MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Three friends wandered through the quiet town of Sitting Duck. The sun was in the sky, the wind was in their faces, and the cheery call of seagulls floated in the air. Happy people waved as they skipped through the streets, and old men cast aside their walkers and danced a merry jig to a whistling tune.
Okay. That’s a lie.
Sitting Duck is fairly great, but it’s not that great. Yes, there are dancing old men, obviously, but no, the gulls are not friendly. They’d sooner peck your brain out of your ears or dive-bomb you from above or take you hostage and demand worms and twigs and TVs for their nests and—
Anyway. I’m getting distracted.
Forget the birds for a minute. Instead, remember that three friends were wandering through the town ready for their next adventure. And a young boy named Sam Saunders led the way.
“C’mon, slowpokes!” he cried, with a smile on his face. “We haven’t got all day!”
See, if you haven’t met Sam, you need to know that he wasn’t one for slow anything. Sam liked adventure and action and being a hero. When he wasn’t playing baseball, he could usually be found fighting off aliens or evil scientists or, most recently, giant spiders that threatened to devour the whole town. So, Sam was all about moving fast.
“We’re coming!” yelled Arty Dorkins, hitching up his corduroys as he panted and wheezed. Sam’s best friend was an all-around genius but not exactly a sports star in the making. In fact, Arty was so clever he had recently made a robot that could talk and think and even do the dishes. This makes it that much more surprising that he didn’t remember the belt for his pants this morning.
“But where are we going?” grumbled a third voice. This was Emmie Lane. Emmie was the third action hero and savior of Sitting Duck. She’d battled zombies and creepy critters more often than you’ve brushed your teeth, let me tell you. (Well, probably. It depends on how often you brush your teeth. It’s a very simple equation, though: Teeth Brushing × How Often You Brush Them + Bonus Points for Flossing ÷ Rainbows = the Amount of Zombies and Creepy Critters that Emmie Lane has Faced.) She was loyal and brave and always up for a fight. Although she was a tiny bit grumpy and sometimes had a bit of a temper. Occasionally. Maybe? (Please don’t tell her I said that.)
Anyway, now that the introductions are over, I suppose I should tell you what they were up to. Sam was weaving through the streets, with Arty and Emmie following close behind, still puzzled as to where they were going.
Arty caught the smell of something fishy on the breeze and put two and two together. Sadly, he got fifty-eight, which again, just goes to show …
“We’re going to the tuna factory, right? Oh man, I’ve always wanted to visit that place.”
“No, we’re not,” Emmie snapped. “What would we be doing there?”
“Fighting evil tuna that threaten to take over the world with their fishy ways?” Arty suggested.
“Well, maybe,” Emmie agreed reluctantly. “Tuna is evil. But look, we’re going in the wrong direction for the tuna place.”
Sam chuckled. They weren’t going anywhere near that stinky old factory. Instead, he led them down steep streets and cobbled steps, dodging in and out of warehouses and brick buildings, until they came out onto the Sitting Duck docks. Here, they were buffeted by the sea winds that, yes, had a bit of a fishy tang. But the breeze also carried trumpeting music and the sound of cheery crowds having fun.
Sam stretched out his arms with glee and grinned wildly. “I give you … the Founder’s Day Festival!”
Arty’s face stretched into a grin, but Emmie’s face dropped like a bucket down a well. She wasn’t really one for community spirit and town celebrations, and the Founder’s Day Festival was the biggest one of them all. How could she have forgotten it was this weekend? Every year, the townspeople got together to remember their infamous founder, Armitage Caruthers. They recalled how he’d sailed the seven seas, defeated a mermaid’s curse, founded Sitting Duck, and then died a hero, fending off the Great Octopus Invasion of 1675. Arty liked all that historical stuff and Sam loved his hero, Armitage Caruthers, but Emmie was less impressed.
“This is what you were so excited about?” she asked. “Armitage, the history dude?”
“Yeah, but look!” Sam began. “There’s all sorts of cool stuff. Not just an amazing local history dude!”
The three friends made their way over to the crowds nestled on the boardwalk, where Sitting Duck’s wide Leaky Tap River dribbled its way to the vast Seashell Sea. In the distance, a huge concrete dam reared up, holding back the imaginatively named Lake Deep Puddle. A brass band played jaunty music in front of big fairground rides, and market stalls sold pirate hats in honor of Caruthers and toy ducks in honor of Albertus. (The town founder couldn’t afford a parrot, so he had his very own duck pal instead.)
Sam hopped from stall to stall, excited by everything around him. He even played shoot-the-duck and managed to bag himself a stuffed Albertus. He tucked it into his backpack for safekeeping, his eyes bright with glee.
“See,” Sam said. “Isn’t it awesome?”
Emmie rolled her eyes, bored and unconvinced. Then, just when she thought she couldn’t be enjoying the fair less, a big burly man with a tray of drinks squeezed his way past her, splashing her in the process. She was completely soaked.
Founder’s Day Festivities
Come one, come all, to the Sitting Duck Founder’s Day Festival! Revel in the illustrious history of this swell little town by the sea.* This year’s fair features:
• The Time Bender: Ride a roller coaster that goes so fast it loops back in time and ends before it begins!
• Gory Gary’s Ghoulish Ghost Train: Relive Sitting Duck’s terrifying past in glorious 3-D. If your pants stay dry, win a prize!
• Coconut Shy: Throw a coconut at a coconut and win a coconut.… What’s not to love?
• Mystic Pete’s Fortune-Telling Feet: Rub Mystic Pete’s toes for a glimpse into your future. (Disclaimer: He tells the truth, warts ’n’ all!)
*Please ignore any recent zombie infestations, alien attacks, mad-scientist takeovers, robot rampages, and spider invasions. Any such occurrence was a one-time thing.
“Hey, you! Watch where you’re going!” she called.
The big burly man turned back. Sam readied himself to help Emmie with some karate-chopping hero work, but surprisingly, the man broke out into a big smile.
“Some grog for ya, young lady?” he offered. Arty cocked his head, watching the server. He thought he had seen him before, somewhere, but he couldn’t remember where.
Emmie peered more closely at the tray of drinks. On it, several pint glasses of an amber liquid tottered about, frothing and fizzling all over the place. I wouldn’t have touched that stuff with a very long stick, let alone drank it, but then, what do I know? (Well, actually quite a lot, because I am the one telling the story.)
“Erm…” Emmie hesitated. “What is it?”
“Just some fizzy soda from ye olde pirate days,” the man said brightly. “Tasty, too.”
Emmie glanced around. It did look like everyone else in Sitting Duck was getting into the spirit, slurping down the festive mixture. So, she bravely withheld her reservations about Founder’s Day and joined the fun, taking a sip of the amber fizz, as Sam also reached for a glass.
In an instant, her face tensed and her cheeks went as red as a sailor’s belly. Her curly hair stood straight, and she spat out the liquid all over the ground.
“YOWZERS!” she yelled. “That stuff is gross.”
“Oh,” said Sam, withdrawing his hand and laughing. “In that case, let’s avoid it, eh, Arty?”
“Good idea, I’d say, Sam,” Arty chimed in.
Emmie glowered at them, and Sam and Arty suddenly studied their feet, shamefaced. Funny how the boys let her try it first—not very friendly if you ask me!
Anyhow, before she had a chance to say anything, a loud call echoed out from the bandstand. Sam’s dad, Mayor Saunders, stood on stage, framed by a bright blue background drape, ready to make a speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “welcome to the three-hundred-and-fiftieth Sitting Duck Founder’s Day!”
A cheer went up from the crowd. Sam spotted all his favorite townspeople, from old Mrs. Missus to seven-foot Sheila. Everyone was in fine spirits, drinking the disgusting grog and hanging on the mayor’s every word.
Mayor Saunders continued. “And because it’s a special occasion and a milestone in the history of our town, we’ve got a surprise.…”
A whisper of excitement rippled through the crowd. Mr. Saunders stepped aside and a man in a dark suit stepped up on the stage. Mr. Tweedy was his name, and he looked a bit tweedy by nature, too—he had a fancy mustache and wore a dashing bow tie. As the local museum’s curator, Tweedy was a known figure ’round old Sitting Duck, too. He was often at the town meetings, during one catastrophe or another, trying to get residents to learn the lessons of history. When the aliens came, he thought they would have learned from the zombies; when the mad scientist came, he thought they would have learned from the aliens. But sadly, the townsfolk never listened, nor did they help the situations at hand. If anything, they made the disasters more disastrous.
Tweedy approached the microphone, puffed out his chest, and smiled so brightly that several residents shielded their eyes.
“Sitting Duckers!” he bellowed, his wild hair dancing in the wind. “It gives me great pleasure to be in the heart of our magnificent town with you all today.”
A loud roar went up from the crowd in approval. The charismatic figure had the audience in the palm of his hand. Until he started speaking again.
“Despite how useless our town is…”
A few murmurs went up from the crowd.
“Despite the cowardly nature of its inhabitants…”
A few yells went up from the crowd.
“And despite inflicting terrifying, apocalyptic forces upon ourselves every now and then…”
A few bottles went flying from the crowd.
“We’ve survived three hundred and fifty years!” he said with a flourish, rescuing himself from the increasingly angry audience. “So, I present to you, fully restored and the pride of Sitting Duck for another three hundred and fifty years: the original Silver Mallard!”
The residents looked at one another in confusion. Old Mrs. Missus’s eyebrows scrunched up in uncertainty. She was sure she’d heard that name somewhere.…
Mr. Tweedy realized that nobody in Sitting Duck had been paying attention at his recent Sitting Duck History exhibition whatsoever. “Eh-hem … That’s to say, the giant ship that brought our founder to these shores…”
Suddenly, the crowd understood, and there was a collective (and very dramatic) gasp. Sam did a double take. Could it really be Armitage Caruthers’s ship? Sailing once more?
With a flourish, Mr. Saunders swept the blue drapes aside, and the ship was revealed in all its glory. Now, the residents really remembered. Previously, the ship had been a wreck, but the Sitting Duck historical smarties had obviously worked hard to restore it to its former glory. Now it stood proudly in the dock, masts standing tall and sails puffed in the wind.
“Wow!” Sam gasped, amazed.
A cannonball fizzed from the ship. Then another. And another. The crowd went wild as the ship fired in salute of Sitting Duck, and Sam looked on as if all his pirating hero dreams had come true at once.
“So much for Founder’s Day being boring, eh, Emmie?” he laughed.
Emmie just smiled. “I suppose it’s finally gone off with a bang!”
Text copyright © 2018 by Hothouse Fiction Ltd
Illustrations copyright © 2018 by J&D Creative (based on an original artwork concept by Jamie Littler)