Winner–Silver Birch Fiction Award 2018
Winner–Rocky Mountain Book Award 2019
Finalist–Alberta Writers Guild 2019
Finalist–Foreword Indies Book of the Year 2017
“An honest portrayal of love, loss, and friendship.” School Library Journal
My name is Calvin Sinclair, I'm eleven years old and I have a confession… I killed my brother.
It's the summer before grade six and Calvin Sinclair is bored to tears. He’s recently moved from a big city to a small town and there's nothing to do. It’s hot, he has no friends and the only kid around is his six-year-old brother, Sammy, who can barely throw a basketball as high as the hoop.
Cal occupies his time by getting his brother to do almost anything: from collecting ants to doing Calvin’s chores. And Sammy is all too eager - as long as it means getting a "Level" and moving one step closer to his brother's Eagle status.
When Calvin meets Aleta Alvarado, a new girl who shares his love for Goosebumps books and adventure, Sammy is pushed aside. Cal feels guilty but not enough to change. At least not until a diagnosis makes things at home start falling apart and he's left wondering whether Sammy will ever complete his own journey…
“Tender, direct, and honest.”Kirkus Reviews
“A moving and ultimately hopeful book.”Booklist
Also from Alex Lyttle, The Rise of Winter
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About the Author
The Rise of Winter, Alex's second novel, steps away from the medical world and enters that of fantasy – a world created during bedtime stories for his eldest daughter.
Fan's call Alex's writing "entertaining", "moving" and "dynamic".
When he is not working, writing or playing basketball, he enjoys learning new magic tricks to perform for his young patients.
Watch for Alex's newest novel The Pain Book, set to launch in the Spring of 2022.
Read an Excerpt
From Ant to Eagle
By Alex Lyttle
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Alex Lyttle
All rights reserved.
My name is Calvin Sinclair, I'm eleven years old, and this is a story about my brother.
I wanted to start at the beginning — the day Sammy was born — but I can't remember the day he was born and anyway, I can't start there.
There's only one place I can.
Before the Ontario heat began to smoulder, before the corn was much higher than my knees, before I'd ever met a girl named Aleta Alvarado.
Before everything fell apart.
Let me get two things straight before I begin:
First — I loved my brother. I loved him more than I knew and more than I knew how to show. Sure, I picked on him, manipulated him, excluded him, neglected him, but deep down, I loved him. It's hard to explain, so I'll just leave it at that.
Second — and this is the hardest part to write, but it needs to be said.
I'm the one who killed Sammy.CHAPTER 2
Our family had moved two years before to Huxbury, A small town an hour away from London, Ontario. I'm always sure to add 'Ontario' because if I only say London everyone assumes England.
That's not quite right; we didn't move to Huxbury.
We moved to the outskirts of Huxbury.
Even the small town of Huxbury with its single strip of rundown stores wasn't rustic enough for my parents. No, they were set on moving us straight to the boonies.
So I was plucked from my modern home in the middle of London and plopped down in an old, yellow-brick farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. No chance for discussion or argument, just, "Pack your stuff, Cal, we're moving to the middle of nowhere."
My street, my school, my friends — all gone. The only kid within a ten-kilometre radius was my brother, Sammy, and he was only six.
Worse, Sammy actually seemed to like the country.
He'd say things like, "Dad says the fresh air is good for us," or "Mom says we're lucky because the country is the most beautifulest place on earth."
Blah, blah, blah.
To me, beautiful would have been movie theatres and fast food, not endless cornfields and dirt roads. We didn't even have a TV!
Yep, life in the country was the crust. A twenty-four hour babysitting job that didn't pay. So I found ways to make life a little more entertaining.
Take, for example, Operation Bee Elimination.
It was a hot July day and I watched as my younger brother trudged through the garden by the side of our house dressed in his winter gear: snow pants, jacket, goggles, knit facemask, gloves, hat. I was sweating just watching.
"Cal, are you sure we shouldn't wait for Mom and Dad to get home? Maybe they know how to get rid of the bees."
Sammy was right — they probably did know. But that wasn't fun. And besides, I wasn't putting myself in any danger.
"Stop worrying! You've got your Bee Proof Suit on!" I yelled back. "Mom and Dad will be happy we got rid of the hive."
Sammy didn't look very convinced. His big, brown eyes were nervous and pleading beneath his goggles. He wanted me to tell him the mission was over. He wanted me to tell him we could wait. Instead I pointed at the wall where the hive was and gave a quick nod.
His shoulders slumped and he turned back around. "Okay, but I still don't get why you don't have to help."
"I am helping, dummy. I'm going to wait inside the screen door, ready to open it when you come running so that it's a quick get-away."
Sammy stopped arguing and continued to wade into Mom's flower garden by the side of the house.
The wasps had been bad that summer — really bad — so we'd got it in our heads to follow one long enough to find the nest. A small hole in the foundation of our old farmhouse must have been the entrance to a massive hive because wasps were constantly coming in and out. Mom and Dad had driven into the city for the day so we'd taken it upon ourselves to get rid of the nest.
"Okay, you got the bee spray?" I asked.
Sammy held up the can of WD40 we'd found in the garage. It had a small, straw-like tube at the end that was perfect for spraying into the hole. Sure, it was just oil, I knew that, but it had to do something.
"All right, commence Operation Bee Elimination," I yelled in my deepest, most serious voice.
"Okay, here goes, I guess," Sammy replied.
At first things went pretty smoothly. He sprayed the hole for at least a minute before the initial wave of wasps hit.
I saw him take a hesitant step back.
"Get in there, they can't sting you!" I yelled.
"These goggles are foggy, I can't see!"
If there's one skill I was blessed with, it was getting my brother to do anything. He stepped back into the cloud of wasps and continued spraying. Soon the buzzing noise was so loud I could hear it from where I stood, twenty feet away. Sammy kept spraying for a few seconds before —
"Oww! They're stinging me!" His shrill voice pierced the hum of the wasps.
My heart jumped.
Sammy never cried unless he was actually hurt.
He dropped the can and bolted toward the screen door.
The wasps swarmed thickly around him, so I locked the door.
He fumbled with the handle, struggling with his winter gloves. It took a few seconds for him to realize it was locked.
"Open the door!" he wailed.
Through the thick fog in his goggles, I saw his eyes start to tear. He banged at the door but I didn't let him in. I couldn't. They would have stuck me like a pincushion.
"Run around, run around! They can't get you when you're running!" I yelled.
"They're stinging my arms!"
By now Sammy was hysterical and not listening. He fell defeated and sobbing by the foot of the door and it took nearly ten minutes for the cloud of wasps to disappear enough for me to open the door and drag him in.
I saw it instantly — the chink in his armour. His Achilles' heel. Except it wasn't a heel so much as a wrist. I'd forgotten that Mom had said Sammy needed a new snowsuit. There was about four inches of bare skin between his gloves and sleeves, and I could already see a few red bumps forming. The look on Sammy's face was a mix of pain and anger; I pretended not to notice.
The rest of the day, I went out of my way to be extra nice. In total there were six battle wounds — two on his right wrist, four on his left. Dark red splotches with a white bump in the middle. I knew that if he were still upset when Mom and Dad got home I'd be in trouble, so I brought him ice to put on the stings and told him how brave I thought he was. But it didn't matter. He sat sulking on the couch and nothing I did or said could make him feel better. Finally, I thought of the one way I could always get Sammy to cheer up.
I ran up the creaky wooden steps to the second level of our house. Sammy and I shared a bedroom at the end of the hall. Our room was small with nothing but a dresser, bunk beds and a night table with an old lamp on it. The lampshade was tilted and broken. Since our room faced east, we always left one of Mom's quilts over the window so the sun didn't wake us too early in the morning.
I ran to the bedside and dropped to my knees. The storage space under the beds was split half-and-half but Sammy didn't really understand what a half was, so my side was bigger.
I pulled out a tin cookie container and opened it up. Inside there was an assortment of crinkled papers and an old, leather-bound journal. I grabbed the journal and raced back downstairs.
Sammy was sitting on the sofa looking through his baseball card binder. I walked up with an air of importance about me, trying to draw attention to the journal beneath my arm.
When he didn't look up, I shut his binder.
"Hey! I'm looking at those!" Sammy said angrily, but when he saw the journal he sat up quickly. "Do I get a Level?"
"I've been going through the details of today's mission over and over again trying to figure out if it warranted a Level. On the one hand, it could be argued that the mission was a complete failure. Many wounds were sustained and I've since looked at the enemy's fortress and little seems to have changed in the way of their numbers." Sammy's smile faded and disappointment flooded his face. "BUT ... Levels aren't based only on the success of a mission. Things like valour, bravery, courage, and commitment to the team are also factored in. After long hours of meticulously examining every detail of today's operation, the committee has decided to award you your next Level." Sammy's eyes brightened, his lips started to form a smile but he quickly suppressed it as much as he could; he knew what a serious occasion receiving a Level was.
In the two years since I'd inaugurated the Level system as a method to make my little brother do nearly anything, he had slowly but surely passed through a number of Levels in exchange for the hardships I'd put him through. Ant — his first — was received for sticking his finger in a crayfish's claw to see how much it hurt; Fly was awarded for sneaking down one night to steal food from the fridge because I was hungry, a mission he was caught for but never confessed my involvement; Beetle for retrieving our basketball from deep within Mom's rosebushes; Worm for eating a worm; Snail for mowing the lawn all summer for me, a Level that was revoked when Dad told him he wasn't allowed to do my work, but that was regained for not telling on me when I stuck a stick in the spokes of his bike and made him fall. His last Level, Rabbit, was for lying to Mom and telling her that he had broken the lampshade in our room.
I was already the highest Level possible, Eagle. Of course, I'd never actually done anything to get it. I just made up elaborate stories of walking over lava and fighting dinosaurs and eating scorpions and told Sammy it had all happened before he was born. He believed every word of it. He believed anything I said.
"Sammy, the committee has decided to award you the Level of Fox for the bravery you demonstrated today in Operation Bee Elimination. Of course, like all missions, the information is completely classified."
"What does classified mean?" Sammy asked.
"It means the same thing as Top Secret, you can't tell anyone. All missions are classified. You didn't know that?"
"Oh ... no." Sammy looked disappointed with himself.
"It's a word they say in the army. Only people who actually do the missions can know about them. If you tell anyone something that's classified you get shot." Sammy's eyes went wide. "So yeah, don't tell anyone about our mission."
He thought for a second then agreed.
Later that afternoon, I went back to the journal and opened it. The first page read "Levels — Top Secret" in cursive writing I'd done using the 'Easy Steps to Learning Calligraphy' set Mom had bought me a few years before. Underneath in plain block writing I'd written, "Awarded to members of the team who demonstrate bravery, valour, honour and loyalty to the clan."
All of the other pages contained colourful drawings of animals with a small entry below explaining what the task had been to get that Level.
I flipped to a fresh page and carefully drew a picture of a fox with pencil crayons. It took me over an hour and when I was done it looked sort of like a fox, sort of like a dog. Underneath I wrote, "For bravery demonstrated in Operation Bee Elimination. Calvin Sinclair. July 12, 1995." Then I signed it to make it official.CHAPTER 3
The start of that summer came and went the same as the previous one. Sammy and I spent most of our time exploring the woods behind the house or playing in the creek that ran through it. Dad had built a fort in the low branches of a tree not far into the woods and on rainy days we'd sit inside and read.
I should rephrase that. I read. Sammy listened.
Sammy couldn't read more than "Spot was a dog." He was bad at reading because he never practiced like Mom said he should. Instead he'd just beg and beg and beg until I'd read one of my Goosebumps books out loud. I'd only agree because I liked watching him squirm at the scary parts. Before I'd start, I'd always make him promise not to get nightmares. He'd swear he wouldn't, but it didn't matter — he'd still get nightmares. In the evenings after a particularly scary chapter, I'd hear him crawl from his bottom bunk after he thought I was asleep. He'd cross the room to his dresser and fish out the stuffed alligator that he called his 'Elligator' from underneath. It was his comfort toy but he kept it hidden since I'd called him a baby one time during a fight.
"I'm not a baby!" he'd argued.
"Then why do you still sleep with a stuffed animal?"
The next night Elligator was gone.
He didn't even tell Mom where it had gone when she asked — he just shrugged and said he wasn't sure.
Really, I couldn't have cared less if he still had a stuffed animal. I just had a bad habit of saying mean things when I was mad and Sammy had a bad habit of taking them too personally.
On the days we didn't feel like exploring, we'd play basketball in the driveway. I had just finished grade five at Huxbury Elementary and basketball was the favourite game on the playground. Since Huxbury only went to grade six, I had aspirations of being the best kid in the school the next year. My shot was pretty good but since the driveway was uneven gravel, it was difficult to practice dribbling. Dad had promised that the following year I could join a basketball league in London and he'd drive me to all the practices and games.
Sammy was going into grade two and had basketball aspirations of his own. Bump was the popular game for the younger kids and he had hopes of one day winning — a task that would first require him to be able to throw the ball all the way to the rim. At school there were lower nets but at home, we only had a regular-height net. That summer was the first Sammy was finally able to get the ball as high as the rim. Getting it in, however, was a whole other issue.
So that's how the summer started — a boring affair of having no one to play with but my little brother who couldn't quite read and couldn't quite keep up. Still, I would have gladly spent a hundred hours with Sammy for the chance to miss even one Sunday morning.
Sunday mornings meant church and church meant "Sunday Bests" — code for "most-itchy-and-uncomfortable-clothing-known-to-man." The church itself was an old converted barn that they'd gutted and put pews in. It still smelled like the animals that had lived there and the pews were rotted and gave splinters if you slid along them too quickly.
The pastor's name was Reverend Ramos and he had a funny way of talking. Whenever he'd say a word with an 'R' in it, he sounded like a pirate — or at least that's what Sammy and I thought. Mom said it was because he was from Mexico but we preferred our pirate story. Whenever he said something funny, I'd turn to Sammy and repeat it.
"I am R-r-r-reverend R-r-r-amos," I'd say, and Sammy would laugh.
But then Mom would tell us to be quiet and we'd have to sit for the rest of the sermon being bored.
Yep, Sundays were the worst — every Sunday that is, until the Sunday I met Aleta.
It started off like every other Sunday except that it was pouring rain.
"Psst, Sammy, you awake?" I whispered from my top bunk.
"Ugh ... what?" he replied.
The grogginess in his voice told me he hadn't been.
"Nothing, just seeing if you were awake. It's raining." I wanted him to be awake because I was awake.
"At least it's raining on a Sunday so we won't be missing a good morning to play outside."
Our conversation ended there as footsteps in the hall told us Dad was coming to wake us up. On Sundays and school days it was always a game to see how long we could stay in bed.
I heard the creaking of the door opening followed by a few seconds of silence where I did my best not to move a muscle. "Boys?" I heard Dad whisper. Then, after a few more moments of silence, "I've got great news. Church has been cancelled and we're going to go to Disneyland instead."
I knew better than to believe anything Dad said but Sammy was as gullible as a crow.
"Really?" he replied in a shrill cry.
"A-ha, I knew you weren't asleep," Dad laughed.
"That wasn't nice of you, Harold," I heard Mom say from somewhere behind the door.
Dad left the serious side of parenting to Mom. He wrote a humour column for the London Free Press and I guess he had trouble living outside that column. Sammy was his biggest fan; I was a close second.
"Good one, Dad," I heard Sammy say laughing from the bunk below as he climbed out of bed.
I continued pretending I was asleep.
"Come on, Cal, I know you're awake up there too, we can't keep God waiting all day." I heard Dad turn and walk out of the room.
"He's not asleep," Sammy said, stepping up onto his bunk so he could peer over the railing into mine. He stuck his hand out and shook my shoulder.
Excerpted from From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle. Copyright © 2017 Alex Lyttle. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
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