Will Wilder yearns to join the Perilous Falls Middle School football team. But he was never big enough or strong enough to make the cut, until he comes in contact with a talisman containing the fabled locks of Samson. But using the Amulet of Power attracts dark forces to Perilous Falls like moths to a flame.
Suddenly, hunched creatures are shadowing people around town, graves are being disturbed, the music of a mysterious DJ lulls half of Perilous Falls into a stupor, and to top it all off, Will is convinced that a teammate may be a demon himself!
As he tries to identify the demon before it causes untold havoc, Wilder family secrets will be unlocked, the limits of physical strength and the power of friendship are tested--and Will might even score a touchdown or two.
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Like an unloved potted plant, Will Wilder’s legs protruded at odd angles from a trash can in the center of the Perilous Falls Middle School locker room. How he got there was only a mystery to those who knew nothing of Will’s relationship with his classmate, Caleb Gibbar.
Caleb sat across the row from Will in the back of their homeroom. He was a big kid with a jutting forehead and a hairline that started just above his thick, yellow eyebrows. Some of the kids, especially those jealous of his size, called him “the blond ape.” Since grunting was Caleb’s preferred means of communication, he and Will rarely spoke. Though they did share a friend in Andrew Stout, their only interactions were when their teacher, Mrs. Belcher, questioned the class about history.
Will was a B student, but time spent at the museum founded by his great-grandfather, Jacob Wilder, had sparked a love of history within him. From the start of the school year, Will had devoured his history textbook and occasionally conducted independent research in the museum library. With all that knowledge, Will’s philosophy was: What’s the good of knowing something if you keep it to yourself?
“Who led the French forces to victory in the Siege of Orléans? This person was injured and still continued to fight.” Mrs. Belcher’s eyes roved over her students on that day. “Caleb? Any guesses? I mentioned this in class just last week. Remember our ‘Unlikely Heroes’ chapter? French leader? Battle of Orléans?”
From Caleb’s panicked expression, it was obvious he didn’t know the Siege of Orléans from the Siege of Gondor. Not that he cared. He remembered the things he needed to remember. Caleb was quarterback of the Perilous Falls Middle School football team, not a Jeopardy! contestant. No one in the entire school could throw a ball farther than him. No one could execute a pass plan like him. But when it came to unexpected questions like this one--with the whole class staring at him--the pressure caused Caleb to freeze. He wiped the perspiration away from his upper lip.
“George Washington?” Caleb mumbled.
A restrained chortle sounded from across the aisle. He turned to find Will Wilder, hand up in the air trying to get the teacher’s attention. Exactly like the year before, every time Caleb blundered in class, every time he whiffed on a question, he felt Will was there, waiting to humiliate him.
“Yes, Will?” Mrs. Belcher asked, nodding toward the back of the room.
“Wasn’t it Joan of Arc who won the Siege of Orléans?” Will asked. At the teacher’s affirmation, a self-satisfied smile broke across Will’s face. It wasn’t spiteful. He just liked being right once in a while. “Oh, and I think Joan was hit by an arrow during the battle. She yanked it out, got up, and led the soldiers to beat the English. My friend Mr. Bartimaeus told me that story before I read it in the textbook. He’s from New Orleans and they have this thing for Joan of Arc there.”
Had the teacher not been in the room, Caleb would have knocked Will right out of his chair. Instead, he tightly folded his arms and shot Will a hostile look. Over and over, in class after class, this pattern repeated. Caleb took it personally. Will barely noticed.
So it only stood to reason that when Will Wilder ventured onto the football field that fall Friday afternoon to try out for the team, Caleb Gibbar was ready for him.
Gangly and tallish, Will was not exactly built for football. His friend Andrew, who was a lineman on the team, warned Will that football might not be the best after-school activity for his talents.
“What about chess club or debate, Will-man?” Andrew suggested in the locker room as they got into their gear. Will’s friend Simon Blabbingdale had urged him to “rejoin the Scouts,” which he lost interest in and didn’t have time for, given his training at Peniel. Simon, being a five-star, triple-badged Falcon scout, was relentless. He missed having one of his closest friends along for campouts and hiking trips and did his best to stoke Will’s sense of adventure.
Unmoved, Will ignored his pals’ advice and signed up for the second (and last) round of football tryouts anyway.
From the moment he walked onto the field that day, Will’s nose burned. He cautiously checked the stands and the edges of the field for anything fishy: a shadow or a creature waiting to pounce on him. It wasn’t allergies or a cold. It was the same sensation he felt any time demonic activity was present. But nothing out of the ordinary presented itself.
“Wilder! Join the guys on that scrimmage line and let’s see what you can do,” Coach Runyon barked in Will’s direction, adjusting the pf-emblazoned hat on his head.
The oversized shoulder pads and helmet swallowed Will as he ran. From the stands, it looked as if a jumble of football gear was floating onto the field of its own volition. Coach Runyon ran a thumbnail across his forehead. “Wilder, you run long. Practice that move we discussed. Caleb, you know what to do.”
“Got it, Coach,” Caleb said. He licked his fingers and awaited the snap.
The moment the ball hit Caleb’s hands, Will ran the figure-eight pattern that the coach had asked him to execute. He blew past all the other guys. Finishing the figure eight, he looked up just in time for the ball to hit him in the face mask.
“Wilder! Keep your head up. You’ve got to search for the ball, son,” the coach yelled.
As Will reached down to pick up the pigskin, four guys landed on top of him. He ached everywhere--and his nose was tingling worse than ever. A whistle sounded and someone pulled at the back of his shirt. “Get up, Joan of Arc!” His helmet had turned sideways from the impact and now blocked one of Will’s eyes. “Can’t wait to see how you lead this army.” It was Caleb lifting him from the turf, and he was not smiling.