Title: Alligators Overhead
Author: C. Lee McKenzie
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find his aunt and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.
Watch the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv7-hdcvfQY
Pete chewed on what was left of his right thumbnail, stared up at the round-faced clock above Aunt Lizzie’s desk and watched it tick off his last minutes of freedom.
The clapper pulled back and snapped against the brass bell, shaking his morning brain awake, more awake than it wanted to be on the first day of spring break.
His other hand hovered over the chunky, black phone on Aunt Lizzie’s desk. Like everything in the house it was retro, but today it was a bomb set to explode with a call from Principal Pitt, wiping out his spring vacation, wiping out his allowances, probably wiping out the rest of his life.
Before the phone rang a second time, he sprang out of the chair, snatched up the receiver, and, with a shaky hand, held it to his ear, waiting to hear Principal Pitt’s wheezy voice. Instead a woman said, “Today’s the day, Peter Riley.”
The phone went dead. He dropped the receiver. It missed the desk and dangled over the edge, spinning by its cord, humming with a dial tone.
“Breakfast in ten minutes,” Aunt Lizzie called from the kitchen.
He jumped at the sound of his aunt’s voice, and then swallowed so his heart slid back where it belonged. No way could he explain that call to her..
He set the receiver on the cradle, slow and easy.
Was that Pitt’s secretary? How about Lucy Burke’s mom? No. They never called him Peter. The woman’s voice on the phone had sounded hollow, like a recording, not a live person.
One thing was sure. It had jiggled his insides even more than last night’s nightmare. Pete stared at the phone, wondering if he’d really heard what he thought.
Aunt Lizzie called again. “Young man, did you hear me?”
“I heard you.” He righted the chair and tried to ignore the mess of hamsters in his stomach.
“Who was on the phone, Pete?”
But how could that be? The woman knew his name. Today is the day, Peter Riley.” “The day for what?” His own voice sounded eerie.
Pete had one of those very readable faces, so when he was up to something he shouldn’t be —which was the case most of the time—Aunt Lizzie knew it with only one glance in his direction. He looked into the mirror over the desk. For a change, guilt wasn’t there, not one speck. And that was mostly because there wasn’t any room for it. At that moment, his face read confused with nervous-scared elbowing its way through.
The smell of pancakes and eggs found its way out of the kitchen, but he was passing on food, even Aunt Lizzie’s super-sized buttermilk pancakes. He had to get outside, take a few runs up his bike ramp. He had to do something to get rid of that spooky voice. One step away from the desk he stopped. He couldn’t leave the phone unguarded, so he backed up and dialed the number for automated time. He waited until he heard, “At the tone, the time is—” That would keep the line busy. He set the receiver on the desk and hurried to the door.
On his way out he called over his shoulder, “I’m going to the lot, Aunt Lizzie. Back in a sec.” Before she could tell him no, he shut the door behind him and grabbed up his bike at the bottom of the steps.
In the vacant lot next door, weeds grew waist-high, except where Pete and Weasel had cleared a path. That path led from the hole they’d cut in Aunt Lizzie’s hedge to their bike jump. As Pete pumped his way through the hedge, the wind picked up and whipped those weeds around something fierce. He pulled up short and looked up at the sky, hoping they weren’t in for another hurricane. Even after living in Hadleyville for over two years, he wasn’t used to the wind that sent cows and cars into other counties.
He aimed his bike toward the lot, gripped the handlebars, and was about to push off when the ground rumbled under his tennis shoes like it used to back home.
Not that AND hurricanes.
He waited with his heart doing thud-thud, thud-thud against his ribs and the wind pelting his face.
When the wind stopped, a creepy hush followed. New hamsters joined the couple already chasing each other in his stomach, so, while he faced the weedy lot, a whole rodent family scrabbled around inside him.
He focused on the bike jump again. Standing on the pedals, he pumped, got up to speed and bore down on the sloped plywood. When the wheels hit the wood, the tires swerved and yanked the handlebars to the right. He rolled to the side and landed with a whump on his back, tires whirring next to his head.
Everything spun—a blurry sky, dirt, a house. The earth rumbled underneath him again and settled down to being quiet.
He turned onto his stomach, and, staying with one ear pressed to the ground, he waited for his head to clear. Then he wiggled all ten fingers and stretched out his arms. Those worked. Get- ting to his feet, he stomped a couple of times to see if his legs would hold up under him, then he blotted his bloody elbow on his T-shirt.
As he brushed the dirt off and looked up, he froze. He was in the shadow of something big, a shadow that couldn’t be there. Nothing was on this lot but weeds.
Nothing except–– He rubbed both eyes. Wooden steps. A porch. A... door! The scream stayed inside his head. All he could do was blink because where the vacant lot and his bike ramp used to be, stood a house the size of the Hadleyville library—a house he’d never seen in his life.
Or had he?
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
Kirkus says: “The folksy diction and lyrical, verb-heavy storytelling will leave readers turning the pages all the way to the end, where big surprises await and the real villains are revealed.”
A short, fun story that will excite both young and old imaginations. Full review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/c-lee-mckenzie/alligators-overhead/
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I’m someone in love with the English language...well, any language for that matter. How did we decided to use words, intonation, structures to communicate? Does our language come from our culture or does our culture come from our language? I love to drive people nuts with questions like this.
I have a background in Linguistics and Inter-Cultural Communication, but these days my greatest passion is writing for young readers.
Alligators Overhead, The Great Time Lock Disaster, and Some Very Messy Medieval Magic make up the time-travel series, The Adventures of Pete and Weasel.
Sign of the Green Dragon, another book for young readers, jumps into ancient Chinese dragon myths and a quest for treasure.
My young adult novels are Sliding on the Edge, The Princess of Las Pulgas, Double Negative, Sudden Secrets, Not Guilty, and Shattered, A Story of Betrayal and Courage.
When I’m not writing I’m hiking or traveling or practicing yoga or asking a lot questions about things I still don’t understand--like what is language anyway?
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Amazon Profile Page: https://www.amazon.com/C.-Lee-McKenzie/e/B0042M1KYW%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share