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       Wonder, p.20

           R. J. Palacio
 
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  Because we were the first school to arrive, we got to run around the field all we wanted until the teachers told us it was time to lay out our sleeping bags on the ground and get good viewing seats. We unzipped our bags and laid them down like picnic blankets on the grass in front of the giant movie screen in the middle of the field. Then we went to the row of food trucks parked at the edge of the field to load up on snacks and sodas and stuff like that. There were concession stands there, too, like at a farmers’ market, selling roasted peanuts and cotton candy. And up a little farther was a short row of carnival-type stalls, the kind where you can win a stuffed animal if you throw a baseball into a basket. Jack and I both tried—and failed—to win anything, but we heard Amos won a yellow hippo and gave it to Ximena. That was the big gossip that went around: the jock and the brainiac.

  From the food trucks, you could see the cornstalks in back of the movie screen. They covered about a third of the entire field. The rest of the field was completely surrounded by woods. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the tall trees at the entrance to the woods looked dark blue.

  By the time the other school buses pulled into the parking lots, we were back in our spots on the sleeping bags, right smack in front of the screen: the best seats in the whole field. Everyone was passing around snacks and having a great time. Me and Jack and Summer and Reid and Maya played Pictionary. We could hear the sounds of the other schools arriving, the loud laughing and talking of kids coming out on the field on both sides of us, but we couldn’t really see them. Though the sky was still light, the sun had gone down completely, and everything on the ground had turned deep purple. The clouds were shadows now. We had trouble even seeing the Pictionary cards in front of us.

  Just then, without any announcement, all the lights at the ends of the field went on at once. They were like big bright stadium lights. I thought of that scene in Close Encounters when the alien ship lands and they’re playing that music: duh-dah-doo-da-dunnn. Everyone in the field started applauding and cheering like something great had just happened.

  Be Kind to Nature

  An announcement came over the huge speakers next to the stadium lights:

  “Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the twenty-third annual Big Movie Night at the Broarwood Nature Reserve. Welcome, teachers and students from … MS 342: the William Heath School.…” A big cheer went up on the left side of the field. “Welcome, teachers and students from Glover Academy.…” Another cheer went up, this time from the right side of the field. “And welcome, teachers and students from … the Beecher Prep School!” Our whole group cheered as loudly as we could. “We’re thrilled to have you as our guests here tonight, and thrilled that the weather is cooperating—in fact, can you believe what a beautiful night this is?” Again, everyone whooped and hollered. “So as we prepare the movie, we do ask that you take a few moments to listen to this important announcement. The Broarwood Nature Reserve, as you know, is dedicated to preserving our natural resources and the environment. We ask that you leave no litter behind. Clean up after yourselves. Be kind to nature and it will be kind to you. We ask that you keep that in mind as you walk around the grounds. Do not venture beyond the orange cones at the edges of the fairgrounds. Do not go into the cornfields or the woods. Please keep the free roaming to a minimum. Even if you don’t feel like watching the movie, your fellow students may feel otherwise, so please be courteous: no talking, no playing music, no running around. The restrooms are located on the other side of the concession stands. After the movie is over, it will be quite dark, so we ask that all of you stay with your schools as you make your way back to your buses. Teachers, there’s usually at least one lost party on Big Movie Nights at Broarwood: don’t let it happen to you! Tonight’s movie presentation will be … The Sound of Music!”

  I immediately started clapping, even though I’d seen it a few times before, because it was Via’s favorite movie of all time. But I was surprised that a whole bunch of kids (not from Beecher) booed and hissed and laughed. Someone from the right side of the field even threw a soda can at the screen, which seemed to surprise Mr. Tushman. I saw him stand up and look in the direction of the can thrower, though I knew he couldn’t see anything in the dark.

  The movie started playing right away. The stadium lights dimmed. Maria the nun was standing at the top of the mountain twirling around and around. It had gotten chilly all of a sudden, so I put on my yellow Montauk hoodie and adjusted the volume on my hearing aids and leaned against my backpack and started watching.

  The hills are alive …

  The Woods Are Alive

  Somewhere around the boring part where the guy named Rolf and the oldest daughter are singing You are sixteen, going on seventeen, Jack nudged me.

  “Dude, I’ve got to pee,” he said.

  We both got up and kind of hopscotched over the kids who were sitting or lying down on the sleeping bags. Summer waved as we passed and I waved back.

  There were lots of kids from the other schools walking around by the food trucks, playing the carnival games, or just hanging out.

  Of course, there was a huge line for the toilets.

  “Forget this, I’ll just find a tree,” said Jack.

  “That’s gross, Jack. Let’s just wait,” I answered.

  But he headed off to the row of trees at the edge of the field, which was past the orange cones that we were specifically told not to go past. And of course I followed him. And of course we didn’t have our flashlights because we forgot to bring them. It was so dark now we literally couldn’t see ten steps ahead of us as we walked toward the woods. Luckily, the movie gave off some light, so when we saw a flashlight coming toward us out of the woods, we knew immediately that it was Henry, Miles, and Amos. I guess they hadn’t wanted to wait on line to use the toilets, either.

  Miles and Henry were still not talking to Jack, but Amos had let go of the war a while ago. And he nodded hello to us as they passed by.

  “Be careful of the bears!” shouted Henry, and he and Miles laughed as they walked away.

  Amos shook his head at us like, Don’t pay attention to them.

  Jack and I walked a little farther until we were just inside the woods. Then Jack hunted around for the perfect tree and finally did his business, though it felt like he was taking forever.

  The woods were loud with strange sounds and chirps and croaks, like a wall of noise coming out of the trees. Then we started hearing loud snaps not far from us, almost like cap gun pops, that definitely weren’t insect noises. And far away, like in another world, we could hear Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

  “Ah, that’s much better,” said Jack, zipping up.

  “Now I have to pee,” I said, which I did on the nearest tree. No way I was going farther in like Jack did.

  “Do you smell that? Like firecrackers,” he said, coming over to me.

  “Oh yeah, that’s what that is,” I answered, zipping up. “Weird.”

  “Let’s go.”

  Alien

  We headed back the way we came, in the direction of the giant screen. That’s when we walked straight into a group of kids we didn’t know. They’d just come out of the woods, doing stuff I’m sure they didn’t want their teachers to know about. I could smell the smoke now, the smell of both firecrackers and cigarettes. They pointed a flashlight at us. There were six of them: four boys and two girls. They looked like they were in the seventh grade.

  “What school are you from?” one of the boys called out.

  “Beecher Prep!” Jack started to answer, when all of a sudden one of the girls started screaming.

  “Oh my God!” she shrieked, holding her hand over her eyes like she was crying. I figured maybe a huge bug had just flown into her face or something.

  “No way!” one of the boys cried out, and he started flicking his hand in the air like he’d just touched something hot. And then he covered his mouth. “No freakin’ way, man! No freakin’ way!”

  All of them started half laug
hing and half covering their eyes now, pushing each other and cursing loudly.

  “What is that?” said the kid who was pointing the flashlight at us, and it was only then that I realized that the flashlight was pointed right at my face, and what they were talking about—screaming about—was me.

  “Let’s get out of here,” Jack said to me quietly, and he pulled me by my sweatshirt sleeve and started walking away from them.

  “Wait wait wait!” yelled the guy with the flashlight, cutting us off. He pointed the flashlight right in my face again, and now he was only about five feet away. “Oh man! Oh man!!” he said, shaking his head, his mouth wide open. “What happened to your face?”

  “Stop it, Eddie,” said one of the girls.

  “I didn’t know we were watching Lord of the Rings tonight!” he said. “Look, guys, it’s Gollum!”

  This made his friends hysterical.

  Again we tried to walk away from them, and again the kid named Eddie cut us off. He was at least a head taller than Jack, who was about a head taller than me, so the guy looked huge to me.

  “No man, it’s Alien!” said one of the other kids.

  “No, no, no, man. It’s an orc!” laughed Eddie, pointing the flashlight in my face again. This time he was right in front of us.

  “Leave him alone, okay?” said Jack, pushing the hand holding the flashlight away.

  “Make me,” answered Eddie, pointing the flashlight in Jack’s face now.

  “What’s your problem, dude?” said Jack.

  “Your boyfriend’s my problem!”

  “Jack, let’s just go,” I said, pulling him by the arm.

  “Oh man, it talks!” screamed Eddie, shining the flashlight in my face again. Then one of the other guys threw a firecracker at our feet.

  Jack tried to push past Eddie, but Eddie shoved his hands into Jack’s shoulders and pushed him hard, which made Jack fall backward.

  “Eddie!” screamed one of the girls.

  “Look,” I said, stepping in front of Jack and holding my hands up in the air like a traffic cop. “We’re a lot smaller than you guys …”

  “Are you talking to me, Freddie Krueger? I don’t think you want to mess with me, you ugly freak,” said Eddie. And this was the point where I knew I should run away as fast as I could, but Jack was still on the ground and I wasn’t about to leave him.

  “Yo, dude,” said a new voice behind us. “What’s up, man?”

  Eddie spun around and pointed his flashlight toward the voice. For a second, I couldn’t believe who it was.

  “Leave them alone, dude,” said Amos, with Miles and Henry right behind him.

  “Says who?” said one of the guys with Eddie.

  “Just leave them alone, dude,” Amos repeated calmly.

  “Are you a freak, too?” said Eddie.

  “They’re all a bunch of freaks!” said one of his friends.

  Amos didn’t answer them but looked at us. “Come on, guys, let’s go. Mr. Tushman’s waiting for us.”

  I knew that was a lie, but I helped Jack get up, and we started walking over to Amos. Then out of the blue, the Eddie guy grabbed my hood as I passed by him, yanking it really hard so I was pulled backward and fell flat on my back. It was a hard fall, and I hurt my elbow pretty bad on a rock. I couldn’t really see what happened afterward, except that Amos rammed into the Eddie guy like a monster truck and they both fell down to the ground next to me.

  Everything got really crazy after that. Someone pulled me up by my sleeve and yelled, “Run!” and someone else screamed, “Get ’em!” at the same time, and for a few seconds I actually had two people pulling the sleeves of my sweatshirt in opposite directions. I heard them both cursing, until my sweatshirt ripped and the first guy yanked me by my arm and started pulling me behind him as we ran, which I did as fast as I could. I could hear footsteps just behind us, chasing us, and voices shouting and girls screaming, but it was so dark I didn’t know whose voices they were, only that everything felt like we were underwater. We were running like crazy, and it was pitch black, and whenever I started to slow down, the guy pulling me by my arm would yell, “Don’t stop!”

  Voices in the Dark

  Finally, after what seemed like a forever of running, someone yelled: “I think we lost them!”

  “Amos?”

  “I’m right here!” said Amos’s voice a few feet behind us.

  “We can stop!” Miles yelled from farther up.

  “Jack!” I yelled.

  “Whoa!” said Jack. “I’m here.”

  “I can’t see a thing!”

  “Are you sure we lost them?” Henry asked, letting go of my arm. That’s when I realized that he’d been the one who was pulling me as we ran.

  “Yeah.”

  “Shh! Let’s listen!”

  We all got super quiet, listening for footsteps in the dark. All we could hear were the crickets and frogs and our own crazy panting. We were out of breath, stomachs hurting, bodies bent over our knees.

  “We lost them,” said Henry.

  “Whoa! That was intense!”

  “What happened to the flashlight?”

  “I dropped it!”

  “How did you guys know?” said Jack.

  “We saw them before.”

  “They looked like jerks.”

  “You just rammed into him!” I said to Amos.

  “I know, right?” laughed Amos.

  “He didn’t even see it coming!” said Miles.

  “He was like, ‘Are you a freak, too?’ and you were like, bam!” said Jack.

  “Bam!” said Amos, throwing a fake punch in the air. “But after I tackled him, I was like, run, Amos, you schmuck, he’s ten times bigger than you! And I got up and started running as fast as I could!”

  We all started laughing.

  “I grabbed Auggie and I was like, ‘Run!’ ” said Henry.

  “I didn’t even know it was you pulling me!” I answered.

  “That was wild,” said Amos, shaking his head.

  “Totally wild.”

  “Your lip is bleeding, dude.”

  “I got in a couple of good punches,” answered Amos, wiping his lip.

  “I think they were seventh graders.”

  “They were huge.”

  “Losers!” Henry shouted really loudly, but we all shushed him.

  We listened for a second to make sure no one had heard him.

  “Where the heck are we?” asked Amos. “I can’t even see the screen.”

  “I think we’re in the cornfields,” answered Henry.

  “Duh, we’re in the cornfields,” said Miles, pushing a cornstalk at Henry.

  “Okay, I know exactly where we are,” said Amos. “We have to go back in this direction. That’ll take us to the other side of the field.”

  “Yo, dudes,” said Jack, hand high in the air. “That was really cool of you guys to come back for us. Really cool. Thanks.”

  “No problem,” answered Amos, high-fiving Jack. And then Miles and Henry high-fived him, too.

  “Yeah, dudes, thanks,” I said, holding my palm up like Jack just had, though I wasn’t sure if they’d high-five me, too.

  Amos looked at me and nodded. “It was cool how you stood your ground, little dude,” he said, high-fiving me.

  “Yeah, Auggie,” said Miles, high-fiving me, too. “You were like, ‘We’re littler than you guys’ …”

  “I didn’t know what else to say!” I laughed.

  “Very cool,” said Henry, and he high-fived me, too. “Sorry I ripped your sweatshirt.”

  I looked down, and my sweatshirt was completely torn down the middle. One sleeve was ripped off, and the other was so stretched out it was hanging down to my knees.

  “Hey, your elbow’s bleeding,” said Jack.

  “Yeah.” I shrugged. It was starting to hurt a lot.

  “You okay?” said Jack, seeing my face.

  I nodded. Suddenly I felt like crying, and I was trying really hard not to do t
hat.

  “Wait, your hearing aids are gone!” said Jack.

  “What!” I yelled, touching my ears. The hearing aid band was definitely gone. That’s why I felt like I was underwater! “Oh no!” I said, and that’s when I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Everything that had just happened kind of hit me and I couldn’t help it: I started to cry. Like big crying, what Mom would call “the waterworks.” I was so embarrassed I hid my face in my arm, but I couldn’t stop the tears from coming.

  The guys were really nice to me, though. They patted me on the back.

  “You’re okay, dude. It’s okay,” they said.

  “You’re one brave little dude, you know that?” said Amos, putting his arm around my shoulders. And when I kept on crying, he put both his arms around me like my dad would have done and let me cry.

  The Emperor’s Guard

  We backtracked through the grass for a good ten minutes to see if we could find my hearing aids, but it was way too dark to see anything. We literally had to hold on to each other’s shirts and walk in single file so we wouldn’t trip over one another. It was like black ink had been poured all around.

  “This is hopeless,” said Henry. “They could be anywhere.”

  “Maybe we can come back with a flashlight,” answered Amos.

  “No, it’s okay,” I said. “Let’s just go back. Thanks, though.”

  We walked back toward the cornfields, and then cut through them until the back of the giant screen came into view. Since it was facing away from us, we didn’t get any light from the screen at all until we’d walked around to the edge of the woods again. That’s where we finally started seeing a little light.

 
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