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Chapter 5 - The Thing


September, 1977

It's been a month since I created The Thing, and it doesn't seem inclined to go away. At least not yet.

I come home after school and The Thing is still there. I check after dinner and it greets me with a wink. The next day it's there. And the next. And the next.

I look through The Thing, and Grandma Kroll's house changes on a whim. Sometimes white, sometimes blue. Once it was greenish. But when I look over, under, or around The Thing, it remains resolutely white.

I've taken to calling the thing, "The Thing."

I look through The Thing from different angles. At the bushes. At the garage. At the shed. Sometimes the bushes are blooming, sometimes they're bare, sometimes covered with fruit, sometimes just leafy. One time the garage was gone. Once a different garage was there and the shed was gone. I never see people, though. Or anything alive other than plants.

So far, I've been unable to unlock The Thing's secrets.

---

It's my first year of junior high football. I don't want to be there. But I'm a male in a class of 31 people, and dad was an athlete.

I'll never be any good, though. I can already tell. I'm fat, and I'm slow, and not nearly inclined enough toward the murder of friends and classmates, which seems a prerequisite for the sport. I'd rather be home reading a book or a comic. Or writing a story.

Or staring at The Thing.

But we practice every day after school. Time is limited. It's 98 degrees today. We're wearing what amounts to rubberized suits of armor. We never stop running or slamming into each other - or the ground - or mock rubberized victims. And coach Bard is way too possessive about the water. I lose 3 quarts to every pint they give me. If I tried to give blood, it would be the consistency of applesauce. I have recurring nightmares in which I'm dying of thirst.

You'd think I would quickly lose weight. Become lean and quick like lightning. But the amount of calories I'm able to pack on in the hour after I get home would sustain a small herd of elephants for a week. I remain round and sweaty. My legs shake, when I run, like a bowl full of jelly.

I find it hard to respect coach Bard, because he's been hired as the high school typing teacher, and I can't process the idea of anyone going to college for four years just to teach people to type. But there he is. I guess that's why he's also coaching junior high football, though we doubt he actually knows what he's doing. Once, in an attempt to prove the ineptitude of his play calling, our quarterback begins making up his own plays mid-game. Drawing them on the ground like we're in a pick-up game on the playground. Every play is a multiple reverse pass. It's the only time we score all year.

When coach Bard has a screaming meltdown over our mutiny, the entire team quits en masse. We only return after a grudging apology.

His authority is now compromised, to say the least.

---

There's no practice today. Coach Bard needs a break. 

I rush home after school and head directly to the clubhouse. I examine The Thing from all angles. When I look through it towards the corner, the chair is gone, as are the bottles and the shelf - and, I assume, the CISS. Though the CISS was there when I found the clubhouse. So perhaps it has always been.

Grandma Kroll's house is white today.

Interesting.

I sit in the chair and take a bite from my after-school snack. It's a double peanut butter and grape jelly with a large glass of chocolate milk. It's not chocolate Nehi, but beggars can't be choosers.

For the millionth time, I think about touching The Thing. I even go so far as to reach for it before losing my nerve and sitting back down. It doesn't seem wise. My only frame of reference for time travel is Star Trek, and for them it never seems to go well.

I catch up on the Richie Rich while I consider what to do. Richie Rich Billion$, Richie Rich Ca$h, Richie Rich Fortune$.

Richie and Cadbury and Irona would know what to do, I'm $ure of it. But today they teach me nothing.

I stand and slowly circle The Thing.

I've learned from football that when you can't go over or under or around a thing, what you have to do is go through it. I know this because other players are constantly going through me. It's not a perfect analogy. They easily could go around me. But going through me is apparently more fun. When done properly, I can fly impressive distances. The concept is sound, though, I think. And I'm tired of just looking through The Thing and noting the changing landscape.

I buck up my courage. Finish the last bite of my snack. And reach forward into the yellowish unknown.

---

I remember going to bed one night, when I was younger. Being tucked in. The light going off. And being wakened the next morning after what seemed like only a second of sleep. This is like that. Except for the dream.

But, it's not a dream. It's too real to be a dream. It's too short, yet too complete to be a dream. It can't be a dream. It's not.

I reached for the thing and was suddenly younger. On the stairway of our house. It's a night that I'd forgotten. My grandma. My sisters. The attic.

But it doesn't take time like a dream. It's just there all at once. The memory's complete. The evening is placed in my brain, in a neat stack of images, and my hand is pushed gently away from The Thing, and I'm staring at it again. Listening to the birds.

No time has passed. I pick up my notebook. Experiments must be recorded. It takes an hour to get it all on paper.

I drop my pen when I'm finished and stare at what I've written like it's been given to me by someone else. Someone I don't really trust. Like it's a thing that's Forbidden. It doesn't seem real anymore, yet there it is on the paper.

I stand from where I'd been lying. There's a sweaty outline of my body in the dust where I had been. It looks like a crime scene.

I turn again to look at The Thing, still hovering silently in the early evening air.

The view has changed. I can't look away. My head aches like it did that day on the paper route, but I attribute it to football. To dehydration. I can't let it deter me. Experiments must be replicated.

I reach for it again.

---

This time I'm older. In a hotel. Driving a car. There's music. A girl. Money.

My hand is pushed back again and I collapse onto the ground. I pick up my pen. I write:

December, 1986.

I write faster this time. I don't know why, but there's an urgency this time that I didn't feel before. 45 minutes later, I'm being called in to dinner. My hand is cramping. I've written page after page, adding details in the margins, trying to remember it completely. My mother calls again. I drop the pen. If I don't go in, she'll come looking for me, and I'm done writing anyway.

I place the notebook and pen into the box that protects them from the elements. I slide the combination lock through its metal loop and close it with a painful squeeze of my cramped fingers. I stand and dust myself off. There are now two outlines. A double crime scene. And my head feels like a balloon inflated ten times past its breaking point.

I walk into the house, and the smell hits me like a fist. It's liver and onions night. My stomach does a back flip, and for the first time I realize that I'm dizzy. Like I've spent the last two hours on a roller coaster.

My knees buckle as my after-school snack hits the linoleum in front of me.

Darkness.

---

I'm in bed.

Mom giving me aspirin. My head pounding. Tucking me in. The sound of baseball announcers under my pillow. Who turned them on? My stomach tied in knots. Sweating.

I hear the smack of Scott's goodnight kiss.

The light goes out.

Sleep.

---

I wake around midnight. My head no longer aching. My stomach now still, but for an occasional rumble from my missed supper. My lost snack. I sink back into the twin bed mattress.

You never feel better than when you're done feeling bad.

There's music under my pillow now.

I drift.

...

The Thing.

I sit up in bed.

The Thing. I touched it. I saw the past. I saw the future.

I think.

It's like a dream, now, and I can't pull the details from my half-asleep brain. The cat in the attic. Grandma. My sisters. Something...

I listen to see if anyone's still awake downstairs. I hear dad's snoring. I get out of bed.

I have to see the notebook.

I grab the flashlight from the side of my bed. I walk as quietly as possible to the stairs. Down into the kitchen. Out the front door. I've forgotten my shoes. Twigs and rocks poke my feet as I push my way through the mulberry bush. The Thing glows mutely. But it's no help in finding the box. I turn on the flashlight. Fumble with the lock. Pull out the notebook. Open it.

Yes.

It was real.

I page slowly through what I've written.

My sisters screaming.

"tah-ih!"

"Oaf!"

I turn the page.

I turn it again.

"December, 1986."

Then nothing.

It's suddenly hard to breathe. The pages are empty. Just the date remains.

And I can't remember a thing that I had written.

***
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Click below for:
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Chapter 6 - I'm Only Sleeping

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