Read an Excerpt
Book One: Evil Kid Hunting Organization
By Marie D. Jones, Max Jones
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Marie D. Jones
All rights reserved.
Elvis Jones gripped his books and stared down the long row of pod classrooms, wanting to puke his guts out. Even though he saw many familiar faces, the first day of school always made him sick to his stomach. By now he should have been used to the routine, having gone to Royal Elementary for three years already. But fourth grade, from what he'd been told, was the end of fun. Instead, more intensive prep work for middle school would begin.
At least they still had recess.
The lower grades took up the main building of the large, single-story, Southern California-style school. Meanwhile the upper grades were an afterthought, relegated to pods separated by the library and playground. Maybe the school staff wanted to keep the younger kids away, preserving their youth and innocence as long as possible before throwing them into the jaws of semi-adulthood. Or maybe the school just didn't have money to build more classrooms, so they shoved the older grades into the motorhome-sized rooms with barely functioning heaters and air conditioners. Whatever the reason, Elvis liked being away from the reminders of earlier years, when he was bullied and teased relentlessly by the older kids. Some of those bullies had graduated and gone off to San Brujo Middle School, but some remained. Elvis closed his eyes and cringed, hopeful, but not too hopeful, as he limped up the ramp to his new classroom. Room 33. He liked the number three. Maybe that was a good sign.
Elvis opened the heavy door and stepped into the room where he'd spend six hours a day, five days a week. Looking around, he sighed with relief. He knew most of the kids, and none were the bullies. And there was his best friend, Levi Johnson.
Thank God for small favors.
Levi waved Elvis over to the empty desk next to his.
"Yeah, dude, we got the same class." Levi's voice cracked. It screeched like chalk being scraped down the blackboard.
"Man, dude, you grow a pair over summer vacation or what?" Elvis pointed to his throat.
Levi blushed. "Voice is changing."
Elvis sat, made himself comfortable, and continued his search around the room. The bell wouldn't ring for another five minutes, and his new teacher, Mr. Ruddard, was nowhere in sight. He recognized some classmates from previous grades. But because Elvis kept to himself, he didn't know them well enough to exchange anything more than a head nod.
Elvis wasn't looking forward to having Mr. Ruddard as a teacher. He had a rep for being strict and no-nonsense and even a bit of a bully with kids who didn't speak up or volunteer answers freely. Elvis wasn't shy, but he didn't always jump to participate either, something he might have to reconsider with Ruddard.
Elvis and Levi were huddled over their cell phones, comparing Instagram pictures they had taken over the summer, when some kid Elvis didn't recognize gasped and gestured wildly. He sat next to the window and everyone stopped at his "zip your lip" signal, then he pointed to the door. Elvis and Levi turned their phones off, and the metal classroom door gave a terrible, foreboding squeak, creaking open in slow motion. They froze, as if in collective suspended animation. A strange man, clearly not Mr. Ruddard, scuttled in buried behind a stack of books and folders.
He walked to the front of the silent room and attempted to put the stack on the desk, but everything tumbled to the floor. Papers and books scattered everywhere. "Crap on a cracker," he yelped.
The entire room burst into raucous laughter.
The teacher clamped his hand over his mouth, turning beet red. He dove in front of the desk and fumbled with the folders, shoving the scattered papers inside.
Two girls sprang from their seats and helped him get his papers back on the desk. He stood, cleared his throat, and addressed the class. "Well, not the best way for a new teacher to introduce himself, is it?"
A few giggles erupted in back but were silenced by the teacher's harsh glare.
"Hello, class. My name is Mr. Barleycorn."
Whispers rippled through the room; a wave of concern as kid after kid turned to his or her neighbor and asked "W-T-F?"
"I know you were expecting Mr. Ruddard, but he had to take over a third grade class after Miss Hancock left to marry her boyfriend."
A few fart noises were met by another glare from the teacher.
"I will be teaching you math, reading and science, and you will trade classes with Ms. Kipling for social studies and language arts. This is to help prepare you for fifth grade and then middle school, where you will have different teachers for each class."
Mr. Barleycorn looked at the class with lowered lids.
"So don't get too attached to me, boys and girls." He snorted at his own joke.
Elvis stifled a giggle and turned around to see every kid in the class rolling their eyes. Except for the boy in the back row, too busy picking his nose to pay attention.
"Now let's take attendance." Mr. Barleycorn spent fifteen minutes looking for the attendance booklet before a girl Elvis remembered from third grade pointed it out, hanging on the wall in a packet reading "Attendance Booklet."
Elvis leaned toward Levi and whispered, "This is going to be one looooong school year."
Levi nodded and held up his hand, his palm facing Elvis. "Talk to the hand, 'cus the hand understands, dude."
Mr. Barleycorn managed to take attendance with minimal confusion, although he pronounced more than half the last names wrong. But, flustered as he was, he got through it in time to run through the school day schedule and rules and expectations with the class before the recess bell rang two and a half hours later. The only glitch in the morning was the humiliation Elvis had to withstand when Mr. Barleycorn called out his name, followed by, "Did your parents really name you Elvis?"
Everyone laughed, including Elvis. What could he do but join what he couldn't beat?
"Yeah, they have a great sense of humor," Elvis mumbled.
In the back, a student yelled, "And boy can he swivel those hips." Then the boy broke into a pretty good rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes," taking the heat off Elvis—for the time being.
The only redeeming moment came when a new girl in his class, Mariah Jenks, walked by him on the way to recess. "Cool name. We're both named after famous singers."
Elvis smiled and nodded, even before he remembered her name and realized she meant Mariah Carey. But for that single moment, he felt ... accepted.
And then recess began.
* * *
Outside, Elvis and Levi took refuge under the massive jungle gym, sitting on semi-wet bark chips while all around them kids played and screamed. Baseball games, dodge ball, handball, basketball, tetherball, jump rope, tag; too many physical activities going on. But Elvis wasn't up to competing with kids who could outrun and out jump him. It never worked out well.
Good at hitting the ball, he could even hold his own in kick ball, which they often played against the teachers and staff. His talents, though, were more the brainy and technical type. He could hack the Pentagon, but he couldn't throw a decent three-pointer.
"We can't hide all year, you know," Levi said, although somewhat halfheartedly.
"Why not? It worked last year," Elvis mumbled back. Somebody ran by and kicked bark into Levi's face. He spit out a woodchip and gave Elvis a, "See what I mean?" look.
Elvis sighed. "You spot any of them?"
Levi stretched his long body out far enough to look around the playground. "No, but I'm sure they spotted us and are plotting our demise as we speak."
Elvis sighed again. At home, he rarely sighed, but at school he was a real sighing machine. "Bell rings in ten ... maybe we'll make it out alive our first day. Wonders never cease."
When the bell rang, they ran for the door, Elvis moving as fast as he could despite his limp. As they reached the classroom door, thinking they had escaped and were in the clear, they heard it.
The deep, distinct voice of the biggest walking anus that ever lived.
"Awwww, it's Gimpy and Geekboy. How are the school superheroes doing today?"
Elvis cringed and Levi shrunk. Neither one turned around.
"Awww, they're speechless. Hey, speaking of speech, where's Lispy? And the Midget Boy?"
"Ignore them. Come on," Elvis said. He grabbed Levi's arm and prepared to pull him into the classroom.
"Douche bags." The deep, guttural words were hurled at their backs.
Elvis stopped and turned to see one of the remaining school bullies—big Billy Bradshaw—standing there smirking. And next to Billy was his evil sidekick, Joe Broadback. Joe didn't talk much, just stood there all meaty and mean looking, like Billy's bodyguard. Both boys were in the fourth grade but looked like sixth graders.
Elvis thought about saying something about their odd and extreme size and asking whether they'd been held back a few years, but he stopped himself before the first word squeaked out. He liked living. He wanted to live longer.
So he yanked Levi through the classroom door and pulled it shut.
Up at the front, Mr. Barleycorn stared at him. A strange direct stare. Elvis shuddered. Then Mr. Barleycorn snapped out of it— as if awakening from a trance.
He motioned for the class to settle down. "Okay, kids, it's time for science. I hope you have the required materials you were supposed to get over the break." Mr. Barleycorn turned his back to the class.
Elvis watched his surprised classmates look around, mouthing, "What materials?" to one another. He hadn't heard of any required materials either. A stunned silence settled over the room.
"Let's get started on our first lesson segment. Outer space. A favorite subject of mine."
Elvis smiled, but then suppressed a full-out laugh when Mr. Barleycorn turned, took off the sweater he had been wearing, and revealed an X-Files "I Want To Believe" T-shirt.CHAPTER 2
Coach Grievous walked down the row of terrified boys, who were lined up like Marines at inspection time. Coach G, as he was respectfully called, had a reputation for no-nonsense PE classes. Elvis cringed at what was to come. Not athletic, unless you counted playing Wii Sports at home, he could be a bit clumsy from a minor disability that gave him a pronounced limp. He had been bullied for it throughout school, and had to withstand the shame and humiliation of being picked last, if at all, for team sports.
Well, at least he wasn't Levi. He had nerd written all over him, so tall and gangly—with big ears, which were for some reason always red—even without a disability he tripped over his own feet. Levi was funny and often used his humor to get out of otherwise embarrassing situations. He stood next to Elvis, shaking in his gym shoes.
When Coach G strode out of earshot, Levi leaned next to Elvis. "I wonder if my mom would give me a permanent excuse from this hell known as physical education."
"Hey, guys." The high-pitched voice came from behind them.
Elvis and Levi turned to see their two friends fall in line. The owner of the squeaky voice, a small boy named Jordy Roos, had huge coke-bottle glasses and hid a buzz cut under a baseball cap. Jordy's dad was a cop, so he always had a buzz going. The other, Jackson Cain—a tall, thin, black kid—sported a full set of braces and a short afro. Jackson looked all nerd, and made Elvis think of the TV character named Urkel from a show his mom used to watch every time he saw Jackson.
"Hey, guyth," Jackson mumbled, his lisp even more pronounced by the full metal jacket his teeth were wearing.
"This frakkin' sucks. I hate PE." Jordy sounded like a mouse in distress.
Elvis and his friends bunched together, feeling freakish and out of place, as the Coach warbled something about "teamwork," "discipline," and "participation points."
"Participation pointh?" Jackson asked. "What the heck is thath?"
Elvis closed his eyes and sighed. If he had held any hopes of not being bullied and teased again this year, they were gone in a flash. "I guess it means we get points for participating," he said in a monotone voice.
Coach G tested each boy and girl for general skill levels—running, dodging an obstacle course, and shooting three baskets—for the rest of the class period. Every kid made the grade with ease, except Elvis, Levi, Jordy, and Jackson, who immediately got put on the same team for their "skill level."
They quietly high-fived one another all the way back to their classes.
* * *
Elvis walked down the hall to meet Mr. Hanley on the playground. Mr. Hanley taught Adapted PE and Elvis had worked with him for years through his physical therapist. When younger, he enjoyed being pulled out of class with the physically disabled to have extra playground time. The exercises involved mainly stretching, kicking, throwing basketballs, and other activities to help strengthen his legs.
He had been born with infantile spastic diplegia, a disease like cerebral palsy, but without brain damage. He couldn't walk as a toddler, and had several grueling treatments starting at age three involving Botox injections. The injections paralyzed the strong muscles to allow the weaker muscles to strengthen. This led to weeks and weeks of living in a cast during his preschool years followed by major surgeries causing him to be wheelchair bound for kindergarten and part of the first grade.
Afterward, he used a walker, then leg braces, until eventually he walked on his own. Without his limp, no one could have imagined the hell Elvis had gone through to reach the point most kids took for granted—being able to walk and run. He couldn't keep up with some kids in regular PE, but he always tried.
And then there was the teasing. Oh, the teasing. Especially during the wheelchair years, as he called them now, when he also wore a body cast from his toes to mid chest.
Oh, those days ... being called everything from gimp to broken boy to limpy. It still stung. And even though he had grown into a smart, decent looking guy who got more than his share of smiles from girls, he still wore the badge of being different. Picked on by those who didn't realize, at least not yet, that they were lucky. By God's grace they didn't have to think about walking—they simply walked.
So maybe his limp couldn't be avoided, but he still managed to walk smack into the cutest girl in school. Mainly because he stared at his shoes as he walked. Elvis jerked his head up. Face to face with the beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess known as Kayley Morris, he was stunned. Every boy wanted to be her boyfriend. Every girl wanted to be her. Every teacher wanted her in their class, because she was polite, participated often, and got good grades.
Sheepish, Elvis mumbled an apology and avoided her eyes.
Kayley smiled and picked up Elvis's eyeglasses, which had fallen out of his pocket. "I think these are yours," she said sweetly.
A hot flush of blood rushed to his cheeks. He must have looked like a clown. "Thank you," he muttered and walked on, refusing to check over his shoulder to see whether she laughed at him ... or worse ... pitied him.
"Gimpy, you ain't got no chance with that kitty cat." A taunting voice came from the boy's bathroom.
"Crap." Elvis lowered his eyes and picked up the pace. Good thing no one was around to hear him swear. He headed toward the playground where Mr. Hanley and the others waited, but as he passed the bathroom, big, dumb Joe Broadback stomped out, sneering.
"Gimpy the limpy, oh so wimpy," the boy chanted.
Elvis ignored him, whispering, "Douche bag," under his breath.
But inside, he felt the sting.
* * *
"Look, we know there are some assholes left from last year, including Billy and Joe. And they know we are here, so it's only a matter of time before they amp up the harassment. I say we find a way to stay one step ahead," Elvis murmured as the fearsome foursome sat at a table in the lunch court.
"How do you propoth we do thath?" Jackson asked through his braces, sending a tiny spittle of chili across the table and onto Jordy's jacket.
Jordy scowled. "Gross, dude."
Excerpted from EKHO by Marie D. Jones, Max Jones. Copyright © 2014 Marie D. Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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