured almost anything could have been lining my throat and lungs. I wiped it on the side of the bedspread.

“Will!”

It was my mother. She was standing in my bedroom doorway. She looked so upset–she must have seen me wiping the gunk on the bedspread.

She burst into tears, rushed over, and threw her arms around me.

“I’m just . . . just so glad . . . you’re okay,” she sobbed.

“I’m fine . . . I’m good.”

“Let me look at you.”

She released her grip and leaned back so she could look me square in the eyes. She started crying again.

“I’m fine, honestly. You don’t have to cry.”

“Honey, these are tears of joy. I’m just so glad you’re all right. And your hand. How is your hand?”

She held up my left hand and looked at the stitches. Even I had to admit that it did look nasty, like I’d been in a knife fight–and lost.

“It must hurt terribly,” she said.

“Not really. It feels almost numb. It looks a lot worse than it is,” I said. “Speaking of which . . . you look awful.”

She laughed. I hadn’t expected that.

“I haven’t slept,” she said. “The two of you were coughing so badly all night.”

“We were? I didn’t notice . . . I thought I slept right through.”

You did. But it kept me awake. I had to be awake anyway, though, to check on your father because of his concussion.”

“Dad . . . is he okay?”

“He’s saying that he’s fine. Not that I know if I should believe him.”

“I want to see him,” I said as I yanked off the blankets and swung my feet to the floor. “Where is he?”

“He’s in the den.”

I climbed out of bed and stumbled slightly, my legs giving way under me. My mother reached out and took me by the arm to steady me. My legs were sore all over, particularly painful in a couple of spots, and I remembered then that my knees and legs were just as cut up and bruised as my hands.

“Let me help you,” my mother offered.

I didn’t argue. I felt like I needed her help. “I want to see Dad.”

She led me out of the bedroom, through the kitchen, and toward the den. The door was slightly ajar and I could hear him–he was talking to somebody. Gently I knocked on the door and pushed it open wider. He was standing by the window. He was alone, talking on the phone.

His face was all cut and bruised, and I was shocked at how swollen one side was. It hadn’t been that swollen last night. His left arm was in a sling, and I knew underneath his shirt were three fractured ribs. If he was coughing all night he would have been in a lot of pain.

He saw us, gave a little smile that was distorted by the swelling, and motioned for us to come in. He continued his conversation.

“I know there will be some complications involved in transferring that amount of money,” he said.

Unbelievable. Yesterday we’d both almost died and here he was doing business, like nothing had happened. I’d had some fleeting fantasy that somehow this would change his compulsion for working so hard, but I guess I was wrong. Business was business, and that would never–

“Hold on a second,” he said into the phone.

He put the phone down on the desk and walked over and wrapped his arms around me, giving me a gigantic hug. Maybe something had changed. I hugged him back and he groaned–I’d forgotten about his ribs.

“Sorry.”

“No need to apologize,” he said. “Just good to have your arms around me.”

I felt the same way.

He loosened his grip so he could look at me. “How you doing, kid?”

“I’m good.”

“You don’t seem so good.”

“Look who’s talking,” I said.

He chuckled. “I guess you’re right, but really, are you okay?”

“As okay as I can be. You?”

“I am now.” He let go of me. “Sit down, this will just take a minute . . . It’s important.”

He picked up the phone again. “Listen, Suzie, I just want–”

“Suzie is okay!” I exclaimed.

My father smiled and nodded.

I hadn’t even thought about her, or any of the other people in the office. Most of them would have gotten out, I thought, but not all of them . . . Some of those people would have died . . . So many people had died.

“You call Cam Peters back and you tell him I want one hundred thousand dollars deposited directly into an account I can use at my discretion. Tell him that is a direct order from me, and if he doesn’t do it immediately I’ll be paying him a visit myself, and I’m not half as pretty or polite as you.”

She said something I couldn’t hear and he laughed.

“Good. Good. So, I’ll see you here right after lunch.” Hearing this phone call about money and knowing my father the way I did, I had a good idea what was happening. He was going to start working, today, from here. He didn’t have an office–he didn’t even have a building–but it was going to take more than the collapse of the World Trade Center to stop him from doing business.

“And, Suzie, thanks for everything. I’m just so glad you’re . . . you’re . . . you got out. You know I love you.”

What was he saying? She was his assistant, his very young assistant, and he was saying all this right in front of–

“Suzie, you’re like family to me, like a daughter,” he said. “Now, are you sure you’re okay to come here today? If you don’t feel up to it I’ll understand . . . Okay, at least promise me that you’ll drive carefully.”

He put the phone down and turned to us. “Suzie is going to help me. I have to try to contact everybody, all the people in the office. I have to know if everybody . . . if everybody is okay.”

“They should be fine,” I said. “They all left before we did, and we got out.”

I’d been with my father–it was sort of like “take your kid to work” day at my school– in his office on the eighty-fifth floor, South Tower, of the World Trade Center. I’d been there when the first plane hit the North Tower. And my father wasn’t just the boss in his own office; he was the fire warden for the floor. Right away he’d ordered everybody in his office–all one hundred people–to stop whatever they were doing and evacuate the building. He’d given that order before the second plane hit our tower.

“I know they all left before us,” he said. “But what if some of them heard the P.A. announcement and decided to go back?”

Just after my father had chased everybody out of the office, and before that second plane hit our building, there had been an announcement over the P.A. saying that there was no danger, that people shouldn’t evacuate the South Tower, and that they should go back to their offices.

“They wouldn’t have done that . . . They wouldn’t have gone back . . . would they?”

He shook his head. “I have no way of knowing for sure,” he said, “but some of our traders get so focused on the deal that they’ll look for any excuse to get back to the office and start working again.”

I started to snicker.

“I know, I know, but I’m hoping to slow down myself.”

“Like today?” I asked.

“No choice today, but from now on there’ll be shorter hours, fewer evenings. You’ll see.”

“We’d like that, dear,” my mother said. “But seeing is believing.”

“Sometimes it’s the other way around. Believing is seeing.”

I sort of got what he was saying. We never would have got out of that building if we hadn’t believed. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I think they were all out,” I said. “We were for sure the last ones in your office after the plane hit the building. Nobody else was there then, and I can’t imagine anybody coming back up after the plane hit.”

“I’m just afraid for anyone who might have been trying to come back,” he said. “Maybe someone was heading up the stairs and ended up on the one of the floors where the plane hit.”

I hadn’t thought about that. The floors a few below ours– seventy- nine and eighty and eighty- one–had been devastated. Anybody on those floors would have been killed instantly.

“And,” my father continued, “the announcement said people could take the elevators. What if people listened to that?”

I’d seen what had happened to some of the elevators. The metal doors had been blown right off and the walls directly across scorched by flames. I’d also heard about elevators that had just plunged down the shafts, killing everybody.

“Suzie’s coming over to help me find a new office and locate all our people. Together we’re going to try to talk to everybody,” my father said. “The only problem is that when we lost the office we also lost all the home addresses and phone numbers for everybody in the company, worldwide.”

“You don’t have a backup?” my mother questioned.

“All financial dealings were backed up in our other offices, but the personnel information for all our branches around the world was kept in our office.” He shook his head slowly, his expression sad. “They thought that ours was the most secure site.”

“So, how are you going to do it?” my mother asked. “How are you going to get in touch with everybody?”

“Suzie socializes with a couple of the women from the office, so she has their numbers. Bill Saunders is a member of my fitness club. We know where some people live and we’ll go through phone books. We’re hoping that every person we reach will have contacts that will help us reach somebody else.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “But why do you need the money . . . — You know, the money you asked to be transferred to you?”

“The money is to secure a lease, rent some office equipment, put in phones and computers. We have to get the business up and running.”

“But right away? Today?”

“I have an obligation to the people in my office to get them back to work as soon as possible. Most people are only one paycheck away from defaulting on their mortgages, from going into bankruptcy. With no money coming in this week, there are people who might be desperate. This way, I’ll have enough to give advances, or maybe even loans. With what they’ve all gone through, the last thing our employees should have to worry about now is money.” He paused. “They might also need the money for other things.”

I gave him a questioning look. “Like what?”

He didn’t answer right away. “I was thinking about medical costs, maybe even funeral expenses. We can only hope that’s not the case.”

We could hope. I just didn’t know if that hope was realistic. Tens of thousands of people had been injured, and thousands killed. Some of them could have been from my father’s office.

“They might also need to see counselors,” my mother added.

“Counselors for what?” I asked.

“People who have gone through tragedy, through difficult or dangerous situations, can suffer from the after-effects,” she said.

“I don’t understand,” I told her. “If you survived, you survived.”

“It’s called post-traumatic stress disorder,” she explained. “I learned about it when I was training as a social worker, and they were talking about it on CNN this morning. They said this is going to affect not just the people who were in the towers and their families, but people everywhere across the country, even around the world.”

“Now I’m really confused. People who weren’t even there are going to suffer from this post-traumatic whatever stress thing?”

“Stress disorder. People will have anxiety attacks, will become depressed, have sleep problems . . . I certainly couldn’t sleep last night,” my mother said.

“Yeah, but you had a reason. You were watching Dad because of the concussion. Besides, you’d spent the day thinking that we were dead–we were there.”

“Your mother is right,” my father said. “This is going to have an effect on people everywhere. And more than that, it’s going to change everything.”

Maybe my thinking was still a bit fuzzy, but I wasn’t getting it.

“This is something that’s going to be a turning point in history,” my father went on. “Everybody will remember where they were and what they were doing at the moment they heard about the attack.”

“I know where I was,” I said. “I was right there.”

“Yes, but everybody who watched it on television will feel like they were there too. And what happened will have an impact that we can’t even imagine yet,” my father said.

“This country has been changed,” my mother said. “We don’t know what those changes are going to be yet, but nothing will be the same.”

“Wait . . . I know that man,” my father said. He was pointing to a television in the corner of the room. With the sound turned down I hadn’t even noticed it was on, but I recognized the man on the screen.

A CNN reporter was interviewing a man from the engineering firm just down the hall, on the same floor as my father’s office. I didn’t even know his name, but I was amazed at how happy I was to see that he was alive. I looked around desperately for the remote, but it was nowhere to be seen, so I rushed over to the set and turned the sound up manually.

“Can you describe the trip down the stairs?” the female reporter asked him.

“At first it was sort of like a fire drill at school. Everybody was just joking around . . . It was light, you know, playful,” he said. “You have to remember, at that point, we didn’t know much about what had happened in the other building–all we knew was that it had been hit by a plane. And our building hadn’t been hit yet.”

“And after the second plane did hit your building?”

“To tell you the truth, at first we still didn’t know exactly what had happened,” he said. “Not really. But we hadn’t made it very far down the stairs, and we knew we were probably only three or four floors below the point of impact by then. We felt it. A couple of people were knocked over, and then we felt the whole building shake, and the lights went out and the sprinklers came on and some of the panels fell off the wall. It wasn’t a school fire drill any more.”

“And you are an engineer,” the reporter said.

“Yes, a structural engineer. My firm designs buildings, bridges, parking structures. We know about how to put a building up,” he said.

“Or what it might take to bring one down,” the reporter said.

“That too. When the building reacted to the impact and started to really sway, I had a pretty good idea that something major had happened. And then when I smelled the fuel it was pretty clear that it was another plane.”

“That must have been terrifying.”

“That’s the strangest part. It wasn’t terrifying because it was just so . . . so . . . unreal.”

“I can only imagine. And what was it like going down after that?”

“It suddenly got much more crowded, but it was really, really orderly. People were friendly, offering encouragement, helping other people.”

“We’ve heard the same from other witnesses. It was as though this terrible event somehow brought out the very best in people.”

“I guess the fact that nobody knew what was about to happen helped. If people had known how close we were to the collapse of the building, then panic would have set in, I think.”

“As a structural engineer, you must have considered that possibility.”

He shook his head. “As a structural engineer I didn’t think there was a chance of it happening. Those buildings were made to sustain an airplane crash. I just assumed that the worst had passed. The plane had hit the tower and the building had absorbed the force. I thought it was simply a case of containing the fire. That was all.”

“I guess perhaps ignorance was bliss.”

“That’s the strangest thing,” he said. “My girlfriend was watching TV in her office uptown, and she knew more than we knew. People halfway around the world who were watching on TV knew more about what was happening than those of us in the building. I didn’t know anything about the plane that hit the Pentagon, or about the fourth plane that was brought down in Pennsylvania.”

My father and I hadn’t heard about the other planes either, of course–not until we were being treated, stitched up, in the mobile hospital.

“Were there any people in your office who didn’t . . . didn’t make it?” the reporter asked.

“No. Everybody got out. We stayed as a group all the way out and onto the street. We were two blocks away by the time the South Tower collapsed. We were so incredibly fortunate that we left when we did.”

The reporter turned toward the camera. “There were very few people above the floors where the impact occurred who survived. Mr. Johnston’s–”

“Please, call me Dennis,” the man said, and smiled.

“Certainly. Dennis’s office was located on the eighty-fifth floor, and his survival was based on the fact that he made the decision to evacuate immediately after the first plane hit the North Tower.”

“It really wasn’t our decision,” he said. “We left only because of the fire warden on our floor.”

I turned to my dad. “That’s you!”

He smiled and nodded.

“I don’t even know his name,” Mr. Johnston said. “I think it was John . . . John something.”

“Fuller,” I said to the TV.

“My hero,” my mother said, and she reached out and grabbed my father’s hand.

“Nothing heroic. I was just doing what a fire warden is supposed to do.”

I thought back to how I’d wanted to leave right away, get out of the building, but my father had insisted on both making sure that all the employees from his office left and trying to get everybody from the entire floor to evacuate. The first place we’d gone to was the office where Mr. Johnston–Dennis–worked. He and the other staff had listened, closed up the offices, and left right away. Thank goodness they’d made it down before the second plane hit.

One of the other offices had not been so cooperative or friendly. My father had tried to convince the employees, tried ordering them to leave, but they had just refused. And then, when that stupid announcement came over the P.A. telling people not to evacuate, to go back to their offices, there was no chance of their listening to him any more. The boss there–some snotty little guy in a rumpled suit–ordered them back to work and pretty well tossed us out of their office. They went back to their phones and computers, trying to close another deal, make some more money. They were probably all dead now. That thought sent a shiver down my spine. They were all gone because they wouldn’t listen to my father, and that guy on the TV and all his co- workers were alive because they did. What an unbelievable thought.

“That fire warden is the reason I’m alive,” Mr. Johnston continued, “the reason all of us in our office are alive. I’d like to meet him, shake his hand, and thank him for what he did.” He suddenly looked sad. “But I don’t know if he . . . if he . . . He was still there on the floor when we left.”

“And you don’t know if he made it.”

Mr. Johnston shook his head slowly. He looked as though he was on the verge of tears.

The reporter turned once again to face the camera. “So John something, the fire warden on the eighty-fifth floor, is one of the hundreds of unknown heroes who saved lives. This is one of the themes we have heard continually–people risking their lives to save others, putting the lives of total strangers above their own safety. So, John, if you’re out there and you hear this report, would you please call in? We all want to hear from you. We all want to know that you made it out. Now back to our main desk.”

The scene shifted to two anchormen sitting behind a big desk. My father had found the remote, and he muted the sound.

“Are you going to call?” my mother asked.

He gave her a questioning look.

“You should at least let them know your name.”

“Nobody needs to know my name.”

“Don’t you think Dennis Johnston would like to know your name, would like to know you’re alive? Wouldn’t that be reassuring, comforting for him?” my mother said.

“I guess you’re right. I’ll call when I have time, later today.”

“Do you want me to call for you?” my mother asked.

“I’d appreciate that.”

The scene on the TV shifted to the site of the World Trade Center, or what was left of it.

“Wow,” I gasped. “It’s just so hard to believe.”

“It is,” my father agreed. “It’s like a war zone.”

The scene was of twisted metal, a few columns still standing, and the latticework facing of one of the buildings standing ten stories high. But most of what the Twin Towers had been was flattened to the ground in a gigantic pile that seemed to go on forever. Smoke was rising from a dozen spots across the rubble, and the whole area seemed to be in a fog or mist. Obviously there were still fires burning beneath the surface.

I tried to picture where we’d been when the first tower had fallen, but I didn’t think we had the right angle, or maybe it had all been covered with debris when the second tower fell.

Surrounding the debris from the fallen towers were those buildings that were still standing, barely. They had gaping holes, entire sides ripped open, crumpled floors, and they had the strange appearance of having almost melted . . . dripping down, distorted, angles all wrong, like they were made of plastic that had been left too close to a fire.

Moving throughout the pile, like little ants, were people. Some were obviously police or firefighters, all in uniform, but others wore construction helmets and were removing the rubble. They were all probably searching for survivors. But looking at the scene, like that, I wondered how anybody could have survived.

“And we walked right through it,” I said out loud.

“We were so close that we couldn’t really see it. At least not like this,” my father said.

“And on the TV was the only way I could see it,” my mother said. “Just staring at the set, not knowing if you were alive or . . .”

She started to cry again, and both my father and I put our arms around her.

“I . . . I was so helpless . . . And I called and called, but I couldn’t get through to you on your cellphone . . .”

“All the cell towers were overwhelmed with people trying to make calls,” my father explained. “And the stairwells were dead reception zones, I think.”

“I was just calling and calling,” she sobbed. “And then when the building collapsed and I still couldn’t get you . . .” She started to shake and sob even louder.

My mother was what my father called “a worrier.” She always worried when my father was late and hadn’t called us, so he always tried to call. With me, it was even worse. She always wanted to know exactly where I was and who I was with. And, of course, being a teenager, I was always trying to be sure she didn’t know where I was or who I was with. Generally, though, I did let her know at least a version of the truth. That just made life easier for everybody.

“The important thing is that we’re all right,” my father said. “We’re right here.”

“But you could have been killed,” she sobbed.

“But we weren’t.”

“I know . . . I know . . . Thank God. I just stared at the TV and prayed.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t have to go through it alone,” my father said.

My aunt–my mother’s sister–and some of the neighbors had been with her. They’d still been here when we’d finally got home, just before eleven. We were greeted with cheers and tears, practically mobbed. Some of these people had been our neighbors for years, but I’d never even talked to them except to maybe say hello, or we’d wave at each other when we drove past. Strange how, suddenly, they were acting like family.

“You know, I think it was harder watching than it would have been to have actually been there,” my mother said.

My eyes opened wide in shock and met my father’s gaze. He shrugged, and his eyes pleaded with me not to say anything. After what we’d gone through, how could she even think that it had been worse for her?

“I know that sounds awful . . . insensitive,” my mother said. “But I would rather have been there with you two, knowing that you were alive, than been here without you.”

That opened my eyes again. I did understand. At least we knew.

“We called as soon as we could,” my father said. “We just couldn’t call right away.”

We’d left the building just before it collapsed. We were showered with debris, knocked off our feet, and practically suffocated in the cloud of dust that overwhelmed everything and blotted out the sun. That was maybe the scariest part of the whole day. Scary because I’d thought we were finally safe. Scary because my father wasn’t with me at the very moment the tower collapsed, and for a few short seconds–half a minute maybe–I’d thought he was dead. Maybe I could understand what my mother had gone through. And for her it wasn’t a few short seconds. It was hours.

“It’s the president,” my mother said, pointing at the TV set.

President Bush was sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, looking solemn but calm. Underneath was a caption indicating that this was a rebroadcast of a speech he’d given yesterday. My father hit the Mute button again so we could hear him speak.
“Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and -women, military and federal workers; moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.”
Down below, on the banner that ran across the screen, it said that the main suspect in the attacks was someone named Osama bin Laden, leader of a terrorist group in Afghanistan. That was hard to get my head around–what gripe did Afghanistan have with America? My dad had talked about religious extremists when we were trying to get out, trying to make some sense of what had happened. Was that who these guys were? And then came the updated numbers: “Death toll believed to exceed 3,000, with injuries to over 7,000.”

That seven thousand included me and my father.

“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.
“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundation of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
I felt a chill go up my spine. The president–my president–was speaking out for all of us, speaking about something that had happened to me.
“Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America–with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.”
I knew what my father had done, what we’d both done. And I thought about all the policemen and firefighters . . . Oh my God, I’d forgotten about James’s father. He’d been one of the firemen going up while we’d been going down. I didn’t know what had happened to him. I had to call James. What sort of a friend was I–what sort of best friend–to have forgotten about him? No, calling him on the phone wasn’t enough. I had to go over to his house. Immediately, right now. I started to speak but stopped myself. I couldn’t interrupt the president.
“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.
“Thank you. Good night and God bless America.”
The president’s image faded and it was back to the news anchors. My father muted the sound again.

“The president spoke for all of us,” my father said. “Strange, this is one of the darkest events in our history, but I know we’re going to rise above it. I have no doubts.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about the people who aren’t going to rise above it,” I said. “The three thousand people who died.”

“And their families,” my mother added.

“I need to go and see James and his family,” I said.

“I already called, and we might go to see them tonight,” my mother said.

“No, I need to see James before that . . . Wait, you were talking to them?” I asked.

“I called and spoke to James’s mother this morning.”

“And have they heard anything?” I asked, although I was almost afraid to get the answer.

She shook her head. “They’re still waiting. Sometimes the waiting is the hardest part.”

“I have to go over there right now.”

“You need to come into the kitchen, sit down, and eat breakfast. Both of you.”

“I’m not hungry,” I said.

“And I’d better continue to try to make arrangements for–”

“No,” my mother said forcefully, cutting my father off. “Both of you have been through a lot, physically and mentally, and you need to eat. Right after breakfast you can get back on the phone, John, and I’ll take Will over to see the Bennetts.”

“I can walk over,” I said.

“I know you can, but I want to go as well.”

“I’m okay, you don’t have to be right there with me.”

“I’m not going for you. I’m going for James’s mother. I think I know what she’s going through as much as anybody else can. Now, breakfast first.”

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Voyageur

Voyageur

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War of the Eagles

War of the Eagles

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Wave
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
-
 
"I just can't believe that you're not coming with us," my mother said to my sister.
 
We were in the car on our way to the airport, but this time only three of the four of us were bringing luggage.
 
"I'll be with you in spirit," my sister answered.
 
"Spirit isn't the same thing, Beth. It's just going to-"
 
"Seem so strange," I said, cutting her off. If I'd let her finish, it would have made about the eleven millionth time she'd said that.
 
"Yes. It will be strange," my mother agreed.
 
"Christmas without both of my kids with me will be . . . well, worse than strange. It'll be just . . . awful!"
 
"You're going to make her feel even more guilty than she already does, Ingrid," my father said. "Sooner or later this was going to happen. Children do grow up."
 
"Well, of course they do, but I wasn't expecting it to happen so soon." My mother's voice sounded teary.
 
"Beth, can you slow down a bit?" my father said.
 
"Not really, Dad. I mean, it's like you said, I am growing up, and-"
 
"I meant your driving," my father explained. "Can you slow down? The roads are a little slick." Beth was driving, and being in the passenger seat was not a comfortable place for my father.
 
"Yes, Father," my sister answered, in that formal tone she always used when she was sure he was wrong but she was prepared to humor him.
 
She slowed the car down. I was grateful. I knew she was a very responsible driver- a responsible everything-but I was never as easy going with her behind the wheel as when my father was driving. And the roads really were a bit icy- what else would you expect for December in New York?
 
"Besides," my mother said, "Beth's not the one who should be feeling guilty. I'm the one who's going to be lying in the sun and leaving my baby stuck up here in the snow and cold."
 
"I like the winter, Mom."
 
"But you love Phuket," my mother said. "You're always saying that Thailand is your favorite place in the world."
 
"Not anymore," I said.
 
They all looked at me quizzically- including my sister in the rearview mirror.
 
"Now her favorite is any place where her Tadpole is."
 
My father snorted a little and then choked back the laugh. "Tadpole" was the nickname I'd hung on Beth's boyfriend, Tad. She didn't like it, which of course made my father and me like it even more. They'd been together almost six months now, and it was beginning to look like a serious sort of thing.
 
"You all know that Tad has nothing to do with my decision to stay home. He's not even going to be around the whole the time."
 
"He's not?" my mother asked.
 
"No. His family is heading up to Vermont to ski. They go skiing every Christmas the same way we go to Thailand."
 
"I didn't know that," my mother moaned.
 
"I didn't tell you because I was sure, if you thought I was going to be alone for even a day, you'd want to cancel your trip and you'd end up ruining everybody's Christmas."
 
"So this way it's just your Christmas that's ruined?" my mother said.
 
"It won't be ruined," Beth said. "Tad's parents even invited me to come along with them."
 
"And you turned them down?" my father asked.
 
"I would have liked to go, but I couldn't."
 
"Why not?" my mother asked.
 
"For the same reason I can't go with you. They're not getting back until the twenty- eighth, and by then I have to be in Minnesota."
 
We all knew what that meant. Beth's swim team was heading out on the road for a swim meet on December 27. My sister was in first-year university on a swimming scholarship.
 
"That is so stupid," I said to her. "Couldn't your coach find a swim meet in Alaska? How did he manage to find a meet in one of the few places in the entire United States that's even colder than New York?"
 
"I would have preferred Hawaii," she admitted. "Or Thailand."
 
"I just wish that my baby didn't-"
 
"I just wish that everybody would forget it!" Beth said, cutting her off sharply. "I'm not a baby, I'm a woman. I would rather have gone on vacation with my family, or even Tad's family, over Christmas, but it can't be. Tad's almost as bad as you- he offered to not go with his family so he could be here to babysit me. Honestly, everybody, I will be fine!"
 
We drove in silence for a while, the only sound the beating of the windshield wipers as they cleared away the snow.
 
Finally, Beth said, almost as an apology, "I really do wish I could go with you."
 
"It's the end of a family tradition," my mother said with a sigh.
 
Going to Thailand for Christmas was something my mother's family had been doing since long before Mom even met Dad. When Dad came along he joined in, and then when Beth and I were born we became part of the tradition too.
 
"It's just so sad," my mother said. "One after the other."
 
I knew what she was thinking about. I just hoped she wasn't going to cry. This was going to be the second Christmas since her mother died. Her father had passed on two years before that, so last Christmas had been the first with just the four of us . . . and this year there'd only be three.
 
"We'll call you," my mother said.
 
"If we can get a line," my father warned.
 
He was right to mention that. Phuket was beautiful-maybe the most beautiful place in the whole world- but the phone service could be a little sketchy. Especially at the small resort where we always stayed. It was on an island, a wonderful place, but there were no televisions or computers. They'd put phones in the little bungalows where we stayed only two years earlier. It was sort of like the Land That Time Forgot. My mother called it Paradise, and apparently Paradise came without broadband wireless, Internet, or reliable cellphone reception.
 
Usually my father liked that. It was his chance to get away from the world- more specifically, to get away from his law firm. Christmas in Thailand was the one time he could leave his BlackBerry behind and not have the office calling and pestering him about his clients. But being out of touch this year wasn't going to be such a bonus. It wouldn't have been nearly as hard on my parents to leave Beth behind if they could have been tethered by a telephone line. They were worried about her.
 
That almost made me laugh- like they really thought they had to worry about my sister. She was, without a doubt, the most responsible nineteen- year- old in the world. She didn't smoke or drink- not even a beer or a glass of wine. She was an honors student who had never skipped a class or failed a course- she'd never even had a grade below the high 80s. She was always where she was supposed to be, and on the rare occasions she couldn't be, she called. She helped around the house. She made meals and cleaned up without being asked. All of my parents' friends just loved her. She was on a full athletic scholarship, so even though my parents could easily have afforded to send her to school, she was there for free. Even her choice of boyfriend was perfect: Tad was in law school, he came from a good family, and he had a wonderful future in front of him. My sister was, in other words, probably the worst older sister a twelve- year- old guy could have.
 
I knew they tried not to compare the two of us, but it was just an inevitable, unspoken thing. I felt sort of like Supergirl's younger brother- no X- ray vision, couldn't fly, and was much slower than a speeding bullet. Not that I was a problem for my parents- I did well in school and sports and I had lots of friends- but I was no superhero fighting crime or evil super- villains, either.
 
Beth slowed the car down as we entered JFK International Airport. "Which terminal?"
 
"Three. Thai Airways," my father said. "Are you going to drop us off or come inside?"
 
"I'm going to park. I want to come inside and see you off- you know, wave goodbye."
 
My mother reached over from the back seat and gave Beth's shoulder a little squeeze.
 
"Just go to short- term parking," my father said. "I want you back on the road before the weather gets any worse."
 
"I'll be fine," Beth said.
 
"I know you'll be fine. Just indulge me on this, okay?"
 
My sister swung into a parking space. My father got out and fed the meter and I climbed out to start getting the luggage out of the trunk. It was cold and the wind was whipping the snow around. It probably wasn't falling as much as it was blowing. My father came around to help with the luggage while my sister offered my mother her arm and helped her toward the shelter of the terminal. I watched her move, slowly but steadily. I was looking for some telltale sign that it was starting to pass again, or that her symptoms were getting worse.
 
"She's going to be okay," my father said.
 
"I know. Beth can take care of herself."
 
"I meant your mother."
 
Why did it still surprise me that he could read my mind?
 
"She's already going into remission. I can tell," he said.
 
I wanted to believe him. I really did.
 
He pulled the last of the bags out of the trunk and we started to wheel them into the terminal. I tried to move quickly. It was cold and I wasn't dressed for it. None of us was, except Beth. We always left our winter coats and boots behind rather than take them with us on these trips. Better a mad dash in the cold than looking like a bunch of Eskimos lost in the tropics when we arrived.
 
My mother had navigated the slippery path without falling. She hadn't fallen in days. Maybe my father was right, but I just couldn't tell. Multiple Sclerosis was tricky like that. There were so many little symptoms-being tired, dropping things, losing your balance. Those things happened to everybody sometimes- no big deal- but in an MS sufferer they could mean the disease was getting worse. We'd learned that Multiple Sclerosis is an auto immune disease that affects your body's whole central nervous system. My mother's type of MS was called "relapsing- remitting." She could have an episode and then, almost like magic, all the symptoms might fade away, and it would be like she didn't even have MS, or like she was cured. It could be that way for months. Once it had lasted almost two years. I'd even forgotten she had it that time.
 
My sister, though, never forgot. Even during the healthy times, the remissions, she was always there, watching, taking care of things, waiting for the relapse, when the symptoms would come back. Sometimes she seemed more like my mother's mother. Which of course meant that she was acting like my mother . . . or my grandmother . . . or whatever. Anyway, instead of acting like a big sister, which would have been bad enough, she was more like a third parent.
 
After passing through the sliding doors and into the terminal, I stomped my feet to shake the snow and slush off my sneakers. Wet feet for a twenty- five- hour plane trip was not an appealing thing.
 
"That is always the coldest two minutes of the winter," I said absently.
 
"Second coldest," Beth said. "Coming back to the car at the end of the trip is worse."
 
She had a point.
 
"Easy for you to say," I told her. She looked all warm and snuggly in her ski jacket and leather boots and gloves.
 
"That's the one and only tiny advantage of missing out on a tropical holiday with my family."
 
"Hey, it was your choice, so you're wasting your time if you think you can make me feel the least bit guilty." I started to walk away.
 
"Sorry. Wait," she said, and she grabbed me by the arm to slow me down. Mom and Dad were walking ahead. "Sam, I need you to help out Dad," she said.
 
"What does Dad need help with?"
 
"Watching Mom, of course!"
 
While she hadn't said, Watching Mom, of course, you idiot! that was clearly what she was actually saying.
 
"She's doing okay," I said. "She's in remission again."
 
"I don't know about that."
 
"Dad says-"
 
"Dad can never be trusted about that. He sees what he wants to see, and he only tells us what he thinks will make us feel better. Haven't you figured that out by now?"
 
"I think she's in remission, too."
 
"You're not much better than him."
 
"Thanks a lot." I paused. "So, you don't think she's in remission?"
 
"I don't know . . . maybe . . . yeah, I think probably."
 
"Then why are you giving me a hard time?" I demanded.
 
"I just want you to watch. And help. Make sure she doesn't have to carry anything heavy, or if you pour her a glass of water make sure it isn't too full. Offer a hand going down stairs-"
 
"I understand," I said. "I'll help where I can."
 
"Good. It's not fair to Dad if he has to do everything."
 
And maybe it wasn't fair to ask a twelve- year- old to take care of his mother. But, then again, what was fair about MS?
 
We swiftly caught up to Mom and Dad in the lineup at the ticket counter. We really didn't have to wait in line. My mother had a letter from her doctor explaining her condition, which would have allowed her- and her family, of course- to skip the lineup and pre- board the plane. But my mother wouldn't have any of that. She insisted on never taking advantage of her situation. She said if she were in a wheelchair it would be different. I hoped it would never be different. At least not for a long, long time. I knew where the MS road could lead- unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, not able even to hold a glass, or dress herself. I just hoped it would be a slow trip with lots of stops along the way, and plenty of times when the whole train would turn around and head back toward total health.
 
We slowly shuffled forward, pushing and pulling our luggage along with us. The line was long but it was moving fairly quickly. We got to the front and a ticket agent waved us over.
 
"Welcome to Thai Airways. Four?" she asked.
 
"I wish," my mother said. "Just three." She placed our tickets and passports on the counter and the agent took them.
 
"How many bags?" the ticket agent asked.
 
"Three to check and three carry- on bags," my father said. He put the first two bags on the scale and I added the third.
 
"Did you pack the bags yourself, and have they been out of your care since you packed them?" she asked.
 
"We packed them, and they've been with us at all times," my father said.
 
The agent put tags on the three bags. She then handed back the tickets and passports. "Boarding is at nine- thirty so you should head through Security within the next fifteen minutes."
 
"Thanks," my mother said.
 
We walked along, my father leading, my mother with her arm around my sister's shoulders.
 
"One more thing," my father said. "I've left you a list of emergency contacts and my bank card . . . you know the PIN, right?"
 
"Of course, but I really don't need your bank card," she said.
 
"Just in case of an emergency. Suppose the car needed to be fixed, or there was some sort of problem at home like the furnace breaking. I'm sure nothing will go wrong, but just to be sure . . . okay?"
 
"Okay."
 
"I wish you were coming with us," Dad said, "but it's good to know that if anything goes wrong we can count on you to take care of it."
 
"You are so responsible," my mother added, giving my sister a little hug. "Now remember, we'll call you as soon as we get there."
 
"Best to call me on my cellphone. I'm not planning on spending much time in my room."
 
"Your room?"
 
"At the dorm. I'm going to go back to school tomorrow."
 
"But you don't have to be back at school until the twenty- seventh, do you?" my mother asked.
 
"No, but I just can't see staying at home all that time by myself. At least at school there are a few people still around. Some kids live too far away to go home for the holidays. And of course there are the international students, too. There are even a couple of members of the swim team who are sticking around over the holidays. At least I won't be completely alone."
 
My mother made a little gasping sound. God, she had almost made me feel bad.
 
"Honest, Mom, it's okay. We're going to have our own little Christmas gathering and everything. It'll be fine."
 
We stopped in front of the security gates.
 
"I think this is it," my father said.
 
My mother and then my father gave my sister a hug goodbye. I could tell that my mother was working hard at not crying. She wasn't doing that good a job.
 
"Aren't you going to give your sister a hug?" my father asked.
 
"If I have to," I protested. I wrapped my arms around her.
 
"Wow, when did you get so big?" she asked.
 
"It's not that I'm getting bigger- I think you're shrinking. Maybe it's all that time in the pool."
 
"I don't think so." She gave me another hug. "Help Dad, don't forget," she whispered in my ear.
 
"I will," I whispered back. "Don't worry."
 
"We have to get going," my father said.
 
My mother gave Beth another quick squeeze and then we started for the security gates.
 
We stopped just before we entered and I looked back. My sister gave a little wave. I waved back. And then she turned and walked away.

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We All Fall Down

We All Fall Down

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Chapter One

"Okay, everybody, let’s settle down and get to work!” Mrs. Phelps, my history teacher, yelled out over the din of the class.

Slowly, reluctantly, people ended their conversations and shuffled to their seats. Monday morning at 8:30 was not a great time to do anything except sleep. Up until last week, that’s what I was doing at this time. I still couldn’t believe how fast the summer holidays had gone by.

While there were no assigned seats I slipped into my usual spot, like everybody else. It was amazing how quickly – within a few days – everybody had fallen into predictable patterns. Not that I was complaining, because I had a good seat – not by the front, but not in the very back row, either. Teachers always kept a close eye on anybody who sat in the last row. On my left-hand side was my best friend, James. Beside him, clearly visible as I innocently looked in his direction to talk, was a girl who had lots of cleavage, wore little tiny tops and had a tendency to bend over a lot to get things out of the pack underneath her desk. Actually, this was a very good seat.

“You’ll have to excuse me if I still don’t know all of your names,” Mrs. Phelps said.

I figured her not knowing mine was still a plus.

“I have four grade nine history classes this semester, so that’s over one hundred students who are new to the school and new to me.”

I didn’t know Mrs. Phelps very well yet, but I liked her. She was interested in her students, but not too interested. And she seemed to take her job seriously, but not too seriously. She wore a wedding ring, and there were pictures of a couple of kids on her desk. That meant she had a life beyond history. Teachers who lived for their subject could really make their students’ lives miserable.

This school was so much bigger than my old school. It was hard to go from being the big guys in grade eight to being the little kids in grade nine. High school was like a whole different world – a world inhabited by thousands and thousands of kids I ­didn’t know, all of whom seemed a whole lot bigger than me. Thank goodness almost all of my class from the old school had made the transfer, so I knew lots of people already. Actually, people like James I’d known since Kindergarten. Good old James. I looked over and past him to that girl . . . wow . . . maybe there was nothing wrong with getting to know new people, either.

“I’m going to recite a line of poetry and I want you all to say the next line.”

There was an audible grumbling and I turned to James to ask if I’d missed a poem in the assigned reading. Suddenly my attention was caught as that girl slowly reached underneath the desk for her history textbook. My mouth dropped open and I tried not to stare . . . I wondered if she was doing that by accident or if it was a very deliberate thing meant to drive boys – to drive me – crazy.

Ring around the rosie!” Mrs. Phelps sang out.

A pocket full of posies,” most of us chanted back after a slight hesitation.

Ashes, ashes,” she continued.

We all fall down,” we all said, finishing the rhyme.

“Excellent! So you all know that poem.”

“Poem? Isn’t that like a nursery rhyme?” somebody asked.

“Rhyme, as in poem,” Mrs. Phelps replied. “Since this is a history class, can anybody tell me the history of this verse?”

“I think my mother taught it to me, so it must be pretty old,” a girl said.

I realized that with the exception of a few kids in the class it wasn’t just Mrs. Phelps who didn’t know people’s names.

“It is very old. Even older than your mother or grandmother, or great-grandmother,” Mrs. Phelps said.

“And it’s English, right?” a second girl said – or really asked.

“Old English. Very old. This poem is believed to be somewhere between six and seven hundred years old.”

That surprised me, and judging from the looks and murmurs from the rest of the class I wasn’t alone.

“Does anybody know what this verse means?”

“It’s something kids say when they play games or skip,” the first girl replied.

“Yeah, they played a lot of games back then because they didn’t have TV or radios or even video games,” a guy added. “All they had was, like, rocks . . . I think that’s why they called it the Stone Age.”

“Actually, the time frame when that verse was written is most commonly called the Dark Ages, but you’re correct, they didn’t have anything that we would consider modern,” Mrs. Phelps said.

I was impressed by how gently she’d said that, instead of just telling him that he was stupid.

“And the rhyme became popular because of the absence of some other modern amenities . . . primarily health care, medicine and proper sanitation. Many people believe that the poem that you all knew and recited is about the bubonic plague, about the Black Death.”

James leaned over and gave me a little nudge. “Black Death . . . how about that for a name for the group?” he whispered.

I shook my head. We weren’t black, and I was seriously hoping that nobody would die. James played guitar and I played bass and saxophone. We’d been jamming with a couple of other guys in James’s garage, and we were trying to come up with a name for our band.

“I’ll translate the poem for you,” Mrs. Phelps said. “The first line, Ring around the rosie, refers to the rose-colored discoloration of the skin and flesh caused by the plague. The skin turns purple and then black, most often in the extremities . . . fingers, toes and, in males, the genitalia.”

I felt a shudder go up my spine as an audible groan came from the males in the room. Somehow that last part seemed a lot worse than your fingers and toes changing color.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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When Elephants Fight

When Elephants Fight

by Eric Walters
other primary creator Adrian Bradbury
edition:Hardcover
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Wild Beast

Wild Beast

by Eric Walters
illustrated by Sue Todd
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
tagged : africa, african
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Wounded

Wounded

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The Joys of Teaching Boys

The Joys of Teaching Boys

Igniting writing experiences that meet the needs of all students
edition:Paperback
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Tell Me Why

Tell Me Why

How Young People Can Change the World
compiled by Eric Walters
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Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Sometimes you know where a book begins and sometimes you don’t. I know where this one came from.

As a children’s writer, teacher, social worker, and parent I have a great deal of contact with children and young adults. I have watched as they grow older and become aware of the larger world around them. Part of this awareness is learning about events that are often tragic – events that confuse and disturb them.

As an author, I travel across the country speaking to hundreds of thousands of young people. Many of my books have dealt with difficult subjects including genocide (Shattered ), terrorism (We All Fall Down), street kids (Sketches), and children affected by war (When Elephants Fight). After these presentations, kids would often ask me questions about these situations, about human nature, about why people treat each other so badly, asking about good and evil, and what if anything they could possibly do to make an impact. I always tried my best to answer them. Sometimes, though, it felt more like I was just giving excuses than answers. These young people genuinely wanted to know the answers. And, quite frankly, so did I.

One night I woke up around three in the morning. I was thinking about some project or idea. I don’t even remember what it was, but what I do remember that was in the middle of the night I had doubts. After sitting and thinking and worrying and wondering I sat down at my computer and wrote an e-mail to my friend Chandra – I feel so honoured to even say that – my friend, Chandra. I needed to talk to somebody. I needed advice. I needed his wisdom.

I told him about what I was working on, what I was doing, my worries and concerns about whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Satisfied, feeling a little better just putting down my thoughts, I sent the e-mail and got ready to go back to bed. Three minutes later I got a reply – it wasn’t three in the morning in India where he lives and where he runs his orphanage.

His answer was simple. He told me that he had faith in the plan, and more importantly, in me and my ability to complete it. He told me he had no doubts and that neither should I. And because he said it, I knew it was right.

This is where this project started. I was blessed to have somebody like him to turn to – a person not only of compassion and dedication, but wisdom. I just wished that other people – especially children – had somebody like him to write to.

I started to wonder about how people would respond to a letter – a letter asking the questions kids were asking me. I worked with a group of seventy Grade 7 and 8 students at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Public School in Oshawa. They helped me to craft a letter that reflected the questions young people needed to ask. And while I made up Jo, the questions that Jo is asking are genuine and real.

I approached a diverse and eclectic group of individuals from the world of politics, entertainment, science, sports, and the arts. From astronaut, to opera singer, to cartoonist, to tight rope walker, to basketball player, to politician, this is a group that spans the range of human activities.

While they come from very different worlds they all share the same common trait. These are people who not only care, but have actively worked to make a difference. They are all genuine heroes.

Still trying to seek answers, I sought out the wisdom of some of my other heroes. I went back through time to find the words of wisdom of the greatest minds, the greatest humanitarians in history. Contained in this book are quotes from Socrates, Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Buddha, Mohammad, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa – quotes that speak directly to the questions posed by Jo.

The final part is not looking back in time, but toward the future. One of Jo’s questions is, “What, if anything, do you think one kid can do to make a difference?” Profiled are five young people who are not only talking about making the world a better place, but are making the world the better place. These young people are the ultimate role models. I hope in their deeds other young people will be inspired not only to think, but do, that they will understand that greatest is contained within each of us – that to quote from the letter of one of the respondents, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, “It is important to remember that within each Mother Teresa, within each Mahatma Gandhi, within the heroes among us who have given of themselves to make a difference in the world, there is a small boy or girl who began by asking these same very valuable questions.”

Peace,
Eric Walters

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