Authors: Elle Strauss
Tags: #social issues, #friendships, #homelessness, #middle grade, #people and places, #paranormal fantasy fiction, #boys and men
A Middle Grade Novel
IT’S A LITTLE HAYWIRE
by Elle Strauss
Illustrations by Tasia Strauss
Copyright © 2012 Elle Strauss/Tasia
This is a work of fiction and the views
expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author.
Likewise, characters, places and incidents are either the product
of the author’s imagination or are represented fictitiously and any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual event or
locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be
reproduced in any form without permission.
Owen True is eleven and eleven
twelfths and has been “exiled” to the small, crazy town of Hayward,
mother is on her honeymoon. All he has to whittle away the time is
the company of Gramps, his old black lab, Daisy, and his Haywire
friends, Mason and Mikala Sweet. They don’t look so hot this year,
in fact the whole town has gone to pot since the mill shut
Owen has his first encounter with a real
life homeless man who ends up needing Owen’s help in more ways than
one. But how does a rich city kid help the small town’s suffering
And what is Owen to make of the fog
train and its scary, otherworldy occupants that appears out of thin
air on the old tracks behind Gramps’ house?
Do they have the answer Owen is looking
You will find
to Charlie True’s golden oldies
playlist at the end of the story!
Thanks to Joel
for the Germany Letters,
and to my dad, for singing the songs
Owen True – The Exiled
I’VE BEEN EXILED UNJUSTLY. My deserted
island is a small forgotten town called Hayward, WA, smack in the
middle of nowhere in the dry desert valley with the crazy name of
crazy here, so crazy, I call the place
Not only am I exiled, but I’m
imprisoned. My “prison cell” is a two story wooden house with
peeling paint and a creaky screen door. This is to alert my “prison
guard,” aka Gramps, of my comings and goings.
“Owen,” Gramps calls out from the
kitchen, even though I’d pushed the screen door open as quietly as
“Yeah, Gramps?” Gramps is in pretty good
shape for an old guy, probably from all the work he does outside in
“Where y’off to?”
“Oh, just to look around. See if
anything’s changed here since last summer.” I scoff in my head. As
if anything ever changes in Haywire. Same ol’ sleepy town. “I might
go see what Mason and Mikki Sweet are doing.” I let the screen door
swing shut behind me.
“Be home by supper.”
Sure thing, prison guard.
I stuff my fists in the pockets of my
blue jeans. They’re new, never been washed kind of stiff, from the
collection of name brand clothes my mom bought me outta guilt. As
if nice clothes could pay me off for what she did. Traitor.
Dad dropped me off this morning, only
stayed for a coffee, before I watched the red tail lights of his
silver BMW make dust down Maple Ave. Got dumped by my own dad. Can
my life get more pathetic? Yeah, it can. I forgot my bag of
electronics! My iPod and gamer—I can see the plastic
bag with my stuff in it in my mind, sitting on the bench by the
front door. This month is set to be the worst time of my life.
And man, it’s hot. I forgot about the
mid-summer heat in Haywire, dry hot with a wind going on like a
gigantic hair dryer God forgot to shut off. Nothing like the humid
stuff we get in Seattle. The grass on the hills is burnt out to
almost white. Green pine trees here and there are scraggly like old
toilet brushes. A tumble weed skittles by. An actual
Am I stuck in an old western movie, or something? If so,
it’s the boringest movie ev-er.
The Sweets’ house is on the other end of
the same street as Gramps’. It only takes two minutes to get there,
but somehow I turn it into ten. It’s not like I don’t want to see
them, it’s just, every summer it’s the same awkward warm up after
not seeing each other for eleven months. We don’t keep in touch
during the rest of the year. We’re not that type of friends.
I tug on the collar of my T-shirt where
a sweat line is forming, wishing I’d changed into a pair of shorts.
I stop to scratch a new bug bite just as I get to the front yard of
the Sweet house.
Their house looks even more worn out
than Gramps’. Not only is the paint peeling worse than last year,
but the shutters on the front window are hanging all wonky. The
yard has toys and trash scattered about and it looks like the lawn
hasn’t been mowed in this century. Not that the Sweets were ever
your super tidy folks, but I can’t remember it being this bad.
Something moves in the window and I look
up in time to see a head bob down out of sight. Is it Mikki? I
almost call out, but then I don’t. If Mikki wants to talk to me
she’ll just come out and do it. I decide to keep walking, taking a
right at the corner and into town.
Haywire isn’t exactly your tourist trap.
I don’t think most people know it exists, which is why it makes
such a good exile destination. My mom and her
I pass the gas station and the
drugstore, the laundromat and the grocery store. Yup, exciting
stuff. I wish I’d thought to bring my wallet. Then I’d buy a Coke
or something. This heat is making my throat dry up like an old
I decide to give the Sweets one more
chance and head back the way I came. But before I get off Main
Street, my eyes catch movement in a dark ally. A big cardboard box
is pressed up against the wall. Why don’t people clean anything up
Then a body pops out of it and I skip
sideways, my heart making a quick trip into my throat and back.
It’s a man with long, greasy hair tied back in a pony tail. His
clothes are creased and grubby and he rubs the stubble on his face
with his hand.
I shrink down behind a parked car so the
guy in the box doesn’t see me staring. I’ve heard of homeless
people before, but I’ve never seen one this close up. The man
tosses a couple empty cans into a bag and shuffles, shoulders
drooping like they’re too heavy for his body, around the corner and
out of sight.
My feet take flight. I run several
blocks toward the Sweets’ house and when I round the corner, they
are there, Mikki and Mason, sitting on the front cement steps.
I’m out of breath and I flop my head
down, hands resting on my knees, feeling stupid. Why didn’t I stop
to catch my breath before I rounded the corner looking like a
Mikki and Mason don’t say a word, just
stare at me, eyes narrow and searching.
“Hi, Mikki. Hi, Mason,” I say once I can
breathe again like a normal human being.
“Well, if it ain’t Owen True.” Mikki’s
voice is stretched and thin, like she’s forcing herself to be
Mason’s lips turn up in a smirk. “Nice
hair-do.” My hand automatically brushes across the top of my head.
My Mom made me get it cut short for the wedding. Mason snorts then
gets up and goes inside. Two little girls come out at the same
time, skipping down the steps.
“Oh crickets,” Mikki says. “Opal and
Ruby, you two need to clean up this mess. What do you think this
is? A pig pen?” I’m glad she hadn’t asked me. I’d have to lie.
Mikki stands up as if to supervise. She
props her hands on her waist and her pointy elbows stick out on
either side. The triangular spaces remind me of space shuttle
wings. I bet she’d like to just fly off if she could. Get outta
Haywire. I feel a little sorry for her then. Even though I’m stuck
here for the whole of August, at least I get to leave when it’s
I can’t tell what color her sundress
started out as, but it seems to me to be a size too small. Her
freckles, sprinkled like a net across her nose have darkened in the
sun like they do every summer. Her long brown hair is pulled up in
a high pony tail and, I’m no hairdresser, but it doesn’t look like
she used a brush to do it. She’s a bit taller than me now, and this
new awareness makes something in my gut twist. I stoop down to pick
up a smooth stone and whiz it over the nearby hedge.
“By the way, Owen True,” Mikki starts.
She always calls me by both my names like they’re one
word—Owentrue. “I go by Mikala now.”
Mikala? Since when? I've called her
Mikki my whole life.
"Why the switch?"
"Cause that's my name." She flicks a
strand of loose hair away from her eyes.
"And besides, Mikki doesn't suit me
anymore. I'm much too mature for that." She’s only four months
older than me but that does make her twelve.
"Okay, I'll try to remember."
We pretend to look around when we both
know we’re watching each other. I’m trying to figure out what to do
with the dead space. That’s what Dad calls the awkward silence when
people don’t know what to say to each other next. He and mom had a
lot of dead space going on before he moved out and across the
"So what's new?" I finally say. She
gives me an as-if-you-don't-know look. Her knuckles whiten like
they’re permanently attached to her hips.
"Not much. Dad's never home, he's
practically moved into the pub since the mill closed down. Mom
works day and night at the cafe to keep things going, and I'm left
to care for the twins." She flashes me a smug grin. "What's new
What can I say? It doesn't seem
right to talk about my fancy city condo, or the expensive private
school I’m forced to go to. I’m self-conscious of my new clothes
still with the factory press lines in them, probably because
Mikki—oh, excuse me,
is aiming her laser beams at my shirt. I wish I’d at least worn it
inside out or something.
I almost tell her about my mom
getting married to Arthur, aka
, but Mikala might think I’m a
I stuff my hands in my pockets, my
tongue tied like a knotted shoe lace. Mikala doesn’t wait around to
entertain me. Before I know it, I’m alone again in her front
I head back to Gramps’ house all sweaty
and sticky on the inside and out. I kick the gravel, scuffing my
bright white sneaker. I kick again with the other foot, scuffing
that sneaker to match. I blow a loud huff through my nose.
I am wrong about one thing, I
Owen True – The Scaredy-Cat
GRAMPS’ BLACK LAB, DAISY, is lying on
the ground by the steps when I get back. The dog is as old as me,
so in dog years she’s like seventy-seven. Older than Gramps. I bend
down to scrub her neck.
“How’s it going, Daisy?” I say. She
looks up at me with her watery dark eyes and then licks my hand.
Somehow she can tell I’m having a bad day. Dogs are smart like
I run my fingers through her
rough, black fur and it reminds me of the seat covers in
’s Lexus. It only has two
seats. Guess what that means? No room for me, the third wheel. Mom
usually takes me where I need to go anyway. Besides, why would I
want to go anywhere with him?