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Gregor and the curse of.., p.20
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       Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, p.20

         Part #3 of Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins
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  "Why did she do it?" said Gregor.

  "To have the plague in our would have given us total domination over the warmbloods," said Vikus, searching for words to explain. "From a military standpoint, it is a highly desirable weapon. Lethal. Unstoppable to those without the cure. Such a deadly weapon...such a seductive one..." He rubbed his eyes, and Gregor was afraid he was going to start crying, but he didn't. "We are very different people, Solovet and I."

  "Yeah. It's kind of weird to me that you're married," said Gregor, and then wondered if that was a really obnoxious thing to say.

  But Vikus only smiled. "Yes. It has always been something of a puzzle to both of us as well."

  Gregor had to spend the next two days confined to his bed. He had plenty of visitors, but it still drove him crazy. He kept thinking of the jungle and everything that had happened there. He thought a lot about the prophecy, too, and one thing still confused him. When Nerissa came by to sit with him, he asked her about it.

  "Hey, Nerissa, you know what I can't figure out about 'The Prophecy of Blood'?" he said. "How come we had to go on that whole search for the cure at all? Neveeve had the cure to the plague right here. She'd even started to treat people before we got back."

  "The prophecy does not say the plague will destroy the warmbloods, Gregor. It says, 'If the flames of war are fanned, / All warmbloods lose the Underland,'" said Nerissa.

  ", what?" said Gregor.

  "Say the quest for the cure never happened. Then we would have never known the truth about Neveeve. She would have produced the cure, yes, but do you think it would have been given to the gnawers?" asked Nerissa.

  "Probably not. You guys weren't even giving them the yellow flea powder," said Gregor.

  "Exactly so. The minute the gnawers found out about the flea powder, they were determined to get it. Now imagine if it became known that the humans had the actual cure for the plague and were not giving it to the gnawers. What do you think they would have done?" asked Nerissa.

  "Attacked you. I mean, what would they have to lose if they were going to die of the plague, anyway?" said Gregor.

  "Yes. There would have been a war. And that is why Sandwich was saying the warmbloods would not survive," said Nerissa. "War has been averted...for now."

  The longer Gregor stayed in bed, the more restless he became. He had to see his mom! When he was finally given permission to get up and visit her, the doctors said he had to walk slowly and quietly. He agreed.

  His mom was propped up in bed with a tray of food before her. Not much of it seemed to be getting in her. Gregor came up to her bedside.

  "Hi, Mom," he said.

  "Hey, baby," she said hoarsely. The purple bump on her face looked a little smaller, but she seemed almost too weak to hold her spoon. "How you doing?"

  "Oh, I'm good," said Gregor. That was not really true but he didn't want to add to her worries. He tried to think of some funny anecdote to tell her from the trip to the jungle, but absolutely nothing came to mind. "You seen Boots?"

  "Not awake. I didn't want her to get scared seeing me like this. A girl brought her and held her up at the window, though, while she was asleep," said his mom. "The girl didn't look so hot herself."

  "That must have been Luxa," said Gregor, and for some reason he felt himself blush.

  "I liked her. I could tell she's got real attitude," said his mom.

  "I thought you'd say that," said Gregor. He scooped up a spoonful of broth and held it up to her mouth. "Come on, Mom. You're not going to get better just looking at it."

  She allowed him to feed her a little broth before she spoke again. "Have they told you I can't go back now?"

  "I've been thinking, maybe Boots and I can just stay down here with you until you're better," said Gregor.

  Distress contorted his mother's face. "Oh, no, you can't! I want you out of here. You take my baby and go home now!"

  He had to promise he would go, over and over again. His mom made sure he knew she thought he had broken that promise once before, when he had left for the jungle instead of New York City. There was no cure to seek now, though. He knew he had to do what she asked.

  A few hours later, he and Boots were saying goodbye in the High Hall. Luxa, Hazard, Nerissa, Mareth, and Temp had come to see them off. He had made the rounds in the hospital already, telling everyone he'd see them soon. He would, too. Vikus said they could come and visit his mom as often as they wanted.

  As difficult as his own life must be, Vikus took the time to personally fly Gregor and Boots home on his big gray bat, Euripedes. He had arranged for their father to meet them at the laundry room instead of the Central Park entrance. The currents were in full force, and Euripedes barely flapped his wings as they rode the misty white vapors up, up, up to the world above.

  And there was his dad, arms extended for Boots, then pulling him into the laundry room. And there was Lizzie, her little face pinched with the strain of the last few weeks, but smiling, too, at the sight of them.

  "Fly you high!" he heard Vikus call as Euripedes dropped back into the mist.

  "Yeah, fly you high, too, Vikus," he called back. The old man needed all the good wishes he could get at the moment.

  Boots was delighted to be back home and ran to get her poison arrow frog toys so that she could tell Lizzie about the real ones she'd seen. While she prattled on about "I see red, I see blue, I see yellow fogs!" and hopped around the living room, Gregor tried to catch up some with his dad. It was all still pretty hard to talk about. The plague, the jungle, the battle, the deaths, and the huge hollow in the apartment that his mom usually filled.

  It was after midnight on Friday night. He had been down less than two weeks. All that had happened in less than two weeks.

  There was no argument when his dad told them it was bedtime. Gregor gratefully crawled between his covers and fell asleep at once. In his dreams he kept looking for someone but it wasn't until he woke the next morning that he realized he'd been trying to find his mom.

  While he was still lying in bed, Lizzie peeked around the corner of his doorway. "Hey, Liz, come on in." He pulled back the blanket, and she happily curled up next to him. She held out an envelope to him. "What's this?" Inside was a handmade card that read, "Happy Birthday, Gregor!" in bright marker. His birthday. It had been sometime last week. He must have turned twelve in the jungle.

  "Wow, that's beautiful, thanks, Lizzie," he said.

  "Dad said we could get you some presents when you got home and make a cake, too," said Lizzie. "But, Gregor, I don't know what's going to happen now about money."

  Their mom made the money, but she was too sick to even come home.

  "Dad says he's going back to work, but his fevers have started coming back in the afternoons, so I don't think he can," said Lizzie.

  "He's sick again?" asked Gregor.

  "I read the paper they sent that time from the Underland. It said people can have re-lap-ses. The dictionary says that means it comes back again," said Lizzie.

  His dad had seemed okay last night, but afternoons had always been when he was the sickest. Gregor began to feel worry gnawing inside him, but tried not to let it show. "Well, Vikus said he had them pack some more money from the museum. That should get us by for a while." He hoped. "Don't worry, Liz, it will work out okay. It's Saturday morning, right? I better get over to Mrs. Cormaci's." They would need that forty bucks.

  "You had another flu," said Lizzie.

  "What?" said Gregor.

  "You had another flu. That's what I told everybody who asked about you," said Lizzie. "Mrs. Cormaci said you better get a flu shot next year. Oh, and Larry and Angelina brought over your homework." She pointed at a stack of books on his windowsill, the sight of which made Gregor feel kind of sick for real.

  "Man, two weeks of homework," said Gregor.

  "We had two snow days, so it's really only eight school days," said Lizzie encouragingly.

  "Okay, then things are looking up," said Gregor a
nd poked her in the stomach. It was nice to see her laugh.

  The cold snap was over, and when he opened the window a crack there was a soft, springy smell to the air. Gregor pulled on a pair of baggy pants over his bandaged legs and found a long-sleeved sweatshirt. It wasn't until he'd put on his socks that he realized he had no shoes except the Underlander sandals he'd left Regalia in. His boots had been destroyed by acid in the jungle. His last pair of sneakers had disintegrated before Christmas. Not knowing what else to do, he put on the sandals over his socks and tugged his waistband down to his hips so his pant cuffs would help hide his strange footwear.

  He tiptoed in to give his grandma a kiss while she slept and tucked a blanket up around Boots. Around her on the pillow were the plastic poison arrow frogs. "I better come up with some way to get rid of those," he thought. His dad was still asleep on the pullout couch. In the daylight, Gregor could see what Lizzie had said was true. The strange tone to his skin, the tremor in his hands...He was sick again.

  At ten o'clock, Gregor was knocking on Mrs. Cormaci's door. She eyed him closely, said he looked washed out, and gave him a big plate of scrambled eggs. Before she handed off the list of errands for the day, she made him come sit in the living room so she could give him his birthday present.

  "You didn't have to get me anything," he said, turning the gift over in his hands.

  "I figure I owe you these, much as I make you run around," she said with a wave of her hand.

  He opened the box to find a pair of sneakers. Not any sneakers, but great sneakers, cool sneakers, the kind he never really even imagined owning because he knew they cost too much. "Oh, they're fantastic," he said.

  "Why don't you try them on, because if they don't fit I've got the receipt, and we can go back and exchange them," she said.

  But Gregor didn't move. Because to try them on would mean to take off his weird sandals, which he had carefully tucked under the coffee table, and then he'd have to explain those. And he couldn't. He couldn't because his mind was too preoccupied with his mom being miles under the ground with the plague and his dad relapsing and Lizzie's worried face and the impossibility of managing all that. What were they going to do? If his mom was gone for months, if his dad got bad again and couldn't even take care of them let alone go back to work and even if he could go back to work, then who would take care of his grandma and Boots and where was the money for all this going

  357 to come from, anyway? And whoever he was in the Underland, in the real world Gregor was just an eleven -- no, a twelve-year-old kid who had no idea what to do.

  "Gregor? You going to try on the shoes?" said Mrs. Cormaci. "If you don't like them, it's okay to say so. We can exchange them for another pair."

  "No, they're perfect," he said. "It's just that..."

  "What's the matter, honey?" she said.

  He was going to need help. His whole family was going to need help if they were going to keep going. But Gregor was not good at lying, and he was so very, very tired.

  "Gregor? What is it?" said Mrs. Cormaci. She sat in a chair across from him. "Something's wrong, I can tell."

  Gregor fingered the laces of the shoes, took a deep breath, and made a decision. "Mrs. Cormaci?" he said. "Mrs. Cormaci...can you keep a secret?"

  Suzanne Collins, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, ISBN: - 9780439656245

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