A SLAM-BAM ENDiNG?!
Do you ever read the first line of a book and SLAM the thing shut? I sure do.
I hope you didn't do that to my story. Guess I'll never know.
Anyway, hi. I'm Rafe Khatchadorian, and if you already know me, then you know I do things a little differently than most people. I like to break the rules. No, I love to break rules. Especially dumb ones, like no talking in the hallways at my school and only being allowed to use the bathroom two times a day, no matter what.
So I don't know if this has been done before in the history of books, but I'm going to tell you some of the ways this story might end. And I'm going to do it right here at the beginning of the book.
I went to summer camp/summer school this year. But before the full eight weeks were up, things went kind of cuckoo-crazy (okay, a lot cuckoo-crazy), and I ended up packing my bags early. (Actually, some camp counselors packed them for me.)
My unexpected departure might have had something to do with this emergency situation:
Or maybe what happened was more like this unfortunate event:
It also could have gone something like this:
Or like this picture, which says about ten thousand words:
I can tell you for sure that it had something to do with this little disaster:
Somewhere in all of that, there's an ending to this crazy story. There's some middle in there too.
But that's as much as I'm going to tell you for now. If you want all the gory details, you're going to have to read on. At your own risk.
I'll tell you this much: This is a tale of bullies and broccoli, of shocking bravery and even more shocking cowardliness (or however you say that), of gallons of puke, of friends and fiends, and of being totally, hopelessly lost on a place called Snake Hill.
I promise: You won't be bored.
Maybe you read Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. Well, this was the Worst Summer of My Life.
But it was also—weirdly—the best.
WeLCOMe TO CAMP WANNAMORRA
Now that we've gotten the ending out of the way, I guess we can start the story.
You know those regular-type camps, where kids with spiffy haircuts spend the summer running around in the fresh air, and roasting marshmallows to an even brown, and swimming in the lake all day long? Maybe you've even been to one of those places.
Well, hold that thought. Here's another question:
Have you ever read that book Holes? If you haven't, you should, because it's an awesome book. But there was a camp in that story too—Camp Green Lake, which was actually a prison for kids.
Let's say that the place I went, Camp Wannamorra, was somewhere right in the middle of all that. Half camp and half prison. And by "prison" I mean school.
That's right. Me. Summer school. AGAIN.
Every morning from eight to twelve at Camp Wannamorra, we were going to be in classes. I was going to take the kind for kids who need a little extra help. And my brainiac sister, Georgia, was going to take the "Challenge Program," for kids who had nothing better to do on vacation than get smarter than they already were. It didn't sound anything like camp to me.
The more Mom talked about it, the more excited Georgia got, which made me even more suspicious. Mom kept calling it "summer camp," but I was pretty sure it was going to look something like this.
If you read my last two books—or even my sister Georgia's stupid story—then you know that school isn't exactly my best subject. I've already "done time" at Hills Village Middle School and Cathedral School of the Arts and Airbrook Arts. (I'm kind of, sort of, an artist, but more about that later.)
The bottom line was, if I wanted to keep going to Airbrook, I needed to "do some remedial work" over the summer.
GOOD-BYe AND GOOD LuCK (BeCAuSe, RAFe, YOu'Re GOiNG TO NeeD IT)
My mom and Grandma Dotty drove me and Georgia up to camp for the first day.
"You sure you have everything we packed? Everything you need?" Mom asked us about ten times from the front seat of our smoking—and I mean smoking in a bad way—eighteen-year-old family van.
"I'm sure!" Georgia said. "And in fact, I'm sure that I'm sure."
Georgia had packed about eight weeks in advance, checked her list forty times, and then made a copy of the list to make sure she wouldn't lose it ... and double-checked that too. My sister may be smart, but she's also nuttier than a squirrel's nest on the first day of winter.
"Rafe, what about you?" Mom asked, because I'm kind of the opposite of Georgia. "Do you have everything you need?"
"Um ... I guess so," I said. "Y'know, like I said last time you asked. Three minutes ago."
The good news was that we had a whole lake between the boys' side of the camp and the girls' side. If I was lucky, I'd hardly see Georgia at all for the whole eight weeks. It almost made the summer-school thing worth it. (I said almost.)
When we drove onto the camp grounds, we got to the boys' side first. I pulled out my stuff from the back and tried to make a clean getaway, but Mom's pretty mushy about this stuff. She needed to get in a few hugs before I could go.
"I know it's school, but it's camp too," she said. "I think you just might have a good time. I really do!"
"Assuming you don't get eaten by a bear," Grandma said. She was looking at the camp brochure. "Or lost on Snake Hill. Or—"
"Snake Hill?" Georgia said from the backseat. "There's a Snake Hill here? What does that mean? Like ... real snakes? Really?"
I love Grandma Dotty, but sometimes she says stuff without thinking about it. "So long, kiddo!" she said. She reached over then and hugged me too, really tight, the way she always does. "You're either going to love it, or you're going to hate it here. Put that in your pipe and smoke it." (My grandma says stuff like that all the time.)
Anyway, I was kind of nervous. It's one thing to be a nobody at school, when you can go home at the end of the day. It's another thing to get dropped off in the middle of the woods, with a camp full of total strangers who you're going to be living with, eating with, and sleeping with for the next fifty-six days and nights (or so I thought at the time).
"Come on, Jules," Grandma said. "Camp doesn't start until the parents leave. We need to drop off Miss Georgia and skedaddle!"
"Georgia? Rafe?" Mom said. "Do you want to say good-bye to each other?"
"Not really," Georgia said.
"Whatever," I said.
"Well, do it anyway," Mom said.
Okay, one more little bit of truth here. It was true that I couldn't wait to get away from Georgia, even if we would just be on two sides of the same camp. But now that Mom and Grandma were about to take off, some teeny, tiny part of me was glad that Georgia would be around. I don't know why. I just was.
And for the record, if you ever tell her I said that, I'm going to hunt you down and put fire ants in your sleeping bag.
You've been warned.
MeeT THe BOOGeR EATeR
I guess that the first day of camp is a little like the first day of school. You can spot the popular kids right away, because they've already latched on to a giant blob of about a million friends. Other kids just look kind of lost. (Guess which group I was in?)
So far, it was all too familiar.
When I gave my name to the nearest counselor with a clipboard, he looked at his list and said, "Yep, here you are. Rafe Khatchadorian. You'll be with Rusty and the Muskrats."
I had no idea what that meant. It sounded like some kind of terrifyingly bad band.
"Just take your gear and head down that path," he said. He pointed into the woods. "It's the fifth cabin on your right."
From the parking lot, I followed the twisty path he showed me and counted the other cabins along the way. The first one had a sign on the front that said ant hill and a bunch of little kids running around in front. After that came Sly Fox Run, then Bald Eagle's Nest, then Grizzly Bear Cave, and finally ... Muskrat Hut.
And I thought—seriously? I could have been an Eagle or a Bear or a Fox, but no. For the next eight weeks, I was going to be a Muskrat. Great.
The first person I met was Rusty, our cabin counselor. He was waiting, right there on the front porch steps, with his own clipboard.
Cabin counselor is kind of like homeroom teacher—except Rusty wasn't like any home-room teacher I'd ever seen before. He was more like three teachers, all packed into one body. And I don't mean that he was fat. He looked like the kind of guy who spent all day at the gym and then dreamed about lifting weights at night just so he could get in an extra workout. Even his muscles had muscles.
"Hey, Rafe, dude, super cool to meet you!" he said, while he broke most of the bones in my hand. "You pumped? I hope you're pumped, 'cause we're going to have a super-awesome time this summer."
"Um ... awesome?" I said, because I didn't know what else to say.
Meanwhile, there was a whole bunch of insane yelling and pounding coming from inside the cabin. It sounded like my cabinmates were tearing it down from the inside out, but Rusty didn't seem to care or even notice. The only other person I could actually see was this skinny kid on the front porch, reading the thickest book I've ever seen.
"Yo, Norman!" Rusty said. "Put down the Encyclopedia Normanica a sec and come meet your bunk mate."
I'm not going to lie. All I thought when I saw him was, I hope this kid brought sunblock. He looked like he'd just crawled out from under some rock.
And then I thought, Wow. His glasses were about as thick as his book. It didn't take a genius to guess that he was here for the Challenge Program, not for the one for kids like me.
"Rafe, Norman. Norman, Rafe," Rusty said. When we shook hands, it was a little like grabbing hold of an uncooked chicken cutlet. "Why don't you show him where he's bunking?"
"Sure," Norman said, pulling open the squeaky, old screen door to the cabin. "And thanks, Rusty."
"For what?" he said.
"For not calling me—"
"BOOGER EATER!" came a chorus of voices from inside the cabin.
Then a pillow flew out the door and practically knocked Norman off the porch. Not that it would take that much. I kind of felt sorry for him right away.
Except then I started thinking ...
On the inside, the cabin was pretty basic. And by basic, I mean that cavemen would have asked for an upgrade. On the windows, there were just screens with holes and rips, no glass, and four seriously lopsided bunk beds. You could see between the floorboards to the ground outside, and the ceiling was just big wooden beams, all the way up to the roof. That's where most of the other guys were, crawling around. And that's where the next two pillows came from.
One of the flying pillows caught me in the face. The other one whizzed past Norman. He acted like it hadn't even happened.
"This is your bunk," he said. It was a bottom one, and closest to the door. All the other beds were taken. I guess that's what you get for being the last one in. Not only was I bunking with a kid named Booger Eater, but if we got visited by a grizzly bear in the middle of the night, guess who was first in line on the all-you-can-eat human buffet?
Still, I was going to worry about that later. For now, I was trying to figure out if these guys were piling on because I was the new kid or because I was already part of the group. Or both. They seemed kind of okay, though.
What I did know was that as long as Norman the Booger Eater was around, I had an above-average shot at not being the biggest loser in the cabin. That was worth something, right?
The Muskrats. The Muskrats? The Muskrats! (It doesn't matter how you say it—it still sounds lame.)
Here, let me introduce you to the guys.
You know what, Nuke?" Dweebs told me. "You're going to fit right in here."
"Nuke?" I said.
Dweebs just kind of shrugged. "It's short for New Kid. You're the only one who wasn't here last year."
I guess everyone at Camp Wannamorra had a nickname. Or at least all the Muskrats did. Besides, I didn't mind Nuke so much. It was better than some of the other possibilities. Like Booger Eater.
Meanwhile, all that moving in had worked up an appetite, I guess. By the time they rang the big dinner bell down at the main building, I was starving.
"Don't get too excited," Smurf told me. "Not unless you're a big fan of mushy oatmeal."
"Or mushy broccoli," Cav said.
"Yeah," Two Tunz said. "I lost ten pounds last summer. And that was after the pie-eating contest."
I didn't even care, though. At least I wouldn't be eating alone. Camp had only started an hour ago, and I already had a cabin full of friends.
We all walked down to the Chow Pit together. Cav told me that was the name for the cafeteria. But when we got there, I didn't see a cafeteria at all. Just a bunch of rickety picnic tables in a big circle on the grass, with a little hut off to the side.
"This is it?" I said. "There's not even a roof. What if it gets hot out?"
"Then we sweat," Bombardier told me.
"What if it rains?" I asked.
"Then the meat loaf isn't so dry," Two Tunz said with a laugh. He and Bombardier high-fived right over my head.
Every cabin had its own picnic table in the circle. We sat down at the Muskrat table while Rusty went with the other counselors to get the plates and silverware and stuff. That left about a hundred campers outside, all running around and laughing and talking at once.
At first, I didn't really notice anything out of the ordinary. It was just a bunch of blah-blah-blah and buzz-buzz-buzz all around me.
But then ... I started to hear stuff I didn't like.
I was just starting to put two and two together, when I heard someone from a couple tables over who was louder than everyone else.
"What's for dinner?" the voice asked.
"Dead meat!" someone else said.
"What's for dinner?" the voice asked again.
This time, a bunch of guys answered and pounded on the table at the same time. "DEAD! MEAT!"
"Oh, man," Smurf said. "Here we go."
When I looked over, I saw the kid who was leading the whole thing, and I knew his type right away. Put it this way: If you took the words cocky and conceited and pain in the butt and then combined them all into one big word ... and then looked that word up in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of this guy.
"Who's that?" I said.
"Doolin," Smurf told me. "He's in the Bobcat cabin. Just ignore him."
But I didn't really see how. Every time Doolin said "What's for dinner?" and every time the other Bobcats answered "Dead meat!" they were all looking right at us. We were the dead meat.
The other guys at my table were just shaking their heads or looking at the ground, except for Norman, who was reading, and Legend, who was ... laughing? I had no idea what Legend's deal was, but he obviously thought this was pretty funny.
I only wished I thought it was funny.
"What's for dinner?" Doolin kept going, like a Britney Spears song that repeats over and over and over till you want to yank your ears right off your head.
Then somebody else yelled out even louder. "Yo! Doolin!" I looked over, and Rusty was standing there. "Have a seat, dude."
"What? I'm just playin' around," he said.
"I know, man. But have a seat anyway."
"What-ev," Doolin said, and high-fived the kid next to him before he took his time sitting down.
I was glad Rusty was back. But then again, this was only the first day. Something told me Rusty wasn't always going to be there, and that Doolin and his wrecking crew weren't done with us.
That wasn't all either.
So far, I'd been feeling like I'd lucked out, getting into this crazy, cool cabin of guys. But now I was starting to think maybe all of us Muskrats had something in common with Booger Eater, and I hadn't realized it. Maybe we were the biggest losers at Camp Wannamorra.
And maybe everyone already knew it.
Excerpted from Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill by James Patterson, Chris Tebbetts, Laura Park. Copyright © 2013 James Patterson Chris Tebbetts Laura Park. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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