When his town is devastated by a flood, Hobie's fifth grade class is forced to meet every day in the shopping mall.
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Jamie Gilson has a firmly established reputation in the world of children's books as an entertaining and contemporary novelist. Among her popular Minstrel Books are her stories about Hobie Hanson: Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub (winner of five state awards); 4B Goes Wild; Hobie Hanson, You're Weird; Double Dog Dare; and Hobie Hanson, Greatest Hero of the Mall.
She has also written Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man; Dial Leroi Rupert; DJ; Do Bananas Chew Gum?; Harvey, the Beer Can King; and Hello, My Name Is Scrambled Eggs. Harvey, the Beer Can King is the winner of a juvenile Book Merit Award from the Friends of American Writers, and Do Bananas Chew Gum? is the winner of the Carl Sandburg Award and the Charlie May Simon Children's Book Award in Arkansas.
A native of Beardstown, Illinois, Ms. Gilson grew up in small towns in Missouri and Illinois. Following graduation from Northwestern University, she taught junior high school and wrote for Chicago radio stations. Currently, Ms. Gilson lives with her husband, Jerry, and three children in Wilmette, Illinois, where she writes for Chicago magazine, lectures, and holds writing and poetry workshops in the Chicago area.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: Monsters of the Deep
"There's a fish in the backyard! Hobie! Come see!" Toby Rossi was calling me from the kitchen. "It's swimming around my swing!"
I was supposed to be baby-sitting Toby. Actually I was in the Rossis' family room sitting crosslegged in front of a coffee table, putting together a plastic see-through pumping heart. It was from this nine-dollar kit that has lots of tubes and little pieces and directions that don't make much sense. I was almost finished, checking over the final steps for about the tenth time because I didn't want to mess up.
"Hobie! It's swimming in circles!" The kid sounded pretty excited.
"Right," I called back.
Mrs. Rossi had taken Toby's big brother, Nick, to the dentist right after school. Nick, who's my best friend, had lost his only filling to a stick of licorice.
The TV behind me was set at superblast, the way Toby likes it. "So," I called over the noise, "you say a fish in the backyard is pumping your swing? I bet it just got out of school."
On TV the music turned scary. A cartoon bear on a raft was headed straight for the falls.
"Oh, no!" the bear moaned. He put his paws over his eyes.
"Oh, yes!" a fox snarled from the bank.
"Oh, wow," I said. I'd finally stuck all the plastic veins and arteries in the slots they were supposed to be stuck in. The tubes snaked around from points A to points B just as the Visible Pumping Heart directions said they should. I mean, I'd been working step by step on this model for three days, and it was practically perfect. You were supposed to hold the whole thing underwater in a bathtub to make sure it didn't leak, but I'd been so careful, that was one step I didn't need to take. Next, the directions said, you added blood.
It was phony blood, of course. You had to make it. But I was ready. I tore open a small paper packet and took out a dark red tablet, which I dropped into a cup of water. Nothing happened.
On TV the bear was swinging on a branch over the falls. A dog with a lasso was calling, "Stay right where you are."
"It's a shark!" Toby shrieked from the kitchen. He shrieks a lot. I think it's because he's four years old. "It's a real, live shark in my own backyard."
"Right," I called back, "a bloodthirsty shark." Setting the heart on its stand, I tuned the TV down to subnormal so I could think. The music had turned all happy, and the dog and the bear were standing on the bank watching the evil fox disappear down the foaming rapids.
"You're a hero," the bear told the dog. The dog smiled.
"Stay right where you are," I told Toby. "I'll be your hero." I smiled, too. Hero. It had a nice sound. And all I had to do was save Toby from bloodthirsty backyard sharks.
But first there was blood to make. Poking the pill around the bottom of the cup, I felt it crumble. The water turned tomato-juice red. So did my finger. To get the blood into the heart, the directions said, I had to disconnect the tubing from T-coupling 2.
"You're gonna miss it!" Toby yelled.
Now where was T-coupling 2? "That's a yard shark," I called. "For snacks it eats kids' toes. Whatever you do, don't try to pet it." Maybe that would keep him quiet a few minutes longer.
This plastic heart was important. It was my first science project for fifth grade. We were starting human body reports, and my name was on the list for tomorrow morning just after Nick's. He wouldn't tell what he was doing his report on. But whatever it was, he thought it was pretty funny.
Molly Bosco, who thinks she's the smartest kid in the world, was up just after me, doing her report on the brain. Figures. She'd probably made her model from scratch instead of using a kit. She's a serious big-time show-off.
But mine would be world class. My heart had valves and ball bearings and blood. All you had to do, the directions said, was squeeze this little rubber bulb, and red dye would shoot through all the right spaces.
First, of course, I had to fill it, and that wasn't going to be easy. It took thinking. I couldn't fill my heart and play fish games with Toby at the same time.
"Two sharks!" he yelled. "Hobie, come quick! I see two!"
The kid has a wild imagination. Some of his best friends are dinosaurs.
He ran into the family room with an ice cream bar, its juice dripping down his arm. "Well, you missed it." he said. watching me pump fake blood into the heart. "The sharks swam away. They went to your yard." I squeezed the rubber bulb, and red rushed in veins and out arteries. Lub dup. It filled up chambers. I pressed again. Lub dup. And again. Lub dup. It was beautiful.
"Is it supposed to drip like that?" Toby asked.
Every time I squeezed the bulb, some of the red stuff oozed out the bottom and onto the coffee table.
"That's sick." he said, looking at the mess. He dropped the rest of his ice cream into the wastebasket I was using for scraps. "You know what? That's really sick."
"Thank you," I told him, holding the drip of red stuff back with my fingers.
He poked a button on the TV and changed the channel. "You're finished, Scumbreath," a guy snarled. ZAP. BOOM. BOP.
Outside, in the distance, thunder rolled on and on.
"It's raining like crazy," Toby said, tugging the sleeve of my sweater, "Scumbreath."
"Don't call me Scumbreath. That's not nice." Toby's mom really spoils him. "In case you haven't noticed," I told him, "rain is nothing new. It's been raining like crazy for ten days now."
The rain didn't worry me. What worried me was that I had a broken heart and a lot of fake blood on my hands. Where did I mess up? I was so sure I'd done everything right. Maybe the blood was dissolving the glue. Somehow I had to figure out how to drain the heart without getting red stuff on the rug. The directions said the dye would stain.
"Where did the sharks come from?" Toby asked, pulling again at my sleeve. "I never saw them before."
"They fell from the sky with the rain," I explained. "They are sharks that grant wishes. You know the kind. 'Magic fish, magic fish, grant my wish, grant my wish.'"
"Hummm." He was thinking. "Like wishing for diamonds?"
"More like wishing to stay up late." The drip was still dripping. I turned the heart upside down.
"Those sharks. They don't steal diamonds, do they?" he asked. "I mean, they're not bad sharks."
"Well, you don't read much about big-time fish thieves," I told him, "but I have heard that sharks are very greedy."
"Then I better make sure our diamonds are safe," he said, heading out of the room.
The kid was finally going to let me alone. "Great idea," I called after him. "Check on the rubies, too. And the emeralds."
I took the gum I was chewing out of my mouth, divided it in half, and plugged up two of the main leaks. Even upside down, the heart kept dripping.
"Toby!" I yelled. "Would you bring me a bowl or something to dump this fake blood in?" Where was he when I needed him? "Hurry!"
After about forever, he appeared at the door with this huge roasting pan, big enough to hold a turkey. He sat it at my feet.
"You're welcome...Scumbreath," he said, giggling.
He grabbed a Mighty Mouse knapsack out of the pan and flopped on the sofa. Hugging the knapsack close, he leaned his cheek against Darryl, his stuffed stegosaurus.
"I wished on the fish," he said after a while.
Lightning cracked somewhere close.
"I wished for my mommy and Nick." His bottom lip looked fat and it began to shake. I hate it when little kids cry.
"They'll be back soon," I told him. "The dentist doesn't want Nick any more than Nick wants the dentist." I set my heart model in the pan and watched it drip around the gum. So much for world-class reports.
Toby clicked the remote control, changing from station to station, but cartoons were over for the afternoon. That meant it was five o'clock. Nick and his mom should have been home half an hour ago. At least.
"Thursday, October twenty-sixth, and stormy weather leads off our local news," the anchor in the blue dress said, smiling. "Yesterday our main man meteorologist promised us there'd be no more rain." She turned to the fat guy next to her. "Don," she scolded him, "you tricked us again. You said that storm would pass us by." Then she forgave him with a smile. "Don has a fabulous forecast for tomorrow, though. Sunny skies will light up our lives.
"But today," and her sad face already told the story, "many places, already hard hit, have had five more inches of rain -- all in the last two hours. The Hawk River in some spots has broken over its banks. Widespread flooding is reported in northern sections where residents are warned to --"
Pop. The lights went out. Poof. The anchorperson in blue and the happy weather guy dissolved like wet sugar.
"Hey, Tobe," I said, remembering his shaky lip, "no big deal, OK? Power just blew. They fix things like that by climbing a pole. OK? Trust me, Hobie H. Hero." I beat my chest with my fists like an ape.
"You lied about the sharks," Toby said, digging his fist into Darryl.
Little kids can't tell the difference between playing games and telling lies. "Why do you think that?" I asked him.
"My mom and Nick aren't home, that's why. And I wished two times, one for each shark. You said. Besides, you're as scared as I am." He snuffled. "Some hero."
I stood up, grabbed his arms, and lifted him off the couch. Thunder was rumbling, and so was I, but no little kid was going to catch me scared. "Let's you and me attack the kitchen," I told him, highly happy, as if we were talking balloons and circuses. "Well sing silly songs and pop a bag of corn."
"No we won't." He wiggled free. "The microwave is dead. It plugs in."
He may be four, but he's not dumb. "Well, let's go, anyway. I'll call the electric company."
In the kitchen we stared out the window through sheets of rain blowing sideways. The water was deep. When we came home from school, you could see the Rossis' grass and my grass next door. Now the seat of Toby's swing was hopping on top of waves.
"Look." Toby pointed. "Our picnic table's floating. And it's pea green. Maybe we could go to sea in it like the Owl and the Pussycat." He began to giggle again.
Through slaps of rain you could just make out the long green table and its benches, rocking free next to the back fence. It did look like the kind of bizarre boat the Owl and the Pussycat might have hung out on.
Cupping my hands around my eyes, I pressed my nose to the window and spotted, closer in, the top of the Rossis' barbecue grill. Its round, red lid poked out of the waves like an alien sub. Next to it something that looked a little like a carp flopped in the water. Probably, I decided, a loose skateboard.
"There it is! My shark!" Toby said, pointing again. "Did you see it?"
Lightning cracked the sky. Twice. I'd read somewhere that lightning can shoot through telephone wires, and while I hadn't heard Molly's report yet, I figured one long zap ear to ear could fry your brain in a big way. I decided to forget the phone. Who would I call, anyway? The electric company didn't need me to tell it the lights were out. Since it was after five, both my mom and my dad would be on their way home from work. Besides, I didn't want them to know I was scared of a little noise.
Thunder shook the kitchen dishes. Twice. I closed my eyes and swallowed hard.
"Hobie," the kid said, "what's the name of our river?"
"It's the Hawk. You know that," I told him with a big fat fake laugh, as if it was the punch line to a joke. The Hawk's not exactly ours, but it runs along about five blocks from our houses. Nick and I go there to skip stones, and to fish sometimes.
"Is it the same Hawk the lady said on TV?"
"Yeah, she said it was high. Those guys who live near it are probably getting wet."
I looked out the kitchen window. The rain was slowing down. You could see better. The skateboard flopping in the waves didn't have wheels. It had fins, at least one eye, and a tail. Toby's fake shark was a real live river carp.
My dad had told Mom and me just the night before that the sandbags piled along the banks of the Hawk would keep it from flooding. He said that even if the Hawk did overflow, it would never ever reach our house. It never had before and it never would. He said. But that fish sure hadn't fallen from the sky to grant wishes. It had swum there. And the only place it could have swum from was the Hawk River. In the two hours since school let out, the Hawk had washed over its banks. Outside was a lake. And inside, the rooms were sinking in bluegray shadows.
I wanted to be a hero, but I didn't feel brave. There was a storm in my stomach.
The night was going to take us over. "Where's a flashlight?" I asked Toby.
"In the basement, but I bet it's really really dark down there."
I figured that was true. Dark and getting darker. "Where's a candle?"
"On the dining room table, but I don't know about matches."
Me either, so I just stood and looked out the window at the water moving. Up.
"I'm scared of dark," Toby said.
"Being scared of the dark is kid stuff," I told him. I didn't point out that I was a kid, too.
"When is my mom coming home?"
"Soon," I told him. As soon, I thought, as she gets an outboard motor on her station wagon. The water out there was car-window high. It wasn't play water, either, for wading in or floating leaf boats on. That water would shove you under and hold you down.
"Hobie," the kid said, grabbing the leg of my pants. I tried to shake him loose. I was tired of his questions. I had a few of my own. Like how do heroes save the day? Or the night? I think light bulbs are supposed to go on in their heads. My head was having power failure.
"Hobie!" He was really bugging me. "I hear gargle monsters. I saw them once on TV. They have horns and wings and they sit on roofs and they throw up water when it rains. Listen."
I stood still and listened. I could hear my heart, lub dup. Do heroes hear their hearts beat?
I could hear something else, too. It wasn't the rain. The rain had almost stopped. I closed my eyes and listened harder. It didn't sound like a fake shark. Or a real carp. It sounded more like some mega-mad TV monster throwing back its head and gargling up a storm. But it couldn't be that. The TV was dead.
Copyright © 1989 by Jamie Gilson
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Book Description Topeka Bindery, 1995. Book Condition: Fair. Shows definite wear, and perhaps considerable marking on inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP70015754