Authors: Matt Solomon
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FOR OUR PARENTS,
DALE & SUSAN PAULS AND CONNIE & JERRY SOLOMON,
THE GIANTS IN OUR LIVES
A slew of newly crowned seniors gathered to celebrate finally becoming the ruling party of Richland Center High School in the darkened rock quarry just outside of town. The sun had been down for hours. No parents, neighbors, or teachers were around to break up the party, safely hidden in the open space between hulking piles of crushed rock. The closest building was an abandoned silo out past the end of the gravel pit.
The kids didn't hear the silo's dome creak as it rose up a couple of feet. An enormous hand reached out and wrapped its fingers over the edge of the forty-foot structure, propping up the top. Huge eyes blinked and watched from inside.
The eyes darted left and right to make sure the coast was clear. Then a mammoth leg swung out over the side of the silo, and without a sound, a twenty-five-foot-tall giant emerged.
This giant was no monster. His youthful, dark-skinned face was huge, but otherwise it looked like that of any teenager. He wore nothing but a brown canvas tunic, and his long black hair swirled in the breeze against the cloudy night sky.
The music got louder, and the kids got rowdier, dancing to heavy beats in the headlights of their cars.
The giant folded, unseen, into the darkness at the edge of the quarry. The thumping music confused himâhe recognized the beating of drums bouncing off the quarry walls, but where was it coming from? He studied the teens thrashing to the beat, and soon his head bobbed in unison with theirs. He thrust his right hand in the air, almost perfectly imitating their dance.
At the point where the headlights dimmed and night began lay a pile of four signs that read
SPRING GREEN CITY LIMITS
. Valley High, Spring Green's high school, was Richland Center's chief rival. Swiping the signs was the seniors' first jab in what promised to be a yearlong contest for local supremacy. A kid wearing a letterman's jacket snapped a picture of them with his phone, proof of their plunder. The giant blinked in disbelief. He'd seen it for only an instant, but somehow an image of the signs glowed on the box in the kid's hand. The giant had seen a few strange things on his trip so far, but if he could trust his own eyes, this was magic.
A growling bass line kicked in, and the kid in the jacket hurried to join the throng by the cars. The giant edged closer to the sign pile, curious.
“This is epic!” another guy shouted with a fist bump to a fellow partyer. He jumped onto the hood of a car. “Let's not wait until Homecoming to burn their stupid signs. Valley sucks! Let's do it now!”
All the other kids threw up the chant. “Bonfire! Bonfire!”
They didn't see giant hands reach out from the edge of the darkness and snatch the signs away. A colossal, curious finger traced the strange letters as the giant tried to make sense of the weird wooden placards. How had they duplicated themselves inside the kid's glowing box?
“People in Spring Green won't know if they're coming or going,” yelled the guy on the car, slipping and landing on the hood with a thud. The kids all laughed, except the one who owned the dented car. The guy rolled off the hood and lumbered toward where the signs had been. “Hey, what the heck?” The other partyers gathered around, some confused and some downright angry. Cutting down the signs had been risky. “Where'd they go?”
Then a truck pulled into the quarry, heading straight for the party. The kids winced at the bright headlights as the vehicle skidded to a stop. A silver-whiskered man, old enough to be everyone's grandfather, leaned out the driver's-side window.
“Get out of here right now!” His voice boomed through a cloud of gravel dust, rising above the music. “All of you! This is private property. You got three minutes before I call the cops.”
“Cops!” shouted the ringleader. He dove into the passenger seat of a buddy's car. “Adler! Let's go!”
The giant hightailed it back into the silo unseen, accidentally pinching the tip of his right index finger when he lowered the top. He dropped the signs and bit his lower lip, muffling a scream that would have been heard all the way into town.
The old man favored his right hip as he got out of the truck. A German shepherd bounded from the cab behind him. Between the old man punching numbers into his cell phone and the mean-looking dog snarling at everyone, the party broke up in well less than the man's threatened three minutes. Soon the last cars were peeling away, racing back toward Richland Center.
“Powder, that's enough,” said the old man, swinging aside his long leather duster coat and slapping his thigh. The dog stopped barking at the escaping cars and heeled. The man peered over at the silo. “You can come out of there now.”
The giant threw the top off again and vaulted out of the silo, landing as quietly as a cat on the ground. He looked as disappointed as the other kids that the party was over.
“I know, I know,” grumbled the old man. “The music was loud, and everything is new and interesting.”
The old man had that right. The giant pointed to the phone that the old man had threatened to use to call the copsâdid it work like the kid's had?
“You stay away from phones. If someone sees you or snaps a decent picture, we're finished. You're a secret. You have to stay that way. We've been through this before.” The old man spat on the ground. “I should have moved you sooner. Kids hang out in quarriesâalways have.” He kicked a stone and looked up at the giant. “Well, you can't stay here. Let's get moving.”
The giant stayed in place, sucking the tip of the finger he'd pinched on the silo top.
“What are you standing around for? Let's go,” he repeated. “We're heading to a new hiding spot. It's an old warehouse, and the place is falling apart, so take it easy climbing up. Once you're on the roof, don't dallyâget your big butt down the hole and quick. You got it?”
The giant nodded. Long black bangs drooped in his face.
The old man's whiskered cheeks billowed as he pointed toward a large dump truck. “You know what to do. Get moving.”
The giant bounded to the truck in one leap. The truck's suspension groaned as he hopped into the bed and lay down on his side. He had to work hard to scrunch his huge frame into the uncomfortably tight space.
The old man yanked a lever on the side of the truck. A motor pulled a canvas tarp along a metal track, sealing up the giant in the back. The old man stopped the cover short of the giant's head. “So we're straight,” he said, “this is town we're talking about now. That means people, so no screwing around. I can only keep you safe if you stay out of sight.”
The old man started the tarp back up. As the cover reached the end of its track, he missed the giant's mischievous grin.
Charlie Lawson saw his opening. He spun the steering wheel, and his white Lamborghini wailed past
's lame Dodge Charger. Charlie's
, was back in the lead.
Charlie checked the map at the top of the screen for the other racers. He was scorching
from Spring Green;
, the Viroqua motormouth;
from Muscoda; and
a girl from his school. Man, he loved beating these guys.
His best and only real friend, Trenton Mullins, had moved to Germany at the beginning of summer. He joined Charlie's dad and brother on the list of people who'd split and left Charlie alone in boring Richland Center. His only escape from the monotony of small-town life was
Total Turbo 4: Danger Ahead
. He dominated the game and had spent the whole summer racing online instead of hanging out at the pool like everyone else. Now that school had started, he'd already gotten in trouble a couple of times for being late because he had a good race going.
“Looks like you got another one,
in Charlie's headset.
“The only thing he's got,” hissed an obnoxious new voice, “is a major problem. Me.”
Charlie checked the map again. A new car had entered the race. A pitch-black Porsche driven by someone with the boring username
was bullying its way through the field and coming up fast.
roared unscathed through police gunfire on an airport runway, muscling
right off the course with a nasty bump move before settling in behind Charlie's Lamborghini. The two cars were locked in a battle for the finish line with one turn remaining: a hard ninety-degree corner. Charlie laughed at
's audacity. “Bring it, buddy!” He took the turn low, jumping his foot from the brake to the accelerator to put this new guy in his place.
The Porsche zipped right around him. Charlie cringed as
flew first across the finish line, shouting “Game over!” through the headset.
Charlie threw down the wheel onto his unmade bed and kicked the foot controls away. He shook his shaggy, ash-blond hair in disbelief.
had stolen the race, handing Charlie his first loss in months. It was even more humiliating than the time in fifth grade when Mrs. Hendricks got on the loudspeaker to call him to the office because his mom had brought his snow pants.
On-screen, “Another race?” blinked in taunting red letters.
Charlie fired up the next course. He'd been playing for five hours, even skipped dinner, but that didn't matter. He wanted revenge, to kick this guy's butt and prove the win had been a fluke, especially as he heard
's voice crackle through the headset:
“Let's do this thing again,
âunless you're scared?”