I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X
With a cry of horror, I grabbed my throat and began to gag. My face turned red. I staggered across the kitchen. After a moment I collapsed against a chair, staring at my mother.
“Tell me you’re kidding,” I gasped. “Tell me this is some horrible joke.”
Mom was not amused.
“I am not kidding, Rod, and I don’t want to hear any more about it,” she replied in her special I Really Mean It! voice. “Your Aunt Grace and Uncle Roger are having some problems, and we are helping in the only way we can.”
“Yeah,” I moaned, sliding down so that I was flat on the floor. “By sacrificing my summer vacation.”
Bonehead, my dog, came over and started licking my face.
“Having your cousin Elspeth stay with us for a couple of weeks is not going to ruin your summer, Rod. It doesn’t even have to ruin those two weeks.”
“Are you kidding? You know what she’s like.”
My mother sighed. “I’ll grant you that Elspeth is not the easiest child to get along with. But she is your cousin. And her parents really do need to get away.”
“If Elspeth was my kid, I’d need to get away, too,” I pointed out.
Mom didn’t bother to answer. She didn’t have to. The look on her face told me that it was time to shut up.
“I like Elspeth,” said my sister, Little Thing One. (Her real name is Linda. But she’s three years old, and at that age kids are very good at insisting on special names.)
“I like Elspeth, too,” said her twin, Little Thing Two (also known as Eric, but mostly to my mother).
“You do not,” I replied, sitting up. “The last time she was here, she made you both cry, and you said you hated her.”
“She won’t make me cry this time,” said Linda. “No one can make me cry anymore. Not since Grakker.”
My mother rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything. I think that was because she had read some book that told her it wasn’t healthy to tell little kids that their imaginary friends weren’t real. What Mom didn’t know was that Grakker was real—as were Snout, Phil, Madame Pong and Tar Gibbons, the other four little aliens that traveled through space with him on the Good Ship Ferkel. While I couldn’t stop the Things from talking about the aliens, there was no way Mom was going to believe anything they said. This was just as well, since I was under strict orders not to talk about the adventures that I had had with them.
Mom turned her attention back to me. “Look, Rod, your cousin Elspeth is coming, and that’s it. I want you to make her feel welcome, is that clear?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said reluctantly. I try not to give her too much grief, since I know things have been hard on her ever since my father just took off shortly after the twins were born. Of course, things have been hard on me, too. But sometimes at night, when she thinks I’m sleeping, I hear her crying in her room. Those are the times when I think that if I could find my father, I would punch him in the nose. Except mostly I just want him to come home.
Anyway, even though I try to take it easy on Mom, I was not thrilled about having to spend the first two weeks of summer vacation with my bratty cousin Elspeth tagging around after me.
“It stinks,” I said to my best friend Mickey the next morning, while we were waiting for the bus. “A kid waits all year for summer vacation, and then something like this has to happen.”
“At least Billy Becker isn’t pushing you around anymore,” said Mickey, examining a grasshopper he had just caught.
He was right. Of course, what he didn’t know was that Billy Becker wasn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill sixth grade bully but secretly a criminal mastermind from outer space. The reason he wasn’t around anymore was that with my help Grakker and the rest of his crew had captured him. I wondered if Billy—or BKR, as he was known in most of the galaxy—was still in the Ferkel, or if Grakker had actually delivered him to the place where he was to be held prisoner. Things had happened so fast when the aliens were around that I had never had a chance to ask a lot of the questions I had about how they traveled.
The bus came. Mickey put the grasshopper on my shoulder and climbed aboard. I flicked the bug away and climbed on after him. It was the first day of the last week of school, and I was torn between two feelings. First was that delicious sensation that school was almost over, the happy anticipation of the vacation to come. Except in this case, that anticipation was covered by my second feeling: dread at the arrival of my cousin Elspeth.
She wasn’t even here yet and she was making me miserable!
After school that night I decided to take a look in my copy of Secrets of the Mental Masters, a book the alien named Snout had left me to study. So far it had not been as useful as I had hoped. The first chapter, for instance, consisted of two words: “Stay calm.” I figured if this was what passed for secret knowledge in the rest of the galaxy, Earth wasn’t as far behind the aliens as I had thought. On the other hand, when I considered how many people I had met who actually managed to follow that advice, I wondered if maybe there was more to it than I realized.
“Okay,” I told myself. “I’ll get calm. Knowing Elspeth, it won’t be easy. But I’ll do it.”
Living in the same house as Thing One and Thing Two gave me lots of opportunities to practice staying calm under all sorts of circumstances, and by the end of the week I was feeling pretty confident about my calmness.
Then Elspeth arrived, and I realized I was going to need a whole library of alien advice to stay calm with this kid around.
“Hi, Roddie!” she exclaimed as her mother led her through the door. “No luck with the diet, huh?”
I began to blush. It’s not like I’m fat or anything; just a little chunkier than I would like. But I certainly didn’t need Elspeth to remind me of it.
“He likes ice cream too much,” said Little Thing One.
That was another problem with Elspeth: she brought out the worst in the twins.
“And chapato pips,” added Little Thing Two. “I like them, too. But I’m skinny anyway.”
“That’s enough, Eric,” said my mother.
It didn’t take long for Aunt Grace to say her good-byes. Giving Elspeth a hug, she scurried out the door.
“Have a good time!” called my mother, which seemed unnecessary to me. Now that she had dumped Elspeth with us, Aunt Grace’s life was bound to improve.
It was my future that was looking bleak.
By the next day I was ready to imitate my father, and run away from home. Elspeth’s non-stop chatter—combined with her need to point out every flaw in my face, body, clothing and room—was driving me berserk.
“I think I’ll take Bonehead out to Seldom Seen for a while,” I said to my mother, after breakfast.
Seldom Seen is what we call the field behind our house. We live out in the country, and our backyard slopes down to a swamp thick with big old willow trees. On the far side of the swamp, surrounded by woods, is a big field where Grampa still grows corn. He named it “Seldom Seen” because—well, because it’s seldom seen. You can only get to it by crossing the swamp on a little wooden bridge my father and some of his friends built, or by going through a neighbor’s automobile junkyard.
It is a very private place, and I love it out there. I had intended to go on my own. So you can imagine how pleased I was when my mother said, “That’s a good idea, Rod. Why don’t you take Elspeth along?”
I sighed. It wasn’t even worth fighting about. I knew I would lose. At least she didn’t make me take the twins (which was just as well, considering the way things worked out).
I started to put on my new sneakers, which were sort of a bribe from Mom for putting up with Elspeth, and got ready to leave.
“Do you think you should wear those, Rod?” asked Mom—meaning, of course, that she didn’t think I should wear them. They were expensive, and I knew she had had to stretch the budget to buy them. But what was the use of sneakers if you couldn’t wear them? Even so, I might have changed my mind, if Elspeth hadn’t chimed in.
“Your mother’s right,” she said primly. “You’ll probably get them all muddy crossing the swamp.”
I grunted, and continued tying my laces. Mom sighed, and turned away. I felt bad, but not bad enough to take off the sneakers.
With Elspeth bouncing along behind me, and Bonehead bouncing along behind her, I headed for the swamp.
I figured things couldn’t get worse, until we actually made it to Seldom Seen and stumbled into a hole. It was enormous—about a foot deep, and nearly twenty feet long. I knew it would upset my grandfather, because whatever had made it had mashed down the young corn stalks.
Then I realized what the hole really was. I stopped worrying about what my grandfather would think and concentrated on staying calm.
“Let’s get out of here,” I whispered to Elspeth.
“Why?” she asked. “I like it back here.”
“Don’t you see what this is?” I asked, still whispering.
“Yeah, it’s a hole in the ground.”
I swallowed, then pointed to the front of the hole, yards away, where I could see four distinct marks. Toe marks.
“It’s not just a hole,” I hissed. “We’re standing in someone’s footprint!”ot;
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