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Authors: Guillermo Del Toro,Daniel Kraus

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BOOK: Trollhunters
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He was, at least, tall, which is more than could be said for me. He stood before the mirror ramrod straight as if adjusting his military regalia, then looked around the bathroom to make sure we
were alone.

“Check this out.” He squirreled a hand up under his shirt and withdrew from his armpit the sweatiest five-dollar bill I’d ever seen. He held it out as if I might like to fondle
it. “I had a fiver all along! The asshat didn’t know where to look!”

“You really showed him, Tub.”

“I know, right?”

He chuckled, folded up the bill, and inserted it back into his pit.

In the midst of pulling his shirt back over his gut, his smile faltered. Tub was a kung fu master when it came to covering up injuries with jokes. But there were moments when he ran out of steam
and seemed to acknowledge, for just a moment, the bitter truth. And the truth was that the insertion of a clammy five-dollar bill into his armpit was the closest thing he had to a victory.

I hit the button on the automatic hand dryer so it might drown out my next question.

“Did you cry?”

“Nah. Not this time.” He paused and shrugged. “Not a lot.”

Our silence extended too long. Good old Tub knew how to remedy that. He hocked a loogie and spat it into the urinal. Then he slapped me on the back and started for the door. For a second I
lingered, watching the bloody wad of snot dissolve into someone else’s piss. It said a lot about our lives, I thought. When I followed him out, I resisted turning back. I could have sworn
there was a rumbling coming from inside the urinal drain, somewhere far beneath the tile floor.

Math was out to kill me. I’d always known it. Overall I was an average student, but multiplication and division signs were like bayonets against my brain. That Friday it
didn’t help that Ms. Pinkton was in a foul mood. The morning announcements were read by our student council president, who could not conceal her excitement about the Festival of the Fallen
Leaves,
Shakespeare on the Fifty-Yard Line
, the game versus the Connersville Colts, and the big unveiling of the long-awaited jumbotron. All of it put Pinkton on edge.

“A scoreboard,” she muttered. “What about Bunsen burners to replace those fire hazards in the lab? New calculators for calculus? A Wi-Fi signal that actually works? Have any of
you seen the fetal pigs they’re dissecting in anatomy? Half are deformed and the other half are freezer burned.”

She was right, of course. The school’s priorities could be summed up in that noise two classrooms down:
SMACK, SMACK
. Pinkton’s opinions ought to have endeared her to a
loser like me, except that she took out her frustrations on her students. My only hope for the semester was to slow the bleeding so I could squeak through the class with a D. Pinkton had been
reminding me all week that I needed an 88 percent on next Friday’s test if I had any chance of that.

Public humiliation was an important part of Pinkton’s psychosis. She wasted no time calling a series of victims to the chalkboard to be struck down by a kamikaze battalion of quadratic
equations. I hid behind my book, pretending that my naked fear was total absorption in a spellbinding text. It worked for thirty-five minutes but I couldn’t help but peek over the top. Claire
Fontaine was at the board, after all, and I couldn’t miss that.

Everything Claire did was worthy of slow-motion replay, and math was no exception. The chalk swooped upward and fluttered downward. Her pilled sweater stretched this way and that. She tucked her
long dark hair behind her ear and left it with an adorable smudge of white dust. I thought she was beautiful, though she wasn’t in the classic sense. The popular girls would say she
wasn’t skinny enough. They would also point to the fact that she didn’t wear makeup or do anything to tame that hair. And her clothes—well, what could be said about her clothes?
Her boots were not sexy and knee-high; in fact, they were ankle-high and rubber-soled and looked suited for hiking. Her clothes were beyond vintage; they looked picked from military surplus racks,
an array of pea-green coats and sand-colored skirts and multi-pocketed slacks, all of which looked as if they’d been through actual World War II combat. And that beret she wore before and
after school wasn’t of the look-at-me-I’m-French variety; it was more in the style of I’m-going-to-invade-your-country-and-be-your-new-dictator.

Only one thing didn’t make sense: that bright pink, exceedingly girlish backpack that inexplicably hadn’t one anti-establishment patch sewn onto it, nor a single permanent-marker
defacement. Most thought the spotless backpack made her even weirder. To me, it meant that she just didn’t care. A good backpack was a good backpack.

None of that was to say that she wasn’t feminine. Believe me, she was. It just wasn’t her whole deal. Though she’d only been at our school a single semester, it was obvious
that she had other stuff going on in her life. That was considered a violation by the cool crowd, but she seemed ignorant of those rules, maybe because she wasn’t from California. She came
from across the pond. Oh, I forgot to mention that. Claire Fontaine came from the UK. That’s right—the girl had an accent. I think you’re starting to get the picture here.

All I can say is that Europeans must be way ahead of us in math. That’s the only explanation for the way Claire tore apart equations. You could see the chalk crumbling to dust in her fist.
When she was done—it never failed—she slammed a period on the end of the equation like she was finishing a sentence.

“Punctuation remains unnecessary,” Pinkton said. “But nice job, Claire.”

She exhaled like she’d just pinned an opponent. As she took up the eraser and wiped the board clean, Pinkton wrote a new line of gibberish and began surveying the class for the next
casualty.

“We’ve got time for one more. Volunteer, folks. It’s the American way.”

I cocked my head to make myself look even more engrossed with the textbook. Pinkton’s gaze swept past me and I felt a rush of pride in my acting. Then disaster: Claire was strutting back
to her desk, clapping her chalky hands in front of her so that she emerged again and again from smoke like a rock star, and she happened to glance my way. I, of course, was ogling. Her lips twisted
into a wry smile.

“Cheers, Mr. Sturges,” she said.

That accent never failed to turn my body parts traitor. This time, it was Mr. Right Hand who betrayed me. It shot up in an overzealous wave, as if Claire were a mile away, and Señor
Stupid Mouth got in on the act, too:
“Cheers to you, too, Claire!”

“Is that you, Jim?” Pinkton asked. “What a nice change. Let’s see if you can untangle this knot.”

My grin wilted and I faced the equation. It looked as if both the alphabet and the number system had puked all over the board. I grimaced; the bruise on my cheek stung. I considered displaying
my wounds and explaining how I could not possibly walk all the way to the board without breaking into wails of the greatest suffering. Instead I gave Pinkton my best pleading look.

She “gave me the chalk,” as we called it, holding up the chalk in her fist like a middle finger.

I steeled myself, stood, took the chalk, and walked until my nose practically touched the board. Without having any idea what I was going to do, I raised my arm before realizing that Pinkton had
written the equation at Claire’s upmost reach, which was a good four or five inches above my own. I couldn’t even reach the problem, much less solve it. I bore the laughter rising
behind me and let my vision lose focus so that the eraser-swirls of chalk became a fog. A London fog, where girls like Claire Fontaine walked around kicking ass in berets and solving dangerous
calculations in between forceful kisses with short, courageous men.

It has been confirmed again and again throughout time that nothing strikes fear into the hearts of uncoordinated kids like a rope dangling from a gymnasium ceiling. Tub went so
far as to lodge a formal complaint with the front office last year, scheduling a meeting with Principal Cole and everything. It was barbaric, Tub insisted. And a liability, too—what if some
kid fell twenty feet and became paralyzed for life? Baseball, fine. Volleyball, okay. You might conceivably run across those sports later in life. But when you’re an adult, when the hell are
you going to encounter a rope that desperately needs to be climbed? According to Tub, he had Principal Cole in the palm of his hand until he let that
hell
slip. Cole had a no-tolerance
policy for cussing. Tub was out the door and the ropes remained.

Tub and I were the only two who had yet to reach the obligatory halfway point on the rope. While the rest of the boys shot hoops, I floundered four feet off the ground, trying to figure out how
the Steve Jorgensen-Warners of the world operated all four limbs independently. I held my breath and shimmied up a couple more feet. My palms burned and my legs wobbled. All I could think about was
how to protect my sensitive parts if I fell.

“That a way, Sturges!” Coach Lawrence shouted. “Momentum is the key to success!”

I heard a grunt and checked the rope to my right. As opposed to my unpredictable lurches, Tub was moving steadily, though at a glacial pace. Sweat popped from his every pore and he bared his
metal teeth in strain. His entire body was trembling as if it might explode.

“That’s it, Tub!” In his excitement, Coach Lawrence had forgotten to use Tobias’s proper last name. “You’re going to kick this rope’s butt! Don’t
you give up! Men do not give up!”

“Please, Lord, take me now,” Tub whimpered. “Or Satan, anyone.”

“Four more feet,” I grunted. “Put your shoulders into it.”

“The hell’s that mean?”

“No idea.”

“Then quit with the motivational speaking.”

“Okay,” I rasped. “Man, I wish this rope had a noose.”

“Oh, wow, that’d be great. Quick, easy death, no pain.”

Below us had arisen a chant:
Tub! Tub! Tub!
I glanced down and caught Coach Lawrence wincing; it was his use of the nickname that had set it off. I turned my attention back to the rope.
The halfway point was marked with a red bandana just ten or twelve inches out of reach. All I had to do was touch it and then I could limp over to the bleachers and weep over my ruined muscles. I
took an unsteady breath and reached up for the bandana with a sweaty hand. The threads of rope were hot iron wires in my palm.

BOOK: Trollhunters
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