Authors: Sigmund Brouwer
Copyright Â© Sigmund Brouwer 2006
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Brouwer, Sigmund, 1959-
Sewer rats / Sigmund Brouwer.
ISBN 1-55143-527-6 (bound) ISBN 1-55143-488-1 (pbk.)
I. Title. II. Series.
PS8553.R68467S48 2006Â Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â Â C2006-900470-6
Summary: A group known as Sewer Rats take up the
challenge of an underground game of paintball.
First published in the United States, 2006
Library of Congress Control Number
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), the Canada Council for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
Cover design: Lynn O'Rourke
Cover photography: Dayle Sutherland
Orca Book PublishersÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626, Stn. BÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â PO Box 468
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Printed and bound in Canada
Printed on 50% post-consumer recycled paper,
processed chlorine free using vegetable, low VOC inks.
09 08 07 06 â¢ 5 4 3 2 1
If you ever visit a sewage lagoon, you'll discover what I did. It only takes one good sniff to know it's better to be on the outside, looking in. Sewage lagoons are worse than nasty.
Put it this way. Everything you flush down your toilet goes to the sewage lagoon. That should explain enough.
If you think the contents of one flush is bad, imagine all the toilets in your city
filling a pond. If you look closeâand you don't want to, trust meâyou can even see wads of mushy toilet paper floating in all the brown goop.
Of course, kids aren't supposed to be near the lagoons. There are high steel-link fences to keep people out. On both sides of the lagoon are holding tanks as big as houses. And between those tanks, walkways with guardrails cross over the lagoons.
The new kid, Carter Saylor, was ready to walk above a sewage pond. He wasn't going to use the walkway. His plan was to balance on the guardrail with all the brown goopy stuff right below.
I was happy to be on the outside with my friends, Micky and Lisa. We leaned against the fence, and it bent inward with our weight. I had my fingers wrapped around the linked steel. The sun felt good on my back.
“He's nuts,” I said. This was so obvious that Micky and Lisa didn't reply.
Carter pushed off the walkway and onto the rail. He had ragged blond hair almost to
his shoulders. He wore black jeans, a black T-shirt and black Nikes.
“Carter must want to be a Sewer Rat real bad,” Micky said. “I never thought he would agree to this.”
We weren't an official club. But we were known as the Sewer Rats, along with a couple of other kids at school. We fought paintball wars against kids from other schools. But we call them tunnel wars, because we have our paintball fights in the huge pipes of the city storm drain system. Micky takes challenges from kids at other schools who have heard about us and sets up each new war. In the six months since we began, we haven't lost once. It helps that the Sewer Rats know the tunnels better than anyone else.
“He's stupid,” Lisa said, staring at Carter. Her voice was angry. “Ugly and stupid.”
I half turned my head to look at her.
“Get your eyes off me,” Lisa told me. “If I want to think he's stupid, I can. And I can say it too. Unless you want to make something of it.”
I've seen Lisa punch guys full in the mouth.
“Nope,” I said. “He might be stupid. But I'm not.”
Her frown told me it would also be stupid to ask why she hated the new kid so much. All Carter had done was ask us if he could join the Sewer Rats.
Normally we'd let kids try a tunnel war. If a kid wasn't scared to be alone in the darkness below the streets, they could join.
But Lisa had told Carter that all Sewer Rats passed a test at the lagoons. This test: sneaking in and walking the guardrail above the toilet stuff below.
“Stupid or not,” Micky said, watching Carter carefully, “you've got to admit he's got guts.”
Carter was in plain view on the guardrail. A security guard might notice him any second. His arms were stretched wide as he balanced himself, taking one careful step at a time.
“Guts? I hope he gets caught,” Lisa said. “Or falls in.”
Her tone made me wonder if there was something I didn't know about Lisa and Carter. Maybe Carter had made the mistake of asking her out. Maybe he wanted to join the Sewer Rats because he wanted to impress her. That would have been dumb. Lisa didn't like guys in that way. Everyone in school knew that. Except for maybe the new kid.
He was now halfway across, walking the guardrail like it was a tightrope.
I thought of the brown toilet stuff in the pond below him. I thought of what might happen if a security guard came by. I started to get a scared feeling in my stomach, a ball of spiders that makes me want to throw up. The same feeling I get every time I go into the tunnels for a paintball war.
Zantor, soldier of the galaxy
, I whispered in my head.
Zantor has removed all emotion as he watches the rookie soldier battle the alien swamp
By creating this pretend world, I was able to make the ball of spiders stop wriggling in my stomach. I did this when I was scared âin school before a test, and in the tunnels.
Scared as I was in the tunnels, there was no way I could let Micky or Lisa know it. Ever. The Sewer Rats were my only friends. I was more afraid of losing them than I was of the tunnels.
The swamp test provides amusement for galaxy soldiers
The spiders of panic in my stomach stopped wiggling.
Lisa stepped back from the fence. Sounds of nylon and zipper told me that Lisa was opening her backpack. She began to dig through it.
I didn't take my eyes off Carter.
“What's this?” Micky said to Lisa a few second later.
“What's it look like?” she said. “A violin?”
I finally looked over. Lisa had an air horn, the kind that uses pressurized air to make noise. Loud noise.
“Think he'll be able to handle it?” Lisa asked.
“You wouldn't,” I said.
“Want to bet?”
“Don't do it,” Micky said.
“Don't do what? This?” She pushed the button on the air horn and the sound almost broke my eardrums.
At the walkway, Carter staggered like he had jumped a little at the sudden sound.
Micky spun and shouted at her. “Are you nuts? Don'tâ”
Lisa cut Micky off by blaring the air horn again.
Lisa blared the air horn in more short blasts.
Two things happened by the lagoon. A big security guard came running around the corner of a holding tank. And Carter saw the security guard and lost his balance. As he fell his head bounced off the guardrail.
Carter dropped into the goop like a giant rock. No splashing around to swim. No coming up for air.
The security guard shouted.
There was still no splashing around, still no sign of Carter.
The security guard dove in after him.
The next morning we were in the Miss Pohl's office. She was our principal.
She looked at us and said one word. “Losers.”
That surprised me. Sure, our nickname for her was Bean Pohl because she was tall and slender. She was an older woman. I read somewhere that as people age they get the face they deserve. Crabby people have a face that looks crabby from all the hours and
hours spent with a crabby expression on their face. Mean people get a mask of a face with all their meanness settled right into it.
I think there's truth in that. Miss Pohl has the face of someone who smiles a lot and cares about people. That makes it easy to talk to her. Of all of our teachers, she was the one who seemed most human. And here she was, calling us losers to our faces.
Which is why I was surprised at what she said.
She walked to her window and looked outside for a few seconds.
“Losers,” she said again without turning to us.
I was standing at the back wall with Lisa and Micky and Carter. Micky frowned. I touched his elbow. He looked at me. I shook my head. It wouldn't do any good to show that we were mad.
She said it one more time. Sadly. “Losers.”
We have all been called much worse before. I know some of the teachers say we're dysfunctional, as if we have a disease.
I've been called a loser before. I'm skinny and dark-haired, with a big nose that's always stuck in a science fiction book. If I'm going to be honest, I'd better admit I'm short too. Okay, really short. But I don't let that bother me. Okay, I do.
Lisa Chambers is blond and pretty in a tough-looking way. She is even tougher than she looks.
Micky Downs? He has a crew cut, square face and big shoulders. He could be one of the best athletes in the school if he ever bothered to try out for a team. As for Carter, I didn't know much about him yet. But if he wanted to be part of our gang, that probably said something about him too.
“It makes me angry,” Miss Pohl said, finally facing us again, “when a police officer comes into this school and calls all of you losers. It makes me angry when I hear other people say it too. Because I know it's not true. You are not losers.”
She sighed. “I just wish you kids would figure that out before it's too late.”
“About the videotape,” I began.
“Jim McClosky,” she said to me. “Don't give me one of your excuses. It's all there, in black and white.”
Who would have thought the city would have video surveillance at a sewage lagoon. Like there's something there to steal.
“It's my fault,” Carter said. “They had nothing to do with it. It was my idea. They were just there because they didn't believe I'd be so dumb. I deserve all the punishment.”
“Actually,” I said. “It's my fault. It was my idea. I deserve the punishment.”
“No,” Micky said. “It was my idea. I'm the one who should get punished.”
Miss Pohl sighed. “Lisa, are you going to try to take the blame too?”
“Not a chance,” she said. She fired an angry look at Carter. Another sigh from Miss Pohl.
“I have no choice here,” she said. “I've got to take action. I'm told I should suspend the four of you.”
She shook her head. “But what good would that do? School is your best chance
of proving that you aren't losers. I just wish you kids could see yourselves the way I see you.”
“Um,” I said, “I'd feel really horrible if you made me miss school for a few days. Please don't suspend us.”
“Nice try, McClosky,” she said, smiling. “I know you're joking. I also know you have a great imagination. Ever dream of writing stories?”
I'd never considered that. Sure I always ran stories through my head, but to put them on paper?
“And Micky, what do you dream of becoming someday? Lisa? Carter?”
We didn't answer.
“Here's what I'm going to do,” she said. “By next Friday, I want a three-page essay from each of you about what you'd like to do most when you're finished school.”
“That's it?” Micky said.
“No. There will be some community work involved too. Don't be surprised if it involves scrubbing toilets.”