I'm wondering what if.
What if the football hadn't gone over the wall.
What if Hector had never gone looking for it.
What if he hadn't kept the dark secret to himself.
What if . . .
Then I suppose I would be telling myself another story.
You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars.
Miss Connolly, our old teacher, always said start your story at the beginning. Make it a clean window for us
to see through. Though I don't really think that's what she meant. No one, not even Miss Connolly, dares write
about what we see through that smeared glass. Best not to look out. If you have to, then best to keep quiet. I
would never be so daft as to write this down, not on paper. .
Even if I could, I couldn't.
You see, I can't spell my own name.
Can't read, can't write,
Standish Treadwell isn't bright.
Miss Connolly was the only teacher ever to say that what makes Standish stand apart is that he is an original. Hector smiled when I told him that. He said he personally had clocked that one straightaway.
"There are train-track thinkers, then there's you, Standish, a breeze in the park of imagination."
I said that again to myself. "Then there is Standish, with an imagination that breezes through the park, doesn't even see the benches, just notices that there is no dog shit where dog shit should be."
I wasn't listening to the lesson when the note arrived from the headmaster's office. Because me and Hector were in the city across the water, in another country where the buildings don't stop rising until they pin the clouds to the sky. Where the sun shines in Technicolor. Life at the end of a rainbow. I don't care what they tell us, I've seen it on the TV. They sing in the streets they even sing in the rain, sing while dancing round a lamppost.
This is the dark ages. We don't sing.
But this was the best daydream I'd had since Hector and his family vanished. Mostly I tried not to think about Hector. Instead I liked to concentrate on imagining myself on our planet, the one Hector and I had invented. Juniper. It was better than being worried sick about what had happened to him. Except this was one of the best daydreams I'd had for a long time. It felt as if Hector was near me again. We were driving round in one of those huge, ice-cream-colored Cadillacs. I could almost smell the leather. Bright blue, sky blue, leather seats blue. Hector in the back. Me with my arm resting on the chrome of the wound-down window, my hand on the wheel, driving us home for Croca-Colas in a shiny kitchen with a checked tablecloth and a garden that looks as if the grass was Hoovered.
That's when I became vaguely aware of Mr. Gunnell saying my name.
"Standish Treadwell. You are wanted in the headmaster's office."
Frick-fracking hell! I should have seen that coming. Mr. Gunnell's cane made my eyes smart, hit me so hard on the back of my hand that it left a calling card. Two thin, red weals. Mr. Gunnell wasn't tall but his muscles were made out of old army tanks with well-oiled army-tank arms. He wore a toupee that had a life of its own, battling to stay stuck on the top of his sweaty, shiny head. His other features didn't do him any favors. He had a small, dark, snot-mark moustache that went down to his mouth. He smiled only when using his cane that smile curdled the corner of his mouth so that his dried-up leech of a tongue stuck out. Thinking about it, I am not sure the word smile is right. Maybe it just twisted that way when he applied his mind to his favorite sport, hurting you. He wasn't that worried where the cane landed as long as it hit flesh, made you jump.
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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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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