gt;gt; Chapter One gt; gt;Under the Bridgegt; gt; gt; I was running when the thugs attacked me. gt; I ran a lot, almost every day after school. It was part of my secret plan to get in shape and try out for the track team. Which was a gt;secretgt; plan because I was never much of an athlete, and the track team was the most important team in school, and I didn't want anyone to laugh at me for thinking I could make the grade. gt; So almost every day, without mentioning it to anyone, I would go home and change into my running clothes. I would ride my bike out of town, then set the bike down among the trees and take off on foot along one of the empty country trails. gt; This particular day was in early March. I was pounding my way over the McAdams Trail, which goes up a steep hill through the woods and then comes out for a long, steady stretch along a ridge. It's a nice run with a great view of my hometown below. You can see the houses clustered in the light-green valley and the brick towers of the town hall and the column of the Civil War monument and the river sparkling reddish in the afternoon sun. I could even make out the steeple of my dad's church as I ran along above it. gt; The cold of winter was still holding on. The trees were still bare, their branches stretching naked into the pale-blue sky. But as I ran along, I caught an occasional whiff of spring drifting through the air. The last snow had melted. The ground that had been ice-hard all winter long felt softer now under my sneakers. gt; Up ahead of me, at the end of the ridge, there was a railroad bridge. Very old, very narrow—just one thin track supported by concrete pylons. The bridge stretched from the crest of the hill, over the river, to the edge of another hill on the far side. Then the train tracks took a long looping curve around the far ridge over the valley before they ran out of sight behind the surrounding hills. It was an old line, but the freights still used it. They'd go whistling past above the town two and three times a day. gt; Usually, when I reached the cluster of trees just before the bridge, I would turn down and follow the trail along the descending slope of the hill, heading back for home. That was my plan for today. Only I never made it. gt; I had just come into the trees. I was running along under the lacework of tangled winter branches. I was feeling good, feeling strong, my legs pushing hard, my wind easy. I was enjoying the touch of spring in the air. And I was thinking about getting on the track team. I was thinking: gt;Hey, I might do thisgt;. Thinking: gt;I might really be able to do this.gt; gt; Then suddenly, I fell. For no reason I could tell at first, I pitched forward, just lost my footing and went flying through the air. I came down hard on the earth. I was going so fast that I knew I couldn't catch myself on my hands—I'd have broken my wrists. Instead, I twisted as I fell and took the worst of the impact on my shoulder. It was a good, solid jar too. I felt it right up through my forehead, a lancing pain. My momentum carried me along the dirt path a few inches, the stones tearing at my clothes. gt; When I finally came to rest, I lay where I was for a second, dazed. Thinking: gt;What just happened?gt; gt; Then I looked up—and I knew. gt; Jeff Winger was standing above me. Seventeen, wiry, narrow rat-like face with floppy sandy-brown hair falling down over his pimply forehead. Black hoodie and sweatpants too low on his waist. Quick, darting weasel eyes that seemed to be looking in every direction for trouble. A thug. gt; And he wasn't alone. Ed Polanski and Harry Macintyre were also there. They were also thugs. Ed P. was a big lumbering thug with short-cropped blond hair and a face like a potato. Harry Mac was a muscular thug with bulging shoulders and a broad chest. gt; They must've been hanging back in the thick bushes behind the trees, hidden from my view as I ran past. I figured one of them—Harry Mac, judging by his forward position—had seen me coming and tripped me as I ran along. gt; Now Jeff Winger looked down on me where I lay. He grinned over at his two friends. gt; "Somebody fell down," he said. gt; Ed P. laughed. gt; Harry Mac said, "Awww. Poor baby." gt; Painfully, I sat up. I brushed the dirt off my face, also painfully. I spit the grit out from between my teeth. I rolled my shoulder, testing to see if it still worked. It hurt when I moved it, but at least it was operational. gt; I looked up at the thugs laughing down at me. "That's funny," I said to them. "You're real funny guys." gt; Now let me get something straight right up front. I am not a tough guy. In fact, I'm not a very good fighter at all. I'm a little under average height and not very big across. I'm not particularly strong, and I never learned to box or anything like that. Every time I'd ever been in a fight, I got beaten up pretty badly. So probably? In a situation like this? I should have tried to be a little bit more polite. It would've been the smart thing to do, if you see what I mean. gt; But here's the problem: I hate being pushed around. Really. I hate it. Like, a lot. Something happens inside me when someone tries to bully me—when someone shoves me or hits me or anything like that. Everything just goes red inside. I can't think anymore. I go nuts. I can't help it. And I fight back—whether I intend to or not—and even if it means I get my head ripped off. Which, in my limited experience, is exactly what happens. gt; Now, I could already feel the anger building in me as I climbed to my feet. I dusted myself off. I saw Jeff watching me, still grinning. That made the anger even worse. gt; "I guess you want to be more careful next time," Jeff said. His thug friends laughed as if this were really hilarious, as if he were a professional comedian or something. "Running around here can be kind of dangerous." gt; Again, this would have been an excellent time for me to keep my mouth shut. But somehow I just couldn't. "Okay," I said. "You tripped me and I fell. Ho ho ho. That's very funny. If you're, like, seven years old ..." gt; Harry Mac didn't appreciate that remark. "Hey!" he said, and he pushed me in the shoulder—hard. I knocked his hand away because—well, just because, that's why. Because I don't like being pushed around. That made Harry Mac even angrier—so angry, he cocked his fist as if he were about to drive it into my face. Which I guess he was. gt; But to my surprise, Jeff stopped him. He slapped Harry Mac lightly on the shoulder. Harry Mac hesitated. Jeff gave him a negative shake of the head. Harry Mac lowered his fist, backed off me with a look that said: gt;You got lucky this timegt;. Which was true. gt; Jeff looked me over, up and down. "I see you in school, don't I?" he said. "Hopkins, is that it?" gt; I slowly drew my eyes away from Harry Mac and turned them on Jeff. "That's right. Sam Hopkins," I told him. gt; Jeff nodded. "And you know who we are, right?" gt; I nodded back. Everyone in school knew Jeff Winger and his thug buddies. gt; "Okay, good," Jeff went on in what sounded like a reasonable voice. "Because here's the deal, Sam. This isn't a good place for you, okay? This isn't where you want to do your running anymore." gt; Some part of my mind was telling me to just keep quiet and nod and smile a lot and get myself out of this. Any one of these guys could've pounded me into the earth. All three of them could pretty much kick me around like a soccer ball at will. But the part of my mind that understood that was somehow not getting through to the part of my mind that Just. gt; Didn't. gt; Like. gt; Getting. gt; Pushed. gt; Around. gt; So instead of keeping quiet, I said, "What do you mean, it's not a good place? It's a great place. I like running here." gt; Jeff laughed. It was not a friendly laugh. He took a casual step toward me—casual, but threatening. He went on smiling and he shook his head as if I had misunderstood him. "No, no, Sam, I don't think so. I don't think you gt;dogt; like running here. Not anymore, anyway." gt; "Oh yeah?" I said—and, okay, it wasn't exactly a brilliant comeback, but it was all I could think of under the circumstances. gt; And of course Jeff answered, "Yeah. In the future, Sam, I think maybe you ought to run someplace else. Anyplace else. This isn't your place anymore. This is our place. It's our place and we don't want you here." gt; Through the red haze of my anger, I began to understand what was going on. My eyes moved back over the trees and the bushes around us. It was a dark, lonesome spot up here. You could sit in the underbrush and no one would ever see you or find out what you were up to. So I guess Jeff and his pals were up to stuff they shouldn't have been up to, and they didn't want me or anyone else to see. gt; "Okay," I said. "Okay, I get it." gt; "Good," said Jeff. gt; "Sure. You guys want to be left alone. And that's fine with me. Really. I don't want to bother you. I don't want to bother anyone. I don't care what you're doing here. I don't know what it is and I don't want to know. And I'm sure not gonna report you to anyone or anything. I just want to go for my run, that's all, okay?" gt; "Sure," said Jeff with another laugh. "Sure, you can go for your run. You can go for your run anytime you want. Just not here, Sam. This is not your place, I'm telling you. This is our place now." gt; Just so I'm sure you have the picture here. Them: three big tough guys. Me: one little guy, not tough. Place: middle of nowhere. Raise your hand if you know what the smart thing to do would have been. Right. I should have smiled and said, "Okay, Jeff, sorry to intrude," and shut up and run off on my way just as fast as my legs would carry me. gt; Instead, I said: "Forget it, Jeff. This is where I run. I like it. I'm not getting chased off. No way." gt; Jeff gave what sounded like a grunt of surprise. He looked over his shoulder at his buddies. He looked back at me. gt; Then, so fast I had no time to react, he grabbed hold of the front of my sweatshirt. While he was at it, he grabbed a handful of my chest as well. He dragged me toward him. gt; "Listen ...," he started to say. gt; I punched him in the face. gt; I didn't mean to. Okay, I did mean to. Of course I meant to. It's not the sort of thing you do to someone by accident. What I'm trying to say is: I didn't plan it. I just got so angry when he grabbed hold of me that I sort of automatically let fly. gt; My fist cracked into Jeff's cheek, right under his eye. I didn't connect very hard, but it was hard enough, a good solid, stinging jab. And, of course, Jeff wasn't expecting it—not at all. He was so startled, he actually let go of me and staggered back a step. He grabbed his cheek and just stood there, stunned. gt; They were gt;allgt; stunned. Jeff and Ed P. and Harry Mac. They all just stood there for that long second, staring, as if they couldn't believe what had happened. Which they probably couldn't. gt; And you know what? I couldn't believe it either. I was stunned too, totally taken by surprise. I just stood there, staring at Jeff and the others. gt; Then—out of nowhere it seemed—there came a loud, high shriek. It pierced the air, deafening. I didn't know what it was at first, but whatever it was, it sort of jolted me awake. My brain started working again. gt; And my brain said to me: gt;Uh, Sam? Run for your life!gt; gt; Which is exactly what I did. gt; gt; gt; Chapter Two gt; gt;A game of Chickengt; gt; gt; Harry Mac made a grab at me, but too late, he missed. I took off along the ridge. Jeff and Ed P. and Harry Mac charged after me. When I looked back, I could tell by the expressions on their faces that they were determined to catch me and take their revenge. They were gaining on me too. Especially Harry Mac. He was a muscleman, like I said, and a lot of times guys like that aren't flexible enough to move well or run fast. But just my luck, Harry Mac was plenty flexible, and it turned out he could run like the wind. He gt;wasgt; running like the wind, in fact, his thick, powerful legs pistoning under him, driving him after me, leaving his two thug pals behind and quickly closing the gap between us. gt; Then I heard it again: that high-pitched shriek—the sound that had brought me back to my senses. I glanced across the valley as I ran and I saw what it was. It was the whistle of a freight train. I could see the train winding out from behind the hills, heading for the far end of the railway bridge. gt; Which gave me an idea. And I think it's safe to say it was the craziest idea I had ever had. It's possible it was the craziest idea gt;anyonegt; had ever had. But what can I tell you? I was totally panicked. I knew if Jeff and his pals caught me, they would break me into little bits and then break the bits into even littler bits. I saw only one chance to escape them and, crazy as it was, I took the chance without really thinking. gt; I ran for the bridge. Moving off the McAdams Trail onto the gravelly dirt along the ridge. Dodging through the sparse and scraggly trees. Running as fast as I could. gt; I glanced back over my shoulder as I ran. Harry Mac was closing in on me fast. I had to go up a steep little incline to reach the end of the bridge and that slowed me down, and Harry Mac got even closer. gt; Now I stepped onto the bridge, onto the tracks, and started running over them. The world dropped away on either side of me. Suddenly I was high, high up in the air with no escape route, Jeff and his pals behind me, the train coming up ahead of me, nothing but sky to my left and right. I kept to the center of the tracks, between the rails, between the edges of the bridge. My feet flew over old brown wooden ties that were strung close together with only small strips of grass and gravel between them. gt; As I ran, I looked up ahead. I could see the train. It sent out another piercing whistle as it steamed along the ridge over the Sawnee, heading for the bridge's far side. My idea was this: If I could run across the bridge fast enough, I would get to the other end before the train reached it. Jeff and his friends wouldn't follow me because they couldn't possibly be ridiculous enough to run across a single-track bridge with a freight train about to cut off their only exit. gt; You can see what I mean when I say I hadn't quite thought this idea all the way through. For instance, if I thought Jeff and his thug pals were too smart to run across the bridge with the train coming—well, then, shouldn't gt;Igt; have been too smart to do it also? Just to save you the trouble of looking up the answer, it's: Yes! Of course yes! gt; What I was doing was absolutely insane! But with everything happening so quickly, and with the whole panic thing going on and my fear of Jeff and Ed P. and Harry Mac, I just wasn't being very smart, that's all. gt; So I continued running as fast as I could, down the center of the train tracks, over the bridge. gt; It wasn't easy running over those wooden ties. I had to be careful not to catch my foot in one of the gaps, where I could've twisted or even broken my ankle, running as fast as I was. Also, some of those wooden ties felt kind of soft and rotten under my feet, as if they could break at any time. I didn't know what would happen then. If one of them broke and I plunged through, would I just land on the gravel underneath? Or would I keep on falling down and down into the river below? gt; Even in my panicked state, it was beginning to occur to me: this was a dumb plan. A really, really dumb plan. gt; I was about to stop. I was about to turn around and run back. Then, amazingly, I felt fingers snag the collar of my sweatshirt. Startled, I whipped a look over my shoulder. gt; gt;You gotta be kidding me!gt; I thought. gt; But no, there was Harry Mac, his face red and twisted with effort, running after me, closing on me, reaching out with one hand to grab hold of my shirt. gt; He'd followed me out onto the bridge. How crazy could anyone be? Didn't he see there was a train coming? What was he, some kind of idiot? gt; I faced forward and put on some extra speed, fueled by fear. I felt Harry Mac's fingers lose their hold on my shirt and slip away. I looked ahead and there was the train, snaking around the curve to head for the end of the bridge. Once it got there, there would be no way to get out of its path. gt; I glanced back one more time. Now, even Harry Mac had figured out this was the craziest thing ever. He had stopped on the bridge. He was standing in the middle of the train tracks, breathless, staring after me, shaking his head. gt; Just before I faced forward, I saw him turn away. I saw him start jogging back toward where Jeff and Ed P. were standing in safety at the bridge entrance. They had stopped where they were. They had not come after me. They weren't complete idiots after all. gt; gt;(Continues...)gt; gt; gt; gt;gt; gt;gt;gt; Excerpted from gt;Crazy Dangerousgt; by gt;Andrew Klavangt; Copyright © 2012 by Andrew Klavan. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.gt;Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.