Authors: Eric Kahn Gale
So the plan backfired. But I still think I can learn something from him about the Grunt.
I wrote him a message.
Daniel, I'm sorry I snuck up on you like that. It was stupid of me. I am a friend. In fact, we've met once before, at the middle school. I got your name from the yearbook and your address from the district directory. I should have been more direct.
I'm a 6th grader, and I believe I'm in a similar situation to the one you found yourself in during 6th grade. If you follow me. I need to talk to you about The Book. Please contact me.
I added my address and phone number, folded my message, and placed it in his mailbox. I hope he gets it before his mom does.
Luckily I got home before my mom did and it gave me time to get the (washable, thank God) paint out of my clothes.
The ball's in Daniel's court now. I'm going to bed.
Outside the classroom windows today, the snow came down for the first timeâbut nobody even got up out of their seats to look.
The class was buzzing with talk. The Human Substitute even broke her daze to tell people to stop whispering. Nobody told me what was going on, of course, but I did hear Ruth McNealy say, “and now they're going out with each other” to Ashley Dickenson as they came into homeroom.
I was pretty shocked when I heard it. Beyond embarrassing me on Facebook, I didn't know kids were actually dating yet. I don't have any regular friends, how can I be expected to get a girlfriend?
I figured it had to be someone in our class because everyone was passing around notes. It's like they all grew up overnight, and everyone knew what to do.
I wanted somebody to tell me what was going on, so I wrote a note to the one guy I thought would respond to me, Colin Greene.
What's going on today?
Who's going out with who?
Colin perked up and started squirming in his seat. He held my note in the air like a miner who'd just found gold. He's probably never gotten one before.
He spun around and his eyebrows were dancing on his head with excitement. I nodded to say, The note's from me.
“I know, Eric, I know!” Colin whispered a little too loud. “I heard it on the bus today!”
I gestured for Colin to lower his voice, but he was so excited to have some gossip that he couldn't keep from shouting.
“You'll never believe it!”
“Quiet down there,” the Human Substitute said. “Time for Vocab Words now.”
Whitner's been gone just about every Monday this year. We always get the Human Substitute and Vocab Words always goes the same.
Adrian Noble said you'd need to suspend disbelief to think that I wasn't gay. Donovan said my head was as big as a monument. Nick Drumme got the word photosynthesize. He didn't really know what to do with it. But he said plants photosynthesize their food about as well as I make myself look like a gaywad. Which I thought was pretty creative.
The weird moment came with Jason Crazypants. His word was perfect. A gift from the bullying gods. Imbecile: someone of low or below-average intelligence.
I tightened my grip on the desk and got ready for “Eric Haskins is an imbecile.” I cursed the vocab-list-making people for including that one.
Jason stood up, cleared his throat, and glanced at Adrian Noble. He looked at his feet, and then over to Melody. She gave him a quick nod.
“Someone who cannot pass fifth-grade English is an imbecile.” He coughed and sat down.
I leaned back in shock. Everything was laid out perfectly. Eric Haskins is an imbecile. He spared me, and didn't make fun of anyone else, either. That's not the Jason I know and hate.
He smiled at Melody and that made me suspicious. When Colin explained to me what he'd heard, it nearly broke my heart.
Jason told Melody he liked her over the weekend. She asked him to give her some time to think about it. The next day, she said she would date him on one condition: that he stop being mean to people.
It doesn't make sense to me. Melody hates Jason just as much as I do. She obviously knows he's a jerk, or why else would she make him promise that?
I can't believe she brought me into thisâI'm the only one Jason's mean to nowadays. She probably thinks she's protecting me. I don't want this kind of protection.
And could someone please explain to me why she was so embarrassed when she thought I liked her, but when Jason asks her out, she says yes?
Because he's cool and I'm the Grunt. That's all there is to it.
The Bully Book works.
And it's smarter than you, Melody.
While Colin was telling me about their unholy union, Jason and Adrian came up to us in the hallway. As they passed, Crazypants grabbed the strap of my backpack and pulled me close to him. Melody wasn't around. He put his mouth to my ear and said, “By the way: Eric Haskins is an imbecile.”
He checked me against the bricks. Jason and Adrian walked away, laughing. Colin and I just stared at each other, not saying anything.
Working the Class
You need to remember that this is about happiness. About making the world better for yourself and the kids in your class. So everyone should see you as a pretty nice person.
The Grunt's gonna hate you; there's nothing you can do about that. But make sure that everybody else loves you. Even if that means that you just act like a kid they can love.
If you're getting a reputation as a mean person, you're not doing this right. There's a balance between putting the Grunt in his place and being a leader in the classroom.
It's all about appearances.
I don't like being me anymore.
When I write “anymore” it makes it seem that there was a time I did like being myself. But that's not what I'm saying.
It's not like I was this kid who looked in the mirror every morning and shouted, “I love myself, and it's gonna be a great day!”
Instead I thought, I want Cheerios for breakfast. I didn't think about me at all. And I never thought about liking myself or not.
I always considered myself normal. Nothing bad, nothing good.
But now, it's clear to me. I don't like myself.
Not my face, my hair, my nose, the dark circles under my eyes, the bushy eyebrows. I've got thick thighs, skinny arms, and a big round butt. I hate my voice, the way that I talk, the things I say. I hate the thoughts I think. I'm not really good at anything, and I'm not even funny. I act like I am, but really I'm not. There are a ton of people way funnier.
And I'm mean. I feel like I'm kind of mean to Colin, even though people are mean to me.
I wanna change myself. I don't wanna keep on being this person. I don't want to be the Grunt.
I was staring at some homework and it's math, which I am good at, but not when I'm brain-dead. And I'm currently brain-dead.
Just then I heard a crack at my window. I spun around. Another crack and I saw a rock bang against the glass. Then a bigger rock. It rattled the window.
What is going on?
I threw open my window and stuck my head out. A dark figure was running into the night.
“Hey!” I yelled.
On my front lawn I found a rock wrapped in paper. I unwrapped it and saw there was a note.
Maybe you'll learn now not to ambush me. I'm not someone you want to mess with, and I have paintballs specifically formulated not to wash out.
But you did write to me about The Book. That makes me curious, but a bit suspicious, too.
This Friday at midnight, you will come to my house alone. Look in my mailbox. You will find further instructions there.
Until thenâDaniel Friedman
Daniel's hideout is just the kind of crazy house where you would expect a heavily armed Grunt freak to hole up in the middle of the woods. That is, if you would ever expect something like that.
In the mailbox in front of his house I found a blindfold with a note that read WEAR ME. In a few seconds, everything was pitch black and I felt a paintball gun in my ribs. “Walk,” a voice commanded.
We marched for 20 minutes and I knew we had gone into the woods because I felt the snow and twigs under my boots. “Here,” the voice said, and I stopped marching. My blindfold came off and I saw we were in front of a tree house somewhere in the forest.
This must have been where Daniel grabbed the paintball gun from during our previous chase. It looked like it was set up for war.
“Welcome to my fortress,” Daniel said to me in the dim light of an oil lamp. The flame threw shadows of paintball guns and ammunition crates against the walls. “I make sure to prepare for anything now.”
Daniel made me tell him what I knew about The Book. He made me explain how I'd spotted him as the Grunt. I told him the story of Richard Greene and of Adrian Noble, Jason Crazypants, and Donovan. I said how Colin had blabbed about The Book and why I got interested in Matt Galvin. He scowled at the name.
“Matt Galvin.” Daniel spit on the floor of his tree fortress. “I hate him.”
It was past midnight and very cold outside. The moon shone a strange yellow through the pine trees.
“Are you afraid of him?” I asked.
Daniel gave me a sour look. What a stupid question. I saw how he'd acted when Matt taunted him in school, and the way he panicked when I called him Grunt.
“If you think I ran away from you because I was afraid,” Daniel said, “then you're wrong. I was only trying to lead you into the woods, where I could come here and defend myself. No one ambushes me anymore.”
“They came to you at your house?” I said. I didn't know the Bully Bookers did that. I hoped they didn't.
“Only once,” Daniel said, sighing. He looked out the crudely cut window.
“What happened?” I said.
Daniel stared at me grimly. “You're chasing The Book?” he said. “What would you do if you had it?”
“Read it,” I said. “See why I was picked for the Grunt and change. I'd change myself so I didn't fit the description. So I wouldn't be the Grunt anymore.”
“That's what I should have done,” Daniel said, “when I had it.”
I jumped up off the floor. “What?” I shouted. And Daniel told me his story:
His 6th-grade year had been a lot like mine: a normal and pretty boring existence destroyed by three kids he'd known since kindergarten. The leader of the gang was Matt Galvin, and soon the whole class was following in his footsteps, making Daniel's life a terror. Like me, he'd picked up hints that something more might be going on. His Bully Bookers were always sneaking out together during lunch, and it felt like there was a conspiracy against him. One time, to terrorize Daniel, Matt Galvin pulled him into the handicapped bathroom and, using a stolen janitor's key, locked him there. He'd done this kind of thing before, but this time, he made a mistake. Matt left his own backpack locked inside the bathroom with Daniel.
It was a Friday, and Daniel was afraid of being trapped over the weekend. He opened Matt's backpack, hoping to find a cell phone he could use to call for help, but when he unzipped it, he found a leather-bound binder with THE BOOK stenciled onto its cover. Just as Daniel opened it, Matt burst through the door. He ripped The Book from his hands. Daniel bolted from the bathroom, ran down the hall, and escaped the school. Matt Galvin chased after him. Daniel slipped into the woods and hid there for hours, waiting him out and reading the strange sheet of paper he'd accidentally torn from The Book.
He headed back to his house in the dark. When Daniel told this part of the story, he seemed very upset.
A strange boy appeared out of the darkness and put his hands on his shoulders. “Are you the Grunt?” he whispered. Daniel had never seen this boy before. He looked about 13 years old, tall, with dark hair covering his eyes.
“You have something that doesn't belong to you,” the boy said. “Something very dangerous. Keep it, and I promise â¦ you will get hurt.” The boy was cold and serious, and he looked strong. “Give it to me, and I can make sure you won't be harmed. Refuse, and I can't be held responsible for what happens.”