Excerpt for Arnie's Prize-Winning Prank by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Arnie’s Prize-Winning Prank

By Claire W. Horowitz

Copyright 2017

Smashwords Edition, License Notes


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Chapter 1

By Death or Detention



“This is the most awesome go-cart ramp that's ever been built.”

“Yes!” Carlos says, and we high-five.

We made the ramp ourselves. We lined up cardboard boxes and plastic tubs from shortest to tallest, then glued them all together. I screwed a big sheet of wood on top and Carlos painted it with stripes and fast-looking letters that say, “Hi Speed Reaction.”

Carlos rolls the go-cart onto the ramp. Unfortunately, the go-cart hangs off one side, its wheels spinning in the air.

“What’s happening?” I say. “Why doesn’t it fit?”

“We probably should have measured first,” Carlos says.

I flip the go-cart around, but there’s no way all the wheels will stay on the ramp.

“There’s got to be some way we can make this work.” I throw myself down on the ground next to the ramp to get a closer look.

“We could make the go-cart smaller,” Carlos says.

“But, it's so small already!” We made it using parts from my sister's old wagon and wheels from a couple of skateboards my cousin gave me. If we make it any smaller only half my butt will fit.

Then, I see it. The most perfect piece of wood ever. “Carlos, this is it!” I jump up the back steps and grab the handrail.

“What?”

“This!” I say, banging on the handrail. “We can add it to the side of the ramp, to make it wider.”

“Arnie, we can't use that.” Carlos shakes his head.

“Yes, we can!” I explain that no one ever uses the handrail, anyway. It's just stuck there, useless. “If we take it for our ramp, it'll be like we're recycling.”

“You think?” Carlos says, and I can see he's agreeing with me.

I hand him a hammer, and we start taking off the handrail. It's nailed on really well.

“What are you two doing?”

I look up to see my sister at the back door. She stares at me. Her eyes are like black pools. Shark-infested pools where the frog princess of repulsiveness lives.

“Go away, Malice,” I say.

My sister's name is Alice, but I call her Malice. Not only does Malice rhyme with Alice, it also describes her perfectly. It means making another person miserable for no reason. That’s what my sister does to me every day.

“Hey, Alice,” Carlos says.

“Hi, Carlos.”

I glare at her, but Malice ignores me.

Our dog, Lumpy, rushes out the door behind her. Carlos jump off the steps, and Lumpy runs circles around him.

Malice hangs over my shoulder. “Why are you tearing apart the steps?”

This is so typical of her, hugely exaggerating the facts to make it seem like I'm doing something wrong.

“I am not tearing apart the steps. We are removing one small piece of wood, so we can recycle it.”

“I wonder what Mom will say about that.”

I don't want Mom to hear about the railing recycling. Because if she finds out about the piece of wood I'm recycling, she'll want to see the ramp. If she sees the ramp, then she'll ask about the go-cart. If she looks at the go-cart, she'll find something unsafe about it. If she thinks something is unsafe, it’ll end up on her list of “Things Not Allowed When Mom Isn't Home.”

That list is long enough already.

“What will your silence cost me this time?” I sigh.

“Two weeks of poop patrol, and unlimited use of the go-cart.”

“Unlimited use of our go-cart?” I yell. Carlos comes back up the steps.

“It is Alice’s wagon,” Carlos says. Sometimes he forgets whose side he’s on.

I roll my eyes. “Okay, but only one week of poop patrol.” I stare at Malice hard enough that darts should be shooting out my eyes. Lumpy is the greatest dog on the planet, but he drops a deuce every time he goes outside. In fact, it's what he's doing right now. I'm not looking forward to extra doodie duty. I turn my back on Malice. “Come on, Carlos. Let's both use hammers on the same side, that might loosen the nails.”

After a couple of good whacks, the railing pops off. We set it next to the ramp. I was right, it’s exactly the right size. The pointy ends of the nails stick out of the wood. We hammer them flat to prevent unwanted bloody piercings.

Carlos holds the railing while I attach it to the ramp. It requires a lot more nails. I step back to admire my work, but I'm disappointed.

“It doesn't look nearly as good as it did before,” I say. The railing sticks off the side of the ramp like a hangnail.

“No, it’s even better!” Carlos says. “I'll paint stripes on the railing, and it’ll look like an auxiliary launching device.”

“Alright!” We high-five.

It's times like these that it’s good to have a guy like Carlos around. He always sees the positive, and he's a pretty good painter. I crawl under the steps and roll out the old, half-empty paint cans. I toss Carlos a paintbrush.

“We'll be able to test it tomorrow afternoon,” I say.

Carlos looks up from the cans. “Are you kidding? We can't try it tomorrow.”

I suddenly remember what’s happening tomorrow.

“The paint will be dry by then,” I say, pretending I don't know why we won’t be able to test the go-cart ramp. I glance sideways at Carlos. Picking up a paint can, I try to act cool.

Carlos drops his paintbrush. “Arnie, the entire sixth grade has been planning for tomorrow since we got back from Spring break!”

I make an innocent face, like, “What?” but I know what he's talking about. Tomorrow, all the teachers, and Principal Boverman, will be leaving right after school to attend the “Money for Schools, Not Prisons” rally at the Capitol. For once, the sixth grade will have complete control of the schoolyard. Of course, I remember. I ball up my fist to stop my hand from shaking. I was hoping this day would never come. Now I've got to tell Carlos I can't do it. I take a deep breath.

“Carlos, I –”

“I know what’s going on tomorrow!” Malice yells. I flinch, and drop the paint can on my foot.

“Geez, what are you still doing out here?” I shout, hopping on one foot. “Stop bothering us!”

“You're going to climb The Wall!” Her eyes bug out like a toad's.

Carlos shrugs. “Maybe,” he says.

“I knew it!” Malice says. “Everyone at school has been talking about it!”

“You don't know anything,” I say. “Anyway, this has nothing to do with you, it’s only for sixth-graders. Get out of here before I knock you in the head with this paint can.” I shake the can. Malice knows it's an empty threat, but she stomps into the house, sticking out her tongue at me. I finally turn back to Carlos. He shakes his head before I can say anything.

“Arnie. We made a pact. We're both going to climb The Wall.”

We made that pact in fourth grade, back when climbing The Wall was too far in the future to even seem possible.

Now it's all too real.

“Come on, Arnie. We can do this!”

I try to look confident, at least on the outside. What's Carlos going to think when he finds out there’s no way I'm going to honor our pact?

For one thing, climbing The Wall is illegal. Principal Boverman said climbing The Wall will bring on the strongest possible disciplinary action. For another thing, climbing The Wall is deadly. One wrong move, and SPLAT! I’d have to be scrapped off the blacktop. I would rather keep all my blood inside my body.

Any attempt to climb The Wall will end by either death or detention.

Neither of those sound good to me.




Chapter 2

Anarchy on the Playground



Carlos meets me at my locker as soon as school lets out.

“Arnie, you know that feeling you get sometimes?” he says. “When you just know you can do something, something great, even if you never could before?”

“No,” I say, because I’ve never had that feeling.

But, Carlos isn't listening to me. “Climbing The Wall is going to be so cool!”

“It isn’t cool, it’s life-threatening! Remember that kid who told us his brother knew a guy whose cousin fell off the wall? And, broke his neck?” I ask.

“I don’t think it’s that dangerous,” Carlos says, shaking his head. He bangs open the school door, jumps down the steps, and heads to the courtyard. He looks real confident.

That makes me worried.

Just like almost every other kid, Carlos has been talking about climbing The Wall for weeks. I never believed he'd actually try it. Kids like us don't climb The Wall.

Maybe it’s just kids like me that don’t climb The Wall.

Carlos has been my best friend since he moved in two houses down the street from me in second grade. Now he's also the top soccer player in school. Until this year, we always played on the same team. Then, he got really good, and I didn’t. Soccer isn’t really my thing, anyway. I’m more of a basketball player. Or I will be, if I ever get taller.

When I get outside there’s a crowd hanging around. Usually, we can’t wait to get out of here. But, with Mr. Boverman gone, there's anarchy on the playground.

Kane McCloud is using a broken pen to scrape his initials into a door. Some boys are daring each other to snort Pixie Stix. Other kids are running around playing swear-word freeze tag. There’s a shoving battle going on to decide who gets to be next to climb The Wall.

The Wall is off-limits. But, telling that to sixth-graders at Alan Shepard School is as useless as putting a “Moths Beware!” sign next to a porch light.

Matthew Epstein wins the shoving battle. He heads to The Wall of Doom.

The Wall is the outside of the old gym. The gym is ancient, like from the 1980s. It’s the only building made of bricks. The Wall isn’t a regular flat brick wall. Random bricks stick out a few inches, just far enough to get a foot on. Kids use the bricks like steps, to climb all the way to the top of the building.

Prickly bushes line the base of The Wall. Dumpsters and recycling bins crowd the concrete platform in front of the bushes. This is clearly an effort to get kids to stop climbing The Wall, but it has no effect. Even the slimy garbage clinging to the branches between the bins doesn't stop kids from climbing.

Matthew flips onto the yellow dumpster, the starting point for all climbs. From that base camp, a kid can reach the lowest brick. There are three routes up, and each requires at least one death-defying maneuver. Kids who actually make it to the top slap the rusty gutter that hangs down from the roof. Some kids stay up there long enough to write their initials on the gutter with a Sharpie.

Matthew pulls himself onto The Wall, and quickly gets two bricks up. But, he’s taken the north trail, which has a long distance between footholds. His legs are too short to reach the next brick. He stretches – stretches – stretches as far as he can. . . it’s not enough.

My stomach is clenched tight as a fist, and I hope Matthew gives up his desperate attempt at fame. Instead, he opens his mouth and makes a horrible noise, something between a screech of panic and a war cry, then leaps. My heart stops, he’s going to plummet off The Wall of Doom!

SPLAT!

I can’t watch. I close my eyes, but I can still hear the gasps of the crowd, and the crash as Matthew falls.

When I open my eyes, kids are surrounding the cardboard recycling bin, grabbing Matthew by the arms. They pull him out, and sit him down in the grass. Carlos leans over him.

“Matthew, speak to me,” he says.

Matthew grabs Carlos’ arm, pulling himself up. He raises one hand. “I'm good!”

The cheers are so loud you’d think school was canceled for the rest of the year. A lot more kids, including Carlos, push themselves into the crowd waiting for a chance to climb The Wall. Carlos waves at me to join them.

I can’t believe this. Matthew nearly fell to his death. Now other kids can’t wait to do the same thing! Carlos keeps signaling me to join him in line. I still haven’t told him I’m bailing on our agreement.

“Come on, Arnie!” Carlos calls.

I drag myself over, and put myself at the back of the pack. I pretend to be waiting for my turn on The Wall, even though there’s no way I will actually climb it. I’ll play it cool, and stay at the back of the crowd until it gets dark and we all have to go home. If I do this right, it’ll never be my turn to climb. Nobody ever notices me, so I feel pretty confident about my plan.

Except I hadn’t counted on Kane McCloud, and his plan to ruin my life.




Chapter 3

I’m the Tuna



“ARNIE!” Kane McCloud yells. “You’re going to climb The Wall?” I look at the ground, hoping Kane finds someone else to torture. No such luck. “This I got to see!” Kane pushes aside the kids surrounding the yellow dumpster. “Move over, Arnie’s going next.”

“No! Someone else can go next, really,” I say. “Or we could do Rock, Paper, Scissors.” I could easily lose a few rounds of that (just throw scissors all the time, because other kids always want to throw rock) but Kane is already dragging me to The Wall.

Kane is the alpha dog around here. Everything he does is imitated by the entire sixth grade. Like last fall, when he got a tattoo.

Yes, a TATTOO. His dad is a tattoo artist. He owns the InkStinks tattoo studio on Highway 18. Kane thought up an original symbol, and got it tattooed on his shoulder. He says it means strong. It looks awesome. Seriously, he’d have to be an actual rock star to get any cooler.

Of course, after Kane got his tattoo, everybody in school wanted one. Only our lame parents wouldn’t let us get real ones. So, kids designed their own symbols, and drew them on with Sharpies. I gave myself a sweet one that meant Skywalker, but my mom freaked out about toxic ink leeching into my body, giving me some kind of fatal disease, so I had to wash it off. My dad brought a chemical home from work that cleaned the marker off instantly. I’ll bet that chemical was way worse than the Sharpie ink.

Mom says it was reckless, and irresponsible, and possibly ILLEGAL, for Kane’s dad to give him a tattoo. But, no one will ever forget the day Kane came to school with the crusty, blood-tinged tattoo. He achieved an apex of awesomeness that will never be matched.

“Come on, Arnie, get on the dumpster!” Kane shouts, pushing me forward.

“Uhh ...” I’m frantically trying to come up with some reason I can’t climb.

Unfortunately, I’ve got nothing.

I'm face to face with the dumpsters. Of course, we all know climbing on the dumpsters isn't allowed. There’s even an angry sign announcing the restrictions.


Do not climb, kick, open, step on, swing from, flip over, or touch.

STEP AWAY FROM THE DUMPSTERS

Violators will be prosecuted. This means you.


Prosecuted is one step before executed, and that is not good. But, Mr. Boverman isn’t here, so at least I don’t have to worry about getting caught.

All I have to worry about is climbing.

“Do it!” Kane yells. “What are you waiting for?”

A ledge surrounds the bottom of the dumpster, and a handle sticks out from the lid. I need to put my foot on the ledge, grab the handle, and swing myself up. I lift my foot, and I accidentally kick the side of the dumpster. A loud bang rings out, like the sound of a gong announcing a human sacrifice.

I look up the sheer face of The Wall. My knees buckle. Standing with one foot on the ledge, and one foot on the ground, I hope for a miracle. I believe in miracles, but I’m still shocked when Jesús Ruiz comes over, and pulls me off the dumpster.

I never thought I’d be glad to see that kid. He’s probably the only sixth-grader who would dare defy Kane. He’s not popular (more like infamous) but he’s six feet tall, and has a beard like Wolverine.

“Why does he get to climb?” Jesús yells, still holding onto the back of my shirt.

“BECAUSE I SAY SO!” Kane shouts, pushing me back against the dumpster.

“WELL, I SAY NO!” Jesús grabs me by the shoulders, and flings me into the crowd that has formed around us. I hit into the line of kids. They shove me back to the dumpster.

I try to get away, but the kids form a circle around us. Some of them take Kane’s side, yelling at me to climb. Others take Jesús’ side, telling me to wait my turn, but most of them just want to be in on the action. Like sharks circling a wounded tuna fish.

And, I’m the tuna.

As I’m avoiding Kane, a couple of kids ram against me. I get wedged in between the bins. Thorny branches bite into my legs, and the smell of moldy corn dogs nearly gags me, but at least no one can reach me in here. Well, I thought no one could reach me until Kane’s hand locks around my arm, and pulls me out. He tries to put me on top of the dumpster, but Jesús blocks him, forcing us away from The Wall. This is my chance to run, but the kids are packed too tightly around me. I can’t see a way out.

Luckily, Carlos grabs me by the shirt, and pulls me out of the circle.

“Thanks,” I say, trying not to collapse with relief.

“Man, it’s getting wild in this place!” Carlos’s eye are wide as he scans the playground.

Two boys start chanting FIGHT, FIGHT, and kids run screaming to the grass. Kane and Jesús circle each other, waiting to see who will throw the first punch. When this riot started, it was about me, but now no one even notices I’m gone. Which is a good thing, since it means there’s no way I’ll have to attempt the climb today. Then, a kid points to the top of The Wall and yells, “Hey, look up there!”

Kane and Jesús stop circling, and everyone looks up. I turn my head.

And, I see the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life.




Chapter 4

Two Burritos Too Many



The crowd is silent as everyone stares at The Wall of Doom.

My sister is at the top of it. Making my life miserable. Malice.

She has climbed The Wall, and now she’s got a Sharpie in her hand. She’s writing on the gutter. After she signs her initials, she actually turns around, shouting “Woohoo!” It’s unbelievable. Of all the despicable things she's ever done, this tops them all.

“Look at that, Arnie! Alice climbed The Wall!”

“I can see that, Carlos.”

She slams her hand against the gutter. THWANG – ANG – NG!

Malice scampers down The Wall like a gecko, landing on the dumpster with a victorious clang.

This is, hands down, the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Out of nowhere, my own sister barges into my world, climbing The Wall that I’ll never be able to climb. And, she’s a fifth-grader! Nothing against fifth-graders, but climbing The Wall is strictly for sixth-graders.

“Can you believe that?” Carlos is standing there with his mouth hanging open, staring at Malice.

No. I can’t believe it. Malice climbing The Wall is a game-changer. She’s caused a rift in my reality. An event like that can make a kid do something idiotic.

“Big deal!” I shout. Okay, I’m mad. Maybe I should have thought about what I was saying before the words hung over the schoolyard. I’m breaking my #1 rule, which is Keep a Low Profile. I’m supposed to fly under the radar when in enemy territory. Instead, I’m in the middle of a hostile crowd, and I’ve said something stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, my smarter inner voice says, while my outer voice says,

“Anyone can climb The Wall!”

Malice turns to look at me. The rest of the kids quiet down, and soon everyone is staring at me.

“What’s your next move?” Carlos whispers.

I only have one choice.

I walk toward The Wall. Malice hands me the Sharpie.

“Good luck, Fartie.”

“Fartie and Arnie do not rhyme,” I tell her through clenched teeth.

“It's a long fall from the top,” she says. “I'll be ready to dial 911.”

Malice has a black hole where her heart should be.

I face the yellow dumpster, grab the handle, and put my foot on the ledge. This time it’s for real. I swing my other leg over, and I’m on top of the dumpster. That part was easy. Now I have to put my foot on the bottom brick.

Only my foot won’t move. My body and my brain won’t work together, and my stomach feels like a pit of molten magma.

I think I had two burritos too many at lunch.

“Climb!” Kane yells. There’s more shouting. I realize every single kid is watching me. And, most of them want me to fail. They’re like a mob of NASCAR spectators hoping for a fiery crash.

“Climb! Climb!” The kids start chanting.

Finally, I lift my foot. But, that puts the rest of my body in a state of panic. I’m trembling so bad it’s like there’s an earthquake. Sweat springs out of my body. My palms become soaking wet. It’s been five minutes since the last time I exhaled.

“What a loser!” Kane yells. “Either climb or get down.” There are shouts of agreement. Kids start yelling stuff. Not nice stuff.

I lift my right foot, hop on my left, and by some fluke my right foot lands on the bottom brick. I clutch the bricks with all my strength, pulling myself upwards. I clear my mind. I breathe. I try to figure out what the heck I’m doing up here.

There’s a metal pole sticking out, just above my feet. I could step on that, and climb up to the next set of bricks.

I test the metal pole with my foot. It’s sturdy, and both my feet would just fit on it. Slowly, I raise my right foot, stepping solidly on the pole. Then, I push myself up, and put my left foot on the pole. There’s an appreciative murmur from the crowd.

This isn’t so hard, I think. What if I could really do this thing?

But, confidence doesn’t suit me. As soon as I begin to believe I might actually do it, I hear something that stops me cold.

“What’s going on here?”




Chapter 5

Barf in the Recycling Bin



“Get away from that wall!” a man’s voice shouts.

I risk a quick glance over my shoulder. The custodian, Mr. Donaldson, is at the gym door. He runs down the stairs, rushing towards The Wall.

I panic. My hands slip. My feet slide off the metal pole. One sweaty hand clings to a brick. Hanging precariously, hundreds of feet off the ground, my fingers start to peel off the brick, one by one. Then, I’m falling off The Wall. Only I don’t fall, something stops me. I can’t figure out what’s happening, but I hear a loud ripping sound. All the kids start laughing. That’s when I realize I’m snagged on the metal pole. Specifically, my underwear is snagged on the pole.

“HA!” I hear Kane’s creepy laugh. “Arnie is hanging by his tighty whities!”

Another riiip. I fall a few more inches. Only an elastic waistband prevents me from slamming into the dumpster. I spin around, flailing uselessly, until my underwear rips completely. I fall with a thud. At least I land on the lid of the closed dumpster, instead of into one of the open recycling bins.

Kids swarm in, surrounding me like I’m a broken piñata. Their laughter isn’t comforting. No one even checks to see if I’m alive. I am, but I don’t feel too good.

“Get away from the dumpsters!” Mr. Donaldson shouts, and kids swoop back from The Wall. While everyone else pretends they have no idea what’s going on, I flatten myself on top of the dumpster, hoping Mr. Donaldson won’t notice me.

“Hey, you! Kid on the dumpster!”

I guess he noticed me. But, at least he’s not a teacher, Mr. Donaldson won’t turn me in.

“Get off there right now!” he shouts. “I’m going to turn you in!”

Mr. Donaldson stomps towards the dumpster. The crowd disappears as quickly as free donuts until I’m the only kid left.

I roll over, hoping to slide to the ground ready to run. Unfortunately, I roll right into the open bin full of plastic recycling. I land head first in a pile of empty milk jugs. Kicking my feet, I try to get right side up. But, every move I make sinks me deeper into the milk jugs. It's just like the stuck-in-the-ball-pit nightmare I had when I was a kid. Except with the added horror of sour milk dripping all over me.

My stomach has been battling me since I first stood in front of The Wall. It finally wins. I barf into the recycling bin. I think Mr. Donaldson feels sorry for me, because he just pulls me out of the bin, and tells me to go home. He doesn't yell or take down my name or anything.

Carlos is waiting for me in front of the school so we walk home together. We’re quiet for a long time then Carlos says, “It was a good attempt.”

He says it like he’s been working on something positive to say ever since my underwear got snagged. I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to make me feel better.

“Carlos, I was hanging from The Wall of Doom by my underwear.”

Carlos is quiet. When I look at him, he quickly turns away.

“Are you laughing?'

“No,” he says, looking at the ground.

“You are so! This is the worst thing that ever happened to me, and you're laughing about it!”

Finally, he looks at me. “It wasn't that bad. I’m sure everyone will forget about it by tomorrow.”

I shake my head. The truth is, this incident will never be forgotten.

When I get home, Malice is sitting in the hall, blocking the way to my room.

“That was excruciating,” she says.

“Go die in a hole,” I tell her, even though I’m not sure what excruciating means. But, I can tell by the way she’s saying it that “Go die in a hole” is the right response. Lumpy comes over to lean against me. He's my only real friend.

“Also, you stink.” Malice pinches her nose.

I push past Malice, slamming my door on her. She’s right. I've got to change out of these disgusting clothes.

“I don’t have to tell you what this incident will do to your already pitiful reputation at school,” Malice yells through the door. If she doesn’t have to tell me, why is she talking to me?

“I don’t care about that stupid stuff,” I answer, opening the door. At least, I don’t care as much as Malice does. She’s standing in my way, smirking.

“This is all your fault, anyway,” I yell at her. “Why'd you have to climb The Stupid Wall?”

“I knew it would make you mad. I didn't think you'd try to climb, and fail so miserably. This is bad, even for you. Do you want to be forever known as the kid who was hanging off The Wall by his tighty whities?”

I definitely don’t want to be known for that, but what am I supposed to do about it now?

“What you need to do now,” Malice says as if she’s reading my mind, “is damage control.”

Before I can ask what that is, the doorbell rings.

Lumpy rushes to the front door, barking like crazy.




Chapter 6

Of Ants and Obesity



I don't answer the door because No Opening the Door for Strangers is one of Mom’s rules. Carlos is the only friend allowed over after school, and he has a secret code knock.

The bell rings again. Lumpy starts howling. Whoever it is, they're not going away, so I go to the window to check if it's important.

I close the curtain, and bang my head against the wall. The crappiest day of my life just got even worse.

Kane McCloud is at my front door.

What is Kane doing here? Whatever it is, it can’t be good. I’m sure he’s here to tell me what a loser I am for falling off The Wall. I do not want to see him right now.

“Is it Kane? I told him to come over,” Malice says.

“What’d you do that for?” I can’t believe my own sister is so set on ruining my life.

“Don’t you get it? You have to suck up to Kane, bribe him or something, so he’ll forget about you and The Wall. Just try not to be such a loser, and this will work. Trust me, Barnie.”

Malice is the last person I’d trust.

“How did you get Kane to come over, anyway?” I ask.

She races to the door without answering. Before I can tell her there’s no way I’m going to suck up to Kane, she opens the door.

“Hey, Kane. What’s up?” she says, as if he comes over every afternoon.

Kane comes in the house, dumping his skateboard on the floor. Even though it’s really hot out, he’s wearing a black hoodie and the type of hat that would get confiscated at school.

“I need to use your PZ64,” Kane says. I’m so surprised by his demand it takes me a minute to answer.

“How do you know I have a PZ64?” I ask, before realizing that must be how Malice convinced him to come over. I’m the first kid in the neighborhood to have the amazingly awesome PZ64 gaming system. My grandparents just got it for me for my twelfth birthday.

“Come on,” Kane says. “Let’s play.”

“Good idea!” Malice says too loudly.

So. Kane is just here for my PZ64.

“I’m not really supposed to have friends over,” I tell him. In fact, No Unauthorized Friends in the House is Mom’s number one rule.

“Come on, it’s me,” he says, as if that’s a good thing. I think Kane is the kid my mom had in mind when she made the first rule.

The weird thing is, up until this year, me and Carlos and Kane used to hang out together all the time. Like the three amigos. Or the three stooges, as my dad called us. But, Kane hasn’t been over to my house since we started sixth grade.

Malice is standing behind Kane, nodding her head vigorously. She mouths, “Damage control.”

I wonder if Malice is right. If I let Kane hang out, and we play on the PZ64 for a while, will he stop being such a jerk to me at school? I know we’ll never be friends again, but if he would just ignore me like everybody else does, my life would be so much easier.

Kane pulls a game out of his backpack, and hands it to me.

I look at the handwritten label on the game, then I look at it again to make sure I’m not dreaming. I still can’t believe my eyes.

Shatter Zone 7 : 2 Cold 2 Die

“It’s the new Shatter Zone game!” I yell. No way! I’m trying to be calm on the outside, but on the inside, I’m jumping up and down screaming. “Wait,” I say. “This isn’t even available yet, how did you get it?”

“I have my sources,” Kane answers. “I have all the Shatter Zone games. But, this one only works on the PZ64.”

Wherever he got this game, I’m sure it’s not a legal copy.

“Don’t worry, it’s cool. I got it from a guy I know. He says there’s tons of shooting, and killing, and blowing stuff up.”

Malice sucks in her breath. “Is it rated M?” she asks, then claps her hand over her mouth.

That’s another one of Mom’s rules. No M-rated games. My mom doesn’t really like violent games, so I don’t get to play them much. And, I’ve never played a Shatter Zone game.

Until now!

“We can play for a little while,” I say. After all, what Mom doesn’t know won’t kill me. “As long as you’re out of here by 5:00.”

Okay, Kane shouldn’t be here with his illegally obtained M-rated game, but maybe this is the break I need. The underwear incident could make me the biggest loser at school. If I can get Kane on my side, all that will change. Plus, I’ve wanted to play a Shatter Zone game my whole life (at least the part of my life I’ve been gaming, so most of it). This may be my one and only chance.

We go to my room. Kane takes the good beanbag, and we start the game. Since I don’t know what I’m doing, my team is getting hit bad, but it’s still great. Shatter Zone 7 is mesmerizing. It’s like watching a lion eat a zebra leg. Gross and bloody but you’ve just got to watch.

Kane is winning by about a gazillion points, so he takes a break to pull a jumbo bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew out of his backpack.

He’s breaking another rule.

My mom is big on rules.

Mom uses The Rules to keep us in line. It doesn’t actually work that well, but it makes Mom feel better about leaving us by ourselves after school. There are so many rules, it’s practically impossible to remember them all. I used that as an excuse once, and my mom made me memorize them.


The Rules

1. No unauthorized friends in the house (Carlos is allowed over because otherwise he’s all alone at his house).

2. No opening the door for strangers (or people we know, either, see rule #1).

3. No eating junk food in the bedrooms (because of ants and obesity).

4. No games until homework is done (this rule is broken so often it really makes me wonder about the whole point of even having The Rules).

5. No calling Alice names (since Malice is so sensitive).

6. No microwaving marshmallow peeps (this was a mistake, and I won’t do it again).

7. No calling Grandma to ask for her credit card number (it only works once, anyway).


And, that’s just the first seven.

Now Kane is breaking rule number 3, and this might be going too far.

“Uh, Kane, I can’t have junk food in my room. My mom has this rule –”

“Good thing you’re not eating it, then,” Kane mumbles through a mouthful of chips. Crumbs splatter the carpet. Lumpy licks them up.

I hear Carlos' secret code knock at the door. I wait for Malice to let him in.

She doesn’t.

Lumpy is barking and spinning around because he always goes extra crazy when he hears the code knock. So, I race like a maniac to open the front door for Carlos. Then, I race back, and even though I run as fast as I can, Kane still kills three of my men while I’m gone.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Carlos stops short when he sees Kane sitting in the good beanbag eating chips. “Whaaat?!” Carlos stares at me but I refuse to acknowledge that anything unusual is happening. He and Lumpy jump on the bed next to me. “Dude,” Carlos whispers, “What about ants and obesity?”

I don’t answer. Carlos watches the game for a few seconds. I hear him suck in his breath. “This is rated M!”

I roll my eyes. I’m starting to get the hang of the game, and I destroy one of Kane’s outposts. He uses a word that is also against the rules, and I realize if I want to get on Kane’s good side, I’d better let him win. I hand the controller to Carlos to let him have a turn playing Shatter Zone 7. As I expected, he does way worse than I was doing. When just about all my guys are slaughtered, I grab the controller back.

“It’s almost 5:00, your mom will be home soon,” Carlos says.

I’ve got eleven minutes. Plenty of time.

I kill one of Kane’s men. “Yes!” Me and Carlos high-five. Kane gives us a disgusted look.

“You’re still losing by 15,308,679 points,” Kane says.

I shrug. Details.

Carlos goes to the window to watch for Mom. The Shatter Zone game is so absorbing, it’s a huge shock when Carlos yells.

“Your mom’s coming up the hill!”

I jump up. “You’ve got to go, NOW!”

Carlos pushes Kane towards the door while I grab the game. We hear the car in the driveway. Lumpy races to the back door, waiting for Mom to come in.

“Wait,” Kane says, “I forgot my Doritos.” Carlos rushes back into my room to get the bag, and throws it at Kane. In fact, he throws the OPEN bag at Kane. Doritos scatter everywhere. The carpet is red with taco-flavored crumbs. Lumpy leaps down the hall, and starts sucking up the chips.

That dog is better than a vacuum.

The sound of a car door slamming echoes from the driveway. I hear Mom at the back door. As soon as Mom comes in the house, there’ll be no way for Kane to get out without being seen.

I grab his skateboard, and open the front door. “Maybe you can bring the game over again tomorrow,” I say, pushing the skateboard at him.

“Sure,” Kane answers. He turns around, poking me in the shoulder. “See ya, Raymond.”

“What?” Raymond?

I can’t believe what I just heard. I drop the skateboard. It clatters down the front steps. Ka Clunk, Ka Clunk, Ka Clunk.

“What did you just say to me?” I ask.

Kane jumps down the steps, and picks up his skateboard. “I said, see ya later, Raymond.”

Kane walks away. I can feel Carlos staring at me in shock. Kane just called me Raymond. I might as well pack a suitcase, and head out of town.

My life as Arnie Waxman is over.




Chapter 7

Raymond, the Unfortunate



In the history of Alan Shepard School, there’s one kid who’s infamous for his failure to climb The Wall.

Raymond.

Decades ago, he was in the same position I’m in now. It was the end of sixth grade, he hadn’t climbed The Wall, and his sister was making his life miserable (I’m not sure about the sister, but if he did have a sister, no doubt she was making his life miserable). When Raymond finally got pressured into climbing, he got halfway up, and panicked. Screaming like a toddler in a face-off with Chuck E. Cheese, he clung to The Wall for twenty minutes while the custodian put up a ladder to talk him down. Forever after, no one could say the name Raymond without remembering “The Incident.”

Raymond, the Unfortunate, became the symbol of loserdom at Alan Shepard. It's the absolute worst name anyone could be called, especially by a guy like Kane.

I’ll never be known as Arnie again.

The next morning, Carlos tries to convince me no one else will go along with Kane’s idea to brand me as the next Raymond. I don’t believe him. Kane has the ultimate power at our school. He’s the king. Whatever he tells the peasants to do, they do. I’m proven right as soon as we walk into the schoolyard.

“Hey, it’s Raymond!” Matthew Epstein calls out.

Not too long ago, Matthew qualified for loser status himself. Then, last December we found out he could fart the whole chorus of Jingle Bells, and he earned some respect. He's also Kane's number-one minion.

“You didn't climb The Wall yesterday, either!” I yell at Matthew.

“But, I wasn't hanging by my underwear!” Matthew yells back. “Raymond!”

I haven’t got a chance.

In a matter of seconds, a loud chant goes through the yard, and a chorus of one hundred kids scream “Raymond! Raymond!” By the time I get into school, every kid has either called me Raymond or asked me if I’m wearing tighty whities. Most of them have called me Raymond, and mentioned the tighty whities.

I’m dragging myself to class when the second bell rings.

“Arnold Waxman!”

I jump between the stacks of lockers to hide from the principal. Kids stream in front of me, and I’m invisible to Mr. Boverman. Or, as we call him when he isn’t around, the Bovine Man. That’s his code name because it sounds like Boverman and bovine means cow. Principal Boverman is a lot like a cow. Or maybe a bull. He’s tremendously huge, and he plods around the school as if he has hooves. And, when he's angry, he blows steam from his nostrils, making a noise that definitely sounds like a moo.

He’s angry a lot.

Last year, when I was in fifth grade, the Bovine Man wasn’t so mad all the time. He was actually a pretty nice guy. But, that was before The Golden Football Heist.

In September, someone broke into the trophy case that sits outside the principal’s office. The thief stole the Golden Football. The Golden Football is the Bovine Man’s prized possession from a billion years ago, back when he was an all-star quarterback in high school. It’s painted gold, and stamped “Winnebago High School District 8 Football Champions.” All the players on the team, including Mr. Boverman, had signed it. The Golden Football had been kept in a place of honor for as long as anyone could remember.

It was a dark time, that week of The Golden Football Heist. Mr. Boverman searched every locker, every backpack, every desk, but he didn’t find his precious football. The principal changed after that. No more morning hot cocoa for early students. No more ping pong parties for kids on the honor roll. And, no more Mr. Nice Guy. When he didn’t find his football, I think he pledged his life to making every kid in school as miserable as possible. So far, he’s doing a pretty good job of that.

“Arnold Waxman!” The Bovine Man calls again, his booming voice echoing between the lockers. I knew he’d find me.

I slowly look up. Mr. Boverman’s nose is scrunched up like he smells something rotten.

“Where were you yesterday afternoon?” He bends over to stare me in the eyes.

“Yesterday?” I try to act innocent. There’s no way he could know I was hanging from The Wall by my underwear.

“Mr. Donaldson tells me some students were causing a commotion after school. Were you in the schoolyard yesterday afternoon?”

The Bovine Man leans closer. His eyes lock with mine. He doesn’t blink. His big, brown eyes are like mesmerizing pools that pull the guilt out of kids. What if Mr. Donaldson turned me in, after all? There were dozens of eyewitnesses! What can I say to prove my innocence? Okay, maybe nothing, since I’m not innocent. So, I panic.

“I was nowhere near The Wall of Doom!”

The Bovine Man smiles his contented cow smile, and I realize I’ve made a huge mistake.




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