If Gil Goodson was to have a chance, any chance at all, he would have to run faster than he was running right now.
Run. Away from University Stadium, packed with throngs of contestants who'd suddenly appeared from nowhere to get in line. Run, blinking back the sweat, pushing the lawn mower he wished he could abandon on the street. Run, past the lawn he'd just taken valuable time to cut because Mrs. Hempstead really believed the national TV networks might show her boring street. What were the chances of that happening? About as much as, as . . . as what?
As Gil had of winning the Gollywhopper Games?
One chance in 25,000—if he could still get a ticket. He'd been planning this day since last summer, ever since Golly Toy and Game Company announced the Gollywhopper Games.
With Gil's foolproof plan, he wouldn't have to buy zillions of toys and games to find one of 500 instant winner tickets. He wouldn't need to send in tons of entries, hoping his name might be drawn from millions and millions of others to win one of 20,000 tickets in that sweepstakes.
He lived eight blocks from University Stadium. He only needed to be one of the first 4,500 kids when the line opened at eleven a.m. today. The plan was to stand with his duffel and sleeping bag just outside the "no-enter" zone and storm the stadium at the front of the crowd.
He'd planned it all, except for yesterday's monsoon that had kept him from mowing Mrs. Hempstead's lawn. Why didn't he realize the mushy ground would keep him working for an extra hour? Why didn't he have weather ESP? Then he never would have let Mrs. Hempstead prepay him—double—to make her lawn perfect by this morning.
With the money already in the bank, Gil was stuck finishing the job. Only a thief would raise a son who took money then didn't do the work. Not true, but people might say that. Wasn't that one reason he needed to get into the Games? To erase it all?
Gil rammed the lawn mower into the splintered shed behind their pea-sized house, then jammed his key into the back-door lock. Inside, he grabbed a scrap of paper from the kitchen drawer and pulled out a pen. It slipped from his long, sweaty fingers and rolled under the stove. He grabbed another.
He raced to the front door, reached for the duffel, the sleeping bag and . . . What was that smell?
It was him: a rising stench of grass and sweat and lawn mower gas. Gil propelled himself down the hall, into the shower, beneath the cold water, fully dressed. He wedged off his shoes, peeled away his cutoff jeans, underwear, and T-shirt, and skipped the bar of soap over his body, squirted some shampoo on his wavy hair and urged the trickling water to rinse him faster. Then with one hand he turned off the shower and with the other grabbed the nearest towel. Damp. Who cared who used it last. His mom? His dad? He'd barely use it anyway. The August weather in Orchard Heights would finish the job.
He jumped into jeans that his legs had almost outgrown again, and by the time he'd struggled into a gray T-shirt, he was at the front door, hoisting the duffel over his shoulder and burrowing his fingers under the elastic bands that kept the sleeping bag rolled. He pushed his feet into his flip-flops, shoved a baseball cap on his head, and was back on the street.
Back toward University Stadium. Back past the parked cars bearing every license plate in the country. Back toward the massive line encircling the stadium then practically circling it again. Back past the horseshoe pits, barbecue grills, and volleyball games.
"Are you at the end?" he asked a man making camp with his kids.
"Not anymore, son."
Gil dropped his gear near a small tree and scanned the mass of bodies. How many of them were there? More than he could count. And no way he'd ask the reporter over there, take the chance she'd recognize him from The Incident.
Gil pivoted away, but seconds later felt a tap on his shoulder. Had she noticed him? He turned so the bill of his baseball cap masked his eyes.
Some shrimpy guy with a Golly badge handed him a yellow card. "Here."
"What's this?" Gil asked.
"It's not a ticket, but guard it with your life," said the guy. "If you lose it, you might as well go to the end of the line. The first person has number one, and you've got . . . Well, look at your own number. The first forty-five hundred have guaranteed tickets tomorrow morning, and I've heard maybe a thousand more will get in. Everything's printed on the back."
Gil looked at his yellow card.
5,915? No. No!
If he could somehow get in, even if 1,415 people who had instant win and mail-in tickets didn't show up, he still might be disqualified in the end. It was, after all, Golly Toy and Game Company that had had his father arrested.
Excerpted from The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman Copyright © 2008 by Jody Feldman. Excerpted by permission.
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