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Authors: Diane Tullson

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Lockdown

BOOK: Lockdown
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Lockdown

Lockdown

Diane Tullson

orca soundings

Copyright © Diane Tullson 2008

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

Tullson, Diane, 1958-

Lockdown / written by Diane Tullson.

(Orca soundings)

ISBN 978-1-55143-918-1 (bound).--ISBN 978-1-55143-916-7 (pbk.)

I. Title. II. Series.

PS8589.U6055L62 2008 jC813'.6 C2007-906845-6

Summary:
When a gunman is seen in the school, Adam and Zoe try to
make it out alive.

First published in the United States, 2008
Library of Congress Control Number:
2007940712

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 and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover design by Teresa Bubela
Cover photography by Getty Images

Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626 Station B
Victoria, BC Canada
V8R 6S4

Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 468
Custer, WA USA
98240-0468

www.orcabook.com
Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on 100% PCW recycled paper.

11  10  09  08  •  5  4  3  2  1

For C.T. and R.T.

Acknowledgments

Thank you to the educators, all of you, and to S.H. and K.D., always.

Chapter One

Science 10 is chaos. Josh's hamster had babies. It's Ms. Topett's classroom hamster, but Josh comes in at lunch to clean the cage. He takes the hamster home on weekends and holidays. It may as well be Josh's hamster. It's weird, the way Josh bonds with that hamster, but it's just one of many things that mark Josh as weird. For example, he always wears a blue shirt, the kind with buttons and a pocket. Always. He must have four or five blue shirts with buttons and a pocket.
No one wears blue shirts like that. Even if they wanted to, they wouldn't, because Josh always wears one. A blue shirt, jeans and boots—Josh always wears boots.

The hamster is an experiment. The hamster's coat is an unusual rusty red color—a genetic variation, Ms. Topett calls it. She bred the hamster with a normal amber-colored hamster to see if the young would have the darker color. We haven't seen the babies yet. Ms. Topett says it's too soon to disturb the nest. Right now, Ms. Topett is out of the classroom photocopying handouts. Before she left the room, Ms. Topett gave us direct orders to stay in our seats. But no one listened. Now, packed around the hamster cage, Science 10 wants to see the baby hamsters.

Josh stands with his hands jammed in his pockets, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Josh outweighs me and I'm no lightweight. The idiots of Science 10 like to oink when Josh walks past. Hilarious. With one large index finger, Josh shoves his glasses back up onto his nose. He says, “We have to be quiet.”

A girl, Natalie, pushes me to get to the table with the hamster cage. I let her past. Everyone lets her past—Natalie has that kind of power. She whines, “I can't see the babies.”

I can't either. The mother hamster has them hidden in a cotton-ball nest. Natalie raps the metal cage with her fingernail. To Josh she says, “Make them come out.”

Josh shakes his head. “The m-mother needs quiet. It's her first l-litter.”

I watch Josh's face. When he stutters, it means he's stressed. When Josh gets stressed, he gets quiet. It reminds me of a storm, all the energy swirling in on itself. Once in a while Josh loses it, but it's amazing what he puts up with. The idiots of Science 10 have made this term a living hell for Josh.

Some of what they do is funny. I admit it, I've had a good laugh in this class. Like the time they told Josh, before class, that Ms. Topett was giving bonus marks that day for volunteers. So when Ms. Topett asked for volunteers, Josh stabbed his hand in the air to be picked. And he was. Josh ended up
rolling a condom on a banana. His face went so red even his eyes filled with blood. Later, I could make him laugh about it too.

Now Natalie directs her gaze to the king of the idiots of Science 10: Chase. Chase is all talk, all the time. If there's one good thing about the way he targets Josh, it's that he leaves me alone. Chase slithers in front of Josh. He only comes up to Josh's chin, but Josh steps back. Chase says, “Who made you the freaking hamster expert? We just want to see them.” He leans down to look right into the cage and slaps his hand on the desk. “Come on, mama. Come on out.”

Josh has bright red spots on his cheeks. “You're scaring her.”

Chase tilts the cage and lets it drop down on the desk. To Josh he says, “You're scaring it with your buggy eyes. I just want them to come out of the nest.”

Josh blinks. I see him take a deep breath. Then he says, “They can't come out. They don't have their eyes open yet.”

Natalie squeals, “Their eyes are still shut? I want to see!” She fumbles with the door in the top of the cage.

“No!” Josh swats her hand from the cage.

“Ow!” Natalie holds her hands up to her chin. She says to Chase, “He hit me, the loser.”

I glance toward the door. Where is Ms. Topett?

Chase pushes Josh aside. To Natalie he says, “Don't bother reaching through the door. Just take the top off the cage.” Chase releases the latches holding the cage to the tray and yanks off the cage top. Bits of cedar chips fly out onto the desk.

Josh gapes. The nest lies exposed in front of us. It is a mass of white cotton balls spun into one fluff pile. Bits of cedar and chewed toilet-paper roll weave among the cotton. It amazes me how the hamster can build this house, snug, warm, quiet.

Now, not so much. Chase pries the top from the cotton-ball nest. Natalie shoves in front of Chase and squeaks, “There they are!”

From where I'm standing, I can just see Josh's hamster coiled around four or five hairless pink babies. The mother hamster
looks up at us with brown bead eyes. It scrambles to its feet. The babies wriggle in the sudden absence of their mother.

Natalie wrinkles her nose. “They're all naked.”

Chase prods one of the babies with his finger. The mother hamster lunges at him. “Whoa!” Chase yanks his hand back. “She's vicious.” He holds up his finger as if he's amazed he still has it. “She would have bitten it right off!”

Josh folds his arms over the tray. “W-we're scaring her. W-we have to leave her alone.”

Ms. Topett enters the classroom. In a thundering voice, she commands, “Students, take your seats.”

Most people return to their desks. Josh sets the cotton nest back over the babies and replaces the cage top. Ms. Topett levels her glare at Josh. “That means you too, Josh.”

Josh doesn't seem to hear the teacher. He's staring at the cage. His eyes get wide.

Another student gets up and peers into the cage. He says, “Ew! She's eating one.”

That's it. Everyone crowds around the
cage. Josh puts his hands on his face and shakes his head. “No. L-leave her alone. She's just m-moving them.”

The mother hamster has carried one of the babies into a corner of the cage.

Ms. Topett pushes through the crowd of students. “If the mother feels threatened, she may try to move the nest.” Ms. Topett scans our faces. Chase looks down. Natalie bats her eyes as if she doesn't know anything.

The mother hamster burrows into the nest and pulls out another of her young. She holds the baby in her mouth, her cheeks stretching around the wriggling pink mass. I wait for her to drop the baby with the other one.

One time last week, Josh fed his hamster peanuts one by one, and she packed them into her cheeks. She crammed ten peanuts in her cheeks.

Now she holds the baby the same way, her cheeks stretched so big that her eyes are slits. Then her eyes close and she tosses back her head.

Ms. Topett groans. “Oh no.”

There is a collective gasp from the classroom.

Ms. Topett's voice is shrill. “Back to your seats. Everyone. NOW!”

We ignore her. The mother hamster takes the baby from the corner of the cage.

Josh starts to cry.

Half the class stands in stunned silence. The other half makes gagging noises.

The mother hamster heads into the nest. Ms. Topett grabs a jacket from the back of someone's chair and covers the cage. It's one of the idiots' jackets, apparently. He says, “Hey, you'll get it dirty!” and makes a move to retrieve the jacket.

Ms. Topett clamps her hand over his wrist. “Leave it.”

With a scowl, he slumps into his seat.

Josh's face streams with tears. He's sobbing without making a sound, his huge chest heaving.

Ms. Topett turns to the class. Her voice shakes. “Sometimes this happens in nature. Sometimes, if conditions are harsh, like there isn't enough food.”

Josh looks up in disbelief. He stops crying.

Ms. Topett continues, “Or if the mother feels the litter isn't strong enough to survive...”

Josh interrupts. “The mother had enough food. The babies were strong.” He jabs his hand at the class. “They scared her. They wouldn't leave her alone.”

Chase rolls his eyes. “This is a science class. The hamster is an experiment. Why did you have it in here if we weren't supposed to look?” He crosses his arms and leans back in his desk. “So we scared it. Big deal. We didn't mean to kill the babies.”

Josh goes totally still. He looks from one student to the next. When he gets to me, I have to look away. There's something different about Josh, and it's like I don't recognize him anymore. He looks at each and every one of us. Then, without a word, he leaves the classroom.

After Josh leaves, Chase makes a mocking sound. “Oooh. I'm so scared.”

People laugh.

Ms. Topett goes to the front of the classroom and, with a sigh, distributes her handouts. When the stack comes to me, I take one and hand the rest over my shoulder.

Then it occurs to me what was different about Josh. It wasn't that he looked different.

It was that he didn't stutter.

Chapter Two

At class change, I'm heading to the back door of the school when I feel Zoe slip up beside me. Gorgeous green-eyed Zoe. She smiles at me and threads her arm through mine. “Looks like you're making a break for it, Adam.”

I nod. Second block is gym. Mr. Ellington makes us run when he doesn't feel like teaching, which is often. No pain, no gain, he always says. And he swears under his breath but you know what he's saying, and that's why everyone calls him Mr. Effington, even
the jocks—but not to his face. I say to Zoe, “I'm going to grab a coffee. You can come along if you want.”

Zoe looks at me for a second and then shakes her head. “No. I don't want to miss art class. We're working with clay. I love ceramic art. I love that it is what it is.”

“Like a bowl,” I say. “Or an urn.”

She says, “Or you.” Zoe breaks into a huge grin.

I probably like Zoe more than she likes me, but she's good at being a friend. She looks so happy, and the thing is, Zoe
is
happy. She could be heading into math or history, and she'd be happy. I say to her, “I'm happy for you that art class holds such appeal. For me, gym class holds only pain.”

Zoe slings her pack over her shoulder. “Meet me back here for lunch, then.”

“Caf is serving shepherd's pie today.” I shudder. “Today is a really good day not to eat at school.”

Zoe shrugs. “I brought a lunch. I'll share it with you.”

BOOK: Lockdown
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