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About the Author
JACQUELINE ROGERS has illustrated more than 100 books for young readers. She studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Read an Excerpt
It was Saturday morning. High above, the sun was an egg yolk sizzling in a big old Hawaiian-sky frying pan. I was sitting on the grass in my friend Julio’s front yard, dreaming of a new bike.
Mine was too small now, and it didn’t have gears. Riding that thing uphill set my legs on fire, and it was getting so I could hardly keep up with Julio and Willy, who had bigger, newer bikes.
My bike was embarrassing. It had fat tires and looked like something an old man would ride down a dirt road in a cow pasture . . . wearing a straw hat . . . with one pant leg rolled up.
For sure, I needed a new one.
Metallic red, or midnight black.
But who had money for fancy bikes? Not me.
I was jarred out of my daydream when Julio shouted, “Go away!”
Not at me, at his brothers.
We were waiting for Julio’s mom to get back from the grocery store.
Julio’s dad was at work, like always, and Julio was babysitting his four younger brothers . . . or the pests, as he called them. Right now they were running around us, yelling, zipping in, zipping out, trying to touch us as they passed by.
Julio covered his head with his hands. “Please! Make them go away!”
“It’s not funny. How would you like to grow up in a zoo?”
Julio was my best friend. We’d been in the same class at school since kindergarten. I knew him inside and out, and I was used to him complaining about his brothers.
But this time he really seemed mad.
“I can’t stand them! All they want to do is mess up my life. I’m serious! Please! Send them to the Humane Society. No! Send me, so some nice family can rescue me.”
“Good idea. You do kind of look like a dog.”
I cracked up.
“Shuddup.” He shoved me.
“Okay, I’ll help you. Let’s see. I need a new bike and you need . . . what?”
“They’re not so bad,” I said. “They just want you to play with them.”
He gave me a look that said, You want me to run over you with a steamroller or an airplane?
I put my hands up. “Just saying they’re--”
Julio clammed up.
He yanked up hunks of grass in his fist and tossed them at my feet.
When Julio’s mom finally came home, the brothers ran over and grabbed at the grocery bags. “Ice cream! Ice cream!” they all shouted.
“Thanks for babysitting, Julio,” she said. “You can go play now.”
“Play?” he said. “Play? Like what? I’m a little kid, like them?”
“My, my, aren’t we testy,” she said.
Julio turned away. “Aw, forget it.”
His mom herded the brothers into the house.
“What’s up?” I asked. “You’re really being weird today.”
I nodded. “True. Listen . . . you hear ants snoring?”
My dog, Streak, who’d been sniffing around in Mrs. Costello’s yard, trotted over to us.
She licked my hand.
“You’re bored, too, huh?” I rubbed her head. “What do you know that we don’t, girl?”
She sighed and plopped down beside me. But her ears were perked up like somebody was coming.
I looked up the street. Nope.
“I know,” Julio said. “Let’s go to your house and look for money in your couch.”
“Are you kidding? Stella’s home.”
Stella--who wasn’t my sister but lived with us to help Mom--was in a bad mood because Mom had to work, so Stella had to stay home to watch my little sister, Darci.
“What’s wrong with Stella?” Julio asked.
“Same thing that’s wrong with black widows.”
I tapped Julio’s arm when I saw this kid heading toward us, walking right down the middle of the street. It was like in the movies, some guy coming toward you with heat waves shimmering over the road.
The kid was wearing mirror sunglasses that flashed in the sun, and he had a way of walking that told you he had the whole world in his pocket.
“I don’t believe it,” I said. “Benny Obi.”
Benny was a weird kid who’d moved to Kailua from the Big Island. He was in our fourth-grade class at school for a few wild weeks. Then he disappeared.
“I thought he was long gone,” Julio said. “After what Tito did to him.”
Tito was a sixth-grade bully who liked to embarrass people, make them look bad so he could look good.
Which was what he’d done to Benny.
And Benny vanished. Never came back to school.
“I know kung fu,” Julio said, low.
I coughed up a laugh.
I know kung fu was Benny’s famous line. It was the first thing he said to our class when Mrs. Leonard, the principal, introduced him to us.
Benny got even weirder. He turned out to be a bug eater, a cave crawler, a skull finder, and a spooky storyteller, and he didn’t know beans about kung fu. He made stuff up left and right and you mostly couldn’t believe a word he said.
Still, we liked Benny. He gave us more excitement during his few weeks at Kailua El than any of us had seen that whole year. He wore black T‑shirts, army camouflage pants, those mirror sunglasses, and a red-eyed silver skull on a chain around his neck.
And we followed him around like puppies, just to see what he’d do or say next.
Now he was walking toward us with a grin.
He lifted his chin, Hey.
We lifted ours back.
Streak watched him, ears up, tongue limp in the morning heat.
Benny Obi had a strange kind of power. You looked at yourself in his mirror sunglasses and wanted to climb in there and see what was on the other side. He was like a magnet that almost made you stick with him whether you wanted to or not.
Mom called it charisma.
I didn’t know that word, but I was glad to see him.
“Deja vu,” I said, low.
Julio laughed. “Hang on to your brain, or that fool will mess with it.”
“Hey, Benny’s all right, why you calling him a fool?”
“Dudes,” Benny said, walking up. “S’up?”
“Selling my little brothers,” Julio said. “Whatchoo doing here? I thought you moved back to Hilo.”
“Hilo? Why you thought that?”
“Well, you never came back to school.”
“Pshh. That’s because I got in Iolani.”
That perked me up. “You go to Iolani ?”
Iolani was a private school on the other side of the island. You couldn’t be an idiot and get in there.
“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t know you were smart.”
He took off his glasses and squinted at me.
“Uh, I mean . . . it’s not easy . . . you know, that school.”
Benny grinned and put his mirror shades back on. “Relax. I know what you mean. Hey, you guys ever been in a movie?”
“What kind?” I said. “Like a real one?”
“Of course a real one. You ever been in one? Because I have. A zombie one. And I’m going to be in another one.”
“Hunh?” Julio said.
Benny nodded. “Yeah, it’s called Zombie Zumba. It’s gonna be awesome. Me and my uncle wrote it. He lives in Hollywood and is a millionaire. He also wrote The People They Ate and My Cousin Is a Teenage Vambie. Those movies made him rich and now he’s got agents, movie stars, directors, and producers calling him up all the time looking for scripts. He has to turn them down, of course, because it takes time to write a good story. But this new one is so good we saved it for ourselves. He’s going to be the producer, director, and all-around main boss of it, and he wants me to be in it because I can act. I was in My Cousin Is a Teenage Vambie, you saw that one?”
Julio laughed. “What the heck is a vambie?”
“Cross between a vampire and a zombie.”
“Vambie,” I said. “Suck the blood, then eat the brain. Cool.”
“We’re going to film the new one right here at the beach.” He lifted his chin toward the ocean. “We’re auditioning extras right now.”
“Ho,” I whispered.
Benny took his glasses off again and looked us over, smiling with his eyes.
“What?” Julio said.
“You punks want to be in it?”
“Of course we want to be in it!” I said. “We can act. Right, Julio?”
“Calvin. Listen to me. He didn’t write anything. There’s no movie. He’s just talking.”
Benny opened his hands. “Okay, if you don’t want--”
“No-no,” I said. “We believe you. Come on, Julio! He’s not lying. So, how do we do it, Benny? How do we get in the movie?”
Benny grinned. “Through me, of course. If I tell my uncle you’d be good, that’s all he needs to know. He says I got a knack for making movies, just like he does. He says I come from that same special planet all good moviemakers come from. I got creative talent, and that’s something you can’t learn. You got it or you don’t.”
Julio grinned. “You come from a special planet, all right.”
Benny nodded. “Yeah, I like that. I don’t want to be like everyone else.”
Julio snorted. “Don’t worry.”
“Thanks,” Benny said, serious. “And there’s more. If you get in the movie, you get paid.”
I banged Julio’s arm. “Paid!”
Julio raised an eyebrow. “How much?”
Benny thought. “Hundred dollars.”
“A hundred dollars!” I said, picturing that shiny new bike. “Holy bazooks!”
Benny nodded. “Yeah, hundred.”
Julio’s other eyebrow went up. “I could use it to buy a ticket to a place with no brothers.”
“So,” I said. “What do we do?”
“I got a part you’d both be perfect at: zombies.”
Julio looked at Benny. “Zombies?”
“You got the look.”
I cracked up. Julio’s bad mood was perfect. He did have the look.
“Tell me you’re not making this up, Benny,” I said.
“It’s real as your dog.”
I looked at Streak, now snoring. Benny and Julio thought that was hilarious.
“Fine,” Julio said. “Anything to get me away from here. Might as well be in a fake movie that only exists in Benny’s head.” He stood up.
Benny raised a hand. “Not so fast. We need girls, too. Know any who can act?”
I tapped my chin, thinking.
“There’s Maya from our class. Remember? She lives over there.” I pointed up the street. “She’d be good. And we could get Shayla. I know where she lives, and she can dance, too.”
“Zombies don’t dance, they stagger. But in this movie they do sort of move around like dancing. Yeah, she would be good. What about older? We need a teenager to run along the beach for a beach runner part . . . human, not zombie.”
Stella came to mind. No, no, no, I thought.
I tried to chase her name away.
It was painful, but you gotta do what you gotta do if you want to be in a zombie movie.
“Uh, there’s this girl who lives with us. She’s in high school. I don’t know if she can act, but she’s really good at being mean.”
Benny smiled. “Mean sounds good. Someone who doesn’t take no for an answer. Where is she? I’ll know if she’s right when I see her. All she has to do is say a few lines. If she looks good, I can teach her to act. Uncle said I could talk a button off a shirt, and he’s right, because I got the gift.”
“What gift?” I said.
“Kung fu,” Julio mumbled.
“Shhh,” I said. “Benny, what gift?”
“Talk. If you can talk, you can do anything. That’s what Uncle said.”
Julio slapped his leg. “Well, if talking is talent, you got more talent than anyone on this whole planet.”
“Hey, I can’t help it.” Benny looked hurt.
I jumped in front of Julio before he ruined everything. “You’re right, Benny. You got talent, so let’s go see that girl. If she’s too mean I bet you could turn her around like that.”
I snapped my fingers.
Benny pointed at me. “Watch me work.”
Stella was standing out in the yard keeping an eye on Darci and her friend Reena while they played near the river that ran by our house.
“Stella!” I called.
She ignored me.
Julio stopped in the street and glared back at his house. His brothers were out in the yard again, and they wanted to follow us.
“Don’t!” Julio made a fist.
I pulled him along.
“Stella,” I called again as we walked up.
She turned and squinted, shading her eyes from the sun. Her mouth was puckered like a prune.
“Uh, this is Benny,” I said. “He wants to meet you. His uncle is making a movie, and Benny is looking for girls . . . I mean, actors who are girls . . . teenage girls, like you.”
Stella turned from me to Benny.
Benny cleared his throat and ducked his head. “Uh, yeah, uh . . .”
Julio laughed. He was scared of Stella, so he loved seeing someone else cower at her stare.
Stella looked at Julio and he shut up.
I said, “Benny wants me and Julio to be in the movie, too, right, Benny?”
Benny swallowed, digging up his courage.
“Uh, yeah . . . and . . . well, my uncle is the director and he needs a girl, uh, an actress.”
Stella crossed her arms.
Down at the river, Darci and Reena were looking up at us.
“Yeah,” Benny said. “So . . . you want to try out? Can you act?”
Stella sliced me up with her razor-blade eyes. “Is this some kind of joke, Stump? If it is, it’s not funny.”
“No,” I said. “It’s for real. And don’t call me Stump.”
Stella turned back to Benny. “What is it, a commercial for shampoo or something? A school project?”
“No, my uncle is a famous Hollywood screenwriter and a millionaire. He wrote big hit movies, like The People They Ate and My Cousin Is a Teenage Vambie. You saw those?”
Stella turned back to me. “It is a joke, isn’t it? You’re trying to be funny. Well, how about this--beat it! You little boys go play somewhere else. I don’t have time for this dumb game.”
“No,” I said. “Benny’s uncle is--”