Camp-Off!


Camp-Off!

CHAPTER 1

 

“So, you’re saying whatever I pick out of this closet, you will wear to school tomorrow?” I said. I looked at my stepbrother Eddie mischievously.

“Yep, that’s the first dare. Are you in, Josh?” Eddie asked.

I looked through my stepmom’s closet. I had to pick the most embarrassing thing I could think of. If Eddie refused to wear it, then he would lose and I would be one step closer to picking our summer camp. Eddie wanted to go to Space Camp, that sounded cool and all, but I wanted to go where my friends were going: Camp Oannagopupu.

Eddie and I had a habit of solving our differences through dares. It got us into hot water a couple of times, but we were kinda addicted to it.

Eddie shoved me out of the closet with one push. He was a big guy. He used to be the school bully. Sometimes his bullying habits popped back up.

“It’s not that hard Josh, here,” he said, as he randomly reached into the closet and pulled out a pale pink scarf with sparkly doodads all over it. He laughed. “Your favorite color!”

“Very funny. Why is it so sparkly? How am I supposed to wear this?”

“Are you forfeiting?” he asked while raising one eyebrow.

“Ah, no.” I riffled through the hangers. Bingo! I threw Eddie a silky, bright red, long skirt.

He caught it with one hand. “I can work with this!” He laughed. “Piece of cake, Josh.” He ran upstairs to our attic room to get dressed for school.

I wish I had his confidence. I held the scarf in my hands, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how I could wear it without getting made fun of at school. I slowly walked upstairs to our room. It was going to be a long day.

 

Eddie and I made our way to the boy’s bathroom to put on our dare outfits. Eddie pulled a hole puncher out of his backpack.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

“Oh, what, this?” he said, as he waved it in the air. “I ‘borrowed’ it from the teachers' lounge.”

“When?”

“Yesterday.”

“How’d you know you’d need it?” I asked.

“Because I’m always prepared for the what–ifs.” He smiled slyly as he hole-punched the skirt in two spots.

Eddie was notorious for being prepared for bizarre situations. He called it the “what-ifs” as in, what if a giant thunderstorm struck or what if aliens decided to invade the earth, would I be prepared? He always seemed to be. He told me I was only prepared for the “no-ifs” as in, if nothing happened, then I was prepared. In other words, I wasn’t prepared at all. He even gave himself a motto; Eddie is Always Ready!

Eddie’s what-ifs had saved me and my friends on many occasions. Sometimes I wondered if he had ESP or Extra Sensory Perception. That was when a person could tell what was going to happen before it really happened. It was kinda creepy. Like reading someone’s thoughts or guessing the correct answer every time.

“I bet you think I have ESP,” he said, as if reading my mind. He could tell by the look on my face that I was freaked-out. He started laughing, “Oh, my gosh! Is that what you were thinking? It was, wasn’t it? But seriously, ESP is for real. The truth is everyone can do it. It’s how man communicated before we had words. I saw this website that explained it all. They even have a program where you can hone your ESP skills by doing a series of brain exercises.”

“Eddie, that’s bull. What do you have to do? Pay the website to get the exercises?” I asked.

“Hey, that’s right. Wow, you have naturally strong ESP skills, Josh. You should start developing them further.”

The bell rang for first period.

Eddie quickly removed his shoelaces, tied them together and threaded them through the holes in the skirt. He flamboyantly draped it over his shoulders and declared, “Super Eddie, off to class to serve and protect all in need!”

Genius! He used the skirt as a Super Hero cape. He had just enough guts to pull it off, too.

I looked down at the sparkly scarf. I could still smell my step mom, Allie’s, perfume lingering on it. Great, now I looked and smelled like a girl. I hastily stuffed it in my back pocket with just a little piece of it sticking out. Not very creative, but I was still in the running for the bet.

 

Ms. Kittler, our substitute teacher in Language Arts, was notorious for being super lazy, super strict, and super old. In her gnarled hands, she held the sub plans left by Mrs. Kairys, our regular teacher who left to have a baby. Rumor had it that Kittler was the sister to Ms. Sniedendorf and Ms. Freiberger, the two meanest substitute teachers I’ve ever known.

“Who can write this assignment on the whiteboard for me? I hate writing on whiteboards, I only like chalkboards,” Kittler said.

Manny, one of my best friends, raised his hand.

“Yes, young man?” she asked.

“What’s a chalkboard?”

Kittler scowled and I swear Manny somehow shrank a little, which isn’t easy to do when you’re already the shortest kid in the class.

Marina, the bossiest, smartest kid in school, said, “A chalkboard is an old timey board, made of smooth black slate that teachers used to use to write on. They stopped using them, because the chalk dust made kids sneeze.”

“I heard it was because teachers used to torture kids by running their fingernails down the board. It made a horrible screeching sound that instantly damaged your hearing if you were under twelve years old,” Eddie said.

“Ah, the good-old days,” Kittler sighed, “but no time for reminiscing, who shall write this?”

“Josh has the best handwriting in the class,” Eddie said.

“I’ve always said good penmanship is a virtue. Josh, please come to the board and copy this assignment,” Kittler said.

Eddie was so diabolical. He knew I was sitting on the pink, sparkly scarf in attempt to hide it. He always found the quickest way to embarrass me. As soon as I stood up, the scarf would be exposed. I reluctantly walked over to Kittler and grabbed the assignment, with the pink scarf trailing in my wake. As I walked to the board, I swear I heard my classmates snicker, well Eddie anyway. All I could think about was the sparkly scarf sticking out of my back pocket. How would I ever make it through the day? I wrote as quickly and neatly as I could and sat back down, my face bright red.

As I passed by Eddie, he whispered in a falsetto voice, “Nice penmanship, Sparkles.”

Everyone around us laughed, until Kittler gave us the evil eye.

The rest of the class was quiet, due to Kittler’s watchful eye. She only had one. Rumor had it; she lost the other eye in the Great Cafetorium Food Fight of ’91. Apparently, a stray watermelon flavored Jolly Rancher split into shards when it hit the Teachers’ Table and ricocheted into her cornea, blinding that eye for life.

 

As I sat around the lunch table with our usual crowd, I was the target of some serious teasing. The bad part was, I couldn’t defend myself by saying it was a dare, or I’d automatically lose. I thought it would help if I wore the scarf around my ankle, like a wrap for a sprain, but it didn’t fool anyone. Oddly enough, no one was busting Eddie’s chops about the cape. I just saw him take a big bite of his meatball sub. He got some tomato sauce on his chin and wiped it with the cape. It left a dark smear across the silky red fabric.

“Hey Josh, what’s with the princess scarf?” Manny asked.

“Yeah, Sparkles, what’s with the scarf?” Paul asked. It was amazing how quickly that nickname caught on.

Paul was another one of my best friends. He was the exact opposite of Manny. Where Manny was short and Hispanic, Paul was tall and fair. In fact, he was the tallest boy in our class.

“I like it. I have one just like it, but without the sparkles,” Bria said. She was a pretty tall blonde who Manny had a crush on for years.

“They’re called rhinestones, not sparkles, and you look ridiculous,” Marina added.

She was right. I did look ridiculous. I had tried wearing it several different ways with no success. I looked at Eddie. He just used his cape as a napkin again, but this time for chocolate pudding. It left a way bigger smear than the tomato sauce. How was he not getting teased? He was actually enjoying the attention the cape brought.

“So, I found this old skirt and thought, hey, it’s made of silk. What a treasure!” Eddie said. “Anyway, everyone knows silk is the strongest material known to man, and the best part is that it is made from worm spit!”

Ew!” Chelsea said. She was the prettiest girl in our class, well, to me anyway. She had brown skin, curly black hair, and pretty brown eyes. She was short and kinda skinny. I’d liked her for a long time. Sometimes it seemed like she liked me too, but I might have blown my chances today.

Eddie continued, “I know, right? Cool. All our spit does is digest food. I know, because I saved some of my spit once and tried to weave it into a cloth. It didn’t work. Not even a little.”

A collective “Ew!” sounded around the table. Eddie just laughed.

“Anyway, since today is Super Hero Day, I decided to wear a cape to celebrate goods triumph over evil,” he continued. Ah-ha, busted! There was no such thing as Super Hero Day. I was just getting ready to expose Eddie for the fraud that he was when he said, “Of course, it’s not really Super Hero Day. I just made that up, but I do have a petition you can sign asking Principal Hamilton to declare this day Super Hero Day for our school every year.”

Eddie pulled a crumbled piece of paper out of his pocket. Sure enough it was a petition for Super Hero Day. Dang, when did he write that? My friends eagerly signed as he passed it around. I caved in and signed, too. It did sound like fun.

As I was signing the petition, I heard a voice behind me say, “Mr. Miller.” Only one teacher in the school called kids by their last name: Coach Dabney. He taught PE and coached football.

“Yes, sir?” I answered.

“Son, you sporting an injury?” he said as he looked at my scarf-wrapped ankle.

I didn’t know what to say, so I just lied, “Yeah.”

“That’s no way to wrap a sprain. Let me be of some assistance,” he said.

Within minutes, he’d wrapped my ankle tight with gauze from a small gym bag.

“It’s a good thing I keep this bag close when I’m on lunch watch,” he said. “Okay Miller, take this girly scarf and put it in your backpack. Now!”

I jumped up and ran to my locker. So busted. Well, I guess this round went to Eddie.

 

We snuck into my dad and Allie’s room after school to put Allie’s clothes back in the closest. I hung the scarf up. It looked pretty wrinkled, but it was still in one piece. I couldn’t say the same about the red skirt. It had the two holes punched through it where Eddie had woven his shoelaces, two big stains from lunch, and a giant rip. The latter was the result of Eddie falling out of his shoes, due to the lack of his shoelaces, and tripping over the cape. It was a spectacular trip and ripped the skirt from seam to seam. He hung it up way back in the bowels of the closet. “Okay, Josh, it’s time for dare number two. What will it be?” Eddie asked.

Eddie and I had devised a foolproof way of competing through dares. We each choose one and if we both tied, the third dare decided the winner.

“I have only one word to say: Swapsies.” I grinned.

“Epic! I love Swapsies!” he gushed.

Swapsies was legendary at our school. It all started when a nerdy kid named Matt brought the best dessert on the planet to lunch one day. He called it Five Layer Surprise, also known as FLS, and said it was his mom’s secret recipe. The bottom layer was the fudgiest brownie known to man…pure perfection. The second layer was a gooey chocolate chip cookie that melted in your mouth. The third layer was a sticky Rice Crispy treat. The fourth layer was mystery frosting, no one could identify its creamy goodness. The fifth layer was the surprise. It changed daily. One day it might be gummy bears. Then BAM! The next day it was crushed Oreos.

Matt’s mom always packed two of these velvety treasures. One for Matt and one to trade for a sandwich. Rumor had it that she hated all things healthy. Lucky.

“I actually traded up to a FLS one day. It was the best day of my life. It cost me the entire contents of my lunchbox for two days. It was worth it.” Eddie gazed wistfully off into space.

“What was the surprise topping?” I whispered as if it was sacred information.

“You know those really sweet little chocolate chips?” he said.

“Those baby ones?”

“Yeah. Well, she took those and stuck them into plump, juicy raspberries.”

“And then what?”

“And then she dipped the whole thing in white chocolate.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked in disbelief.

“I’m not, and there’s more…”

I could hardly stand it. What else could she have done?

“She rolled the white chocolate raspberries in sprinkles!” Eddie said.

Noooooo!”

“I know…like I said…best day ever! We’d better pack hearty lunches tomorrow for trading,” Eddie said.

“Nope,” I said.

“No?”

“That’s right, we each get one banana, nothing else.”

“Okay, you’re on,” Eddie said and grinned. “May the best swapper win!

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Eddie and I had two different approaches to lunch today. He made a beeline for Anna Banana. I tagged along for the ride, just to watch Eddie work.
   Anna Banana was notorious for her love of everything bananas. She even had a backpack shaped like a giant banana, but everyone had their limits; she had three bananas in front of her already, plus a half of a peanut butter sandwich.

Eddie strolled up to her with all the confidence in the world. “Hi, Anna. Interested in a trade?”

“I already have three bananas, thanks,” she said.

“But do you have a pre-sliced banana still in the peel?” he asked.

“Ha-ha. Very funny. There’s no such thing.”

“But if I had one, would you trade that half a sandwich, plus a boring unsliced banana for it?”

“Yeah right, I’ll play along. I’ll give you everything I have for a pre-sliced banana still unpeeled,” Anna said.

“Great!” Eddie said. He handed her his banana and scooped up her three bananas and her sandwich.

“If you’re lying, you have to give me everything back.” She warned.

Eddie just smiled knowingly as Anna peeled the banana. She gasped when she found it to be cut in perfect slices from the inside.

“But how?” she asked amazed.

“No time to tell…gotta go,” Eddie said, and scooted to the next table. Four eighth-grade jocks sat eating their lunch.

I couldn’t believe he had the nerve to talk to eighth graders. That usually ended in a swirly, even for a big guy like Eddie. I stood behind him, half hidden.

“Hi guys. Anybody got a track meet after school today?” he asked.

“We all do. Now buzz off!” one big kid growled.

“Yes sir, I will buzz off in a minute. I just wondered if any of you would like to trade your fine looking bags of chips or sweet desserts for these bananas or this protein filled sandwich,” Eddie said.

“Why would we do that? Your stuff stinks,” the big kid said.

“I just thought, since you’re competing later and all, you might want some potassium,” Eddie said.

“I thought you said banana? Now you want to trade potassium? Does potassium have cheese on it? I like cheese,” a lanky guy said.

“Potassium is a mineral in bananas. It stops leg cramps, like you get from running real fast,” Eddie said.

“Oh, man. I get cramps all the time!” the lanky kid said, and grabbed one of Eddie’s bananas. He tossed Eddie a bag of BBQ chips for it.

Another kid gave Eddie a cookie for a banana and a third gave him a bag of Skittles.

The last jock at the table looked defeated. “I didn’t get a banana.” He looked like he was going to cry.

How did they get so dependent on Eddie in such a short time?

“I get the worst cramps of all of us,” the kid said.

“Then can I interest you in this half of a peanut butter sandwich?” Eddie said smoothly, like a used car salesman.

“Does it have pocrasium?” he said trying hard to pronounce the word potassium.

I could tell Eddie didn’t want to correct an eighth grader. He just smiled and said, “Yes, lots of procrasium, just like bananas.”

“But I don’t have anything to trade. I ate my dessert first. All I have left is this slice of cheese pizza.”

“I’ll take it.” Eddie said and bumped into me when he turned around. “Josh, are you even going to try today? Cause I can win now with this bounty.”

“I have a different strategy than you. You’re appealing to Matt’s stomach. I’ll be appealing to his ego. And I’ll only need five minutes to beat you,” I said.

I could see this made Eddie a little nervous. I did have a good plan, and the first part was psyching Eddie out, which I had just accomplished.

Eddie headed to Junk Food Alley. This group of tables contained some of the finest junk food to grace our school. At the far table, Matt the King, held his court as students vied for the coveted Five Layer Surprise.

Eddie swapped his way down the tables. Bags of chips and cookies changed hands at lightning speed. By the time Eddie got to Matt, he had a lunch fit for a king. He pushed all the other kids aside, and approached Matt. Eddie presented his lunch creation to Matt on a silver platter.

“Where’d he get the platter?” I said aloud in disbelief.

A chubby kid with a chocolate milk mustache said, “He got it from me. It was the aluminum foil around my sandwich. He sculpted it into a platter. He’s really good.”

Eddie held the platter high and announced for all to hear, “In my hand, I hold the ultimate Swapsie.”

Matt looked up, interested.

“I call it the pizza pie, French fry, so good it will make you cry, with nacho cheese if you please, and dipping ranch for your pleasure…this is the ultimate treasure!”

All of Junk Food Alley stood up and applauded. Eddie took several bows and threw a few winks at his new fans. Eddie placed the platter in front of Matt. Matt started to open his lunch box to retrieve the FLS.

“Wait!” I shouted for all to hear. “I can top it. Give me five minutes.”

“I’m intrigued. I’ll give you your five minutes,” Matt said.

I walked over to my chosen target with Eddie hot on my tail: The Gatekeeper’s Table. Here sat every teacher’s pet in our entire school. There were four of them and they held tremendous power. They could make or break your school record. Safety violations could appear or disappear at their whim. Perfect attendance…for the right price. Class pizza party, it’ll cost you, but can be done. Most students chose not to be in their debt, but I knew their Kryptonite: Marina Ashton, the cutest nerd in the school. They’d been trying to bring her to their dark side for years.

I surveyed the super geeks before me, from left to right:

Jin:
Ethnicity: Asian
Grade: Seventh
Position Held: Hall Monitor Captain
Special Skill: Throws a hallpass like a Ninja star that inflicts a paper cut from thirty feet.

Charlie:
Ethnicity: Caucasian
Grade: Seventh
Position Held: Media Specialist Aide
Special Skill: Can make a library fine appear or disappear with one stealthy mouse click.

Jaden:
Ethnicity: African-American
Grade: Sixth, the junior member of the group.
Position Held: Attendance Monitor
Special Skill: Can trigger an automated phone call to parents informing them of your absence, even when present.

Raj:
Ethnicity: Indian
Grade: Eighth, senior member of the group
Position Held: Morning Announcer
Special Skill: Complete control over co-host selection for morning announcements.

 

I heard Eddie whisper, “Josh, are you sure about this? The Gatekeepers are all powerful. Even I don’t mess with them.”

I whispered back, “You’re not the only one who can wheel and deal.”

I stepped forward, “Gentleman,” I began.

“Josh, good to see you,” Jaden said. “I hear you scored an A++ on the math test last week.”

“Yeah, I did,” I said proudly.

They all started snickering.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I guess you missed the third bonus question or you would have got an A+++ like me,” Jaden said, as all the super nerds went to high-five him. They all missed.

“Whatever. I’m just here for a Swapsie, and not of the culinary nature but more along the lines of school privileges,” I said.

“We can’t be bought with Swapsies. Many have tried, and many have failed,” Charlie said.

“What could you possibly have that we would want?” Jin asked.

I pulled the banana out of my pocket and set it on the table. They all burst into nerdy guffaws.

“Really, Josh? A banana?” Jin said.

“Not just any banana. On the backside of this banana peel, I have carved a series of numbers you have been seeking.”

“There are no numbers we seek that we cannot find ourselves,” Charlie said.

“Really? Not even Marina Ashton’s unlisted cell phone number?” I smirked.

Four inhalers were pulled out of four pockets simultaneously and greedily puffed on. The Gatekeepers put their heads together and whispered. After a few moments, Raj said, “We have prepared you an offer you can’t refuse: one hall pass, one library fee waved, one absence conveniently not reported, and one slot as the morning announcements co-anchor.”

“Can I pick the co-host instead of doing it myself?” I asked.

The Gatekeepers pow-wowed for a brief moment, then Raj said, “That is acceptable. Do we have a deal?”

“I believe we do,” I said.

I slid the banana over to them as they wrote up the contract.

I heard Eddie whisper, “Legendary.”

I grabbed the contract and raced back to Matt’s table with Eddie still on my heels.

I thrust it in front of him and he unfolded it and read it. His eyebrows raised in surprise. He reached into his lunchbox and retrieved both Five Layer Surprises. He handed them both to me.

Junk Food Alley went wild! They actually started chanting my name. It was unbelievable!

 

I sat back at my regular table and unwrapped the two FLS's. The surprise topping was a chunky piece of chocolate. It had a weird logo stamped on it. It looked like a dragon riding a bear. That couldn't be right.
    Eddie’s face went pale, “Oh my gosh, Josh. Do you know what that is?”

“It looks like a chunk of chocolate,” I said.

“Not just any chunk, but the famed Dragon Bear Chunk. The bottom half is made in Germany and the top half is made in China. Thus, the German bear and the Chinese dragon.”

“But why is the dragon riding the bear?”

Eddie continued as if he didn’t hear my question, “That chocolate has to be smuggled into the United States. The chocolate content is too high for American kids to handle. Be very careful. It’s so powerful that it has the reverse effect of regular chocolate. Instead of making you hyper, you’ll go into a comatose state.”

“Eddie, that can’t be right,” I said, but just to be safe, I divided up both FLS’s into equal pieces and shared them with the whole table.

Eddie was in the middle of explaining how he cut the banana from the inside out, when we all starting yawning.

“Like I said it was really easy. It was a science fair project I found on the internet. I just had to hold the banana straight up and poke a long sewing needle an inch from the top. But you can’t let it poke through the other side. I had to waste seven bananas until I got it right. Once you get the needle in right, you just wiggle it around a lot. Then you repeat the whole thing until you get to the bottom of the banana,” Eddie told us.

I could feel my eyes getting heavy. I looked around the table and everyone was on the verge of sleeping. Just then, Coach Dabney pounded his large hands on our table, momentarily waking us.

“What’s going on here, sleepyheads? Not enough action for you all in the lunchroom? How about you all go outside and give me two laps around the track. That will wake your behinds up!” he yelled.





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