I fell hard on the ground and sprained my arm. I screamed with pain, then tried twisting away from the hairy figure above me. Before I could do anything, he was crouching by my side with a fierce look on his face.

"Oh, hey, man, I didn't hurt you, did I?"He had a friendly voice, and I realized my life wasn't in danger; the look on his face was one of concern, not anger.


"I didn't mean to freak you out,"the man said. "I was just trying to scare you a little, man, for fun."

I sat up and rubbed my elbow. "I'm okay,"I said.

"You're sure? It ain't broken, is it? I've got herbs that can help, if it is."

"Herbs can't fix broken bones,"Sam said. He was now standing beside Evra.

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"They sure can't,"the stranger agreed, "but they can elevate you to planes of consciousness where worldly concerns like broken bones are nothing but minor blips on the cosmic map."He paused and stroked his beard. "Of course, they burn out your brain cells, too..."

Sam's blank face showed that even he didn't understand that long sentence.

"I'm okay,"I said again. I stood up and rotated my arm. "I just twisted it. It'll be fine in a couple of minutes."

"Man, that's good to hear,"the stranger said. "I'd hate to be the cause of bodily harm. Hurt's a bad trip, man."

I studied him in more detail. He was big and chubby, with a bushy black beard and long, scraggly hair. His clothes were dirty and there was no way he'd had a bath recently, because he stank to high heaven. That's what the strange smell had been. He was really friendly looking; it made me feel stupid thinking about how afraid of him I'd been.

"Are you guys locals?"the man asked.

"I am,"Sam said. "These guys are with the circus."

"Circus?"The man smiled. "There's a circus around here? Oh, man, how did I miss it? Where is it? I love the circus. I never pass up a chance to see clowns in action."

"It's not that sort of circus,"Sam told him. "It's a freak show."

"A freak show?"The man stared at Sam, then at Evra, whose scales and color pretty much marked him out as one of the performers. "Are you part of a freak show, man?"he asked.

Evra nodded shyly.

"They don't mistreat you, do they?"the man asked. "They don't whip you or under-feed you or make you do things you don't want to?"

"No."Evra shook his head.

"You're there of your own free will?"

"Yes,"Evra said. "All of us are. It's our home."

"Oh. Well, that's okay,"the man said, smiling again. "You hear rumors about those small traveling shows. You..."He slapped his forehead. "Oh man, I haven't introduced myself, have I? I'm so dumb sometimes. R.V.'s the name."

"R.V.? That's a funny name,"I remarked.

He coughed with embarrassment. "Well,"he said, lowering his voice to a whisper, "it's short for Reggie Veggie."

"Reggie Veggie ?"I laughed.

"Yeah,"he said. "Reggie's my real name. Reggie Veggie's what they called me in school, because I'm a vegetarian. Well, I never liked that, so I asked them to call me R.V. instead. Some did, but not many."He looked miserable at the memory. "You can call me Reggie Veggie if you want,"he told us.

"R.V. is fine by me,"I assured him.

"Me, too,"Evra said.

"And me,"Sam added.

"Cool!"R.V. brightened up. "So, that's my name out in the open. How about you three?"

"Darren Shan,"I told him, and we shook hands.

"Sam Grest."

"Evra Von."

"Evra Von what?"R.V. asked, as I had when I first met Evra.

"Just plain Von,"Evra said.

"Oh."R.V. smiled. "Cool!"

R.V. was an ecowarrior, here to stop a road from being built. He was a member of NOP - Nature's Opposing Protectors - and had traveled the country saving forests and lakes and animals and stuff like that.

He offered to show us around his camp, and we jumped at the chance. The railway station could wait. This was an opportunity that wouldn't come every day.

He talked about the environment nonstop as we walked. He told us about all the crappy things being done to Mother Nature, the forests we were destroying, the rivers we were polluting, the air we were poisoning, the animals we were driving to extinction.

"And this is all in our own country!"he said. "I'm not talking about stuff happening somewhere else. This is what we're doing to our own land!"

NOP was fighting to save the earth from greedy, dangerous humans who didn't care what they did to it. I had journeyed up and down the country trying to make other people aware of the dangers. They gave out pamphlets and books about how to protect the environment.

"But raising awareness ain't enough,"R.V. told us. "It's a start, but we must do more. We have to stop the pollution and destruction of the countryside. Take this place: They were going to build a road through an old burial ground, a place where people buried their dead thousands of years ago. Can you imagine that, man? Destroying a part of history, just to save drivers ten or twenty minutes!"

R.V. shook his head sadly. "These are crazy times, man,"he said. "The things we're doing to this planet... In the future - assuming there is one - people will look back on what we've done and call us idiotic barbarians."

He was very passionate about the environment, and after listening to him for a while, so were Sam, Evra and me. I hadn't thought about it much before, but after a couple of hours with R.V., I realized I should have. As R.V. said, those who don't think and act now can't complain when the world crumbles around their ears later.

His campsite was an interesting place. The people - twenty or so - slept in handmade huts that had been built out of branches and leaves and shrubs. Most were as dirty and smelly as R.V., but they were also cheerful and kind and generous.

"How did you stop the road from being built?"Sam asked.

"We dug tunnels under the land,"R.V. said. "And we sabotaged the machines they sent in. And we alerted the media. Rich dudes hate having cameras pointed at them. One TV news crew is as good as twenty active warriors."

Evra asked R.V. if they ever fought hand to hand. R.V. said NOP didn't believe in violent confrontation, but we could see from the look on his face that he wasn't happy about that. "If I had my way,"he said, "we'd give as good as we got. We're too nice sometimes. Man, if I was in charge, we'd give those turkeys a taste of hell!"

R.V. invited us to stay for lunch. It wasn't very good food - there was no meat, just a bunch of vegetables and rice and fruit - but we ate a lot to be polite.

They had lots of mushrooms as well - big and oddly colored - but R.V. wouldn't let us eat any of those.

"When you're older, man,"he said with a laugh.

We left soon after lunch. The members of NOP had duties and jobs they had to do, and we didn't want to be in the way.

R.V. told us we could come back any time, but that they'd probably be moving on in a couple of days.

"We've almost won the fight here,"he said. "Another few days and it'll be time to strike out for new pastures. Battles come and go, man, but the war is never-ending."

We waved good-bye and headed for home.

"That R.V.'s weird,"Sam said after a while. "Can you imagine giving up everything to go off and fight for animals and the countryside?"

"He's doing what he believes in,"Evra said.

"I know,"Sam said. "I think it's cool that he's doing it. We need people like him. It's too bad there aren't more of them. Still, it's a weird way to live, don't you think? You'd have to be pretty dedicated. I don't think I could become an environmental warrior."

"Me neither,"I agreed.

"I could,"Evra said.

"You could not,"I scoffed.

"Why not?"he asked. "I could take my snake and live with them and fight with them."

"You just couldn't,"I insisted.

"Why not?"

"Because you're not smelly enough!"I laughed.

Evra made a face. "They were a little on the crunchy-granola side, weren't they?"he admitted.

"They smell worse than my feet when I haven't changed my socks for a week!"Sam exclaimed.

"Still,"Evra said, "I can think of lots of worst-ways to spend my time when I grow up. I'd kind of like to be like R.V."

"Me, too,"Sam said.

I shrugged. "I guess I could get used to it."

We were in a good mood and talked about NOP and R.V. the whole way back to camp. None of us had any idea of the trouble the nice ecowarrior would soon create... or the tragedy he would unintentionally cause.

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