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Not me,

It’s a



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Not Me, It’s a Trap!

Charles Forest Burton

Illustrated by Mike Ferrin


Thanks to Patricia Rachal for typing and editing my first draft. She laughed at the plot twists, corrected my poor writing skills, and recommended character names that added humor to the story. I am blessed by her desire to have a positive influence on kids and our culture.

I am grateful to my dear friend, Rebecca Currington of

who reviewed, edited, and advised. Her writing skills and knowledge of the publishing industry are valuable resources.

Mike Ferrin’s art expresses his true creative gift to transport characters from text to visual images. He drew hundreds of sketches, with few recommendations from me, until I began the final selection process. He is a pleasure to work with and has my sincere appreciation.

Words are inadequate to describe what a gift my wife is to me. She has supported me in every phase and endeavor of my life, including many long days and late nights to help prepare this book for print. She makes me look better than I am, gives me credit when I don’t earn it and forgives me when I’m stupid! She is my very best friend.

Not Me, It’s A Trap

ISBN: 978-1-4951-5370-9

Copyright 2015 Charles Burton

Written by Charles Burton

Illustrations by Mike Ferrin

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Plot to Destroy Your Future

The Discovery

Tommy Warns Mark

Hack Unveils Himself

The Eye of the Camera

Disappearance of the Underworld

The Evil Family

Halfweed is Captured

Hack Meets With Other Corrupt Leaders

Stupid Follows Stupid

Halfweed Crashes the Conference

The Conference Begins

Professor Virtuoso

Humans Make Their Appearance at the War on Kids Conference


Stardust and Diamond

Hershel Hash, Attorney at Law

We Don’t Care’ Tobacco

We Hate Kids!

The End of Halfweed

Crack Speaks to Humans

Personal Invitation to Prison

Trapped Behind a Mask

Alcohol Enticement

Mob of Terrorists


They Are Coming After You

The Target List

A Call for Help

Halfweed Surfaces

Deceived Humans

Warning to Miranda and Mark

Criminals at Tommy’s House

Sabrina Tells All

Can You See the Trap?

Halfweed Barricades Hack

Drug Terrorists Storm the City

Police Chief Skeptical Visits Tommy

The Right Decision Wins the Battle

Halfweed and the Nopers Go to Tommy’s House

Halfweed Knows How to Combat the Enemy

The Nopers Capture Lethargic

Lethargic Reports That Halfweed Is Alive

A Battle Between Terrorists and Nopers

I Will Not Be Tricked!

Tommy Takes a Stand

Impulse Makes New Plans

Award Day Planned

The Power Within You

Award Day


About the Author

Plot to Destroy Your Future

The Discovery

“Hey, Tommy, take a look at this,” Dr. Whyze called to his son.

The skinny eleven-year-old hopped up the step stool in front of the counter and stared into a video microscope. After a minute or so, Tommy pulled his head away, rubbed his eyes, and positioned him- self for a second look. His freckled face glowed with excitement.

“Wow, Dad!” exclaimed Tommy. “What are these things moving around?”

“I’m not sure,” Dr. Whyze answered, “but I’m going to find out.”

Dr. Whyze, a devoted research scientist, had removed a cigarette from a pack with the company logo in bold red letters: WDC. In the microscope he could see the tobacco pieces through the thin paper covering. That’s where he spotted something shocking. The small particles of tobacco were moving, independent of each other. Thousands of them rushed about like an army of ants with an important job to do.

Dr. Brian Whyze and his family lived in the city of Notaware. Tommy’s mom, Miranda, hated that her husband spent so much time in his lab, a small, metal building in their backyard. In fact, she hated it so much that she divorced Dr. Whyze. Tommy’s thirteen- year-old brother, Mark, chose to live with his mother and visit his dad sometimes on weekends, but Tommy stayed with his dad. He liked being in the lab, learning new things, spending time exploring adventures in science. Secretly though, Tommy wished his dad would sometimes play video games with him. He didn’t want to say so, but he really missed his mother. He wished he could think of a way to bring his family back together.

Dr. Whyze hurried to the storage cabinet to get a special piece of sound equipment. Working quickly, he connected all the wires and handed a set of headphones to Tommy. They were too big, but he managed to get one earpiece in place while the other rested on his shoulder. Dr. Whyze put on his headphones and adjusted the volume, wondering if he could hear anything. Then they heard it. Individual pieces of tobacco talking to each other! Dr. Whyze and Tommy could barely believe what they were seeing and hearing. The tobacco bits had strangely shaped bodies with heads, arms, and feet. They stood in front of a central tobacco figure that put his hand in the air and motioned for silence.

“Hey, everybody listen up,” the sickly-looking leader yelled. “My name’s Hack. I’m what you would call a drug terrorist. I create terror, fear, and confusion in humans. I run the underground terrorist training camp that meets in the city sewer.” His rough, grating voice stopped. Hacking coughs filled the air as he attempted to clear his throat.

After an awkward pause, Hack continued. “Welcome to our war on kids. We hand out a little pleasure and then move in for the kill. It’s our mission to trick kids into believing our lies while they’re young, so they’ll be easy targets when they get older.”

The tobacco particles closely surrounding Hack were dressed like soldiers—sloppy soldiers. They had uniforms made of mismatched fabric scraps, strings, and bits of trash. Some had hoods over their faces, with openings for eyes, mouth, and nose. Others wore dirty, tattered headbands made of braided threads. Their stiff posture and eyes that scanned the crowd were the behaviors of bodyguards. The bigger particles had nametags identifying them as Impulsive, Paranoid, Schitzo, Repulsive, Hyper, Obsessive, Crude, Quitter, Cruel, and Lazy. In spite of their shabby uniforms, they all appeared to be strong, experienced fighters, ready for war.

A group of smaller particles gathered far away from Hack. From large tote bags, they unloaded poster boards, bright colored markers, paints, and brushes. They seemed out of place, but the creepy-looking leader was obviously aware of their presence.

Hack was by far the oldest. Though he appeared physically weak, he spoke and acted like a powerful crime boss. It was obvious that his word was law in this tobacco world and anyone who resisted or challenged Hack would get no mercy.

“Our purpose is to lure kids into our trap and then hold them hostage to addiction,” Hack continued. “That’s why I’m here to- day. I want a few of you to join my dedicated friends and me at our next conference. I’m giving you the opportunity to become a proud soldier in our army of drug terrorists. Your boring lives can change from being ignored and laughed at to being powerful like us. We will teach you how to control humans!

“Our plan is simple—Trick, Trap, and Addict humans. The name of last year’s conference was Masters of Deception, and believe me, it was a huge success. Some of last year’s recruits are out there right now tricking kids left and right. With a few days of training, you’ll be doing the same—and MORE! I’m looking for recruits, so who’s in?”

Voices rang out from every part of the crowd. “Yes! I want to be a powerful drug terrorist!”

Hack’s thin, dry lips curled into a devious smile as he reacted to the crowd’s enthusiastic response. “Only those selected by me will become part of the Devious Forces, the strongest troops sent to lure kids into our trap and make them hostages to drugs. Meanwhile, those of you who remain here will have a chance to create your own special kind of destruction in the bodies of humans.”

Everyone watched Hack as he walked through the hushed crowd. His bloodshot eyes studied the hopeful faces to detect the most alert—the ones with the best potential to be deceitful. Some felt so bullied by his forceful presence that they would not make eye contact with him. A few shied away from the idea of tricking and attacking kids. They stepped back to give Hack clear passage. Others stepped closer to get Hack’s attention in hopes they would be chosen. Hack continued walking through the group, carefully tapping his finger on the chests of this one and that one. He made no effort to discriminate between males and females. Some of the females looked fierce. After choosing hundreds of recruits, his body- guards gave each one a filthy headband with a big red X stitched on the front. As they put them on, they stepped forward with pride.

“Let’s hear a shout-out for our new drug terrorists,” Hack called to the crowd. “These recruits will become the powerful Devious Forces that carry out our war on kids!”

His personal Devious Force led them in the chant: “Hurrah! Down with kids. We hate kids. Trick them! Trap them! Addict them!”

When the shouting and applause finally quieted, a faint, feminine voice spoke up from the crowd.

“Hey, it’s wrong to hurt kids. Can you find something else for the Devious Forces to do? There are plenty of adults out there making stupid decisions. But kids—they don’t know any better. They just follow the examples set by grown-ups.”

“That’s right,” a few opponents in the crowd agreed, shrinking back as they spoke. They wondered if opposing Hack could be a fatal mistake.

Hack smiled broadly at his Devious Forces and then turned his smirking face to the crowd. “Don’t waste my time with weak thinking! Like I said, this is war. Many adults are already in the trap of addiction. They’re easy. They fell right into our hands. It’s the kids that are our challenge. We want ’em when they’re young!”

Hack turned his attention back to the recruits. “You are the elite—the prime particles of the pack.” They perked up with pride, listening more closely than before.

“You are the advance team of explosives experts. Your addictive smoke will get into human lungs and bloodstreams. You will damage their hearts and have the opportunity to cause all kinds of diseases. You’ll burn all right, but think of the humans you’ll take out with you!” Hack threw back his head in a fit of wicked laughter that shook his entire body. “Welcome to the war, my comrades!”

From the crowd of those who had not made the cut, Hack heard a faint female voice say, “This is wrong!” Hack’s glaring eyes searched for the soft-spoken protester. Hoping to get her to speak up again, he yelled, “If the powerful Devious Forces can get kids to start smoking when they’re young, it’s almost certain they’ll be hooked for life. They’ll never get free. The younger the better, I tell you, the younger the better!”

Then he heard the same voice again from within the crowd. “Well, Mr. Hack, I think you’re nothing but an angry, resentful old piece of tobacco. Some human probably hurt you and now you’re hurting kids to get revenge.”

Tommy and his dad had not said anything to each other. They just watched and listened in amazement. Then Tommy turned to his father and asked, “Why do people smoke when they know it’s bad for them?” His sad eyes were troubled behind his thick, black-rimmed glasses.

Dr. Whyze put his arm around Tommy’s shoulder, “Well, Son, cigarettes make you feel good for a little while. Some people say smoking relaxes them. What they choose to ignore is what’s happening to their hearts, lungs, and brains. All that smoke does a lot of damage.”

At that moment, they heard Hack’s harsh voice through their headphones. “Kids are smart, but our Devious Forces will trick them into thinking smoking is cool. We’ll turn them into little smoking fools,” Hack said, letting loose an evil laugh. Then he strutted around holding a cigarette, pretending to smoke.

Tar, one of Hack’s commanders, spoke next. “Kids think smoking is OK because they see adults smoking every day. They watch it on TV and movies, but nobody can make them

understand how dangerous it is to smoke.”

“That’s exactly right,” Hack said, drawing the attention back to himself. “Kids think smoking makes them look cool.” With the cigarette hanging out of his mouth, Hack posed in different positions, like a muscle man, to make his point. He then put on a wig and pranced, swinging his hips to look like a pretty girl. The crowd roared with laughter.

Tommy Warns Mark

Tommy suddenly jumped down from the stepladder and ran toward the door.

“Where are you going?” his dad asked. “To tell Mark.”

Mark was tall for his age, with red hair and freckles like Tommy. He felt like the nowhere kid—a nobody just lost in the crowd. He was failing in school, had no friends, and couldn’t even get in with the wrong crowd. He hated every freckle on his face as much as he hated being laughed at because of his glasses.

Mark had recently noticed a group of kids on the corner near his mother’s apartment. Each day after school, they would hang out together and smoke. I could start smoking, Mark thought. If I do what they do, maybe they’ll like me.

Mark found a private place to try his first cigarette. He did not inhale—just puffed on the cigarette and wondered if he could ever really like it. The more he sucked in the smoke, the more he wondered why anyone wanted something that tasted this nasty. All it did was make him dizzy, choke, and cough. I have to like it, he thought determinedly, or I’ll never get in with their group.

One day, Mark got up the nerve to put a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and walk to the corner where the kids hung out. At first, they pretended Mark was invisible, but they noticed when he pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. He had been practicing, hoping to make a good impression.

Then one of them spoke up. “Look at Mark. He doesn’t even inhale.”

The girls joined in mocking him with their words. “What’s wrong, Mark? Can’t you inhale?”

“Sure I can,” Mark said defensively. He took a long draw and inhaled deeply. Immediately he began to cough, but he kept going until his head began to spin. The smoke in his eyes caused tears that slipped from under his glasses and ran down his cheeks. He felt like everything in his stomach might explode out his mouth.

Awkward laughter and giggles filled the air. “What’s wrong, Mark? Can’t take it?”

Mark dropped his cigarette on the ground during his coughing fit. Humiliated and embarrassed, his face flamed as red as his hair. He turned his tall, lanky body away from the kids and ran toward home. One of the boys called after him, “Would you look at that? The four-eyed firecracker can’t take a little heat.”

Reaching the safety of his bedroom, Mark threw himself across his bed. Tears rolled down his face again, but this time they weren’t from smoking. He’d just made a fool of himself. He buried his face in his pillow. The words “four-eyed firecracker” echoed in his memory. He couldn’t let that happen again. He made up his mind to learn to inhale.

After a few weeks of practice, Mark learned to inhale. In the beginning, it made him sick, but he figured the reward of acceptance was worth the misery. His payoff came slowly, but Mark eventually became a regular with the other young smokers, who discussed trying marijuana.

As Tommy opened the door to leave the lab, his father said, “Mark probably won’t listen to you, but you can try. I have tried to talk to him about smoking and the friends he chooses, but he sure didn’t listen to me.”

Tommy ran as fast as his skinny legs would carry him to where he knew his brother hung out with his new friends. As he came around the corner, he almost crashed into Mark.

“Hey, Tommy, what are you doing?”

Although Tommy was out of breath, his voice was loud and clear. “Put your cigarettes out! It’s a trap. You’ve been tricked. Smoking is really bad for you.”

The kids laughed. “What’s all the drama?” one boy said. “How can it be bad when it feels so-o-o good?”

“It’s a trick! Smoking will ruin your health,” Tommy continued. “I heard little pieces of tobacco inside a cigarette talking about hurting kids—hurting you,” he said, pointing to the crowd of teens. “There are Devious Forces trained to trick kids just like you. They’re drug terrorists who know they are going to burn up, but they don’t care because they plan on taking all of you with them.”

The kids looked at Tommy and exploded with laughter.

“Ewww! Little tobacco creatures out to get us! We’re so scared!”

one of the kids mocked. “Don’t worry about us, Tommy. We’ll keep our eyes open for the bad guys.”

A girl stared at her cigarette and squealed, “I see them—a tiny army rushing to get in my body and tear me up!”

“Go home,” Mark said, looking embarrassed. “You’re getting as weird as Dad.”

But Tommy wasn’t ready to give up.

“Mark, come look for yourself,” he yelled in frustration.

“I don’t care about that science stuff, Tommy, none of us do! Now go home.” Mark gave his brother a little push.

With his head down and hands jammed in his pockets, Tommy creeped back to the lab.

Mark watched him go, feeling a little guilty and even a bit curious about what Tommy had just told them. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so hard on Tommy, but his dad had already nagged him enough about smoking. He didn’t need his brother joining in and making him look foolish in front of his new friends. Mark turned back to the group and lit another cigarette.

As Tommy walked, he spoke aloud, but quietly, “I will not be tricked by a smoking stick. Not me!” He began to walk faster, speaking louder, his head held high, “Smoking is not cool. I’m no fool. Not me! I won’t be tricked.”

Opening the door to the lab, Tommy saw his dad bent over the microscope. Without looking up, his father asked, “How’d it go, Tommy?”

“They all laughed at me, even Mark.” He hoped his dad hadn’t heard the slight quiver in his voice. Tommy muscled up his emotions. He was proud as he stepped up to the microscope and put on his headphones. He wanted to be like his dad. His dad didn’t smoke.

Hack Unveils Himself

Father and son continued to spy on the tobacco particles in the cigarette. Hack seemed energized with anticipation as he spoke to those in the crowd who were not chosen. His Devious Forces stood proudly beside him.

“Though you were not chosen as members of the Devious Forces, you can still be an important part in the upcoming training conference. Friends that are like family from around the world will join me for this conference. I need some of you to make posters that motivate and welcome my friends.”

Tommy and his dad watched as hundreds of particles began painting posters. They used statements that would encourage the trainees and provide lies for them to use.

Kids Are Smart, But We Can Trick Them!

Smoking Won’t Hurt You.

Try Drugs.

One Time Won’t Hurt.

Everybody Does It.

Try It, You’ll Like It.

Looking through the microscope, the minuscule posters appeared gigantic to Tommy’s eyes. The poster that read, WE CAN TRICK THEM, made him furious. In anger he blurted out, “That’s not true, Dad! Not me! They won’t trick me!”

The particle with the faint voice had moved from the back of the crowd to the front, standing close to where Hack was speaking.

“Who are these friends you are talking about?” she asked.

Hack recognized her voice, and by the look on his face, it was clear she was getting on his nerves. Hack responded with gruff bluntness, “I will reveal who they are when I’m good and ready, you little twit. You are to make posters,” he said, pointing an ugly finger toward her.

She ignored the accusing finger and said, “I think we have a right to know who our posters will welcome.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” some of the others agreed.

“All right, all right, I’ll tell you,” Hack blurted out. “My family members will be there— Slur, Brew and Stumble, Crack, Ready Rock, Blow, Snow, and Big C. We’ll have the big Opiate family from the pharmacy, you know, the pills kids love to steal from their parents. My cousin Spineless will come too, from the Crystal Meth family. You’ll meet Weed, Pot, Wacky Tobakki, Acid, and Optical Illusion. Joining them will be Hug Drug, Brain Damage, Huffy, Sniff, Smack, Speed Freak, the twins Uppers and Downers, and I can’t for- get Molly, Bennie, and Roofy. There are many more, but let’s just say, it’s a big family. We are always doing research to develop more drugs for the stupid human species. Our numbers increase every year.”

The bold little female asked, “Why are you so angry, Mr. Hack?”

“I’ll tell you why I’m angry!” Hack shouted, completely out of patience. “When I was a young tobacco leaf, I was part of the premium crop to be used to make the very best cigarettes. A perfect specimen is what they said about me. Quality inspectors said I was ideal. But the owner of the farm didn’t take good care of his fields. Tobacco worms got into our community and began to eat at my outside edges.”

Hack unbuttoned his uniform. It was a gross sight for a piece of tobacco. There were shredded edges, scabs, and burn scars from chemicals used to kill the worms.

“When the farmer found the worms, he sprayed my field with strong pesticides. In the process, he nearly killed me. When the quality inspector came back to the field, he looked at me and said,

This plant is damaged. It won’t amount to anything.’ Then he pulled me up by my roots and threw me to the side.” Hack hung his head. His shoulders heaved. Sweat dripped from his forehead as he paced back and forth in misery.

Hack raised his face to the crowd again. With a snarl in his voice, he shouted, “I was mad all right! Where did that inspector get off saying I would never be worth anything? The worms and

the chemicals did their damage, but I could still have been useful. I could have become chewing tobacco and caused painful cancer of the mouth or turned their teeth yellow.”

Hack raised his fist in defiance. “But no-o-o! They decided I was finished, washed up, over! Then I found a way to sneak into the batch of good tobacco being manufactured into cigarettes. Ha!

Since then, I’ve found plenty of ways to get my revenge on humans. That’s what I live for—and you’re going to help me!”

Hack’s ranting brought on another spasm of hoarse coughs. He looked exhausted as he slumped forward and wiped away sweat.

Throughout the crowd small groups discussed whether or not

to become a part of Hack’s plan. Being in a powerful army to trick humans sounded like a good idea. One at a time, the groups chimed in, “We’re with you, Mr. Hack! You can count on us.”

Others joined with, “Don’t worry, Hack. We got your back.” Soon it sounded like a rally with echoes of, “We are terrorists! We will destroy! We hate humans! War on Kids! WOK! WOK! WOK!” Hack began to straighten a bit from his weary, wilted slump.

When the shouting quieted, only one voice was loud and clear. “This is not right,” she yelled. “Revenge never produces anything positive, and it will not make you feel better. In the end you will look at the damage you have caused and feel worse than you do now.”

She faced the entire group of tobacco pieces, “You should never join forces with someone who is bitter and wants to get revenge. Be- fore long, you’ll be full of hate just like him.” She turned to weave her way through the crowd to get as far away from Hack as possible. The place was so silent you could have heard a leaf drop.

Hack glared at her as she walked away. With a vicious growl, he yelled, “You turn around and look at me!”

She paused for a second, shaking. She knew Hack was heartless and cruel. She turned around as ordered—not so much because he had ordered it, but more because she was determined not to wilt in fear. At first, she looked down, but thought to herself, I have nothing to be ashamed of. She gathered her boldness, straightened to an upright position, raised her eyes, and fixed them on his. The crowd looked on in silence.

“You’re not pure tobacco, are you?” Hack asked accusingly. The tense silence had everyone on edge. Frozen, she said nothing.

“I can see it in your color,” Hack snarled. “There’s something different about you. No wonder you refuse to join us. You’re a nogood half weed. I’m an expert on quality tobacco and that’s what you’re not—you half weed!”

“Very well, if you must know, I’m part ragweed,” she replied quietly.

“What did you say!” Hack said with a smirk. “Speak up so everyone can hear you!”

“I’m part ragweed,” she repeated loudly, “and I’m not ashamed to say so!”

“You are half weed. I wouldn’t want you in my group. Get out of my sight,” Hack barked in disgust. “You have no value—you’re worthless. Ragweed is one of the lowest plant forms on the earth.”

In defense of her species, she said, “I had no control over which family I came from, but that does not make me worthless. I will always be valuable. If we are damaged on the outside, it doesn’t make us less valuable. We lose our value when we become bitter and hateful. Maybe you need to think about that. You could choose to forgive those who’ve hurt you and have a happy life.”

“Halfweed, Halfweed, Halfweed!” Hack shook his head and mocked her.

Many in the crowd joined in with crude comments. The tone of their cries said it all. They considered ragweed to be of no value.

She walked through the crowd speaking aloud to herself, “I have nothing to be ashamed of. My genes don’t make me worthless. I will not let Hack’s words change my opinion of myself. Call me Halfweed if you want. That’s who I am and I’m not ashamed!” From that point on, all of the tobacco pieces referred to the brave little fragment as Halfweed—even she herself.

Dr. Whyze, an accomplished scientist, had done research on bacteria found in food and in the atmosphere. Bacteria travels through the air, often causing sickness, similar to the way illegal drugs travel through the body causing diseases. While Tommy watched the tobacco terrorists, the doctor researched how to follow them to the conference. He knew the underworld characters would not want humans to know about their evil activities. But he wanted proof of their destructive plot. He had developed remotely controlled microscopic cameras with built-in microphones. They were similar to cameras that travel through blood vessels, used by surgeons to repair heart damage.

Dr. Whyze thought one of his cameras could follow the drug terrorists through the sewer. He got a monitor from the storage cabinet and set it on the desk beside the microscope. He hurriedly went back to the cabinet and pulled out remote controls, like the ones Tommy used with his games. After he plugged the wires into the monitor, he made one last trip across the room and picked up a small box from the cabinet. Carefully opening it, he used tweezers to lift something from the box. He placed a tiny black object on a glass slide and inserted the slide under another microscope. Tommy could not see what his dad was doing but waited in anticipation. After a few moments, the doctor used the tweezers to move the object to the video microscope.

Dr. Whyze explained to Tommy, “I am placing the camera at the end of the cigarette where the Devious Forces are gathered. This camera is so small it will be unnoticed. It’s a long-range lens, so if they get suspicious, I can pull it back from the crowd.”

While he was busy hooking up his camera, Halfweed had made her way through the crowd away from Hack. A few sympathizers said comfortingly, “Don’t feel bad, Halfweed. A lot of plants are probably mixed breeds.”

Others in small groups of four or five smirked at her, “Halfweed! Maybe we should just call her ragweed.” Some faked allergic sneezes and coughs to mock her more.

She thought it strange that only the particles in small groups called her Halfweed. Those who stood alone, apart from the group, spoke only words of comfort or nothing at all. If anyone wanted to make fun of her, why not do it as individuals? Why would the mockers speak up only when they were in a group? They must be cowards, she thought.

She was deeply hurt because Hack had mocked her in front of the entire crowd. Yet she knew if she became bitter and angry, she would be like Hack—mean and uncaring. She did not want to be like Hack! She made a decision not to let the hurt push her into bitterness and anger.

Her mind was racing with questions. What should I do? Hack is not right. Is there anything I can do? She racked her brain. I am only one small particle. I am also half weed, so maybe I am worthless. Hopelessness and depression were slowly creeping into her attitude. She wondered, What will happen if I try to stop Hack? Will anyone help me? I cannot stop hundreds of Devious Forces. Will the crowd laugh at me if I stand against evil? Even if they do, it doesn’t matter!

Halfweed made her decision and said aloud to herself, “If I have to stand alone, I will!” She looked around. “I know there are other half weeds, and it doesn’t matter what they are mixed with. Half weeds may be different, but we have our own unique abilities. We are all valuable.”

Father and son returned to the microscope to watch the plan unfold. Hack looked up and around every few minutes. Dr. Whyze wondered if he might be aware that someone was watching.

Hack strutted through the crowd. “We will go our separate ways now and most of you will probably never see me again. Some human will pick up this cigarette, light it, and take a big drag. Some of you will become sacrifices, but not all is lost. Others will be doing your part to destroy someone’s body. You can all be proud of your- selves.”

As Hack waved, a whisper rippled through the crowd and be- came a loud chant, “Hold humans hostage, especially kids.” Hack, his guards, the poster makers, and the new Devious Forces made their exit through the end of the cigarette. Hack thought, I’m the great escape artist! If someone lights that cigarette now, we’re safe and won’t go up in smoke. Halfweed and a few other particles were the only ones that did not join the cheering when Hack made his grand exit.

The Eye of the Camera

The doctor grabbed the remote controls and turned a few knobs on the monitor. An adrenaline rush swept through him as he realized he had positioned the camera perfectly. He adjusted the knobs, and the blurred images soon became clear. Sure enough, he could remotely control the microscopic camera to follow the group as they departed from the end of the cigarette. Dr. Whyze and Tommy watched Hack and his followers push and shove each other from under the micro- scope and trek across the back of the lab table and down the table leg.

“Where are they going, Dad?”

“I have no idea, Son, but Hack said the conference was in the sewer,” the doctor answered without moving his eyes from the monitor.

Hack and the gang started down the hallway and turned left into the small bathroom connected to the lab. They went around the rug on the floor to the edge of the toilet. Hack suddenly stopped, too tired and out of breath to go any farther. “I have to rest before we climb this wall.” He slid down, more like fell, against the cool edge of the toilet.

After a few minutes, Hack stood to his full height, barked a few messy coughs, and ordered, “Let’s go.” He seemed to be a bit embarrassed about his weakness and coughs, but he led the way up the side of the enormous toilet bowl. Some tricky maneuvering took them under the toilet seat and to the edge of the big bowl of water.

Hack rested and spoke between coughs, “Something will come soon and give us a ride. We cannot stay in the water very long or we’ll dissolve and become useless. We’ll just wait around to catch a ride.”

While Hack waited with his troops, Halfweed could not be lazy and do nothing. She spoke only to herself, mumbling quietly under her breath. “Hack may try to embarrass me, but no one will stop me from doing the right thing.” Giving herself a good talking to was often her way of reasoning things out. Sometimes others overheard and gave her strange looks, but she didn’t mind.

By the time Hack left the cigarette, Halfweed had made an important decision. She planned to follow and spy on him, to watch his plan unfold. She wondered if others might follow her, and if they did, where would the journey lead them?

Halfweed made her way back to the crowd. She announced, “I’m going to follow Hack. If I can, I will stop his evil plot. If any of you want to join me, meet me at the exit.” Several loud comments rose above the nervous laughter. “Not me, that’s just crazy,” and “she can’t do anything. She’s a half-weed female.”

When Halfweed arrived at the exit, she found a large group who wanted to come with her. She looked them over and then made a statement. “If you go with me, it will be to do what is right. I warn you, doing the right thing might be dangerous. Hack does not care who he hurts. He has hundreds who will do whatever he tells them. They are like robots. It’s as if they have microchips for brains and Hack has programmed them.

“It can be very dangerous to follow someone else’s lead without thinking for yourself. If all you want to do is follow the crowd, stay here. Doing the right thing takes guts! If you want to stop Hack, follow me.” She turned and walked away, willing to go alone if necessary. By the end of her speech, only ten followed her.

Dr. Whyze’s microscopic camera had easily followed Hack’s combat-bound group. The terrorists stayed on the edge of the toilet bowl waiting for their ride. They did not know humans were spying on them. They were clueless about Halfweed and her group following them.

The doctor saw his young son’s eyes glaring at the movement of tiny particles, and he knew a question was soon to follow.

“Dad, what do they mean by waiting for a ride?” Tommy asked. “I’m not sure, but it seems they float through the sewer system on human waste and other items that are put into the toilet. If I’m right, they won’t be going anywhere until someone flushes the toilet.”

“Oh, yuck!” Tommy’s face twisted, and his eyes squinted. “That makes me want to barf!”

“Me too, Son! But it seems that Hack and his followers are about the same as human waste. The sewer is exactly where they should be. Stay right here and watch the monitor.”

Dr. Whyze left the lab and followed the sidewalk into the house.

In the kitchen, he pulled a box of Fruity Critters cereal out of the cabinet. He jerked open a drawer, grabbed a scoop, and hurried back to the lab bathroom. He stood there staring into the toilet bowl. He saw nothing but water, but he knew the particles were there. He poured a scoopful of cereal into the toilet, flushed it, and ran quickly back to the lab.

Tommy’s brown eyes had never left the monitor. As his father joined him, they both watched anxiously.

“Wow! You missed it, Dad. When the toilet began to flush, Hack yelled, ‘Here’s our ride!’ Then they all jumped onto those cereal pieces and I heard Hack say, ‘This stuff will dissolve quickly, but when we get into the main sewer line, we can catch a more solid ride.’ ” Tommy put his head in his hands and groaned. “I won’t even ask what that means.”

“They’re afraid of the water,” Dr. Whyze responded. “They know if they’re in the water too long, they’ll disintegrate, which means they will break apart and fade away into nothing.”

Just as the camera descended into the water, Tommy noticed in the corner of the monitor that Halfweed was standing on the edge of the toilet rim. She and her little group were catching up with Hack. Tommy pointed and touched the monitor with his finger. “Look, Dad, there’s Halfweed. Why is she following Hack?” The camera whisked away after the group of terrorists, leaving Tommy and his father wondering what Halfweed was going to do.

“Hey, Dad, pull back the lens and see what she’s doing.”

“No, Tommy, we can’t lose track of the drug terrorists.”

As it turned out, Halfweed and her ten recruits were not far behind Hack. Unnoticed by Tommy and Dr. Whyze––and Hack’s forces—they caught rides on the last Fruity Critters going down with the water. Halfweed looked up and saw the microscopic cam- era floating in the water just before she and her supporters flowed down the pipe to the sewer line.

Hack and his group of drug terrorists were so focused on their mission that they seemed not to notice anything unusual. Hundreds of Devious Forces rode their disintegrating Fruity Critters into a larger sewer line. The secret camera followed close behind. When they arrived in the large sewer line, they saw water filled with all kinds of debris—rides paradise! Bits and pieces of human waste, ruined food, fabric pieces, cigarette butts; anything flushed down toilets, put through kitchen sinks, or drained from city streets was theirs for the taking.

Water, garbage, and sludge from both sides of the pipe flowed into the sewer, bouncing the particles around like rapids of a fast-flowing river. Human waste and other strange things kept pushing them. Without warning, they flew over a huge waterfall into a large pool of water. Popping to the surface, everyone scrambled to stay afloat on anything they could grasp. Hack looked around the enormous pipe as the camera above their heads caught all the action.

Tommy and the doctor laughed as they watched them navigate through the slime-covered pieces of gunk that could easily knock them off their cereal boats.

Hack and his Devious Forces traveled for a long distance. The journey in such a large sewer system was dangerous. They skillfully trudged through giant pipelines, making sure they did not fall into the water and disintegrate.

The walls had billboards that looked similar the ones on the streets of Notaware. The difference was that male and female rats posed with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, trying to look like famous models. Some dressed like professionals while others displayed their gang colors. Each model had an exaggerated expression of power and control.

Sewer rats, cockroaches, centipedes, and other creatures made their way along the walls and edges of the pipe, staying out of the water. They stopped and watched the proud fleet of unusual boats in their struggle to stay afloat. Small groups of sewer rats, all smoking and wearing their gang colors, acknowledged Hack as though they knew him, yet they seemed to be afraid of him. They removed trash that might interfere with Hack’s passage, then stepped back and nodded respectfully.

Finally, the terrorists arrived at a box-like, concrete open area that had pipes coming from all sides. Hack ordered his army to get off their rides so they could dry out and rest. They climbed to the outer corners, crowded but safe.

A time of rest gave the Devious Forces the opportunity to ask questions: “Where are we? How much farther is it?” One asked a more personal question. “Hack, the sewer rats all seem to recognize you, but apparently they won’t challenge you. What’s the deal with that?”

“In the past, the sewer rats controlled everything in the under- world,” Hack replied. “They were bigger and stronger than all other underworld creatures. So when my friends and I planned a conference, we knew we had to take control.”

“But how?” one asked.

Hack’s dry, cracked lips curved into a self-approving smile.

“We set traps for rats, somewhat like the traps we set for the human species. I knew if we could get them addicted to drugs, we could control their lives. We are very small, but when we get into their bodies, we take over their minds. The different gangs of rats think they’re tough, but we control them. We let them survive, but any drug user is our servant.”

“Why did the rats start smoking?” one asked.

Slightly amused at the question, Hack pointed to the billboards and grunted. “We tricked them! We put up those big signs, and they just started smoking. They believed it would make them like the rats in the pictures. The first time they breathed in the smoke, they coughed and gagged just like the humans. They kept sucking the nicotine into their lungs until they were hooked. The rats, generally a hyperactive species, grew to enjoy the calm feeling. When the effect of the nicotine was gone, they always came back for more. It didn’t take long for tobacco to cause cancer in the small rats, and many of them died painful deaths. Even so, those who lived would gather up cigarette butts to smoke. Rats walking around puffing on cigarettes look just as dumb as humans.”

“Did it bother you to trick them?” Schitzo asked.

“No,” Hack scoffed. “They are just rats, and it’s the same with humans.”

“Well, does tricking humans bother you?”

“No! I figure that if a species is dumb enough to smoke cigarettes, they deserve what they get. It’s not my fault. I remind you, it’s their own dumb decisions.”

Hack went on with the chilling tale of the rats. “We can trap as many rats as we want and repeat the addiction process forever. A few of them had enough sense to stay away from the trap, but like people, rats are curious and want to experience the calmness that nicotine provides.” Hack pointed to a group of rats. One was lying down, gasping for air.

“There’s one. They’re watching him die. That’s what we do, kill ’em. I love it! You would think the human species would be smarter than rats, but some just have to try it. They keep us in business. When we get to the conference, I’ll point out the crack rats. We use them like slaves.”

“What is a crack rat?” a tobacco particle named Tar asked.

“A crack rat is a cocaine-addicted rat—a real sight to see! You’ll love it. We put crack in their food and cigarettes and they were addicted immediately. They’ll do anything for more crack. OK, you guys,” Hack ordered. “Time to roll. Follow me.”

“Hack doesn’t care who he hurts! He’s evil!” Tommy shouted in anger. In desperation, he thought of Mark and the other kids. “Dad, what can we do?”

“We will follow Hack and his Devious Forces, learn their techniques, and then go from there. Knowledge equals success if you do the right thing with it. Maybe we can warn kids and adults about this evil.”

Halfweed halted her recruits to rest whenever Hack and the Devious Forces stopped to rest. They hid close enough to hear their conversations and were infuriated to hear the story of cruelly tricking the rats. Her little group of followers recognized what Halfweed had known for some time. Hack, just like drugs, had no conscience and was cold and calculating. He would try to destroy anything or anyone who got in his way.

She looked at her small group and asked, “Do you want to be terrorists that destroy kids?” One by one, they answered with bold-sounding voices, “Nope, not me!” From that moment on, they named themselves Nopers. They declared, “We are Nopers, not Dopers.”

Halfweed gave each of them a name that reflected positive behavior qualities: Rebound, Curious, Tenacity, Tender Heart, Perceptive, and Courageous. She vigorously encouraged her troops. “We must stop these killers who cause cancer and promote the destruction of kids. They are friends of addictive drugs, but not our friends. We are definitely in a war.”

“What do we do? How can we stop them?” one of Halfweed’s followers asked. He was thinking of the lack of support from other tobacco particles, who would rather be drug terrorists than Nopers.

“I’m not sure,” Halfweed said, “but one thing I know, we must get into that conference to see their plan.” Pointing her finger upward in the direction of Hack’s group, she continued. “See that black box above the water? That, my friends, is a camera. A human has been watching Hack since he and his recruits started their trip. I have made it a point to stay behind the camera so it can’t see us, but maybe the human can help us.”

Curious fearfully commented, “Maybe the human uses drugs. Some humans are heartless just like Hack. They don’t care who they hurt and might try to destroy us.”

“We will have to take that chance.” Halfweed sounded braver than she felt.

They watched a cricket try to avoid getting wet, jumping from one side of the water to the other. As he jumped, he struck the camera that hovered overhead. Splash! The camera hit the nasty water. They watched it float underneath a piece of fabric. Halfweed held her breath and waited for the camera to reappear, but nothing happened. The wet fabric was too heavy, and the remote-controlled camera was trapped in the water.

Disappearance of the Underworld

The screen suddenly went blank. They could not see or hear any- thing. It was as if the underworld had vanished. Was this one of Hack’s tricks?

Panicked, Tommy asked in a soft, high-pitched voice, “Dad, what happened?”

Silence answered Tommy’s question as Dr. Whyze nervously kept adjusting knobs, trying to make something happen. All they could hear were unidentified noises.

The minuscule camera that had traveled unnoticed by Hack’s group was now somewhere under the water, a short distance behind them. Halfweed knew it would soon float past Hack to the main sewer and be lost forever. She wanted human witnesses to see the evil plot that Hack and his terrorists planned to carry out.

Halfweed addressed her recruits. “I have to save the camera!” The Nopers stepped forward, willing to take the risk with her.

“No!” She held her hand up, shook her head, and said sternly, “It’s too dangerous. I want you all to wait here.”

Looking into the water, Halfweed tried to figure a way to catch the camera as it floated downstream. She bravely jumped onto a floating object and raced forward. As she sped along, she caught a glimpse of Hack and the terrorists standing by the water, waiting for a ride.

One of them spotted her. “Hey, look! There goes Halfweed.” Not believing it, Hack looked up. He watched with amazement as she jumped from one piece of debris to another. He quickly pointed to five terrorists, ordering them to catch her and throw her in the water. “Don’t come back until the job is done!” he shouted.

Hack’s expertise in the underworld helped him spot a good ride. He hopped onto an ice cream stick as it floated by. His bodyguards followed and rode along beside him. The new Devious Forces remained to fend for themselves. If they fell in the water and disintegrated, Hack did not care.

Hack’s terrorists paddled fast to catch Halfweed. They caught up with her just as she grabbed the piece of fabric that covered the camera. She tugged at the edge, trying to free the camera. She was startled when Hack’s followers jumped onto the fabric.

“What are you doing here?” one of the drug terrorists yelled.

“None of your business,” she answered. Are the Nopers safe? she wondered. Or did Hack send his scum warriors after them?

“We were told to find out what you’re doing, then throw you in the water so you’ll disintegrate.”

Halfweed was unsure what to say. She knew she could not fight all five of them. Can I negotiate with them or talk them into changing their minds about working for Hack? Can I convince them to help me? she asked herself.

“What are you trying to pull?” one of her enemies asked. “Tell us or we’ll throw you in the water right now!” Closing in on her, they grabbed and pushed her to the edge of the fabric.

“Wait! Wait just a minute. Let me ask you some questions, and then you can do as you wish.”

“You’re really not in any position to ask us anything, are you?” they responded. “But go ahead, ask your questions. Then you can answer ours.”

“OK, you’ve got yourself a deal. Why are you here to get me?”

“Hack told us to catch you, to see what you’re up to and get rid of you.”

“Why does Hack want to hurt me? I’ve done nothing to him.” “Look, ragweed, we just do what we’re told.”

“He wants to hurt kids. Don’t you realize how wrong that is?”

she asked, still unable to understand such cruelty.

“Humans hurt him and he wants to get even,” they answered like programmed computer chips. “We want to help him.”

“Does that make sense to you? Can’t you think for yourselves?”

She wondered, is that confusion I see on their puzzled faces? “Hack is a bitter old tobacco particle, and his bitterness has blinded him to common sense. You must learn to think for yourselves and decide between right and wrong. Think about where you’re going before you follow anyone, especially someone who is angry.”

A shaky voice answered, “Everyone was following Hack, and all those tobacco particles can’t be wrong!”

Halfweed responded boldly, “You’re wrong! Not everyone followed Hack. I sure didn’t and you want to know why? It’s because I know how to think for myself. I know what he’s asking us to do is wrong.”

Looking bewildered, one asked her, “What should we do?”

Halfweed knew the right choice but did not tell them. She want- ed each one to make a personal choice. A Noper had to be trusted to do what was right, not just follow the loudest voice in the crowd.

Holding tightly to Halfweed, the five terrorists whispered behind her back.

“If we don’t throw her in the water like Hack ordered, he’ll come after us next.”

“But she’s right about him. What he’s doing is wrong.” “I don’t care. You can’t always do the right thing.” “Yeah, sometimes you have to follow the crowd.”

One of them confessed, “I never did like what Hack was doing. I think I just got caught up in all the excitement. Truthfully, I’ve been wondering how to get out of this.”

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