How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (2 page)

BOOK: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
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chapter 2

“Male peacocks use their huge, ornamented tail to attract female attention. Flashy male displays are a common way to successfully obtain a mate.”

—Animal Wisdom

Mondays are a lot like lions hiding in the tall grass. They are always ready to pounce. And if you're going to school
without
your best friend, Mondays can be just as dangerous. Ever since Liv moved away, I felt like I was walking around with a giant target on my back. I had to pretend like nothing had changed.

But everything had changed.

I kept my head down as I walked to my locker before the bell rang. The halls of our school were buzzing with activity. Summer was almost here, and you could tell it was starting to get to everyone. Even the teachers would stare out the window, like they were looking at a giant slice of pie they wanted to scarf down.

Posters for the end-of-school dance (which they called the “School End Dance”—geniuses) were suspended from the ceilings and people were getting extra touchy-feely all over each other. What is it about upcoming dances and skirt weather that makes girls all eye-batty and guys more rowdy than usual? I mean, it's even on a Monday. Who has a dance on a
Monday
?

Middle school, that's who.

I shoved my backpack into my locker and dug around for a binder. Our final tests were coming up, and my May calendar stared me in the face on my locker door, with each test day marked with a sticker. My math test was the worst of all, looming on my calendar like a giant black hole instead of the cute little unicorn sticker Liv had given me. What if I didn't even pass? I could be stuck in the bottom end of junior high forever. All of the buildup made little flutters of anxiety buzz around in my stomach.

A palm tree sticker on my calendar reminded me about my English assignment. Mrs. Roca has this tradition where she makes us each stand up in front of the room and ramble on for exactly two minutes about a topic that she pulls from a hat. Seriously, she even has this moldy looking top hat specifically for these little torture sessions. We aren't allowed to say “um” or we lose points. My topic is Harry Houdini, and after coming up with a zillion excuses for the past month on why I wasn't ready, my big day was coming this week.

The only magical guy named Harry that I know anything about had a lightning bolt scar on his forehead, so there is no way I've got two minutes' worth. But mostly, the thought of standing at the front of the room while everybody secretly hopes for me to throw up like I did in fifth grade during group debates was almost enough to make me, well…throw up again. All those eyes just…staring at me.

“Um, can I get into here…?” A low voice interrupted my locker scan. A familiar knocking began in my chest. It was Zack.
The
Zack.

CREATURE FILE

SPECIES NAME:
Zackardia Perfecticus

KINGDOM:
Junior High

PHYLUM:
Tennis Gods; Dimpled Carnivora (LOOK AT HIS DIMPLES!)—targeted crush of Sneerer Clan Apex: Ashley

WEIGHT:
Just. Right.

NATURAL HABITAT:
Unclear; species has never been seen outside of school habitat. Always has tennis ball in hand, so can probably be found at tennis courts.

FEEDS ON:
Sports, video games, and Thursday ravioli at the caf.

LIFE SPAN:
Not long enough.

HANDLING TECHNIQUE:
I wish.

*NOTE* ZACKARDIA PERFECTICUS IS KNOWN TO APPEAR OUT OF NOWHERE. ENSURE PROPER HYGIENE AND HAIR CARE TO MINIMIZE EMBARRASSMENT FROM RANDOM ENCOUNTERS. ALSO, LIP GLOSS.

“Hey!” I cleared my throat. Did I just yell that? “Hey, Zack. Nice weather we're having, hmm?”

I actually said that. I wanted to tear out my vocal chords with a pen. I stepped aside so he could get into his locker, which was serendipitously placed beside mine.

I couldn't decide whether it was good or bad luck yet.

Given the last thirty seconds, bad.

Zack was the type of guy that should come with a warning label: Do not look at if you are operating heavy machinery, walking, or trying not to make a complete fool of yourself. Once, Liv caught me doodling a cartoon of Zack looking up at me on a balcony, Romeo and Juliet style. I even drew him holding flowers.
That's
how pathetically sad and insane it makes me having Zack pop up at a moment's notice.

Not only was he seriously the cutest guy in school, Zack was also a tennis star. Girls who couldn't even
spell
tennis showed up to his games. He also had the ability to make me stutter, a development I've noticed since the summer sun had given his hair a decidedly beachy look.

Mmm.

He slid a textbook into his locker with a thud, jerking me from my little daydream. Apparently if Zack is around, I have the attention span of a gnat. I stood there gaping at him, digging around in my head for the perfect, witty thing to say.

“Uh…” was all I came up with.

That's when I heard a high-pitched voice coming from down the hall. I wished for the hundredth time that I was invisible as I peeked past Zack.

The
Sneerers.

Three girls swayed their hips as they walked in their usual line formation. They each had on black skirts with a loose tank top clinging at their hips, each in a different color. I don't know how they managed it, but they always seemed to walk like there was a soundtrack playing for them—only they were the only ones who could hear it.

“Hey, Zack.” Ashley gave a flirty wave as she approached us. I ducked my head behind my locker door, hoping they wouldn't notice me.

Ashley, Brooke, and Rayna were the worst part of my day. Every day. You know how some girls you're friends with earlier in school, say, first grade, but then something happens and they start hating on you for no reason?

Yeah. Ashley is nothing like that. We've never been friends. She's always hated me, and she
loves
to feel like she's super mature. She even wears a matching set of earrings and a necklace, which (as she told us a bazillion times) her mother got her when she got her first bra. Because of this (the attitude, the pearl earrings, and the solid B cup), I've always avoided her like a school-borne plague. Tweedledee and Tweedledum stick with her like those little scavenger fish around a shark, eager to get a bite of popularity from her. Actually, Ashley would make a pretty good shark because she's even on the swim team with Rayna. I can't imagine anyone that would
voluntarily
put on a Speedo under those nasty lights, but they seem to have some sort of supergene that makes their blond hair not turn green with all that chlorine. Brooke moved here a year or so ago, so she's currently the lowest rank on Team Sneerer.

CREATURE FILE

SPECIES NAME:
Ashleydae Reignus

KINGDOM:
Junior High

PHYLUM:
Carnivora; Swim Team Goddesses

WEIGHT:
I don't know, but they get full after two bites of sushi.

NATURAL HABITAT:
The mall, but only the parts that are backlit with pink lighting.

FEEDS ON:
The souls and pain of the weak, waterproof mascara, organic food, and
Teen Vogue
; also, my misfortune.

LIFE SPAN:
Most witches and monsters in fairytales seek immortality, so…

HANDLING TECHNIQUE:
AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

*NOTE* SPECIES RAYNAA PONTIFICUS AND BROOKENZI SNEEROFIDUS HAVE BEEN FOUND TO BE GENETIC CLONES OF SPECIES NOTED ABOVE.

“Hey, Scales.” Ashley's voice dripped with sweetness. You could tell she was aware that Zack was listening by the way her eyes flitted to him every four seconds—such a shark. She swept a lock of blond hair from her eyes. The silver on her earrings twinkled in the light. “I hope there aren't any bugs in your pants today. Must be hard without Liv around to do your hair for you, huh?” She twirled her hair around her fingertip and eyed my ponytail with fake sympathy.

Seriously, ever since my idiot brother let slip that I was named after a snake—an anaconda to be precise—I hadn't heard the end of it. And the whole bug thing—so I accidentally left the house with a pocket full of crickets after feeding some of Daz's snakes. One time. Four years ago. If it hadn't been so mortifying, it would have been funny; they started chirping during Mr. Dixon's grammar lecture, and it sounded exactly like a movie where everybody gets bored. Usually the Sneerers had to face Liv whenever they made fun of me, but now? I am basically target practice.

“Hey, Ashley, did you know that some perfumes are made with whale vomit? Maybe you want to go a little easy on the spritzing tomorrow?”

I
so
wish I'd said that, but the voice belonged to someone else.

I swiveled around wide-eyed to see who had the guts to talk back to Ashley. A tall girl in red warm-up pants was half jogging toward us.

Rebecca!

I gulped and kept my eyes forward, not wanting to make eye contact. Rebecca was Ashley's older sister, and being in eighth grade, she was even more popular (and therefore scarier) than anyone our age in seventh. But she did it without being a kraken. Although it was sort of cool to see someone take a dig at Ashley. How could a nice girl like Rebecca be sisters with Ashley?

“Why don't you shut up, Becca?” Ashley spat at her sister.

Rebecca ignored her and smirked at me. My cheeks burned at the attention. “Ignore her. She's just miffed I beat her time at practice this morning,
again
. Aren't you,
kiddo
?” Rebecca reached out and punched Ashley playfully on the arm before sauntering away to her friends.

See? Some people seem to ooze confidence all over the place. Whereas the only thing I oozed was a bit of prickly sweat under my arms when I was nervous. Which was almost all the time.

I bit my tongue, unable to hide my smile. I guess sometimes the best way to deal with mean ones was to be mean right back? Of course, the thought of saying anything like that to Ashley made me want to lose my breakfast.

Ashley's perfectly stained lips pressed thin, and her face shifted to a grim mask of anger. She makes that face a lot, and it always makes me think her skin is going to melt off and reveal a metal robot skull and a flickering, short-circuited eyeball. I could see it.

She glared at me. “Whatever, geek. Smile all you want, but we'll see how happy you are in English class,” she said, puffing up her chest. “I just talked to Mrs. Roca, and she said I could switch my talk with yours. So you'll be talking today, instead of the end of the week,” she cooed. “She mentioned something about you putting it off long enough?
You're welcome.
” Ashley's eyes were wide with phony innocence.

My stomach plummeted to the floor. I swear, the devil must take lessons from Ashley. Now what was I going to do?! Two minutes, two minutes…how could I avoid stage fright puking with such short notice?!

She turned on her heels and stomped away. Her two minions followed but not before Rayna gave me the Look. The Look is the Sneerers' specialty, where they raise one eyebrow and make you (the target) feel as dumb/ugly/worthless as possible. They're really good at it. Sometimes it comes with a patented lip curl too.

As the Sneerers stormed off, Brooke nearly bulldozed straight into Bella, a tiny girl in our grade who always darted to class like a field mouse with her head stuck in a book. Her short, pixieish hair popped above the pages as Ashley yelled, “Walk much, Brooke?” Shoving her friend, she glared at Bella. “Look out,
freak
.” She waved her hand dismissively, like she was swatting away flies instead of the awkward girl in front of her. Poor Bella.

I peeked up trying to give her a smile, but she bowed her head back into her book and flitted around the corner, away from the Sneerers.

“Woo! She's looking rather hot today, don't you think, Kev? How come you don't get yourself some nice clothes like that, Ana? Maybe you should spend more time primping and less time doodling in that notebook of yours,” Daz said from behind me, poking at my shoulder.

CREATURE FILE

SPECIES NAME:
Daz Ridiculosis

KINGDOM:
Our house; third door on the left, with the skull and crossbones sign

PHYLUM:
Idiot (large phylum, mainly comprised of spikey-haired reptile lovers)

WEIGHT:
120 pounds of sarcasm.

NATURAL HABITAT:
Behind closed doors doing God-knows-what; at the pet shop terrorizing crickets; with Kevin, his male equivalent of a BFF.

FEEDS ON:
Pizza, Kraft macaroni and cheese
with
ketchup (disgusting), music that is screamed rather than sung, anything with scales, scutes, or shells.

LIFE SPAN:
Much too long.

HANDLING TECHNIQUE:
Proceed with caution; Daz Ridiculosis can change temperament faster than a ticked-off Komodo.

I narrowed my eyes and spun to face him, gripping my notebook tight. So typical of Daz to be a turd and kick me when I'm down. I know I'm no Picasso, but I don't make fun of him for all the geeko things he does.

Oh wait, I do.

“Nobody asked you!” I hissed. There ought to be a law against brothers attending the same school as their sisters.

Daz waggled an eyebrow with a crooked grin on his face. His best friend, Kevin, stood beside him, sketching something on a pad of yellow drafting paper. They were both wearing T-shirts and khaki shorts. Really, sometimes life seemed so much easier for guys. You didn't see anybody mocking their clothes, did you? And their hair? Don't even get me started—it's like they get extra points for having bedhead.

“What's with them?” Kevin asked, looking up to watch Ashley sway down the hall. Even though he was best friends with Daz, Kevin was totally different from Daz. Mainly in that I can tolerate him. And unlike my brother, who clearly had a look of appreciation in his eyes at Ashley's backside, Kevin seemed to watch her like she was some kind of science experiment.

BOOK: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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