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You Pedal, I'll Steer (part 13)

I guess Alec's plot to blow Eric up didn't work out so well, and it didn't help get us any closer to Dad's permission to go to the bike race. But there was still time. In the meantime, there was plenty to do...


Friday was the day of our pet show. Finally! A day I actually wanted to going to school. I’d practiced the magic trick with Gully before school. It worked every time. Like real magic. I could hardly wait to show the class.
I thought I was going to be the antsy one all morning but the whole class was out of control. By lunchtime Mr. Pratt was so mad I thought he’d call the whole thing off. He even yelled at the girls, telling everyone to sit down and shut up. When the lunch bell finally went off we scrambled out of there so fast to run home and get our pets.
Gully was waiting by the door. He knew we were going somewhere. I split a cheese and pickle sandwich with him. Then I made sure I had a stick of gum in my pocket and we sailed off the porch and back to school like we’d always gone together. He jumped around like crazy  pulling me so hard along the sidewalk I had to run else I’d fall over.
This was great! We were going to win this show. I just knew it.
In the schoolyard all the kids were buzzing about the fifth grade pet show. All the other kids were jealous and gathered in clumps around the dogs and other animals. Gully got plenty of attention, too. He ate it up and licked everyone’s face.
I played it cool like I did this every day. “His name is Gulliver and he only answers to me,” I explained as I kept moving with Gully tugging me along so hard he choked.
“What kind of dog is he?”
“Can I pet him?”
“I have guppy.”
I didn’t see Payson or Dozer or Puny. Too bad. I wanted to introduce them to the business end of my dog.
From right inside the front doors, I could hear barking and yelling and laughing down the halls. Before we went up to class, I kneeled down in front of Gully. His tongue was hanging a couple of feet out and he kept looking around like he was ready for some fun.
“Okay, Revillug.” I said, petting his head. “Let’s really show them what we got. This is my one chance to prove I’m not a nobody. Okay?”
He lapped my face but I don’t think he was paying attention.
The classroom was a zoo. There were big and little dogs, cats, birds and even a couple of fish. Everyone was yowling and shouting at their pets. Some were brushing their animals and a couple of kids were chasing each other around the room. The only one I recognized was Dinah’s dog, Luger, a white mutt with a black eye patch. There was even a St. Bernard. Too cool.
A cat ran between my legs and Gully took off across two desks after it. Mr. Pratt stood in the middle yelling orders. No one listened. That made me smile.
Luger attacking Gully and the whole thing turned into a huge fight. Everyone screamed and grabbed their pets. I tried to snatch Gully’s leash but it whipped around like a snake. Dinah finally got hold of Luger’s neck and we tore them apart.
A second later a gym whistle blew right in my ear. Everyone shut up.
Mr. Pratt said, “I might have known it was your dog, John.”
I might have known he’d blame me, I felt like saying. I noticed he didn’t say anything to Dinah about Luger.
“Just take your seat and keep control of”
I yanked Gully to my seat.
Pratt blew the whistle again. “If we can have a little order, I want you all to get your pets up and sitting quietly,” he looked at me. “on top of your desks.”
There was a lot scuffling and ordering around and laughing. It wasn’t so easy getting all the dogs to jump up on a desk. I couldn’t get Gully to do it. I had to lift him up and he jumped down a bunch of times before he finally stayed.
When the class was sort of quiet Mr. Pratt said, “We’ll go around the room now so you can introduce your pet.”
Everybody told their pet’s names and what kind of animal it was. It was a lot of fun. We saw everything. Kevin had a parrot, there were a couple of budgies and a John Payson had a canary. The cats were all kind of scared and stayed in their cages. I didn’t blame them with so many dogs in the room.
Gully barked through the whole thing. Luger did, too. I tried holding his nose closed but he wiggled free and kept barking. Dinah kept saying shush to Luger. We looked helplessly at each other when Pratt kept telling us to control our dogs. I sure was glad my dog wasn’t the only one that wouldn’t shut up.
Debbie told us about her Siamese cat, 99. Donald Pleasant showed off his brown Pekinese dog, Belle. She had a big red bow around her neck and wasn’t any bigger than Debbie’s cat. All the girls oohed and aahed over Belle. When my turn came I said Gulliver was Polish Pointer. Pratt said there was no such breed.
What did he know?
When the talent show began each kid took his pet to the front to perform a trick. One of the cats walked on their hind legs trying catch a stuffed mouse. A couple of dogs rolled over or barked on command. John Payson’s canary sat on his finger while he fed it a seed. 99 did tricks with a yo-yo. No one had a magic trick like mine.
Donald got up with Belle. We were all sunk. He got down on all fours and crawled along the floor while Belle walked across his back. Then, still sitting on him, she put her paws up to beg. The whole class cheered. No way anybody could top that.
Gully didn’t even get a chance. Someone slammed his tail between two desks. He let out a yelp and jumped straight for Luger. Dinah lost hold of her leash and they both started fighting again. The whole place went wild. All the dogs got loose and a couple of birds.
Mr. Pratt blamed it all on me. He screeched like a crow and his face got all blotchy and purple. “That dog shouldn’t be allowed out in public. It’s a disgrace to this show.” He pointed at the door. “Send it home.”
“Ha, ha, Lunn,” said someone. Other kids laughed.
I yanked Gulliver out of the dog show and down the hall.
I stomped down the steps and out the boys door. I was steaming mad. Gully had ruined it. Ruined my chance to win best dog. Ruined any chance that Debbie Bell would ever like me. Or anyone else.
“Go home!” I told him. “I don’t know why you did this to me. I never treated you mean.”
He looked up at me, panting happily like he’d had the best day of his life. I took him out to the edge of the school yard and left him there. I wished I could go home with him. I really didn’t want to go back inside.
Upstairs, Mr. Pratt was getting everyone ready to take the dogs for a walk in Glen Stewart Park. I felt so stupid about sending Gulliver home that I wished they’d leave me behind. I’d gladly take a detention. But the kids that didn’t have dogs were all going. So I had to.
“Nice trick, Chipmunk,” Dozer Faraday laughed. “Can you teach me to make a dog disappear like that?”
“Ha. Ha,” I said, trying to look like it didn’t bother me. “How about we all disappear when we go to sixth grade and you flunk out again?”
His lids got low and mean and he smacked my shoulder. It hurt. It was worth it.
When everyone was ready, Pratt led the way downstairs and out the girl’s door. As I got to the door I could hear Pratt screeching orders, dogs barking, and kids yelling. Served him right.
When I got out, I saw why. Gulliver was jumping up on everyone! As soon as he saw me his whole rear wagged he was so happy.
“Gully! Here boy!” I called, “How did you get here? You were supposed to go home!” I stole a look at Mr. Pratt. Purple was creeping up his neck and his eyes were popping out more than usual. I grabbed Gully’s collar and waited to see what would happen next.
After looking around at everyone he stared me down and choked out, “You keep control of that mongrel while we’re on this walk.”
“Yes, sir.” I said. “He’ll be fine. He behaves better outside.”
He was better than fine. It was a great walk. I forgot my leash in the classroom so Gully ran loose the whole time. Out in the park, he got soaked in the stream, sprayed everyone with water, bit John Payson on the leg, growled at anyone that tried to bother me, and had another fight with Luger. I kept ordering him to ‘come’ and ‘stop’ and said he was a bad dog. He didn’t pay any attention. He got all the dogs barking and fighting with each and even had Dozer scared.
Mr. Pratt yelled at us until he couldn’t talk. He was so mad! But what was I supposed to do? When we got back to school, he sent me home early with my dog and I missed the rest of the pet show.
I gave Gully a really big lump of cheese when we got home. I didn’t impress Debbie, or win any prizes, but ruining old Pratt’s day and seeing Payson and Dozer running for their lives was worth it.
I didn’t even mind that Alec got grounded because two more cigarettes blew up in Eric’s face. Alec said it served Eric right for being too stupid to throw the pack away after the first one. For me, it meant the bike race was off. One less thing to go wrong.
By the time I went to bed, I was worried. Half of me was still smiling about what Gully did but the rest of me knew I was dead on Monday. The Payson gang would kill me as soon as I showed up. Worms never sleep. And what about Mr. Pratt? He’d blame me for everything and treat me worse. My life was over.
“Alec? You still awake?”
“Present and accounted for.”
“Can I tell you about a secret what happened to me last Saturday?”
He got up and climbed up into my bunk. “I knew something was wrong. What’s up?”
Lying in the dark on my back, I spilled it all. Told him about going to the graveyard, meeting Payson and Dozer, then walking all the way home. “Add that on to the stuff that’s gone on all week, I think I’m still cursed.”
“No, you’re not cursed.” He paused. “Listen I got a confession. Promise you won’t get mad?”
“Mad? About what?”
“Just promise.”
“Okay. I promise.”
He didn’t talk for a bit. Then he said, “I made all that stuff up about the curse.”
I rolled on my side to face him. “What do you mean? What stuff?”
“The whole thing. About Miss Hatten eating her kids or burying them. I made up the junk about breathing the deaders, too. I was just teasing. But when you to took it so serious I didn’t tell you it was a joke.”
I wasn’t sure I got it. “You telling me I’ve been spooked about that crazy old lady for nothing? You kept telling me I had to go there.”
“I didn’t think you really would.” He laughed a little. “You got to admit, I had you going, right?”
I wasn’t laughing. I felt more stupid that Dozer could ever be. How could I fall for something as lame as that? Now he’d tell everyone what I did and I’d never live it down. After weeks of living in terror, I end up being the butt of his joke.
“Go away!” I snapped and pushed him so hard he fell off the bunk and crashed into a pile of junk on the floor below.
“You okay?” I asked.
“No. I could have got seriously injured falling from up there.”
“Boys!” called a deep Dad voice from thin air. “If you don’t go to sleep, I’ll come up there and personally put your lights out!”
Moaning and griping, Alec crunched and stumbled back into bed.
“Goodnight, Dad.”
“Goodnight. Dad.” CHAPTER 20

Saturday morning was drizzly. Alec didn’t talk much. Neither did I. We were both half asleep and buried in our own thoughts. I was still fuming about what he did to me. If I hadn’t bought everything he said about that stupid curse things would be going much better. How could he betray me like that? I know he’s a tease sometimes, but still...
After we got our bundles he told me to meet him back there when I was done. “Don’t waste any time daydreaming. Just deliver your papers and be here.”
He didn’t need to tell me. I didn’t feel like daydreaming anyway. When I got back to Queen Street, I was surprised to see him waiting with the Tidely-Idley.
“For the record, John, I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly, “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt or really make a trip all the way out to Woodbine. I thought you’d see I was joking and when you didn’t...well, I shouldn’t have kept it up.”
It was nice that he apologized but I was still in a mess. “Okay.”
“Are we still friends?”
“Are you kidding? Of course!”
We shook on it. I felt better.
“Good. Now get on. We have a long ride.”
Not good. “Where are we going?” I asked. “Are we running away from home?”
“Don’t be stupid. We’re going downtown on our own to win that race.”
“You mean we’re going to sneak away?” I looked up at the dark clouds and wet roads. “You want to ride downtown now? Are you serious? It’s not even eight o’clock.”
“Right. Traffic is light. See?” He waved a hand around at the empty street. Then he pointed towards downtown.“We stay on Queen and follow the tracks to Yonge, just like when we take the streetcar.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No.” He was dead serious. Ouch. “Once we win the race everything will be fine. Dad won’t be mad and you’ll be a hero in your class.”
“After that pet show? I doubt it.”
“Sure. Pratt will have new respect for you.”
I shook my head. “He’d flunk me even if I won the Olympics.”
Alec grinned wickedly. “He won’t have a choice. You’ll be a winner all over the city. Our picture will be in all the papers, people will praise our invention.”
“Don’t be too sure.” Half of me wanted to go. The big half said it was crazy.
“Debbie Bell will fall for you.” The pig knew just where to hit me. “You’re so strong and creative,” he said in a high girl’s voice. “How did you ever think up that wonderful bike and then have the courage to ride it all the way downtown to win that race?” He clasped his hands beside his head and batted his eyes.
“You’re bad.” I said and slugged his shoulder.
“You know I’m right.”
Maybe this was the cure. What did I know? If I was famous all over the city, maybe she would notice me and the bullies would leave me alone. Yeah, right. And maybe there really is a Santa Claus. Well...there were tooth fairies.
His eyes got all serious and he said, “Don’t worry about the bullies. I owe you that. They won’t bother you again - ever. No matter if you go today or not.”
“Really? How can you do that?”
“Are you kidding? What do you think having three big brothers are for? If Jeff gets a whiff of you getting pushed around, try and stop him from introducing those rats to a two by four.”
“He’d do that?”
Alec got on and held her steady. “So will I. Come on. What do you say? Time’s a wastin’.”
I don’t know why he could talk me into anything. But he could. I knew we’d catch big trouble over this. I didn’t know what the right thing to do was anymore. All the choices were bad. I climbed into the cockpit.
We wobbled to a start, then quickly picked up speed. The storefronts whizzed by and we were halfway to Woodbine before we knew what was happening. We must have looked pretty strange. A couple of kids crammed on a strange two seater bike barreling along as fast as the cars. I thought we were going too fast. But at this speed Alec was right about one thing: we’d be downtown before we knew it.
A couple of traffic lights later and I had no idea where we were. I kept my eyes on the road and nothing else. We bombed along dodging potholes and cars. It was fun. Way down low like that, I could almost touch the street. The wind whistled up my nose and made my eyes water. I didn’t care. Just keeping my mind on driving was full time work. No time to be scared. It was like the world around us completely disappeared leaving just me and Alec and the machine. If we could go this fast when we got to the race we’d win for sure.
Way up ahead a green light was coming up fast.
“Lay to,” Alec said.
I thought we were already at top speed but Alec poured it on. The Tidely took off like we just fired rocket boosters. I was Buzz Aldrin blasting off into orbit in the Gemini. Wow! I could barely keep the front wheel straight. At this speed we’d be orbiting the Earth before breakfast. ‘T minus five seconds for separation...’
“Look out!” he screamed and we started skidding.
I heard screeching tires and felt a blinding pain in my side. Me and the bike got tossed like a bull had butted us into the air. The mess landed with a dull crunch on hard cement. My bones were on fire and I couldn’t see anything.