The Search for Snout
Home is Where the Hurt Is
I bet you know how scary it is to go home when you’re sure you’re going to be in trouble.
Well, that’s the way I felt the night the good ship Ferkel brought me back from Dimension X. I don’t think I have ever been more scared to go through my own front door.
In fact, I didn’t go through it for a while. I just stood beside the hickory tree in our front yard, resting one hand on its rough bark and staring at the house.
The lights were still on in the upstairs room where the twins slept. I decided to put off going in until they were in bed. Dealing with Mom was going to be difficult enough. It would be easier to wait until morning to say what I had to say to Little Thing One and Little Thing Two.
The lights went out upstairs. Still I hesitated. Taking a deep breath of the sweet summer air, I listened to the crickets, watched the fireflies—all the while telling myself I would go in soon.
Soon, but not right this minute.
“Come on, Rod!” hissed my cousin Elspeth, who was standing a few feet behind me. “Let’s move. The mosquitoes are killing me.”
I sighed. Standing out here fussing wasn’t going to change things. Or make them any easier. And if I didn’t move soon Elspeth would probably go in by herself—which would only make things even more complicated than they already were.
Taking a deep breath, I walked to the front door.
I put my hand on the knob, then hesitated.
Should I knock?
You don’t usually knock to go into your own house, of course. But I had been away so long—and in such strange places—that it didn’t quite feel like home here anymore.
As a matter of fact, considering what I was planning to do next, it wasn’t really home anymore.
“Come on, Rod,” urged Elspeth. “Open the door!”
“I don’t want to frighten Mom. She’s not expecting us. If I just open the door and walk in it might scare her.”
Before Elspeth could push past me and open the door herself, I reached forward and knocked.
I knocked again, harder.
After a moment we heard footsteps. They stopped at the door and a familiar voice—a voice I had sometimes feared I would never hear again—called, “Who is it?”
I had a hard time answering because a lump had formed in my throat, and I had to push to get the words past it.
“Hello?” called my mother again, sounding nervous this time.
“It’s me. Rod.”
With a cry she flung open the door. “Rod! Where have you been? Are you all right?”
She threw her arms around me as if she was afraid I was going to vanish into the night. After she had held me tight for a minute she drew back and whispered, “Is your father with you?”
I shook my head, wondering if she had any idea of the real truth about Dad.
She sighed. Looking past me, as if to check to see if maybe Dad really was there, she noticed Elspeth. Disappointment and relief seemed to war for control of her face. All she said was, “Thank goodness you’re here, too, sweetheart! Your parents have been so worried!”
A few weeks earlier I would have been tempted to say, “Worried? I would think they would be relieved!” After all, if they gave a Nobel Prize for “Achievement in Being a Pain in the Neck” Elspeth would probably be the world’s top contender. But the two of us had been through so much together in Dimension X that I had sort of gotten used to her.
Before I could say anything at all we were interrupted by an explosion of grey fur, accompanied by yips of delight and a frenzy of tail wagging and face licking.
“Bonehead!” I cried. “How ya doin’, boy?”
Without waiting for Bonehead to finish greeting me, my mother hustled us inside. She closed the door firmly behind her, as if to make sure that we couldn’t get back out again. Then she leaned against the doorway. Her shoulders began to shake as she watched Bonehead bounce around my legs. When I looked closer, I realized she was crying.
Let me tell you—when it comes to sheer guilt, nothing beats making your Mom cry.
And we hadn’t even gotten to the hard stuff yet. How was she going to react when she saw what I had in my pocket?
Before I could worry about that she whispered, “Rod, where have you been? Did you really go off with your father? Where is he?”
I started to answer, but we were interrupted again, this time by the twins. Little Thing One (sometimes called Linda, but mostly by my mother) burst through the door shouting, “Roddie! Roddie! Roddie!”
Pigtails streaming behind her, she came barreling toward me.
Little Thing Two (Eric for short) was hard on her heels. “Roddie, you came back!” he called.
Each of them grabbed one of my legs. Clinging to my knee as if she was afraid I was going to vanish on the spot, Linda cried, “Where did you go? You’re a naughty Roddie. You made Mommy cry.”
“Naughty, naughty Roddie!” agreed Eric. “You weren’t here to bop us with our teddy bears at bedtime. I couldn’t go to sleep at night!”
This was getting worse by the minute.
I looked around at the cozy old kitchen—the worn blue linoleum; our faithful old cookie bear, where Mom stored her home baked treats; the noisy refrigerator, still covered by my school papers that Mom had stuck to it with fruit-shaped magnets—and felt as if someone had grabbed my heart and was starting to squeeze.
How could I possibly leave again, now that I had made it back here?
But how could I not, given the startling information I had learned in Dimension X?
I got down on my knees and hugged the twins, trying not to cry myself.
“Where did you go?” asked Little Thing One again. She sounded sympathetic, now that she could see how upset I was.
“We had a terrifying adventure,” said Elspeth.
“I want one!” said Little Thing Two.
“Was it with Grakker?” asked Little Thing One.
My mother sighed. “These two have been talking about those imaginary aliens ever since you went off with your father, Rod. Please tell them the truth.”
I glanced at Elspeth. She made a face that seemed to say, “Don’t look at me. She’s your mother.”
I took a deep breath. Mom was going to have to know the truth sooner or later.
It might as well be now.
So I reached into my shirt pocket… and took out the aliens.
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