The librarian stamped the book and handed it across the desk. "This is a grown-up book, Mikey. It came all the way from a library in Richmond and you can only have one renewal on it. It must be back by April sixteenth."
Michael Arthur Tyler grabbed the book before she could change her mind and quickly muttered, "Thank you." He didn't want her phoning his mother with a complaint about his manners. Momma might tell him to return the book and leave 'grown-up' books until he was older. Just because he was small everybody thought he was still a little kid. No matter how he stretched, he stood barely 4' 9" in his sneakers. Small, thin, and with an unruly mass of sandy colored hair that flopped over his eyes, people who didn't know him pegged him at eight or nine at most. Lots of folks who did know him still thought he was only ten.
Michael was afraid he would be this small forever. Nanna had told him that his father had been small until he was fifteen and then had started to grow. She always said that he would too grow but Michael wasn't sure he believed her. He didn't know if he could stand another year of being the smallest boy in class.
Once outside the library, Michael shuffled down the sidewalk. His feet absently kicked at rocks in the universal manner of fourteen-year-old boys. His thoughts were far away in place and time. Tucked securely under his arm was his prize, a copy of The Lost Tomb. The book promised secrets of a new Egyptian tomb—the biggest ever found.
"Hey, Dweebie!" Danny Colburn yelled. "Whatcha got there? Didn't your momma teach you to share?" Danny and his twin, Shawn, appeared from around the corner. "Look, Shawn, Dweebie's got a book! Does it have pretty pictures, Dweebie?" The two boys loomed over him. Shawn snatched at Michael's book while Danny made a couple of mock swings at Michael's head. The twins were big. They stood almost six feet tall and were the same age as Michael. Since the third grade the twins been the biggest kids in class. Since the fourth grade, Michael had been their favorite target.
"Maybe it's got real words—really small and simple words. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" Shawn guffawed.
"Naw, gotta be pictures—puppies and kitties. Here, gimme that book, Dweeb!" Danny shoved Michael into Shawn's arms and yanked the book away. Shawn pushed Michael hard, forcing him to his knees. Michael made a futile grab for his book before Shawn slammed him face first into the sidewalk.
"Aw, Dweebie. This can't be for you—it's all small print. Maybe it would be good kindling . . . "
"Give my book back!" wailed Michael. Panic made his voice squeak.
"Hey, Dweebie." Shawn shoved Michael back down with his size twelve shoe. "I didn't tell you to move. Did you tell him he could move, Danny?"
"Naw, Stop wiggling, Worm, or we'll stomp you . . . " Danny threatened.
Michael, his face squashed against the sidewalk, fought tears. The twins usually were satisfied with giving him a black eye and a bloody nose but they had torn up his books before. This was a library book. The last time the twins had torn up a library book all of his allowance and savings hadn't been enough to pay for it. His dad had to make up the rest. Dad had walked Michael down to the library with the money and complained about the cost of the book the whole way there and back. When they got home he'd taken his belt to Michael and warned him, "That better be the last time I have to cough up money for one of your weird books, boy, or your hide will be black and blue for a year. Why'd ya want such a dumb book anyway? For Gods sake, Mikey, grow up and stop reading such useless shit."
What would happen if the twins tore this one up? If he fought back maybe they would just beat him up and forget about his book. He tensed, ready to roll over and grab for Shawn's foot when a loud shout echoed down the street.
"Daniel! Shawn! Get away from Michael right now!" Mr. Reading, the elementary school principal was striding toward the boys. He looked furious. "How many times have you two been told to leave him alone? I'm going to have another talk with your parents." Mr. Reading grabbed both boys and shook them. He looked down and asked, "Are you okay, Mikey?" When Michael scrambled to his feet and nodded, Mr. Reading took the book from Danny's oversized paw and inspected it. "Obviously this belongs to Mikey, not you two louts. Here, son." When Mr. Reading turned away to hand the book to Michael the twins took off at a run. "I'll be calling your parents!" he yelled.
"Umm, thanks, Mr. Reading." Michael said in a small voice. He peered around wildly. Bad enough that the twins had nearly ripped up his book and given him another beating, but this! The school principal rescuing him was almost too much. If he was lucky none of the other kids had seen.
"Still interested in archeology, eh, Mikey" Mr. Reading asked.
"Good, good. It's an interesting career. Do you have any ideas on what you want to dig up?"
"Yeah . . . See, there's this new tomb in the Valley of the Kings—that's what this book is about." Michael politely showed the book to Mr. Reading.
"So you're reading up on the new discovery. That's good scholarship. Keep learning and you'll do well in college. Its good to have high goals, Mikey". Mr. Reading smiled and put his hand on Michael's shoulder. "You keep studying hard and you'll make it. Now, I'd like to hear more about this new tomb."
"Yes sir. See, the pharaoh Ramesses, that's Ramesses the Second, had something like a hundred sons . . . " Michael's mind raced. If he gave a good enough answer maybe Mr. Reading would be satisfied and leave before anyone saw them together. " . . . and this tomb—they call it KV5—well, it's where all those sons got buried." Unfortunately Mr. Reading showed no signs of leaving. Instead he walked beside Michael, asking questions about archeology.
Michael tucked his book under his arm and walked and talked automatically. Inside he wailed at the unfairness of it all. By tomorrow morning every kid in school was going to know Mr. Reading had walked him home. Like he was a kindergardner! When they came to his house, Michael's heart sank further. His father was home early. He could hear him yelling at his mother. With a quick "goodbye" flung at Mr. Reading, Michael fled inside and upstairs to hide his "weird" book.
Michael leaned on the hoe and eyed the garden patch with satisfaction. Not even Nanna or Gramps would find anything to complain about. He'd turned over the soil, carefully mixing in just the right amount of compost the way Gramps had shown him. He and Gramps had made a chicken wire composting enclosure last fall and filled it with raked up old leaves and cut grass. Over the winter it had turned into nice black compost, just like Nanna said it would. All his rows were straight and evenly spaced. Each had a neatly lettered sign telling what was growing there. Three stake and wire trellises were ready for training the peas and a couple of old tomato cages stood guard at the far end. Gramps had built the fence up high enough to keep deer out. Butch wandered over from his patch of shade and sniffed at the corn sign.
"Leave it be, Butch. Don't you go digging in here or Gramps'll make a rug out of your mangy hide." Michael warned the dog while he scratched the mutt's ears. "Your job's keeping the raccoons and possums out of the garden." He had to lean over to pet the dog, a sign that he was growing taller. Last fall he didn't have to lean over to scratch Butch's back. "Hey, Butch, look at this!" Michael pushed up his sleeve and flexed his arm and eyed the resulting small bulge with glee. "I'm getting muscles!"
Butch panted companionably and wandered back to his shade without voicing an opinion on either the "no digging" rule or Michael's new biceps.
"Hey, Mike! We're going down to the fairgrounds. Want to come along?" Joe Matowski called out. Jon Sizemore and Willy Lutz stood beside him outside the garden gate. "They're having a team roping practice. Annette's dad is going to be there and she said they're looking for somebody to work the gates."
"Yeah, yeah! Wait 'til I tell Mom I'm going with you." Michael grinned at his friends and raced for the backdoor. If Annette O'Reilly was going to be at the team roping, it was likely that her cousin Jo Ann Manning would be there, too. Jo Ann hadn't giggled when he gave his report on archaeology in class. The other kids whispered, giggled, and squirmed in their seats but Jo Ann sat still and listened. She had asked a couple of smart questions and smiled when he answered them.
The boys trudged back up the road, tired, dirty, and happy. The outing had been a success—they had gotten to move the steers in and out of the pens.
"What are you going to do this summer, Mike?" Joe asked.
"Don't know. I've got to keep the garden going and Gramps said he wants me to help out at the restaurant." Michael sighed and tossed a rock.
"That doesn't sound too bad. My folks want me to start Latin class over the summer. Pop's got this idea that I should go to that university in Jena." It was Joe's turn to chuck a couple of rocks.
"I've got a job at the Kudzu Werke. If it works out I might get apprenticed," Jon crowed, throwing a good-sized rock a long way down the road.
"Cool! How about you, Willy?" Michael asked.
"School und . . . and more school. English and Latin. I am to prepare for the university, also." A pair of rocks whipped out in quick succession from Willy's hands.
"Bummer." Michael sent three rocks after Willy's.
"Yeah, bummer." Joe also got three rocks off but dropped the fourth.
Jon grinned and rapidly tossed four rocks after Joe's.
"Troy is right where Homer said it was." Michael pontificated. He knelt on the floor and reached under his bed. "Schliemann used the description in the Iliad to find it. But he got a surprise when he dug up Troy. There wasn't just one city. He found eleven cities, each built on top of the previous one." Michael pulled out a fat, dusty notebook. "It's all in here. Maps, articles, pictures, and all sorts of stuff. You can copy what you need."
"Wow! Thanks, Mike! This should make our report a lot better than any of the others. Right, Willy?" Joe Matowski grinned at the other boy.
"Ja, ja. But we must change the picture titles to Latin," Willy pointed out, flipping through the notebook. He stopped suddenly, his eyes big. "Ist . . . is this gold?"