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       Lobster Boy, p.1

           Rodman Philbrick
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Lobster Boy

  About Lobster Boy

  Skiff Beaman has a problem. A BIG problem.

  He needs to fix up his family’s fishing boat, but to do that he needs money. A whole heap of money. His father isn’t going to help – he can’t see further than the next can of beer since Skiff’s mother died – and nor is his classmate, Tyler, inventor of the nickname “Lobster Boy”.

  But Skiff can still hear his mother’s voice telling him “Never give up”. So he comes up with a plan. It’s crazy, it’s dangerous, and it’s going to take all Skiff’s grit and strength to win a great battle against the sea.

  Praise for Lobster Boy

  “An inspiring story… A wonderful read.” The Financial Times

  “Philbrick writes for boys brilliantly… It’s impossible not to cheer on this wonderful hero.” The Bookseller

  “Beautifully written and instantly enthralling.” The Funday Times

  “Like a modern Mark Twain.” Book Review Magazine

  “Philbrick’s feelgood book has…action, humour and suspense.” The Sunday Times

  “It’s the pace, excitement and above all, the inspirational voice of this story that make it unputdownable.” The Scotsman

  “A gripping tale.”

  “Masterful, nail-biting stuff… This excellent book deserves to be widely read.” Write Away

  “Inspirational and action-packed… Full of adventure, humour and suspense.” Books for Keeps

  “Occupying a territory somewhere between Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Swallows and Amazons, this is a jewel of a book – moving, exciting.” Junior Education

  “An enthralling and fiercely intelligent novel…riveting in the telling, and classical in the themes it explores.” The Glasgow Herald

  “A mighty punch packed in a small parcel… Lobster Boy will have you hanging off the edge of your seat… This is a book that has ‘classic’ stamped on every page.” Sunday Young Post

  “All the makings of a juvenile classic: wide-open adventure, heart-pounding suspense, and just the right amount of tear-jerking pathos.” School Library Journal

  CHILD Magazine Children’s Book Award 2004

  For my brother Jonathan, who knows where the big fish live, and for my fearless nieces, Molly and Annie Philbrick.

  The author wants to thank Paul Brown, of Kittery, Maine, for his insights into the fine art of trapping lobsters. Also, some of the amazing physical abilities of the bluefin tuna were gleaned from Douglas Whynot’s book Giant Bluefin.


  About Lobster Boy

  Praise for Lobster Boy

  Dedication and thanks

  Chapter 1 – Lobster Boy

  Chapter 2 – Swampers

  Chapter 3 – By the Barrel Raised

  Chapter 4 – Rotten to the Keel

  Chapter 5 – Attack of the Vampire Mud Worms

  Chapter 6 – The Finest Kind

  Chapter 7 – The Ringing of the Hammer

  Chapter 8 – What the Grease Monkey Said

  Chapter 9 – Money by the Pound

  Chapter 10 – Lobster in the Parlour

  Chapter 11 – Trap Wars

  Chapter 12 – Rich Boy in the Dark of Night

  Chapter 13 – When You Wake Up

  Chapter 14 – By Hook and By Crook

  Chapter 15 – Where the Big Fish Live

  Chapter 16 – The Blushing Bandit

  Chapter 17 – Three Rules for Skiff Beaman

  Chapter 18 – What Happened to the Stars

  Chapter 19 – If Mist Made the World

  Chapter 20 – Take My Breath Away

  Chapter 21 – When the Whoosh Comes By

  Chapter 22 – Keg Rider

  Chapter 23 – A Nantucket Sleigh Ride

  Chapter 24 – The Angel in the Mist

  Chapter 25 – The Tail on the Door

  A Conversation with Rodman Philbrick

  About the Author (In his own words)

  Sneak preview of Fire Pony by Rodman Philbrick

  Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick



  Lobster Boy

  Before I tell you about the biggest fish in the sea and how it tried to kill me and then ended up saving my life, first you got to know about the leaky boat, ’cause it all began right there. The great repair and the trap wars and the angel in the mist, none of it would have happened without the leaky boat.

  It starts the last day of school. I’m on my way home, coasting down Spotter Hill on my crummy old bike. The birds are chittering and stuff, and I’m riding no hands with the wind on my face. A day like that you can feel summer in the air, and the smell of cut grass, and the sting of salt from the harbour. Then our little house comes into view, and right away I see that what I been afraid of these last few months has finally happened.

  Our boat the Mary Rose has sunk at the dock.

  It breaks my heart to see her so pitiful, with just the top of her cabin showing, and a shine of oil spreading like blood on the water. A sunk boat is a pitiful thing. It’s enough to make a person cry, but I ain’t cried since the day my mom died. No matter what that rotten rich kid Tyler Croft says, it ain’t true.

  I been bailing Rose for months, getting up before dawn to pump out the bilge and keep her floating. Just in case my dad decides to get his lazy duff off the TV couch and go fishing. That’s where he lives ever since the funeral, lying like a sack of nothing on the TV couch. Most times he don’t even put the TV on, he just sucks on his beer and stares at the cobwebs on the ceiling.

  It ain’t like he’s a real drunk. He don’t beat me or curse me or nothin’. He just lies there feeling sorry for himself and it don’t matter what I do or say. One day I swore him out for ten straight minutes, about how he was a good-for-nothing and a worthless boozer, and how he might as well be dead as lying on the TV couch, and what would Mom think if she could see him. But even that don’t get him going. He just sighs and says, “Skiffy, I’m awful sorry about everything,” and then hides his head under the pillow.

  I can’t even be sure if he’s talking to me or to himself, ’cause we got the same name. Samuel “Skiff” Beaman. Down the town wharf they used to call my dad Big Skiff and me Little Skiff, to tell us apart, but my dad don’t go down the wharf no more. He don’t do nothin’ at all. Not even when I come running in the house to tell him Rose has sunk.

  “Dad!” I go. “She gone under!”

  He rolls to one side and puts a bleary eye on me. His beard is all matted because he ain’t combed it in months, and it makes him look old and scruffy. “School’s out, huh? How’d it get to be that late?”

  “The boat sunk! What’ll we do?”

  “Do?” He puts his hand over his eyes and sighs again. “Oh, I suppose we could raise her up, but she’d just sink again. Best leave her be.”

  “You can’t leave a boat sunk at the dock. It ain’t right!”

  But my dad turns his face to the back of the couch and won’t hear me, so I run outside and skid down the steps to our rickety old dock, but there ain’t nothing I can do. Once a boat has gone under, you can’t bail it no more. There’s nothin’ to do but wait until the tide goes out and then somehow winch it onto the cradle before it sinks again. Then maybe I can find the leak and plug it.

  There used to be a winch in the trap shack, and that’s where I’m heading when Tyler Croft comes by on his thousand-dollar mountain bike and thinks he sees me cryin’, which he don’t.

  “Hey Skiffy!” he goes, popping a wheelie and showing off. “Heard that old wreck of yours finally went under. Good riddance! Ugly thing stunk up the whole creek. That wasn’t a boat – it was an outhouse!”

  “Shut up!”

  “Ooh, Skiffy’s cryin’!”

>   “Am not!” I said, looking around for something to throw at him, a rotten apple for his rotten head.

  “Skiffy’s cryin’ and I ain’t lyin’! Little Skiff Beaman lives in a shack, he pees in a bucket and craps out back! Hey lobster boy! Your momma’s dead, your daddy’s drunk! Go back to the swamp, you dirty punk!”

  I been hearing variations on that stupid song since Tyler Croft was old enough to talk, so it don’t mean nothin’. All it does is make me want to womp his head with a hard green apple because that would make him cry.

  There’s nothing close to hand but an old chunk of wood. I heave it and miss. Tyler laughs and then screams away on his bike.

  “I’m tellin’ the whole wide world!” he shouts back over his shoulder. “Little Skiff Beaman cried like a baby!”

  He will, too. Not that it really matters. When your whole life is sunk, it don’t matter what nobody says about you, they can’t make it worse.

  Still, I wish I had that hard green apple.



  I got to admit, what Tyler Croft says is partly true. Our little house used to be a shack, until my mom married my dad and made him fix it up. I wasn’t there, of course, but I seen the pictures. We got running water now, and indoor plumbing, but my dad never seen no reason to tear down the old outhouse with the half-moon carved in the door. Says it reminds him of the way things used to be, and how cold it was on winter nights when you had to put on your hat and boots just to do your business in the outdoor toilet.

  When I was real little I remember my mom used to always be at him to take down that ratty old outhouse, but then she got used to it and planted flowers around it and painted it up and stuff, and didn’t mind too much when folks came round to see what it looked like, because it’s the last outhouse in all of Spinney Cove. Kind of historical, you might say.

  My dad’s family, the Beamans, they was swampers. That’s local talk for white trash, I guess. In the old days, swampers was folk who lived in shacks near the salt marsh or on the creek, and got by digging clams and trapping crabs and lobster and selling salt hay to the farmers. Come fall they’d shoot ducks and geese and salt ’em down and sell ’em by the barrel to restaurants in Boston. The point is, they lived off what they got from the marsh and the creek. This is way back before my dad was born, but they still called him a swamper on account he was a Beaman, and Beamans had always been swampers, simple as that.

  My mom, now, she weren’t no swamper, not even close. Her people was Spinneys that settled here and got the town named after them, or maybe they named it for themselves, same difference. There are rich Spinneys and poor Spinneys and regular Spinneys, but there ain’t no swamp Spinneys, and my mom’s family never let my dad forget it, believe you me. Mom never liked that, and stood up for my dad. She always said we all came from the same place, if you go back far enough, and what did it really matter what names they put on the headstones?

  The name on her headstone is Mary Roselyn Spinney Beaman, so you might say she got to have it both ways.

  One thing with swampers, though, they’re good with boats. It’s in our blood, I guess. When I was nine, my dad nailed up a little skiff for me out of plywood, and put an old five-horse Evinrude motor on the back, and give it to me for my birthday, which was really cool.

  I’m twelve now, but the skiff still fits me pretty good, and don’t leak a drop. “A tight boat is a good boat,” my dad used to say, but now he don’t care if the Mary Rose sunk, so it’s up to me to raise her.

  Only thing, I don’t really have a clue how to go about it – I never raised a sunk boat before. So I get in my skiff and row around above where she went under. I can see her down there sitting on the mud, but it still don’t figure, what to do next. Finally I get sick of looking and decide I’ll row up the creek to Mr. Woodwell’s place and see if he has any ideas on the subject.

  Lucky for me, he does.

  Mr. Woodwell is about a million years old now, and mostly retired, but once upon a time about half the working boats in Spinney Cove come out of his shed. He built the Mary Rose before I was born, and I seen the picture of him standing by the bow when she got launched for the first time. Even in the picture he looks quiet, and it’s only got worse since then. Folks say he’s so shy with words that weeks go by between one sentence and the next. That may be, but he always says hello to me. “’lo, Samuel,” he’ll say. “Come alongside and tell me what the fish are doing.” And I’ll put in to his dock and tell him the smelt are running or the mackerel are in, or if the stripers are feeding. He don’t fish – never has – but he likes to know.

  The day the Mary Rose went under he’s planting a bed of flowers by his back porch, the one that faces the creek, and don’t see me till I holler. It’s too far for him to holler back, so he waves his hat instead, and I put my skiff in to his dock and walk up the grassy slope to the porch.

  “’lo, Mr. Woodwell,” I say.

  “’lo, Samuel,” he says, patting dirt around his flowers. “What are the fish doing today?”

  “I don’t know,” I say. “Rose has sunk and I can’t raise her.”

  It takes him awhile to get up from the flower bed and wipe the dirt from his hands. “Come up the porch,” he says, and I do.

  He fetches lemonade, and that takes awhile, too. Everything takes awhile with Mr. Woodwell, ’cause he moves so slow, but I don’t mind. You never tasted lemonade so good as what he makes in his steel pitcher, from real lemons and white sugar stirred in.

  “There you are,” he says, handing me a glass. “I’ve been worried about that boat,” he says, easing himself down into his rocker. “You’ve been pumping the bilge out regular?”

  “I bailed her just before I went to school, and when I got home she was down.”

  “What did your father say?”

  “Nothin’ much.”

  “So it’s up to you, is it?”

  “I guess.”

  Mr. Woodwell sips his lemonade and stares out at the creek. “I won’t say anything against your father,” he says.

  “I don’t care about him,” I say. “I care about the Mary Rose.”

  He gives me a hard look, to see if I mean it, which I do. “Okay then,” he says. “I’m too old to be raising sunk boats. I can’t hardly lift a hammer, let alone a thirty-six-foot hull.”

  “But you can tell me how.”

  “Yes,” he says. “That I can do.”


  By the Barrel Raised

  Old Mr. Woodwell, he give me a list of things I need to raise the Mary Rose. Fifty feet of rope, a ten-foot plank, and some big steel barrels, what sometimes they call drums. I guess he knew we’d have such things close to hand – every dock on the creek has drums and rope and an old plank or two. Anyhow, first thing I do is fish the rope out of the bait shack. Then I drag a plank out of the woodpile and set it on the dock. The plank has a little green moss along the edge, but it’s still plenty strong. There’s half a dozen empty steel drums behind the bait shack, and I roll out the four have the least rust. All of ’em got rainwater sloshing around inside, so I tip each one up and empty it out, then fix the cap down tight to make it watertight, or nearly so.

  “Four drums will lift two thousand pounds, approximate. That should be just enough to shift the keel,” Mr. Woodwell told me. “You put that rig in place and then let the tide do the work.”

  His idea is tie two barrels to each end of the plank, then run a rope from one end of the plank down under the back end of the Mary Rose and up to the other two barrels.

  When the tide comes in, the big steel barrels will float up and lift the boat.

  “Sounds awful easy,” I told him.

  “A thing doesn’t have to be difficult if you give it some thought and apply a little elementary physics.”

  To look at him, you wouldn’t think Mr. Woodwell was so smart, but he is. My dad used to say a good boatbuilder was partway an artist and partway a scientist, and it was the science part of Mr. Woodwell tha
t was going to help me raise our boat.

  Not that my dad cares. Never even sticks his head out the door to see what all the fuss is, with me banging barrels around and talking loud to myself, like I’ll go, “Guess I’m on my own out here!” and, “Sure could use a hand with this heavy plank!” and, “Anybody know how to tie a good knot?” and so on.

  Finally I give up trying to rouse him and concentrate on rigging the barrels like Mr. Woodwell told me. What sounded dead easy takes me all the rest of the afternoon and partway into the evening. That’s okay because the tide won’t turn until about nine tonight.

  I get it all rigged with an hour or so to spare, so I figure to cook supper for me and Dad while I’m waiting for the tide. He don’t care about food much these days, but you got to eat.

  “Don’t trouble yourself,” he says from the couch. There’s a show on the TV he’s pretending to watch.

  “No trouble at all,” I go. “Easy to cook for two as for one. You’ll need your strength if you’re gonna help me with the boat.”

  He sighs kind of heavy and goes, “Nothing to be done, even if we raised it. She’ll just sink again.”

  “Maybe not.”

  “Salt water kills an engine dead, once it gets inside. Boat’s no good without an engine.”

  “Here. Eat your spaghetti.”

  I’m pretty good with store-bought tomato sauce. The way you do it is add fried sausage and onions and cover the whole mess with grated cheese. Spaghetti’s fine, I give you that. But by rights we should be eating fresh cod and lobster, only you need a boat to catch ’em. Which I figure to do myself, if Dad can’t be bothered.

  See, I got it all figured out. Raise the boat, fix the leak, fix the engine, then go fishing. Supposedly I ain’t tall enough yet to steer Rose by myself, but if I stand on a milk crate I can see good enough. It’ll be fun, fishing on my own, and when Dad hears about me working the traps, it’ll shame him into helping.

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