Fort

Fort

by Cynthia DeFelice

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250079732
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 05/17/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 144,150
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many bestselling books, including The Ghost of Fossil Glen, Signal, The Missing Manatee, and Weasel. Her books have been nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children's Books and Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, among numerous other honors. She lives in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt

Fort


By Cynthia DeFelice

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2015 Cynthia DeFelice
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-32429-2


CHAPTER 1

"Aw, this is getting too easy," I said to Augie. "We need something that moves."

We were lying on our bellies shooting Augie's pellet gun at some tin cans we had lined up on a fallen log.

"Well, I guess we could get Herkimer," Augie said.

I sat up. This was interesting. Augie knew someone named Herkimer? And this Herkimer guy would let us shoot at him? "Who's Herkimer?" I asked.

"The stuffed owl in my great-uncle's attic," said Augie.

Augie's my best buddy here in upstate New York, which is where my dad and I have come to spend the past three summers. Augie's great, but sometimes it takes me a while to figure out what he's talking about.

"This owl is stuffed?" I said.

Augie nodded. "But it looks really real."

"And it moves?" I asked.

Augie laughed. "No, pea brain. It's stuffed."

I sighed. "Well, you brought it up when I was saying we need a target that moves."

It was Augie's turn to sigh in exasperation. "So, like I said, we put out Herkimer."

"And what? Wait for him to get struck by lightning and come back to life?"

"Man," said Augie. "I keep forgetting. You city kids don't know anything. See, crows hate owls. They see an owl and they go nuts. They all go after it, trying to make it fly away. It's called mobbing. So we put out Herkimer, the crows come, and we shoot them."

"Wow," I said. "Cool. So how do we get Herkimer?"

Augie frowned. "It's not going to be easy. My uncle loves that owl. He keeps him in a glass display case and everything. But my aunt says Herkimer's nasty and disgusting, so she makes Unk keep him in the attic."

"I thought you told me he was your great-uncle," I said.

"Huh? Oh, he is. But it's too hard to say 'great' every time. And my aunt—she's actually my great-aunt, but she doesn't like to be called that, because she thinks it makes her sound old—she says if I call my uncle great, he'll only get a big head and it's plenty big enough already. So I just call them aunt and uncle."

"Oh," I said, kind of wishing I hadn't asked. "So, anyway, how are we going to get the owl out of the attic?"

Augie scrunched up his face the way he did when he was thinking. So far, Augie's plan sounded like genius, and I waited to hear the rest.

"Okay," he said at last. "Here's the mission."

Augie liked to plan "missions." It made the stuff we did sound real official.

"Unk's probably down at Juliano's junkyard shooting the breeze with Al," he went on. "Since he retired, that's where he's been spending most of his time. So you just have to distract my aunt while I run up to the attic and snag Herkimer."

"Okay," I said. "So I create a diversion, right? Throw a stink bomb, something like that?"

"Yeah, cool!" said Augie, looking excited. "Ya got one?"

"A stink bomb?" I asked. "No. You?"

"No. Darn."

"Yeah."

We thought for a while.

"I know," said Augie. "What if we stop by real casual, like we just want to say hi, you know? My aunt will probably ask if we want lemonade or cookies or something, and I can say I have to go to the bathroom, and while she's asking you how the winter was and how your dad is and all that stuff, I'll go upstairs, get Herkimer, hide him outside in the bushes, and come in again. We'll stay long enough to be polite, and then leave."

I nodded. "Sounds good. How will we get Herkimer back?"

Augie shrugged. "We'll figure that out later. You ready?"

"Ready."

We rode our bikes a little way up the gravel road to a house with the name Hinkle painted on a new mailbox that stood out front. I read it incredulously. "Wait," I said. "I know he's your Uncle Heindel. But is his last name really Hinkle?"

Augie nodded. "German side of the family."

"So he's Heindel Hinkle?" I repeated. "Seriously? His name is Heindel Hinkle? Heindel Hinkle?" The more I said it, the more it cracked me up. After a few seconds Augie was laughing, too, and soon we were both rolling on the Hinkle lawn in hysterics.

"Augie?" called a throaty voice. "Is that you?"

Augie looked up, his face red and his eyes tearing from laughter, and finally croaked, "Y-yes, Aunt Hilda."

"Heindel and Hilda Hinkle?" I sputtered, before collapsing in another burst of helpless laughter.

"Augie, are you all right? And is that Wyatt with you? Is he having some kind of a fit?"

Augie pulled himself together enough to whisper, "Can it, Wyatt. Come on, you've met Aunt Hilda before, haven't you?"

"Yes," I gasped. "But I never knew about the Hinkle part—" Just saying Hinkle made me lose it all over again.

Augie glared at me murderously. Then he called to his aunt, "Yeah, it's Wyatt. He thought he got bit by a yellow jacket." Looking at me he added loudly, "But he's okay now."

Augie stood so that his body blocked me from his aunt's view, while I struggled to my feet and tried to, as my mother would say, "wipe that smile off my face." Whew. Okay. Good.

At last, I turned and, with what I hoped was a normal expression, said, "Hello, Mrs. Hinkle."

"Why, hello there, Wyatt. Please, call me Aunt Hilda, won't you?"

I nodded and smiled.

"I was hoping Augie would bring you by one of these days. You boys are in luck. I've been baking this morning."

Wow. Like Augie had said, I'd met Aunt Hilda before. But how was it possible that I had never noticed that she had ...

"Why don't you boys come on in and have a glass of milk and some nice, warm—"

... really, really big ...

"—snickerdoodles?"

I mean, they were humongous. Like she had two big water balloons under her blue-and-white-flowered shirt. I knew it wasn't polite to stare, especially since she was Augie's aunt and all, so I tried not to.

We followed Aunt Hilda inside and sat down at the round table in the kitchen. Everything happened pretty much the way Augie had said it would. As I was discovering that snickerdoodles are German sugar cookies with a real good cinnamony flavor, Augie asked if he could use the bathroom.

While he was gone I heard a few loud thumps that sounded like they might be coming from the attic, and I nearly had a heart attack, but Aunt Hilda didn't seem to notice. She was too busy asking me about how I liked being here for the summer with my dad, and didn't I miss my mother, and all those questions people ask when your parents are divorced that are probably meant to be nice, but feel kind of nosy.

I considered for a minute breaking down in sobs about how tough it is for a poor child of divorce like me, in the hope that she would sweep me to her in a warm, comforting embrace, just to see what it would feel like.

But instead I told her I really liked coming here, that I was used to it because I'd been doing it since I was eight, and that I talked to my mom every Sunday. All true and, I could have added, no big deal.

Finally, I thought I heard the front door open, then close, and Augie reappeared and gave me a crazy smile and the thumbs-up sign. We quickly finished our glasses of milk, thanked Aunt Hilda, and left, promising to come back in a couple of days for brownies.

After that, we hid behind a shed until we saw Aunt Hilda go out to the backyard to hang laundry. Augie raced to the bushes out front, grabbed Herkimer, and threw him in the basket on his bike, and we pedaled away like mad.

When we got back to the fallen log where we'd hidden the pellet gun, I took a good look at Herkimer. He was a great horned owl. I knew this from all my trips to the Natural History Museum with Mom. And he was a beauty. His striped body feathers were smooth and soft, and his ear tufts stood straight up. His stern, yellow glass eyes stared so fiercely that I almost felt like he could see me.

"Man, look at his feet!" I said, moving aside the feathers to expose huge, sharp talons. I held him up as if he were flying right at Augie's face and hollered, "Look out! He's coming after you!"

Augie ducked out of the way and said, "Knock it off, Wyatt. Unk will kill me if anything happens to that owl."

"Okay, okay," I said. "So what do we do now?"

"We put Herkimer right here, like so," Augie said as he balanced the mounted owl on top of a fence post. After making sure Herkimer was solidly placed, he picked up the pellet gun and told me to get the boxes of ammo. "Now, you and I hide over here in these bushes so the crows can't see us, and we call them."

I laughed. "What? You know their names?"

I was kidding around, but Augie scowled and said, "No, dummy, we go like this—" and he began to make harsh cawing noises which, I had to admit, sounded pretty cool.

I tried it, and Augie winced. "You'll get better," he said, though he sounded kind of doubtful.

We took up our positions under the bushes, making sure we couldn't be seen from above, and started cawing our heads off. After several minutes I whispered to Augie, "Are you sure about this?"

"I've done it a million times," he answered. "Sometimes it takes a while. There's crows everywhere. They'll hear us soon."

We continued cawing. Suddenly we heard a loud, high-pitched "Screeeeeeeeee!"

"There's one!" I whispered excitedly.

"That's not a crow," said Augie. "And stay still!"

"Screeee-eee!"

"What is it?"

"I dunno. Maybe it's J.R. and Morrie making fun of us 'cause of our lame crow calls."

I hoped not. J.R. and Morrie were thirteen, two years older than us, and they were major jerks. They seemed to think it was their mission in life to torture us. They'd swiped our bikes one day when we were swimming at the reservoir. We found the bikes later, ditched by the side of the road. Another time, they'd tripped me when Augie and I were leaving the ice cream stand, and my cone hit the sidewalk. They thought that was hilarious. We pretty much just tried to stay away from them.

"How 'bout if you keep quiet for a while and just let me call," Augie suggested.

"Geez," I said. "I didn't think I was that bad."

Augie looked at me.

"Okay," I said grudgingly. "I'll keep quiet."

Augie was about to give another call when we heard it again, louder this time, and closer.

"SCREEEEEE-EEEEEEE!"

Then, from out of nowhere it seemed, a bird—bigger than a crow but not as big as the owl—dive-bombed from the air and attacked Herkimer! There was a whack and a flurry of feathers as Herkimer was knocked from his perch on the fence post to the ground.

The dive-bomber flew off with another piercing "SCREEEEEEE-EEEEEEEE!"

Augie and I looked at each other in disbelief, then jumped up and ran over to Herkimer, whose severed head lay several feet away from his body.

"Holy moly," I said. Augie had found Jesus that spring and had given up swearing, so I was trying hard not to. "What was that thing?"

Augie looked as if he was about to cry. "Red-tailed hawk," he answered. After a minute he added, "I guess they don't like owls, either."

CHAPTER 2

We ended up hiding Herkimer's body and head in Bertha's trunk. Bertha was an ancient Buick that sat in rusty splendor up on cinder blocks in the driveway of the house where Augie lived with his grandmother. His grandmother, who he called Gram and who insisted I call her the same, was convinced that Buick was going to be worth big bucks someday.

Augie had tried plenty of times to tell her that just being old didn't make a car valuable. "Gram, if Bertha was in mint condition and had been stored in a temperature-controlled garage all these years, maybe she'd be worth something. But you might as well have Mr. Juliano haul that old rust bucket off to his junkyard."

"Now, Augie, people go crazy for antiques these days! The older something is, the more they like it. Call something vintage and the price quadruples come tourist season, that's Alfred Soames's opinion, and he ought to know," she would say. "You just wait. Bertha is going to put you through college."

Augie had never said it to her because I think he was afraid it would break her heart, but he had told me, "The only way I'm ever going to college is if I grow three and a half feet and magically learn to play basketball, or if they start giving out brain transplants."

I didn't know how to answer that, so I didn't. For me, going to college is kind of like a fact of life, or something. I mean, my parents—both of them actually agree on this—just seem to expect it. My friends at home are planning on it, too, in a way-off-in-the-future kind of way. We all say stuff like, "After college, I'm going to blah blah blah." Nobody ever actually asked me if I wanted to go. I guess I do.

But it's different with Augie. I don't really know the whole story about his parents. I think they both just left, but not together. He's lived with his grandmother as long as I've known him. Augie's plenty smart, but I guess he doesn't do so hot in school. There's school smart, and there's Augie smart. Augie knows how to call crows and shoot rats, which we did one night last summer at the dump.

And he knows how to build forts. We'd been talking all summer about making a fort. Now there were only two weeks left before I had to go home, and we were finally going to start that afternoon.

"What are we going to make it from?" I asked as Augie and I rode our bikes down his gravel driveway.

"Not sure yet," he answered. "That's why we're heading to Juliano's."

"I thought that was for junked cars," I said.

"It is, mostly. But Al's got all kinds of stuff there. Some stuff he lets me have for free."

"Let's hope so," I said. "'Cause I'm broke until Saturday."

"What happens Saturday?"

"I get my weekly allowance."

"How much?"

"Ten dollars if I don't have to be told to do my chores. Five dollars if Dad has to say something."

"So what's it going to be?" Augie asked.

"Five," I answered glumly.

"Tough luck," said Augie. "But at least you've got some dough coming."

"Mom gave me a little emergency money, too," I added.

Up ahead I could see the faded and peeling sign that read Juliano's Metal and Auto Parts—If we don't have it, you don't need it! Augie and I turned in and I saw his Uncle Heindel and another old guy sitting on lawn chairs outside of a building that said Office. There was an upside-down orange crate between them, holding two beers and a checkerboard.

"I figured Unk would be here," Augie said in a hushed voice. "Don't say anything about Herkimer."

I shot him a look as if to say, Do you think I'm stupid? Then I whispered back, "But what are we going to do about the ... you know ... head?"

Augie shrugged. "We'll fix it later."

I nodded. That sounded like a good plan. If anybody would know how to recapitate a stuffed owl, it was Augie.

"Hey, Al," Augie called as we pulled up to the lawn chairs. "Hey, Unk."

Al said, "Here comes trouble," but you could tell he didn't really mean it.

Augie's uncle said, "Augie, help me out here. This shyster is trying to cheat me."

"How do you cheat at checkers?" Augie asked.

"By making up rules," Uncle Heindel said indignantly. "He claims if he brings a king back to my starting line, I have to king him again."

"Huh? Like put a third checker on top of it?" Augie asked.

"Yes! Have you ever heard anything so crazy in your life?"

"So, then what?" Augie asked. "Does that king have, like, superpowers or something?"

"Exactly!" cried Al. "You see?" he said, turning triumphantly to Heindel. "That triple-decker sucker can go forward, backward, and sideways. And if you bring him back to get kinged again, he can go off the black if he wants to and onto the red!"

I had been standing back, just listening, but I couldn't help blurting out, "But why would he? There aren't any other players on red."

Al turned to me, scowled, and said very slowly, "That's not the point. The point is, he can do it—if he wants to." He raised his hands, palms up, and appealed to everyone. "That's the whole point of being a king, right? You can do whatever you want, no matter how stupid it is. Wise or foolish, you're the king!"

I shrugged, trying to stay out of it. I didn't want to get on the wrong side of Augie's uncle, but we were there to mooch stuff off Al, so it was important not to make him mad, either.

I figured that's what Augie was thinking, too, because he said, "You can't argue with that. I mean, the king is the king."

"Told ya!" Al crowed.

Uncle Heindel shook his head. "I can't believe you'd do me this way, Augie," he said mournfully. "My own flesh and blood ..."

Al, happy now, said, "So what can I do for you boys?" Turning to me, he added, "And who are you, if I might ask?"

"Wyatt Jones."

"Oh, right," said Al, nodding. "You and your dad are renting a place from Gloria DeMuth."

"Yeah."

To Unk, Al said, "Gloria's kid's the one everybody says burned down my shed." He pointed to an empty space at the far end of the gravel parking lot, where I could see on the ground the charred remains of what must have been a little storage building.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fort by Cynthia DeFelice. Copyright © 2015 Cynthia DeFelice. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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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