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Chapter One Falling Off Kevin ripped the page out of his notebook and crumpled it into a ball, making it as hard and tight as he could. Then he threw it straight up into the air and hit it with his open palm. Wham! A perfect shot right into the wastebasket. The only good thing that had happened since he’d gotten home from school. Monday was always his worst day. The weekend was over. Kevin’s parents both worked late every Monday, so the house was empty when he got home. Sometimes he liked being on his own, having the house to himself. But it was February, the bleakest part of winter, and the house felt cold, even with the heat on. Today school had let out early—something about a half-day staff workshop—which was usually a good thing. But his best friend, Jason, had a dentist appointment and a guitar lesson, and couldn’t hang out after school. The afternoon stretched ahead of Kevin, long and dreary. Plus it seemed like the teachers always loaded up at some kind of giant homework depot over the weekend, unpacking tons of homework every Monday. Kevin had already finished the math worksheet and answered the unit questions about ecosystems for science. He’d saved the worst for last. Social studies. Names and dates and places from ages ago. Boring, boringer, boringest. It was a page of social-studies homework that was starting its new life in the wastebasket. Kevin took off his baseball cap, scratched an itchy spot on his forehead, and pulled the cap on again. Then he saw his little rubber bouncy ball on the shelf above the desk. He picked it up and started a game of wall ball. The plunk of the ball against the wall made a steady beat. Thunk–thunk– thunk . . . It wasn’t—thunk—that he was bad at social studies. Not anywhere—thunk—close to failing. His grades were right in the middle of the class, pretty much where they were for all his other subjects, except for math. He did better at math, although you’d never know it from the way his dad checked his homework. His dad was a genius geek-head number- nerd whiz-brain computer programmer—super good at math. He seemed to know the answer before Kevin had even finished reading the problem. Whenever his dad tried to help him with math homework, it was as if they were speaking two different languages. Still, math made sense. When you got the answer, you knew it was right; and when you were wrong, you could figure out the mistake. But social studies? Memorizing stuff that he’d never have any use for again, and having to write out answers to those awful essay questions, where right and wrong weren’t clear. Well, no, not exactly—you could be wrong, that was for sure. But you could also be partly right or even mostly right and still get points taken off your answer. Kevin sighed. He read the question in his social-studies book again. “Describe the relationship between King George III and the American colonists, and how this relationship led to the Revolutionary War.” Who cares! Kevin raged silently and put a little more into his throw. THUNK. The ball thunked harder against the wall. Why doesn’t stupid King George mind his own business and leave me alone? What difference did it make what some old king or queen had done hundreds of years ago—thunk— THUD! The room shook, as if something heavy had fallen on the floor. Kevin missed the catch, and the ball bounced crazily around the room. He turned to see what had made the noise. —twang— —swish— THWOCK! “What the—?” Now he could see what had made the thwock: An arrow hitting the wall above his desk. An arrow that had pierced his baseball cap, lifted it clean off his head, and pinned it to the wall. An arrow? Then he heard a man’s voice from somewhere on the other side of the room. “Show me your hands, Strange One.” A grim voice. “Stand—slowly—and show me your hands.” Kevin was too scared to do anything but obey. His knees were shaking as he stood up, turned toward the bed, and opened his hands in front of him. His hands were shaking, too. Stop it, he said silently. Somehow seeing them shake made him feel even more scared. He forced himself to look toward where the voice had come from. About a quarter of a face—half a forehead and one wary eye—peeped out at him from behind the bed. The owner of that eye was between Kevin and the door. In the next split second, about a billion thoughts ran through Kevin’s head, so fast that it was like not thinking at all. How the heck did he get in here?—no one else home—windows closed—no good yelling—call 911! Nearest phone in Mom and Dad’s room— gotta get past him—gotta get to the door. The man must have seen Kevin’s eyes flicker toward the door. “My arrow would end your life before you took a single step,” he said. “Do not even think of fleeing. And if you are armed, place your weapon on the floor. Now.” The man rose frooooom his crouch holding a bow—a genuine bow-and-arrow bow. He wasn’t aiming at anything in particular, but he was clearly ready to aim it if he had to. If he aims it at me, I hope I don’t pee in my pants. “N-not armed,” Kevin squeaked. The man glared at him. “If you are lying, it will be the last lie you ever tell.” “Not lying!” Still a squeak, but a louder one. Kevin could hardly breathe. He made himself take a lungful of air. Those cop shows on television—the victims of the crimes, lots of times they helped the police catch the criminals, didn’t they? By giving a good description. . . . Okay, concentrate. Get a good look at this guy. Asian. Long black hair loose around his shoulders. White jacket, baggy white pants. In his twenties, maybe. Kevin realized that he didn’t usually think about adults’ ages, so he wasn’t very good at guessing. Not a teenager, but not as old as Kevin’s parents. A burglar . . . with a bow and arrows? Who was this guy? They stood in silence for what was probably only a few moments, but it felt to Kevin like a few hours. What’s he going to do now? He took another breath. Now he could see a leather strap across the man’s body, and the feathered ends of more arrows behind the man’s head. They must be in one of those holders—what was it called? A quiver. That was it. To his surprise, he heard his own voice. “Wh—what do you want? And how did you get in here?” The man frowned. “Did you not see for yourself?” he demanded. “I lost my balance, fell off the tiger, and landed here.” Fell off a tiger? Who was this guy? The man kept staring at him fiercely. Definitely at least a little crazy, Kevin thought. Better not make him mad. Kevin was still scared spitless, but somehow it felt better to talk than to stand there shaking. “Um, sorry,” Kevin said. “What happened to the tiger?” What a bizarre question . . . For the first time, the man’s expression changed from grim to puzzled, and he glanced around the room, as if expecting to find a tiger curled up on Kevin’s pillow, maybe, or under the desk. He looked so baffled that Kevin almost felt sorry for him. “It’s not here,” Kevin said. “I’d have noticed.” He tried to remember if his parents had ever said anything about being burgled. Let them take whatever they want, just don’t get hurt—something like that. He raised his hands a little higher. “Um, take whatever you want, okay? Can I—can I help you find something?” The man faced Kevin again. “So many questions,” he said sternly. “Have you no manners? I am the elder of us. I ask the questions, and you do not speak except to answer.” With relief, Kevin watched him take the arrow from the bow and return it to the quiver. Keep the conversation going—he seems to be calming down—maybe he’ll get sick of talking and just leave. “I don’t mean to be rude or anything,” Kevin said, “but how would I ever learn stuff if I didn’t ask questions?” The man looked angry at first, and started to say something. He stopped, closed his mouth, and raised his eyebrows. Then he said, “Ha! True enough, Little Frog. Little Frog that croaks away without ceasing! But ask the questions in your head, and then listen. The answers and more will come to you.” Kevin shrugged. “Okay, I’ll listen. Go ahead—talk.” The frown returned. “You do not give commands, either!” the man barked. “I will speak when I wish to speak!” He turned away, took one step, then turned back again. “I wish to speak now.” Kevin would have laughed except he knew it would make the guy mad. So he tried to make his face look interested and respectful. The interested part was easy—he was dying to hear what the man had to say. “You have the look of a Yemek, except for your strange garb,” the man began, “although you could also be Chinese. But it is clear that you are neither, because if you were, you would know who I am.” He held his head up proudly. What the heck was a Yemek? “I’m not Chinese—I’m Korean,” Kevin said. “I mean, my grandparents are from there. But I was born here, which makes me American.” “Why do you speak? I have not asked you a question. What is ‘American’?” Boy, this guy was hard to follow. And how could he not know what “American” meant? Definitely crazy. “It means someone from America,” Kevin said. “The United States.” The man shook his head. “You are Yemek, or you are Chinese. One or the other. Which is it?” “Neither,” Kevin said. “I’m not from China, and I’m not from—from Yemek-land, either. I mean, there are about a million countries in the world— okay, maybe not a million, but at least hundreds. And one of them is the United States, and that’s where I’m from, and that’s where you are now. In New York. Dorchester, to be exact.” He knew he was babbling, but it seemed to be working—the guy still hadn’t loaded another arrow onto his bow. Was that what you did with an arrow, “loaded” it? The man was frowning so hard that his eyebrows were nearly drawn together in a straight line. “Slower, Little Frog. What is this you are saying—that I am no longer in my own land?” “You’re in New York. It’s on the other side of the world from China. And my name is Kevin.” He was getting tired of being called “Little Frog.” That seemed to be something the man could understand easily. “Keh-bin,” he repeated with a nod. He pronounced it like two words. “I am Koh Chu-mong, Skillful Archer.” Then he looked at Kevin as if expecting something. Kevin remembered two things almost right away. The first was that in Korea, last names came first. American-style, this guy’s name would be Chu-mong Koh. And when his grandparents met their Korean friends, they bowed to each other. The guy was waiting for Kevin to bow. So he did, and when he straightened up again, he saw that the man looked pleased. “Ah!” he said. “I see you are not entirely uncivilized.” Gee, thanks, Kevin wanted to say, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “So, should I call you Mr. Koh?” Too late he realized he’d asked a question. But the man merely stroked his chin. “You may call me . . . ‘Skillful Archer.’” He paused for a moment. “But perhaps that is too boastful. Modesty is a virtue. ‘Archer,’ then. You may call me ‘Archer.’” “Archer,” Kevin repeated. “How about if I call you Archie?” It seemed like it would be harder to be scared of someone with a friendly name like Archie. “Ar-chee? Why do you wish to make this change?” “It’s a name, that’s all. It’s a good name for you—Archie the Archer.” “Ar-chee,” the man said, as if trying on the name like a pair of shoes. “Does it signify great skill with the bow and arrow?” “Well, not exactly, but—” “Then it is not a suitable name. I will prove it!” Archie—Kevin couldn’t keep himself from using that name in his head—whipped the bow off his shoulder. He had it fully strung and armed with an arrow before Kevin could even move. Archie turned toward the window that looked out over the backyard. Past the big maple tree, you could see the fence that separated the yard from the neighbors’—Mr. and Mrs. Pettigrew, an older couple. A house-shaped birdfeeder, abandoned by the martins that had flown south for the winter, stood on a pole in the Pettigrews’ yard. “Do you see that miniature house?” Archie demanded. “I will put my arrow through the hole in the center of it.” Kevin only had time to think that Mrs. Pettigrew probably wouldn’t like that very much when there was a terrible crashing sound and broken glass was flying everywhere. Copyright © 2006 by Linda Sue Park. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Company.