First of all, Grandma’s teacup-pig calendar lied. It said the last day of summer was September 21. Everyone already knew September was a bad month with no good holiday in sight after Labor Day. Fourth of July was at least two months gone; Halloween was more than a month away.
But the real last day of summer was the last Monday in August. Cousins Otto and Sheed Alston had known this for a while, thanks to the big red circle around the last Tuesday in August. Inside that circle, equally red and in Grandma’s handwriting, were the letters BTSFOASTG!
When they asked about it, Grandma said, “It’s an acronym. It means ‘back to school for Otto and Sheed, thank goodness!’”
The boys began thinking of it as an ACK!-ronym, because it meant back to alarm clocks, and homeroom, and homework. ACK!!
In Logan County, Virginia, summer ended when school started. Tomorrow.
And, thanks to an unfortunate headline in the latest printing of the county’s newspaper, Otto was not going to take it lying down.
“Wake up!” Otto said. He finished tying his sneakers with jerky, irritated motions and stretched one leg across the gap between their beds, nudging Sheed’s mattress with his toe; he’d allowed his cousin to snooze long enough, given the circumstances.
Sheed said, “Ughhh! Stop.”
Otto had risen with the sun, eager and upbeat, like most mornings. As was his habit, he padded downstairs in socked feet, eased Grandma’s front door open, and plucked the latest issue of the Logan County Gazette off the porch. There was usually some mention of him and his cousin in the folds of the daily paper, some new clipping to collect. The county folk loved reading about their local legends.
But what he saw on that morning’s front page would never benefit from his admirable scrapbooking skills.
He’d stomped back upstairs, got dressed in tan cargo shorts and his favorite T-shirt. It was green with big white block letters that read STAND BACK, I’M GOING TO DEDUCE! There was work to do.
“Come on, Sheed. It’s the last day.”
The angry air from Sheed’s nostrils puffed the sheet over his face into a tent. “I know. That’s why I want to sleep.”
“You only want to sleep because you haven’t read this morning’s newspaper.”
“I don’t read any morning’s newspaper. What are you even talking about right now?” Sheed burrowed deeper under his covers, like a mole in dirt.
All around, on haphazardly aligned shelves the boys had fastened to the walls themselves, amidst the model cars and their made-up superhero drawings, were souvenirs from all the adventures they’d experienced throughout the season. A mason jar holding a shiny, pigeon-size husk from a Laughing Locust. A lock of banshee hair that sang them to sleep whenever the moon was full. And many more things unique to—?or drawn to—?the strange county in which they lived. Of all the trophies, it was the two Keys to the City awarded to them by the mayor of Fry that filled Otto with the most pride. Until today.
He smacked Sheed’s shoulder with the rolled-up newspaper, then peeled back his blanket. “You don’t really want to waste time sleeping on our last day of summer—?our last chance to have one more adventure before you-know-what starts.” Otto refused to say the S-word. “Do you?”
“Yes!” Sheed covered his head with a pillow.
Otto yanked the cord that zipped their blinds to the top of the window frame, flooding the room with bright sunshine. Sheed threw his pillow. Otto dodged it easily.
Sheed said, “Fine. I’m up. What’s with you?”
Now that he had Sheed’s attention, Otto unfolded the offensive newspaper for his cousin to see. Sheed read it. Then groaned. Then smacked his forehead. “I can’t believe you woke me up for this.”
Otto turned the paper so he could reread the worst news ever, unclear why Sheed wasn’t more upset. The headline read: EPIC ELLISONS RECEIVE THIRD KEY TO THE CITY!
“They broke the tie,” Otto said, his gaze flicking to their meager pair of keys; they somehow seemed duller in this morning’s light.
The Epic Ellisons—?a.k.a. twin sisters Wiki and Leen—?were the county’s other adventurers. Some might say they were rivals. Not Otto, though. In his mind, the Ellisons were clearly the inferior duo. Otto might have to talk to Mayor Ahmed about handing those keys out willy-nilly. But in the meantime . . .
“Come on.” Otto grabbed his notepad and tiny always-there pencil. “The Legendary Alston Boys never sleep late!”
“That nickname’s stupid,” Sheed said, not meaning it. “This Legendary Alston Boy does sleep late whenever his annoying cousin lets him.”
“Exactly.” Otto slipped on his backpack, cinching the straps tight against his shoulders. “Like I said. Never.”
Sheed rounded the corner into Grandma’s kitchen and found Otto shoveling a final spoonful of cereal into his mouth. He still wasn’t happy being dragged out of bed so early, but had somehow managed to get dressed despite feeling all yawny and stiff. He’d put on jeans that were spotted with permanent grass stains and ripped at the knees, red high-tops, a white T-shirt, and his favorite purple Fry Flamingos basketball jersey (given to him by Fry High School basketball star #00, Quinton Sparks, after Sheed and Otto got rid of the ghost haunting the Flamingos locker room last fall). He flopped into his usual seat while combing a plastic wide-toothed pick through his (admittedly small, but growing) Afro, fluffing it out as far as it would go. First a ’fro. One day, dreadlocks. A solid plan, if he said so himself.
“Don’t pick your hair at the table,” Grandma said. She faced the stove, never needing to actually see them to know they were breaking some rule or another. “Now, go on and eat.”
Sheed ceased his grooming, wedged his pick tight into his thick hair, so only the handle protruded, and dug into a bowl of Frosty Loops. Otto’s foot tapped the tile floor impatiently. Sheed decreased his eating speed by half, just to annoy his cousin.
When Sheed finally finished, Otto was on his feet, bouncing and fidgety. “Ready?”
“Hurry up, then.”
The skin around Grandma’s eyes crinkled as she narrowed her gaze in their direction.