Saturday, September 15, 2018

Time Out by John Scheck L3


Time Out

 

Chapter 1: Just a Normal Kid


How many times have you thought about what superpower you would have if someone gave you a choice? Would you like to fly? Swim underwater like a fish? Would you like to be invisible? The problem is that no one is going to ask you what you want. No one asked me what I wanted before I realized that I had a superpower, at least I think it’s a superpower.

I don’t wear a cool costume like Superman or Batman. I don’t solve crimes or fight criminals, at least not yet. I don’t have a secret identity. I’m just a normal 16 year old kid. If you saw me on the street you wouldn’t think that I am different than any other teenager. The truth is that just a few weeks ago I really wasn’t any different than anyone I knew. I was just Alice White, boring and normal Alice. Sometimes I miss her.

I live with my mother and father. I have a younger brother who is 12 years old. His name is Alex and he drives me crazy. I tell him all the time that he isn’t the worst brother in the world; he’s just my worst brother. Some of my friends don’t have any siblings—no brothers or sisters. That seems kind of lonely so I suppose that my brother isn’t so terrible.

Alex is definitely a normal 12 year old kid. All he cares about are video games and sports, two things that I absolutely hate. I like to play a few different sports, but watching sports on TV is definitely not my cup of tea.

My best friend is Karla Walters. We’ve lived next door to each other all of our lives. If you walk out my front door and walk four meters straight ahead, you will run right into Karla’s front door. We have been sharing the elevator all of our lives, but Karla likes to walk up and down the stairs.

She also has a younger brother who is 9 years old and he drives her crazy, too. He is a video game addict, just like my brother. He is also a sports fanatic, just like my brother. They both have pictures of famous football players on the walls in their bedrooms. So does Karla. She loves sports, loves exercising, and loves watching football on the television with her brother and father, so we aren’t completely alike in every way.

We have gone to the same school since we started going to school. I remember that we walked to school together on our very first day when we were five. I can’t believe that we still go to the same school. It’s like a life sentence or something. We both like school a lot, but sometimes we joke that the food in the cafeteria is worse than food in prison.

My favorite subject in school is biology. At least that is my favorite class now. We are learning about the environment and pollution and global climate change and recycling and how we really need to clean up our poor planet. My biology teacher is Mr. Smith and he’s probably the smartest teacher I’ve ever had. He is a fanatic about the environment. He rides a bike to school every day because he says that bikes are the best way to get around in the city.

After school, I have piano lessons every Tuesday at five o’clock. My piano teacher is Ann Ralston. She is a beautiful woman, but I don’t know how old she is. She won’t tell me her age and she says that it isn’t polite to ask a woman this question. I wasn’t trying to be impolite. I didn’t want to be rude. I just wanted to know how old she is so I asked her. I think she’s about 30 or 40 years old. She’s really old, but as I said, she’s very beautiful. She is also completely obsessed with playing the piano and with music in general.

I go to her apartment for my lessons. She has three pianos in her living room. And you won’t believe this but she doesn’t have a television. Her living room also has a sofa, a big rug, a table, some paintings on the walls of people playing music, and a lot of plants. It’s like the Amazon jungle in there. She has a lot of cool stuff in her apartment but she doesn’t have a TV.

She also has a really fat cat called Oscar Peterson. I didn’t know who Oscar Peterson was before, but I sure know about him after four years of lessons with Miss Ralston. Oh my God (OMG), do I know about Oscar Peterson now! She never shuts up about the guy. To Miss Ralston Oscar Peterson is like a mix of Superman and Mozart.

Oscar Peterson was this really amazing jazz pianist, probably the best piano player of his day—at least according to Miss Ralston. He wrote a bunch of songs for students like me. Now I have to learn all of these exercises. Miss Ralston says that one day I will thank old Oscar Peterson—the pianist, not her fat cat—for writing all of this music for students, but right now it just seems like torture. Some of the songs are easy but some are really hard.

At home we only have one piano, an electric piano that is in my bedroom. I usually wear headphones when I practice the piano so I don’t drive everyone else in my house nuts with the noise. I’m not that bad, honestly. I practice at least one hour every day. I have a little electric kitchen timer on top of my piano that is set for 30 minutes. When I sit down to practice I turn it on and it counts down from 30 minutes. If I get up to answer the phone or get a glass of water I have to stop the clock, and when I come back I start it again. When the alarm goes off after 30 minutes I can take a break. Then I have to sit down and practice for another 30 minutes.

The kitchen timer thing was my dad’s idea. You probably think that he’s very cruel for inventing that idea, but he’s usually a pretty good dad and not cruel at all. When I told Miss Ralston about my father’s kitchen timer idea she thought it was fantastic. Now she makes all of her students use a kitchen timer when they practice at home. They must all hate my guts, but at least I don’t feel alone now because other kids are being tortured by kitchen timers all over the city.

When I first started playing, I hated every second of my practice time. I hated that little, battery-operated kitchen timer. It was the enemy, my enemy. That kitchen timer was like a big wall between me and everything else I wanted to do, like watch TV or go play with my friends. After playing for four years I don’t hate that timer like I used to. It’s weird, but sometimes when the alarm goes off I just continue to play. I sort of like playing the piano now.

At first I didn’t. At first I thought that piano practice was the worst punishment any kid had ever received. I used to dream that some natural disaster would destroy my piano. In my dreams a tornado would come and pull the piano right out of my bedroom and carry it far, far away, like Dorothy’s house in the movie The Wizard of Oz. But we don’t have tornadoes where I live. I have the worst luck when it comes to natural disasters.

Then I thought about a flood taking away my piano. We live on the 5th floor of our building so it would probably have to be the worst flood in the history of the universe, but a kid has to have a dream.

I would think about natural disasters as I sat down to practice and watched as the minutes passed on that stupid kitchen timer. 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23…it was like watching my life slowly pass away as my friends were outside playing. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time seemed to pass a lot more slowly on that kitchen timer. When the volcano erupted and destroyed my piano I wanted the kitchen timer to go with it.

And then I started to learn a few cool songs on the piano, songs that I really liked. At first I would make about a million mistakes. After a while there were fewer errors, and then one day I played a song without any mistakes. It was like a miracle. I played the same song again, but this time I made two mistakes. I thought that I was just lucky. Then I played the song again the next day with only one little mistake. Maybe this wasn’t magic or luck? Maybe I was really learning how to play the piano.

So I went from being a terrible piano player and now I’m just awful. Who knows? With a few more years of practice I could be lousy. At least now I don’t hate that little kitchen timer and I actually have fun playing this instrument. I wonder if old Oscar Peterson had the same feelings when he was a kid.

I had other problems when I was younger. I wasn’t the most popular girl in my class. I wasn’t the least popular girl, but I think that I was somewhere near the bottom of that list. There isn’t really a list of the most popular girls at my school except in my head and #1 on that list is Jennifer Atkins, no doubt about it.

Not only is Jennifer Atkins the smartest kid in my class—including boys—she’s also the prettiest. On top of that, she’s super nice. It’s impossible not to like her. She always invites me to her birthday parties even though we aren’t really good friends. Her apartment is incredible, of course. They have a TV in their kitchen. I’m not joking.

She wears the coolest clothes, she gets the best grades, and her older brother is the most beautiful boy in the world. I’m not kidding. Did I tell you that he’s the top student in our entire school? Yes, the whole school. He is also very nice, even to me. It’s very depressing to see people like Jennifer Atkins and her handsome brother.

How can I compete with a girl as perfect as Jennifer Atkins who has a gorgeous older brother when my little brother sometimes wears a Batman mask to school? It is very embarrassing, to say the least. I’m sure that Jennifer Atkins’ brother has never embarrassed her at all. I sometimes think that embarrassing me in public is my younger brother’s hobby.

One time at the beginning of this academic year in September I was waiting for my brother to get out of class after school. I have to walk home with him every day because he’s only 12. We only live three blocks from school, but my parents still make me walk with him to and from school every day. They don’t even pay me for it. I get paid for babysitting other kids but when it comes to my little brother I work for free.

So I was waiting in front of our school and, of course, my brother was the last kid to leave. I was very angry, but I didn’t say anything to him when he finally came out of the building. He’s almost always the last kid to leave the school, it’s like he can’t get enough of the place.

His last class of the day was drama and he was still wearing his costume for the school play. He was dressed as a rainbow. He wasn’t a baby. It was only a few months ago, back when he was 11 years old. So why was he wearing a stupid rainbow costume home from school?

The answer: to embarrass his older sister. Not only is embarrassing me his hobby, but he’s really good at it. He is like the Oscar Peterson of embarrassing his sister, if that makes sense. He’s a virtuoso of making me look like an idiot.

So there I was, walking home from school with a kid dressed like a rainbow. I was 15 years old back then, practically an adult. I tried to make him walk a few steps behind me, but he walked right next to me the entire way home. Just when we got to our building I saw some kids walking towards us.  Oh please, I hope I don’t know them, I said to myself.

Of course, I knew them. It was two boys from my class, Jeffrey Wilson and Tom Archer. They aren’t nice, not at all, but I have to admit that they can be really funny in class sometimes. They get in trouble for talking a lot, but sometimes even the teachers laugh at their jokes. I tried to walk faster as we approached our building. I wanted to go inside before they saw me.

Jeffrey Wilson and Tom Archer stopped right in front of my building. They know I live there because they live a block away. They saw my brother’s rainbow costume and Jeffrey started to sing that song from TheWizard of Oz (if you haven’t seen that movie I highly recommend it. I’ve seen it about a million times, mostly covered in a blanket because even now those flying monkeys scare me half to death).

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a place that I’ve heard of, once in a lullaby.”

Jeffrey actually has a really good singing voice, although I’d never say that to his face. I just wanted to run inside and close the door behind me. But it was too late.

“Very colorful, Alex,” Tom said.

“Very colorful,” Jeffrey repeated.

“Your rainbow is missing a color, Alex,” Jeffrey said. “Your rainbow is missing the most boring color in the world.”

I pulled on his arm to go inside but Alex stopped.

“What color?” Alex asked

“The most boring color in the world is Alice White,” Tom said.

I guess it was a little funny but that doesn’t mean that my brother had to laugh at the joke.

I tried but couldn’t think of anything to say. I just said “Very funny” and pulled my little brother through the front door of our building.

In the elevator, on the way up to our apartment, I thought of a couple of things I should have said to Tom Archer, but it was too late. I couldn’t think of anything good to say when it happened. I wish that I could have frozen that moment in time so that I could have thought of something funny to say.

“Did you know that your name means ‘vomit green’ in Chinese?” I could have said to Tom Archer, if I had time to think of it. I’m not very good at thinking under pressure. I know that I shouldn’t let things like that bother me. I think that I was annoyed that my little brother had caused the problem and then he laughed at Tom Archer’s dumb joke.

I went into my bedroom and put my pack down on my desk. My bedroom is nothing special. I have a desk, a bed (of course), my piano, a bookshelf filled with my books, a dresser for my clothes, and I have a closet for the rest of my clothes and stuff. I have a photograph on the wall above my piano. Guess who it is? That’s correct, Oscar Peterson.

I went into the kitchen to get something to eat. As I opened the door of the fridge I thought of another thing I could have said.

“That’s a good joke, Tom…for 12 year old kids like my brother.”

I can’t believe that I was still upset over Tom Archer’s bad joke. After I drank some water and ate an apple I put the glass in the sink and threw away the apple core. I went back to my room and tried to think of something else.

Playing the piano always clears my mind so I sat down to practice. I pressed the button on the kitchen timer to begin my 30 minute practice session but nothing happened. I pressed it again and still it didn’t start. I changed the battery in the timer and it still didn’t work.

It was a little ironic that I used to hate that kitchen timer and now that it stopped working I felt like I had lost a good friend. I started practicing. I would tell my dad to get me another kitchen timer since it was his great idea in the first place.



Chapter 2: The Old Curiosity Shop


That evening at dinner I told my father that my timer was broken and that I needed another one. He said he could go on Saturday to find a new kitchen timer. My mother was always too busy during the week to do things like go shopping. I suppose that waiting a few days for a new kitchen timer wasn’t going to ruin my music career. Then I remembered something.

There is a second hand store between my house and my school that sells all kinds of used stuff, from furniture to old bikes to clothing. I go in there sometimes with Karla to look at vintage clothes. I bought an old Beatles t-shirt there that I think is pretty cool. I also buy used books there if I see anything that I like. Everything is very cheap. You can buy ten books at The Old Curiosity Shop for the price of one new book. The most expensive thing in the store is an old grandfather clock that has been there forever.

The last time I went there with Karla they had an old timer that people use to play chess. I thought that I could probably use it to time my piano practice. It is the kind of old clock that you have to wind up with a key so it would never need a battery. I can’t remember how much it cost, but I told my dad about it. He told me that he would pay for it as long as it wasn’t too expensive. I think he was just happy that his kitchen timer idea was such a worldwide success. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I used to hate that thing.

The next day after school I went to The Old Curiosity Shop with Karla and Alex—he wasn’t wearing a costume, thank goodness. The door to the shop has a bell on it that rings when you walk in which sounds really cool. I never thought about it before, but every time that I go into that store I can feel a really cold wind blowing from inside, even in the summer. I felt the same cold wind when I went there to buy the old clock.

The old guy who works there is always in the back room doing something. When he hears the bell he comes out to say hello, so the bell is like his alarm. Or alarm clock. Maybe he’s always sleeping in the back. He’s very friendly for an old person. Sometimes old people are grumpy, they complain about everything, but the man in the shop never complains.

I knew right where to go. It was in the section with paintings, and lamps, and old plates and tea cups. I was happy to see that the chess clock was still there. I played with it for a while to make sure that it still worked. It looked like it was about 100 years old, at least. I asked the man how much it cost. He told me the price in almost a whisper. He never talked very loud.
It was even cheaper than the digital kitchen timer I had before. Dad would be happy about that. I gave the old guy the money and he thanked me. He was always polite, even with kids. Sometimes adults are polite to each other but they are rude to kids. When I closed the door of the shop on the way out, I felt that cold wind again. You actually could hear the wind blowing. It was a little weird but I didn’t think about it.

The old clock looked good on top of my piano, a lot better than the old kitchen timer. I sat down to practice and when I pushed the button on top of the clock to start the timer a strange thing happened. I felt a cold wind blowing, just like when I opened the door of The Old Curiosity Shop. I played for about 20 minutes and wanted to get something to eat so I pressed the button on top of the clock to stop the timer. Once again, I felt a cold wind. Definitely weird.

I ate a sandwich and sat down again at my piano. I started the clock again. Another cold wind. My window was open so I didn’t think about it too much. I only had about three minutes before I finished my first 30 minute session, but I wanted to get a glass of water. I moved my hand to stop the clock, but before I even touched the clock it stopped on its own. I swear that I’m not making this up. I’m not good at inventing stories.

I just thought that because the clock was so old that it probably didn’t work all the time. After I drank a glass of water I sat down again to play. I reached over to press the button and this time the clock started before I touched it. I’m serious. I finished my 30 minute session. I had some homework to do so I decided to do that now instead of practicing more.

I thought that my biology homework was going to take a long time, but I was finished in less than 20 minutes. Once again I sat down to play my piano. This time I didn’t even move and the clock started again. I just thought about pressing the button on top. I played for about 15 minutes when I started to feel like I needed a break.

You probably think that I’m super lazy because I wanted to take a break after only playing for 15 minutes but let me tell you something. 15 minutes of practice is a long time. Many of the songs that I play take less than a minute so I can play 13 to 15 songs in 15 minutes. Anyway, I needed a break. Once again, I didn’t even move and the clock stopped. Weird.

What was even stranger was that everything became completely silent. I couldn’t hear a thing. Usually, I can hear traffic from the street below from my window, but I didn’t hear anything at all. I thought this was strange. Maybe there was a big traffic jam on the street and the cars weren’t moving, but usually when that happens driver honk their stupid horns.

I walked over to my window and looked down at the street below. Just as I thought, none of the cars were moving. Then I saw that the people on the sidewalks weren’t moving, either. Everyone was just standing there, like they were frozen. There was a man walking a little dog and even the dog was standing completely still, it wasn’t moving. Then I felt that cold wind again. As I looked down on this very strange scene I remembered something. I ran as fast as I could to the kitchen.

I had put a glass of orange juice in the freeze before I sat down at my piano. I like really, really cold orange juice, but if I forget the glass freezes. I opened the freezer door and took out the glass of orange juice. Oh yeah, perfect, just how I like it. I drank the juice and then decided to finish my second 30 minute session on the piano. I had a piano recital coming up soon so I needed to practice as much as possible.

I finished my second 30 minute session and immediately started another one. After about 10 minutes I thought that I would call Karla. Once again, the clock stopped before I touched it. Once again, I felt that cold wind. As I walked down the hall to the kitchen I looked into my brother’s room. As usual, Alex was lying on his bed looking at the TV with his video game thing in his hands.

He didn’t even notice as I stood in the doorway watching him. Then I saw something weird, another weird thing. He wasn’t moving. OK, he never moves when he plays video games, but he wasn’t moving his fingers on the video game thing in his hands.

“Alex?” I said.

He didn’t move.

“Alex!” I shouted.

Nothing. Now this was really getting strange. He was just lying there like he was frozen.

Once again, I noticed that it was completely quiet. I looked down at the street from the window in the hallway. Everything and everyone was stopped, just like the little chess clock on my piano.



Chapter 3: What Is Going On?


I had already put two and two together and came up with the thought that somehow this was all related to that little antique clock I bought in The Old Curiosity Shop. I went back and sat down again in front of my piano. When I started to play I could immediately hear the traffic from the street below, like a loud animal waking up after a nap.

I kept playing for ten minutes and the alarm on the clock sounded. I had finished my third 30 minute practice session, but I wasn’t too interested in my piano or the recital coming up in two weeks. All I could think about was this strange thing that happened when I stopped the clock, or just thought about stopping the clock. I was completely terrified, if you want to know the truth.

My parents both came home and found me sitting at my piano.

“Did you have a good practice session today?” my mom asked.

“I think so,” I stammered, barely able to open my mouth to talk.

“Your new clock is really cool,” my dad said. “This one is vintage, not like the old plastic thing.”

They left me without noticing that I looked like I was frozen this time. I just couldn’t understand what had happened, and forget about the “why” part. There was no possible way that I was going to tell my parents about what happened. They would think that I was completely crazy. I began to think that maybe I was crazy.

I had a lot of other stuff to do, like help my mom and dad cook dinner. My parents are really good cooks and they have taught Alex and me to cook. As my dad always says, you have to eat every day so you better know how to cook.

Tonight we were going to make paella which is my favorite dish in the world. To make paella you need the right pan, which in this case is called a paella. It’s a big, round frying pan. Here is how you make paella.

First you heat up the pan and put in some olive oil. Next you fry pieces of chicken and rabbit in the pan until they are brown. Next, you add green beans and butter beans and cook them a little. After this you put in tomato purée and spices. Then you put in water and cook this for 30 minutes. At the end you add rice and cook it for about 15 minutes.

The paella was so good that night that I completely forgot about my adventure with the clock that afternoon. We had to eat really early because my mother had to do a bunch of stuff for her job so she disappeared into the office she has at home. She is a businesswoman and I don’t really know exactly what she does.

I was tired, exhausted if you really want to know, so I went to my room to read on my bed. I read for about 25 seconds before I went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up really early. I got dressed and had something to eat in the kitchen. Everyone else was still asleep. I went back to my room and sat down at the piano. I put on my headphones and started the clock. I played scales for a few minutes which are really boring, but my teacher says that I need to play them every day. Then I played some exercises that help you to play faster. These can be fun sometimes and I don’t hate them as much as scales.

I had almost played for 30 minutes when forgot I needed to brush my teeth. Once again, before I could hit the button on top of the clock, it stopped. It was early in the morning, but there is always traffic in the street below, but just like yesterday everything was suddenly and completely quiet. Total silence.

I walked down the hallway. The bathroom door was open and my dad was standing in front of the mirror in his pajamas shaving with an electric shaver…but he wasn’t moving. I ran into the kitchen and saw my mom at the table reading the newspaper and she was also frozen in time. I was panicking at this point.

I ran back to my room and reached for the clock to start it again. It started before I touched it and the air was filled with the noise from the street below. A car honked and I’ve never been so happy to hear a horn go off in my life. I ran back down the hall and there was my dad again, except now I could hear his electric razor humming and he waved to me. In the kitchen my mom was doing the Sudoku puzzle with a red pen.

“Good morning, Bird,” she said.

“Morning, mom,” I said, still a little freaked out from the experience.

Bird is my nickname, or it was my nickname until I was about 13 and I told everyone to start calling me Alice. My parents still call me Bird. That doesn’t bother me because they only do it at home. Why do they call me Bird? That’s a story for another day because I had bigger problems than funny nicknames.

I walk to school with my brother, Karla, and her brother. We meet in front of the elevator at exactly 08:30 on school days. Karla makes us walk down the five flights of stairs to the street. She says it’s good exercise. I usually hate walking up and down the stairs, but on this day I was too nervous to be stuck ¡n an elevator. I wanted to tell Karla everything right away. I thought it would be a better idea to wait until we were outside so the two little kids with us couldn’t hear.

The second we were on the sidewalk and away from our brothers I told Karla exactly what had happened to me. She didn’t look surprised at all.

“It’s probably demonic possession. It’s the devil,” she said.

I forgot to tell you that Karla watches too many horror movies. She thinks that everything is caused by the devil or monsters or aliens.

“Would you shut up and be serious for a moment,” I said.

“I am serious. Haven’t you seen Corpse Race V? The exact same thing happened to Jeremy. He had a machine that he built that could…”

I screamed at Karla to stop.

“I haven’t seen that movie. This is my life, not one of your low budget horror movies. I’m telling the truth.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t believe you. I just said that I saw the same thing in a movie,” Karla said. “Can you do it now?”

“Do what?” I really didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Can you stop time, like you said you did yesterday?” Karla asked. “Try to do it right now.”

“I don’t have the clock.”

“You said you didn’t even touch it yesterday and you stopped time.”

She had a good point. I stopped walking and tried to think about stopping time. Nothing.

“Nope,” I said.

“So maybe you need the clock. Or you need to be near it. How close were you to the clock when it happened?”

“I was sitting at my piano. I was very close to it, less than one meter away from it.”

After school Karla came to my house to see the clock.

“OK, so I turn start the clock when I begin a practice session. If I want to take a break I hit the button on top and the clock stops counting down from 30 minutes. Karla sat down at my piano and hit the clock to begin.

“Like that?” she asked.

“Yes. Now you hit it again to make it stop counting down.”

Karla hit the button on top again, but nothing happened. She was very disappointed that nothing happened. Then she looked at me and shook her head.

“It doesn’t work.”

I pushed her aside and started the clock over again at 30 minutes. I played a couple of songs on the piano.

“You’re getting a lot better,” Karla said.

She almost never compliments me on anything so I felt good about it, like she wasn’t just saying it without meaning it. I finished one more song.

“Ok, now if I want to stop for a while I hit the button on top like this…”

But even before I hit the button everything became silent, just like before. Karla was sitting there beside me on the piano bench. She was frozen. I was really afraid so I hit the button again.

“I think that you are probably just imagining things,” Karla said.

“What are you talking about? I just stopped time. You were sitting there just now like a statue.”

I could tell that she didn’t believe me. I hut the hit the button again and everything stopped again. Karla was wearing braids in her hair so I took out her braids and combed her hair back and put it into a ponytail. Then I started the clock again.

“Do you believe me now?” I asked.

“I believe that you may need a psychiatrist,” she answered.

When the time was stopped I also got a small mirror from my desk. I gave the mirror to Karla. She looked at herself in the mirror.

“What in the… How did you do that? I had my hair in braids.”

I hit the button and stopped the clock again. This time I put her hair in a bun, and then started the clock again. Karla still had the mirror in her hand from the last time.

“Do you like this more?” I asked

She looked into the mirror again and she screamed a little in surprise. I think that she was beginning to believe me.

“Ok, maybe there is something to this. FYI (for your information), don’t ever put my hair in a bun. I hate that.”

We did several experiments with the clock. Karla asked me a really difficult math question. I stopped the clock and took the calculator from my desk and found the answer. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and put the paper in the pocket of her jeans. When I started the clock again I told her to look in her pocket.

She pulled out the piece of paper and read the answer.

“How do I know this is the correct answer?”

“It’s the correct answer,” I said and handed her the calculator.

When she saw that the answer was correct she laughed out loud.

“You have a superpower!” she screamed.

“It’s not a superpower,” I said.

“”It sure is, and you are going to be the top student in the school. Don’t you see? When we have an exam you can stop time and find all the answers. You’ll be smarter than Jennifer Atkins.”

“I’ll never be smarter than Jennifer Atkins, and I’m not going to use this to cheat on tests. I’ve never cheated before. Why would I begin now?”

Karla made a face like she understood what I was saying. Then I could see her thinking.

“There has to be some way you can use this power to do something really cool.”

It was Tuesday and I had to go to Miss Ralston’s house for my piano lesson. I told Karla that we shouldn’t talk about this to anyone else.

“Of course not. This is definitely our big secret. Now we just have to think of a way for this to make us rich and famous.”

Karla was always thinking of ways to be rich and famous.



Chapter 4: Fun with Superpowers


For the next couple of days Karla came over to my house after school and we experimented with the clock and stopping time. We discovered that I didn’t have to touch the clock to start and stop it; all I had to do was to think about starting or stopping it.

I could do this from a distance, too. I went to Karla’s bedroom on the other side of the building and I could still stop time with the clock in my room just by thinking it. Then we tried doing it from outside, down in the street, but this time it didn’t work. I had to be less than about 50 meters from the clock.

Then we tried moving the clock. We took it outside and went down to the park two blocks from our building. It worked there, too.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Karla asked with a big smile on her face.

“Are you thinking that you hope you have pizza for dinner tonight?” I asked.

Karla got that very disappointed in me look on her face.

“No, stupid. I’m thinking that we should bring the clock to school and have some fun.”

It sounded like a bad idea to me, but Karla convinced me that it would be a lot of fun. The next day I put the clock in my pack and took it to school.

My first class that day was Physical Education or P.E., two letters that I have hated ever since I started going to school. I told you that I don’t really like sports and I hate doing competitive sports more than anything in the world. Today in P.E. we were playing football. I hate football.

I put my pack with the clock inside on the bench on the football field. It was very near.

We started the football match. Every time I touched the ball I stopped time. When everyone froze I would take the ball and throw it into the goal. I did this a lot during the match.

When P.E. class was finished Karla sat next to me as we changed our clothes.

“Wow, that was pretty cool, but I think that you went a little overboard. You scored too many goals.”

“Are 37 goals a lot for one person to score in a football match?” I asked.

I really didn’t know. As I said, I hate the game.

“Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprised if you got a phone call from the trainer at Real Madrid,” Karla laughed. “I think that in the future just one or two goals will be enough.”

I wasn’t afraid of stopping time now. It was fun. Then I started to learn the limits of my “superpower.”

We had spaghetti lunch in the school cafeteria that day which is my favorite pasta. I ate a lot. After lunch I have history class with Mrs. Hubert. I really like her class, but it’s right after lunch and eating makes me want to take a nap, especially a big plate of spaghetti.

I started to get sleepy as soon as the class began. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I would have paid 100€ just to take a shirt nap, if I had 100€. Then I had an idea.

I could stop time and then take a little nap and nobody would know because they would all be frozen. I was really starting to like this new superpower. I stopped time and everyone frozen. Then I put my head down on my desk and fell asleep immediately.

When I woke up everyone in the class was laughing, they were laughing at me. I slowly picked my head up off my desk. I had a gob of spit on the side of my mouth. I wiped it off with the sleeve of my shirt. Mrs. Hubert was staring at me.

“Are you with us now, Alice?” she asked.

I was still half asleep but I answered slowly.

“Yes, Mrs. Hubert. I’m so sorry…spaghetti for lunch, so tired, nap, sleep,” I wasn’t making much sense and everyone was really laughing at me now.

I looked up at the clock. It was exactly 13:09. Class began at 13:00 and I remember that I was awake for at least a few minutes at the beginning of class before I stopped time. This must mean that I can stop time, but only for a few minutes and then it starts again, with or without me or the clock. This was a good thing to know. I just wish that I could have discovered this secret of the magic clock without totally embarrassing myself in front of the whole class.

I did some experimenting with this later when I got home. The problem was that when I stopped time all of the clocks stop, too. I couldn’t use another clock to count how long I was stopping time so I just said to myself, “one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand” to count the seconds. After about three minutes, time would start by itself.

So there were limits to this superpower. I couldn’t stop time and sleep an extra hour or two in the morning. That would have been a really good superpower; I think most kids would agree. I could score a lot of goals in a football match, but I didn’t even like sports. What could I do with this superpower?



Chapter 5: What Can I Do with My Superpower?


Karla and I were busy with exams at school for the next five days so we didn’t talk much. I almost forgot about my superpower. The truth was that I didn’t really think that it was a superpower, but I didn’t know what else to call it. I practiced my piano every day, but I did it without the clock. I thought that maybe I should just throw the clock in the garbage and forget about all of it.

Finally it was Saturday and there were no more exams. Karla called and said that she had to take her dog for a walk. She asked if I wanted to hang out at the park with her. I said that I would. Then she told me to bring the clock.

I didn’t want to have anything to do with the clock, but at 11:00 I put it in my pack and walked out the front door. I didn’t even have to knock on Karla’s door because she was leaving, too. She had her dog with her; a Jack Russell Terrier named Bud.
“Do you have it?” Karla asked.

“Good morning to you, too,” I said sarcastically.

“Do you have the clock?” Karla didn’t like sarcasm.

“Yes, it’s in my pack.”

The park is only two blocks from where we live. It’s the best place in the whole city. Bud loves going to the park more than anything in the world. Me, too.

Karla had a toy for Bud. It was a plastic hamburger that she would throw and Bud would chase it and bring it back to her.

“Do you think that Bud is stupid enough to believe that is a real hamburger?” I asked looking at the old dog toy.

“Maybe. He just likes to chase things and bring them back to me. If I could throw a fridge, he would chase it and try to bring it back to me.”

Karla threw the plastic hamburger three or four times, and each time Bud would chase it and bring it back. Then Karla turned to me.

“Now take out your clock.”

I took it out of my pack.

“This time, when I throw the hamburger and Bud runs after it, I want you to stop time and bring back the hamburger. It will be real funny. I thought that it was a stupid idea, but I did it.

Bud ran after the hamburger and was about three meters from it when I stopped time. Then I walked over, picked up the plastic toy, walked back, gave it to Karla, and then I started time again.

It was pretty funny. Bud ran past where the hamburger was, and then he ran around in circles looking to it. He normally has a lot of energy and runs around and jumps all the time. Now he was going crazy trying to find the hamburger until he saw that Karla had it in her hand. Karla threw the hamburger again.

“Do it again,” she told me.

Now I was beginning to feel like a dog chasing a toy, but I stopped time again and did the same thing as before. When time started again, Bud actually fell down when he ran to where the hamburger was supposed to be. I have to admit, I was laughing a lot, but Bud always makes me laugh.

Karla wanted me to do it again but I told her I wouldn’t.

“For whatever reason I have this ability, I’m almost sure that it isn’t to tease dogs.”

“I’m not trying to tease Bud; I’m just trying to think what we can do with this superpower,” Karla said. “You said you don’t want to use it to cheat on exams, so what do we do with it?”

I was thinking the same exact thing. I didn’t want to be rich and famous like Karla, but I thought that there must be something useful that I could do by stopping time.

What would you do if you could stop time?



Chapter 6: Payback Is Just Another Word for Revenge, Retaliation, and Getting Even.


The next week in my debate class everyone had to choose a topic and then defend it against all of the other kids in the class. I am a little shy so it’s difficult for me to stand in front of the whole class and talk. I get really nervous sometimes and I forget everything that I want to say. For my topic I picked “How Bikes Help the Environment” and Karla chose “All People Should Be Vegetarians.” Oh, I forgot to tell you that Karla is a vegetarian, or at least she has been for three weeks.

Each student had to stand in front of the class and give a two minute exposition of their argument. That would be the easy part because you can read it off a piece of paper. The next part was where it got tricky and difficult. After you gave your exposition the rest of the class could attack what you said or ask you questions. You had to defend your topic against 29 other kids, some of who just wanted to make you look stupid in front of everyone.

Tom Archer always liked to make everyone laugh at the kid in the front. As I said, he is very funny sometimes, but he is also a bully sometimes. I don’t think that he means to be a bully; he just likes to make everyone laugh and sometimes he makes fun of other kids to make everyone in the class laugh. I was afraid that he was going to make everyone laugh at me.

I have known Tom since my first day of school. We used to be friends for many years. We sat together in lots of classes and we used to walk home from school together. He used to be very nice. For the last couple of years we haven’t really even talked. He seems more interested in making fun of people. I guess that you could call him the class clown.

Once, when I was 14 years old Tom said something mean to me. He had never said anything cruel or unkind to me ever before. He was always nice to me before. I don’t remember what he said to, but it wasn’t nice. It made me cry. When I told my mother about it she told me not to worry. She said that sometimes boys said mean things because they like you. If that is true then boys are really stupid.

We went in alphabetical order so Tom Archer was the first to go in our class. I would be almost the last to go, right before Jeffrey Wilson, Adam Young, and Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Of course, Tom picked a funny topic. His argument was “Should the School Cafeteria Serve Champagne?” I have to admit, I laughed a lot. Even Mrs. Parker, our teacher, was laughing. Tom really is a funny guy. I didn’t have any questions for him at the end of his exposition because I didn’t want him to make fun of me. Kids in the class actually clapped when Tom Archer finished his presentation.

Next in alphabetical order came Jennifer Atkins. Jennifer didn’t look nervous at all and she probably wasn’t. Her topic was pretty interesting. The question she asked was something I think about a lot. Which is more important: talent or working hard? Of course, Jennifer Atkins has a lot of talent and she works harder than anyone I know, so I think that she’s an expert on both things: diligence and natural ability. She is hard-working, industrious, assiduous, persistent, laborious, relentless, indefatigable, tireless, and a lot of other good things. Her presentation was excellent.

When the class had to ask her questions she didn’t look nervous. Tom Archer raised his hand to ask a question. Jennifer called on Tom and everyone in the class waited for him to say something funny and stupid.

“You talk about talent and hard work, but what about good luck?” Tom asked. “I have very good luck.”

“Good luck—if you believe in it and I don’t—is like talent. You have no control over it. You can choose to work hard; you can’t choose to have talent…or to have good luck. So good luck with your good luck. I’ll just work hard.”

I was the only person in the class who clapped when Jennifer Atkins finished. I decided that I wasn’t jealous of her because she is beautiful, smart, and works hard. I wanted to be like her. She would be my new role model, my example, my ideal.

And then it was my turn.

I needed to think like Jennifer Atkins. She wasn’t nervous. I was scared to death. I was frightened out of my skin. I was terrified.

I walked up to the front of the class. I had my pack with me with the clock inside. I put my pack behind the podium and began my presentation.

“Save the world, ride a bike!”

I was nervous but I don’t think that I sounded nervous.

“It’s very easy: ride a bike and you can save the world, and you can save yourself. Riding a bicycle is the solutions to more problems than you can imagine. Problems like parking, traffic, pollution, noise, and wasting natural resources can be solved by riding a bike instead of driving a car.”

I showed the class a photo of a bike rack that was the shape of a car, but instead of one car parked on the street there were ten bikes in the same place.
“Cars are dangerous, bikes are safe. Cars create pollution, bikes are clean. Cars are bad for our health; bikes are good for our well being, both mental and physical. Cycling improves your health. Every time you ride a bike you help your body.”

I held up two photos. One photo was of a lot of cars in a traffic jam. The other was a photo of people riding bikes through a park.

“Where would you like to be? In the traffic jam or in the park on a bike? Perhaps the worst thing about cars is when you aren’t driving them. Parked cars take up a lot of space in the city.”

I showed the class a picture of a street with cars parked on both sides.

“Cars spend 95% of their time parked. This uses a lot of space in the city. Imagine this street if there were no parked cars. There would be more room for sidewalks and trees and places for people to sit. Where would you rather live? So ride a bike and save the planet. Thank you.”

That wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t super nervous. Now I had to answer questions from the class. This made me nervous. Of course, Tom Archer raised his hand.

“Yes, Tom,” I said.

“What if I really want to get somewhere in a hurry? Bikes are too slow and cars are fast,” Tom said.

That’s when I stopped time. I needed a minute or two to think of a good answer. I also needed time to calm down. I was getting really nervous. I took a couple of deep breaths and then I thought of something.

“Don’t worry, Tom. When they take the training wheels off your bike you can go faster.”

The whole class laughed. Tom just sat down at his desk and didn’t say anything else.

When I finished some people clapped for me. I was so happy about that. I was also happy that I was finished.

After class Jennifer Atkins walked up to my desk as I was putting my books in my pack.

“I really like your presentation,” she said. “I want to go ride my bike right now.”

Now I was really pleased.

“Thanks, Jennifer. I thought your presentation was amazing. I want to work a lot harder now. I want to be more like you.”

I didn’t stop time, but I thought for a moment about what I said next.

“I used to be intimidated by you because, well, because you seem so perfect. Now I’m not intimidated by you. I’m inspired by you.”

I have never seen this happen before, but Jennifer Atkins turned red. She was embarrassed…but in a happy way. Not how you are embarrassed when your little brother does something stupid while you walk with him to school.

“Thank you, Alice. That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

And then she walked away.

I just said the nicest thing anyone has ever said to Jennifer Atkins. I was very content.

I walked out of the classroom and Tom Archer was standing in front of the door.

“Hey Alice. I just want to tell you that what you said was really funny. It made me laugh.”

Wow! This was getting to be the best day ever. I was a little worried that I made Tom feel bad. I didn’t see that he laughed at my joke.

“Thanks, Tom. You always make me laugh, even sometimes when you are making fun of me,” I said.

“I make fun of you? I’m sorry. I just like to make jokes.”

“That’s OK,” I said.

I don’t know why I did it, but I stopped time right there. I took out a note book and wrote a short message. I took the page out of my notebook, folded it, and then put it in the back pocket of Tom Archer’s jeans. Then time started again.

“I’ll see you later, Tom,” I said.

“See you later, Alice,” Tom said.

That was the first time he has called me by my first name in a long time. I don’t know when Tom would find the note I put in his pocket, but I’m sure it would be a big surprise for him. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Tom,
The next time you want to get my attention, you don’t need to make a joke. Just say “Hello, Alice.”
Your Friend, Alice White

I went to my next class and I had a couple of minutes before it started. I took another sheet of paper and wrote another message. This message was for Jennifer Atkins, but I wouldn’t stop time and hide it in her pocket. I was going to give this to her in person. Here is what I wrote to Jennifer Atkins:

Dear Jennifer,
For so long I thought that I was competing with you. Now I understand that we are not competing, it’s like we are on the same team. I liked your presentation today, but I really loved your confidence and strength. Today, for the first time, I saw what it means to be a woman. I want to be like that, like you. Thanks.
Your Friend, Alice



Chapter 7: The Adventures of Time Out Girl


This superpower I had didn’t seem very super. I wasn’t going to do anything that was illegal, like walk into a bank, stop time, and take a lot of money. I didn’t even want to use it to cheat on an exam at school. I have never cheated on a test in my life, not because I’m afraid that I will get caught, but because I think that it is wrong.

I couldn’t use it to sleep an extra hour or two in the morning, and it definitely wouldn’t help me to take a nap in class as I discovered. I couldn’t use it to conquer my enemies. As it turned out I really didn’t have any enemies, just a boy who was too shy to be nice to me.

I didn’t want to score 30 goals in a football game in P.E. class. I don’t care if I never score another goal for the rest of my life. Do people with other kinds of superpowers have the same problem? What if you were invisible? Would that be cool or would it be difficult? Before I thought that being invisible would be great, but now I think it would be terrible.

Stopping time couldn’t help me, even for little things. On Monday I was walking to school and I was going to be late. I thought that I could stop time and then I would get to school on time, I wouldn’t be late. Then I remembered that I had my little brother with me. I would have to carry him. He’s my little brother, but he isn’t very little. I couldn’t leave him frozen as I walked to school. It was very frustrating.

“You could stop time to cut in line, like in the cafeteria at lunch,” Karla suggested.

We were walking home from school one day trying to think of what I could do with my superpower. Our two brothers were walking far in front of us and couldn’t hear what we were saying.

“Taking cuts in line is the same as stealing,” I said. “It’s not fair for the people who got there before me.”

“What about making people we don’t like look stupid? You could stop time, then you tie someone’s shoe laces together, and when time started they would fall right on their face. That would be so funny.”

Karla was not always an angel.

“Or how about this. The snobbiest girl in the school is wearing really cute sandals one day. You stop time, take off her sandals, and put on a pair of knee-high gym socks. ”

It was difficult for me not to laugh.

“You are a really bad person, Karla. You’re a monster,” I said trying to sound serious, and then I laughed.

We were crossing the street when a car ran right through the zebra crossing in front of us.

“You idiot!” Karla screamed as loud as she could, but the car was going really fast. “I hate drivers who don’t respect pedestrians.”

“Me, too,” I said. “That is very dangerous.”

I had an idea, and I told Karla about it.

“That would be so cool. Let’s do it right now!” she said.

We went home and put our books and stuff away in our bedrooms. I found my father’s tool box and put about 20 nails in a small bag. Then Karla and I went downstairs to the street. We walked a couple of blocks away because I didn’t want to do this near my house, just in case.

We waited for the light to turn red for cars, and green for pedestrians. A car drove through the red light right in front of two older people walking in the zebra crossing. I stopped time, then I walked over to the car and put a nail in the front tire.
nail in tire.jpg
When I started time again, the car immediately got a flat tire. The driver was really angry. Karla and I both laughed at him.

“He was breaking the law,” Karla said. “Now do you feel like a superhero?”

I have to admit that I felt good. The driver had to stop and change his tire. We walked over to where he was working. I stopped time again. This time I wrote a note to him on a piece of paper and put it on the seat of his car so he would see it when he started driving again.

Dear Bad Driver,
You went through a zebra crossing on a red light. That is illegal, it’s against the law. That is why you have a flat tire.

Sincerely, Time Out Girl

Time Out Girl wasn’t a very good name for a superhero, but that’s all I could think of at the moment.

“Should we do it again?” I asked.

“Definitely,” Karla answered.

It’s surprising how many people drive through red lights into zebra crossings. We went to three different crossings and put nails in five more tires. I left the same note for every driver. I wanted to teach them a lesson.

When we were walking back to our building we saw a man throw his newspaper on the sidewalk.

“I hate people who litter,” Karla said. “There is a trash can two meters away.”

A few minutes later we saw a young boy throw a plastic water bottle on the sidewalk.

“Don’t be a litterbug,” I said to the boy.

He was about our age, more or less. He looked at us and laughed, and then he continued walking. This made me angry. I stopped time. Then I picked up the plastic water bottle and put it down the back of the kid’s shirt. When I started time again Karla and I turned and walked in the opposite direction.

“Look what I did to that kid,” I said to Karla.

Karla turned around and she could see the kid trying to get the bottle out of his shirt. Finally, he got the bottle out of his shirt and he threw it on the sidewalk again. Now I was really angry.
litterbug.jpg
When he walked a few meters down the street, I stopped time and put the bottle in his shirt again. When time started again he took the bottle out of his shirt and put it into a garbage can.

“I have a great idea,” Karla said.

That night we made a lot of little stickers that said “Don’t Be a Litterbug!” The next day we walked around and every time we saw someone littering, we picked up the trash they threw on the sidewalk, taped it to their shirt, and put a “Don’t Be a Litterbug!” sticker next to it. It was funny to see people with Coca Cola cans, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and banana peels taped to their shirts.



Chapter 8: What Would You Do?


What would you do if you had my ability, my power, my superpower? Would you cheat on your exams? Would you rob a bank? Would you play tricks on people?



Questions


Chapter 1
1.    How old is Alice White?
2.   Does she have any siblings?
3.   How old is Alice’s little brother?
4.   Who is Alice’s best friend?
5.   Where does Karla live?
6.   What does Alice do after school on Tuesdays?
7.   What is the name of Miss Ralston’s fat cat?
8.   Why is the cat called Oscar Peterson?
9.   What does Alice have on top of her piano at home?
10.                What happens to the digital kitchen timer at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 2
1.    Where does Alice go to look for a used clock?
2.   What happens when Alice opens the door to The Old Curiosity Shop?
3.   What do you think the cold wind means?