Today we have a sneak peek at our upcoming Middle Grade book, Operation Tree Roper: An Eye Above by Robert Polk. We hope you enjoy!
Tree Climbing Saddle –harness worn while climbing tree
On the third day of summer vacation, I was hanging in a tree. About time. I squeezed the climbing rope above me and leaned back in the saddle, stretching my feet to the massive trunk. My shoes scraped a satisfying snicht, snicht against the rough bark as I pushed off and swung out over the yard. When I heard a gasp from below, I glanced straight down into Mrs. Murphy’s nest of white hair. Her troubled face peeked out from underneath.
“Please don’t walk right under me, ma’am.” I urged. “Something could fall on you.”
I didn’t want to knock a piece of bark onto her head and risk this chance for some quick cash. I hoped she’d still pay me if I didn’t get her cat down, but you never knew about some people.
“Are you sure you’re okay up there?” she asked, wringing her hands. “Maybe you should come back down and I’ll try again with the food.”
“I’m good,” I said. “I’ve done this lots of times.”
“Well, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Her cat wasn’t going anywhere. Except higher maybe. Besides, I wanted to show Mrs. Murphy I could do this.
I relaxed into Dad’s leather climbing saddle and slid my right hand down to the friction hitch. I grabbed the knot too hard and it slipped, hurtling my body down the rope. My feet flew up wildly and my stomach churned as I fell. My impulse was to grip harder, but my mind screamed “Let go!” When I released the knot, my body jerked to a stop, leaving me with a thumping chest and flailing arms and legs. I’d forgotten how fast things can happen when you’re on a rope in a tree. I did remember about friction hitches though: When you let go, they work.
I looked down to see if Mrs. Murphy had noticed. She stood, rooted to the turf, both hands to her mouth, staring up at me with wide eyes.
“Oh, my… Oh, my!” she said. “You’d better come down.”
“It’s okay. I was just checking the knot,” I lied. I figured it was okay to lie to little old ladies, if you’re just trying to comfort them. “See, it works!”
I relaxed my spread-eagled limbs and hung free on the rope clipped to my saddle.
She almost didn’t buy it, but then began folding and unfolding her hands, looking out toward the street. Probably praying. I know I just said a quick one. I tightened the knot and re-climbed the two feet of rope that had just run through the hitch.
Nothing about rope and saddle climbing is easy. But it’s easier than facing a bunch of kids at a new school in August. I shivered, even though it was three hundred degrees out, and remembered Dr. Yamin’s words from two years ago. “The summer after he’s twelve would be a good time to schedule the next surgery,” he’d said. I’d latched onto those words then like I clung to the rope now.
Mrs. Murphy rubbed her neck and called up to me, “Twenty dollars, remember? And don’t you fall!”
“Yes, ma’am.” The gut-wash sensation settled a little and I focused on the money she’d promised.That’s why I was out here. Twenty more for my stash.
I secured the fit of my tinted safety glasses and saw Mrs. Murphy turn away. What if my prosthetic eye “accidentally” fell out and landed in her hair? That’d be pretty funny. I couldn’t drop it on her, though. Besides, my eye might get lost in the grass if she freaked out, and I couldn’t risk losing another one–Dad’s head might pop. Fake eyes are expensive.
Mrs. Murphy shuffled toward her porch over the path she’d worn in the grass. She’d come outside about fifty times today to try and coax her cat down, even though he hadn’t moved from his spot. I knew an opportunity when I saw one.
I scanned the tree above, but still couldn’t see the cat. As the blowing leaves rustled a welcome, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. All trees are different, but all trees are the same, too. I knew trees, and trusted them.
“He’s still in that same spot,” called Mrs. Murphy. “I can see his ears poking up. Julius can’t stay up there another night, you know. He’s still just a baby.”
“I’m all over it, Mrs. Murphy.” That twenty dollars was almost within reach.
I heaved myself up the rope a few more pulls, sliding the knot each time to hold my position.
“Can’t you hurry, Devin?” Her voice carried across the yard.
Between clenched teeth, I said, “Declan.”
Since we started moving in last week, she’d called me Devin twice and “young man” about five more times than that.
“Did you say something?” She was over by her front steps now, so I just waved at her. She’s old and forgetful – probably couldn’t hear well, either.
“Never mind!” I called.
When I pulled myself higher up on the rope, I was finally able to see some black-and-white fur. He was still out of reach, but I’d made it. I hoped Mrs. Murphy was watching closely now.
“See, Julius,” I said to the kitten, “I told her I could do it.”
I turned back to Mrs. Murphy and waved again. Her frail hands gave a hopeful clap and she might have even smiled a little. Good. Now, she believed me.
As I adjusted position, a silver SUV pulled into Mrs. Murphy’s driveway. A girl scrambled out of the passenger side and raced around the back of the vehicle.
“Is Julius all right, Grandma?” she called, bounding across the yard.
She appeared to be about my age. Her pink shoes had sparkly shoestrings, and her jean shorts were partially covered by a long pink T-shirt with glittering letters.
“I hope so, dear.”
“Everything’s going to be okay, Grandma. Don’t worry,” said the girl.
The girl put her arm around Mrs. Murphy and squeezed. Then she stared up at me and the cat.
The driver joined them. All eyes were on me.
I pulled my body closer to the kitten, scraping my left arm on the limb’s rough and solid surface.Ouch. That’s gonna bleed. The stubborn feline shrank farther down into his spot. “Ah, Julius, you like it up here, too, don’t you?”
“Can you reach him now, Devin?” called Mrs. Murphy.
“Yeah!” I yelled, then took a deep, slow breath. “Hey, Julius, mind if I hang out here with you a while?” I was seriously thinking about it, and probably would if I didn’t have an audience waiting on me.Julius twitched his tail and stretched.
“Time to go back,” I said, carefully reaching toward him. The leather gloves would protect my hand, in case he didn’t want to be rescued. He went limp as I lifted him out of his perch.
“Devin’s got him, Grandma. Julius is okay now.” Declan.
I sighed and lowered the cat into the laundry bag attached to my saddle. “Be still now, Julius. You’re going for a ride.”
I gripped the climbing rope with both hands and pulled down on the friction hitch. Sliding down thirty feet of rope, I yelled out, “Headache!” like I’d heard my dad say it a million times before. The leather support belt around my waist and the canvas strap underneath my butt held me safely as I rode the rope down.
When my feet touched the ground, the SUV driver asked, “What did you say?”
“Headache,” I said. “We say that when something is coming down to the ground.”
“Oh.” She nodded with a quick smile. The kind of smile adults like to use when they think they know something you don’t.
As my gaze met the girl’s, I suddenly didn’t feel so tired. Breathe, Declan, breathe. She’s just an ordinary girl. She wasn’t. I swear she glowed while she stood there smiling, standing as tall as me, with her hands on her hips.
“That was pretty cool, Devin,” she said, tilting her head to one side, her walnut eyes wide and beaming, like her mouth.
For a moment I couldn’t speak. She could call me Devin if she wanted to. Then Mrs. Murphy rushed over and snatched at the laundry bag still clipped to my saddle, jerking me off balance. “How do you unhook this metal clip, Devin?”
I staggered and the cat moaned inside the bag.
“It’s okay, Julius, Mama’s right here,” said Mrs. Murphy. The girl threw a hand up to her mouth and stepped toward me and Mrs. Murphy. She might have been laughing, but I didn’t think anything was funny.
Planting my feet firmly, I said, “It’s Declan, ma’am. My name is Declan.”
I unhooked the carabiner and handed Mrs. Murphy the squirmy bag, but I could only think about the girl standing in pink shoes to my right. Nobody had said “cool” and my name in the same sentence before. Ever. Even though she got my name wrong and maybe laughed a little when Mrs. Murphy yanked on the saddle, I could forgive her. The words just dance! glittered at me from the front of her shirt. I turned away to check out some important blades of grass in the turf. Then, as I fumbled with the buckles on my saddle, the girl approached again and stepped in front of me.
“Hi. I’m Sam Fulton, and this is my mom, Karen. I guess you already know my grandma.” The dimple on the left side of her face was twice as big as the one on the right. Cool.
“Uhh, hi,” I said like a dork. Just Dance girls like Sam Fulton don’t usually introduce themselves to a guy like me. Then I remembered I was wearing my tinted, wraparound safety glasses, hiding half my face.
I swallowed hard and tried to think of something cool to say. I wasn’t ready for her to see the way my cheek and eyebrow drooped on the right side. My stupid lower eyelid was always jamming lashes up onto my prosthesis. She didn’t need to see that side of me.
“Here you go, Declan,” interrupted Mrs. Murphy, holding out a twenty dollar bill my direction. “I wasn’t sure you could do it. You know, with just one eye and all.”
I mumbled a “thank you,” snatched the bill, and shoved it into a pocket. So, that’s how this summer is going to start? Awesome, I thought sarcastically. At least I got my money.
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