Authors: Andy Griffiths
âNo,' said Zack. âI don't think we'll be doing that.'
âAnd why not?' said the Kicker, trembling with rage.
âBecause I QUIT!' said Zack. He unbuckled his bum-fighter's utility belt and threw it down on the floor at the Kicker's enormous black-booted feet.
Everybody in the room stared at the beltâwith its load of toilet rolls, clothespegs, corks and deodorant cansâlying limply on the ground.
âBut Zack,' said the Smacker, breaking the silence, âyou can't quit!'
âNobody quits the Academy!' said the Kicker.
âI just did,' Zack told them, heading for the door, trying hard not to make eye contact with Silas.
âYou know what you need?' said the Kicker, stepping forward to block Zack's path. âA good kicking! That's what!'
âNo, Kicker,' said the Smacker, stepping forward to hold him back. âThat won't change his mind.'
âI just want to kick a little bit of sense into him, that's all,' said the Kicker.
Zack ignored them both.
But as his fingers touched the door handle, he felt the strong grip of a hand on his shoulder. Zack turned around. The hand belonged to Silas. Zack studied the cracked skin. It was burnt, scarred andâin spite of constant handwashingâstained brown from decades of raw hand-to-bum combat.
Silas crouched down in front of Zack.
âZack,' said Silas. âLook at me.'
Zack looked up and met his gaze.
âI know it's hard, Zack,' Silas continued. âBut you've got to hang in there. Without a proper understanding of the basics, you'll never be able to reach your full potential. The best you'll ever be is a bum-catcher. Sure, you'll be able to smack a few bums here and kick a few bums thereâmaybe you'll even wipe a few outâbut bumcatchers don't live for long in this business. I know it's hard to believe, but sooner or later you'll meet the wrong bum. A bum with your name on it. Or maybe you'll make a simple mistake. To avoid that you need to know what you're doing and why you're doing it.'
Zack nodded, but for the first time in his life he knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it. He'd been flattered by Silas Sterne's invitation to attend the Academy, and he'd given it his best shot, but the life of a bum-fighter was clearly not for him.
âThanks,' said Zack. âThanks for everything. But the Kicker's right. I'm not a bum-fighter. I never was and I never will be. I just want to go home.'
âBelieve me, I know what you're feeling, Zack,' said Silas, taking his hand off Zack's shoulder and standing up. He rubbed his temples and sighed. âIt's not an easy life for any of us, but you can't escape your destiny.'
âBut that's just it!' Zack told him. âI don't have a destiny. I got lucky, that's all.'
âDon't underestimate yourself, Zack,' said Silas, staring into Zack's eyes. âYou can go if you wish, but you'll be back.'
âYou're wrong,' said Zack, tearing his eyes away from the Bum Hunter's stare. He turned and opened the door.
âCome back here!' yelled the Kicker from the other end of the room. âThat's an order!'
Zack didn't reply.
His bum, however, did.
But not in English.
Zack's eyes began to water. He slammed the door behind him and ran down the steps.
He wasn't sure how the Kicker might react to a provocation like that, and he didn't want to be around to find out.
He heard the door open behind him.
âYou should have got rid of that bum when you had the chance, boy!' yelled the Kicker.
Zack just kept running.
âCome on,' he said to his bum. âWe're going home.'
After a while, when he was a safe distance from the Kicker, Zack slowed down.
He was hot.
He wiped his brow and shielded his eyes against the midday sun.
The Academy was deserted. Normally at this time of day the place would have been teeming with rookie bum-fightersâthe crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of the Junior Bum-fighters' Leagueâbut it was summer and they had all gone home for the holidays, leaving only the
Kicker, the Smacker, Silas Sterne and his daughter Eleanor on duty.
The Academy was spread across two hills and boasted a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, making it virtually impregnable against surprise bum attacks. Silas Sterne had started the Academyâwhich he liked to call his âranch'âwith the small fortune he'd amassed from the many bum-hunting bounties he'd collected over his long career. He lived in a two-storey mansion on top of one of the hills. On the other hill there was a small open-air chapel and cemetery where some of the finest bum-fighters in the history of bum-fighting were buried, including Silas Sterne's wife.
Zack walked on, between the two hills and past the yard where they broke in the dangerous wild bums that Silas would often bring back from his travels. Past the rodeo ring where the best and bravest of the recruits would try to ride them without getting bucked off, blasted off or, worst of all, sat upon. Past the Smackatorium and the Kickatorium, the two enclosed gymnasiums where the finer points of smacking and kicking bums were taught. Past the Kissatorium, which, since they'd been unable to secure a replacement for the Kisser, was in the process of being demolished to make way for a bank of high-powered handwashing units.
Zack smiled as he remembered the first and most important rule of bum-fighting: always wash your hands afterwards. At least he'd learnt something, he thought.
He walked past the laboratory where Eleanor
conducted her research and created the silicon replacement bums which were standard issue for all bum-fighting trainees, except for Zack who had a special exemption to retain his own bum in recognition of the fact that they were a team. On he went, past the dining hall and finally across to the little rows of domed cabins that housed the trainees.
Just as Zack was about to walk up the steps to his cabin, he heard Eleanor calling out behind him.
He turned to see her running across the yard, his utility belt in her hands. She reached the bottom of the stairs, breathless from her run, and held the belt out towards him.
âI found your belt,' she said. âIt was in the bin outside the classroom.'
Zack nodded, but made no attempt to take it from her. âThanks, Eleanor,' he said, âbut I won't be needing it anymore.'
Eleanor frowned. âWhat do you mean you won't be needing it?'
âIt's just a kid's toy,' said Zack, avoiding the question. âYou said so yourself.'
Eleanor looked embarrassed. âYes, when I first saw it,' she admitted. âBut that was before I saw how well it worked. Even I wear one now. Look!'
Eleanor lifted her shirt slightly to reveal an identical bum-fighter's utility belt complete with wooden clothespegs, a roll of toilet paper, a fluffy pink toilet seat cover, a small rolled-up net, a row of corks, a set of sewing needles, a box of matches, a tennis racquet, a cake of soap and a large gold buckle inscribed with the words âBE BOLD. BE BRAVE. BE FREE.'
Zack smiled. I'll soon be free all right, he thought. Free of all this bum-fighting nonsense.
Eleanor smiled back at Zack and held out Zack's belt. When he didn't take it, she frowned. âWell,' she said, âdo you want it or not?'
Zack shook his head. âNot,' he said. âI'm going home.'
âHome?' said Eleanor. âFor the holidays?'
âNo,' said Zack. âFor good. I've quit.'
âWhat did you say?' said Eleanor, looking shocked.
âI quit!' said Zack.
âQuit?' said Eleanor.
âQuit!' said Zack.
âYou're joking, right?' said Eleanor.
âNo,' Zack said. âI'm not joking. I'm quitting.'
âBut you're a bum-fighter!' said Eleanor. âBum-fighters don't quit!'
âI'm not a bum-fighter,' said Zack quietly, âand I never will be.'
He turned and entered his sparsely furnished cabin. There was a bed and a locker and, apart from a pair of standard-issue bum-fighter's boots, that was all. He reached up on top of his locker, pulled down his bum-fighter's backpack and dropped it onto his bed.
âYou can run, but you can't hide,' Eleanor said, coming into the cabin.
âWhat's that supposed to mean?' said Zack, unzipping his backpack.
âYou know what it means,' said Eleanor. âYou're a bum-fighter, Zack, whether you like it or not.'
Zack shook his head. âI'm no bum-fighter,' he said,
âand you know it. And so does the Kicker. I get killed in the bum-fighting simulator every time!'
âWell what did you expect?' said Eleanor, losing patience with Zack. âYou think you can just waltz in here, pick up a few fancy tricks and waltz out again? Bum-fighting is hard, Zack. You're going to make mistakes. We all did! Even the Kicker!'
âWell, you wouldn't know it, the way he carries on!' said Zack. He opened his locker and pulled out his pyjamas. âHe makes me feel like an idiot.'
âIt's just his manner,' said Eleanor. âAnd I know he's been even more irritable than usual the last couple of weeks. But don't take it so personally.'
âHow else can I take it?' said Zack, shoving his pyjamas into his pack. âHe told me I should have gotten rid of my bum.'
âWell, he's wrong,' Eleanor said. âI had doubts about your bum at first too, but you make a good team. You've got a great advantage over the rest of us.'
âNot that great,' said Zack. âWe can't even complete a single simulated E-mission!'
âBut you defeated the Great White Bum,' said Eleanor. âHow do you explain that?'
Zack swung his backpack onto his back and turned to Eleanor. âLuck,' he said. âJust dumb luck. That's all. Anyway, if having your own bum is such an advantage, why don't you get yours back?'
âImpossible,' said Eleanor sadly. âAfter the Great White Bum killed my mother I vowed revenge. As soon as I was old enough I took the sacred bum-fighter's oath, cut my bum loose and replaced it with
a false one. That was years ago, Zack. I've got no idea where it is now.'
There was an awkward silence as Eleanor stared at Zack.
Zack, feeling very uncomfortable, stuffed a couple of anti-bum energy bars and a bottle of water into his pack and then shut his locker door. âWell,' he said, zipping up his jacket. âI guess I'll be seeing you.'
Eleanor didn't respond.
Zack shrugged, stepped around her and headed towards the door, but Eleanor spun around and blocked his exit.
âDon't go,' she said. âDon't throw it all away.'
âI have to go,' said Zack. âIt's obvious I haven't got what it takes.'
âYou've got exactly what it takes, Zack,' said Eleanor, getting mad. âBut you give up too easily! You're a quitter, Zack Freeman!'
âWell that's a relief!' said Zack. âAt least I'm good at something. I don't suppose you could give me a lift to my gran's house?'
Eleanor stared at him, her eyes burning. âI'll do no such thing!' she hissed.
âFine,' said Zack. âThen I'll walk!' He pushed past her and stomped down the steps of the cabin, willing himself not to look back.
âI never did like this place, to tell you the truth,' said his bum as they passed through the front gates. âGood riddance, I say.'
âYou know,' Zack said, âfor once I agree with you.'
For those of you who are not familiar with the troubled history of Zack and his bum, check the glossary at the end of the book under the relevant entry i.e. âZack's bum'.
eanwhile, many millions of kilometres away from Earth on the other side of the solar system, a tiny yellow spark flew through the freezing depths of space.
But it wasn't a spark.
It just looked like that from Earth.
If you'd been close enough, you would have seen it was a bum.