ARE YOU WEAK AND PUNY?
DO BULLIES PUSH YOU AROUND? BE THE STRONGEST BOY IN TOWN!
ORDER MR. HERCULES’ BODYBUILDING COURSE TODAY!!
SEND NO MONEY! ABSOLUTELY NO OBLIGATION!
Tracy sat in her bedroom, tugging at the end of a pigtail as she studied the advertisement in the comic book. In the ad were two photographs. The photo labeled “Before” showed a skinny boy with arms and legs like sticks. The other, labeled “After,” showed the same boy with enormous muscles popping out all over his body.
“Wow!” Tracy said. “I bet no one pushes him around anymore!” She thought of Buster Bailey, who liked to bully her as she walked home from school.
“I wish I could take Mr. Hercules’ free bodybuilding course. Then I’d really get Buster Bailey. But it’s only for boys.”
Tracy sprang up. “I know!” She tore out the ad and printed her name as only “T. Allison.” She addressed and stamped on envelope and put the ad inside it.
“Where are you going?” her mother called from the kitchen as Tracy opened the front door.
“For a walk,” Tracy said. She felt funny about not telling her mother what she was doing, but she didn’t want her to know about Buster Bailey. Her mother had enough to worry about. Tracy’s father had had an operation and was recovering very slowly. He had to stay in bed most of the time.
Tracy walked to the mailbox at the corner. I’m eleven years old, she thought. I can handle my own problems.
The next afternoon Buster was waiting for her as usual with his bike at the opposite end of the bridge. Tracy took a firm grip on her books and walked as fast as she could, pretending not to see him. But when she reached the center of the bridge, he got on his bike and headed straight for her, pedaling as fast as he could. She stopped and gritted her teeth. Within inches of running into her, Buster skidded sideways.
“I’m king of the bridge!” he shouted. “On your knees, peasant, and beg for safe passage, or I’ll throw your books into the river.”
Even though Buster was bigger than anyone else in their class, Tracy stood her ground and tried not to show that she was scared. She thought of the bodybuilding course. “You just wait, Buster Bailey,” she said. “One of these days I’m going to get you!”
“Bookworm,” he jeered. “Teacher’s pet.” After a few minutes of popping wheelies, he let her pass.
Every afternoon when Tracy got home, she stayed close to the front door and watched for the letter carrier. Luckily for her, the mail was delivered late in the day. A week after she sent in the ad, a bulky brown envelope addressed to Mr. T. Allison arrived. Tracy ran up the stairs to her room, shut the door, and opened the envelope.
Inside she found a letter, also a series of booklets titled Mr. Hercules’ Bodybuilding Course, filled with instructions and pictures of Mr. Hercules doing exercises, each more advanced than in the preceding booklet. Tracy didn’t understand all the words in the letter, but she understood the last line: “Please remit $45.00 within thirty days.”
Forty-five dollars! How could she possibly get forty-five dollars? She emptied her piggy bank on the bed and counted the money. Six dollars and thirty-eight cents. She couldn’t ask her parents for the money because they had lots of doctor’s bills. When she didn’t pay, would the police arrest her? Maybe Mr. Hercules himself would come looking for her!
That night she prayed for a miracle, and the next morning she woke up with an idea. She asked the neighbors if she could work for them. She weeded their gardens, swept their sidewalks, and washed their screens. She did errands and baby-sat. She saved every penny.
I’m working so hard, Tracy thought, I have a right to use the exercises. So every morning before breakfast and every night before bedtime, she took a booklet from the closet shelf where she kept them hidden and did the exercises. At first her muscles ached and she got tired after just a few minutes. She couldn’t do even one push-up. But she kept at it, and each day she could exercise a little longer. Soon she felt herself growing stronger.
The trouble is, Tracy thought as she walked home from school one afternoon, the exercises haven’t solved my problem with Buster Bailey. He’s always riding his bike, so I can’t get near enough to use my new muscles on him. She stepped onto the bridge and saw him waiting at the other end. When she reached the middle, he started toward her, coming faster and faster. This time he really would run into her! She jumped to one side. Buster twisted his wheel to stay in front of her, but the bike spun out of control and he was flung onto the pavement.
“Serves you right!” Tracy shouted.
Buster tried to get up and fell back, moaning. “My leg, my leg!”
Was he pretending? Maybe it was some sort of trick. But when she saw that he was crying, Tracy knew that he really was hurt. Buster would never cry, especially in front of a girl, if he could help it. “I’ll go get help,” she said.
“No! Don’t leave me, please!”
Tracy stared. “Why not?”
Gulping back his sobs, Buster blurted, “There’s this guy in sixth grade who’s out to get me. If he catches me off my bike …”
Tracy bit her tongue. Forgive your enemies, she reminded herself. She put down her books and helped Buster to his feet. “Lean on my shoulder, and try hopping on your good foot,” she told him. “My house is just down the street.”
They progressed very slowly toward Tracy’s house. She kept hoping that a car would stop and help them, but the street was deserted. “You’re heavy,” she said.
“And you’re strong,” he said, “for a girl.”
When they finally reached Tracy’s house, her mother took one look at Buster and phoned his home. While they were waiting for his father to arrive, Tracy’s mother asked what had happened. One thing led to another, and soon Tracy was pouring out the whole story about Buster, the body-building course, and the work she’d been doing to earn money.
“Wow!” Buster said. He was lying on the couch, his injured leg resting on pillows.
When Tracy showed her mother the book-lets, the letter, and the bill from Mr. Hercules, her mother frowned worriedly. “This is a big bill, Tracy. How much have you saved?”
Tracy tugged at a pigtail. “I only have twenty-seven dollars and thirty cents so far.”
“That was a very unwise thing to do, Tracy. Let’s write to Mr. Hercules and send him what you have,” her mother said. “When he learns the whole story”—she looked at Buster—“he might let you pay the rest when you can.”
To Tracy’s great relief, that’s exactly what Mr. Hercules agreed to.
Finally Tracy was able to pay her bill, but she learned a good lesson. Mr. Bailey asked Tracy to help Buster with summer school so that he could be promoted into fourth grade with the rest of their class, and Buster genuinely appreciated her help. Tracy was glad to help him—but this certainly wasn’t the way that she had planned to get Buster Bailey!