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Authors: Mark Dunn

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Humorous Stories, #Science Fiction

The Age Altertron (6 page)

BOOK: The Age Altertron
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In which Rodney and Wayne and Becky and Grover have an encounter with two preschool
fugitives from the law

he next three days were very busy ones for Professor
Johnson and for Rodney and Wayne. Although they were not able to help the Professor
with the construction of the invention—dubbed the Age Altertron—whose job it
would be to end this latest calamity, the boys nonetheless spent as much time
as possible with their friend in his home laboratory. They even helped him to
give a name to the new calamity. It would forever be called
The Age-Changer-Deranger-Estranger.

Aunt Mildred didn’t mind rolling the twins back and forth between the two houses
in their big double stroller because it gave her more opportunities to bring
fudge and pie and all the other special foods that Mrs. Ferrell had told her
the Professor liked. Aunt Mildred would sometimes sit and watch Professor Johnson
bolt down a slice of cinnamon-rhubarb pie (so that he could quickly return to
his work) and she would let out a little wistful sigh and wonder what life would
be like if she could bake for him everyday as his wife. When it was time to
go, Professor Johnson would steal a glance at Aunt Mildred through his window
and think about what a good cook she was, and how much he liked to see the cheerful
lift in her step when she walked.

Rodney and Wayne were busy in large part because the Professor’s house and
laboratory at 1272 Old Hickory Road had become a very busy place. All day long
Mr. and Mrs. Ragsdale and Mrs. Carter and all of the other parents of the missing
children (except for Mr. Armstrong who could not be coaxed from his bathtub)
would drop by to find out if they would soon be able to hold their little ones
in their arms again.

The Professor’s students from the college, who had once been eighteen- and
nineteen- and twenty-year-olds, and who were now seven- and eight- and nine-year-olds,
came to visit with the Professor as well. Now that they had the bodies of young
children, they could no longer while away their free hours doing the goofy,
prankish things college kids generally did, like leading a milk cow up four
flights of stairs to the roof of the science building. Now that they were incapable
of doing anything more prankish than covering a very short tree with toilet
paper, they could spend more time assisting the Professor in those areas of
his work that did not require a steady adult hand.

In fact, there were so many people gathering at the Professor’s house that
he could scarcely get any work done. “I don’t care how you do it, boys!” he
had said to Rodney and Wayne on the third day of the calamity. “You simply must
figure out some way to keep everyone away from here who isn’t being helpful
to me. It’s a circus in this place and it only delays my work and hurts this

So, here is what Rodney and Wayne decided to do to help the Professor: they
set up a reception room in his front parlor. No one was allowed to go to the
back of the house to see the Professor unless he or she had a very important
and urgent reason.

“I have an idea!” said Becky, sitting with the boys and their friend Grover
on the Professor’s front porch. “Let’s make it into a real office, like we have
our own company. I’ll be the receptionist and Rodney and Wayne, you can do the
interviewing since you know better than anyone else whom the Professor would
be willing to see and whom he would not.”

“And what will
job in the office be?” asked Grover. Grover sat at
one end of the funny row of chatting babies, each with serious faces and furrowed
brows—faces usually only seen on babies with poopy pants.

“There are plenty of things you can do to help our brand new company,” said
Becky, who was convinced now that they should turn their work for the Professor
into a fully-fledged business operation.

Mrs. Ferrell was watching the four chattering toddlers from the window of the
Professor’s front parlor. She smiled. She was pleased that Rodney and Wayne
and Becky were including her son Grover in their plans. She had gotten very
worn-out lately trying to tend to her chubby baby boy who was not content to
simply sit quietly in a playpen and roll a toy car back and forth. At the same
time, Mrs. Ferrell still had to cook and keep house for the Professor. She got
so worn out that sometimes she fell asleep standing straight up, propped against
the Professor’s dusty fireplace mantle.

“I know what Grover can do!” said Wayne. “Grover can be our right-hand man.”
“What does a right-hand man do?” asked Grover.
“All kinds of odd jobs,” replied Rodney. “Let’s say, for example, that someone
comes to see the Professor and won’t take no for an answer. Well, it will be
your job to show him to the door.”
“But what if he doesn’t
to be shown to the door?”
“Then you’ll have to be forceful about it.”
“But how can I be forceful?” asked Grover. “I only learned how to walk yesterday.”
Rodney and Wayne and Becky all nodded at the same time. Slowly they had been
learning how to walk all over again. Running and riding bikes and tramping through
the woods and flying kites and playing football—all of these things were out
of the question now. For the four children who sat in a little row that day
upon the top step of Professor Johnson’s porch, being so young had become a
most cruel thing to be.
Not so, though, with the adults in the town. Being made younger worked very
much to their advantage. Down the street at just that moment, Mr. Williford
rode by on his son’s bicycle, with his arms waving above his head. And there,
directly across the street from the children was the butcher’s wife Mrs. Garrison,
taking a quick turn upon a sidewalk hopscotch court. And not too far away, the
children could see Mr. Watts happily bouncing down the street upon his daughter’s
pogo stick.
“You would think by the way they’re all acting, that they’ve all been turned
into children again!” grumbled Rodney.
“Better children than little monkeys like you!” said someone coming from the
Professor’s side yard. The foursome looked down from the porch to see Jackie
Stovall and his chum Lonnie Rowe snickering at them from the Professor’s flower
bed, where they had just trampled most of his autumn chrysanthemums.
Jackie and Lonnie, who had both been put back a grade, and were, therefore,
a year older than the four sitters on the porch, had easily crept up on legs
that functioned just as well as any older child’s. (They did, after all, have
the bodies of three-year-olds to work with.) Jackie was the taller of the two
boys, but Lonnie had a strong, stocky build, like a young gorilla.
Becky stood up and said in the very serious voice of a nononsense receptionist:
“Good afternoon, Mr. Stovall. Good afternoon, Mr. Rowe. Have you gentlemen come
to see the Professor, because he is only seeing people with the most urgent
“No, we don’t have to see the Professor, monkeys!” crowed Jackie. “We just want
to use his house for a hiding place. We’re fugitives, you see. The law thinks
we did something that we didn’t do.”
Rodney stared hard at Jackie and his fellow fugitive. He felt like a judge glaring
down at a convicted criminal from his high bench. “What crime did you
commit that someone thinks you committed?” he asked in his official interviewer’s

somebodies—just ran through the Pitcherville
City Park and overturned all the baby carriages. And there were about a dozen
of them. Maybe more.”
dozen,” said Lonnie.
“How do you know?” asked Becky with a skeptical look. “Were you there?”
“No,” snapped Jackie. “But that’s what we heard. Two wild boys—oh, maybe just
our size, went on a rampage through the park and knocked over about two dozen…”
“Maybe even
dozen,” interrupted Lonnie Rowe, smiling proudly.
“Three dozen—shut up, Lonnie—three dozen baby carriages, most of them with the
babies still inside.”
dozen,” said Lonnie.
“I told you to…” Jackie suddenly took something from one of his little-boy-dungaree
pockets that was floppy and black. He hit Lonnie over the head with it. “…to
shut up,” he concluded.
“Do they have a description of the rampagers besides the fact that they were
about your size?” queried Rodney.
“Yeah, they were wearing black bandit masks.”
“You mean like the black bandit mask you just hit Lonnie with?”
“Uh—uh—this isn’t a black bandit mask. It’s my black handkerchief. Isn’t that
right, Lonnie?”
Lonnie nodded. “Jackie likes black handkerchiefs because they hide all the dirty
crud that comes out of his nose.”
Jackie hit Lonnie on the head again.
“And for some strange reason,” guessed Rodney, “the police think it’s you two
who did all that rampaging.”
“That’s right, monkey. Because whenever anything bad happens in this town, it’s
always Lonnie and me they point the finger at. So why don’t the four of you
be good little monkeys and stop blocking the stairs so Lonnie and I can find
ourselves a good hiding place inside the Professor’s house?”
“I don’t think so,” said Wayne sternly. Then he put one arm around his brother
Rodney’s shoulder and one arm around his friend Becky’s shoulder, so that they
could together make a better barrier against the two bully-fugitives.
But Jackie would not be deterred. He tried a friendlier tack: “Come on, you
guys! I heard that the house had this great big basement, and there’s an even
bigger one beneath
one! Wouldn’t it be swell to explore them?”
Wayne softened a little. “Two basements? One on top of the other?”
“Uh huh.”
Wayne turned to his brother. “The Professor never told us he had a secret sub-basement!”

!” Becky pursed her lips. She squinted her eyes and gave Wayne
a scolding look.
“I don’t care if the Professor has basements going all the way down to China,
Jackie, you can’t come into his house,” said Rodney sharply.
Jackie fixed his lips into the beginnings of a snarl. “I bet you’ll let us hide
out in this house after I get finished slugging you with this fist, monkey.”
The smarter and louder and more self-confident of the two bullies took a menacing
step toward Rodney, his fingers already curled into a fist. Just as suddenly,
though, his fingers relaxed.
“No, no. I’m not going to use my fist. I’m going to use my head. Just like my
old man does to get what
wants. I can’t wait until I’m as old as he
is and then I can be mayor myself and all you monkeys will have to do what I
Jackie had hardly finished speaking when the squeal of a whistle pierced the
air. “Uh oh,” said Lonnie, who wasted no time in running off.
“This isn’t over, monkey,” threatened Jackie from over his shoulder as he raced
off in the same direction as Lonnie.
The foursome on the porch watched as the two partners in crime disappeared behind
a neighbor’s dwarf fruit tree, which had toilet paper all tangled up in it.
Then they watched as two police officers ran up the cobbled walk from the sidewalk.
One of them kept going in the direction that Jackie and Lonnie had gone. The
second of the two officers stopped. He was very winded and gasping for breath.
“Don’t—stop—Stillwell!” he called to his partner between gasps. “I’ll—catch—up
with—you—in a—minute!”
The officer looked up at the children on the porch. “I have asthma,” he wheezed.
“It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still with me, unfortunately.”
Rodney and Wayne knew the police officer well. Officer Wall used to work in
the Pitcherville Police Department’s Loud Noises Unit but was now detailed to
a brand new police unit that had been created to handle an outbreak of toddler
“So did they really go on a rampage and knock over all the baby carriages in
the park?” asked Wayne, with interest.
Officer Wall nodded. “It was a real war zone for a while—all these carriages
toppled over and all the babies yelling and cursing and shaking their fists.
I think this was the intent of the masked troublemakers—to stir up a bunch of
trouble, and that’s exactly what happened next. All these infants and toddlers
and preschoolers started running around having tantrums and kicking and biting
and lobbing pine cones at one another from behind their overturned strollers.
The problem is—it’s been four days now and there are a lot of you kids who used
to be teenagers who aren’t having a good time being reverted in your ages, and
it’s all getting out of hand. Then you have troublemakers like Jackie Stovall
and Lonnie Rowe who agitate. They agitate, that’s what they do.”
“You said it was like a war zone?” asked Wayne, who was trying to picture what
all the chaos and destruction must have looked like.
Officer Wall nodded glumly. “Do you know where the word ‘infantry’ comes from?”
Four heads shook “no” together.
“From ‘infants.’ Makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m not kidding you, kids. I can’t
wait for this thing to be over. I want to go back to my old job in the worse
“That’s all you’ve been doing lately—stopping fights between children?” asked
“Yes. Although I couldn’t help issuing a few loud noise citations for some of
those bawling babies. They’re little human foghorns, that’s what they are. Oh,
I’ve also been investigating a robbery over at the Gun and Knife store. Somebody
took several revolvers from a display case.
ammunition. It had to
be one of you little people, because there was no sign of forced entry. We think
it was somebody small enough to crawl through the ceiling ductwork. You wouldn’t
happen to know anything about this, now would you, kids?”
“No sir,” said Rodney respectfully. “Although I have a good idea who it
be.” Rodney darted his eyes in the direction that Jackie Stovall and Lonnie
Rowe had run, to give the officer a good hint.
“Don’t think that hasn’t crossed my mind. Jackie has been a thorn in the side
of the Pitcherville Police Department since he was old enough to start running
over people’s feet with his tricycle. I don’t know why Mayor Stovall hasn’t
done a better job of reining in his son. Now you kids be good and don’t you
go and get yourselves mixed up in any of the craziness that’s going on out there.”
“We won’t,” said Grover. “Besides, we can hardly even walk.”
Officer Wall tipped his hat and went off to find his partner. Rodney and Wayne
agreed with Becky when she said that it was turning out to be a very interesting

BOOK: The Age Altertron
11.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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