It was the day I first met Hector. They had me cornered under the old railway tunnel near the school. Hans Fielder thought he'd caught me good and proper, that there was no escape unless I wanted to risk being killed, for at the end of the tunnel was a sign. You didn't have to be able to read it to know what it said. It had a cross and skull-bones on it, which meant keep out or you're dead.
That day, down there in the stinking tunnel with Hans Fielder and his gang of nasties jeering and throwing stones at me, I came to the rapid conclusion that it might be safer to run into the long grass behind the sign and take my chance with the devil. There was no barbed wire or anything like that to fence it off. That notice alone had the power of a thousand scarecrows.
I ran down the tunnel for all I was worth, past the sign into what I was certain would be a firing range. At least it would be over quickly. Mum and Dad were gone and Gramps . . . well, I didn't let myself think about Gramps, not right then. Because Gramps was the only person that still pulled at the gravity in me. I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see Hans Fielder and his frickwits following me. What I saw was a murky group of lads drifting away.
I stopped by a huge oak tree, out of breath, dizzy. It was only when my breathing became more steady that I realized what I'd done. I waited some time. If the Greenflies turned up I would put my hands up and give myself in.
I sat down, my heart an egg bumping against the side of a pan of boiling water. It was then that I spotted it. A red football. Deflated, yes, but whole. I stuffed it in my school bag, a reward for my bravery. Not only that, but as I went further along the disused railway track I found raspberry bushes groaning with fruit. I took off my shirt, tied the sleeves together, and filled it up until it couldn't take another raspberry. All the time I was expecting to feel a Greenfly's hand on my shoulder.
By now I was near the wall that runs along the side of the railway track. A word to describe that wall would be impenetrable. See. I might not be able to spell but I have a huge vocabulary. I collect words they are sweets in the mouth of sound.
The wall was built so high that Gramps and me, whose garden backed up to it, couldn't see over the fricking thing. You wouldn't know there was a wild meadow hidden behind it filled with flowers. Butterflies were doing the fandango like nature was having a ball and keeping the VIP list all to herself. I was seeing it for the first time and, cripes, it was eye-bending in its beauty. Well, I thought, if all mankind disappeared down a hole I knew who would be holding the celebration party.
Why stop now, Standish? You have the raspberries, the football why not the flowers?
Twerp. Only then did it dawn in my daydreaming head that I hadn't the foggiest idea how I was going to get over the wall. I was up shit river with a hole in the boat and sinking fast. I mean, I couldn't climb the wall. It wasn't the height that concerned me, it was the glass at the top, the artery-cutting kind. You wouldn't be able to get over that wall and still claim to have hands.
Frick-fracking hell. There were two choices: I would have to go back the way I came, which I wasn't doing; and the other . . .
Standish, go on, tell me the other.
Excerpted from Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. Copyright © 2013 by Sally Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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