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Freak the mighty, p.1
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       Freak the Mighty, p.1

           Rodman Philbrick
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Freak the Mighty

  “A wonderful story of triumph over imperfection, shame, and loss…. The author writes with empathy, honoring the possibilities of even peripheral characters; Kevin and Max are memorable and luminous. Many … novels deal with effects of a friend dying, but this one is somewhat different and very special.”

  — School Library Journal, starred review

  “… mesmerizingly suspenseful … poignant…. Easily read but compelling; an intriguing and unusual story.”

  — Kirkus Reviews, pointered review

  “… the story is both riveting and poignant, with solid characters, brisk pacing, and even a little humor to carry us along.”

  — Booklist, boxed review

  “The book is subtle but compelling, with the outrageous grotesquerie of the partnership conveyed enjoyably in Max’s narration…. Sort of A Separate Peace meets Of Mice and Men….”

  — BCCB

  “Told from Max’s perspective, the harrowing events of his life are revealed gradually, as he is able to face them, thanks to the wisdom of his friend who had taught him to ‘think your way out of the pain.’ A fascinating excursion into the lives of people whose freakishness proves to be a thin cover for their very human condition.”

  — The Horn Book Magazine

  “The unique voice of this first-person narrative is fresh, funny and touching…. The well-paced, compelling story leaves the reader feeling privileged to have shared the friendship of Freak the Mighty. Highly Recommended.”

  — Book Report

  “Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick … is a winner. From the opening paragraphs, this book has a distinctive ‘voice’ as Philbrick develops his unusual characters…. In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters might have become clichés, but Philbrick develops an engaging story as this unlikely pair form a friendship and eventually combine forces to become Freak the Mighty.”

  — Santa Cruz County Sentinel

  A Judy Lopez Memorial Award

  Honor Book

  To the real Kevin, and the real Gwen,

  with love.



  Title Page


  1. The Unvanquished Truth

  2. Up from the Down Under

  3. American Flyer

  4. What Frightened the Fair Gwen

  5. Spitting Image

  6. Close Encounter of the Turd Kind

  7. Walking High Above the World

  8. Dinosaur Brain

  9. Life Is Dangerous

  10. Rats or Worse

  11. The Damsel of Distress

  12. Killer Kane, Killer Kane, Had a Kid Who Got No Brain

  13. American Chop Suey

  14. Cross My Heart and Hope to Die

  15. What Came Down the Chimney

  16. A Chip off the Old Block

  17. By All That’s Holy

  18. Never Trust a Cripple

  19. Into the Black Down Under

  20. Freak the Mighty Strikes Again

  21. The Accident of Nature

  22. Remembering Is Just an Invention of the Mind

  23. The Empty Book

  24. The Return of Kicker

  25. What Loretta Said

  Freak’s Dictionary

  After Words™

  About the Author

  Finding My Voice: An Interview with Rodman Philbrick

  Rod’s Writing Tips

  Knights and Quests and the Real Fair Guinevere

  Freak the Mighty’s Make-Your-Own-Quest Guide (in Four Easy Steps)

  A Sneak Peek at Max the Mighty


  I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for a while, and that’s the truth, the whole truth. The unvanquished truth, is how Freak would say it, and for a long time it was him who did the talking. Except I had a way of saying things with my fists and my feet even before we became Freak the Mighty, slaying dragons and fools and walking high above the world.

  Called me Kicker for a time — this was day care, the year Gram and Grim took me over — and I had a thing about booting anyone who dared to touch me. Because they were always trying to throw a hug on me, like it was a medicine I needed.

  Gram and Grim, bless their pointed little heads, they’re my mother’s people, her parents, and they figured whoa! better put this little critter with other little critters his own age, maybe it will improve his temper.

  Yeah, right! Instead, what happened, I invented games like kick-boxing and kick-knees and kick-faces and kick-teachers, and kick-the-other-little-day-care-critters, because I knew what a rotten lie that hug stuff was. Oh, I knew.

  That’s when I got my first look at Freak, that year of the phony hugs. He didn’t look so different back then, we were all of us pretty small, right? But he wasn’t in the playroom with us every day, just now and then he’d show up. Looking sort of fierce, is how I remember him. Except later it was Freak himself who taught me that remembering is a great invention of the mind, and if you try hard enough you can remember anything, whether it really happened or not.

  So maybe he wasn’t really all that fierce in day care, except I’m pretty sure he did hit a kid with his crutch once, whacked the little brat pretty good. And for some reason little Kicker never got around to kicking little Freak.

  Maybe it was those crutches kept me from lashing out at him, man those crutches were cool. I wanted a pair for myself. And when little Freak showed up one day with these shiny braces strapped to his crooked legs, metal tubes right up to his hips, why those were even more cool than crutches.

  “I’m Robot Man,” little Freak would go, making these weird robot noises as he humped himself around the playground. Rrr … rrrr … rrrr … like he had robot motors inside his legs, going rrrr … rrrr … rrrr, and this look, like don’t mess with me, man, maybe I got a laser cannon hidden inside these leg braces, smoke a hole right through you. No question, Freak was hooked on robots even back then, this little guy two feet tall, and already he knew what he wanted.

  Then for a long time I never saw Freak anymore, one day he just never came back to day care, and the next thing I remember I’m like in the third grade or something and I catch a glimpse of this yellow-haired kid scowling at me from one of those cripple vans. Man, they were death-ray eyes, and I think, hey, that’s him, the robot boy, and it was like whoa! because I’d forgotten all about him, day care was a blank place in my head, and nobody had called me Kicker for a long time.

  Mad Max they were calling me, or Max Factor, or this one butthead in L.D. class called me Maxi Pad, until I persuaded him otherwise. Gram and Grim always called me Maxwell, though, which is supposed to be my real name, and sometimes I hated that worst of all. Maxwell, ugh.

  Grim out in the kitchen one night, after supper whispering to Gram had she noticed how much Maxwell was getting to look like Him? Which is the way he always talked about my father, who had married his dear departed daughter and produced, eek eek, Maxwell. Grim never says my father’s name, just Him, like his name is too scary to say.

  It’s more than just the way Maxwell resembles him, Grim says that night in the kitchen, the boy is like him, we’d better watch out, you never know what he might do while we’re sleeping. Like his father did. And Gram right away shushes him and says don’t ever say that, because little pictures have big ears, which makes me run to the mirror to see if it is my big ears made me look like Him.

  What a butthead, huh?

  Well, I was a butthead, because like I said, I never had a brain until Freak moved down the street. The summer before eighth grade, right? That’s the summer I grew so fast that Grim said we’d best let the boy go barefoot, he’s exploding out of his shoes. That barefoot summer when I fell down a lot, and
the weirdo robot boy with his white-yellow hair and his weird fierce eyes moved into the duplex down the block with his beautiful brown-haired mom, the Fair Gwen of Air.

  Only a falling-down goon would think that was her real name, right?

  Like I said.

  Are you paying attention here? Because you don’t even know yet how we got to be Freak the Mighty. Which was pretty cool, even if I do say so myself.

  That summer, let’s see, I’m still living in the basement, my own private down under, in the little room Grim built for me there. Glued up this cheap paneling, right? It sort of buckles away from the concrete cellar walls, a regular ripple effect, but do I complain about the crummy paneling, or the rug that smells like low tide? I do not. Because I like it in the down under, got the place all to myself and no fear of Gram sticking her head in the door and saying Maxwell dear, what are you doing?

  Not that I ever do much of anything. Grim has it fixed in his head I’m at a dangerous age and they need to keep me under observation. Like I might make bombs or start a fire. Or whack out the local pets with my trusty slingshot or whatever — except I never had a slingshot, it was Grim who had one when he was my age. The proof is right there in the family photo album. You can see this blurry little miniature Grim with no front teeth, grinning at the camera and yanking back on this prehistoric slingshot. Good for whacking mastodons, probably. “Just proper targets,” Grim says, closing up the photo album, end of discussion. Like, oops, better hide the evidence. Don’t want to give the dangerous boy any ideas.

  Not that I have any ideas. My brain is vacant, okay? I’m just this critter hiding out in the basement, drooling in my comic books or whatever. All right, I never actually drool, but you get the picture.

  Anyhow, this is the first day of July, already counting down for the Fourth and wondering where can I get an M80, which is supposed to have the explosive power of a quarter stick of dynamite or something, and when it goes off your heart thuds to a stop for a microsecond, wham. Which is probably what Grim is afraid of, eek eek, Maxwell armed with dynamite.

  So finally I get bored in the down under and I’m hanging out in the so-called back yard, your basic chunk of chain-link heaven. Grim keeps this crummy little mower in the shed, but what’s the point of mowing dirt, right? Okay, I’m out there messing around and that’s when I see the moving van. Not your mainstream, nationwide, brand-name mover, either, just some cheapo local outfit. These big bearded dudes in their sweaty undershirts lugging stuff into the duplex half that’s been vacant since last Christmas, when the dope fiend who lived there finally got busted.

  At first I’m thinking the dope fiend is back, he’s out of jail or whatever, and he’s moving his stuff back in. Then I see the Fair Gwen. Not that I knew her name, that was a little while later. At first she’s a glimpse, caught her going between the van and the front door, talking to the beards. I’m thinking, hey I know her, and then I’m thinking, no way, butthead, no way you’d know a female that beautiful.

  Because she looks like some kind of movie star. Wearing these old jeans and a baggy T-shirt, and her long hair is tied back and she’s probably sweating, but she still looks like a movie star. Like she has this glow, a secret spotlight that follows her around and makes her eyes light up.

  And I’m thinking, well this improves the old neighborhood. You’re thinking, yeah right, the goon is barely out of seventh grade, who does he think he is? All I’m saying, the Fair Gwen had star quality, and even a total moron can see it. And the reason she looked familiar is, I must have seen her bringing Freak to day care, way back in the dark ages, because the next thing I notice is this crippled-up yellow-haired midget kid strutting around the sidewalk, giving orders to the beards.

  He’s going: “Hey you, Doofus! Yeah, you with the hairy face, take it easy with that box. That box contains a computer, you know what a computer is?”

  I can’t believe it. By then I’m sneaking along the street to see what’s going on, and there’s this weird-looking little dude, he’s got a normal-sized head, but the rest of him is shorter than a yardstick and kind of twisted in a way that means he can’t stand up straight and makes his chest puff out, and he’s waving his crutches around and yelling up at the movers.

  “Hey, Gwen,” one of the beards says, “can’t you give this kid a pill or something? He’s driving us nuts.”

  So Gwen comes out of the house and pushes the hair out of her big brown eyes and she goes, “Kevin, go play in the back yard, okay?”

  “But my computer.”

  “Your computer is fine. Leave the men alone. They’ll be done soon and then we can have lunch.”

  By this time I’m hunkering along in front of the place, trying to maintain a casual attitude, except like I said my feet are going wild that year and I keep tripping over everything. Cracks in the sidewalk, ants on the sidewalk, shadows, anything.

  Then the strange little dude jerks himself around and catches sight of me and he lifts a crutch and points it up at my heart and he goes, “Identify yourself, earthling.”

  I’m busy keeping my feet from tripping and don’t get it that he means me.

  “I said identify yourself, earthling, or suffer the consequences.”

  I’m like, what? And before I can decide whether or not to tell him my name, or which name, because by now I recognize him as the weird little robot kid from day care and maybe he remembers me as Kicker, anyhow before I can say a word he pulls the trigger on the crutch and makes a weapon noise, and he goes, “Then die, earthling, die!”

  I motor out of there without saying a word. Because I’m pretty sure he really means it. The way he points that crutch is only part of it. You have to see the look in his eye. Man, that little dude really hates me.

  He wants me to die.

  Okay, back to the down under, right? My room in the basement. Scuttle into your dim hole in the ground, Maxwell dear. Big goon like you, growing about an inch a day, and this midget kid, this crippled little humanoid, he actually scared you. Not the kind of scare that makes your knee bones feel like water, more the kind of scare where you go whoa! I don’t understand this, I don’t get it, what’s going on?

  Like calling me “earthling.” Which by itself is pretty weird, right? I already mentioned a few of the names I’ve been called, but until the robot boy showed up, nobody had ever called me earthling, and so I’m lying on my mattress there in the great down under, and it comes to me that he’s right, I am an earthling, we’re all of us earthlings, but we don’t call each other earthling. No need. Because it’s the same thing that in this country we’re all Americans, but we don’t go around to people and say, “Excuse me, American, can you tell me how to get to the nearest 7 Eleven?”

  So I’m thinking about that for a while, lying there in the cellar dark, and pretty soon the down under starts to get small, like the walls are shrinking, and I go up to the bulkhead stairs into the back yard and find a place where I can check it out.

  There’s this one scraggly tree behind the little freak’s house, right? Like a stick in the ground with a few wimped-out branches. And there he is, hardly any bigger now than he was in day care, and he’s standing there waving his crutch up at the tree.

  I kind of slide over to the chain-link fence, get a better angle on the scene. What’s he doing whacking at that crummy tree? Trying to jump up and hit this branch with his little crutch, and he’s mad, hopping mad. Only he can’t really jump, he just makes this jumping kind of motion. His feet never leave the ground.

  Then what he does, he throws down the crutch and he gets down on his hands and knees and crawls back to his house. If you didn’t know, you would think he was like a kindergarten creeper who forgot how to walk, he’s that small. And he crawls real good, better than he can walk. Before you know it, he’s dragging this wagon out from under the steps.

  Rusty red thing, one of those old American Flyer models. Anyhow, the little freak is tugging it backwards, a few inches at a time. Chugging along until he gets
that little wagon under the tree. Next thing he picks up his crutch and he climbs in the wagon and he stands up and he’s whacking at the tree again.

  By now I’ve figured out that there’s something stuck up in the branches and he wants to get it down. This small, bright-colored thing, looks like a piece of folded paper. Whatever it is, that paper thing, he wants it real bad, but even with the wagon there’s no way he can reach it. No way.

  So I go over there to his back yard, trying to be really quiet, but I’m no good at sneaking up, not with these humongous feet, and he turns and faces me with that crutch raised up like he’s ready to hit a grand slam on my head.

  He wants to say something, you can tell that much, but he’s so mad, he’s all huffed up and the noise he makes, it could be from a dog or something, and he sounds like he can hardly breathe.

  What I do, I keep out of range of that crutch and just reach up and pick the paper thing right out of the tree. Except it’s not a paper thing. It’s a plastic bird, light as a feather. I have to hold it real careful or it might break, that’s how flimsy it is.

  I go, “You want this back or what?”

  The little freak is staring at me bug-eyed, and he goes, “Oh, it talks.”

  I give him the bird-thing. “What is it, like a model airplane or something?”

  You can tell he’s real happy to have the bird-thing back, and his face isn’t quite so fierce. He sits down in the wagon, and he goes, “This is an ornithopter. An ornithopter is defined as an experimental device propelled by flapping wings. Or you could say that an ornithopter is just a big word for mechanical bird.”

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