"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 you."
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?" she asked. 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 brain."
"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!" assault.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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