Books from the attic: “The Secret Warning”

I’ve got lots of Hardy Boys adventures. I grabbed this one from the top of the stack.

Everybody knows about the Hardy Boys — the great teenage detectives and sons of the well-known detective Fenton Hardy, from whom “they had inherited his unusual keenness and with that his uncanny ability for solving mysteries.”

This case has to do with a couple of ruffians who have it in for the boys because they inadvertently scraped the ruffians’ boat, who team up with an evil guy who runs a diving/salvage company. Along with their chum Chet, the boys have to drive to Bailey’s Landing to recover important papers that their father idiotically left in his suit jacket that someone borrowed. In Bailey’s Landing they end up having many underwater scrapes as well as a multitude of secret warnings left in their hotel room, all of which are obviously left by the two ruffians or the evil owner of the diving company.

Like Tom Swift, Jr., the Hardy boys have a famous father, a mother who is a cipher (Why does she let her children stay in Bailey’s Landing week after week, where they are threatened with death pretty much every day?), and an amusing chum (Chet is fat! He thinks about food all the time!). Tom Swift, Jr. and the Race to the Moon is bad, but it’s kind of funny in its badness. The Secret Warning, on the other hand, is just bad. There’s no continuity to the plot, no attempt at characterization beyond chums and ruffians, and the requirement that every chapter has to end in some kind of climax leads to a succession of random emergencies: Watch out, Frank — the ship’s anchor has come loose and is heading straight for you! Oh no, where did that octopus come from, and how can we possibly defeat the sea monster!

Growing up I loved these books. I’m kind of disappointed in my childhood self.

Portal, an online novel: Chapter 14

Larry and Kevin went to Coolidge Palace to meet President Gardner, and Larry uses the Heimlich maneuver to save the president’s life.  Now the kids are returning to Cambridge, where things are about to get really serious . . .


Chapter 14

We returned to Cambridge the next day, and work started up again.  Everyone had rumors to spread: that the president was making plans to surrender, that General Aldridge was going to seize power from the president, that the people in the camps were going to riot, break out, and try to take over the government, that the Canadians were about to attack Cambridge . . .

It was hard to concentrate, but Lieutenant Carmody kept the pressure on.  “Work as if your lives depend on it,” he told people.  “Because they do.”

Professor Foster was scared to death of the lieutenant.  He was happy to talk about electricity and give little demonstrations for people, but he got very nervous when he actually had to accomplish anything.  I got the impression he was drinking heavily.  So Professor Palmer spent a lot of time working with him, making sure that he stayed focused on getting things done.

The balloons worked pretty well, except for one thing: they didn’t stay up long.  It turned out the hot air leaked out of the silk too quickly.  Kevin and I didn’t know anything about that.  Finally someone figured out that they should sort of coat the silk with linseed oil, and that did a good job of stopping up the leaks.  People started going up in them, and they were really excited when they came back down.  “The grandeur of God’s creation is laid out before you,” one of them said.

Lieutenant Carmody just wanted to know if they could see the Canadians with their spyglasses.

Kevin and I got to go up, and he had a lot more fun than I did.  “This is so cool!” he shouted, as we looked out over the farms and the church steeples and the houses and the distant river.  I decided maybe I was afraid of heights.

And then we got the word: the New England troops were retreating from Cambridge.  We were going to have to leave too.  “Where will we have the space to do our work in Boston?” Professor Palmer wanted to know.

“Only one place with enough room right now,” Lieutenant Carmody replied.  “The grounds of Coolidge Palace.”

“His Excellency doesn’t object?”

“He does not.  Which isn’t to say we won’t be capitulating to the enemy tomorrow.  Let’s get everything packed up.  We don’t have much time.”

“William, Harvest Day is in two days,” the professor pointed out.  “It would be–well, I would like to celebrate it at home.”

“A bit of a risk, Professor.”

“I know.  But it’s important to me.”

The lieutenant considered.  “Very well,” he said, “the troops are scheduled to leave the morning after Harvest Day, unless the Canadians attack first.  Be prepared to go with them; otherwise, we’ll be unable to guarantee your safety on this side of the river.”

Harvest Day.  One more thing different about this world: the holidays.  No trick-or-treating on Halloween.  No Thanksgiving at all.  They didn’t have anything like the customs we had on Christmas, and most people didn’t even celebrate it.  Harvest Day took place in late October, and it was kind of like Thanksgiving; you ate food you had grown on your farm and celebrated your good fortune in making it through another year.

Needless to say, people weren’t feeling very fortunate on this particular Harvest Day.  The guys we worked with were mostly soldiers, and they still had enough to eat, but civilians were starting to go hungry in the city, and the food situation was only going to get worse while the siege lasted.  People had started to sneak over into Cambridge and break into houses looking for anything they could eat or sell, and the military had had to seal off the bridges trying to keep everyone out.  It was getting nasty.

So Professor Palmer wanted to celebrate one last Harvest Day at his home, knowing that it might be a long time, if ever, before he got back there again.  And it was really nice that he wanted us to share the holiday with him.  Kevin and I spent the day before helping him pack up his important books and papers and loading them into the carriage.  We didn’t want any part of slaughtering one of the pigs, but he insisted.  “If you want to eat the meal, lads, you have to help prepare it.”  He pointed out that we would have to leave the pigs behind, and either Canadians or wolves would kill them eventually.  That didn’t make murdering the poor thing any less gross, though.  It was a lot more fun churning the butter and baking the apple pie and the bread.

On Harvest Day itself we could hear artillery fire in the distance, and that didn’t help the celebration.  The reality of having to leave this place had set in, and it wasn’t making any of us happy.

The professor began the big meal with a prayer of thanks, but as we ate he got off onto a topic that didn’t make us any happier.  “It occurs to me,” he said, “that if the theory you boys propose is correct, and there are an infinite number of universes, that means there are some in which war doesn’t exist, in which people have managed to find a way to live in peace and harmony with one another.”

“That’s not our universe for sure,” Kevin said.  “But I guess you’re right.”

“It’s hard to imagine, is it not?” the professor went on.  “Once I got used to the idea of a world like yours, I had only a little difficulty in imagining the wonders it might contain–airplanes and automobiles and computers and so on.  But imagining a world without war, without hatred, without these endless disputes over who owns each little plot of land . . .  My mind cannot comprehend such a place.”

“At least you can’t blow the whole planet up, like we can,” I pointed out.

“I suppose one should be grateful for that.  But I’m sure that someday even we will be able to unlock the secrets behind such weapons.  And then . . . ” the professor shrugged.  “Perhaps we will find the wisdom to refrain from using them.”

But he didn’t sound hopeful.

We ate till we were more than full, and then we sat on the professor’s front porch and watched the sun set, glowing purple and gold over the horizon.  The artillery fire had stopped, and we put aside all depressing thoughts.  I still missed my own family and my own world, of course, but I remember wishing that I could hold onto that moment forever, feeling peaceful and well-fed and at least moderately safe in the middle of the war and the hunger and the uncertainty.

But the moment didn’t last.  That was the night that Kevin got sick.


At first I thought it was part of a nightmare.  We went to bed early, knowing we had to leave by dawn.  I dreamt I was up in a balloon and the tether had broken.  I had no idea how to steer or how to land.  Below me, people were calling out instructions, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.  I was floating higher and higher into the clouds, more scared than I’d ever been in my life, when finally I managed to make out Kevin’s voice, calling faintly to me from far below.  “Larry, Larry . . . ”

“Kevin!” I called back, and I fought my way through the clouds until I opened my eyes.

. . . and realized I was lying on my bed.  I sighed with relief, until I heard Kevin call my name again in a faint voice.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“Larry, I don’t feel so good,” he said weakly.  “Could you get the professor?”

I got up and looked at Kevin in the moonlight.  He was sweating, even though it was cold in the room, and his eyes glittered.  He looked frightened.  I felt his forehead; it was burning hot.  “Be right back,” I said.  I went and roused Professor Palmer.  When we got back to the room, Kevin was on his knees, throwing up into the chamberpot.

“Get a bucket of water and a cloth, Larry,” the professor ordered.  “Quickly.”

I rushed downstairs to the kitchen, and all I could think was drikana.

No cure.  You feel like you’re vomiting your entire insides out.  You die within a couple of days.

No cure.

If there was any immunity to drikana–or any other diseases in this world–Kevin and I didn’t have it.

When I got back to the room with the cloth, Kevin was in bed again, shivering.  The professor was leaning over him.  He took the cloth from me and put it over Kevin’s forehead.

“Is he going to be all right?” I asked.

The professor looked up at me.  “I don’t know, Larry,” he said softly.  “I don’t know if any of us is going to be all right.”

“Is it–is it–?”  I couldn’t bring myself to say its name.

The professor nodded.  “I think so, yes.”

“I want to go home,” Kevin moaned.  “I want my mom.”

“It’s all right, Kevin,” I said.  “It’s all right.”

“Please let me go home.  Please.

I was scared out of my mind.  “What do we do, Professor?” I asked.  “Can we help him?”

He handed me the cloth.  “Keep him cool, Larry,” he said.  “I’ll be right back.”

Aspirin, I thought.  Tylenol.  Motrin.  There was none of that stuff in this world.  Just a wet cloth on the forehead for someone who was burning up with fever.  Kevin threw up some more, and the stench was bad, but I couldn’t leave him.  After a couple of minutes the professor returned, and he was carrying a basin and a scalpel.  “What are you going to do?” I demanded.

“I have to bleed him, Larry.  It is the only way to evacuate the noxious humors.”

“No!” I screamed.  “That’s nuts!”

He hesitated.  “It’s the standard treatment,” he said.

“I don’t care.  In my world they stopped bleeding people, like, hundreds of years ago.  It doesn’t work.  It’s just a superstition.”

“Larry,” he said, “you have to trust me.  You don’t have this disease in your world.  We’ve lived with it for five hundred years.”

“And you haven’t cured it.  You don’t know a thing about it.  You don’t know a thing about medicine.  You’re not bleeding Kevin.”

I don’t know how I got the nerve to stand up to him–the famous Harvard professor–but I did.  He wasn’t going to touch my friend with that scalpel.

We stared at each other for a minute, and then Professor Palmer put the scalpel and basin down.  And somehow I knew what he was thinking: smallpox.  Vaccinations.  Our world could have saved his wife and son.  We knew more than he did.

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

“Let us pray that you are right, Larry,” he replied.  “In any event, we must keep him clean and cool.  If he can sleep, that would be best.  The crisis will be over, one way or the other, within forty-eight hours.”

“There’s no other medicine we can give him?”

The professor shook his head.  “None that have any efficacy.  In any case, his stomach cannot tolerate anything.  He may be able to sip water, that’s all.”

In our world, Kevin would have been in an ambulance by now, heading for a hospital.  Here, even if there were a hospital around somewhere, the trip in the professor’s carriage over the bumpy roads would have killed him.  I was going to have to take care of him, along with the professor.  I was going to have to help him live.

I guess that was the worst night of my life–worse, even, than that first night in this world, back in the brig with Chester.  To see Kevin suffer, and not be able to do anything about it . . .  The vomiting continued, and then the diarrhea started, and a little while later convulsions . . .  Before long Kevin wasn’t begging to go home, he was begging to die.  “Please, Larry, please!  Stop the pain!  Stop the pain!”

I held his hand.  “You’re going to make it, Kevin!  You will!”  And I was thinking: Don’t leave me alone here, Kevin.  I need you!

After that he must have been delirious, because what he was saying didn’t make any sense at all.  And then he was to weak to say anything.

I must have fallen asleep eventually, because when I opened my eyes it was gray outside.  I was kneeling next to Kevin, and his hand was lying on my arm.  His eyes were closed.  At first I thought he might be dead, but then I could see his chest go up and down, just a little bit, and I relaxed.  He was sleeping, and that was good.

I heard a banging sound coming from outside, so I went downstairs to investigate.

The professor was on the front porch, nailing something onto one of the white columns.  “Is Kevin still asleep?” he asked.

“Uh-huh.  What are you doing?” I asked.

He motioned to me to take a look.  It was a big red “C” painted on a board.  “A notice of claustration,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“It tells the world there is a drikana patient inside.  By law and custom, no one can leave this place for seven days.”

So, claustration was their word for “quarantine.”  Seven days, I thought.  “But the Canadians are coming!” I said.  “We were supposed to leave this morning.”

“We can’t go anywhere now, I’m afraid.”

“We’ll be trapped,” I said.  “They’ll take us prisoner.”

“Larry, we can only hope that is the worst that happens to us.”

I shuddered.  The professor finished putting up the sign, and we went inside.  He had already made some tea, so we had a cup by the fireplace.  “So what happens next?” I asked him.

“When Kevin awakens, the vomiting will likely start all over again,” he replied.  “If it’s worse, it’ll continue to get worse, and he will probably die by nightfall.  If it’s better, not so intense, that’s a good sign, and he may survive.  If he’s still alive tomorrow, that’s a very good sign.”

“What are his odds?”

“Half the people who come down with the disease die of it.  The odds are a little better if you are young and healthy.”

So, fifty-fifty.  Some hope for Kevin.  But then there was the question that had been lurking in my mind, too scary to ask.  Now it was time to ask it.  “What about–what about us?  Are we going to come down with the disease?”

“I don’t know, Larry.  I’ve been around the disease many times but never contracted it.  Perhaps for some reason I have that immunity you talk about.  As for you–who knows?  I wish I could give you a better answer, but I can’t.”

“But we’ve already been exposed, right?  If we’re going to get it, we’re going to get it.”

“That’s right.  There’s nothing we can do about it at this point.”

“What does it feel like, when it starts?”

“They say it starts with dizziness, like the world won’t stop spinning around you.  And then you become nauseated and feverish.  And finally the vomiting begins.”

I closed my eyes.  Did I feel dizzy?  I didn’t think so.  Were there germs already inside me, getting ready to kill me?  There was no way of telling.  I opened my eyes.  The professor was looking at me.  He reached over and put a hand on my shoulder.  “I’m sorry, Larry,” he said.  And then I buried my face in his chest and started to cry.


Later in the morning Lieutenant Carmody showed up.  He called to us from the path leading up to the house.  When the professor and I went out on the porch, he said, “It’s Kevin, then?”  He stayed on his horse and didn’t come any closer.  He had seen the sign.

“It is Kevin,” the professor replied.  “Last night.”

“Does he still live?”

“Yes, thank God.”

“I am sorry indeed to hear of this, Professor,” the lieutenant said.  “We can’t protect you, you understand.  The last troops retreat over the bridge by noon.  We were getting worried when you didn’t come.  But we can’t delay.  The Canadians are no more than a mile away.”

“I understand the situation,” Professor Palmer replied.

“If you can, use your fireplace only at night,” the lieutenant advised.  “They’ll see the smoke during the day.”

“Yes, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“If you hear the enemy approach, get out as quickly as you can, before they see you.  They’ll probably fire the house when they notice the sign, and not bother looking inside.  They’ll want nothing to do with drikana.”

“Of course,” the professor said.  “That makes sense.”

“Why don’t we just take down the sign?” I asked the professor.

He shook his head.  “It’s not done, lad.  It’s just not done.”

“One more thing,” Lieutenant Carmody said.  “Perhaps I needn’t say this, but I fear it’s my duty.  Do not try to reach Boston before the end of the claustration.  Important as you are, and as much as I respect and admire you, the law cannot be broken, especially not now.  Orders will be issued to shoot you on sight until the week has passed.”

“I would do the same myself, William,” the professor replied.

The lieutenant nodded.  “It’s an ill time for us all.  Fare you well, then.  And may God have mercy on the three of you.”

Then he rode off, leaving us utterly alone.

Upstairs, Kevin started to moan.

Portal — an online novel: Chapter 1

Here’s an experiment.  I have a science fiction/alternate universe novel that I am pondering/revising.  It’s a bit of a departure for me, since it has a young-adult narrator.  I think it might work for grownups, too.  If I decide I like this approach, I’ll post an additional chapter every week, or perhaps more frequently. I’ll also add an entry to the menu up top, so all the chapters will be in one place.  And I’ll probably end up making it an ebook, so  folks can pay for it!  Or, not.


Chapter 1

 People tell me I’m a pretty good writer for a kid, so I’ve decided to try and tell this story.  Not that I’m going to show it to anyone.  But if I don’t write it down, maybe I’ll start forgetting parts of it.  Worse, I might start thinking it didn’t really happen.  But it did.  It was as real as anything in this world, or any other world.  So here goes.


My name is Larry Barnes, and I live in Glanbury, which is a small town south of Boston.  I go to the Theodore Grossman Middle School, which even my parents call The Gross.  When this all happened I was just starting seventh grade, and my life sucked.

Just to show you, here’s the way things went on the day it began.  First off, Mom woke me up with that chirpy “Rise and shine, Pumpkin!” that she knows I hate.  One of the worst things about Middle School is you have to get up so early, and I’ve never gotten used to it.  I looked over at Matthew, and of course he was still sleeping like a baby, because grammar school starts an hour later.  One of the bad things about my life is that I have to share a bedroom with my kid brother.  This is okay when he’s asleep, but when he’s awake it’s just about unbearable, because he won’t stop talking.  It’s like the Mute button in his brain is broken.  And it’s not as if anything he has to say is all that interesting.  He’ll talk for twenty minutes about, I don’t know, lemonade, or water balloons, or some stupid video game.  And he doesn’t really need me to say anything, he’s happy just to yak away by himself.

So anyway, I got up to go to the bathroom, and of course Cassie was already in there, taking one of her endless showers.  Cassie’s my sister.  She’s in high school, and she has “issues,” my mother says.  I say she’s a jerk.  She’s the reason Matthew and I are stuck with each other, by the way; apparently there’s some law that a teenage girl has to have her own bedroom.  So I yelled at her to quit hogging the bathroom, and she yelled at me to get lost, and then Mom yelled at me to hurry up, and I was in a bad mood and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet.

Breakfast was the usual–gulp your cereal down or you’ll miss the bus.  Dad had already left for work.  I think he likes to get out of the house before all the yelling starts.  Mom doesn’t complain about him much, but I get the idea that she thinks the same thing.  He’s a computer programmer, and I guess he works really hard; but I don’t see why he can’t eat a meal or two with us once in a while.

While I was trying to get out the door Mom had something new to warn me about; she’s always worried about something.  “Larry, I read in the paper about a man in Rhode Island who was caught stalking kids as they walked to the bus stop.  I want you to be extra careful out there.”

“Mom, we’re nowhere near Rhode Island.”

“They’re all over.  You can’t be too careful.”

“But I’m almost a teenager.”

“That’s just the age these people are interested in.”

Cassie came downstairs in time to hear this part of the conversation, and she said, “Don’t worry, Larry, not even a dirty old man is going to be interested in you.”

So I yelled at her, and she yelled at me, and then I had to run to catch the bus.  I made it, but the only seat was right in front of Stinky Glover.

His real name is Julian, but guess why everyone calls him “Stinky”.  I suppose he takes a shower sometimes, but the effect must wear off before he gets out in public, because I’ve never been near him when he didn’t smell like low tide.  If there was a BO event in the Olympics, he’d get the gold medal.  Oh, and also he’s fat and stupid.  Of course, no one would sit beside him if they could help it, but sometimes you had to sit in front of him, and that could be just as bad.

For some reason Stinky has it in for me.  I really don’t know why.  I don’t call him Stinky; I don’t call him anything.  “Hey, Lawrence,” he whispered, leaning forward.  “How’s it going, Lawrence?”

Why someone named Julian would find the name Lawrence funny is beyond me, but that was Stinky for you.  I ignored him.

I’ve seen the bullying video, of course, and heard the lectures from the school shrink, so I know all about what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to act when someone bullies you.  But the fact of the matter is, Stinky wasn’t exactly a bully.  He never beat me up or stole my lunch money or any of that stuff.  He was just really, really annoying.

Like that morning.  After he got through saying my name a bunch of times, I felt something long and wet in my ear, and heard him half giggle/half snort behind me.  He’d decided to give me a Wet Willie.  Can you imagine feeling Stinky Glover’s finger wiggling in your ear, with Stinky Glover’s spit all over it?  Especially at seven o’clock in the morning, when your stomach hasn’t really woken up yet.  It’s a wonder I didn’t hurl.

I turned around.  “Cut it out!” I demanded.

He grinned, and I saw specks of breakfast on his teeth.  “What’s the matter, Lawrence?  Not having fun, Lawrence?”

So I got up to try and change my seat, and the bus driver started yelling at me.

Just great.  It was a relief to actually arrive at school, where I had a chance to talk to Kevin Albright.  He’s my best friend at school, even though we’re kind of different.  I’m good at writing; he’s better at math and science.   He actually doesn’t do all that well in school, mainly because it’s just so boring, compared to all the stuff he finds out on his own, reading books and visiting weird web sites and doing science experiments in his basement.  He likes me, I think, because I talk about more than video games and TV.  Lots of kids think he’s just strange.

In homeroom before “A” period I told him about Stinky.

“Stinky is an example of evolution gone wrong,” Kevin said.  “Darwin should apologize for coming up with people like him.”

“I don’t need apologies.  I need to figure out what to do about him.”

“Maybe you can pretend you have some kind of disease.  At least that might keep him from sticking his finger in your ear.”

“Stinky is a disease.”

“Maybe you need an anti-Stinky pill.  Stinkomycin.”

Kevin was no help, but he was fun to talk to.

Everything went okay then until English class.  I like English class.  Mrs. Nathanson is an interesting teacher, and she’s the one who thinks I’m a good writer.  But there’s just one problem: I sit next to Nora Lally.  That’s not bad, actually.  Nora is no Stinky Glover.  In fact, she’s the prettiest girl in the seventh grade.  She’s got long black hair and bright blue eyes and this terrific smile.  So what’s the problem, then?

The problem is I can’t bring myself to speak to her, even with her sitting right next to me.  I get nervous.  My throat feels funny.  I can’t think of anything to say.  It’s so stupid.  I go to the school dances.  I pal around with girls.  No one has ever accused me of being shy.  So why can’t I talk to Nora Lally?

I haven’t mentioned this problem to Kevin, by the way; I haven’t mentioned it to anyone.  It’s too embarrassing.

That day was no different.  Before class I could have asked her a question about the homework.  I could have made some funny remark about Mrs. Nathanson–the kind I’m always making to Kevin.  But I didn’t.  I just sat there like a dope.  And Nora just ignored me, the way she always does.

So school finally got out, and wouldn’t you know–Stinky got the seat next to me on the bus.  The only thing worse than having Stinky sitting behind you is having him sitting next to you.  Especially when you can’t open the window.  I felt like my elbow was sticking into a tub of rancid butter.  “Hey, Lawrence!  We’re gonna be best buddies, right, Lawrence?”  Giggle-snort, giggle-snort.

Finally I got off at my stop and walked home.  I didn’t notice any perverts, but then, I wasn’t looking too hard.  My mother was waiting for me with the usual questions.  “How was school, Larry?  How are things going?”

She’s always interrogating me about school.  I think she figures sooner or later I’ll break down and admit I was doing drugs during gym class or something.

“Fine.”  So what was I going to say?  My mom is really great and all, but she’s sort of, well . . . intense is the word my father uses.  I sure wasn’t going to tell her about Nora Lally.  And if I had told her about Stinky Glover, she would have been on the phone to the principal and probably Stinky’s mom as well.  There would have been letters written and meetings called and action plans developed.  And I’d still have to get on the bus with Stinky.

“Are you sure?” she asked.  “You look . . . ”

“I said school was fine,” I snapped at her.  “I’m just a little tired,” I added, trying not to be too grouchy.

“Well, you should go to bed earlier, then,” she replied.  “You know, Middle School can be very demanding, and children your age really need–”

“Good point,” I said.  “I’ll really try.”

She gave me another one of her searching glances, as if trying to figure out if my agreeableness was a danger sign of alcohol abuse.  But I just wanted to end the inquisition.  “Gotta get going on my homework,” I pointed out, and she couldn’t argue with that.  So I headed upstairs to my room.

This was the best part of the day–before Cassie and Matthew got home and started bugging me.  No yakking, no complaining.  Just . . . silence.  Too bad it wouldn’t last.  I didn’t start my homework.  Instead I lay on my bed for a while thinking about how rotten things were.  How was I going to stand a whole year of this?

Finally I decided to go for a walk and try to get Stinky and Nora and everyone out of my brain.

I went back downstairs.  “Goin’ out!” I yelled at Mom, and I headed into the back yard before she could ask me about my homework.  And then I kept on going, past the garage and the old swingset, into the woods beyond the yard.

I have to say something here about those woods.  They’re called conservation land.  My father says it’s great that we’re next to conservation land, because no one can build on it and it increases the value of our property.  My mom worries about Lyme disease, snakes, and poison ivy.  When we were little she used to have a rule against us going into the woods, but she’s kind of given up on that.  It’s better than playing in the street, I guess.

The thing about the woods is, if you go in far enough, you come to a bunch of falling-down old brick-and-concrete buildings.  They were used by the Army during World War Two, although I don’t know exactly what for.  After the war the Army didn’t need them anymore, so they gave the whole area to the town, which turned it into the conservation land.

It’s not that easy to get to the buildings.  There’s an old road that runs up to them, but it’s pretty wrecked by now because the town doesn’t maintain it.  But of course some kids go there, and you see broken beer bottles and stuff scattered around.  Everyone thinks the buildings are a safety hazard and should be torn down, but no one can agree who should pay for it.  Mom really doesn’t want me to go there, because she’s certain one of the buildings will fall on me and I’ll be crushed to death with no one to hear my cries for help.  But she can’t stop me.

I don’t care about the buildings, but I do like the woods.  They’re dark and quiet, and there’s no one to bug you.  My dad has taught me the names of some of the trees and plants, so I don’t feel like a dope in there.  Anyway, the woods just felt like the right place to be that afternoon.

So I picked up a long stick and started whacking it against the trees as I walked.  Take that, Stinky!  Take that, Cassie!

I usually don’t go out of earshot of the house–that’s Mom’s latest rule–but that day I just felt like walking.  I wanted to get as far away from my life as I could.  And eventually I found myself near those old army buildings.

I was a little surprised–I hadn’t realized I had walked that far.  But it was no big deal.  It wasn’t like a wall was really going to fall on me.

Then I heard a noise from inside one of the buildings.

Again, no big deal.  If other kids were there, I’d just go home.  Despite Mom’s fears, I don’t drink or anything, and I don’t want to hang with the loser kids who do.  So I turned around.  I had only walked a few steps when I heard someone call to me.  “Hey, Lawrence!  Watcha doin’, Lawrence?”

What was Stinky doing here?

“Wait up, Lawrence!”

I turned back.  He was heading towards me.  I really didn’t want to deal with Stinky right then.  I started to run.

Okay.  Here’s where it starts.  I slowed down to catch my breath–I wasn’t too worried about Stinky being able to catch up to me.  I was in a small clearing.  And I was still holding onto the stick, kind of whipping it in front of me like a sword.  And I noticed something.

The end of the stick disappeared.

I don’t mean that it got lost in the brush or anything like that.  I mean, it was there, in mid-air, and then it wasn’t.  And then as I kept moving the stick, it came back again–it reappeared.  I looked at the stick.  It seemed okay–it wasn’t broken or anything.  I tried again.

Same thing.

My heart was pounding.

I dropped the stick and slowly reached forward.  And my hand disappeared too.  One second it was there in front of me, the next second it was gone, like it had been lopped off.  But there wasn’t any pain.  There wasn’t any pressure or resistance.  It didn’t feel hot or cold.  It just felt–different.  I took my hand back out and extended my foot.  It went in, disappeared, and then I brought it back out.

I couldn’t figure it out.  All I could think was: This is really weird.

“Hey, Lawrence!  Wait up!”

Stinky was heading towards me through the trees.

And then I had another thought: Wouldn’t it be cool if I disappeared right in front of Stinky?

This was a really stupid thing to think.  I admit it.  My mom would have totally freaked out.  I would’ve freaked out if I’d thought about it for another couple of seconds.  But I had this cool vision in my mind of Stinky standing there with a dopey look on his face, and me standing right next to him in this zone of invisibility or whatever, laughing at him.

I sure wanted to do that.

So, like a total idiot, I stepped inside.