Here’s Chapter 3 of Portal.
I stepped through the clouds inside the thing and out the other side.
“Hey! Where’d you go?” a voice called.
It was Stinky. My Stinky. Standing in the woods–my woods–looking puzzled.
I tried to catch my breath. “Hiding,” I said. I didn’t think I could be happy to see Stinky Glover, but right then I sure was.
He still looked puzzled. “Hiding where?”
I waved vaguely. “Behind a tree.” I didn’t want him to know about the time machine, or whatever it was. I moved quickly away from it.
He seemed to get back his Stinkiness. “Why are you hiding?” he said. “You afraid of me, Lawrence?”
I was no longer happy to see him. I didn’t answer. Instead I just kept walking, back towards my house.
“Don’t you like wet willies, Lawrence?” he called out.
I ignored him. This time he didn’t follow me.
When I finally saw our swing set I stopped and took a deep breath. Man, that had been strange.
I ran through the yard and inside our house, and there was Mom, frowning at me. “Larry, I thought you were going to do your homework,” she said.
“Mom, you wouldn’t believe–” I began.
“Wouldn’t believe what?”
I stared at her. “Well, uh, what a beautiful day it is,” I said finally. “I just had to get some fresh air before I started my homework.”
She looked at me a little funny, and then just shrugged and said, “All right, but I don’t want you going too far into the woods.”
So, I didn’t tell Stinky because I just don’t like him. And I didn’t tell Mom because I knew she’d yell at me–first, for disobeying her by going to the army buildings, and second, for doing something idiotically dangerous like actually stepping inside the invisibility thing. Maybe I should have–but you don’t know my Mom.
I had to tell someone, though.
I figured I could tell my Dad. He wouldn’t be too bothered by the disobedience thing, especially if it turned out I had made some important scientific discovery, which obviously I had. But he wasn’t home from work yet.
In the meantime, I decided to call Kevin Albright. This was just the sort of thing he’d love.
I went into my dad’s study and picked up the phone. That turned out to be a mistake. Cassie had arrived home while I was in the woods, and of course she was already on the extension in her room talking to one of her high-school-loser buddies. She’d been demanding her own cellphone, which had caused more eyerolling from Dad. So far, no cellphone.
“Hang up, snot-for-brains!” she screamed at me.
How creative. I banged down the receiver and waited for her to wear herself out talking about how cute her math teacher was or whatever. It took a while. For someone who is always too exhausted to do any chores, she certainly has a lot of energy when she’s talking on the phone.
When she finally got off I called Kevin. “You’ll never guess what just happened to me,” I said.
“Want me to try?” he asked.
“Not really. Listen.” And I told him about my adventure. I have to admit it sounded pretty whacked, but Kevin didn’t have any problem believing me. More than that–he was ready with an explanation.
“Larry, this is so awesome,” he said. “You’ve found a portal to another universe.”
“A portal,” I repeated.
“Yeah, you know, a portal–a gateway. An opening into a parallel universe. Not the future, not the past–just different.”
I thought about it. “Okay, I sort of get the idea of parallel universes. But, I mean, that’s just Star Trek stuff. They’re not for real.”
“Well, maybe,” Kevin said. “But there’s this theory I read about. It says that every time anyone makes a choice–you know, turn left or turn right, watch the Red Sox game or watch the Celtics, whatever, a whole other universe splits off from this one. And in that other universe, everything is exactly the same as this one, except that in one of them you changed the channel and in the other you didn’t.”
“But that’s nuts,” I protested. “That would mean there’d be, like, kazillions of universes.”
“Okay, well, it’s just a theory,” Kevin said. “But what if it’s true? Or something like it? In the place you went to, what if the guy who started Dairy Queen back whenever decided to name it “Dairy King” instead? So another universe splits off, and things go on from there. When some other guy is starting Burger King, well, in this world the “King” part is already taken, so he names it “Burger Queen” instead.”
“Okay, but what about all the other stuff–the different clothes, the cars, a whole new Glanbury Plaza in the conservation land behind my house? All that’s because somebody decided to name his business ‘Dairy King’?”
“The butterfly effect,” Kevin said. “You know–the idea that a butterfly flaps its wings in China and changes the weather in America. One event ends up making a big difference. Maybe the Dairy King choice wasn’t when that universe split off. Maybe something else happened a whole lot earlier. Doesn’t really matter. The point is, the changes just keep piling up from when it started, until finally everything is just a little bit different, or maybe a lot different, and there’s no way of tracing everything back to that one little event that started it.”
“But Stinky was there,” I pointed out. “And Nora Lally.”
“It was a different Stinky and Nora,” Kevin replied. “And a different Glanbury. But not entirely different. No reason why they couldn’t be there. No reason why we couldn’t be there, for that matter.”
That was a strange thought. But it made sense. Something else still didn’t make sense, though. “Okay, let’s say you’re right, and there are all kinds of parallel universes. There’s no way of traveling between them, right? No one has ever been to a parallel universe. So what’s up with this–this portal? Where did it come from? How come it’s back there in the woods behind my house?”
“Beats me,” Kevin admitted. “Maybe it’s like black holes before they got discovered. Maybe these things are all over our universe but no one has noticed them before.”
“Or maybe somebody put it there,” I suggested. “Aliens–like that black slab in 2001.”
“Yeah, could be.”
“But the thing is, why was I the first one to find it? I know it’s invisible, and it’s kind of out of the way in the woods, but it’s not that out of the way.”
“Maybe you weren’t, but other people kept it secret,” he suggested. “Or the government took them away. What if it only shows up every few years–like a comet? I don’t know, Larry. Anyway, when can I see it?”
“Well, I was going to show it to my Dad tonight, and–”
“Larry, come on, you can’t do that!”
“Because once you talk to your father, the grownups’ll be in charge–scientists, the army. Like in ET. We’ll never get near the thing. This could be the most amazing thing that ever happens in our lives. You can’t just give it up without doing a little exploring.”
“Kevin, I almost didn’t get out of that other universe,” I pointed out. “What if I couldn’t find the thing again? It’s invisible, remember?”
“Well, we just have to be more careful. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
All of a sudden Cassie was standing in the doorway of Dad’s study, shooting death-rays at me with her eyes. “Are you going to be on the phone all day?” she demanded.
Dad says Cassie speaks in italics, and I think I know what he means. I ignored her. “Look, Kevin, I gotta go,” I said. “Let me think about it.”
“Please, Larry,” Kevin begged. “One more time. Just one more time.”
I hung up, and Cassie stomped off to make another call. Why wouldn’t Dad just give in and get her a cellphone? I went upstairs to my room.
Matthew was playing my Assassin’s Creed on the Xbox.
“Matthew!” I screamed.
“Oh. Sorry,” he said, as if he’d never heard the one about not messing with my stuff. Then he started talking endlessly about some video game he wanted to invent that would be way better than Assassin’s Creed.
I ignored him and lay down on my bed.
A portal to a parallel universe, practically in my backyard. That was so cool. But did I want to go back inside it? It would be fun going with Kevin. And there was Nora Lally and her smile . . . maybe I’d run into her again.
But what about those kids who had chased me? I could wear different clothing if I went back, so I could blend in better. And I’d stay away from Stinky–that was always a good idea.
Just once more, I thought, then I could turn it over to the grownups. Would I become famous? The First Human to Travel to Another Universe . . . Or would it all be top-secret, and we could never tell anyone?
Thinking about all that stuff, I kind of blew off my homework, and before I knew it, it was time for supper.
Dad sometimes doesn’t make it home for supper, which drives Mom nuts, but he managed to make it tonight. Not that it helped. Family suppers are usually not very pleasant. Lately Cassie has been on some weird diet that only she understands, so she automatically hates everything Mom cooks, which gets Mom in a bad mood. And of course Matthew never shuts up, which gets the rest of us in a bad mood.
“So how was everyone’s day?” Dad asked. He always asks that. And he expects an answer.
Cassie rolled her eyes. She acts like she’d rather have her fingernails pulled out than talk to any of us.
I tried to think of something, but if I wasn’t going to mention the portal, what else was there? “Fine,” I said–my usual answer.
“Did you practice the piano?”
That was the last thing on my mind. My parents have made me take lessons for years, but I’m still not very good. “Uh, no, not yet,” I said.
“You have a lesson tomorrow afternoon,” Mom pointed out.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get to it.”
“How about you, Matthew?” Dad said. “Anything interesting happen at school?”
That was all the opening Matthew needed. “We had gym today,” he said, “but Jeremy Finkel is such a ball-hog, he only passes to Luke Kelly. Luke isn’t as much of a ball-hog as Jeremy, only like maybe seventy-two percent, but he thinks he’s so cool and tries to dribble through his legs, but most of the time the ball just bounces off his ankle. Anyway, I was on a team with Peter Gorman and Chet Pillogi, and we were playing this game the gym teacher made up–well, it’s kind of complicated, see . . . ”
Dad always tries to look interested when Matthew gets going, but after a few minutes of that sort of thing, even he starts to fade. I just zoned out until the usual fight started because Cassie left the table without asking to be excused, and who did she think she was? And she started screaming about how she hated this food and this family and her entire life, and why couldn’t everyone just leave her alone?
When the Cassie storm blew over, Dad asked Matthew and me if we wanted to go outside and play catch after supper, but we didn’t, so he just stared at his plate like we’d kicked him in the teeth. He seems to think playing catch is such a great thing, but Matthew and I don’t like to play catch. It’s boring. Baseball is boring. I’d actually rather practice the piano. So after supper I did, just long enough to get my parents off my back. Then I knocked off the rest of my homework, watched some TV, and went to bed.
Matthew was already in bed, but he wasn’t asleep, so of course he wanted to talk. “Larry?”
“I don’t like it when we all yell at each other.”
“How come we can’t get along better?”
“I don’t know. How come you won’t stop playing my videogames without permission?”
“I’ll stop, really I will.”
“Okay.” He really meant it, too. For now.
He paused, and I thought maybe he’d given up. But then he said, “Larry?”
Give it up, I thought. “What?”
“I don’t know what Cassie gets so mad about. Life is okay, don’t you think?”
“If you say so, Matthew.”
And that was it–at least, that’s all I remember. Life is okay. Sometimes Matthew could be surprising.
The last thing I thought about before falling asleep was not Nora Lally’s smile, but that long-haired man in the park, and the way his glittering eyes fixed on me.
This world is not only stranger than you imagine, it is stranger than you can imagine.
That portal back in the woods had certainly turned my world strange.
Eventually I drifted off to sleep, and a bunch of strange dreams. And before I knew it, it was time to get up and go to The Gross again.