My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: Fins of Fury
By Mo O'Hara, Marek Jagucki
Feiwel and Friends Copyright © 2014 Mo O'Hara
All rights reserved.
THE NOT-SO-GREAT OUTDOORS
It was sunset and the sky was zombie goldfish orange. I flipped open the lid of the water canteen hanging around my neck and whispered, "Look, Frankie, it's your color."
Frankie, my pet zombie goldfish, peered out of the canteen and snatched a quick peek at the sky. Then he swished his tail and went back to swimming in tiny circles. He was not impressed.
The next thing I knew, I face-planted into the mud on the trail as I tripped over my stupidly long bootlaces for about the fifth time today. I wasn't impressed with this "weekend trip" either.
"I think I've changed my mind about wanting to go camping," I huffed as I wiped the mud off my chin.
Frankie thrashed a fin as if he was saying, "Yeah, right, sure. Now you tell me." When did Frankie learn how to be sarcastic in fin sign language?
"Cheer up, Tom," Pradeep said as he held out his hand to pull me back up. "It's gonna be the best weekend ever. I can't believe you nearly didn't come!"
"Yeah ..." I began, snapping shut the lid of the canteen. I thought about how I'd tried to back out of the trip, but Mom said that I needed some fresh air so I was going and that was that. Then I looked at Pradeep's super-excited face. "It'll be great," I said, and forced out a smile.
"I'm still not really sure why you brought Frankie though," Pradeep whispered.
"I had to." I sighed. "Mom said that she was going to do a mega spring clean. What if Frankie thought the Hoover was trying to attack him again and went all zombie-thrash-fish in front of Mom? I couldn't risk it!"
"Listen up, campers!" the group leader shouted. "There's a fork in the path ahead. Can anyone use their wilderness skills to work out which way to head?"
"Past the knife and spoon," I yelled, and giggled at my own joke.
No one else laughed. If there was tumbleweed in the woods, it would have blown past me at that exact moment.
Then Pradeep spoke up. "Wind blowing westerly. And it's blowing the campfire smoke toward us, so the camp must be due west."
"Good work, camper," the leader shouted back. "Let's get moving then."
Pradeep took his camping very seriously and he was good at it. He'd been camping with the Cubs lots of times. He knew how to read a map and use a compass. He could make a tent out of a sheet and a couple of sticks, and it would stay up all night too!
"I told you this camping trip was going to be epic!" said Pradeep, as we started walking again. "Meeting Sam Savage from Savage Safari AND Grizzly Cook! It's going to be BRILLIANT!"
I had just started to feel the beginnings of a corner of a real smile creep across my face when all the wind was knocked out of me as I was hoisted up by my backpack and dangled above the grass.
HAPPY ZOMBIE TRAILS
"Right, morons," said Mark, my Evil Scientist big brother, as he grabbed me and Pradeep and pulled us out of earshot of the other kids. "This weekend, I don't know you and you don't know me." He glared at us. "You look at me, you talk to me, you even say my name, and I will pound you into the ground so far that they'll need a digger to get you out? Got it?"
"Got it!" Pradeep and I gulped at the same time. Mark let go of our backpacks and our feet sank back into the mud. Then he strode off toward the front of the line.
At that moment, my canteen flung itself over my neck and started bouncing around on the ground. Frankie must have heard Mark's voice and gone all zombie mega-thrash fish. Frankie has held a grudge against Mark ever since he tried to murder him with his Evil Scientist toxic gunk and then flush him. Luckily Pradeep and I shocked Frankie back to life with a battery, and he's been our zombified fishy friend ever since.
I walked over and picked up the furiously bouncing canteen. "It's OK, Mark's gone now, Frankie," I whispered, popping open the lid.
"Hey, that kid who keeps falling over at the back of the line is talking to his water canteen again," one of the other campers shouted.
"Maybe he's just talking to the 'medical alert' kid," another kid suggested, laughing.
"It's not like anyone else would talk to them," I heard Mark yell as he strode to the front of the line.
Pradeep looked down at his trekking boots.
See, when all the moms and dads were saying good-bye in the car park a couple of miles back, they were all pretty embarrassing ... but Pradeep's mom probably managed to break the Most Embarrassing Parent EVER world record. First she kissed Pradeep on the head and hugged him until his eyes almost popped out, right in front of all the other campers. Then she looped a huge plastic wallet with his permission slips, emergency contact numbers and huge medicines list around his neck. He looked like one of those kids being shipped off on a train somewhere in World War II!
Worst of all, she practically yelled, "Right, my little soldier, I have packed the motion-sickness tablets and the sick bags, the diarrhea medicine (as you know how campfire cooking gives you a funny tummy), the insect repellent, the sunscreen, the bee-sting lotion, the hay-fever pills, the calamine lotion and twelve extra pairs of socks. You can never have too many clean pairs of socks."
Pradeep of course whipped off the plastic wallet as soon as his mom was out of sight. But it was too late. Everyone had seen it.
I slung Frankie's canteen back around my neck and pulled a squashed peanut-butter sandwich from my pocket. I took a bite and passed Pradeep the rest. "Mmmo mkeep mmoo mgoooming," I mumbled through my peanut-butter-filled mouth.
"To keep me going? Thanks," Pradeep said, easily translating my peanut-butter mumble.
That little energy boost gave Pradeep what my gran would call a spring in his step.
His feet easily found the places in the path without stones or roots sticking up. He didn't even have to look down. I trudged along and tried to put my sneakers in his footprints so I didn't fall over again.
That was when the mosquito got me right on the neck. I turned and swatted it with my hand, and immediately banged into Pradeep, who I hadn't noticed had stopped dead in his tracks.
"Sorry!" I began. "I was just squashing a pterodactyl-sized mosquito that chomped me—"
"Shhhhhh," he whispered.
The other campers were a good twenty paces ahead of us now.
Then I heard a rustling off to our left.
"What was that?" Pradeep said.
A GRIZZLY WAY TO START A TRIP
I turned toward the sound.
Frankie's eyes started to glow bright green as he peered out of the top of the canteen. His zombie fish senses must have told him something wasn't right.
Then we heard the rustling again. It was closer this time.
Pradeep and I both instantly shot each other a look that said, "Whatever it is, I don't want to find out right now!"
I got a spring in my own step after that, for sure. Drops of water sloshed from Frankie's canteen as we ran to catch up with the other campers. Night was falling and we could make out the glow of the campfire through the trees.
Just then we heard a far-off rumble. The wind picked up and the trees around us started to sway as the noise got louder and louder.
Pradeep gave me a look that said, "Does that sound like ..."
"A helicopter?" I finished out loud.
A huge chopper flew into view, one of those military ones that drop soldiers into combat zones. As the blades thundered above our heads, Frankie started going nuts in the canteen. He popped his head out of the top, clearly ready for a fight. We stood there with the other campers, mouths hanging open, goldfish-style, while the door of the hovering helicopter opened and a man leaned out. Then he climbed out onto one of the skids at the bottom, hooked a rope over the rail, threw it out and started to climb down. No harness, no anything!
"It's Grizzly Cook!" cried Pradeep.
Grizzly slid down the rope and then leaped the last couple of yards to the ground. "Welcome, campers!" he shouted over the roar of the blades. "Your adventure starts now!"
Then he shook the rope and it fell away from the helicopter and tumbled to the ground. He waved the pilot off with a casual salute and everyone burst into applause.
"That guy really knows how to make an entrance," I said.
Pradeep didn't move. He was stunned into silence, which doesn't happen to Pradeep very often.
"Come on," I said. "We have to set the tent up and get Frankie out of this canteen and into something bigger so he can stretch his fins. Then I'll find him something green to nibble on for dinner."
Being a zombie goldfish and all, Frankie was really fond of green food. The mouldier the better really, but we'd have to see what we could come up with, out here in the wild.
Pradeep switched back into survival mode and he had the tent up and our sleeping bags inside in minutes. We got out our flashlights and went off into the area around the clearing to see what we could find for Frankie to eat.
"Where are you off to, mates?" Grizzly bounded out of the shadow toward us. I quickly put the lid back on the canteen so he wouldn't see Frankie inside.
"We just thought we'd have a look around," I said.
"Ummm," Pradeep said. His awestruck brain freeze clearly hadn't worn off yet.
"You can't wander off on your own after nightfall, guppies," Grizzly said. "First rule of survival in the wild: 'Respect your surroundings and they will respect you.'"
"Can't we ... respectfully wander off for a bit?" I asked.
"Not really, mate," he said with a laugh, "but nice try."
Pradeep snapped out of his daze. "Can we help gather water to put out the campfire later?" he asked.
"Rule fourteen of survival in the wild: 'Fire can save your life if you're safe with fire,'" recited Pradeep and Grizzly at the same time.
"All right, mate, good plan." Grizzly patted Pradeep on the back. "There's a stream above the sheep line just a few minutes that way. Take your flashlights and these containers and I'll keep watch from here. But be quick!"
"What's a 'sheep line'?" I asked Pradeep as we walked off toward the stream to get the water.
"It's a point above where sheep graze. You can tell because there are no droppings. That means that the sheep won't have peed or pooed in the water so it's safe to drink," he said.
"Yuck! Too much information!" I groaned.
When we reached the stream Pradeep held the flashlight while I filled up the first container and tipped Frankie inside along with some green slime I found in a nearby puddle. He was really happy to stretch his fins and finally have something to eat.
Looking at Frankie chowing down on the green goo reminded me I was hungry too. I dug through the pockets of my hiking jacket.
"Score! Another sandwich!" I said, holding out a squished mess of bread and peanut butter.
That's when we heard a twig snap a couple of yards away.
BEWARE THE EYES OF THE MARSH
Pradeep turned instantly and shone his flashlight in the direction of the sound, and for a split second I thought I saw a pair of large yellow eyes.
I screamed, picked up the container with Frankie inside and bolted back toward the camp as fast as my legs could carry me.
Pradeep was right behind me, yelling, "Tom, wait for meeeee!"
Grizzly was there in a flash as we hit the clearing.
"I thought I heard a girl scream out there?" Grizzly cried. "Was she with you guys?"
The other campers looked on as I explained. "Um ... no, that might have been me. I mean, sometimes my voice gets a little high when ..."
They started to giggle.
Grizzly jumped in. "You should have heard me when I was surprised by a leopard seal in the Antarctic. I thought my scream would shatter the iceberg I was standing on!" He smiled. "So did something spook ya in the dark out there?"
"Eyes!" Pradeep and I said at exactly the same time. "Yellow eyes!"
"There aren't any dangerous animals in Burdock Woods, but any critter's eyes can look spooky reflecting light at night. I'll check it out, just in case, eh?"
Grizzly trotted off in the direction of the stream while Pradeep and I took Frankie and the container of water over to the campfire.
When we sat down, some of the kids hanging out with Mark started making little "Eeek, a mouse!," "Argh, a spider!" fake screams.
"Let's sit somewhere else," muttered Pradeep, so we got up and went over to the other side of the fire to collect some sticks and start cooking our hot dogs.
Grizzly came back a moment later with the other water container filled to the brim and set it down next to the one with Frankie in it. "Nothing up there but a couple of fidgety rabbits," he said with a grin.
The smells of smoky blackened hot dogs and sticky marshmallow goo mixed in the air. When we had stuffed ourselves, the campfire stories began.
Grizzly told us about some of the amazing adventures he'd had. It was a lot of jumping off things, swimming through things, climbing up things and eating bugs really, but Pradeep was hooked on every word.
"What about the Beast of Burdock Woods?" one of the campers piped up.
"Oh, that story's a load of garbage," Grizzly replied. "No one's ever proved that there is a 'beast' in these woods. It's a myth, a legend. I might as well go looking for a unicorn around here." Everyone laughed.
Then Mark spoke up. "I heard that some of the local farmers said that something killed a sheep. And that they keep hearing weird noises at night ..."
"Well, young man, if you hear weird noises at night tonight, I'll tell you what they'll be ..." Grizzly paused. "Me snoring! Apparently I growl like an African hyena in my sleep, or so says the missus!"
Everyone laughed again, except me and Pradeep.
"Are you sure there's nothing dangerous out there?" I asked.
"I tell you what," Grizzly said. "We've got the world's best safari tracker, Sam Savage, coming in tomorrow. If there's something dangerous out there, we'll find it! Although I'm sure all we'll find is rabbits, hares, maybe some roe deer and the like. Not a 'beast' in sight!"
He got up and stretched like an actual grizzly bear. "Now it's time for some shut-eye." He and the other group leaders started to kick dirt into the fire to bring it down.
"Let's get Frankie back in his canteen," I whispered to Pradeep. But before either of us could move, Grizzly strode over to where we were sitting, picked up a water container and flung the water toward the dampening flames.
"Nooooooooooooo!" I shouted, leaping up.
The fire made a fizzing sound as the water hit the flames.
"Are you all right, mate?" asked Grizzly. "You look like you've lost your best friend."
My eyes darted around looking for flashes of zombie goldfish orange in the smoldering charcoal and wood. "Frankie!" I gasped.
Then Pradeep grabbed my shoulder. He was carrying the other water container. A small orange head peeked out and a green bulging eye winked at me.
"Frankie ... phew!" I sighed.
"What's that, mate?" Grizzly asked as some of the other campers looked on and giggled.
"I mean ..." I stalled, "um ... frankly ... you ... umm ... really ought to really make sure that the fire is out properly. Right?"
"Good plan, mate," Grizzly said, and motioned to Pradeep, who was still holding the other container. "Best give the fire another drink then."
Pradeep looked down at Frankie and back up at me. I had to think fast. I reached down and picked up the container. "Just grabbing a drink first," I said, and gulped Frankie into my mouth with one glug. Then I passed the container to Pradeep, who threw the rest of the water onto the dying embers of the campfire.
I could feel Frankie wriggling in my mouth as I tried to walk as fast as I could back to the tent. But Mark had other ideas. He sprang out from behind some bushes. "So, you and Pradeep seem to be making friends with Grizzly." He stood in front of me and blocked my way. "You two better not say anything to him about knowing me, or else."
I shook my head: no.
"Have you got that, moron?" He leaned into my face.
I nodded my head: yes this time.
I could feel Frankie throwing himself at my cheeks, desperate to get out of my mouth and get Mark!
Mark glared at my firmly closed mouth. My cheeks must have looked like a soccer ball was hitting the back of a net every time Frankie jumped around in there.
Grizzly walked up. "All right, mates, time to turn in for the night." He looked down at me and then back at Mark, who was now smiling in the creepy way that he can smile when he wants to look innocent.
"Everything OK?" Grizzly asked me. I nodded.
"You can tell me, mate." He paused. "Just spit it out."
I looked at Mark, then at Grizzly. Frankie threw himself at the back of my mouth and made me retch just as Pradeep ran up with one of his sick bags half-filled with water.
I turned and spat Frankie into the sick bag and quickly rolled up the top so no one could see what was inside.
"I think my hot dog went down the wrong way," I said to Grizzly.
Pradeep grabbed the bag off me and headed for our tent. "I'll throw that away for you," he said. I could see the bag shaking with what must have been a really angry Frankie inside as Pradeep walked away.
"Hope that's all it was," Grizzly said, looking from me to Mark. "Now get some sleep. Early start, and as I always say, rule seventy-eight of survival in the wild is: 'Rise with the sun and you'll be ready for fun.'" (Continues...)
Excerpted from My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: Fins of Fury by Mo O'Hara, Marek Jagucki. Copyright © 2014 Mo O'Hara. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.