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My eyeballs bulged. Tears blasted like water rockets. Blood flooded every cell in my face—a good thing, because the blood-bloated sockets were the only things holding in my eyeballs.
Another brutal barf. This time, puke spewed through my mouth and nose. My guts blasted into my head.
Panting, I slumped to the floor and rested my throbbing head against the toilet seat. One more heave like that and my skull would explode, I just knew it. My throat and nostrils burned from the acidy vomit, my ribs ached as each sour breath filled the room with the nasty, unmistakable smell of—
Aw, man, what is that? My spleen? I sagged to the floor again. This wasn’t right. Food was supposed to go down your throat, not up. I should know, I’d just wolfed down ten hot dogs and buns in twelve minutes flat.
Now those dogs were coming up in twelve seconds flat.
I stayed on my knees, hugging the bowl. My puffy, leaky head drooped forward. The view was disgusting. Yellow corn from last night’s dinner dotted the beefy muck, and bits of ketchup-pinked bun bobbed on the tide. My toilet looked like a salsa bowl.
I lurched forward, nearly losing it again.
I swear, from now on, I fast the day before I gorge. The key to effective training was strategy, and I had to learn from my mistakes—
Aaaa . . . Aaaa . . .
Wait, Shermie, wait. . . .
Still nothing. Oh, thank you, dear God of Regurgitation: my first dry heave. The worst was over. A few more dry heaves, then I stood, wobbly but upright, and flushed.
Next time, eleven hot dogs in twelve minutes, I just knew it.
Puking made me late for my shift at Grampy’s shop. Located at the edge of the food court on level seven, Scoops-a-Million was the only ice cream shop in the whole mall. There were three Mexican restaurants, two smoothie counters, and five different pizza joints, but only one of us. Grampy scored this sweet deal because he was the last holdout from the crumbling strip mall they demolished to build Mid-Cal County Fair Mall. The mall management even threw in a giant neon sign with exhaust ports in the middle of each o. So from ten to ten each day, the Scoops-a-Million o’s burped out mouthwatering wisps of sugared cream, rich clouds of chocolate, and the sweet vanilla of waffle cones baked to a golden brown. The aroma worked on shoppers like a watch swinging on a chain. I swear, my Grampy could talk a goldfish out of his bowl.
Wheezing and sweaty from pedaling through the park like a crazed psycho, I finally stumbled through the Scoops doorway and found Arthur pacing behind the sherbet counter. His rheumy eyes zeroed in on me. Hissing like a cornered cat, the old guy started hucking things my way. I ducked the fudge-dipped waffle cone, but a juicy maraschino cherry plunked me in the left eyelid.
Great, the shrunken geezer had seventy years to my fourteen, but even he could throw better than I could. Not that I was a small target.
“It’s three-twenty-two,” Arthur crabbed. He was standing in front of the huge smiling sun mural on the back wall. He wasn’t smiling, though, and he certainly wasn’t sunny. “Goldanged kids. No respect for anybody but yourselves. I got me a life, too, Sherman Thuff. You think being fourteen makes you the big enchilada? I got things to do, too. Places to go, people to see. If I had my way, every crummy one of you . . .”
I tuned him out. There weren’t any customers in the ice cream shop to be offended by his cranking, and I’d stopped paying attention to him months ago. Arthur was a nasty old prune. I knew that anything I said would only rile him up more. If only he’d quit. Why he was slaving in an ice cream shop when he could be hucking bingo chips at attendants in a cozy nursing home was beyond me.
I wiped red syrup out of my eyebrow with my Windbreaker sleeve, then reached out to lift the hatch in the metal countertop—
I yanked my hand back and shook it. That was the third time I’d been shocked today. Stupid dry wind. This weird weather front was supposed to last through Halloween, maybe longer, but I didn’t know if I’d survive that long. I had more charge in my fingertips than Darth Vader had stormtroopers.
Ever . . . so . . . carefully . . . I reached out a second time and—
“Ow!” A cherry had thumped my right earlobe. “Dang it, Arthur!”
I wiped my other sleeve across my ear then checked my reflection in the raised hatch to see if any red gloop had splooged into my hair. Nope, no gloop. But, man, those were some electrified blond needles. I was Woodstock from Peanuts.
I spit into my palms and patted down the frizz. Globby spit hair was better than frizzy static hair. People would just think I moussed.
Sucking in my stomach, I squeezed through the opening, pulled my bike through to stash behind the counter, then gennntly lowered the metal slab back down. Arthur liked to let it slam down. He knew the tinny sound it made worked on me like a rake dragged across concrete. I’d rather chew aluminum foil than hear either one of those noises.