Excerpt of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
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"Miss Volker will need you there at six in the morning," Mom said casually, "but she said you were welcome to come earlier if you wanted."
"Six!" I cried. "I don't even have to get up that early
for school, and now that I'm on my summer vacation I
want to sleep in. Why does she need me so early?"
"She said she has an important project with a
deadline and she'll need you as early as she can get
I lifted my binoculars back toward the movie. The
Japanese were snaking through the low palmettos toward
the last few marines on Wake Island. One of the
young marines was holding a prayer book and looking
toward heaven, which was a sure Hollywood sign he
was about to die with a slug to a vital organ. Then the
scene cut to a young Japanese soldier aiming his sniper
rifle, which looked just like mine. Then the film cut back
to the young marine, and just as he crossed himself
with the "Father, Son, and Holy - " BANG! He clutched
his heart and slumped over.
"Yikes!" I called out. "They plugged him!"
"Is that a war movie?" Mom asked sharply, pointing
toward the screen and squinting as if she were looking
directly into the flickering projector.
"Not entirely," I replied. "It's more of a love war
movie." I lied. It was totally a war movie except for
when the soon-to-be-dead marines talked about their
girlfriends, but I threw in the word love because I
thought she wouldn't say what she said next.
"You know I don't like you watching war movies,"
she scolded me with her hands on her hips. "All that
violence is bad for you - plus it gets you worked up."
"I know, Mom," I replied with as much huffiness in
my voice as I thought I could get away with. "I know."
"Do I need to remind you of your little problem?"
How could I forget? I was a nosebleeder. The moment
something startled me or whenever I got overexcited
or spooked about any little thing blood would
spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames.
"I know," I said to her, and instinctively swiped a
finger under my nose to check for blood. "You remind
me of my little problem all day long."
"You know the doctor thinks it's the sign of a bigger
problem," she said seriously. "If you have iron-poor
blood you may not be getting enough oxygen to your
"Can you just leave, please?"
"Don't be disrespectful," she said, reminding me of
my manners, but I was already obsessing about my
bleeding-nose problem. When Dad's old Chevy truck
backfired I showered blood across the sidewalk. When
I fell off the pony and landed on my butt my nose
spewed blood down over my chest. At night, if I had
a disturbing dream then my nose leaked through the
pillow. I swear, with the blood I was losing I needed a
transfusion about every other day. Something had to be
wrong with me, but one really good advantage about
being dirt-poor is that you can't afford to go to the
doctor and get bad news.
"Jack!" my mom called, and reached forward to
poke my kneecap. "Jack! Are you listening? Come into
the house soon. You'll have to get to bed early now
that you have morning plans."
"Okay," I said, and felt my fun eve ning leap off a cliff
as she walked back toward the kitchen door. I knew she
was still soaking the dishes in the sink so I had a little
more time. Once she was out of sight I turned back to
what I had been planning all along. I lifted the binoculars
and focused in on the movie screen. The Japanese
hadn't quite finished off all the marines and I figured
I'd be a marine too and help defend them. I knew we
wouldn't be fighting the Japanese anymore because they
were now our friends, but it was good to use movie enemies
for target practice because Dad said I had to get
ready to fight off the Rus sian Commies who had already
sneaked into the country and were planning to
launch a surprise attack. I put down the binoculars and
removed the ammo clip on the sniper rifle then aimed it
toward the screen where I could just make out the
small images. There was no scope on the rifle so I had
to use the regular sight - the kind where you lined up
a little metal ball on the far end of the barrel with the
V-notch above the trigger where you pressed your
cheek and eye to the cool wooden stock. The rifle
weighed a ton. I hoisted it up and tried to aim at the
movie screen, but the barrel shook back and forth so
wildly I couldn't get the ball to line up inside the V. I
lowered the rifle and took a deep breath. I knew I didn't
have all night to play because of Mom, so I gave it another
try as the Japa nese made their final "Banzai!"
Excerpted from Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos. Copyright © 2011 by Jack Gantos.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.