Steven Daemon Carter thought there was about a 75% chance that it was his name that was being called. But he'd learned before that that wasn't quite high enough. It wasn't worth going through all the trouble of waking yourself up and answering unless you were somewhere around 88 to 90% sure that some annoying parent was trying to ruin another good night's sleep.
A few seconds later he was about 85.2% sure that his father was calling him. Close, but no cigar. But 85.2% was the level when Steven would start grumbling about having a good dream interrupted and would begin pulling sheets and pillows and covers over his ears.
"STEVEN DAEMON CARTER!"
Now, that was 100%!
All sleep and all grumbling and all dreams and pretty much all sheet and pillow pulling came to a dead stop.
"Are you up?"
"Really," Steven thought, "what kind of a question is that? Does he think Zoopy has learned how to talk? Does he think . . ."
"Yes, Dad! I'm up!"
"No! Get up now!"
Steven and his father had different definitions of the word up. In Dad's eyes up meant Steven had cleaned his room . . . okay, okay, had cleaned his room by shoving things under his bed, had brushed his teeth . . . all right, all right, had thought about brushing his teeth, had washed his face . . . I know, I know, had wet at least one of his fingers to wipe the gray, lumpy gunk out of the corners of his eyes, was dressed and was anxiously standing in his doorway waiting to do whatever Dad wanted him to do.
In Steven's eyes up was being awake enough to know he needed another two or three hours' sleep.
But as Dad loved saying to his son, "When you start paying the rent around here, you can start saying what definitions are."
Steven squinched his left eye shut, pulled the pillow from his face and got ready to let the morning's brightness come into his right eye. Only problem was when he opened his right eye, it saw nothing but darkness.
"I can't believe it! It's still dark outside! How early is he getting me up this time?"
His right eye looked at the alarm clock. What it saw was so shocking that he had to unsquinch his left eye to make sure this was real.
It was. The red numbers glared 4:21 a.m.!
Now Steven was really up!
"D-a-a-a-d! Do you know what time it is?" he yelled from under his pillow.
"Ste-e-e-ven! Have you looked outside?"
Dad was doing it again! He would never allow his son to answer a question with a question, but he sure liked doing it himself.
Steven clomped to his window and pulled the curtain aside. It was unbelievable! This was the eighth time in two weeks that exactly two feet of snow had covered everything outside. Everything, that is, in the Carters' yard and their two next-door neighbors' yards. The odd thing was, once again, it looked like these were the only houses in the neighborhood that had more than just a coating of snow on them.
An even odder thing was that that same confused Canada goose was flying circles around the house again. Every time they got one of these weird snowstorms, this weird goose would show up too.
"Hmmm," he said, watching the goose, "aren't geese supposed to fly in a V, not an O? Oh, well."
Now, two feet of snow on only three houses and a goose flying the wrong letter might seem like the kinds of mysteries that Steven, the president of the Flint Future Detectives, might want to investigate. But he couldn't be bothered, he had much more important things on his mind. Things like how could he get even with Dad for getting him up so early. Things like exactly how much longer he was going to be able to stay as president of the Flint Future Detectives. Things like how unfair it was that he was the one who was going to have to go out and shovel. It was bad enough that he had to do his family's sidewalk and porch and driveway, what was worse was that Dad made him go shovel out both neighbors too.
Steven flopped back onto his bed. "Dad, it's too early. I'll do it later."
"Okay, mister! That's it!"
These were never good words to hear from Dad, especially when Steven's room looked like it did now. He jumped up and had half of last week's clothes stuffed under his bed before his bedroom door exploded open.
Dad said, "As of . . ."--he looked at his watch--"four-twenty-two a.m., Friday, November the tenth, you are banned from ever saying 'I'll do it later.' From this day until the time you introduce me to my first grandchild, when you want to say 'I'll do it later,' you will instead sing the first nine words of 'Home on the Range,' after which you will give a good old cowboy 'Yee-haw!', slap the ground twice and scream out, 'Bra-zohs!' "
Dad made him do these weird, embarrassing things to discourage him from being so repetitious.
"Man," Steven thought, "these word-substitute thingies are getting way too complicated. Maybe I should make a list of what I say too much and work on not saying the same things over and over."
He was just about to start the list but then thought, "Naah, I'll do it late . . . oops!"
Before he could start singing "Home on the Range," Dad said, "It's time you started showing a little more conscientiousness around here, young man, do you understand?"
Steven thought, "Are you kidding? I bet not even Richelle Cyrus-Herndon knows what that word means, and she's the smartest kid at Clark Elementary School."
He knew better than to tell his father that he had no idea what conscientiousness meant. That would cause another trip to look up the word in Great-great-grampa Carter's bad-dispositioned dictionary, something he really wasn't trying to do at any time, especially not at four-something in the morning. Oh yeah, the dictionary would give definitions, but only after it had insulted and disrespected Steven on its copyright page.
Copyright © 2008 by Christopher Paul Curtis. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.