Authors: Kell Andrews
Copyright Â© 2014 by Kell Andrews
Sale of the paperback edition of this book without its cover is unauthorized.
Spencer Hill Middle Grade: An Imprint of Spencer Hill Press
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. Contact: Spencer Hill Press, PO Box 247, Contoocook, NH 03229, USA
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Second Edition: June 2014.
Andrews, Kell, 1969--
Deadwood: a novel / by Kell Andrews - 2nd ed.
Summary: A twelve-year-old boy gets a message from a tree telling him it's cursed âand so is he.
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this fiction: Barbie, Boy Scouts, Bran Buds, Cirque du Soleil, Dr. Evil, Game of Life, Gone with the Wind, Good Housekeeping, Google, Heisman, Hostess, iPod, Jedi, Junior Mint, Kiwanis, Lexus, Lions Club, Lucite, Nestle's, Ouija, Philadelphia Eagles, Tasmanian Devil, The Answer, U2, Van Halen, Walmart, Wikipedia, Ziploc.
Cover design by Shawna Tenney
Interior layout by Jennifer Carson and Marie Romero
ISBN 978-1-939392-07-7 paperback
ISBN 978-1-939392-71-8 ebook
Printed in the United States of America
To Jeff, Juliette, and Oona
A Ranger Running
artin Cruz knew something was wrong the moment he saw Lower Brynwood from the interstate. The town center was nothing but a few crummy blocks that slanted downhill, looking like they might slide off in the next hard rain.
Turned out there never was a good, hard rain. Storms blew by as quickly as possible, watering the lawns of Upper Brynwood at the top of the hill and leaving Lower Brynwood nothing but gray skies and dirty water foaming in the creek. Mud flows downhill, as Martin's mom liked to say. Except sometimes she didn't say mud.
Martin picked up the pace of his run and settled into the steady rhythm of heel strikes and deep breaths. He turned into the park entrance, reveling in the crunch of the first fallen leaves beneath his feet. When his mom was home, they would rake huge piles to jump in, but they never got around to bagging before the wind scattered them again. Aunt Michelle wouldn't tolerate a leaf out of place on her own lawn, and a glimpse of an unraked lawn anywhere in Lower Brynwood triggered a little twitch in her temple that signaled her irritation.
To take his mind off being forced to live in his aunt's perfect house, Martin replayed a game of
in his mind, trying to remember each challenge. When he came here, he'd thought he'd be able to keep playing online with Gord and Zach, but Aunt Michelle wouldn't let him play at all, much less subscribe to the massive, multiplayer online version of
. He was stuck imagining the game.
Imaginary or not, it was still better than being in this miserable town. Instead Martin was a powerful rogue ranger trekking the Marlician Forest. He was fleet-footed and eagle-eyed. The very trees shielded him, and he feared no man or beast.
Martin chugged now, his legs burning as he climbed the final big hill. He wasn't used to these inclinesâthere were no hills like this near his mom's Army base in South Carolinaâbut he felt his spindly legs getting stronger every day.
He turned a corner on the hard-packed path, heading for that big old tree with the carved bark he always touched before he turned back. The tree was tall and ancient, the bark silver-gray like antique metal, the crude carvings as incomprehensible as runes. It seemed to be more than a tree. He felt as if it waited for himâan ally, a kindred soul in the forest primeval. It might have been damaged and abandoned, but still, it grew. Just like Martin.
But today the tree was not alone. It was under siege.
A circle of red and black jackets surrounded the trunk. What were those kids doing here? Great, a bunch of jocksâprobably from the high school. Martin slowed up. He hated that kind of kidâmostly because they hated him first.
A tall blond guy said something Martin couldn't hear. He smirked at his own joke like he was hosting a talk show, and everyone else laughed along. Then a bigger guy with wide shoulders and a square head stepped up. He brandished a short knife in his hand and drew attention by feinting as if he was in a choreographed knife fight. The blond leader laughed again, clapping. Everyone joined in, their hands in rhythm.
Martin thought of the brutal rituals of the mercenary clans in
. He observed like a ranger would, and planned his attack. Who knew what kind of bloody initiation he had stumbled into? What were these cretins going to do to each other?
Then the big guy shrieked a war cry and chiseled violently at a smooth spot in the tree's bark.
Martin flinched as if the knife had pierced his own flesh. That was his tree.
Blood throbbed in his ears, louder than the clapping. His mom always said that when you get angry, you make mistakes. But he also knew to deal with any hostile in the forest quickly, without mercy. And these jocks were hostiles.
After just a few weeks, he thought of this as his trail. His woods. This scarred-up beech was the closest thing he had to a friend here, and he wasn't going to let anyone damage it again. If he had to escape, he could. They might be jocks, but Martin could run fast, and he could run far. And he didn't have a varsity jacket weighing him down, either.
He stepped into the fray.
To Be Low
annah Vaughan had lived in Lower Brynwood her whole life, and yet even she knew something was wrong there. Flowers grew feebly, if at all. Freshly painted trim on the old brick homes peeled as soon as it was dry. The only birds that managed to survive were starlings and crows.
The town was even nicknamed Lo-B, which reminded Hannah that everyone in town had settled into a lower state of existence.
To be low. I am low. She is low. They are low. We all be low
Lower Brynwood hadn't always been this way. Hannah's parents talked about a time when the high-school football team went undefeated, and everyone who graduated had a job waiting for them at the steel mill or the Happy Elf Bakery. Now the factories sat shuttered, and the few shops that remained on Main Street were nail salons and check-cashing stores. All the good luck had run out, as if the town was a horseshoe somebody had nailed upside-down.
Tonight, before the home opener, the football players and pep squad would dedicate their season at the Spirit Tree, the oldest tree at the highest spot in Lower Brynwood. Legend held that the ancient beech had been a lookout in the Revolutionary War. This outpost had been important thenâthe mill had supplied the Continental Army in Valley Forge, and Thomas Brynwood had been a hero, running reports on British troop movement to General Washington, along with the gunpowder shipments.
That was ancient history. For as long as Hannah could remember, the seniors at Lower Brynwood had carved their class year into the silvery bark to make their own mark before the home opener began. And every year, they lost that game, homecoming, and most of the games in between.
But this year, things were going to change. If her brother Nick led the Lower Brynwood football team to victory, he would be the first one in their family to go to college. And if he did that, Hannah knew she would follow him.
But first the Lower Brynwood Black Squirrels had to win.
“It doesn't matter either way,” Hannah told her brother at breakfast Friday morning before the opener. “A doorknob can see how talented you are.”
Nick gulped down his orange juice and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Doorknobs don't scout for college teams. It doesn't matter how many passing yards I rack up. Coaches want to see me win. And I need all the luck I can get.”
“You say you make your own luck.”
“Then I need to make some fast. No scholarships for losers.”
The hall phone rang. Hannah ran to check the caller I.D.âWaverly Wiggins. Waverly was supposed to be at the Vaughan house already.
Hannah picked up the receiver. “Don't say itâI can guess.”
“I'm sorry, Hannah. I'm way behind in math, and my dad's making me study,” Waverly said.
“I'll help you catch up tomorrow at school. Just don't cancel.”
“I already suggested that, but Dad doesn't trust me. Mr. Michaelson told him I talk too much in study hall when I'm supposed to be working.”
“Well, you kind of do,” said Hannah. When she sat with Waverly, neither of them ever did half as much homework as they planned.
“If you feel that way, go without me.” It was obvious Waverly thought Hannah was as likely to go to Mars.
“Fine. I will.” Hannah hung up without another word. She could handle going alone.
She pulled her dark-blonde hair into a ponytail, dragged her bike up the stairs through the basement hatch doors, and pedaled toward the scrubby patch of woods called Brynwood Park.
The ceremony had already started when she arrived. Nick flashed a grin at her, but she didn't know how to break into the circle of jostling, over-loud high-school kids. Without Waverly next to her, she didn't want to. Instead she lingered at the edge of the group, wondering why she had come at all. She was just a seventh-graderâthey didn't need her here.
Hannah was mapping out an escape when she noticed a very skinny, sweaty boy stalking out of the woods. She couldn't quite make out what was happening inside the circle of red and black jackets, but this boy seemed to know exactly what was going on, and she was pretty sure whatever he did about it would be a mistake.
Hannah had seen him before. He was the new kid at school, and not many new kids showed up in Lower Brynwood. She'd meant to say hi, but he'd had his iPod plugged in his ears at the time, so she didn't bother. Now he tore the white earbuds out and strode toward the circle. He was going to start a fight, Hannah realized. No way.
“Drop the knife.” No one seemed to hear the command, reedy and shrill. The boy spoke again, this time roughening his voice into a growl. “Step away from the tree and drop the knife.”
The wall of red and black jackets convulsed, a few dozen faces turning. For a split second the football team must have expected a cop, because they looked relieved to see the red-faced boy with wild, curly hair.
“Who are you?” asked the guy with the knife. It was Chase Roberts, Nick's friend.
“Martin Cruz,” the boy said. He threw his shoulders back and glared. “That's my tree. And nobody's going to be cutting it.”
Chase snorted. “Your tree? I hate to break it to you, but this is the Lower Brynwood Spirit Tree. We've been carving it for good luck since before you were born.”
“How's that good-luck thing working out for you?” Martin said, his voice squeaking again. “You couldn't beat Upper Brynwood with a stick.”
“You little creep.” Chase stepped forward, but Nick stopped him with an outstretched hand.
“Leave him alone. I'll take care of this,” he said to his teammates, and they turned back to the carving. Nick put one hand on Martin's shoulder, steering him away from the ceremony and toward Hannah standing at the edge of the circle. The skinny kid twisted in Nick's grip, his face screwed up.
“What are you going to do? Beat me up?” he asked.
“What are you, eight? I don't beat up little kids,” Nick said.
“I'll put it this wayâI don't beat up anybody if I can help it.” He let go, and Martin shrugged him off, stumbling back. Nick turned toward his sister. “Hannah, you know this kid?”