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  Suzanne Collins, Gregor the Overlander, ISBN: - 9780439678131

  Gregor the Overlander

  SCHOLASTIC INC.

  New York Toronto London Auckland Sydney Mexico City New Delhi Hong Kong Buenos Aires For my mom and dad

  If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding permission, write to Scholastic Inc., Attention: Permissions Department, 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

  This book was originally published in hardcover by Scholastic Press in 2003.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-43967813-1

  ISBN-10: 0-439-67813-7

  Copyright (c) 2003 by Suzanne Collins.

  All rights reserved.

  Published by Scholastic Inc. SCHOLASTIC, SCHOLASTIC PRESS, APPLE PAPERBACKS, and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc.

  19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 7 8 9 10 11 12/0

  Printed in the U.S.A. 40

  This edition first printing, August 2004

  The text type was set in 12-pt. Sabon Book design by David Caplan

  PART 1 The Fall

  CHAPTER 1

  Gregor had pressed his forehead against the screen for so long, he could feel a pattern of tiny checks above his eyebrows. He ran his fingers over the bumps and resisted the impulse to let out a primal caveman scream. It was building up in his chest, that long gutteral howl reserved for real emergencies -- like when you ran into a saber-toothed tiger without your club, or your fire went out during the Ice Age. He even went so far as to open his mouth and take a deep breath before he banged his head back into the screen with a quiet sound of frustration. "Ergh."

  What was the point, anyway? It wouldn't change one thing. Not the heat, not the boredom, not the endless space of summer laid out before him.

  He considered waking up Boots, his two-year-old sister, just for a little distraction, but he let her sleep. At least she was cool in the air-conditioned bedroom she shared with their seven-year-old sister, Lizzie, and their grandma. It was the only air-conditioned room in the apartment. On really hot nights, Gregor and his mother could spread quilts on the floor to sleep, but with five in the room it wasn't cool, just lukewarm.

  Gregor got an ice cube from the freezer and rubbed it on his face. He stared out at the courtyard where a stray dog sniffed around an overflowing trash can. The dog set its paws on the rim, tipping the can and sending the garbage across the sidewalk. Gregor caught a glimpse of a couple of shadowy shapes scurrying along the wall and grimaced. Rats. He never really got used to them.

  Otherwise, the courtyard was deserted. Usually it was full of kids playing ball, jumping rope, or swinging around the creaky jungle gym. But this morning, the bus had left for camp, and every kid between the ages of four and fourteen had been on it. Except one.

  "I'm sorry, baby, you can't go," his mother had told him a few weeks ago. And she really had been sorry, too, he could tell by the look on her face. "Someone has to watch Boots while I'm at work, and we both know your grandma can't handle it anymore."

  Of course he knew it. For the last year his grandma had been slipping in and out of reality. One minute she was clear as a bell and the next she was calling him Simon. Who was Simon? He had no idea.

  It would have been different a few years ago. His mom only worked part-time then, and his dad, who'd taught high school science, was off summers. He'd have taken care of Boots. But since his dad disappeared one night, Gregor's role in the family had changed. He was the oldest, so he'd picked up a lot of the slack. Looking after his little sisters was a big part of it.

  So all Gregor had said was, "That's okay, Mom. Camp's for kids, anyway." He'd shrugged to show that, at eleven, he was past caring about things like camp. But somehow that had made her look sadder.

  "Do you want Lizzie to stay home with you? Give you some company?" she'd asked.

  A look of panic had crossed Lizzie's face at this suggestion. She probably would have burst into tears if Gregor hadn't refused the offer. "Nah, let her go. I'll be fine with Boots."

  So, here he was. Not fine. Not fine spending the whole summer cooped up with a two-year-old and his grandma who thought he was someone named --

  "Simon!" he heard his grandma call from the bedroom. Gregor shook his head but he couldn't help smiling a little.

  "Coming, Grandma!" he called back, and crunched down the rest of his ice cube.

  A golden glow filled the room as the afternoon sunlight tried to force its way through the shades. His grandma lay on the bed covered by a thin cotton quilt. Every patch on the quilt had come from a dress she had made for herself through the years. In her more lucid moments, she'd talk Gregor through the quilt. "This polka-dotted swiss I wore to my cousin Lucy's graduation when I was eleven, this lemon yellow was a Sunday dress, and this white is in actual fact a corner of my wedding dress, I do not lie."

  This, however, was not a lucid moment. "Simon," she said, her face showing relief at the sight of him. "I thought you forgot your lunch pail. You'll get hungry plowing."

  His grandma had been raised on a farm in Virginia and had come to New York when she married his grandfather. She had never really taken to it. Sometimes Gregor was secretly glad that she could return to that farm in her mind. And a little envious. It wasn't any fun sitting around their apartment all the time. By now the bus would probably be arriving at camp and Lizzie and the rest of the kids would --

  "Ge-go!" squealed a little voice. A curly head popped over the side of the crib. "Me out!" Boots stuck the soggy end of a stuffed dog's tail in her mouth and reached up both arms to him. Gregor lifted his sister high in the air and blew a loud raspberry on her stomach. She giggled and the dog fell to the floor. He set her down to retrieve it.

  "Take your hat!" said Grandma, still somewhere back in Virginia.

  Gregor took her hand to try to focus her attention. "You want a cold drink, Grandma? How about a root beer?"

  She laughed. "A root beer? What is it, my birthday?"

  How did you answer something like that?

  Gregor gave her hand a squeeze and scooped up Boots. "I'll be right back," he said loudly.

  His grandma was still laughing to herself. "A root beer!" she said, and wiped her eyes.

  In the kitchen, Gregor filled a glass with icy root beer and made Boots a bottle of milk.

  "Code," she beamed, pressing it to her face.

  "Yes, nice and cold, Boots," said Gregor.

  A knock on the door startled him. The peephole had been useless for a good forty years. He called through the door, "Who is it?"

  "It's Mrs. Cormaci, darling. I told your mother I'd sit with your grandma at four!" a voice called back. Then Gregor remembered the pile of laundry he was supposed to do. At least he'd get out of the apartment.

  He opened the door to find Mrs. Cormaci looking wilted in the heat. "Hello, you! Isn't it awful? I tell you I do not suffer heat gladly!" She bustled into the apartment patting her face with an old bandanna. "Oh, you dream, is that for me?" she said, and before he could answer she was gulping down the root beer like she'd been lost in the desert.

  "Sure," Gregor mumbled, heading back to the kitchen to fix another. He didn't really mind Mrs. Cormaci, and today it was almost a relief to see her. "Great, Day One and I'm looking forward to a trip to the laundry room," Gregor thought. "By September, I'll