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Authors: Dan Gutman

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BOOK: Ted & Me
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The Point of No Return

Roosevelt about the attack on Pearl Harbor. And if the war happened anyway, America and its allies probably would have won it with or without Ted Williams, I figured. One man doesn't win a war. So it probably wouldn't matter to the war effort if I were to talk Williams into staying home and playing baseball. He would hit lots more homers in his career and maybe even more than Babe Ruth.

But on the bike ride home from Flip's store, I began to have second thoughts about the mission. I hate when that happens. You decide to do something, and then you start thinking about it. And the more you think about it, the more you think of all the reasons why you shouldn't do it.

What if Flip was right? What if preventing Pearl Harbor would keep America out of the war and the
Nazis built an atomic bomb before we did? They would take over the world. And it would all be

Plus, Flip told me that Ted Williams was a jerk that spit on people. Why would I want to help a guy like that get even more famous than he already was?

As I rode my bike home, my mind kept going back and forth.

It might be dangerous
, I thought.

But the FBI asked me to do it.

I might get stuck in 1941 forever,
I thought.

But I could become a national hero.

I might get killed,
I thought.

But I'd get to meet Ted Williams.

My brain was being pushed and pulled in all different directions.

When I got home, my mother was still at work. Good. I wouldn't have to get into a big debate with her over the whole thing. And if I did decide to go on the mission, my mom wouldn't be around to nag me about bringing along lunch, an umbrella, a first aid kit, or any junk like that.

I grabbed a snack and tiptoed upstairs, trying to be quiet so I wouldn't wake my uncle Wilbur. He's really old and naps a lot of the time.

The baseball card that Agent Pluto gave me was on my bed. I didn't pick it up. Not yet. I knew what would happen once I picked it up.

Rummaging through the drawer of my night table, I found a new pack of baseball cards and put it
in my pocket—just in case. They would be my ticket home.

I still hadn't made up my mind. I looked at the Williams card, turning it over with a pencil to look at the back. It was probably very rare. The FBI must have paid a lot of money for it. Agent Pluto never asked for it back, so I had to assume it was mine to keep. Maybe Flip could appraise it for me. Maybe he would even buy it off me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving in the hallway. It was Uncle Wilbur in his wheelchair. He stopped in the doorway.

“A penny for your thoughts, Joey,” he said.

Uncle Wilbur and I didn't have a lot in common. But we did have a special bond. I saved his life once.

What happened was that I went back to 1919 to meet Shoeless Joe Jackson. I had the flu that day, and I brought my medicine with me. As it happened, I bumped into my great-great-uncle Wilbur. Well, he wasn't Uncle Wilbur yet. He was just a kid in 1919, and he was sick with the flu. They didn't have flu medicine in those days, and millions of people died in an epidemic that year. Uncle Wilbur would have been one of them, but I gave him my flu medicine. And when I got back to my own time, I was astonished to find Uncle Wilbur was alive—an old man who had survived the flu epidemic of 1919. He owed his whole life to me.

“Oh,” I said while he sat in the doorway. “I didn't see you there.”

“It looked like you were thinking about something pretty hard,” he said.

I told him the whole story about the FBI agent coming over to talk about Pearl Harbor and how Flip had advised me not to go.

“What do
think I should do?” I asked.

Uncle Wilbur thought it over for a minute, and then he wheeled himself closer to my bed.

“I've been around for nearly a century, Joey,” he told me, “and in my whole life, I have only one regret.”

“What's that?”

“When I was a teenager, a few years older than you,” he said, “there was this girl I liked. Well, I loved her, to tell you the truth. Beautiful girl. Cammy, her name was. Cammy Provorny. Her dad was a lawyer. She didn't know I was in love with her. I never said a word. I thought a girl like that would never be interested in me. She was out of my league, y'know? And I was scared to ask her to go on a date. I didn't want her to laugh in my face. I didn't want to have to see her after she turned me down. So I never did anything about it.”

“That's sad,” I said.

“And to this day, Joey, every day I think about Cammy Provorny. I think about how my life might have been different if I had simply asked her to go for a walk with me. Maybe we would have hit it off. We might have gotten married. We might have raised a family, and I might have had a son like you. You never know.”

“And you never got married to anybody?” I asked.

“I never met another girl that made me feel the way Cammy did,” Uncle Wilbur said. “You only live once, Joey. That's all I'm saying. And you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take. You know who said that?”

“Uh…Michael Jordan?” I guessed.

“Wayne Gretzky.”

Uncle Wilbur rolled back out of the room. I closed the door behind him and sat back down on my bed.

I don't want to be a sad old man someday, looking back on my life and wondering what might have happened if I had done things differently. I don't want to have regrets.

I picked up the Williams card. It was in a clear plastic holder. I squeezed the holder in the middle and the card slipped out, fluttering onto the floor. I leaned over and picked it up.

Nothing happened at first. It never does. I closed my eyes and thought about Ted Williams. Maybe he
a jerk. Maybe he was a nice guy. But I wouldn't know from some old book or someone's old memories. I would find out on my own.

It didn't take long, maybe a minute or two. There was a gentle buzzy feeling in my fingertips. It was sort of like a cat purring. It felt nice.

After a short time, the feeling started to move. Up my arm. Across my shoulder. Down my back. There was a whooshing sound in my ears, as if air was passing through my head.

I was starting to feel light-headed. It was like I was entering weightlessness. I lay back on my pillow. The tingling feeling was on my other side now, and I could begin to feel it moving down my legs.

This must be what it's like to be hypnotized,
I thought. To be in a trance. To meditate.

I reached the point where I couldn't drop the card even if I wanted to. It was like when you pass the halfway point in a trip, and it would take longer to turn back and drive home than it would to keep going to your destination. The point of no return.

I felt like I was giving off a glow, but I didn't dare open my eyes to see it.

The indentation made by my body in the bed was smoothing out. I was getting lighter. Everything was starting to vibrate. The tingling sensation was all over me. I took a deep breath, like I was about to swim underwater.

And then I disappeared.

Oh, !@#$%!

, I
near darkness surrounded by piles of junk. There was a loud roaring all around me—like the sound of a jet engine—and everything was vibrating. I didn't see a window, so I couldn't tell where I was. It was freezing cold. I felt like I might be locked in the trunk of a really old car.

What was I doing

In the dim light, I squinted to look at the stuff scattered around me. There was a flashlight, a whistle, a Swiss army knife, a compass, some flares, a first aid kit, and a bottle of shark repellent.
Shark repellent?!
This was survival gear. The cover of the map had one word on it: “KOREA.” That's when I realized what was going on.

I was in a

Something must have gone horribly wrong. All
the other times I had traveled through time with a baseball card, I wound up somewhere near the player on the card. But now I was up in the air, going who knows where.
I should have taken Flip's advice,
I said to myself. This was a big mistake.

It had to be a very small plane. A couple of feet in front of me was the back of the pilot's seat. I could see the top of his helmet, and I crawled about five feet forward toward him. There wasn't a lot of room because of the stuff all over. With the noise from the engines, I guess he didn't hear me.

“Uh, excuse me…” I said, tapping the pilot on his shoulder.

“Holy !@#$%!” he said, jumping even though he was strapped tightly into his seat. “Who the !@#$%! are you?”

The guy sure had a mouth on him. I'd heard the curse words before, of course, but most grown-ups try to watch their language around kids. I couldn't blame him, though. If I was flying a plane by myself and some kid came out of nowhere and suddenly tapped me on the shoulder, I would freak out too.

The pilot turned his head around to look at me. He looked familiar. He had curly dark hair under his helmet and bushy eyebrows.

“M-My name is J-Joe Stoshack,” I stammered. “I'm a—”

“You're a
!” he shouted in my face, his voice booming. “How the !@#$%! did you get in here?”

“I…don't know,” I sputtered. “It was an accident.
I—I didn't mean to. I just—who are

“Captain Theodore Williams,” he replied. “United States Marines.”

I just about lost it. Of
he looked familiar to me. He looked just like the photos I had seen of him.

“You're Ted Williams?”

“Look, Junior,” he replied. “I got no time for chit-chat and autographs. I don't know how you got in here, but I have a mission to accomplish. So sit back and keep your mouth shut. I'll deal with you after we land.”

He turned back around to scan the sky in front of him. He was controlling the plane with a stick, sort of like the joysticks they have in video game arcades.

“I have a mission to accomplish too,” I told him. “I live in the twenty-first century, and I can travel through time with baseball cards. I came here to warn President Roosevelt about Pearl Harbor. I'm going to prevent the attack—”

“Pearl Harbor? Roosevelt?” Ted said, turning around to look at me again. The words exploded from his mouth. “Are you out of your !@#$%! mind? Roosevelt has been
for eight years!”

“That's impossible!” I shouted. “What year is it?”

“Give me a break, Junior,” Ted said. “It's 1953. Pearl Harbor happened 12 years ago. That war is long over. They found us a
war to fight.”

I rooted around on the floor until I found the Ted Williams card I had used to get there. I always travel to the year on the card. But looking at it closely, I
couldn't find a year printed on it anywhere.

I realized what had happened. The FBI agent must have given me a 1953 card instead of a 1941 card! I never bothered to check it. I just assumed FBI agents knew what they were doing. After all, they're the FBI!

“Is this the Vietnam War?” I asked Ted.

“Vietnam?” he shouted back at me. “What the !@#$%! are you talking about? We're in Korea, Junior. Look, I'm gonna say this just one time, so listen up good. Once we get over the target in Kyiomipo, I'm gonna be dropping a 3,000-pound load of napalm on a Commie supply center. Then we hightail it out of there. Got it? I got no time for babysitting, so keep your mouth shut and let me do my job. My opinion is not open to debate!”

“Yes, sir.”

I pushed myself forward until I was right behind the pilot's seat. Now I could see out the canopy window. It was a bright, clear day with a few clouds in the sky. On our left and right, there were lots of other American bombers flying alongside us. There could have been
of them. If all those planes were going to be dropping bombs, I wouldn't want to be on the ground looking up.

We continued for the next few minutes in tense silence, with Ted talking pilot mumbo jumbo into his radio to the other planes. I had a lot of questions to ask, but I didn't want to get him angry, so I kept quiet.

“It's time,” he finally said. “Find something to hold on to, Junior. We're going in, and this could get a little bumpy.”

I grabbed a handle on the wall next to me. He pushed the stick forward. The nose of the plane tilted down, and we went into a dive. It was a really steep angle. The engines roared. For a moment, I felt weightless as we dropped through the clouds. If I hadn't been holding on, the g-force would have pushed me against the ceiling. On the dashboard—or whatever you call it on a plane—the altimeter dipped below 2,000 feet. I felt my ears pop. I could see the ground coming up at us. Ted pushed a button, and there was a rumbling sound coming from below.

“Bomb bay doors open!” Ted shouted into the radio. “I'm north of the 38th parallel, 15 miles from Pyongyang. Bombs away!”

Ted pushed another button, and a moment later I felt the plane swoop upward. I was pressed against the floor now. He must have dropped his bombs, and that made the plane a lot lighter. I heard a sound like bullets hitting metal.

“Too low,” Ted mumbled.

“What's happening?” I shouted.

“They're shooting at us!” he barked. “What the !@#$%! do you expect? You shoot at them, and they get to shoot back. That's why they call it war.”

We were banking into a turn now as if we were making a run for it. There was a beeping sound, and I looked over Ted's shoulder to see lights
flashing on the dashboard.

“What does that mean?” I asked hesitantly.

“The wheels are down,” he replied.

“Is that bad?”

“It is if you're not about to land,” he said. “The hydraulics may be leaking. We took some flak back there.”

Ted pressed some more buttons, and the wheels came back up. He breathed a sigh of relief, but then the stick he was using to control the plane began to shake wildly in his hand.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Will you shut the !@#$%! up, Junior?” he shouted back at me. “You wanna

Ted began yelling into the radio, trying to contact the other pilots.

“Antiaircraft fire! We've been hit! Plane is wounded. Mayday! I'm hit! The radio is dead.”

Every light was flashing red, and the dashboard was blinking like a Christmas tree. I could see buttons labeled

Oh, no. I had been in some tough situations before, but not like
. I had even been shot at before but never while I was in danger of falling out of the

I knew traveling through time would catch up with me eventually. Something bad was bound to happen. It was just a matter of time. I felt tears welling up in my eyes.

“Are we going to die?” I asked quietly.

“It's a distinct possibility,” Ted said as the plane
leveled off. “I gotta abort the flight plan. We need to get over some water, fast. I'm heading for the Yellow Sea. I may have to hit the silk.”

He took off his leg straps and seat belt.

“Hit the silk? You mean eject?” I asked. “We're going to parachute out?”

gonna parachute out,” he said. You think I carry two parachutes in case unexpected company shows up? You'll be on your own, Junior. Good luck.”

“You can't leave me here to die!” I shouted, and then I let the tears come. I didn't care if he heard me cry.

“Oh, !@#$%!” Ted turned around and locked his eyes with mine. “Leave it to me, Junior. I'll find a way out of this.”

When I looked in his eyes, I didn't see panic. Just the opposite, in fact. It was like a sense of calm had come over him. Most people freak out when they're in a stressful situation. With Ted Williams, the stress seemed to focus his attention on solving the problem at hand. I may have been about to die, but for some reason I felt safe with him at the controls.

My nose and ears were stuffed up, but I could still smell something burning. Jet fuel? Were the tires on fire? Or was it something else? I tried to regain my composure. I looked out the window at the water on the left. Ted was looking out there too.

“It's frozen,” he said. “I'm not jumping outta this thing onto ice. I'd break every !@#$%! bone in my body. Not

On the right side, I saw another American bomber pulling up alongside us. He was so close, I could see the pilot making frantic hand gestures at Ted.

“What's he saying?” I asked.

“He says I'm leaking fuel,” Ted replied. “We're not gonna be able to make it back to base. We gotta land somewhere else.”

The pilot of the other plane signaled for Ted to follow him. Ted replied with an OK sign and turned in the same direction.

“Can anybody hear me?” he shouted into the radio. “I've got a wounded duck. One of my fuel lines has been hit.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, not sure I wanted to hear the answer.

The pilot was signaling for Ted to follow him.

“This is an F-9 Panther with a centrifugal-flow engine,” Ted explained. “When it gets hit, the tail usually blows off. If that happens, you'll get sucked out of there. And if the fuel pools at the bottom of the engine, you can kiss your !@#$%! good-bye, 'cause we're gonna blow up.”

“Oh, great!” I said, cursing my luck. “What are you gonna do?”

But it was obvious what he was going to do. The other pilot went into a steep climb, and Ted followed him. Clouds were shooting past the window like signs on the highway.

“He's taking me higher,” Ted said. “Fire can't burn in thin air. If we get high enough, we can glide 30 or 40 miles without the engines. Then maybe we can find a place to land.”

The altimeter said we had leveled off at 25,000 feet. Ted took off his oxygen mask and told me he was going to turn off the hydraulics and try to steer manually.

“Can you land it?” I asked.

“We're gonna find out, now aren't we?” he replied. “In case I can't, it's been nice knowing you, Junior.”

I said a silent prayer and tried to adjust my position so that I would be able to absorb the biggest possible impact when we landed. I noticed a trickle of blood coming out of Ted's right ear.

“There's blood coming out of your ear,” I told him.

“I know,” he replied. “It happens at high altitude. It's my sinuses.”

We followed the other plane for a few minutes and then the pilot turned slightly. Ted followed. We were slowly coming down. I didn't say anything.

“We crossed the border,” Ted said. “We're in South Korea now. At least nobody will be shooting at us anymore. He's leading me to another base. Looks like Suwon. K-13.”

We continued gliding down, much more slowly. It was strangely quiet without the engines roaring. I wasn't sure if Ted had turned them off or if we had leaked all our fuel. I just hoped we had been high enough to glide all the way down. Ted was pulling on the stick like he was trying to hold on to a bucking bronco.

BOOK: Ted & Me
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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