Here’s the latest installment of my online novel. For more excitement, check out:
I was stuck sitting in front of Stinky again on the bus. He still seemed puzzled about what happened in the woods. “Hey,” he said to me. “I wanna know how you did that.”
I didn’t answer.
“Come on,” he said. “You were there, and then you weren’t. How’d you do that?”
“Your eyes weren’t fast enough to keep up with me,” I answered without turning around. “Leave me alone.”
And you know what? He did.
At school, Kevin came up to me in homeroom. “So what do you think, huh? Are we gonna do it?”
I was feeling a little less sure than I’d been yesterday. “I don’t know, Kevin.”
“Look,” he said. “You don’t have to go, if you’re scared. Just show me where it is, and I’ll go by myself.”
“I’m not scared,” I protested. “I’m–prudent.” That’s the word my mother always uses. A prudent person doesn’t ride roller coasters, or pet strange dogs, or enter portals to parallel universes.
“Okay, fine, you’ve already been there–you can afford to be prudent,” Kevin argued. “But I haven’t had my chance yet. And if you don’t show me the thing, I’ll never have a chance.”
I gave up. “All right all right,” I said. “Come on over. But you gotta promise to be careful.”
Kevin grinned and gave me a high-five. “Of course I’ll be careful,” he said. “And prudent.”
School took forever. In English class, Nora just sat there next to me, and I started thinking: Wouldn’t it be great to see that smile of hers again? And there was lots of other stuff to check out. Who was president in that world? Did The Gross exist?
Did I exist? Thinking back on what happened yesterday, I wasn’t really sure if Nora or Stinky had recognized me. Maybe Nora smiled at me because she knew me from school, and I looked so strange in my clothes.
What would happen if I met myself? Would we both explode or something? I should ask Kevin; he was bound to have a theory.
Anyway, the more I thought about going back there with Kevin, the more excited I got. Just be cool and don’t get into any trouble, and everything would be fine.
Stinky stayed away from me on the bus ride home. I was beginning to think I had really spooked him. Anyway, when I got home, Mom was on the computer. She has a part-time job writing grant proposals for Glanbury College, and she does a lot of her work in the downstairs study. “Don’t forget your piano lesson this afternoon,” she said as I walked past.
I had in fact forgotten about the stupid lesson. “But Kevin is coming over,” I said.
“Tell him to come tomorrow,” she said. “He’ll live.”
Kevin would go nuts if he had to wait another day, I thought.
“What if he goes home when we have to leave?” I asked.
Mom sighed. “I suppose. But don’t go disappearing in the woods.”
“You heard me. I want you back in the house, ready to go, at quarter to four.”
“Oh. Sure thing.” I headed upstairs.
“And Larry–how was school?” Mom called out.
“Oh, you know. The usual.”
In my room, I switched out of my cargo shorts into some regular khakis. I should have told Kevin not to wear anything weird, but it was too late now. He was probably already on his way to my house. His mother lets him ride his bike across town–without a helmet–which is something I wouldn’t even bother asking my mom to let me do.
I went downstairs to the kitchen to have some cookies and milk while I waited for him. As I ate my Oreos I started to get nervous. I didn’t really like lying to my mother. And this was my last chance to back out.
I didn’t have long to think about it. Kevin showed up a few minutes later, breathless and excited. “Ready?” he said.
“Want some Oreos?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Who can think about Oreos at a time like this?” he said. “Let’s go.”
“Okay, but we have to be back by quarter to four. I’ve got a piano lesson.”
“Sure, fine. I’ve got my watch. So let’s go.”
Obviously Kevin didn’t want to chat.
I put the milk away and we left the house. It was another beautiful day–the kind you hate to spend inside. Kevin had parked his bike by the garage. We went through the yard and into the woods. Kevin kept running on ahead of me, then waiting impatiently for me to catch up.
Kevin is shorter than I am, and he has this weird combination of freckles and black hair, which is always flopping onto his forehead. He looks younger than most seventh-graders, I think, but actually he’s a couple of months older than I am. He was wearing jeans, an Old Navy t-shirt, and a Red Sox cap. I sure hoped those kids wouldn’t be hanging out at the Burger Queen. “How much further?” he asked. “Are we almost there?”
“Calm down. It’s near the army buildings. We’re getting there.”
“I’m coming.” In a few minutes we reached the army buildings. They looked empty–no Stinky this time. Now I had to figure out exactly where the portal was. I’d been running from Stinky–which way? It took me a couple more minutes to find the clearing and the oak tree, with Kevin making impatient noises behind me. “Over there,” I said. “That’s where it was.” I looked around. We were alone.
Kevin took a step forward and held his hand out. He looked like he was searching for a light switch in the dark. Nothing happened at first. What if the thing had gone away? Should I be relieved or disappointed? Then he took another step, and suddenly his hand disappeared. “Awesome,” he whispered.
He took his hand out, then put it back in again, just the way I had done. Then he did something I hadn’t thought of–he walked around the portal with his hand outstretched, seeing how big it was. “I think the two of us can just barely fit in it at the same time,” he said. “I wonder what happens if, like, half your heart is in this world and the other half is in the other.”
That just made me more nervous. “Kevin, give it a rest,” I said.
“All right,” he said. “Just thinking out loud. It can’t be man-made, right? I mean–there’s no structure to it. It’s not like somebody built this.”
“If you say so.”
“Maybe they built it in the other universe–but you said they didn’t look all that advanced–they had big cell phones and everything.”
“That’s right. And if they built it, why would they put it, you know, behind a strip mall?”
Kevin nodded. “Could’ve been aliens, like you said. Or maybe it comes from some other universe altogether. What if we ended up there?”
Hard to believe, but that was the first time it occurred to me that the portal might not take us back to the world I’d visited the day before. That didn’t help calm my nerves.
“This is just so great,” Kevin went on, as he continued to stare at the thing–or, really, at the thin air where the thing was. “It’s totally strange, but totally real.” He looked at me. “You ready, Larry?”
“Well,” I said, “I’m really not sure if I–”
Kevin looked at his watch. “C’mon, Larry. We don’t have that long before we have to get back.”
“All right, all right,” I said. “I’ll come.”
Kevin grinned. “Attaboy.”
I don’t know why I agreed, really. Now that the moment had arrived, stepping back into the thing didn’t seem like that great an idea. On the other hand, I pictured myself being prudent, hanging around in the woods like Stinky, waiting for Kevin to reappear, and the image just seemed sort of . . . pitiful. If Kevin was going, I had to go, too.
“So what do we do,” Kevin asked. “Just walk into it?”
“Yeah. It’ll be all kind of foggy, but just keep going. Just a couple of steps, and you’re out the other side.”
“Cool. Want me to go first?”
“Okay. I’ll be right behind you.”
Kevin grinned. “All right,” he said. “Here goes.” He stepped inside. I watched him disappear, and it really was weird, seeing him vanish right in front of me. No wonder Stinky had been so freaked. I took a deep breath, and then I followed.
I was inside the thing. Same clouds, same vague shapes off to the sides. Everything seemed kind of out of focus. I blinked a few times, but nothing changed. “You there, Larry?” Kevin said.
The sound of his voice was reassuring. “Right behind you. Keep on going.”
I kept my eye on Kevin’s back as he moved forward.
But it was more than a couple of steps this time, and still the clouds didn’t go away. Instead it started feeling cold and damp–like real fog. And then I heard shouts and what sounded like footsteps.
Uh-oh, I thought. “Um, Kevin?”
As my eyes adjusted, I could make out trees through the fog. I looked around for the dumpster, but it wasn’t where it had been yesterday. Nothing was where it had been yesterday.
I saw two men coming towards us. One of them shouted at us. It sounded like Spanish, but I couldn’t understand it.
“Let’s go back, Kevin,” I said.
But where was the portal? I had lost my bearings in the fog. The men were wearing blue uniforms and carrying rifles. They were soldiers, I realized. They raised the rifles and pointed them at us.
Kevin took off through the trees, and I followed.
I heard rifle shots and tensed, expecting a bullet in the back. But the shots missed; one of them screamed as it ricocheted off a rock or something. I was having a hard time keeping up with Kevin. A branch whacked me in the face. There was more shouting. “C’mon!” Kevin shouted back at me.
The trees petered out suddenly and we found ourselves on a road. And now we heard hoofbeats and saw a wagon bearing down on us through the fog.
“Samuel, stop!” a woman’s voice called out.
The wagon slowed. We stepped back.
There were more rifle shots.
The man driving the wagon peered down at us suspiciously.
“Get in! Quickly!” the woman sitting beside him said.
We hesitated. Kevin looked at me, his eyes wide with fright.
“Now!” the man ordered. “Before the blasted Portuguese send all of us to our Maker!”
More shouts, from close behind us now. We scrambled into the wagon and the man drove off. Behind us in the fog we saw the Portuguese soldiers come out of the trees and aim at us again. But the fog closed in around them before they could shoot.
I looked at Kevin again. He was shaking. I felt as if I was ready to cry.
The wagon picked up speed. And every second that passed, it took us further away from the portal, and from home.