Billy Bartholomew has an audacious soul, and he knows it. Why? Because it's all he has left. He's dead.
Eddie Proffit has an equally audacious soul, but he doesn't know it. He's still alive.
These days, Billy and Eddie meet on the sledding hill, where they used to spend countless hours -- until Billy kicked a stack of Sheetrock over on himself, breaking his neck and effectively hitting tilt on his Earthgame. The two were inseparable friends. They still are. And Billy is not about to let a little thing like death stop him from hanging in there with Eddie in his epic struggle to get his life back on track.
About the Author
Chris Crutcher has written nine critically acclaimed novels, an autobiography, and two collections of short stories. Drawing on his experience as a family therapist and child protection specialist, Crutcher writes honestly about real issues facing teenagers today: making it through school, competing in sports, handling rejection and failure, and dealing with parents. He has won three lifetime achievement awards for the body of his work: the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award. Chris Crutcher lives in Spokane, Washington.
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The Sledding Hill
By Chris Crutcher
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Chris Crutcher
All right reserved.
Death Does Not Take a Holiday
When we were in grade school most kids thought Eddie Proffit was stupid because he would ask questions no one else would think of. It's human nature to think if you weren't the person to think of something, it must be dumb. But Eddie knows things.
I was Billy Bartholomew, smartest kid in class; arguably smartest in school, which was supposed to be a minor miracle because my father is the school janitor. It is also human nature to define a person by his or her job, which is a mistake when it comes to my dad. He doesn't have a huge drive to get rich, so he's considered ordinary. At any rate, I was supposed to grow up and rattle the world, and Eddie was supposed to grow up and run his father's gas station. Everyone thought our friendship was odd; what was a smart kid like me doing hanging out with a kid with an IQ short of triple digits? Truth is, Eddie's IQ turned out to be off the charts. His mind bounces from one thing to the other pretty much however it wants, though, and long before he should be finishing up one thought, he's on to something else. Eddie doesn't come to very many conclusions.
In fifth grade, when my dad discovered Eddie scored sixty-five on his IQ test, he asked Eddie what happened, becauseDad knew that couldn't be right.
"I was answering the questions," Eddie said, "and then I started seeing what a neat pattern I was making filling in those little ovals, and before I knew it I was making neater and neater patterns."
"You weren't even reading the questions?"
"I wasn't even keeping it to one answer per row," Eddie told him. "Did you see my answer sheet? It looks way cool."
So my dad went to the principal, who was about to put Eddie in special ed for every class but PE, and told her she can't do that. "He scored a sixty-five," my dad said, "without reading the questions."
The principal was all into protocol and all out of taking advice from the school janitor and wouldn't let Eddie retake the test. But Dad had a key to every room and file drawer in school, so he found a test, took Eddie to the furnace room, and had him answer the questions five at a time. Eddie added almost a hundred points to his IQ that afternoon. When the principal told Dad he was out of line, Dad took the test over to the Chevron station to bring Eddie's dad up to speed.
Eddie didn't attend any special ed classes.
The principal went ahead and recorded the sixty-five IQ on his permanent record anyway and no one knew the story of the second test, so it was generally thought I did Eddie's homework for him when he started to get good grades. I didn't do one of his assignments. He would go to the furnace room for an hour and a half after school every day, and my dad would break up his homework with little jobs to keep him focused, and Eddie did great. But he continued to ask strange questions and challenge teachers when they said something he thought couldn't be true, and he was pretty much considered a pain in the neck.
Eddie and I used to run everywhere. We'd been winning the annual Fourth of July races as long as we could remember and had decided when we got into high school we'd be the heart of a stellar cross-country team. We were both too skinny to play football, and in a high school this small it is not considered cool to go sportless, so cross-country was it.
So it's early summer, five days after Eddie's fourteenth birthday, and he's getting ready to bike out to the hot springs with me to spend the afternoon swimming and rolling in the warm mud. Eddie's been working four hours a day, eight to noon, at his dad's service station, the last full-service gas station in the solar system, to hear Mr. Proffit tell it. It may not be the last one in the solar system, but it's definitely the last in Bear Creek, population 3,065, situated high in the Idaho panhandle, a few miles from the Canadian border. Anyway, Eddie has been helping his dad fix truck tires all morning and is ready to hit the warm water.
Bear Creek is a mess. Duffy Reed Construction has been hired to widen Main Street. They've got the pavement dug out from city limit to city limit along with another two feet of dirt below that, so if you step off the sidewalk without looking you could take a serious header. Proffit's Chevron, which Eddie's dad used to call Non-Proffit's Chevron, is the only place in town that fixes truck and heavy-equipment tires, and Mr. Proffit has been doing just that twelve hours a day -- four hours with Eddie's help and eight by himself -- to keep up with Duffy Reed's sharp-rock punctures.
He's got it down to a science. Air up four tires at a time to find the leaks, let the air out, break them down, remove the tubes if they have them, patch them, throw them back together, air them up, and roll them to the rack out back so the next driver with a flat can replace it with a repaired one and roar out in under six minutes. Four at a time. John Proffit's a tire-fixin' fool.
That day Eddie's dad stops only once to have lunch with Eddie's mom -- her name is Evelyn -- and he's back to fixing tires, somewhat disgruntled and distracted because he got chicken salad instead of tuna, and he forgets to let the air out of one of the tires before breaking it down.
Eddie's mom catches Eddie and me just as we're about to head out to the hot springs, and she gives Eddie a monster hunk of chocolate cake and some milk in a thermos to take to his dad.
Excerpted from The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher Copyright © 2006 by Chris Crutcher. Excerpted by permission.
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