THE INVISIBLE KID
AND DR. POOF'S MAGIC SOAP
Terry and Wayne Baltz
Cover Design & Illustration by Gary Raham
A Red Feather Book
PRAIRIE DIVIDE PRODUCTIONS
Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues in this book are all products of the authors' rampant imaginations and are not to be construed as real. Except, of course, while you are reading the story. And unless possibly all of this really did happen and no one told them about it.
Copyright © 1993 by Terry and Wayne Baltz.
All rights reserved.
Published by Prairie Divide Productions
P.O. Box 129
Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545
Cover design and illustration copyright © 1993 by Gary Raham.
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 93-87287
Printed in the U.S.A.
Text printed with soy ink on 100% recycled paper manufactured without the use of elemental chlorine.
Julie, Derek, David
invisible kids everywhere
THE INVISIBLE KID
AND DR. POOF'S MAGIC SOAP
I always wanted to be invisible. But I never expected it to really happen.
When I was little I used to prowl around the house pretending to be the One And Only Invisible Detective. I could see everybody and nobody could see me. That was better than even Sherlock Holmes.
But when I invisibly detected my sister, Penny, kissing her boyfriend behind the oak tree in our back yard, she didn't call me Sherlock Holmes. She called me "The Little Snoop."
And when I invisibly detected my mom wrapping a big box before my birthday she said, "Cassandra Ann, don't you have something to do?"
And when I got up one time in the middle of the night and invisibly detected my dad in the kitchen making a sandwich he said, "Hi, Casey. Want some peanut butter?"
But all that was before I got mixed up with Dr. Poof and my friend Kathleen's weird Uncle Terence O'Toole. That's when I really did get invisible.
And that's when all the trouble began.
* * *
It was the last day of fifth grade. Kathleen and I go to different schools in St. Louis County. She's in private, I'm in public. But both our schools let out the same day that year and I rushed over to her house so we could celebrate our freedom together. I burst in the front door without knocking and yelled, "Kathleen!" Nobody answered and I thought nobody was home.
Tap, tap, tap. That was a familiar sound. The basement door was open and I could hear Uncle Terence hammering away down there. Probably working on shoes again. He was always working on shoes, especially since he quit his job at the university. I tiptoed down the stairs to surprise him. But half way down I froze. Sweat beaded on my forehead.
I saw an odd-looking shoe in some kind of vise on Uncle Terence's workbench. A row of tiny nailheads stuck out of the sole. And above it, swinging in a graceful arc, a small hammer drove the nails in one by one.
Only nobody was swinging the hammer. Not Uncle Terence, not anybody. The room was empty.
I dashed up the stairs, my heart pounding through my chest, tripped on the top step and landed hard in the doorway. After checking for broken bones I wondered if my imagination had gotten the better of me. That's what my dad always says: "Your imagination's getting the better of you." When I was little he was saying it at least twice a week when I scrambled downstairs after seeing a ghost in my closet. He would walk me back up to my room and patiently search through my closet and under my bed without finding any ghosts. Then he would scruffle my hair and say, "Feel better?" And I would say, "Yes." Only I didn't feel better, because what does it really prove if you can't find a ghost?
As soon as the blood stopped jackhammering in my head I called out, "Uncle Terence?" No answer. I forced myself back down the stairs, stopping on every step, scrunching way down to see what I could before going further. All the way to the bottom.
There was nobody. Nothing. The shoe was in the vise, the hammer lay on the table. Like a hammer should when no one's around. I edged toward it, holding my breath and moving slower than a fish in mud. Then, with a lightning-fast move I grabbed it right behind the head, like it was a snake, pinning it to the table top. It didn't squirm or try to get away.
After about a minute of high-pressure pinning I began to feel a little silly. And my fingers started to cramp. I picked the hammer up with two hands, still keeping a tight grip. But the hammer-snake was dead. I had been letting my imagination get the better of me.
I put the tool back on the workbench and crept up the stairs, wondering the whole time what the hammer was doing now, and trying hard not to look behind me. I jumped inside my skin to see Kathleen in the hall.
"Hi, Casey. Have you seen Uncle Terence?" she said.
"No. It wasn't Uncle Terence."
"What do you mean? Who wasn't Uncle Terence?"
"I saw . . . I mean, I thought I saw . . . I mean I thought I heard him downstairs. But when I went down I didn't see anything. Nothing." She looked at me suspiciously. "Honest," I said.
"Casey, you're acting weird. What's going on?"
"I told you. Nothing." Kathleen tapped her foot impatiently. "Okay," I said, "so maybe I was just letting my imagination get the better of me a little bit."
"Oh. So what else is new?" She pulled two softball gloves out of the hall closet. "I swear, Casey, I don't know who is more strange, Uncle Terence or you."
Kathleen's Uncle Terence has always been unusual but since last fall when he quit his job he's taken to just vanishing at times. Kathleen and her parents can't find him in his bedroom or in his basement workroom. Sometimes he shows up in an hour. Sometimes in a day or two. Once he was gone for over a month. When Kathleen asked him about it he said he'd gone home. Kathleen said this was his home. Which was true: he and her father grew up in that house. He didn't argue but he didn't tell her any more, either. Just that he'd had to go. And that he was sorry for worrying her. Pretty soon he was back to his usual routine, making shoes. Lots of shoes. I don't know what he does with them.
Kathleen slapped one of the gloves against my stomach. "Let's play some ball," she said. "We've got our outfield back."
"The trailer's gone again?"
"Yep." We headed around the corner for the vacant lot.
We use it for choose-up games. It really belongs to the county, which hasn't had the money to make a park out of it. They rented the space to a small circus company last October, and when it left a couple of the carnival hands stayed behind with their trailer. I've never seen them but the trailer comes and goes and we never know for sure when the outfield's going to be clear.
Kathleen pounded the ball in the pocket of her glove. "I hope we can round up enough kids."
A lot of times it's hard to get a game going since most of the kids in the neighborhood like to watch television after school. I would never choose TV over a good ball game.
It's not that I don't watch TV. I do, but mostly only after midnight, when the really good movies are on. Like Revenge of the Mud People last night. My family doesn't know I do this late night watching because I set the alarm clock in my mind to wake me up at a certain time. Mind alarm clocks are an important detective tool because they don't make any sound. Then I sneak down to the kitchen and pull the portable TV under the table with me. I only do it once in a while, otherwise I'd get too tired and people would begin to wonder why. And too many people asking questions isn't good for a detective.
Anyway, I was tired after watching Mud People. I felt more like taking a nap than playing ball, but it was the last day of school and I wanted to celebrate. To my surprise, a lot of kids showed up and it looked like we'd be able to get a good game going. Mr. Bumps was there, too, waiting for me. He does that a lot -- showing up where I am even though he didn't go there with me. Sometimes I think he can read my mind.
His full name is Mr. Harold T. Bumps and he appeared at our door about seven months ago. I remember because it was Halloween night. Cold, with snowy rain. I had just returned with my loot. "Here I am!" I announced, expecting a great "hurrah" or something. My dad grunted, Penny left the room dramatically, and my mom pulled my ghost sheet from where it was caught in the door. "How did you ever get this so dirty?" she wailed, as though it were a family heirloom.
That's when we heard the bump. It wasn't a knock. It was definitely a bump. I opened the door. A blast of freezing air poured in but that was it. I was closing the door against the bitter wind when a small black and white terrier dog walked right in. He shook himself from nose to tail and plopped down on the rug as if he'd always lived here. I named him that very night: Mr. Harold T. Bumps. I liked the sound of it. Mr. Bumps for short. Bumps for shorter.
Bumps sat on the sidelines watching the game. Kathleen played left, I covered center, and Jay Randolph was right fielder. Nobody's much of a hitter. Sometimes we stand out there the whole game with nothing to do.
"What's your uncle up to these days?" I shouted over to Kathleen while waiting for another Babe Ruth to come up to bat.
She shrugged. "Same old thing. Puttering in the basement."
"But what was he doing today, for example?"
"How should I know? I go to school, too, remember?"
Sometimes Kathleen gets exasperated at Uncle Terence and doesn't want to talk about him. She gets very disgusted with his disappearances and with his habits of smoking a pipe and drinking a "wee too much" as he likes to describe it. "But darlin'," I heard him tell her once, "I need my pipe to think. I need my whiskey to dream." She said, "I think, I dream, without the help of either." And she tapped her foot. She always does that when she's getting mad. "You're right, Kathleen, darlin'," he answered lightly. But there was a sadness in his eyes as he returned to the basement. I never understood why he gave in so easily since Kathleen isn't really much of a dreamer. On the other hand, I certainly am, and I don't need either, either.
I was considering what to tell Kathleen about the strange goings on in her basement when nosey Eddie Maskit came up to bat. What a pest he'd been all year. Ball one. If he wasn't asking the teacher stupid questions, he was pestering me. Following me around on the playground -- strike one -- and asking me a lot of personal things. "You look tired," he'd say. "What did you do, watch Revenge of the Mud People last night?"
Once he actually made me late for school -- strike two -- asking me all kinds of nosey questions about where Bumps came from and why he was named that and what the "T." stood for. He just went on and on and I wouldn't tell him anything and then, to spite him, I refused to get off the bus. Ball two. So did he. Then the driver got mad at us because we wouldn't get off and finally he left for his junior high route and I had to sit there with eighth and ninth graders and Eddie, which was the absolute worst hour of my life. I could live without him around. Believe me. Maybe I could feed him to the Mud People.
I was thinking about how much I hate Eddie when he hit a long, high fly out to center. The ball shot over my head like a rocket and I took out after it, knowing I didn't have a chance and that Eddie would be razzing me about his homer for the rest of my life.
Then a weird thing happened. Just before the ball landed it seemed to reverse course, and when it hit the ground it rolled right toward me. It was like it hit a wall or something. Only there wasn't any wall, or anything. Just clover, wild onions, and butterflies.
"Get the ball! Get the ball!" Kathleen and Jay yelled, rushing toward me from either side like crazed lunatics. I grabbed the ball, and shot it back to the infield. Eddie was out at third.
* * *
After the game I hung around and, when everyone else had gone home, I went back out to center field. Bumps came, too. I stood where I was when the fly ball went overhead. From there I slowly worked my way deeper into the outfield.
But not slowly enough. Bam! I grabbed at the sudden, burning pain in my knee. Bumps barked ferociously. There was something in front of us. Something very large and solid.
"What do you mean, the trailer's on the lot but it's invisible?" Kathleen demanded the next day when I told her what had happened. She tapped her foot and sent the porch swing into a nervous wobble.
"Just what I said. The ball bounced off it. Don't tell me you didn't see that!"
"The wind was blowing a gale out of center field," she insisted, tapping and turning the swing into a carnival ride. "Or there was a spin on the ball, probably." She huffed the way grown-ups do when they can't imagine something because it isn't right in front of them. Grown-ups miss out on a lot of good stuff that way. "Your imagination's getting the better of you again," she said, putting on twenty years in the space of a single sentence. I was getting mad. I mean, your best friend should believe you.
"I'm getting mad," I said. "Your best friend should believe you."
"But it's ridiculous. An invisible trailer. Anyway, what are you complaining about? He was out at third." She jumped off the seat and stormed into the house.
"Yeah, well that doesn't make my knee feel any better, does it?" I grumbled as I put the brakes on the swing.
Uncle Terence was sitting on a slatted chair at the far end of the porch. The odd thing was that I didn't see him before. I thought Kathleen and I were alone.
Like I said, he's Kathleen's uncle, not mine. But I've known him since I was little and everybody calls him Uncle Terence and he told me I should, too. Which I was glad of, because I don't even have an uncle.
He has red hair, mostly. It's turning gray around the edges, though, and he's a little bald. Which is easy for me to see because I'm the same height as he is, even though I'm eleven and only the fifth tallest girl in my class, and I guess he is at least forty-five or even fifty. Mostly it's his legs that are short. So short that, sitting there in the chair, his feet didn't touch the floor. His shoes, as usual, were strange. They were black, and square in the front, and each one had a large silver buckle on the top. I guess he made them himself because I've certainly never seen shoes like that in any store.
I've always liked Uncle Terence but he was scaring me now, just sitting there, nodding his head at me. And the pointy tips of his ears seemed to accuse me with each dip of his head.
I decided to take the offensive. "Do you know about the invisible trailer?" I asked. He raised his head and looked at me but didn't say anything. "What's going on around here?" I said. "Yesterday in the basement I saw your hammer moving in mid air without anybody holding it. Then nosey Eddie's fly ball is stopped by an invisible trailer. And now you suddenly appear on the porch out of nowhere." By then I was on my feet and kind of jumping up and down. In an agitated state, my sister would say.
Uncle Terence stood up and came over to me, his eyebrows scrunched together on his worried face. He put his hand on my shoulder in a fatherly way, a short fatherly way, and looked right at me. "If you hide from others, you only hide from yourself," he said. He said it very softly, as if he were speaking to himself. I waited for more but he just seemed lost in thought. After a while his eyes glazed over and I wasn't even sure he knew I was there.
"Thank you," I said, not knowing what else to do.
We shook hands. Uncle Terence always shakes my hand when we part, but he held on longer this time and his eyes, black and piercing again, told me to please give up whatever it was I was up to. Maybe I should have listened.
Instead, I raced back to the lot. I was surprised to find that it wasn't vacant anymore. The trailer was back. Or was it visible again?
I walked up to the trailer and around and around to the side away from the street, looking for clues. I found two signs, one on each side of the door. One said:
DR. POOF'S MAGIC TONIC
Makes Your Ills Disappear
Enjoy Perfect Health and Tranquility
Free Introductory Sample
And on the other side:
Madame Helena Farsight
Adept in Palm Reading
Crystal Ball Gazing
Free Introductory Session
Magic tonic? Fortunes? Icy tingles cascaded down my spine. This was weird -- better than any late, late superthriller on TV! Something was going on and Dr. Poof and Madame Farsight were definitely in the thick of it since it was their trailer that was playing peek-a-boo. But to figure it all out I would have to be clever. And careful.
I formed my plan right then. I would go in and ask for a free sample of magic tonic and a fortune and, when they weren't looking, snoop around all I could. Ask a lot of carefully worded trick questions, like detectives do, so nobody knows what I'm really after. It seemed like a sure-fire plan. Maybe a little short on details, but great detectives have to think on their feet.
I knocked, ready for anything.
The door eased open. And it squeaked, just like in the movies. When the gap was no more than a foot wide Bumps came dashing around the corner of the trailer, scampered up the steps, and disappeared inside.
The door was closing. I squeezed in after him.
It was like walking into a darkened theater from a bright, sunny day. When I could see again, the show began.
Bumps was in the arms of a tall, thin, dark-haired man who wore an outfit like I've only seen at the circus. His pajama-like pants were purple, red, and orange and his shirt was bright blue. But he didn't have a clown face on.
"Welcome," he said, petting Bumps and staring at me from beneath caterpillar eyebrows. Like I was the strange one!
A woman came from the other end of the trailer. She was short and a little plump. She wore a full skirt of splashy bright colors, a red blouse, and a purple ribbon around her short, curly, jet-black hair. "I thought I heard a bump" -- the man's nod toward me stopped her -- "Oh. Company?" She sounded both surprised and pleased. "Well, come in, child. Sit down. Take a load off." She indicated a chair at a large round table that filled up most of the room. "What can we help you with today?"
"First of all I want my dog back," I said, thinking on my feet while Bumps wagged his tail and licked the man's chin.
Bumps is a friendly dog. He sleeps in my bed most nights and watches movies with me under the table and he follows me everywhere. But I've never seen him so friendly with anyone else. It bothered me.
"Give the little one her dog, dearest." She pointed from Bumps to me with fingers capped by inch-long red finger nails. "You must forgive us, child. This is the great Doctor Poof. He has powers even with a little dog he's never seen before. No harm was meant." The great Doctor Poof held Bumps out to me and I took him. Bumps looked back at Dr. Poof and fluttered his tail. Under a spell, I decided, and held him close. "My name is Helena. You can call me Madame Farsight. And I will call you `little one.' All right, little one? All right."
She didn't give me a chance to get a word in edgewise. A word like "No!" for example.
"Now let me look into the crystal ball for you. You sit right here." She pushed me into a plastic and metal chair. "And I'll sit over there, all right? Ready?"
My mouth was hanging open. I didn't seem to be thinking too well anymore, on my feet or off them. She leaned over me very close as she talked and she smelled bitter, like burning leaves.
Finally, she shut up and sat down across the table from me. I held on to Mr. Bumps. Madame Farsight was in slow motion now, waving her hand over the crystal ball, repeating, as if to herself, "Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey see, monkey do." That's what it sounded like to me. "Monkey see, monkey do." I almost laughed, but she wasn't laughing. Her eyes got all glassy and she sat perfectly still. Her breathing got slower and deeper.
"Remember the tortoise and the hare," she said. Her voice was high and warbly, not like her own at all. There was a long silence. Oh yeah, I remembered, the tortoise wins the race when everyone expects the hare to win.
"No," Madame Farsight said sharply, in the strange new voice. Had I said something? I didn't think so. "The tortoise wants to know about the hare and about all others and about all things," she warbled. "But she does not want to be known herself. She hides inside her shell and thinks she is invisible. But the hare sees her anyway, and knows her better than if she did not hide. In the end, only she who hides is fooled."
She sat up straight and looked right at me, her eyes focused and back to normal. "Well, little one, that's it. That's my free introductory. How did you like it?" It was her usual voice. I tried to mumble something polite so I could get out of there fast, but my tongue wouldn't work. "What did I say?" she asked. "I never remember afterwards, you know."
A little kid, about two or three years old, lumbered out of the back room. Madame Farsight got up, ran to him, scooped him into her arms and said, "Madame Farsight will play with you in a minute, Kevin."
Kevin had blue eyes, blond hair, and wore totally normal clothes. He didn't look anything like his parents. And Kevin didn't even sound like the name of a child belonging to Dr. Poof and Madame Farsight. A child of theirs should be called Merlin or Zodiac.
"I should take him outside for a while," Dr. Poof said.
"No, you can't take him out yet," she said quickly, moving away from the door with him. To me she said, "His skin is fair. He burns easily."
Who does she think she's fooling? Does she think I've never heard of kidnaping? Does she think she's dealing with an amateur here? I started inching my way toward the door. But Dr. Poof was there, holding a bottle and a small paper cup.
"Want to try some magic tonic?" he asked and pushed the cup toward me.
Oh, no you don't. I'm not taking any sleeping potion so you can kidnap me, too, I shouted inside my head. But Dr. Poof stood there, cup in hand, blocking my escape.
"I have to use the bathroom," I said, backing away from the table into a chair and almost falling over the couch. "Excuse me," I mumbled to the furniture. I held Bumps even tighter to my chest, ran down the hall, into the bathroom, closed the door and locked it.
It was a cramped room and I saw at once there was no window. Bad luck. I couldn't stay in there all day. And there was no way out except the way I came in.
I searched the shower. For what? A weapon? Incriminating evidence? Nothing there but a bottle of shampoo and a half-used bar of soap. Underwear hung on a line suspended above the tiny tub. The medicine cabinet had the usual stuff and it hardly seemed worth looking in the cabinet under the miniature wash bowl. But I was wrong. Something was there: a little box, high up in the back, almost out of sight, and taped to the wall. Hidden, I'd call it.
I reached in and carefully removed the tape. It was a little box, midnight-blue, with stars all over it. I opened it.
Inside was just a bar of soap. Not like the one in the shower, though, or like any I'd ever seen. It was cut into a rough rectangle and didn't have any picture or company name stamped into it. Following detective intuition I slid it back into the box and slipped the box into my pocket to check out later. Then I plotted my escape.
Brute force and blinding speed seemed like a good plan. I burst out of the bathroom, prepared to pulverize anybody between me and the outside door. But nobody tried to stop me. In fact, Dr. Poof was nowhere in sight and Madame Farsight just watched as I flashed by. Bumps whined a little as I jerked open the door and jumped the three steps to the ground in a single leap. Then I ran home faster than I've ever run before. Faster than when I was little and the ghosts were after me. Faster even than in track with Eddie Maskit coming up on my heels with his sweaty armpits and stinky breath.
For a second I thought I saw Eddie on the sidewalk near home plate but when I looked again there was nobody. I roared by without stopping to check.
* * *
I spent a very uneventful evening hiding my excitement from my family. It isn't too hard: nobody at my house ever expects anything interesting to happen anyway, so they tend not to notice when it does. I decided to shower and go to bed early.
I couldn't resist using the new soap. It smelled a little strange, like leaves burning in the fall. Like Madame Farsight, in fact. I felt bad about stealing the soap and made up my mind to return it as soon as I got the chance, and the courage to go back.
And I had to go back. I hadn't found out anything I'd gone there to find out.
I got into bed thinking I was probably exaggerating everything. Babies don't always look like their parents. Maybe he was adopted. And Kevin is a perfectly good name. Why couldn't Madame Farsight and Dr. Poof have named their baby Kevin?
Invisible trailer! I had to admit, it was a little hard to believe. Maybe I'd even apologize to Kathleen. I drifted off to sleep, pretty much convinced I'd let my imagination get the better of me.
But that was before I woke up to discover that sometime during the night I had disappeared.