THE VAN RIDE
Through the van window I watched Mrs. Lutzkraut shake my dad’s hand and give my mom a big hug. Then she turned to wave good-bye to me. On her face was a smile—a perfectly evil grin. I’d never seen her look so happy. My demented former teacher and I shared a secret, you see. I was about to die, and she knew it.
The cause of my inevitable end, Josh, was on the van with me. And as my parents and Mrs. Lutzkraut disappeared in the distance, I shifted my eyes to watch him. He sat across the aisle, glaring out the window. There was one other kid in the back of the van, but he had been asleep when Josh and I climbed on. I doubted he would come to my rescue when Josh attacked.
An old, familiar feeling of terror began to rise from my stomach. There was no doubt in my mind that Josh was about to crush me. I mean, that had been his main goal the entire school year. Now all that separated us was about six feet. I rubbed my sweaty palms on my shorts and stared out the window.
Maybe Josh would wait until we got to summer camp before killing me. That meant I had about two hours left to enjoy life. Only there was nothing to enjoy and nothing happy to think about. I was being shipped off to someplace called Camp Wy-Mee with my worst enemy. For eight weeks!
Oh yes, Mrs. Lutzkraut had a lot to be smiling about this afternoon. She had tricked my parents—and Josh’s parents—into thinking summer camp was the best thing in the world. Josh hadn’t looked too pleased about it either. I shifted in the uncomfortable van seat and let my eyes wander in his direction. Big mistake.
“Forget about me, Rathbone?”
He must have been staring at me the whole time. This was it. I tried to answer but nothing came out.
“Yeah, Rathbone, you ain’t that tough. I could see you were real scared at graduation. I was a fool all year, thinkin’ you were tough. This time nothing’s saving you. Punching you’s gonna be like Christmas morning. Guess that makes me Santa.”
I didn’t understand his logic, but I understood what it meant when his legs shifted into the aisle. I raised my arms in a feeble attempt to block the incoming buffalo stampede.
Vroom! The engine revved and I could feel tires skidding on sand. The van swerved, knocking Josh off-balance. I watched as Santa banged his head on the floor.
“You there!” the driver hollered.
“Me?” I squeaked.
“Yeah, you.” I could see the driver’s grizzled face and dark eyes in the big rearview mirror. “Help that kid up.” Josh was rolling around in the aisle, dazed and holding his head. “Go on, put him in a seat.”
I looked closer at the driver. He wore a ripped tank top and had a big bushy beard. “Do I have to?” I asked.
“Do it!” the driver ordered.
I reached down to grab Josh under the arms just as the driver turned his attention back to the road. The van swerved violently, knockingmeoff-balance. I landed with a crunch, right on top of Josh.
“No more, no more,” he whimpered. “I’ll behave, Rodney, I promise. Just leave me alone.”
I backed away and watched him climb into his seat, where he curled up into a ball. My jaw hung low, shocked. There was no tougher kid than Josh. He was like twice my size. Thanks to the van driver’s horrible driving, Josh had been knocked down before he could even throw a punch. Maybe my amazing run of luck from the school year wasn’t over. Not just yet, anyway.
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