"So why'd she call an ambulance? Did she get her arm stuck going after it?"
"No. She called the plumber, but he's also the ambulance driver so he made an emergency call. Really," she said with some admiration, "it's good that people around this town know how to help out in different ways."
"Hey, Mom," I said quietly before going to wash my face at the outside work sink, "please don't tell Dad about the gun accident." He was out of town but you never knew when he'd finish a construction job and suddenly show up.
"I'll consider it," she said without much promise. "But until he returns you are grounded - and if you do something this stupid again you'll barely live to regret it. Understand?"
I understood. I really didn't want Dad knowing what had happened because he would blow a fuse. On top of him not wanting me to touch his stuff he was always trying to teach me about gun safety, and I figured after this gun episode he might give up on me and I didn't want him to.
"Here," she said, and handed me a wad of tissues so I could roll them into pointy cones to plug up my nose holes. "And before bed I want you to take a double dose of your iron drops," she stressed. "The doctor doesn't want you to become anemic."
"It's just a nosebleed," I said glumly.
"There may be more to it," she replied. "Besides, given that stunt you just pulled, it's in your best interest to do exactly what I say."
I did exactly what she said and cleaned all my blood off and took my medicine and went to bed, but firing that rifle had me all wound up. How could that bullet have gotten into the chamber? The ammo clip was off. I thought about it as I tossed back and forth, but couldn't come up with an answer. Plus, it was hard to fall asleep with my nose stuffed with massive wads of bloody tissue while breathing through my dry mouth. I turned on my bedside lamp and picked a book from one of the tall stacks Mom had given me. She did some charity auction work for the old elementary school over in Hecla which was closing, and in return they gave her a bunch of books including their beatup Landmark history series, which had dozens of titles about famous explorers. I was a little too drifty in school so she thought it was a good idea that I read more books, and she knew I liked history and adventure stories.
I started reading about Francisco Pizarro's hard-to-believe conquest of the Incas in Peru. In 1532 Pizarro and fewer than two hundred men captured Atahualpa, the Inca chief, who had an army of fifty thousand soldiers. Pizarro's men fired off an old flintlock blunderbuss and the noise and smoke scared the Inca army and Pizarro jumped on Atahualpa and held a sword to his neck and in that very instant the entire Inca empire was defeated.
Pizarro then held Atahualpa hostage for a ransom of gold so the Incas brought Pizarro piles of golden lifesize people and animals and plants - all sculpted from solid gold as if the Incas had the Midas touch while they strolled through their fantastic cities and farms and jungles and everything they even gently brushed up against turned into pure gold. But no one will ever again see that life-size golden world because once the conquistadors got their greedy hands on the gold they melted it down. They turned all those beautiful golden sculptures into boring Spanish coins and shipped boatloads of them back to the king and queen of Spain, who loved the gold but wanted even more.
Pizarro then raided all the temples and palaces and melted down the gold he found and sent that back. Still, it wasn't enough for the king and queen. Pizarro even dug up the dead when it was discovered that they were buried with gold. He had their jewelry melted down and sent back to Spain. But it still wasn't enough. So Pizarro's men forced the Inca people to work harder in the gold mines. They melted the gold ore and sent that back to Spain, and when there was no more gold Pizarro broke his promise and strangled the Inca king. He turned the Inca people into slaves and they died by the thousands from harsh work and disease.
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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