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Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Springer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Nancy Springer
All rights reserved.
"Crawdad fight!" Aaron yelled, holding a humongous crayfish in one hand as he lunged through the water at me. He aimed its claws toward my face. "C'mon, Jeremy, defend yourself!"
I yipped and dived for the bottom of the river, searching for a weapon of my own. All I saw were itty-bitty crayfish sending up puffs of silt as they backed under rocks. How had Aaron caught that monster? It was practically the size of a lobster, and pissed off. If it got its claws on my bare skin, it would give me one hell of a nip. Trust Aaron to grab the biggest, baddest crawdad in the swimming hole—
And here he came, diving at me in a rush of bubbles, that hellacious crawdad aimed my way. Even underwater, he was grinning.
Crawdad fight, my eye. I didn't stand a chance. I pushed off the bottom of the swimming hole and shot to the surface, where I sucked in a big breath of air. Then I swam hard toward shore.
There was an Aaron-size splash behind me as he surfaced. "Booger," he yelled, "where you going?" He sounded puppy-dog hurt, but I knew he was clowning around. I mean, Aaron and I had been friends since third grade. When we were little, he used to fool me, but now we were starting senior year, and I knew when he was kidding.
"You think you're hot snot on a silver platter," he yelled, "but you're just a cold Booger on a paper plate!"
I started laughing, which is not a good idea when you're trying to swim. Water went up my nose and made me cough. Aaron swam after me, but he was splashing like a hippo, because with that crayfish in one hand he couldn't swim right. Even coughing, I got to the boulders at the edge of the river in plenty of time to haul myself out and look around for some kind of counter-crawdad armament. Okay, my bike helmet. Aaron and I had been biking to get in shape for football, and we'd stopped at the river for a swim.
He did an end around past the boulders and climbed out of the river, still grinning, still wielding his giant crayfish. "Better give it up, Booger," he teased.
"No way, nimrod." Arms outstretched, bike helmet in both hands as a shield, I faced off with him.
"Then prepare to be creamed." Aaron advanced with crayfish at the ready.
With every step he took the crawdad looked bigger. "Jeez, man," I said, "that thing's enormous. You should take it home and feed your family."
Just like that, Aaron's hand dropped, and he lost his grin. He turned away from me, crouched by the river, and let the crayfish go scuttling back into the water. Without a word he sat on a boulder, just staring.
What the hey? I had no idea. I parked myself on another boulder and did some staring myself, watching the minnows swarming in the sunlit shallows at the river's edge. My wet shorts trickled on the rock. The sun dried my shoulders.
After a while I asked, "What's the matter?"
Aaron muttered, "Nothing."
"C'mon, Aaron. What's got you torqued?"
He sighed, then said, "Family, schmamily. I don't want to go home."
There could have been lots of reasons, like too many decisions waiting for him, whether to join the army or go to college, all that. Or maybe he was in trouble with his parents because his kid sister had ratted on him about something. Or maybe he was fighting with his brother. Or maybe his parents were fighting with each other. I expected him to say something like that.
But what he actually said was, "Booger, I'm scared."
I was so surprised, I didn't say anything. Just for a minute I thought he was setting up one of his jokes, like the time he got into the girls' locker room and switched all the bras around.
"I mean it, Jeremy!" He wasn't clowning. He faced me with his eyes shadowy dark, with his round face stark serious. "I'm scared."
"Huh?" I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
He said, "Huh, hell, pay attention," but he didn't roll his eyes as usual.
I said, "Scared to go home? You mean, like, today?"
"Noooo, next year. Duh." But he didn't smile. He looked down, picked up a round stone, and held it like an egg in his hand.
"Just—I've got this stupid feeling. Like something's gonna happen."
In all the years I'd known Aaron, I'd hardly ever seen him without a big grin spreading across his chipmunk cheeks. I mean, we could be two yards from our own goal line and Aaron would still grin. But not now.
I said, "Something's going to happen? Like what?"
Aaron stared at the river. He tossed the stone into the water, splat. The minnows scattered.
"Nothing," he muttered.
We were back where we'd started. "Nothing, my ass. What's the matter? What are you scared of?"
He pressed his lips together, but then he said it. "Nathan."
"Nathan? What about him?" I'd barely seen Nathan all summer. Maybe if Aaron and I were at his house watching a movie, Nathan might ghost through. Never said anything. Mostly he just stayed in his room with the shades pulled down. But Nathan was always weird that way, at least for the past couple of years, anyway.
I asked, "You guys been fighting?" Once, back in eighth grade, they fought so bad, Aaron broke Nathan's arm.
It was hard to believe Aaron and Nathan were twins—not identical twins, just the other kind. They were both a lot of fun—at least Nathan used to be fun—but they were way different. Aaron was like a big friendly golden retriever, always wanting to play catch or go for a walk, whatever. Everybody liked him. But Nathan was more like one of those racing dogs, a greyhound, all edges, always in a hurry to get somewhere. When he grinned, it was more like he was showing his teeth. Nathan was a cut master. Some kids kind of admired him, but not like friends. More like spectators. Nobody hassled Nathan, because he could carve you up just by saying something. A guy's got to be good at verbal abuse in high school, and Nathan was the best. Not just abuse, but any kind of talk. Nathan was a brain. He was on the debate team, and teachers said he was brilliant, but for some reason he didn't do great in school. Aaron got better grades—I could never figure why.
I said, "What's wrong with Nathan?"
"Oh, nothing." Aaron got up, flexing his muscles, and reached for his shirt. "Come on, I gotta get back. Ma said I have to unload the dishwasher and stuff."
"Come on, Booger. I'm just being stupid. Imagining things."
Whatever it was, I figured he would tell me about it when he was ready.
We pushed the bikes up a shale slope, then pedaled along the river road. Aaron pumped his dirt bike like he had a devil after him. It was all curves, all uphill, with scrub pine and locust trees leaning over us tired and gray at the end of summer, with the bored old Appalachian Mountains looking down. Aaron rode so hard he kept me out of breath all the way back to the development.
A brick sign at the entrance said PEERAGE HEIGHTS, which is really stretching it in an armpit town like Pinto River. I mean, it's just a half-dead coal town along a rocky, polluted river with a goofy name, Pinto, nobody knows why, and there's nothing classy about living here. Peerage Heights? We're sure not nobility and there isn't any hill. Why don't they ever give developments names like Possum Swamp or Roadkill Hollow? But they don't. It's Peerage Heights. Aaron and I rode on back to our street, Regency Drive.
We got to my house first and stopped the bikes at the bottom of the driveway. By then I was thinking about a drink of water and my aching legs and not much else. "Well, see you at practice," I said.
But Aaron had that weird look on his face again. "Jeremy, do me a favor? Call me in about ten minutes."
"Huh?" I was fumbling to get my stupid bike helmet off my sweaty head. I hate bike helmets, but Coach had made us promise to wear them.
Aaron didn't even say Huh, hell, pay attention. He just stared at me, shadowy-eyed.
Hands under my chin, I stared back at him. "Call you? Why?"
"No reason. Just call me." Aaron made it like an order, then got out of there fast so I wouldn't ask anything more.
Aaron was a big guy, and his bike looked too small for him as he rode away. He had his helmet off already, hanging by its straps from his arm. The sun on his buzzcut hair made it look kind of reddish.
I got my helmet off, feeling dead tired. Worn out. I stomped into my house and glubbed water in the kitchen, just wanting a few minutes of peace—but nah, in the next room my kid sister, Jamy, was parked in front of the TV with three of her pimply middle-school girlfriends. The three extra brats squealed like guinea pigs when they saw me.
"Oooh, it's Jeremy!"
"Stud muffin!" That was Aaron's kid sister, Aardy. Well, her real name was Cecily, but everybody called her Aardy, because Aaron said she looked like an aardvark.
"Look at those big sweaty muscles!"
"Look at those big sweaty feet!"
"Look at that big sweaty booger nose!"
I told Cecily, "You should talk, aardvark nose." Actually, she just had a narrow face, like her brother Nathan—half brother, I mean. Mrs. Gingrich had been married before. But Mr. Gingrich always acted like he was really Nathan and Aaron's father.
"Your nose is uglier!" Aardy yelled.
"But studly," cooed one of the other brats.
"Okay, studly ugly."
"I want to marry you, Jeremy!"
"Sure. Tomorrow," I grumped, heading past them and giving Jamy a whack on the head because she was laughing. She yelled "Ow!" and laughed harder. Once I got to my room and slammed the door, I flopped on my bed. It was more than ten minutes, more like fifteen, before I got up to go look for a snack and remembered I was supposed to call Aaron.
"Ooooh, your brother smells so good!" Aardy squealed at Jamy as I barged through on my way to the kitchen phone.
"Shut up," I said. They laughed. Trying to tune them out, I hit the quick-dial for Aaron's number.
His phone rang three times, then somebody picked it up and put it down again without saying a word.
"Huh." I hung up, then picked up again and hit redial. The phone rang four times, then the answering machine at Aaron's place said, "You have reached the Gingrich residence ..."
"Damn it!" I waited for the beep, then said, "Aaron, it's Jeremy. Pick up, would you?"
"Aaron, pick up!"
Nothing, except the TV room got quiet and Jamy called, "Jeremy, what's wrong?"
Okay, I was freaked out, and she'd heard it in my voice. I slammed down the phone.
"Jamy, listen, I gotta go home," Aardy said all of a sudden. Sounded like her chest was tight, like she was about to have one of her asthma attacks. Not that I really noticed. I was pacing around the kitchen, breathing deep before I tried Aaron's number again. Three rings ...
"Hello." Somebody had picked up. I felt a wash of relief.
"Hi, Nathan?" It was Nathan; I knew his voice, flat and edgy, like a rectangle. "Is Aaron there?" Stupid question—I knew he was.
"No," Nathan said.
"He isn't?" Forget relief. I started to get that freaky feeling again. "Where'd he go?"
"He's not home." Nathan hung up.
I just stood there a minute before I turned to see Jamy in the kitchen doorway staring at me. "Jeremy, what's going on?"
"Bye, Jamy!" sang the other two girls as they left after Aardy. They'd smelled trouble and bailed. Good move.
I told Jamy, "Listen, tell Mom I went to Aaron's." I headed out the garage door. Saw Aardy running toward her house, her ponytail flapping. She shouldn't be running if her asthma was bothering her.
"Hey, bung brain, you're supposed to be cleaning the basement!" Jamy yelled after me.
I met Mom coming in the driveway, and she told me the same thing—well, she didn't call me bung brain, but she told me no, I wasn't going anywhere, get back in the house and get the trash out of the cellar, it was a firetrap.
Mom and Dad are divorced, and I get stuck with most of the grunt work because he doesn't come around. Which is not really his fault, because Mom can't seem to forgive him and she gives him freezing hell if he comes near her. So all his jobs got passed on to me, including the basement.
I was pissed. I kept telling Mom I had to go to Aaron's right away and she kept asking why and I didn't have an answer. I mean, what could I tell her?
So about five minutes later, I was down in the household dungeon by the washer and dryer, piling empty Tide boxes into a garbage bag and swearing to myself, when a siren went screaming past my house.
That sound went through me like a jolt from a stun gun. I mean, it's not exactly commonplace where we live. The road doesn't go anywhere except around the development. "Mom!" I yelled, running upstairs. "What was that, where did it—"
She and Jamy were both standing in the front doorway looking out. Toward Aaron's house. "Ambulance," Mom said as another siren blared and a police car swept past.
I started sweating like a spaghetti pot. "Mom, I've got to get to Aaron's house. Please."
She and Jamy both turned at the same time and gave me the same long look. Finally Mom asked one more time, "Why?"
I blurted out part of it. "He said he was scared, Mom!"
Jamy said, "He kept trying to call him on the phone—"
I yelled at her, "Shut up!"
Mom said, "Jeremy," in a warning voice, and asked Jamy, "Aaron phoned here?"
"No. Butthead kept trying to phone Aaron."
Mom didn't even frown at her for calling me Butthead, just looked at me. "You think something happened to him?"
"I don't know!"
"Stop shouting, Jeremy. Calm down. We'll go see what's happening as soon as you calm down."CHAPTER 2
Calm. I had to stay calm.
We took the car to get there faster. The minute Mom drove around the curve in the road, I could see that yeah, it really was Aaron's house. Ambulance going blinky-blink in the driveway, two police cruisers with their lights going in front, crowd of neighbors on the lawn with a cop motioning at them to get back, guy in an orange vest waving at us to drive past.
Mom stopped anyway and yelled at him, "What happened?"
"I don't know, lady. You can't stop there. Keep moving."
"Let me out, Mom," I said.
"Me, too!" Jamy butted in from the backseat.
Mom drove on without answering either of us and pulled over in the first place she could find. Before she could stop me, I jumped out and ran back toward Aaron's house.
A state police car screamed in as I ran. The crowd swarmed all over the lawn and the edge of the road now, most of them people from the development. I saw one of my mom's friends with her hand on her mouth like she might puke, her eyes spooky wide. I saw the old guy who mowed lawns looking grim like a soldier. I saw little kids not playing, just huddled together like it was cold. I saw a couple of fire department guys trying to help the cops push people back. What scared me the most—
Calm. Stay calm.
The worst thing was the way the cops looked as panicky as I was trying not to feel. Cops shouldn't look that way.
"What happened?" I asked the first person I came to, a neighbor lady. She just stared with the funniest look, like she was made of wood, like she couldn't hear me. I pushed past her into the crowd, still hoping—I don't know what I was hoping. That it wasn't Aaron, I guess. That some old guy had snuck into his house to throw a heart attack or something.
"What happened?" I asked again.
A few heads turned, but nobody answered. For a big crowd, it was so quiet it was weird. All I heard was somebody crying somewhere behind me, and off to the side some guy saying, "The little kids shouldn't see. They ought to get them out of here."
I saw the state trooper come out of the house with his face fish-belly pale.
I grabbed the old lawn-mower guy by the arm. "What happened?"
He turned and glared at me, but he said, "Kid's dead. Stabbed to death."
"What? What kid?" My heart was pounding so hard it hurt.
The old guy turned away without answering, but I already knew the answer.
No. It couldn't be. It had to be some other kid. For some reason, somebody had stabbed Aardy, or Nathan—
But no, I could see Nathan standing in the doorway with his sister hanging onto him sideways, her face hidden behind his back. He acted like he barely knew she was there. His arms hung straight down at his sides. Even at that distance, I could see how white his narrow face was. And I could see dark stains on his T-shirt, like he'd been painting or something.
But it couldn't be Aaron who was dead. It had to be somebody else. Some neighbor kid. Please.
Heads turned as a Volvo swerved into the driveway and stopped. Aaron's dad got out and ran toward the house, still in his grocer's apron, with his sleeves rolled up. He must have been at the store when he got the call. The state trooper met him in front of the door.
The crowd was so quiet, I could hear almost every word. "... according to your daughter, Cecily, the body is that of your stepson Aaron. I'm sorry, sir."
"He's dead?" Mr. Gingrich's voice cracked like glass.
Aardy must not have realized her dad was there until she heard his voice. Then she let go of Nathan and darted out the door to her father. One glimpse of her face, and I had to close my eyes.
"Yes, sir, he is dead," said the police officer. "I'm sorry—"
"No. That can't be." Mr. Gingrich's voice. I looked, and saw him patting Aardy's shoulders as she hugged the rough cloth of his apron, but he barely seemed to know what he was doing. "Nathan—" Mr. Gingrich reached toward Nathan, who was standing a few feet away from him inside the front door. But Nathan didn't look like he'd heard.
Excerpted from Blood Trail by Nancy Springer. Copyright © 2003 Nancy Springer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is about this boy named Jeremy. He washanging out with his best friend Aaron. Aaron was a big tuff guy. He was on the football team so it stroke Jeremy by surprise when Aaron told him he was scared of his brother Nathan. Jeremy was not worried about Aaron, he could handle anything. Before Jeremy went home Aaron told him to all in about ten miuntes. Jeremy ended up calling him twenty miuntes later because he forgot. when he called the first time, someone picked up with out saying any thing. The second time he got the anserwing mationen. The thred time Nathan picked up and said Aaron was not home and hung up. Jeremy statred to get worried. He was on his way to Aarons house when his mom stoped him. Then he heard siren went past his house. When he saw the ambulence in front of Aarons house he was very worried. He was hoping it was someone elso. Nope. He heard a cope tell Aarons father that Aaron had been stabed to death. Jeremy couldn't belive it. Who could have killed his best friend, then he remebered what Aaron said that day, when he said he was scard of his Brother. Nathan. I couldn't be turn he thought so he did not tell the detective who he was scard of. Everyone felt sad for Jeremy and Aarons family. Then finally Jeremy finally ended up telling the detection about how Aaron was scared of Nathan. Then sadly everyone hated him. Aarons family, the kids at school. Everyone thought he was lieing, and he was trying to hide something, when hw was not. He did not want to belive what Aaron said about Nathan, until he talked to his father. his father told him everything. That Nathan must have down it. All the evendenece was ponting at Nathan. Blood never goes away, and the blood trail showed that Nathan was chasing him. Also that when Nathen picked up the phone he must have went past the body that was in the kichen, and a lot more. With the fact that Aaron was stabed seventy five times in the neck. Soon the hatrid from his friends went away. His life was still dark, and sad and full of regret. But he had to put he past behind him, even though Aaron would stay in his heart forever and always. When I read the frist chapter of this book, I was detremend to take it back because I might have been to sad for me. I was, I couldn't stop thinking about how horible it must of been if the book were real, and the fact that it was Nathan that killed him. His own brother. It blow my mine when I heard the facts. I almost was sick when I heard about the stabing. One thing I forgot to mention was that Jeremy found out way Aaron couldn't defend himself. It was because Nathan was his brother, and he loved him and could not hurt him. That taut me a lesson, about how the love of your family can come at the werst times, but love is strong, and sometimes that is the problem in this case.Even though it rotid in my mind for days, weeks even, I think this book got to me in a good and bad way. I hope other readers will fell the same.
This book could not be any better.You have to read this book. Nancy did a great job. She made the book like you don't know what is going to happen next.
This book had a very fast beginning. That's not too bad in a book. But it also ended to fast. Being short, there was little detail in this book. If it was a bit longer, well, that would be a different story. But overall, this was an intriguing book. =D