Tagged: middle grade mystery
December 5, 2014 at 3:39 PM #5104
New Friends and Enemies
Dear Mom and Dad,
I can’t believe you dropped me off at science camp for two weeks. My report card wasn’t that bad! Now I’m stuck learning while my friends get to swim and ride bikes. You ruined my summer!
P.S. I already miss my Xbox Your son, Chase
The duffel bag strap bit into Chase’s shoulder as he exited the camp post office. In the center of camp, a girl in sequined jean shorts walked into a tent-like structure and set a brown paper bag on the nearest table. The clustered tables and chair reminded Chase of the giant study hall. The girl pulled out half of a raw potato and rubbed it against one of the pavilion’s posts.
“I really hope that isn’t your lunch,” Chase called across the path.
The girl looked up from the bag, shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun with one dark brown arm.
“Science fair project,” she called back, holding the bagged potato up for Chase to see. She smiled, adding a small goodbye wave before returning back to her work.
Chase continued walking. When his parents dumped him at the camp entrance, his mom and dad each offered to carry a bag as a peace offering. Chase refused, slamming the car door on his sister’s mocking laughter as he hauled his luggage across the parking lot. As Chase trudged up the path toward the last cabin in the row, he wished he hadn’t rejected his family’s help.
The screen door squeaked open as Chase tugged his bags onto the front porch. A smiling boy stood in the doorway, readjusting speckled glasses that slid down a skinny nose. Ink smeared the palm of his hands. Unruly black curls sprouted from the top of his head, morphing around his lopsided ears and a forgotten ballpoint pen.
“I’m George. Is this your first year at the Learning Center’s Forensic Science Camp?”
Chase nodded as he scanned the tiny room he now called home. The wall to his right held two desks, one already covered in folders and loose pages of notes. A bookcase separated the workspaces. The middle shelf sagged under the weight of encyclopedia sized books. A bicycle stood propped up against the wall next to the desk, taking up so much space Chase smacked it with his backpack as he tried to squeeze past.
“My science fair project,” George said. “I’m calculating how a rider’s weight or age affects speed and distance. This is my third year at camp and I plan to win—”
“Can we move it? There isn’t really that much room in here.”
“I guess we could take it outside. I think I have a lock somewhere.”
“Excellent. I call top bunk.” Chase tossed up his backpack and darted halfway up the ladder, the rickety bed swaying under his extra weight.
“That’s okay.” George’s legs poked out from the closet as he dug through his suitcase. “I kind of wanted the bottom bunk anyway, in case I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I did pick out a desk, though,” George added. “I hope that’s okay. I already filled up most of the bookcase, but I can move it if you want that one…”
“That’s no problem.” Despite his parent’s desire for him to learn about science over the next two weeks, Chase didn’t plan on using either the desk or the bookcase at all this summer. Chase jumped straight down off the bunk, bypassing the steps. He peered out a large sliding glass back door while George searched for his lock and key. Chase slid open the door, hoping the back yard would make a great wiffle ball field, but the back of the cabin jutted up against a dense forest. A large line of trees stood only a few paces away from the cinderblock stairs.
“Here it is.” George emerged from the closet victorious, holding a lock and key in his left hand. Chase turned away from the sliding glass door. Grabbing the bike away from the wall, he made his first scientific discovery.
“Cool, a fireplace!”
“We’re not allowed to use that,” George said.
“Why not?” Chase bent on one knee to get a closer look. He peered through the clear screen at a half-burnt log. Charred shreds of paper littered the grate, curled around a pile of ash.
“It’s against camp rules,” George explained. “No weapons, no firearms, no Bunsen burners or open flames—and that includes the fireplaces. A few years ago one camper’s science fair project involved a lot of different chemicals, and when those chemicals got hot, well, I guess there was a pretty big explosion.”
“Sweet.” Chase stood up, dusted the knees of his pants, and grabbed George’s bike. The wheels spun in protest. George sat the lock on the desk and picked up a few of his notes. “Aren’t you going to help?” Chase asked.
“I’m a scientist, not a furniture mover. Besides, it’s too heavy for me. I could never lift it.”
“How did you get it in here?” Chase asked.
“My mom helped me unpack. Where were your parents, anyway?”
Chase didn’t want to talk about his dad’s frown or his mom’s bulging tomato face when she read his final report card. His smarty pants sister Cheyenne earned all A’s, making his D in life science look even worse. Chase thought it was totally unfair that Cheyenne got to attend their normal summer camp while he was stuck in some badly disguised form of summer school.
Chase struggled under the bike’s awkward shape, stumbling out the front door and down the porch steps. When Chase wrapped the chain around the bike, George clicked the lock into place.
“Now we can drop this key off at Director Lawrence’s office for safe keeping. Let me just grab my jacket.”
“It’s like a hundred degrees outside, George,” Chase said. The slamming screen door answered him. While he waited, Chase caught a glimmer of movement in the pavilion. Two boys trailed behind the girl with the potatoes. A boy in lime green Reeboks swung a brown paper bag in the air over the girl’s head.
“I promised my mom I’d dress in layers, since I’m always getting sick,” George called from inside the cabin.
Chase leaned across the front porch railing. The second boy caught the incoming bag. Both boys towered over the girl, who reached in vain to retrieve her bagged potatoes. Chase jumped off the porch and bolted across the grass like a track runner after the blast of the starting gun. He ignored George’s confused yells behind him, pumping his legs harder as he crossed the path. In the pavilion, the girl twisted toward her project, but the tall, beefy boy easily tossed the bag into the air over her head. Close enough now to launch himself, Chase reached the blonde boy a split second before the bag did.
Chase pinned the spiky Mohawk head to the ground. “Grab…the…bag!” he grunted, but the girl stood rooted in her spot, potatoes spilling from the split bag onto the ground. The second boy charged past her, faster than Chase expected. Chase tried to stand, but the blonde boy grabbed his ankle and knocked him off balance. Before he regained his footing, the second boy tackled Chase and wrapped two heavy arms around his body, squeezing Chase like a pimple that needed to be popped.
The blonde boy stood up, dusting dirt and debris off of his clothes before tightening his hand into a fist. As he cocked his hand back, Chase sucked in his stomach and scrunched up his face. Through squinty vision he saw the girl, swatting away tears as she scooped potatoes out of the dirt. Then a fat fist blocked his vision, the pale knuckles headed straight for his face.
This was going to hurt.
Before the boy’s fist connected with his nose, Chase heard the loud trill of a referee’s whistle. A young man sprinted toward them, scrubby black hair blowing across his face as his once white Keds slapped the ground. The whistle around his neck bounced against his Randy nametag pinned to the fraying pocket of his short-sleeve shirt, the checkered red and grays faded from too many washes. George ran behind him, trying to catch up.
“This isn’t over,” the blonde boy hissed at Chase. The second boy raised his hands like a football player pretending he didn’t just commit a penalty. Chase fell and scraped his knees on the ground.
“He started it—” the blonde boy told the counselor.
“Are you okay?” Randy lifted Chase to his feet. Acne dotted the raw skin around his mouth, spreading to the tip of his pointy chin. His breath smelled like peppermint candy. “That was a very brave thing you did,” he whispered. He put his hands on his hips and turned toward the blonde boy. “First day at camp and you’re already picking on the new kid?
December 9, 2014 at 12:53 AM #5120
I don’t have a lot of experience with middle grade, but I really enjoyed the voice. Your writing is easy to follow and flows well. I’d definitely read more! Could you post a plot summary in order to see if your opening reflects/sets up the story?
December 10, 2014 at 11:35 AM #5124
Here’s the plot summary. Thanks for the comments!
As his grades suggest, CHASE hates science. His punishment is two weeks of science camp, learning pointless activities like how to dust fingerprints and cast plaster molds of footprints. His parents expect him to learn, but Chase is more interested in getting to know LAINIE, a smart go-getter whose athletic shoes and devious mind capture Chase’s heart. When the camp bully targets Lainie, Chase stands up to HUNTER and puts the target on his own back. Hunter responds by picking a fight with Chase and faking an injury, earning Chase his first detention.
Then someone steals his roommate’s bicycle, ruining GEORGE’S science fair project and knocking him out of the competition held on the last day of camp. Other campers start losing items, too. A stolen recipe. Missing batteries. Vanished balloons. When someone targets Lainie’s project, Chase vows to find the culprit. Suddenly the lessons Chase learned are valuable tools to solve the camp mystery.
Chase believes the only way for Hunter to win the science fair competition is to sabotage the other campers’ projects. Chase focuses on ways to prove Hunter’s guilt, including sneaking into Hunter’s cabin to collect a fingerprint to match a smudge found at the scene of the crime. But Chase can’t make the science support his theory. As he tries to solve the mystery and save the science fair, he learns that science is never wrong. He must trust the clues he has in front of him to solve the mystery, even if the answer is different than expected.
December 29, 2014 at 4:52 PM #5130
A mystery at a science camp has a lot of potential. Very interesting.
As I read through this I was confused when we started out at the camp post office, mailing off a letter to the parents, as if camp has been in progress for awhile, and then we seem to be seeing Chase enter camp for the first time.
There is also a lot of repetition – we know he’s there at camp for two weeks, he doesn’t want to be there, but his parents forced him to attend, everyone is doing a science experiment and competing in the science fair – all of these things you tell more than once. Not necessary.
I was also confused by Chase’s character. How he reacts to his fellow bunkmate shows one type of character – one who doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t mind breaking rules or being rude – and then he’s suddenly racing across the camp to be noble and heroic.
As this reads, I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. It does have the makings of a great idea. Good luck!
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