Phooey Kerflooey

Chapter One

Daredevils, Squirrel Devils, and Dares

Marcus bolted out the door of wheelchair-safe house #4, looking for his little brother, Conner. It had been two seconds. Marcus cleaned his glasses on the edge of his t-shirt and turned in a circle. Where could a ten-year-old in a wheelchair possibly zoom off to in that amount of time?

A squirrel perched on their fence gave an angry chitter. A very familiar squirrel.

“I can’t feed you anymore,” Marcus said. “No nuts, no bread crusts, no snickerdoodles. Dad and Mom said no. You shouldn’t have chewed Dad’s work boots.”

As the squirrel flicked his tail and darted away, Marcus spotted something fluttering across the decorative rocks that surrounded wheel-chair-safe house #4 instead of grass.

A small piece of paper had settled between the rocks and the rim of the sidewalk. Marcus snatched it up. Maybe Nia had asked Conner to come over to train her guinea pigs to play fetch again.

I see your cast is off. Meet me at the skate park after school. I bet you can’t—

Marcus dropped the note without reading the rest and took off.

It didn’t matter what Adam Weisburn had bet Marcus’s brother. Conner would do it. Conner would rush to do it. Conner would totally battle all of the other kids in their sleepy little town for the right to do it first and fastest, no matter how foolish or dangerous.

Marcus took a right at the library. Maybe he should have gotten Mom or Dad. The skate park was ten whole blocks away.

That was the point of wheelchair-safe house #4. Ten blocks from the skate park (unlike wheelchair-safe house #1), no interior stairs (unlike wheelchair-safe house #3), and no front porch for launching the wheelchair (unlike wheelchair-safe house #2). But Dad hadn’t gotten home from work yet and Mom was still on her phone, trying to find out if their rhododendron bush was poisonous.

 Why would a young daredevil even want to make his own tea? Conner hated tea. If he’d suddenly decided he needed a hot beverage, why not use a teabag instead of weird leaves he’d found in the yard? He had added a lot of sugar, though.

Marcus pushed himself to run faster. He absolutely could not let his brother get hurt again. Conner had no fear. Marcus needed to have enough fear for both of them.

He’d slept right through Conner tiptoeing outside to go “adventuring” a year before. His little brother had followed an owl, climbed an enormous oak looking for its nest, and slipped on the icy spring branches. The fall had broken his back.

If only Conner had taken Marcus with him . . . Well, Marcus was sticking with his brother now, even if that meant a race to the park when he’d rather be writing or making a boardgame.

Marcus took a left at a small thrift shop called “The Snazzy Goat”, then chugged down Maple Street as it angled toward the park. There, at the far end—he could just make out a speeding wheelchair with technicolor lights flashing from both back wheels and a giant squirt gun mounted on the armrest.

Marcus sucked in a deep breath and turned onto the bike path that led to the park, pushing himself to a full sprint.

Conner was already peering into the giant pit where skateboards and bikes zoomed with pleasant nonchalance, but wheelchairs tended to perform terrifying flips of destruction. He’d just gotten the cast off his leg that proved skateparks had not been built with wheelchairs in mind. Both he and Adam Weisburn should know better.

But nope, there was Adam and his new puppy.

 Marcus ran a few more steps and then slowed before approaching the boys. He didn’t want to startle Conner off the ledge by leaping out of nowhere and seizing his chair. Marcus ducked behind the closest tree. If given the chance, maybe his brother would resist whatever foolishness Adam had in mind.

Adam approached Conner with a sneer on his face that jolted Marcus’s heart rate back to super speed. He edged closer. Hadn’t one ill-considered dare at the skatepark been enough? The last thing Conner needed was another broken bone.

“Will you do it or are you scared?” Adam shoved his hands in his pockets and smiled.

Conner pulled a spiral flip book out of the storage pocket on the side of his chair and opened it up.

Conner’s Shakespearian Insult Generator! The innocent-looking book contained a heap of fancy rudeness from 400 years ago. Hadn’t Mom taken that away?

Conner sat tall in his chair and faced his nemesis.

“Hi, Adam!” Marcus darted out from behind the tree and shouted in a wildly cheerful voice. “Is that a new puppy?”

Conner simply shouted louder, to be heard over Marcus’s interruption. “Your wit’s as thick as a Tewkesbury mustard.”

Adam squinted at the small book, then laughed. “Just ’cause it’s Shakespeare doesn’t mean it’s a good insult.”

Dad should never have gotten Conner hooked on Shakespeare! Marcus jogged the last few steps to stand behind his brother and grab his chair. “How about this one,” he said, taking a moment to suck in a few breaths of air. “If both of you don’t go home now, I’m calling Dad.”

“That is a threat, not an insult. You don’t even have a phone.” Adam knelt and gave his Labrador pup a pat.

“Don’t bother Dad, Marcus. I’ve got this.” Conner jerked on his wheels, trying to break Marcus’s grip.

“Are you sure, Adam?” Marcus reached into his pocket for the phone he’d made out of cardboard, duct tape, and the ink from three permanent markers. The phone that had been waiting three whole hours for such a time as this.

Adam paused for a long moment, eyeing Marcus. Then he ducked his head and hustled away, the puppy dancing along beside him.

Conner snorted and yanked free. He wheeled back toward the house so fast Marcus had to run to keep up.

Mom met them at the front door. “Honey, did you just make the tea or did you drink any?”

The evil squirrel chittered from his perch on the roof and tossed chewed-up darts down at them.

Mom batted a dart away and gave the boys a stern look.

“I’m fine, Mom. It was just a little tea and my mouth hardly feels funny at all. Why is everyone so boring and—” Conner froze, made a face, then hunched over and vomited into the decorative rocks next to their for-sure-poisonous rhododendron bush.