MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Sitting Duck was quiet.
I mean, really quiet. Like, have you ever heard a mouse play the drums? No? Well, that’s because they’re incredibly quiet. They just can’t get a proper grip on the drumsticks and they only have tiny little arms, so …
Yep. They’re quiet.
However, Sitting Duck was even quieter than that. And that was unusual. Because despite Sitting Duck being a boring kind of place, with seriously boring events like the world’s largest stare-into-space competition and the watching-paint-dry Olympics taking place every four weeks, some really unusual things had happened.
First there were the zombies. You know, dead people with bad skin coming back to gnaw people’s faces in a not-very-friendly way? Then it was the aliens, who were trigger-happy and smelled like a butt blast mixed with a cabbage burp. And then came the evil scientist and the giant robot, both of which made quite a lot of noise. So, without all those things destroying the town, things were pretty quiet, let me tell you.
Although, things do tend to change quite quickly in Sitting Duck. For instance:
“Dull, dull, dull!” a voice cried, shattering the quiet. It was as if someone had heard what I was writing and decided to prove me wrong; it sliced the air like a knife through a balloon. And it wasn’t just a voice. If you look closely, you’ll see that the voice was actually attached to a real-life person.
Hitching up his backpack, Sam Saunders came wandering around the corner. Sam was an all-out good guy and floppy-haired hero champion. Up until recently he’d been saving Sitting Duck from all the noisy threats that came its way and leading the town with his general kick-butt nature in the face of danger. But ever since it got quiet—not so much.
“Dull is a good thing,” his friend Arty Dorkins said, walking alongside him.
“Yeah,” said Emmie Lane, his other best pal. “It wasn’t dull recently when we nearly got our heads blown off by a superintelligent robot.” She raised an eyebrow in Arty’s direction.
“For the love of dogs,” said Arty. “Anyone could have made a maniacal robot bent on destruction. It was an honest mistake!”
Emmie grumbled under her breath. She was pretty sure that only big-brained Arty could do something as dumb as that. (To be honest—and I like being honest—I’m on her side. Emmie is tough, and I don’t want to argue with her because she will definitely win.)
Sam remembered how fun it was fighting off the killer robot and sighed. They were on the way to school, and there was definitely nothing to be excited about there. As they made their way through Sitting Duck, the sun shining down and the smell of wet paint drifting through the air from this month’s paint-drying competition, they passed the main square. Sam looked up and sighed again.
“I want to be more like him,” he said, staring at a statue on top of a tall column.
“Really?” Emmie asked. “Made of stone and covered in pigeon poo?”
“Because that can be arranged…,” Arty added.
“No!” Sam cried. “Don’t you know who that is?”
He pointed up at the statue. It depicted a man on top of a galloping horse, staring out into the distance. He wore a wide-brimmed hat set at a jaunty angle and had a crooked smile that made him look like he was about to tell a joke. He thrust out a sword with one hand, and in the other he held a duck proudly to his chest.
“Armitage Caruthers!” Sam gasped. “The greatest Sitting Ducker ever to live. They say he sailed the seven seas looking for a place to call home—fighting pirates, gorillas, mermaids—all so he could create our amazing town!”
Arty and Emmie looked at each other and frowned.
“Mermaids?” Emmie asked.
“Yes! Mermaids are evil.”
(Just for the record, I can confirm that that’s true. I’ve met one. He stole my lunch money and spent it on tuna. In general, a good rule of thumb is that if it has scales but also talks to you, it’s not friendly.)
“Anyway,” Sam continued, “the point is, Armitage Caruthers wasn’t afraid of anything. Not. One. Thing. Just like me. And he was always having adventures. When he eventually landed here, he took his trusty duck companion, Albertus, down from his shoulder”—he couldn’t afford a parrot—“and sat him on the ground. And thus, Sitting Duck was born!”
Armitage Caruthers Character Profile
1. Born in England in Ye Olde Days (a specific historical time period of about 400 years ago).
2. Developed a reputation for adventuring when he single-handedly beat the Loch Ness monster in arm wrestling.
3. Showed a flair for piracy early on when he made his brother Barnabus walk the plank for stealing his favorite pair of socks.
4. Earned a reputation for disaster in 1666 when he accidentally left his oven on and started a small fire that burned down half of London.
5. Left England and traveled the eight seas. (Soon there would only be seven, as Caruthers accidentally pulled the plug on one of them.)
6. Was cursed and imprisoned by the Mermaid Queen for impersonating a monkfish, but escaped and set off for the mystical New World.
7. Founded Sitting Duck but never did shake the Mermaid Queen’s curse. (I told you they were evil.)
8. Died a hero, defending the town against its first catastrophic event—the Great Octopus Invasion of 1675.
9. Lives on forever in the hearts and minds of Sitting Duckers.
Sam had become so carried away with his story that his arms were flailing wildly. Arty and Emmie just let him carry on being dramatic—it really was best that way.
“… So I’m determined to have more fearless adventures,” Sam concluded as they approached the school gates. He’d managed to keep up his speech about Armitage Caruthers all the way there, and Arty and Emmie were actually relieved to see the school building looming up ahead.
As the three friends piled into the bustling main corridor, Sam’s hero sensors pinged into action, and he thought he was finally going to get his chance for adventure. A strange, gloopy figure peered out from behind one of the lockers. Its eyes bugged out as if on sticks behind thick metal goggles and its hair stuck out in all directions at once, like a spilled plate of spaghetti.
“Guys, look!” Sam cried. “It’s a zombie! Or, actually, an alien? Or an alien zombie?!”
“No, it’s neither…,” Emmie began, but it was too late. Sam barreled past her and dodged through the crowd of kids. He yanked a fire extinguisher off the wall and was just about to blast that sucker into next week when …
“Mr. Saunders, is that you?”
A suddenly familiar figure pulled off his glasses and looked down his rather long nose at Sam.
“Oh, Mr. Nerdgoober,” Sam said, gingerly putting down the fire extinguisher. “It’s you.” Their science teacher was often mistaken for some sort of alien creature. (Something to do with the hair and googly eyes … imagine, that!)
“Of course it’s me,” Mr. Nerdgoober said sternly. “Now come along. Class is about to begin.”
Sam trudged into the classroom, disappointed he didn’t get to have even a tiny bit of adventure. Arty and Emmie followed him, scurrying over to the back row, where they always sat. In front of them sat Emmie’s nemesis, Phoebe, along with her friend Felicia, who was newly arrived from Silver Spoon Academy just down the road. Their heads were bent close together as they talked excitedly about the upcoming school dance.
“… And there’ll be, like, boys and makeup and dancing…” Phoebe began, swooshing her hair around as she spoke.
“… And lights and music and a fog machine,” Felicia continued, her eyes sparkling.
“And I’ll vomit if I have to hear one more mention of this stupid dance,” Emmie finished. She wasn’t a fan of dances and getting all dressed up and things like that, and she wasn’t afraid to let everyone know. Felicia and Phoebe just rolled their eyes in her direction.
“That’s enough,” Mr. Nerdgoober snapped, desperately hoping the children would pay attention to him for once. “If you’d care to listen for five minutes, you’d hear that I have a very special announcement.”
Yeah, right, Sam thought. Unless you’re really a swamp monster from Mars, I don’t want to hear it, pal.…
“First as you know, this term we’ll be studying insects, arachnids, and all things creepy crawly. It’s going to be oodles of fun! And, to make things even more fun, we’ll be going on an exciting trip to the Sitting Duck Insectarium,” he said.
A few murmurs of approval went up throughout the class. Sam, however, stayed silent. He lifted his head from the desk, eyes widening and heart beating slightly faster than usual.
“And second,” Mr. Nerdgoober continued, “I’d like to introduce you to our new class pet, Gerry.”
The science teacher lifted a sheet covering a rectangular glass tank. In it were some rocks and sand, but also a huge, brown eight-legged monstrosity.
“It’s an ogre-faced spider,” Mr. Nerdgoober beamed. “Isn’t he great?”
At this, Sam turned milky white and sweat started dripping from his brow.
“S-s-s-spi-spi…,” he stuttered. But before he could finish, he slithered down the side of the table and landed with a thud on the cool, hard floor.
Text copyright © 2017 by Hothouse Fiction Ltd.
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by J&D Creative (based on an original artwork concept by Jamie Littler)