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Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival
Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival
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Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival

Written by Arthur SladeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Arthur Slade

· Laurel Leaf
· Paperback · July 13, 2010 · $6.99 · 978-0-553-49506-5 (0-553-49506-2)

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Read an Excerpt
The Old, Odd School    

Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival sat like a fortress on the edge of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. The wolf's-head crest howled eternally from the turret that rose above the iron gates. Through those gates, surrounded by a stone wall,was a stone church, a brick armory, four brick classroom buildings and three brick dorms. A brick belfry stood right behind the stone statue of Jerry Potts. The main office, in the center of it all, was constructed of stone. The academy exuded permanence and authority. Its Gaelic motto was Seasamh tro Inntinn Fraodh: "survival through fierce intelligence."  

At 6:45 in the morning, the belfry's bronze bell began to toll. Newton rubbed his eyes, crawled out of his cot and splashed water on his face from the old metal sink in the corner of the room. The rusty taps ran water direct from the North Pole.  

Newton's room was as plain as an army barracks, containing only a World War Two-era cot, an ammunition box that served as a trunk and a green aluminum closet. Pinned to the wall was a calendar of recipes, and a framed photo of Newton's dark-haired mother sat on the window ledge, her chalk white skin glowing. Next to her photo was a framed drawing of a human hand, skin peeled back to reveal the tendons. It was his mother's work; she'd been a medical illustrator.  

Get your thoughts together, Newton. This would be the first day of orientation, and he could barely figure out how to do up his uniform kilt.  

When Newton had arrived the night before, a ruddy-faced instructor, Mr. MacBain, had checked off his name on a list, then tossed him a kilt and barked, "Welcome, laddie! You attach the right apron to the left buckle, the left apron to the waist and hipbuckles, and the kilt comes to the center of your knees, no further. The sporran hangs three fingers below the waistcoat. If it's too low you'll get demerits. There's hose, flashes and ghillie brogues. Wear them with pride, son. You get your sgian dubh tomorrow. Got that, laddie?"  

Newton had only understood welcome and laddie. "Uh, yes, sir."  

"Good. Now, be off with you. Any fool can wear a kilt. I'm proof of that."  

The Scottish uniform was the hallmark of Jerry Potts Academy. Jerry Potts himself had been half Scottish. Kilts made it easier to wade through ponds or to swim, should a student have to dive fully clothed into a river to save a drowning companion or escapea herd of charging cattle. And the academy got the kilts at a discount. Students could only wear pants or regular clothes during leisure time.  

Newton held the red, green and blue plaid kilt up in the dull light, trying to make sense of the belts and folds and pins. It was a Celtic jigsaw puzzle. As he tried to fasten it around his waist, several synapses sparked a memory.      

A Shocking Array of Kilts    

The memory that piped its way into his thoughts was of something that had occurred four years earlier. Newton, his mother and his father had walked out of their geodesic dome home, climbed into the ancient Volvo station wagon and driven from Snohomish, Washington, through the Rockies and the hills of Montana, to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. They had checked into the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa, then taken a deep collective breath and putted over to the Welakwa Home for the Elderly to visit Great-grandmother Enid Starker.  

Within the first thirty seconds, she had said Newton was "small enough that one static shock could obliterate him" and then referred to Newton's father, Geoffrey, as "the dome-headed wonder boy." His head was slightly bald.  

"We're not wanted here," he said to Delilah and Newton.  

"You're not wanted anywhere," Enid cackled.  

"Well, I didn't drive all this way to be insulted by an ungrateful prune."  

"Oh, ouch!" Enid crinkled her face. "At least this prune has personality."  

"Time out!" Delilah shouted. She grabbed her husband and son and dragged them to the lobby. "We're going for a drive to cool off."  

After checking the sky to be sure the weather hadn't changed, they piled into the car and drove aimlessly around Moose Jaw. "Let's go home," Geoffrey hissed.  

"Dad's right," Newton said from the backseat.  

"No!" Delilah said. "Both of you, be patient. Enid's mean and angry, but she's the only blood relative I've got besides Newton."  

Geoffrey was silent. The spot on the top of his head that turned crimson when he was perturbed gradually cooled to pink. "I'm not dome-headed, am I?"  

"Not even in the slightest." Delilah rubbed his shoulder.  

That's when they spotted Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival.  

Geoffrey cranked the wheel, shot up the driveway, slammed on the brakes and leaped out of the car. "Gothic Revival. That's got to be Tyndall stone. Tyndall stone!" he shouted, pointing at the main building. "The creamy-colored mottling is evidence of prehistoric burrowing marine creatures. If we got up close, we'd see fossils trapped in the limestone. But that's not all; look at the tracery!" Geoffrey was a structural engineer and tended to get excited about such things.  

Delilah spun in her seat and clutched Newton's shoulder. "Not safe," she whispered. Her eyes (one blue, one gray) narrowed. "The sky is never, ever safe. There's a cloud out there. I see it, hiding just beyond the school walls. If there's lightning the car will protect us. Lightning will travel down the sides and into the earth. Just don't touch the door handles."  

"I know, Mom," he said sniffily, "it's rule number seven: The interior of the car is safe, but don't touch any metal parts." She squeezed his shoulder gently.  

"Good boy."  

Newton was impressed by the sense of permanence that Jerry Potts Academy projected. This compound could stand up to a severe thunderstorm. Even a cyclone. On the steeply pitched roof of the central building, several sword-shaped lightning rods stuck up into the sky like points on a crown.  

Then, as though they'd been waiting for the Starker family's arrival, the front gates opened, and out marched a regiment of senior students in kilts, their sporrans and clan pins bright in the sun. Bagpipes were squealing. It was such a shocking arrayof kilts that Newton gaped.

Excerpted from Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival by Arthur Slade Copyright © 2010 by Arthur Slade. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.