by Norma Fox Mazer

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497650893
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 05/19/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 218
File size: 934 KB
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Norma Fox Mazer (1931–2009) was an acclaimed author best known for her children’s and young adult literature. She earned numerous awards, including the Newbery Honor for After the Rain, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for Dear Bill, Remember Me?, and the Edgar Award for Taking Terri Mueller. Mazer was also honored with a National Book Award nomination for A Figure of Speech and inclusion in the notable-book lists of the American Library Association and the New York Times, among others.

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By Norma Fox Mazer


Copyright © 1984 Norma Fox Mazer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-5089-3


For a long time I've had these bad times that I call the White Terror. It usually happens to me in the morning after a long night of dreams. Murderous dreams; dreams of bodies lying headless and cold that I stumble over on some ordinary errand, on my way to school, or going into the bathroom, or down to the kitchen. In the dream I'm sometimes me as I am now, sometimes younger, but always moving along on some ordinary errand. And then I stumble over something hard yet mushy and I look down and there's a body, a headless rotting corpse. A paralyzing terror grips me. I can't move, can't run, can't go past the body or away from it. And as I stand there, my heart threatening to rip out of my chest, I feel myself dissolving, shrinking away into emptiness. And I scream, No! That's the point at which I wake up.

I'm always in a sweat, my heart whacking away, and as I thrash aside my covers, the emptiness is still there. And I wonder who I am, who is this person, this boy, this body? Am I real? Sometimes when it happens, I think I'm dying, but by now I know to just lie in bed until it subsides.

I was dead serious when I named it the White Terror, but I had to laugh when I found that same phrase, the White Terror, in a book I was reading about the Russian Revolution. After that, I tried calling my White Terror the American White Terror, but that sounded like a racist superhero. The American White Terror strikes again! Indeed, it does. And again and again, and never when I'm expecting it or telling myself to prepare for it. In between the times it happens, I try, only half successfully, to forget about it.

For a while I did magic things to keep it away, like always taking the same number of steps from our house to the corner. Or walking around the dining room table seven times when I came home from school. Or touching each corner of my bed as soon as I came into the room. Nothing helped. All I had to do—no, all I could do—was wait for it to come, wait for it to go. Well, why not? Half my life had been spent waiting. Waiting for word from my parents, waiting for their letters or the rare phone call. Waiting for this terror, this thing, to pass—was that so different?

I noticed that almost every time it happened, there was one small cool part of my brain that remained uninvolved. I dubbed it my Man Brain and began to think of it as the better part of me. I'd be sitting up in bed, gasping like a fish on land, with wave after wave of this emptiness and fear rolling over me, and my heart actually thumping so loud I could hear it, and all the time there was also that rational voice in my head, my Man Brain, telling me, Your heart's beating ... you're alive ... you do exist ... you are alive ...

The whole thing never actually lasts very long, maybe four or five minutes at the most. When it's over, that doesn't seem like much, but while it's happening, those four or five minutes are as long as eternity. Sometimes it ends abruptly, like a snap of the finger. Now you see it, now you don't. More often it goes like a fog slowly seeping away.

One morning I especially remember. I was sprawled in bed, in a stinking sweat, limp, shaking, the covers twisted around my legs, when, from across the hall, I heard my uncle clear his throat. Eh, eh, ehhh. I could see that sound, see it traveling through the wall of his bedroom into my room, see it bouncing off the bookcase, touching the desk, then slowly ... slowly ... sinking to the floor. It was agony, real agony, to watch that sound moving and wait for it to reach me.

Then it did. Eh, eh, ehhh. Just that, and the terror was gone. I was released. I lay there for a moment, letting it all go, then I was up and out of bed, whooping with relief. Instead of fifty push-ups, I did seventy-five, and I yelled across the hall to my uncle, "Gene, I want fried eggs this morning. French toast! Sausage! I'm a starving man!" Released from the White Terror, I was—myself again. Someone real, who lived with his uncle, who had a name. No, two names: Pete Greenwood. Pax Martin Gandhi Connors.

But what did any of that matter? I was here and glad of the day, and for now, at least, the White Terror was gone.


My uncle Gene's an optometrist by profession, an actor and gourmet cook by choice. One year the Winston Theatre Guild threw a fancy hundred-dollar-a-plate benefit dinner to raise money. Gene was the master chef with dozens of minor chefs scurrying around obsequiously, cutting and chopping and adding stuff to sauces, all under his direction. "Best role I've ever had," he said, afterward. "I felt like the White Queen. Off with their heads! Even if it was only parsley, the power kind of got to me."

In our upstairs bathroom, which is kind of neat and old-fashioned with little black and white octagonal tiles on the floor and a bathtub with claw feet, there's a big wicker basket next to the toilet, the kind of basket most people use for plants. Ours is filled with Gourmet magazines and playscripts.

My own bathroom reading runs more to history books, the fatter the better. I'm not very discriminating. I read anything that's history, any period, any country, just as long as it's about the past. I've read about the Russian Revolution, the sixties in the United States, medicine in the Middle Ages, and the bloody jostling for power of the English royal families. "You're a little too haphazard in your reading," Totie Golden, my history teacher, says. She's right. One of these days I'll settle down and start at the beginning (if I can figure out where that is—it all depends on your point of view), get serious and systematic. Meanwhile, I raid the library shelves. The way I see it, even with some of the real horrendous things that happened to people, like the rack torture and legs being amputated without anesthesia, the past had to be better than where we are now, with all the pollution and chemical junk and the Big Bang hanging over our heads. I think I could be happy going back to live anywhere, anytime, in the past.

Sometimes I try to get my uncle to read something besides recipes, plays, and eyeglass magazines. "Don't have the time, Pete," he says. Maybe, and maybe he's just stubborn, just doesn't want to do anything I suggest. He always comes across sort of mild and sweet, but I notice that things in the house go pretty much the way he wants them to.

Another thing he never does is eat the food I make. "Gene, want to taste something fantastic?" I stirred the Sloppy Joe I was cooking. It smelled authentic—teria a la mode.

My uncle looked into the pot. "No thanks."

"Not so fast." I went after him with the spoon. "Come on. Taste!"

"Pete, that spoon is dripping all over."

"Taste it and it won't drip." He eyed me. I eyed him back. I'd been in a rotten mood for days. Was it unreasonable to think that Laura and Hal, also known as my parents, could have figured out a way to mail me a letter so it would reach me by my birthday? Or weren't they going to write me a birthday letter this year? Maybe they'd forgotten the big date, or figured at sixteen I should forget about things like birthday letters and presents.

"A little bite of my food won't kill you, Gene."

"Martha and I are going to try out that new Japanese restaurant." He looked at his watch. "She'll be here in half an hour."

"Listen, I eat your slop—excuse me, your creations—all the time, so how about a little reciprocity?"

"Is it my imagination, or have you become difficult since you hit sixteen?"

"You're jumping the gun. Four more days. Right now I'm still just a difficult fifteen-year-old.

And you said the same thing last year on my birthday."

"Come on, Pete, I'm sure I didn't."

"You'd better watch it, Uncle Gene. Repetition is one of the seven danger signs of creeping old age. How old are you anyway, Gene?"

"What difference does that make?"

I knew he'd say that. Gene is sensitive about his age and his looks. Martha says all actors are like that. I'd just been baiting him, being obnoxious, but all of a sudden I went into one of my maniac rages. I threw down the spoon. "Why can't you just answer the goddamn question?"

As usual when I acted like a psycho, Gene got very calm. Didn't say a word. Just picked up the spoon, wiped the floor, and went upstairs, removing himself from the vicinity of the mad dog. I foamed at the mouth for a few more minutes, throwing things around. Then I sat down at the kitchen table with the pot of Sloppy Joe.

What a pig I was, taking out my lousy feelings on Gene. He was good, he was fair, he didn't make unjust demands on me. (Thank you, Uncle Gene.) I had money in my pocket, clothes on my back. (Thank you, Uncle Gene.) He didn't treat me like a kid or a ward or a dependent. (Thank you, Uncle Gene.)

He came back downstairs, dressed for his date with Martha: ruffled white shirt, gold cufflinks, and his old, gold Bulova watch. He took the water bottle from the refrigerator and poured a glass of water. "Sorry," I mumbled, and dumped the Sloppy Joe into the garbage as a peace offering.

Gene looked at me over the rim of the glass. "Am I wrong, or was that quite a little blowup over nothing?" He sipped his water and spoke slowly. "We've been living together nearly eight years, Pete. Seems like we should have things worked out enough by now, so if something's on your mind—"

"I just got mad."

"You often just get mad."

"I don't mean to. It just happens."

"Do you think you could try not to let it happen?"

"I don't know. Maybe." I actually don't think there's anything I can do about it. I don't plan to go crazy, it just hits me. Things get to me, and va-voom!

Gene sat down across from me and sighed. He has a whole repertoire of magnificent sighs. I guess they come in handy on the stage. Sometimes all he does is sigh, and that gets across his point. This was a sigh that told me a story was coming.

"Eight years ago, Pete, I had a very strange phone call. A total stranger called me and said, 'I have something to tell you. Please trust me. Your sister and her husband are in trouble, something very bad has happened, unexpected, and they have to drop out of sight for a while. Can you take their little boy until things calm down?' I wasn't asked to think it over and I didn't need to. I reacted instinctively, I guess anyone would in the situation ... Pete, are you listening?"


"Your eyes are closed."

"They are?" I sat up. "I heard every word you said, Gene. Go on." Even though I'd heard all this in one form or another before, I never minded hearing it again. "So you got this phone call and then—"

"'Well,' I said, 'yes, I'll take the boy.' I hung up. And then I got a reaction. My God, what is this? What have I done? I haven't seen Laura in years, she's not even my full sister! I thought I was mad. What did I know about little boys? As for you, we'd never even met. I'd had pictures of you from Laura now and then, and that was it."

"So why didn't you call back and say, 'Sorry, folks, deal's off'?"

"Lots of reasons. She is my sister. Just because we had different fathers—no, the half sister thought was absolutely mindless panic." He tipped back in his chair. "Besides, I didn't have the option of calling my mysterious caller back. I said yes, he hung up, and it wasn't till hours later that I realized I didn't have a name, I didn't have a number, I didn't have a clue! What sort of trouble were Laura and Hal in? Well, actually, it didn't take too much to figure out it had to be something political."

"Did that bother you?" I asked. Gene is probably the most unpolitical person in the world. If he didn't have to go to an office every day to make bucks, he'd be content to spend his life thinking about nothing but plays and food.

"Maybe it worried me a little. I knew the two of them had been marching and shouting and demonstrating against the bomb and the military for years. Maybe I'd been half-expecting Laura to get into trouble. Once she did, do you remember that?"

"When? What kind of trouble?"

"Oh, she was in some sort of demonstration—the military was deploying one of those missiles, and she climbed a fence and got herself arrested with a bunch of other women. I sent your father bail money for her. She spent two nights in jail and then, luckily, the charges were dismissed. I didn't keep up with their activities. Once in a while, I'd read something in the paper or Laura would write me a letter and say, 'Well, we just threw blood on the Pentagon,' something like that. You know they were always doing things—draping the flag of that organization of theirs on the Statue of Liberty or lying down in front of cars going to air bases—I don't know, I never thought it meant that much, but it was their whole life. Anyway, what I remember thinking after that phone call was that this time they must have done something pretty serious. Such as? I didn't know—destroyed government property, bashed up some military vehicle—I just didn't know. My imagination didn't take me any farther than that. All the things they'd ever done over the years, they'd been pretty legal, protected by the First Amendment, or whatever. Still, I couldn't understand—why go into hiding? For a lot of these people, publicity is really what they want."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," I said. "You make it sound so cynical, as if everything they do is for publicity. That's dead wrong! They have ideals, they have principles, they don't do these things for any selfish gain."

"Cool down," my uncle said. "You misunderstand me. What I meant is that they need media attention so they can make their statements. Did you notice the article in the newspaper yesterday about the seven Quakers who broke into a draft board office to protest our military policy? They hung around for two hours waiting for someone to come along and arrest them. That was the sort of thing Laura and Hal would have done." He thumped down his chair. "Then that day, or maybe it was the next morning, I don't remember which, I read in the newspaper about the explosion in Femmer Lab. And I started putting two and two together. Did you know right away? You were such a little kid, but—"

"Not that little, Gene. Laura and Hal never treated me like a baby. I knew they were going to do something important, but they were coming back. That was the plan. Then I heard on the radio ... what happened ... and those people—" I broke off. I didn't want to talk about the Femmer Lab thing.

"Go on with your story, Gene," I said. "So you got this phone call. And then you got cold feet. What next? I arrive with Uncle Marti, right?"

"I wonder what his real name was. Did you know?"

"I just knew him as Uncle Marti. Does it matter?"

"I suppose not. It's just—sometimes I think back to that phone conversation and I have to laugh. Would I take care of you for 'a little while,' he said. That, to me, at that moment meant a week, at the outside a month. What did I know about taking care of a child? I didn't have much time to prepare, I'll tell you that. Twenty-four hours later, there you were, delivered to me in the middle of the night. A nephew package, complete with roped suitcase and two grocery bags of toys, special delivery from my little sister, Laura. I might have lost my head if I'd known that 'little while' was going to turn into eight years."

"Or what a maniac you were bringing into your house."

"Some maniac. Holding on for dear life to that stuffed cat or whatever it was—"

"Dog," I said. "Emory Doghead Dog—You came to the door in pink pajamas."

"I never had pink pajamas."

Maybe he was right. I don't have that many clear memories of the past—why should I remember that night any better than anything else? The year I was thirteen, I started spending every spare moment in the library reading about my parents, going through years of Readers Guides' and the New York Times Index; looking under AWE, Bombing, Connors, Radical Left, Revolution, Underground. I thought I knew a lot about my parents, but I came up with all sorts of stuff—articles, pictures, editorials—more stuff than I'd ever imagined had been written about them.

Now it bothers me quite a lot that I'm not sure about the memories I have. Those pictures I tote around in my mind—aren't a lot of them actually from newspapers and magazines? Laura in her mortarboard. Hal holding up a mammoth sign. Laura reaching with a frantic smile for Hal being pulled away by two policemen. Public parents, public pictures. Where are the private pictures, the memories, the images, the flashes of light from the past that are mine alone?

Riding Hal's shoulders through a mass of people ... up there above everyone else, clutching his hair, laughing because I was Prince of the Hill on top of my daddy ... and all the banners waving and people singing ... "We will not, we will not, we will not be MOVED. Just like a tre-eee standing by the wa-aa-ter, we will not be moved ..." Marching next to my mother in front of the White House with a sign as big as me hung across my chest ... MR. PRESIDENT, I AM 5 YEARS OLD AND I WANT TO LIVE. NO MORE NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

I remember those things, I'm sure I do. And more—being torn off a pole by the police ... and mounted policemen riding toward us, the horses' legs as tall as the sky ... and running with Laura, who held my hand so hard I thought our hands would melt together, one hand forever.

I say I'm sure, and then I'm not sure. Are these actual memories of my own—or are they movie and TV clips? I don't have my parents. I don't have my name. Is it too much to ask for my own memories?


Excerpted from Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer. Copyright © 1984 Norma Fox Mazer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.

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Downtown 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book twice but I stll like it.But the only thing I don't like is just some parts are just plain boring like the first chapter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading Downtown. It was such an intense book. The content of the story and the nature of the characters was overwhelming. And the end is so sad it made me cry. A great book for anyone to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just recently finished Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer. I have also read two of her previous books: Silver and Missing Pieces, both of which I would highly recommend (especially Silver). Downtown was extremely dissapointing; not up to Mazer's usual par. I found the plot pointless and unbelieveable. The characters, Cary and Pete were extraordinarily simple and the ending (which I do not plan on telling you)was beyond pointless. I find it hard to believe that a publishing company would actually accept this.