|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
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"Worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds ... given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long."
Standing on top of Hester Feeley's grave gave Brennon Trapper a clean view of the backside of his trailer. Wetmore Cemetery behind the trailer park used to creep him out — three years ago. Now at thirteen, Brennon thought killing time out there was a lot better than going home.
Geez, what was wrong with him? What kinda freak hangs out in a cemetery after school? Yeah, well, least no one out there would yell at him to shut up, so it's cool.
The graveyard route was his long way home. Wetmore was a sinking jumble of slabs leaned at jerky angles to one another. Crusty lichen pressed patterns onto the old stones. At the last minute, he could slip sideways through the twisted wire fence and make it to the door of his trailer before the sun sank too low behind the trees.
"Hello, Arvid O. Jiles ... Hezekiah Lumpkin. Hey, what's up today, Hannah Pearl Schuman, Beloved Wife and Mother?" Brennon memorized nearly every marker.
Oookay, this was where he'd park today and finish that history chapter due tomorrow. He dropped his pack and bent to read aloud the inscription on the smooth, clean marker. "Charles W. Blomgren July 20, 1959 to September 4, 1983. Poor guy ... only twenty-four years." Brennon sat and leaned against the stone, raised the hood of his windbreaker, and opened his textbook.
What he didn't know ... was that the decomposed body of his birth father rested six feet below.
* * *
When Miss Smulder delivered a curve ball five minutes to closing bell, the entire science class of seventh graders moaned on cue ... all except for the skinny kid in the middle row, sandy blonde hair sweeping the top of his eyelids, trying to hide a lopsided grin. Brennon scanned her list of twenty-three report topics. Algae ... Lichens ... Yeasts ... Mushrooms ... Spores ... Mold? His eyebrows raised. Score!
"Choose your topic carefully, class. You are required to give a presentation, accompanied by a visual. Reports are due Tuesday May ninth, three weeks from now."
Tapping the underside of his desk, Brennon did the math. This would kill at least five hours at the library. Then, if he stops a couple times at Yooper's Co-op on his way home for a pack of Doublemint and hangs out at the magazines, he'll not only double his fun, but his time out of the trailer. Yes! Score again!
He glanced sideways and lowered his head. Better wipe the smile before somebody did it for him when Smulder wasn't looking.
But, assignments were diversions. Golden time-killers, he called them. Brennon needed diversions. Seized them every chance he got. A presentation was the golden goose of time-killers — a sidetrack that would give him more excuses to ditch the trailer.
He crammed his textbook into his pack as the others charged past him like there were warm cookies waiting in the hall for the first three lucky students.
"See ya tomorrow, Bren."
He looked up and nodded at the friendly nudge to his shoulder.
"Hey, have a good one, Trap."
Brennon returned a half-smile as he watched the last one exit the room.
And theerre they go — rushing home like there was something waiting for them there. He stood next to his desk in the emptied room and let go of the smile. Fooled 'em all again, didn't he? They probably still think his father takes him fishing every weekend — he's so all that and a bag of chips! As if.
He took the pencil from behind his ear and pushed it down the side pocket. Okay, he's pretty sure no one knows what kinda loser he really is when he goes home ... where he's hated like scum. So yeah, guess he'd just keep faking ... make like he was same as everyone. Sure had a good game going, didn't he?
As far back as Brennon could remember, he'd been playing the game. Not exactly a game. More like ... an act. Sometime around fourth grade a light flickered on. The other kids ... they smiled right back! If he kept the smile going, and made people laugh, and hid how he really felt most of the time, it was like the cloud in his head lifted ... at least for seven hours.
A steel locker door slammed outside the room. With both hands, he pushed back the hair from his forehead (for the twenty-eighth time that day), shouldered his backpack, and moved toward the door to the soothing glides of Smulder's eraser wiping "living things" and "nonliving things" from her diagram.
She tapped her eraser on the blackboard tray. "Have a good afternoon Brennon."
"You too, Miss Smulder."
In the doorway, he made a face. Uhhh, stomach! He felt it in his gut when it was time to go home. And he felt it in his gut, worried that someone might notice the dumb pause when he walked. Did they see it? One, two, three, pause. One, two, three, pause. It's just not normal ... freak!
Brennon, long ago, gave up trying to walk without the mild compulsive half-pause every third step. He learned to live with it since it seemed noticeable only to himself. Anyway, he thought, least I don't hafta wash my hands after touching doorknobs!
He glanced quickly at his shoes then raised his eyebrows toward his locker. So ... who could he hang out with today? Maybe Alan or Kyle would shoot some baskets ... or maybe he'd take the long way again through the —"
"Hi Brennon, want the rest of my Skittles?" Jenna, once more, successfully scouted an opportunity to appear irresistible to Brennon. No secret.
He saw her from the corner of his eye but hadn't moved fast enough. One reason he couldn't seem to look up when he saw her coming was the giant indelible heart she doodled in red marker around the first word on her Trapper Keeper. She flashed it whenever he was nearby. His hands retreated to his pockets, ears turned to flaming hot flags either side of his head.
"Oookay, aaall right, I'll eat the rest of your Skittles ... but only if I have to," he joked, glancing aside for an escape route.
Tavis Treadworth at the locker next to his yelled over the hallway shuffle. "Hey Trapper, wanna come over? My mum said we could make some cookies today if we wipe our mess."
Brennon shouted back at his best friend, exaggerating his phony British accent. "Stop being silly!" Cringing at how immature he sounded, he quickly shoved the science book into his locker. He snatched his windbreaker and waved to Jenna with a mature, disarming half-smile.
"Uh, thanks Jen."
"Sure Brennon. See you tomorrow morning?"
He nodded as she turned and skipped away, her ponytail swishing like a pendulum.
Tavis poked him with his elbow. "See that look she gave you? You're breaking her heart, Trap."
Brennon raised his shoulders and held out the Skittles to Tavis.
Brennon's pulse rate lowered a couple notches when he was around Tavis. They would have been best friends even if lockers weren't assigned alphabetically. Tavis moved to Slapneck from the U.K. in fifth grade. Brennon heard the giggles and saw the stares. The new kid didn't quite blend with the roomful of white faces, especially sounding as foreign as he looked. When Brennon heard the whispers about his funny accent and how "his black frizz looked like a basket of dryer lint on top his head," he jumped to the rescue.
Practically all hundred and thirty students at Slapneck Middle thought Brennon had more friends than anyone. But not even Tavis had seen the inside of his trailer. Even if he could have friends over, he wouldn't dare! He hated the whole trailer park, especially walking to his, way at the end. Potholes! More potholes! Thirty-four last count. They could film a black and white horror flick in Slapneck Mobile Park. The Curse of Lot Eleven, where evil never dies. Starring Brennon Trapper, the boy without a face!
Word was ... there must be something bad inside the old trailer. There were few kept secrets in the little countrified community of Slapneck in the Upper Peninsula, way above the mitten part of Michigan ... just east of the Porcupine Mountains.
* * *
Brennon turned thirteen in February. Here it was, just five years from the 21st century and no one had even heard of Snapchat, Spotify or Instagram. WiFi? Googling? Texting? Most phones were still attached to cords in 1995, and none were smart. Some folks thinking back call '95 a "watershed year" — a turning point when important changes happened. The world woke up to the internet that year. The next century would change the entire planet.
Counting down the last seconds to closing bell would likely never change. Brennon's daily reminder how different he was. Indeed, two Brennon Trappers ticked inside his tall, thin frame.
The one outside himself would've moved his mattress and pillow into school if allowed. Classmates, teachers, even bullies — they all liked him. (Though, no one guessed how much his act made him sweat).
The other Brennon — the cowardly, troubled one — would shed the guilty charade when he entered the door of his trailer. Crawl back inside himself. Struggle to breathe and plot the next diversion.
Inside Brennon's house no one looked up, or smiled, or spoke much. A silent cold war raged inside. Plainly, the other side didn't suspect any conflict. And, why would they? Their standard operating procedure was simple — distance and avoidance.
When Brennon expressed himself at the wrong times, things got ugly real fast.
"Not now, Brennon!" (that would be his mother).
"Shut up, you hear me?" (his mother, again).
"Don't bother me, boy. Can't you see I'm busy?" (definitely, his father).
"Quiet!" (His least favorite, bellowed like a basketball coach in the final minute of a double overtime).
Perhaps the loudest shouts, were the words in his own head — Get over it, loser! But what? Brennon couldn't talk about it or give it a name. It just lived in his head like a murky cloud cloaking a simple answer to a question he couldn't seem to ask.
At least he had Kit, his number one comrade on the home front.
His mother said they moved to Lot Eleven when he was three, right before his brother Kitrick was born. However, Brennon didn't know it was the same time she'd married Mr. Trapper. She wanted to keep it that way. What a giant can of worms that would open if Brennon knew the facts.
All he knew was that he was born at Marquette General, he was a big nine-pounder and it was a very cold day. He wanted more. Like, why were there no baby pictures of anyone holding him? Why, in every picture, he was all by himself? There were pictures of his father holding Kit, his mother holding Kit, even him holding Kit. He couldn't ask her and wouldn't dare bring it up with his father.
He watched her squirm when he asked about his early years. Why were her answers not even answers at all? And, what about that red shoebox — the one with the white Nike swoosh way up in her closet? Too high to reach without being caught. His fists tightened. If only he had the nerve to look inside — it might give him some straight answers. Maybe it knew what made his mother so sad and irritable all the time ... and why she never went anywhere. Maybe it knew what was wrong with his father.
Why couldn't he get up the nerve to snoop inside that box? He knew it was the scolding he got when he was six that always stopped him. He'd found that shoebox on her closet floor and removed the elastic band that held the lid tight. When she saw it opened in his lap, she jerked it from him faster than a battle droid on autopilot. In his mythology unit at school, when he read of Nike, the goddess of victory, his fists clenched again. A mocking reminder how gutless he was at home. Scared of his father. Scared of a little red shoebox.
* * *
Brennon made it home just before dark and pushed open the door to the trailer. His nose creased. Would he ever get away from the smells? Mold! Mildew! Yep, he was gonna ace that science project. Today's odor was particularly powerful. He lifted the lid on the washer.
"Aww Mom, not again! You forgot to put the towels in the dryer! They stink!" He hated the smells so much that laundering his own clothes became routine. Gave his shirts the sniff test before they ever touched his back. When Brennon had the need to use antiperspirant he obsessed over that too, counting exactly three and a half swipes of the stick to each pit — just to make sure. Yet, as much as the smells bothered Brennon, it wasn't as troubling as his father.
Both of his parents were what a family therapist might call "uninvolved" or on a good day, "emotionally neglectful." Brennon noticed everything ... especially when they didn't.
Wouldn't you think they'd see how many times Kit only pretends to brush his teeth at night? But, he'd never rat on his little brother. In silence, however, Brennon watched his father like a hungry dog waits for another crumb to fall.
If they had ever bothered to ground him, he wouldn't have minded the attention from them or the effort it would have taken. Anyway, he was already stuck inside one super-colossal, day and night grounding. He knew he must've done something wrong, but what? The simple answer — right in front of him — so close he couldn't see it.
It was still spring. The middle of April to be exact — Wednesday, the nineteenth of April to be more exact. Up north in Slapneck, sooty snow from another long winter lingered on the ground, slowly melting in corners of parking lots and alongside shaded roadways. In April, Brennon couldn't see past his struggles — perhaps because he thought his biggest struggle was only with his father.CHAPTER 2
"When paint turns color and peels off the sides of houses, it is customary to blame the rain, wind, the blistering sun and neglect. And yet, the true culprits all too often are the miniscule paint-eating fungi."
Brennon glanced at his watch, then the door. Five-thirty ... any minute now. Every weekday like clockwork, Mr. Trapper entered the door of the trailer and slung his prized Dick Tracy-style faded yellow fedora with the soiled black ribbon onto the hat hook. His other hand would slick down his buttery black hair.
Brennon hid his stare and his smirk as his father walked to the kitchen sink. Already an inch taller than his old man ... hmm, weird, but his father's square jaw did make him look a little like Tracy — good thing he didn't own a yellow topcoat.
Brennon cleared his throat. "I hafta do a report on mold for science, Pop."
"That's nice," Mr. Trapper said, clanging plates aside to pour a glass of water.
Brennon looked at the wall and lip-synced that's nice. That's nice? That's nice? Geez, if he'd said something psycho weird, like, Hey Pop, today I beheaded the neighbor's Cockatoo ... dropped out of school today, Pop. Yeah, gonna run off and join the circus ... he was sure he'd hear the same, sick, that's nice.
Mr. Trapper was a bus driver for the Slapneck Area School District. Driving a noisy bus was a strange line of work for someone who thrived on tranquility. When home and away from screaming kids, he'd settle into his greasy, gold recliner, adjust his dollar-store reading glasses, and wallow for hours in his detective magazines. True Detective, Master Detective, Official Detective, Amazing Detective, even, Startling Detective — it only mattered that the word DETECTIVE was somewhere on the cover.
Brennon thought his father's magazine addiction was like a nicotine fix he needed to settle his nerves. This was true. Page after page of bloody fantasies pulled him from his boring, meaningless life and from the real world of fathering. Interruptions in the Trapper house? Not likely, as everyone knew it best to keep it to themselves.
The day Brennon brought home his Principal's Award, his father had three words this time.
"Good job, boy" he said, flipping to the next page.
Brennon swallowed hard and waited a full fifteen seconds for his father to look up, then he pivoted and headed to his room.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Trapper's Grounding"
Copyright © 2019 Dawn Chevoya.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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