Enjoy this free preview of Chapter 1 of Revenge on the Rainy River Bees!
Samantha Clayburn lay shivering in bed, staring at the ceiling. Wishing never made the walls of her bedroom any thicker. Just like it never made the arguments between Mom and her boyfriend go away. Or stop the cries of Sam’s baby sister throughout the night. Two ratty, old blankets weren’t helping to keep out the winter chill of northern Minnesota.
Sam wanted to scream: ‘LET ME SLEEP!’ or ‘TURN THE HEAT UP!’. But that wouldn’t do anything except make that jerk Tony angry again. He’d been angry a lot the past two months, ever since he lost his job at the warehouse. So instead, Sam scrunched up even tighter and burrowed under a lumpy old pillow.
Peeking an eye out from under the side of the pillow, Sam saw the blue digits of an alarm clock change over to 7:00 AM. Sam bolted out of bed. For a few frantic seconds clothes flew on: Jeans, t-shirt, and a thick sweater. A few seconds after that a math textbook and unfinished science homework flew into a backpack. Sam didn’t waste any time trying to zip it closed: The cheap metal tab had snapped off two weeks into the school year. Mom refused to replace it, saying she had to learn to treat things with more respect.
Sam threw the bag over a shoulder and reached to unlock the doorknob. A thought suddenly popped into her head, followed by a long exhale. “Duhhhhh . . . It’s Saturday!”
The bag dropped back down among the mess in the middle of the room. Schoolbooks and papers spilled out over weeks’ worth of stuff Sam never bothered cleaning. Mom never had the energy to clean the house, and Tony was pretty much useless, so why should she do any different?
Sam was too wound up to go back to sleep. She sat at her desk in front of the room’s only window. She swiveled in the chair, surveying the room. The hockey poster over the bed caught Sam’s eye. Nine months earlier, every kid in town got one. In fact, lots of kids around the world had a similar poster on their walls: It featured twelve boys from her school. They all wore bright yellow and black hockey jerseys and stood around a gigantic trophy made of alien metals from another galaxy. Big yellow letters with black outlines dominated the bottom of the poster: RAINY RIVER BEES – INTERGALACTIC CHAMPIONS.
When the Bees had first been abducted by the Bythrin, it had made Sam jealous. Jealous because the dream of leaving Rainy River was so strong. In space, there wouldn’t be any teachers demanding her to study harder. No middle schoolers making fun of poor kids who couldn’t afford the latest clothes and gadgets. And the thought of being light years away from that jerk Tony always made Sam smile.
Mom and Tony: Now there was a relationship that never made sense. But Sam was old enough to realize that Mom and Dad had never made sense either. Mom seemed like an okay person. She had always taken care of Sam and now her new baby. And she had a decent job as a hairdresser for a long time. But Sam could never figure out why Mom always seemed frustrated and angry. Maybe that’s why she dated Tony: They could be miserable together. And if Mom really hated Tony as much as Sam did, it was too late now. Having a baby together made things a lot more complicated. It was hard for Sam to know how they really felt, since they’d have to pull their faces away from their phones long enough to say something meaningful.
Sam spun away from the poster and stared out the window. The story of the Rainy River Bees was awesome, but it reminded her that all the Bees were so lucky to get to play on a legit hockey team. Not only that, but the most famous team throughout the universe.
It was seven in the morning. Sam was wide awake and bored. The video games were in the living room, but Tony was still sleeping on the couch after bingeing on TV late into the night again. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the sky was just starting to turn the horizon a lighter shade of blue. The floodlight over the front door shined down on a single, snow-less concrete step. At least she wouldn’t have to shovel again.
Sam’s eyes drifted to the woods across the street. Just past that thin line of trees was a small hill that sloped down to a winding stream. Another thought popped into her head: “I should sneak out and skate!”
Mornings without any snow on the frozen stream were incredibly rare. It would be a shame, a crime, to miss this chance. Besides, Mom and Tony slept in on Saturdays. If they did get up, they usually focused on the baby and ignored Sam anyway. So that meant there’d be plenty of time to sneak out, skate all the way to the mouth of Rainy River and get back before anyone woke up.
It took her a few minutes to stuff a bunch of laundry under the covers in the rough shape of a sleeping fourteen-year-old. Inside the closet was the only clean and organized place in Sam’s entire room: The shelf that held hockey gear. Dad had bought all of it as a birthday gift three years earlier. Less than a month later, he’d left in the middle of the night and never came back.
Most of the cheap equipment was getting too small. It was all scratched up and full of holes that Sam had done an awful job of sewing closed. The palms of the dark green and white gloves were worn as thin as spider webs. But every piece of it was 100% Sam’s. Luckily, she’d barely grown over the past three years so although it was small, it all still fit.
She threw on a second sweater, a pair of snow pants, and a thick winter hat. Then she plucked the only hockey puck off the shelf. She saved the money to buy it by skipping a school lunch two weeks earlier. After zipping it securely into a pants pocket, Sam slid on a thin pair of gloves. Over those went the stinkiest gloves in all of Rainy River. Then she slid the worn-down blade of a cheap wooden hockey stick through the blade holders of both skates, to carry them to the stream over a shoulder.
Since the walls of the house were so thin, Sam opened the bedroom door slowly and tip-toed through the living room. One foot accidentally bumped a rattle. She froze, hoping it didn’t wake anyone up. After hearing nothing, she breathed a sigh of relief and continued into the kitchen.
Sam stuffed a granola bar and a juice box into a pocket before tugging on snow boots. The front door always creaked too loud in the winter, so she avoided the living room and went out the back door. As soon as the door latched closed, she realized just how cold it was. Every breath turned into a thick cloud of frozen water vapor.
Sam went around the house, ducking low under windows and staying as far from Mom’s bedroom window as possible. A hundred steps later, the street had been crossed and the trees across the street had been passed. She slid down the short bank down the stream and relaxed.
The sky had brightened a bit, allowing her to see one of the greatest sights on planet Earth: A winding, frozen stream without another soul in sight. It was as good as it got for Sam, since there had only been that one trip away from Rainy River. Dad drove 300 miles south to Minneapolis. That was the first and only time she’d seen a pro hockey game live.
A big rock nearby was a perfect seat for putting on skates. Normally cramming feet into old skates was painful. But on mornings this cold, Sam’s toes were too frozen to protest. What really hurt was tying laces. It felt like she was slicing off fingertips with each pull. It took her a while because she had to constantly blow hot air into her freezing fists.
But all the pain disappeared the instant Sam stood up, picked up a hockey stick, and pulled the puck out. The puck hit the ice with a satisfying THWACK that echoed across the silent morning. The stream belonged to nobody else: Just a smiling kid, a puck, and a frozen playground.
Sam kicked the puck over to the middle of the stream and crouched down over it. The stream became the face-off circle at center-ice. The trees stood cheering on the home team. She smacked away the stick of an invisible opponent and won the opening face-off.
Sam carried the puck downstream. The path ahead was so familiar, she could skate it with a blindfold on and avoid every sharp turn, rock, and tree root along the way. With soft hands, she deked and stick handled around the hazards, imagining them as the opponent’s top forward line. No way they were going to stop Sam Clayburn. She did a spin-o-rama around a jagged tree stump to get around the defense. The move was so slick that it made the imaginary blue-liners trip over their own skates. The crowd jumped up and cheered louder as Sam, their superstar sniper, closed in. All that was left was the goalie who quaked in his skates.
In this moment, Sam was completely happy: Flying, unstoppable, and without a care in the world.
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