Read The Age Altertron Online

Authors: Mark Dunn

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

The Age Altertron (9 page)

BOOK: The Age Altertron
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
In which Jackie Stovall finds his voice and a worthy mission

o there it is,” said Rodney, using one of his father’s
favorite phrases.
“Yes, there it is,” said Wayne in agreement.
The two boys stood in the Professor’s laboratory surveying the damage from the
stumble and the fire. It was morning now, and Grover and Becky and Petey had
gone home to rest. “We should get back home ourselves and make breakfast for
Aunt Mildred,” said Rodney, stepping over Gizmo, who was crunching her cat food.
In the other corner of the laboratory Tesla was eating dog kibble, but keeping
a wary eye on his now-mortal feline enemy. “Let’s stop at the market and pick
up some food that Aunt Mildred can eat.”
The boys passed the Professor’s key-rack mounted on the wall next to the door
to the garage. A special key chain hanging there caught Wayne’s eye. He stopped
and pulled it down to give it a closer look. The key chain dangled from a woman’s
head sculpted in metal. The woman’s hair was flowing straight back as if she
were facing a strong wind. “Hey, look at this, Rodney! It’s just like the hood
ornament on the Professor’s car.”
“That’s because the key chain is probably made by the Nash Car Company. Put
it back, Wayne. We have to get to the store.” “Why can’t we take the Professor’s
Nash to the store? He won’t be able to use it any time soon.”
“Because it’s the Professor’s car, not your car. Put the key chain back.”
But Wayne didn’t obey his brother. Instead, he opened the door to the garage
and turned on the light. There sat the Professor’s 1946 Nash Ambassador convertible.
Even though it was ten years old, the car looked as if it had just rolled off
the car lot. It was black and sleek and outlined in glistening chrome. Like
most of the cars of its day, it was sloped and curved as if it had muscles.
The tires had white walls to them that had not even the slightest smudge of
dirt. “Isn’t she a beauty?” said Wayne. “I’ll bet the Professor has someone
come in to clean and polish her every month.” “I’m not going to let you drive
the Professor’s car, Wayne.” “But I’m sixty-six years old!”

, Wayne.”
“But Dad let me drive his Fairlane.”
“Yes. Around the parking lot at the supermarket.” “But Rodney! That’s exactly
where we’re going! To the parking lot of Toland’s Supermarket!”
“Absolutely not, Wayne.” Rodney snatched the key chain out of his brother’s
hand. “The Professor has enough to worry about without you demolishing his car.”
“Then I’m just going to sit in it.”
“Aunt Mildred is probably really hungry, Wayne. We have to get to the store.”
Rodney pushed his brother out of the way so he could close the door to the Professor’s
garage. He returned the Nash key chain back to its hook on the key rack.
“Did you see how the grillwork shined, Rodney? How do you get grillwork on a
car to shine like that? Say, Rodney, have you ever seen so much shiny front
grillwork on one car?”
“You think about cars too much, Wayne. We have a lot of other things to think
about right now.”
Wayne nodded. He reached up and longingly touched the Nash key chain. Then he
touched the two keys hanging from the chain, one of which would start the engine
of his favorite car in the world—a car he wasn’t allowed to drive, even though
he was now sixty-six-years old.

When Rodney and Wayne got to the supermarket, they noticed something strange.
There was a small crowd of people gathered outside. Most of the men and women
were either the same age that Rodney and Wayne now were, or a little older.
One of the men looked like a grown-up version of Davy Rockwell, a boy in Rodney
and Wayne’s class at school.

“Is that
, Davy?” asked Wayne.
“Yeah. Is that
, Rodney and Wayne?”
The brothers nodded. Wayne was about to comment on how

different they all looked, when Davy called out to the people around him, “Hey,
lookit, everybody! It’s Rodney and Wayne. Hey guys, how come we went from being
babies to
? What happened?”

“Yeah, what happened?” asked Sharon, a blond-haired girl in Rodney and Wayne’s
class who now had streaks of white running through her hair.

Before either of the twins could answer, a boy named Virgil, who had been the
president of the Eighth-Grade French Club and always liked to use a little French
when possible, said, “So I’ll get to be a thirteen-year-old again soon, no?
N’est pas, mon amis?” (“Is it not so, my friends?”)

Rodney didn’t want to tell everyone that it was on account of the Professor’s
accident that over fifty years had been added to everyone’s ages. So he said,
“The Professor is working on the problem. We are hopeful that things will be
back to normal in no time.”

Then Rodney turned to Davy. “What are all these people doing out here? Is the
store closed?”
“Kind of. It’s closed to anybody who needs to buy food for their really old
family members.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rodney.
Before Davy could answer, a man holding a megaphone stepped up onto a wooden
citrus crate. Everybody turned to look at him. The man looked about seventy-five
or so. He also looked like Mr. Toland, Sr., the owner of the store.
“May I have your attention please! Quiet, please!” shouted the man through his
megaphone. “For those of you who do not recognize me, I am Henry Toland, Jr.
As you can see from this door, we had a break-in last night.” Mr. Toland, Jr.
drew the attention of the crowd to the door in question with an exaggerated
nod of his head. The door was not easy to miss. Its shattered pane of glass
had been replaced by cardboard and duct tape. “We are still open for business,
and you are free to enter, but you must know that there are certain items that
are no longer in stock. You will not find them here and you will not be permitted
to hound my store clerk Miss Choate about it. She has far too much to do, since
all of my other clerks cannot make it in to work due to advanced age.”
A woman raised her hand. “Please give us that list of unavailable items if you
“Yes. I have the list right here.” Mr. Toland, Jr., pulled a small piece of
paper from his shirt pocket. He took a pair of eyeglasses out of a different
pocket and put them on. He cleared his throat. “Oatmeal, Cream-of-Wheat, and
other soft cereals.”
A collective gasp went up from the crowd.
“All Jell-O products. All gelatins of every kind. All custards and box puddings.”
“Even Tapioca?” asked a man in the back.
“Yes. Tapioca and every other kind of box pudding. Also Postum. And Malt-o-meal.
That goes under the heading of soft cereals. Let me see—oh, and all soft fruit
that can be easily gummed.”
Another gasp. A different woman raised her hand.
“Yes, Miss Edwards?”
“But that leaves nothing for my mother to eat. She is now 104 and has no teeth!”
“I am sorry Miss Edwards, but it is out of my hands.”
“When will you get in more soft foods from the warehouse?”
“There are no more soft foods in the warehouse. They have also been taken, and
no one knows when they will be replaced with a new shipment.”
Now Davy Rockwell raised his hand. “Excuse me, Mr. Toland, but what about the
other stores around town? Do you know if they have soft foods in stock—foods
that are easy on the digestion and if necessary may be gummed rather than chewed?”
“I have spoken with the managers and owners of the other food markets in town—or,
rather, I have spoken with their sons and daughters who are now running their
fathers’ stores, and I am told that each of those stores was also robbed last
night. As I understand it, there is no more soft food available for purchase
anywhere in the town of Pitcherville.”
Rodney and Wayne turned to each other and exchanged astonished looks. “What
about Aunt Mildred? What will she eat?” said Wayne in a low voice.
“And the Professor too? And everyone else who will now require a soft and mushy
The two boys shook their heads worriedly. It was a sad state of affairs for
a town without blenders.
(Pitcherville had no blenders in the year 1956. Craft Appliances had begun to
sell them right after they came out in the 1930s, but then an accident involving
an overly-curious, careless customer whose name is not important to this story—but
who could easily be identified by a deficiency in the number of fingers on his
right hand—motivated Mr. Craft to send all of his blenders back to their manufacturers
and to order no more for the sake of other customer fingers.)
Davy Rockwell raised his hand again. “Can this really be true? Can it really
be true that there is no soft food available for purchase anywhere in the town
of Pitcherville?”
“Of course not! That is ridiculous!” Davy’s question was answered by a tall
man, whom Rodney and Wayne could not quite see at that moment except for the
back of his head, which had a prominent bald spot in the middle of it. “I know
where there is plenty of food matching that description.”
“Let him through!” said a man.
“Yes, let him speak!” shouted a different man. “He knows where soft food can
be had.”
The crowd parted so that the tall man and a shorter man standing beside him
could move to the front. Mr. Toland, Jr. stepped down from his crate and offered
it to the tall man.
“Get a load of
!” said Wayne under his breath. “It’s Jackie. And
lookit! Lonnie’s right with him!”
“I’ll bet those two had something to do with all the robberies last night,”
said Rodney.
“Hello, my good friends and neighbors,” said Jackie, speaking in a loud and
overly-formal speech-giving voice. Maybe you don’t recognize me and my business
partner here. So allow us to introduce ourselves. I am Jackie Stovall—yes, your
ol’ friend Jackie Stovall. And this is Lonnie Rowe.”
“You mean the same Jackie Stovall and Lonnie Rowe who turned over my Fluffy’s
doghouse?” shouted Sharon, bristling.
“The same Jackie and Lonnie who let all the air out of my father’s tires?” yelled
“N’est pas? N’est pas?” asked Virgil.
Jackie lowered his outstretched palms to silence the murmurs of the small crowd
of people glowering in front of him. “No, no, my friends, that was the
Jackie and Lonnie. Standing before you here today are the
and Lonnie. We have turned over a brand new leaf. For we are in the midst of
a terrible crisis, ladies and gentlemen, and we must come together as one community.”
Jackie joined all of his fingers together to show how a town of people could
come together, provided that they all looked like fingers. “Someone, and we
do not know who, has stolen all of the soft food that was for sale in the town
of Pitcherville. A tragedy! An offense against nature! But I ask all of you
on this dark day: will we stand idly by and allow the oldest of our citizens
to starve? No, we most certainly will not!”
A woman started to clap her hands in support of what Jackie had just said but
was so strongly frowned upon by the people standing around her that she immediately
stopped. You see, most of the people standing around the woman had been victims
of Jackie and Lonnie’s pranks and other acts of youthful vandalism, and were
not yet convinced that the two had actually turned over a brand new leaf.
“So here is what Lonnie and I will do. Because we predicted that this thing
might happen and prepared for it—because we had— had—now, what is the word?
“Head lice?” snickered someone in the crowd.
“No,” said Jackie, glowering at the person.
“Foresight?” offered someone else.
“Yes, foresight. Because we had the foresight, Lonnie and me, to scrape together
as much money as we could to spend the last several months buying up a large
quantity of soft food—food which is now sitting safe and sound in a secret location—because
we have done this, ladies and gentlemen, we can now stand before you and reach
out a helping hand.” Jackie reached out his hand to show how easy it was to
do such a thing. “We have searched our souls, friends and neighbors, and decided
that we have no right to keep that soft food to ourselves. No sir, we do not.
So we will be rationing it out to all of those in need.”
“How much do you plan to take us for?” called out the man who had said “head
“Take you for?” Jackie seemed greatly offended by the question. He placed his
hand on his chest to emphasize how offended and hurt and generally taken aback
he was by such rudeness. “Perhaps you won’t believe me, but I don’t intend to
charge you a single penny. Why? I will tell you why. Because we will use the
barter system. I will give you, say a cup of Cream-of-Wheat, in exchange for
something that you give
Now, for example, I have made a bargain with
my very own father, the Mayor. He has no teeth. He
teeth—false teeth,
that is—but someone, regrettably, has stolen them from him.” Jackie shook his
head dolefully over how such a terrible thing could happen.
“It is also regrettable that my father is now confined to his bed and can no
longer carry out his duties as mayor. Nor is there anything in the house that
he and my poor mother can eat. It is a most difficult situation however you
look at it.
“Now, friends and neighbors, I will show all of you how this works: I will take
my poor, bedridden and toothless father a cup of Malt-o-Meal. In exchange for
this, he will make
, his son, the new mayor of the town of Pitcherville.”
There rose up another collective gasp from the crowd. One man shouted, “Outrage!”
“Who said that?” asked Jackie, craning his head to look around. “Whoever said
that will not be doing business with me. No soft cereal, no custard, not even
a squishy over-ripe plum! Now, once I have gotten myself settled into the mayor’s
office at City Hall, you may all begin to form a line outside my door. I will
open my door promptly at eight o’clock tomorrow morning to see the first people
in the line. My deputy, Mr. Rowe, will dispense the foodstuffs after we have
come to our individual agreements. I assure you all that no one will go hungry
in this town, not while I am the mayor! Good day, my good friends and neighbors
and bon—bon—what is the word?”
“Voyage?” asked a woman in the crowd.
“No, no. The other word. The food word.”
“Appetit,” offered Virgil confidently.
“Yes, bon appetit to you all.”
With that, Jackie stepped down from the speaking crate and departed, along with
his newly appointed deputy Lonnie.
A stunned silence followed, and then a soft, whispered exchange or two, and
in no time at all a big noisy, earnest and fearful buzz.
“I do not want my mother to starve in her bed!” said one woman. “I’ll give the
man anything he asks for.”
“What else
we do?” said her companion.
“He certainly has us over a barrel,” said Davy Rockwell, shaking his head despondently.
“I have to feed all of my grandparents. I have a grandfather who must now be
nearly 130 years old! He wasn’t eating solid food even before all of this happened.
I’m going over to the mayor’s office right now. I want to be first in line when
he opens his door tomorrow. Goodbye, boys. It was good to see you again.”
Davy hurried off. There were others who, probably thinking the same thing, hurried
off in the very same direction.

BOOK: The Age Altertron
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Afternoon Delight by Kayla Perrin
The Emperor's Edge by Buroker, Lindsay
Replace Me by Jennifer Foor
Strike by D. J. MacHale
Desert Stars by Joe Vasicek
Outsider by Olivia Cunning
Heaven by Ian Stewart
SandRider by Angie Sage
Bo's Café by John Lynch, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol
Satan's Story by Chris Matheson