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Authors: Tom Sniegoski

Billy Hooten

BOOK: Billy Hooten
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For more than forty years,
Yearling has been the leading name
in classic and award-winning literature
for young readers.

Yearling books feature children's
favorite authors and characters,
providing dynamic stories of adventure,
humor, history, mystery, and fantasy.

Trust Yearling paperbacks to entertain,
inspire, and promote the love of reading
in all children.

OTHER YEARLING BOOKS YOU WILL ENJOY

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ALMOST STARRING SKINNYBONES,
Barbara Park

For Gerald W. Cole. I think you would've really liked
this Hooten kid.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always, much love and thanks to LeeAnne and Mulder for putting up with my nonsense.

Special gold-plated thanks go out to Stephanie Lane for not calling the men in the white coats when she read this proposal, and to Liesa Abrams for introducing us.

Thanks also are due to Christopher Golden, Dave “I don't like it” Kraus, Eric “You want me to draw what?” Powell, John & Jana, Harry & Hugo, Don Kramer, Greg Skopis, Mom & Dad Sniegoski, David Carroll, Ken Curtis, Mom & Dad Fogg, Lisa Clancy, Zach Howard, Kim & Abby, Jon & Flo, Pat & Bob, Pete Donaldson, Jay Sanders, Timothy Cole and the Flock of Fury down at Cole's Comics in the city of sin.

This one is for the crazy kid inside all of us.

CHAPTER 1

B
illy Hooten was weird.

At least, that was what everybody said.

He had always loved things strange and unusual. Halloween was his favorite holiday; he liked it even more than Christmas. He loved building things like robots, although they very rarely worked, and monster movies, especially old ones, and comic books, but even better was drawing his very own monster comic book. If all that made him weird, then Billy supposed people were right.

On a cool Saturday morning in September, Billy was doing one of those things he loved most—sitting on the old stone wall that separated his backyard from the
Pine Hill Cemetery, reading the latest issue of
Snake.
He'd picked it up from the Hero's Hovel Comic Book Shop on his way home from school the previous day. It was issue number 344, featuring the Snake's most evil nemesis, the Mongoose.

He was getting close to the end of the comic, which he always hated because it meant waiting another whole month for the Snake's next adventure. He held his breath as he slowly turned to the last page. The Mongoose had captured the Snake and chained him to a missile, ready to shoot the hero out into space.

And then Billy read a comic book fan's most dreaded words—TO BE CONTINUED!

He groaned aloud and put the comic down, trying to relax. It would be a month before the next issue of
Snake
was available.
A month isn't so bad,
he tried to convince himself. It was only four weeks, and four weeks was only a little bit longer than three. He was pretty sure he could make it, but just in case, he decided he'd reread all the old issues in his
Snake
collection. By the time he was finished, he figured issue number 345 would be just about ready to hit the shelves.

Billy immediately felt calmer and was about to head back inside to his room when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. From his perch atop the wall, he looked out over the sea of headstones and
crypts that had been a part of his life since his family moved to this house on Pine Hill nine years ago. Most of the other kids thought the cemetery was creepy, but twelve-year-old Billy had never had a problem with it. Sure, it could be kinda scary when it was really dark and the moon was full, but he liked that sort of thing.

Billy squinted. He thought the movement he'd seen might have been Tommy Stanley and his little brother, Stevie, from two streets over. The Stanley boys were mostly into wrestling, but they liked comic books, too. Billy certainly didn't find wrestling as cool as comics, but he had learned to be tolerant of other people's likes. He stood up on the wall and waved to the boys, wondering if they had read the latest issue of
Snake.

“Hey, Hooten!” one of the boys called out.

The two figures were heading directly toward him, walking down one of the many footpaths that wound through the old cemetery.

“Whatcha doin’ up there, making a nest?” asked the other.

The boys were close enough now that Billy could see them, and suddenly he realized that it wasn't the Stanley brothers at all. Indeed, these boys were much worse—Randy Kulkowski and his weaselly sidekick,
Mitchell Spivey. When these two were together, it spelled trouble with a capital
T.

“Oh, crap,” Billy muttered, his stomach doing backflips that would have made the midget acrobats he had seen at the circus last year green with envy.

“Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” Randy called out as Mitchell cackled beside him. “I'm talking to you, Owlboy,” he taunted. “Why ain't you answering me?”

Billy laughed nervously. “That's pretty funny, Randy. Can't get enough of those Owlboy jokes.”

Billy had hated Randy Kulkowski for as long as he could remember. He hated everything about him, from the top of his gigantic square head to the tips of his clown-sized feet. Randy was to Billy what the Mongoose was to the Snake, and the two had been in every grade together since their first day of kindergarten. Billy remembered his first encounter with Randy. It had involved a medieval battleaxe made out of LEGOs. He reached up and rubbed his scalp, certain he could still feel the bump there. He often wondered what horrible thing he might have done in a previous life to be cursed with the likes of Randy Kulkowski.

Randy and Mitchell left the path and clomped across the recently mowed grass. They carried baseball bats slung over their shoulders, looking like cavemen
out hunting for food. He guessed that Randy and Mitchell would have been pretty comfortable living in caveman times. Too bad they hadn't, because that meant they were here to bother him now.

“We were going over to Berry Park to hit some balls, and I said to Mitch here, ‘Hey, look, there's my good friend Billy Hooten waving to us, maybe he'd like to come along,’ isn't that right, Mitchell?” Randy asked, a grin that gave Billy the urge to pee spreading across his extra-wide caveman face.

Mitchell giggled like a crazy person, running the back of his hand across his constantly runny nose. “Yeah, man,” he answered in his high-pitched voice. “You said, ‘Hey, there's Hooten the Owlboy, let's get him to play ball with us.’ ”

Hooten the Owlboy. Randy had come up with that nickname way back in kindergarten. He'd said Billy's round glasses and last name reminded him of an owl. So Owlboy Billy had become. Billy didn't particularly care for the nickname, especially when Randy used it around the other kids at school. But he guessed it could have been worse.

“So what do you think?” Randy asked with a twisted grin, striking the palm of his hand repeatedly with the baseball bat. “You comin’ or not?”

There was no way Billy was going anywhere with
Randy and Mitchell. Baseballs wouldn't be the only things hit with those bats.

“Geez, Randy,” Billy began, his mind quickly scrolling through his list of foolproof excuses. “I'd love to, but…”

Sorry, I have to take a bath.
(Not late enough in the day for that one.)

I have to go with my parents to visit my aunt in the hospital who just had both lungs taken out.
(Too dramatic.)

I have a really bad case of diarrhea.
(Nope. That one might result in his nickname being changed to something really clever like Poopboy or Captain Craptastic.)

I have to stick around and do my chores.
(Bingo! Who could argue with chores? They were a sad fact of life for every kid.)

“… I've got to stick around here and do my chores.” Billy shrugged and shook his head, doing his best to look disappointed. “I woulda liked to, really, but—”

Billy was interrupted by the squeak of the back door opening. He turned to see his mother coming out of the house.

“Billy, honey, who are you talking to?” she called. She had her purse slung over her arm and her car keys out.

“Honey,”
Mitchell mocked in a low voice. He giggled evilly.

“Um, just some … friends.”

His mother walked across the lawn to Billy and stood on her tiptoes to look over the wall at the grinning faces of Randy and Mitchell.

“Oh, hello, boys,” she said. “What's going on?”

“Baseball,” Randy grunted, showing her his bat and dangling glove.

A huge smile spread across Mrs. Hooten's face as she turned to Billy. “Baseball? You're going to play
baseball
?”

His mother always got excited when she thought he was about to do something she considered normal. She and his dad weren't too crazy about the stuff Billy liked: comic books, monster movies, robots. They were constantly telling him that those things would give him brain damage and trying to trick him into doing stuff “regular” kids did. Like baseball.

“I would've loved to,” he explained. “But as I was saying, my chores are going to pretty much keep me tied up for the day.”

“Chores shmores!” his mother said, throwing her hands in the air. “You just go off and have a good time playing with your friends. We'll worry about chores later, how's that?”

Billy's “friends” smirked at him like a pair of sharks at an all-you-can-eat people buffet.

He had to think fast.

“Okay,” he said, pretending he was about to jump down off the wall to the cemetery side. “I just hope Dad doesn't get mad.”

“Why would Dad get mad?” his mother asked, a puzzled frown on her face.

Mrs. Hooten had a really bad memory, and Billy was hoping he could put that to good use now. “Remember he wanted the garage cleaned so he could get to the snowblower?”

His father hated to shovel and swore after every snowstorm that he was going to buy the biggest snow-blower he could find.

“Snowblower?” his mother asked, a look of real confusion on her face now. She glanced up into the September sky as if searching for the first drifting flakes. “But we don't have a snowblower … do we?”

“No,” Billy said. “But we should. According to the
Farmer's Almanac,
we're in for one bad winter, as much as a hundred feet of snow.”

“Oh my,” his mother gasped. “We really should buy a snowblower!”

“That's a great idea,” Billy said. “But where could we keep it?” He rubbed his chin, pretending to be deep in thought. “There's always the garage, but that's such a mess ….”

“Then we'll just have to clean it,” his mother said
firmly, obviously having made up her mind. “Today. Who knows when the first storm will hit?” She turned her nervous gaze to the perfectly clear fall sky.

“So that means I can't play ball with my friends?” Billy asked, allowing just the right amount of disappointment into his voice.

“I'm sorry, honey,” Mrs. Hooten said apologetically, reaching out to pat his knee. “But there'll be no baseball until that garage is cleaned.”

“But Mom …,” Billy began to protest, giving the performance of a lifetime.

“No, I've made up my mind, Billy,” she told him. “I'm sure your friends understand.”

Billy tried to look sad as he spoke to the two creeps below him. “Sorry, guys,” he said, shrugging. “I tried, but chores come first. Maybe some other time.”

Like when the two of you learn to walk and chew gum at the same time,
Billy thought as he watched Randy and Mitchell wander away, already losing interest in him. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“They seem like nice boys,” his mom said.

“I guess,” Billy replied.

“Don't worry, honey.” She reached out and squeezed his hand. “I'm sure there'll be plenty of other opportunities to play with your friends.”

“Oh, joy,” Billy said sarcastically, trying to formulate
a plan that would allow him to avoid Randy for the rest of his life. The only one he could think of involved moving to Antarctica.

Billy's mother began to rummage through her purse. He guessed she was looking for her car keys and reminded her that she was still holding them in her hand.

“I swear I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached,” she said with a laugh, moving away from the wall and toward the driveway.

Billy pictured all the places his mother could leave her head. It would probably be a full-time job to keep an eye on her noggin. He grabbed his comic book and hopped down off the wall, following her toward the car.

She stopped and turned to him. “What were we talking about again? I've completely lost my train of thought.”

This happened to his mother a lot. Not only did she lose the train, but frequently she lost the tracks as well. No matter, it meant he wouldn't have to clean the garage today after all.

“You were saying you had to run some errands,” Billy offered.

“That's right,” she said, pulling her shopping list from her purse. “I've got to go grocery shopping. Want to come?”

Billy had a hard time deciding which would be worse, hanging with Randy and Mitchell or going grocery
shopping with his mother. The two were pretty much a tie in the most-horrible-way-to-spend-a-Saturday-afternoon category.

“No, that's all right,” he answered. “I've got some things I have to do around here.”

“I'm sure you do,” she said with a smile, ruffling his sandy blond hair as she got into the car. “Keep out of trouble.”

“I'll do my best,” he called out as she carefully backed down the driveway and out onto the street.

BOOK: Billy Hooten
5.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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