Chapter 2 of our serial mystery story for young readers. Making new friends is hard. When we prejudge others, we close the door to friendship.
As he rolled his bike down the driveway Sebastian heard his mother call from the front door. "Don't forget your helmet."
"Mom, it looks stupid. Like I'm an alien."
"Fine, just pretend you're invading Earth. You know the rule, no helmet, no riding your bike," she said walking over to him. "And remember..."
"...my head's not as hard as you think," he finished for her.
"Exactly. Silly as it sounds, I like your head the way it is." She gave him a little hug. "Have fun and be home before dark. Oh, and if you leave the park let us know where you're going. Okay?"
"Okay," Sebastian answered, putting down the kickstand. He walked back to the garage to get the alien head helmet.
One nice thing about moving was that he could now ride his bike around the neighborhood. In their old home he had to be very careful just circling the block. People had used their street as a short cut from one main road to the next. They barely paid attention to the stop signs and they definitely didn't look out for kids on bikes. Here they lived on a dead end street. Usually the only cars belonged to the people who lived on the street.
In this new neighborhood he could also ride a few blocks to a park. It wasn't a big park, but it had a parking lot with a slope. Bike riders and skate boarders practiced tricks on the slope. Not that Sebastian was good at trick riding. He did the simple things, such as popping a wheelie or riding with no hands. The more dangerous tricks he left to others.
He smiled as he approached the park. He recognized Andy Miller with the boys grouped in the parking lot. Andy was all right. They had met when the Millers invited the Bellopedi family over for a cookout last Saturday. Andy's dad was the pastor of the Methodist church in town. Andy's parents had been helping to get the new church started. They were the ones who had suggested the old beauty shop for the new church.
Sebastian rode up to the group, "Yo Andy."
"Hey, Sebastian. What's up?" Andy responded.
"Not much. Hi," he said to the other boys.
"Hi," most of them replied. One boy just looked at him like he was an alien invading Earth.
"This is Grif," Andy said, referring to the glaring boy. "This is Randall, Tucker, and my cousin Bubba," he continued pointing to each boy.
Bubba? People actually named their children "Bubba," Sebastian wondered. All he said was, "Hi." He was getting very nervous. Grif was staring at him as if he had green ooze coming out of his ears and a third eye in the middle of his forehead.
"Where you from?" snapped Grif.
"Well, we just moved here from Philadelphia. That's Pennsylvania not Mississippi," he said trying for a joke. No one smiled.
"I guessed that," was the snarling reply. "What's your name again?"
"Sebastian, Sebastian Bellopiedi," he said, wondering again why his parents couldn't have named him Bill, or John, or anything else easier to say or spell.
Before Grif could say anything else Andy jumped in. "Tell them about your name." Turning to the others Andy informed them, "It's a cool story. Go on."
"My name? Oh, you mean about St. Sebastian?" Sebastian was relieved. He didn't want to tell them what Bellopiedi meant. It was hard enough being the new kid. He began his story.
He told them the story of St. Sebastian, the Roman soldier who became a Christian. This was when it was against the law to be a Christian. He was found out and sentenced to die. The Romans tied him to a stake and shot him full of arrows. They left him for dead, but he was still alive. St. Sebastian managed to escape. When the Romans came back for the body he was gone. They tracked him down and beat him to death.
"Wow! That's some story," Tucker exclaimed.
"Yeah, I like the part when they shot him with all those arrows. It was great," Bubba returned.
"Grif's head whipped toward them like a snake that had sensed a mouse. "What do you mean 'great'? It was stupid! No one could have lived after being shot full of arrows." Grif turned to Sebastian. "It's not true. It didn't happen."
"Wait! Aren't you the guy who likes to watch movies where the hero beats up a dozen guys after being shot six times?" Andy demanded. "This is kind of a historical action story."
Grif's head snapped toward Andy. "Well, those are movies. They aren't real. I doubt if this saint guy was much of a soldier. Any way, what kind of name is that to have? He's named after some guy who got killed."
"Well, it's better than being named after a mythical beast," Sebastian heard himself say. Uh, oh, he thought Grif's eyes narrowed. He really did look like a snake about to strike.
"What are you talking about?" Grif demanded to know.
Sebastian gulped and tried to decide how not to get beat up.
"I asked what you meant by that?"
Plowing head Sebastian said, "Your name's Griffin, right? A griffin is a made up animal. It's half lion and half eagle."
"Hey, that's kinda cool," Randall said. Midway to a smile, he looked at Grif.
"I'm named after my mother," Griffin hissed. "Griffin was her last name."
Sebastian rolled his bike away a few steps and tried to think of what to say. Andy jumped in, "Well that means your mother's family was named after this griffin thing. It sounds as if it was fierce," he said looking at Sebastian.
"It is. It's connected a lot with kings."
"How do you know about griffins and things?" Bubba asked rolling his bike over to Sebastian.
"My mom used to be an English teacher. When other moms read Winnie-the-Pooh to their kids, my mom was reading myths. I didn't know about Red Riding Hood, but I knew about Jason and the Argonauts."
"I'm tired of standing around talking," Grif said as he rode away on his bike. "Let's ride."
"Yeah," replied Tucker. "Now we have six guys. We can form teams for 'Stunt Show.'"
"What's that?" asked Sebastian.
Andy answered, "We have a stunt competition. We've been competing individually, but now we can have teams. We do our best bike tricks going down the slope. The other guys judge. You know, like the Olympics." Andy was riding over to the top of the slope.
"Uh, Andy, I don't do many tricks," Sebastian said, trying to keep his voice low. He didn't want the others to hear. He wasn't sure what his parents' reactions would be if they knew he was doing trick riding on the slope. He knew he had only two choices. Don't ride in the "Stunt Show" and be labeled a major wimp, or take a chance and pray he didn't break his arm.
Making his selection he said a quick prayer and rode over to the group. The teams were divided up. He was on team two with Andy and Bubba.
The rules were simple. Each team took a turn. The riders would perform their best trick. The opposing team scored the rider from one to ten. The scores were added together for the team score. Bubba was the official scorekeeper since he always made As in math.
Grif's team would go first. Randall lined up to begin. He rode down the hill with a simple "no hands" trip. Sebastian sighed with relief. He could do that. Andy, Bubba, and Sebastian put their heads together to score him. They decided on a score of five. Not great, but not bad either.
Tucker's turn was next. He also kept his trick simple. Popping a wheelie on the way down earned Tucker a seven. Sebastian was felt easier. He could hold his own and not let down his team. He wanted his new friends to think well of him.
That left Grif for Team One. He pulled away from the slope to get a good start. Grif started toward the edge gaining speed. As he reached the slope he pulled up sharply, causing his bike to jump into the air and spun the front wheel. As he started to come down, Grif leveled out his bike, then met the ground. He landed on the slope and coasted down to a stop.
Everyone cheered. "A ten! That's a ten!" Randall and Tucker were shouting. As Grif brought his bike back up the hill the three team members started chanting, "Ten, ten, ten!" Sebastian, Andy, and Bubba nodded their heads.
"You're right, they're right," Bubba sang out. "That deserves a ten. Team One has a total of twenty-two points."
The members of Team Two huddled together to plan their strategy. "Bubba and Sebastian, you guys can do wheelies and that should give us fourteen points. That means I'll have to do a trick worth at least nine points," Andy charted out for them.
"What are you going to do," Sebastian wanted to know. He was grateful that the responsibility for winning would rest on Andy's shoulder's. All he had to do was a trick he'd been doing for years. He was curious about Andy's plan.
"Don't know yet," Andy replied. "Why don't you and Bubba go first. That will give me time to think about it." They agreed that Bubba would go first.
Team Two began their riding. Bubba had no problems with his wheelie. Since Tucker had been given a seven for that trick, the same score was awarded to Bubba.
Sebastian pulled to the slope. It hadn't looked quite so long and steep when he watched the others ride down. He suddenly thought of the old saying his parents used. "If everyone else jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you do it too?" The slope suddenly looked like the Brooklyn Bridge, with Sebastian about to make a swan dive. He took a deep breath and started down the slope.
He began peddling. He didn't have to peddle fast since gravity was pulling him down the angle. As he gained speed he jerked his bike up and performed his wheelie. He brought his bike down and tried to listen for his teammates cheering. He heard a different sound. It was small, but it made his heart stop.
It was a snap sound. Not loud, but Sebastian heard it. It made his body vibrate. He looked down at his front wheel. One of the wheel spokes had broken. Before his mind could command his hands to apply the brakes he saw the spoke fall between the other spokes and lock the wheel. In a nano second the bike stopped. Unfortunately his body did not stop. Sebastian felt himself flying over the handlebars.
He knew it was going to be bad, but he had no control as he started to flip. He was landing head first! He instinctively put his hands up to protect his face. As his head hit the ground he heard a sound worse than the snap of the spoke. This was a crack. Then he completed the somersault, landing on his back.
Sebastian lay still, trying to figure out what he had broken. Suddenly the others surrounded him. "Hey, you okay man.?" "Are you alright?" "Oh, no! Oh, no!" They started asking him a million questions about what happened and what he had broken.
"Wait, wait," Sebastian croaked. He slowly sat up. Bubba was behind him, helping to support his weight. Sebastian put his hand up to his head where he hit the ground. Something was odd, but he couldn't figure out what. He didn't feel any blood. His head hurt, but it seemed okay. Still, something was definitely wrong.
"Oh, wow," Tucker exclaimed. "That is so awesome!"
"What?" Sebastian asked.
"Your helmet. It...it cracked in two." Tucker held up the pieces of Sebastian's helmet. It hung around his neck by the straps.
Andy unhooked the pieces and showed them to Sebastian. "That could have been your head. It could be in two pieces instead of your helmet. Man, you have one hard head."
The boys helped Sebastian to his feet with questions about other injuries. Sebastian checked himself out. Miraculously there didn't seem to be any broken bones. That didn't mean he wasn't in pain.
"Now I know how steak feels after my mom tenderizes it." His back felt like it had been scrapped raw. "Am I bleeding anywhere?" The boys helped him check for blood, but aside from some tears in his T-shirt and scrapes on his back and the backs of his hands, they couldn't find any serious cuts.
"You ought to go home and get those cleaned up," Tucker ordered. "I'll walk home with you. I only live a few blocks down from you."
"Bubba and I'll come with you," Andy said. "Are you coming Grif? Randall?"
"Nah," Grif replied. "I'm fixin' to go home. See you Bubba. See you Tucker." Grif hopped on his bike and rode away.
"Wait Grif," Randall called after him. He started riding after the other boy, pumping hard to catch up.
"Man, oh, man, I thought you'd had it when I saw you go over the handlebars," laughed Tucker. Sebastian knew it was only natural for the others to want to talk about the accident, but he was embarrassed. He had just crashed in front of his new friends. He tried to change the subject.
"What's with Grif? He acts like I just arrived out of that new science fiction movie."
"Which one?" Andy asked.
"You know, the one where the aliens attack Earth and cover it with slime."
"Oh yeah, the slime that puts us to sleep so they can eat us."
"Don't worry," Bubba commented. "He acted the same way when I moved to Green Market last year. I was the 'city kid' because we had lived in Athens."
"Yeah, well anywhere compared Green Market is the 'Big City'," Tucker laughed. "They do have a drive in movie theater in Athens!" They all laughed at this.
"And pizza places," Bubba added.
Sebastian thought about this. He had been to Athens. It was nice, but compared to Philadelphia it wasn't a "city." The tallest building was only three or four stories. It's all what you're used to he judged.
"I guess Green Market is strange to me because it's so different. I'm strange to Griffin because I'm from the north and a big city," he said to himself.
Have you read Chapter 1 - A Worm in the Hand?