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Dead Guy Spy
By David Lubar
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 David Lubar
All rights reserved.
It's pretty creepy when some stranger follows you, spies on you, and tries to discover the deep, dark, half-cool, half-rotten secret that only your two closest friends in the world know about. It's even creepier when it happens three times in one day.
It all started Monday morning, when Mookie and I were walking to school. He'd stayed over that weekend because his parents had won a free dinner at a restaurant in Vermont. Since we lived in New Jersey, it took them a while to get up there.
"I hope they bring me maple syrup," Mookie said as we headed out the door. "It's not just good for pancakes, you know. It's awesome on everything. Even chicken wings."
"I think I'd pick hot sauce," I said. "Not that I'll ever eat wings again."
Food didn't play a big part in my life — or death — these days. Anything I swallowed just stayed in my stomach and slowly rotted.
"Hey, there's no law that says you have to stick with one sauce. You can mix them. That's half the fun. Chocolate syrup and mustard are awesome on pretzels. I'd bet maple syrup and hot sauce would be great together. Sweet and spicy — yummmm."
He closed his eyes, spun around, and made chewing sounds. The chews turned into a "gaaaahhh!" when he tripped on his laces. The "gaaaahhh!" ended with a crash as he slammed into a couple metal garbage cans at the end of a driveway, spilling out a mess of leftover food, crumpled paper, and these large gray lumps that might have been cat litter.
I went to help put the garbage back. That stuff doesn't bother me. I can stick my face three inches from the grossest pile of week-old road kill without feeling a quiver in my gut.
Mookie had a pretty strong stomach, too. I'd seen him eat things that would make a cockroach puke. Once, he chomped down on a pickle he'd coated with strawberry jelly and dipped in crumbled fish sticks, just to gross out some girls at another lunch table.
But this stuff was making him gag. So I took care of the mess while he stood next to me and talked about the weirder and sloppier pieces.
"Whoa, that looks like pig intestines."
"I really hope that's just chocolate pudding."
"Ick — who'd throw away that much oatmeal?"
"Oh, man — I think that's a diaper."
I finished up, then wiped my hands in the grass. "That's weird," Mookie said as he put the lids on the cans. "I don't remember that bush."
"By the blue house." He pointed back the way we'd come. "See that bush by the corner? It wasn't there before."
"So what. Maybe it's new. People are always planting things around here. Come on. Let's get going."
Mookie kept glancing over his shoulder as we walked. "Ever feel like you're being followed?"
"Only when you're behind me." I grabbed his arm and yanked him toward the school. Mookie got distracted pretty easily. Walking with him usually meant I did a lot of waiting up. Or backing up. Or grabbing and yanking. And a bit of picking up, since this wasn't the first time in his life he'd crashed into stuff. I figure he wipes out about five garbage cans on an average week. If people ever turned into objects, Mookie would become a bowling ball.
"No, not like that. I mean secretly followed, like by someone who doesn't want you to know he's there." He turned around again. "Whoa!"
"What?" I really didn't want to stand around talking. We were going to be late for school if he kept this up.
He grabbed my shoulder. "The bush moved."
"Knock it off."
"Really," Mookie said. "Seriously. I think it's following us."
"Bushes don't move."
"Right. And dead kids don't walk."
Okay, he had a point there. You could sort of call me dead. Or half-dead.
I'd accidentally gotten splashed with a whole jar of Hurt-Be-Gone by my friend Abigail's crazy uncle Zardo. The formula was supposed to remove bad feelings. The problem was, he'd used one wrong ingredient. Yeah — just one. But it was enough to change my life, big time.
Now, I didn't have a pulse or heartbeat. I didn't feel pain. I didn't need to breathe. But I could walk, talk, and think. It's not as bad as it sounds. I could do some pretty cool things. Maybe even some brave things.
Mookie liked to call me a zombie. I didn't totally agree with that, but I definitely couldn't explain how I was able to pass for a living kid. If I could walk, I guess a bush could move. I turned and looked.
The bush was less than a block away. I stared at it, waiting to see if it would move again. It just sat there, quivering in the light breeze. But there was no doubt it had moved. Mookie was right. We were being followed.CHAPTER 2
Leaf Me Alone
I walked toward the corner.
"What are you doing?" Mookie yelled after me.
"Finding out what's going on," I said.
"Be careful, it might attack you! I've read all these books where people get killed in the African bush."
"I don't think it's the bushes that kill them. I think it's lions or something."
I wasn't worried. The bush had floppy branches that drooped all the way to the ground, and tiny green leaves. There was nothing deadly about it. As I got closer, the bush started to inch backwards, like it was trying to move without looking like it was moving. I dashed forward.
"Yipes!" The cry came from behind the bush. A man tumbled backward, landing on his butt on the sidewalk. I guess he was trying to drag the bush and lost his grip.
That's really strange, I thought as I got a good look at him. He was wearing a green flannel shirt, green corduroy pants, green gloves, green shoes, green socks, and a green wool cap pulled low over his forehead — exactly what someone would wear if he was trying to blend in with a bush. He looked pretty tall, though it was hard to tell for sure, since he was sprawled on the ground. He had red hair, big ears, and green eyes. If he'd been about three feet shorter, I would have asked him for his pot of gold.
Instead, I asked him something a lot more important. "Why are you following me?"
The man stood up and dusted his pants off. "What an absurd question. I am not following you. Should I be following you?"
He had an English accent, like the people in those infomercials who are trying to sound classy while they sell mops, vacuum cleaners, and grilled-cheese makers.
"Is there anything that makes you followable? Are you expecting to be followed? Hmmmm?"
"Well, there you go. I certainly wouldn't be following you, then. Would I?"
"Why are you dressed in green?"
"You sound British."
"And you sound childish." He leaned over and grabbed the bush. "If you must know, I am taking my new plant home."
I walked down this street every day on the way to school. I didn't recognize this guy. But I wasn't going to waste time thinking about it. There was no reason not to believe him. He could have just moved in. I'd actually be a lot happier believing he wasn't following me. The last thing I wanted was attention, especially now that I was working on a top-secret plan to do something really cool with my zombie powers.
"Okay. Sorry I made you fall."
"I didn't fall. I have excellent reflexes. I was merely resting."
"Whatever." I trotted back to Mookie. "He's taking his new plant home. And he has excellent reflexes."
"This town is getting weirder and weirder," Mookie said.
We reached school without running into any more traveling plants.
Abigail was waiting for us by the front entrance. We'd only been friends for a little while, but we'd been through a lot during that time.
"Hi, guys." She was still treating me special for saving her life, but I figured she'd get over it in another week or two. She had so many things racing through her mind, I'd bet that the old thoughts kept getting shoved out to make room for new ones.
She reached for my backpack. "Can I carry that for you?"
I stepped away from her. "I'm fine. It's not heavy."
"I know," she said. "But you need to be careful not to strain anything. Your body can't repair itself."
That was the biggest problem with being dead. My body didn't heal. If I broke a finger or a toe, I had to glue it back with a special mixture I'd discovered. And then, for a couple seconds while my nerves flickered back to life, I felt a ton of pain, like my bones and muscles were being forced through a meat grinder. So I was more careful about accidents than most kids. But I wasn't going to stop enjoying my life just because I was dead. If I started to hide from the world, I might as well just crawl into a grave and make friends with the worms.
The bell rang, and we headed to our home base in Room 103. When I dropped my language arts and social studies homework on Ms. Otranto's desk, she looked up from her attendance book and smiled at me. "Thank you, Nathan."
Since I didn't need to sleep, I had plenty of time for homework. Teachers seem to like you a lot more when you do a good job on your assignments.
After social studies, we moved upstairs for science with Ms. Delambre. Instead of desks, we had lab tables and stools, just like the big kids had in Lonchan Middle School. Mookie and I used to sit by ourselves at a table near the window, but after we became friends with Abigail, she joined us.
Ms. Delambre pointed to a box of gears and pulleys. "We're going to be experimenting with mechanical advantages today."
My eyes drifted toward the window. I'd already read the gears-and-pulleys chapter in our textbook. I wasn't a science genius like Abigail, but I pretty much understood the lesson, so I knew what Ms. Delambre was going to say. For a moment, as my mind wandered, I didn't really look at anything in particular. Then, when I realized what I was seeing, I yelped and nearly toppled off my stool.
Ms. Delambre stopped in the middle of her sentence and stared at our table. "Is there a problem, Nathan?"
"No. Sorry." I scrunched my stool back toward the table and tried to stare ahead. But I couldn't resist the urge to get a better look. As soon as I could, I snuck another glance out the window.
It hadn't been my imagination. There was a squirrel on top of a phone pole by the road, twenty or thirty feet away from the window. He was holding something the size of a large walnut. That wouldn't have made me shout, except for one thing. The squirrel wasn't getting ready to eat his lunch. This walnut had a tiny red light on it and a shiny lens. And it was aimed right at me.
"He's got a squirrel-cam!" I gasped.CHAPTER 3
I Scope Not
Ms. Delambre shot me another glare. I clamped my mouth shut until she looked away. Then I smacked Mookie on the leg to get his attention.
"What's wrong?" he whispered out of the side of his mouth.
I jerked my head toward the window, trying to get him to look that way.
"You have a twitch?" he asked. "Stiff neck?"
"Muscle spasm?" Abigail asked. "That's peculiar. I wouldn't expect dead muscles to twitch, unless they were exposed to an electric current."
"No!" I snarled the word through gritted teeth, then pointed out the window. "Over there ..."
Mookie and Abigail looked.
"What?" they both asked.
"That squirrel has a miniature camera," I said.
Mookie squinted through his glasses, scrunching up his forehead. "Come on. That's just a walnut."
"No way. Why would a squirrel hold a walnut up to his eyes?" I asked.
"So he could admire it?" Mookie said.
"Hutner! Nathan! Abigail! Do I have to separate the three of you?" Ms. Delambre always called Mookie by his real name, even though he begged her not to. His parents had planned to name him Hunter, but they'd messed up when they'd filled out his birth certificate.
"No. Sorry." I waited until she finished explaining the experiment. When she started handing out the gears, I checked the window again. The squirrel was still there, and the camera was still aimed at me.
As soon as we started setting up our experiment, and kids at all the tables were talking, I said, "I'm sure it's a camera. I need to get a closer look."
"Too bad there's no telescope in here," Mookie said.
Abigail stared up at the ceiling, which told me she was thinking. Then she snapped her fingers. "Got it!" She pointed to one of the bins on the counter along the side wall, right past the sink. "Mookie, can you spill something into the red bin? The one with all the lenses."
He turned toward the back of the room, then nodded, grabbed his pencil, and hopped off his stool. "I was born to spill."
When he reached the sharpener, he started cranking away. "Hey — it's full. I'll empty it." He pulled off the container and sprinted for the wastebasket.
When Mookie got near the red bin, he tripped on his loose sneaker lace — on purpose, for once — and lost his grip on the container. Shavings went flying. A bunch of them spilled onto the lenses.
"Hutner, get back in your seat," Ms. Delambre said.
"That was fun," Mookie whispered as he climbed on his stool. "I love spilling things."
"What a mess," Ms. Delambre said. She headed toward the back of the room.
I still had no idea what was going on.
"I'll clean it!" Abigail leaped up and dashed toward the counter.
"Thank you, Abigail," Ms. Delambre said. "That's very thoughtful."
After Abigail brushed off all the shavings, she took the lenses to the sink and washed them. That didn't seem necessary, but I'd learned a while back that Abigail never did anything without a reason.
She pulled a brown paper towel from the dispenser and held it up. "Ms. Delambre," she called. "These are pretty rough. Will they scratch the lenses?"
"There are some rolls of softer towels in the closet," Ms. Delambre said.
I saw Abigail smile as she went to the closet. After she dried the lenses, she stuck one into an end of the paper towel tube. She took a smaller lens, wrapped the outside with used paper towels, and crammed it in the other end of the tube.
After she put the rest of the lenses back, she brought the tube over to our table. "Go distract Ms. Delambre," Abigail told Mookie.
"I'm the man for the job." He walked over to Ms. Delambre's desk and held up a gear. "Does this look round to you? Gears are supposed to be round, right? But this one sort of looks kind of oval. Will it still work if it's oval? If not, can I swap it for a round one? Besides, some of the teeth aren't as pointy as the others. Do they all need the same amount of pointyness?"
I had a feeling Ms. Delambre was going to be distracted for a while.
Abigail handed me the tube. "I made a telescope. I had to estimate the focal length, but it should be close enough. Take a look."
I stared at her. I didn't know you could make a telescope that easily.
"Hurry," she said. "The squirrel could climb down at any moment."
I held up the tube and took a look. "Hey, everything is upside down."
"Of course," Abigail said. "The lenses invert — oh, never mind. Just look."
I looked. Everything wasn't just upside down. It was also a whole lot closer. If I'd been able to get goose bumps, I definitely would have gotten them now. Close up, there was no doubt. The squirrel wasn't holding a walnut.
I was right. "It's a squirrel-cam."
"That's trouble," Abigail said. "Someone is spying on you."CHAPTER 4
Why would anyone want to spy on me?" That didn't make sense. I handed Abigail the telescope. Before she could use it, the squirrel fell off the pole. I ran to the window and looked out.
The squirrel was on its side on the ground next to the pole. It got up and staggered a couple steps. Sparks shot out from under its tail.
It took a couple more steps. Little puffs of smoke drifted from its ears. Then more sparks. Its fur caught fire.
The squirrel exploded.
Shiny parts bounced across the road. It was some sort of machine! As I watched, a car ran over one of the pieces.
Ms. Delambre pointed at my seat. I slunk back. Abigail, Mookie, and I didn't get a chance to talk any more during science. Every time we tried, Ms. Delambre flashed us that steamed look that's a sign she's in danger of overloading. An exploding teacher is a lot more dangerous than an exploding squirrel.
I decided it would be safer to keep my mouth shut until recess. But I had a feeling my friends weren't the only ones who knew I wasn't a normal boy. That was the only way to explain why someone was suddenly spying on me.
While the rest of the fifth grade played kickball, shot baskets, or chased each other around, I huddled with Mookie and Abigail by the broken seesaws, since nobody would interrupt us there.
"Somebody knows I'm a zombie," I said. "You've seen the movies. People don't like to hang out with zombies. All they do is run from them and scream."
Abigail patted my shoulder. "You have no reason to panic. All we really know is that someone is watching you. It's a good idea to gather all available facts before forming a conclusion."
"Someone knows about me. That's a fact." I hated the idea that a stranger had discovered my secret, especially now that I was working on an idea where I needed to totally hide my true identity from the world. I wasn't even ready to share my idea with my friends yet.
Excerpted from Dead Guy Spy by David Lubar. Copyright © 2009 David Lubar. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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