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Authors: Jerry Spinelli

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BOOK: Maniac Magee
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"So what if I loaned you one, huh? How am I gonna get it back?"

"I'll bring it back. Honest! If it's the last thing I do. What's your address?"

"Seven twenty-eight Sycamore. But you can't come there. You can't even be here."

Second bell rang. Amanda screamed, whirled, ran.


She stopped, turned. "Ohhhh," she squeaked. She tore a book from the suitcase, hurled it at him--- "Here!"--- and dashed into school.

The book came flapping like a wounded duck and fell at Jeffrey's feet. It was a story of the Children's Crusade. Jeffrey picked it up, and Amanda Beale was late to school for the only time in her life.


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Chapter 4


Jeffrey made three other appearances that first day.

The first came at one of the high school fields, during eleventh-grade gym class. Most of the students were playing soccer. But about a dozen were playing football, because they were on the varsity, and the gym teacher happened to be the football coach. The star quarterback, Brian Denehy, wound up and threw a sixty-yarder to his favorite receiver, James "Hands" Down, who was streaking a fly pattern down the sideline.

But the ball never quite reached Hands. Just as he was about to cradle it in his big brown loving mitts, it vanished. By the time he recovered from the shock, a little kid was weaving upfield through the varsity football players. Nobody laid a paw on him. When the kid got down to the soccer field, he turned and punted the ball. It sailed back over the up-looking gym-classers, spiraling more perfectly than anything Brian Denehy had ever thrown, and landed in the outstretched hands of still stunned Hands Down. Then the kid ran off.

There was one other thing, something that all of them saw but no one believed until they compared notes after school that day: up until the punt, the kid had done everything with one hand. He had to, because in his other hand was a book.


*¤* nihua *¤*



Chapter 5


Later on that first day, there was a commotion in the West End. At 803 Oriole Street, to be exact. At the backyard of 803 Oriole, to be exacter.

This, of course, was the infamous address of Finsterwald. Kids stayed away from Finsterwald's the way old people stay away from Saturday afternoon matinees at a two-dollar movie. And what would happen to a kid who didn't stay away? That was a question best left unanswered. Suffice it to say that occasionally, even today, if some poor, raggedy, nicotine-stained wretch is seen shuffling through town, word will spread that this once was a bright, happy, normal child who had the misfortune of blundering onto Finsterwald's property.

That's why, if you valued your life, you never chased a ball into Finsterwald's backyard. Finsterwald's backyard was a graveyard of tennis balls and baseballs and footballs and Frisbees and model airplanes and one-way boomerangs.

That's why his front steps were the only un-sat-on front steps in town.

And why no paperkid would ever deliver there.

And why no kid on a snow day would ever shovel that sidewalk, not for a zillion dollars.

So, it was late afternoon, and screams were coming from Finsterwald's.

Who? What? Why?

The screamer was a boy whose name is lost to us, for after this day he disappears from the pages of history. We believe he was about ten years old. Let's call him Arnold Jones.

Arnold Jones was being hoisted in the air above Finsterwald's backyard fence. The hoisters were three or four high school kids. This was one of the things they did for fun. Arnold Jones had apparently forgotten one of the cardinal rules of survival in the West End: Never let yourself be near Finsterwald's and high school kids at the same time.

So, there's Arnold Jones, held up by all these hands, flopping and kicking and shrieking like some poor Aztec human sacrifice about to be tossed off a pyramid. "No! No! Please!" he pleads. "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeese!"

So of course, they do it. The high-schoolers dump him into the yard. And now they back off, no longer laughing, just watching, watching the back door of the house, the windows, the dark green shades.

As for Arnold Jones, he clams up the instant he hits the ground. He's on his knees now, all hunched and puckered. His eyes goggle at the back door, at the door knob. He's paralyzed, a mouse in front of the yawning maw of a python.

Now, after a minute or two of breathless silence, one of the high-schoolers thinks he hears something. He whispers: "Listen." Another one hears it. A faint, tiny noise. A rattling. A chittering. A chattering. And getting louder--- yes--- chattering teeth. Arnold Jones's teeth. They're chattering like snare drums. And now, as if his mouth isn't big enough to hold the chatter, the rest of his body joins in. First it's a buzz-like trembling, then the shakes, and finally it's as if every bone inside him is clamoring to get out. A high-schooler squawks: "He's got the finsterwallies!"*

"Yeah! Yeah!" they yell, and they stand there cheering and clapping.

*fin-sterwal-lies (fin'stër-wäl-ez) n. {Two Mills, Pa., W. End} Violent trembling of the body, especially in the extremities (arms and legs)


Years later, the high-schoolers' accounts differ. One says the kid from nowhere hopped the fence, hopped it without ever laying a hand on it to boost himself over. Another says the kid just opened the back gate and strolled on in. Another swears it was a mirage, some sort of hallucination, possibly caused by evil emanations surrounding 803 Oriole Street.

Real or not, they all saw the same kid: not much bigger than Arnold Jones, raggedy, flap-soled sneakers, book in one hand. They saw him walk right up to Arnold, and they saw Arnold look up at him and faint dead away. Such a bad case of the finsterwallies did Arnold have that his body kept shaking for half a minute after he conked out.

The phantom Samaritan stuck the book between his teeth, crouched down, hoisted Arnold Jones's limp carcass over his shoulder, and hauled him out of there like a sack of flour. Unfortunately, he chose to put Arnold down at the one spot in town as bad as Finsterwald's backyard--- namely, Finsterwald's front steps. When Arnold came to and discovered this, he took off like a horsefly from a swatter.

As the stupefied high-schoolers were leaving the scene, they looked back. They saw the kid, cool times ten, stretch out on the forbidden steps and open his book to read.


*¤* nihua *¤*



Chapter 6


About an hour later Mrs. Valerie Pickwell twanged open her back screen door, stood on the step, and whistled.

As whistles go, Mrs. Pickwell's was one of the all-time greats. It reeled in every Pickwell kid for dinner every night. Never was a Pickwell kid ever late for dinner. It's a record that will probably stand forever. The whistle wasn't loud. It wasn't screechy. It was a simple two-note job --- one high note, one low. To an outsider, it wouldn't sound all that special. But to the ears of a Pickwell kid, it was magic. Somehow it had the ability to slip through the slush of five o'clock noises to reach its targets.

So, from the dump, from the creek, from the tracks, from Red Hill --- in ran the Pickwell kids for dinner, all ten of them. Add to that the parents, baby Didi, Grandmother and Grandfather Pickwell, Great-grandfather Pickwell, and a down-and-out taxi driver whom Mr. Pickwell was helping out (the Pickwells were always helping out somebody) --- all that, and you had what Mrs. Pickwell called her "small nation."

Only a Ping-Pong table was big enough to seat them all, and that's what they ate around. Dinner was spaghetti. In fact, every third night dinner was spaghetti.

When dinner was over and they were all bringing their dirty dishes to the kitchen, Dominic Pickwell said to Duke Pickwell, "Who's that kid?"

"What kid?" said Duke.

"The kid next to you at the table."

"I don't know. I thought Donald knew him."

"I don't know him," said Donald. "I thought Dion knew him."

"Never saw him," said Dion. "I figured he was Deirdre's new boyfriend."

Deirdre kicked Dion in the shins. Duke checked back in the dining room. "He's gone!"

The Pickwell kids dashed out the back door to the top of Rako Hill. They scanned the railroad tracks. There he was, passing Red Hill, a book in his hand. He was running, passing the spear field now, and the Pickwell kids had to blink and squint and shade their eyes to make sure they were seeing right --- because the kid wasn't running the cinders alongside the tracks, or the wooden ties. No, he was running --- running --- where the Pickwells themselves, where every other kid, had only ever walked --- on the steel rail itself!


*¤* nihua *¤*



Chapter 7


When Jeffrey Magee was next spotted, it was at the Little League field in the park. A Little League game had just ended. The Red Sox had won, but the big story was John McNab, who struck out sixteen batters to set a new Two Mills L.L. record.

McNab was a giant. He stood five feet eight and was said to weigh over a hundred and seventy pounds. He had to bring his birth certificate in to the League director to prove he was only twelve. And still most people didn't believe it.

The point is, the rest of the league was no match for McNab. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd been a right-fielder, but he was a pitcher. And there was only one pitch he ever threw: a fastball.

Most of the batters never saw it; they just heard it whizzing past their noses. You could see their knees shaking from the stands. One poor kid stood there long enough to hear strike one go past, then threw up all over home plate.

It was still pretty light out, because when there are a lot of strikeouts, a game goes fast. And McNab was still on the mound, even though the official game was over. He figured he'd made baseball history, and he wanted to stretch it out as long as he could.

There were still about ten players around, Red Soxers and Green Soxers, and McNab was making them march up to the plate and take their swings. There was no catcher. The ball just zoomed to the backstop. When a kid struck out, he went back to the end of line.

McNab was loving it. After each whiff, he laughed and bellowed the strikeout total. "Twenty-six!... Twenty-seven!... Twenty-eight!..." He was like a shark. He had the blood lust. The victims were hunched and trembling, walking the gangplank. "Thirty-four!... Thirty-five!..."

And then somebody new stepped up to the plate. Just a punky, runty little kid, no Red Sox or Green Sox uniform. Kind of scraggly. With a book, which he laid down on home plate. He scratched out a footing in the batter's box, cocked the bat on his shoulder, and stared at McNab.

McNab croaked from the mound, "Get outta there, runt. This is a Little League record. You ain't in Little League."

The kid walked away. Was he chickening out? No. He was lifting a red cap from the next batter in line He put it on. He was back in the box.

McNab almost fell off the mound, he was laughing so hard. "Okay, runt. Number thirty-six coming up."

McNab fired. The kid swung. The batters in line automatically turned their eyes to the backstop, where the ball should be --- but it wasn't there. It was in the air, riding on a beeline right out to McNab's head, the same line it came in on, only faster. McNab froze, then flinched, just in time. The ball missed his head but nipped the bill of his cap and sent it spinning like a flying saucer out to shortstop. The ball landed in the second-base dust and rolled all the way to the fence in center field.

Dead silence. Nobody moved.

McNab was gaping at the kid, who was still standing there all calm and cool, waiting for the next pitch. Finally a sort of grin slithered across McNab's lips. He roared: "Get my hat! Get the ball!"

Ten kids scrambled onto the field, bringing him the hat and ball. McNab had it figured now. He was so busy laughing at the runt, he lobbed him a lollipop and the runt got lucky and poled it.

This time McNab wasn't laughing. He fingered the ball, tips digging into the red stitching. He wound, he fired, he thought: Man! That sucker's goin' so fast even I can hardly see it! And then he was looking up, turning, following the flight of the ball, which finally came down to earth in deep left center field and bounced once to the fence.

More silence, except from someone who yelped "Yip---" then caught himself.

"Ball!" bellowed McNab.

He was handed the ball. He slammed his hat to the ground. His nostrils flared, he was breathing like a picadored bull. He windmilled, reared, lunged, fired...

This time the ball cleared the fence on the fly.

No more holding back. The other kids cheered. Somebody ran for the ball. They were anxious now for more.

Three more pitches. Three more home runs.

Pandemonium on the sidelines. It was raining red and green hats.

McNab couldn't stand it. The next time he threw, it was right at the kid's head. The kid ducked. McNab called, "Strike one!"

Next pitch headed for the kid's belt. The kid bent his stomach around the ball. "Steee-rike two!"

Strike three took dead aim at the kid's knees, and here was the kid, swooping back and at the same time swatting at the ball like a golfer teeing off. It was the craziest baseball swing you ever saw, but there was the ball smoking out to center field.

"Hold it, runt," snarled McNab. "I can't pitch right when I gotta wizz."

The kids on the sidelines made way as McNab stomped off the field, past the dugout and into the woods between the field and the creek. They waited a pretty long time, but they figured, well, McNab's wizz probably would last longer than a regular kid's. Might even make the creek rise.

At last McNab was back on the mound, fingering the ball in his glove, a demon's gleam in his eye. He wound up, fired, the ball headed for the plate, and ---what's this? ---a legball? ---it's got legs ---long legs pinwheeling toward the plate. It wasn't a ball at all, it was a frog, and McNab was on the mound cackling away, and the kid at the plate was bug-eyed. He'd never --- nobody'd ever --- tried to hit a fastfrog before.

BOOK: Maniac Magee
7.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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