MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind

MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind

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by Neal Shusterman
     
 

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A teenager and his mother embark on a whirlwind pleasure cruise, hoping to escape from their problems and searching for a little rest and relaxation. So they book passage on a no-frills excursion to the exotic Far East. Sounds like fun, huh? Too bad pleasure isn't on the ship's itinerary!

Darren hears voices...in his head. Everyone thinks he's crazy. Even

Overview

A teenager and his mother embark on a whirlwind pleasure cruise, hoping to escape from their problems and searching for a little rest and relaxation. So they book passage on a no-frills excursion to the exotic Far East. Sounds like fun, huh? Too bad pleasure isn't on the ship's itinerary!

Darren hears voices...in his head. Everyone thinks he's crazy. Even Darren begins to doubt his own sanity when a mysterious stranger pays him a late-night visit. Who is he? A time traveler, it turns out. A time traveler from 350 million years ago!

A boy on his way back from a family holiday is annoyed when he picks up the wrong luggage at the airport. Well, he might as well try the clothes on for size, right? It's a perfect fit. Except for that weird third sleeve....

Like a spidery fracture in an otherwise unblemished pane of glass, there exists in the mind a place where reality is warped to expose a world of distortions. Each of these stories is an unforgettable glimpse into that mysterious world—a place called MindStorms.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paintings one can step into, a vengeful Christmas tree that pins Santa to the floor, a hot tub that is home to a hungry Loch Ness monsterthese are some of the unlikely objects featured in Shusterman's candy-box-like collection of 10 mildly supernatural tales, a promising kickoff to the MindQuakes series. Shusterman's (Scorpion Shards) mastery of suspense and satirical wit make the ludicrous fathomable and entice readers into suspending their disbelief. He repeatedly interjects plausible and even poignant moments into otherwise bizarre scenarios. Accompanying his workaholic mason father on one of several eerie visits to his work sites, for example, the son of divorced parents muses that he only gets to see his dad on Sundays: "Instead of making time for me, he just squeezes me into what he's already doing, whether I fit or not." Notches above the many Twilight Zone knockoffs that have found their way into print, this all-too-brief anthology will snare even reluctant readers. Ages 10-up. (May)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765341891
Publisher:
Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Publication date:
03/28/2002
Series:
Scary Stories Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.68(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

PACIFIC RIM

Your escape begins here.

The sign on the door of the travel agency screams out the words in bold purple letters. I want to believe it, because escape is something I desperately need. So does Mom. Ever since Dad left, Mom's been going on and on about taking a real vacation. Europe maybe, or an African safari.

"I want to do something on the edge," Mom keeps saying, "something special."

I'm all for it. After all, I've lived my whole life in Phoenix, and the farthest away I've ever been was a vacation in Disneyland, which wasn't too adventurous, if you know what I mean. So anything that involves passports and places where they don't speak English would be the best thing as far as I'm concerned.

So Mom and I walk into the travel agency, all wide-eyed and gawking, ready to see the world. The place makes me feel like we're already on vacation. Colorful balloons are suspended everywhere, and loud Caribbean music fills the air with such a contagious beat that I feel like doing the limbo. The staff are all wearing bright Hawaiian shirts, and the walls are plastered with exotic destinations so beautiful that I want to visit every single one of them.

A woman with perfect hair, perfect, teeth, and earrings much too big steps up to greet us. "Welcome to Lifetime Travel," she purrs. "How can I help you?"

"We want a vacation," my mom says. "Something different."

The travel agent snaps open a drawer and pulls out one brochure after another. "How many will be traveling?"

My mom tries to hide the pain the question brings, but her pursed lips and sorrowful eyes tell all. "Just me and my son, right, Alex?"

I force a weak smile, and the woman looks away. She can't know all the things that happened between Mom and Dad before he left, but she knows enough not to ask any more questions. I suppose she dealt with shattered families like ours before, trying to find a vacation that will somehow, magically, fix everything.

The travel agent fans out the brochures like they're an oversized deck of cards, babbling on about prices and meal plans—but I can tell Mom's not listening. Something's caught her eye. There on the corner of the desk, a brochure sticks out—something the woman didn't seem anxious to show us. There's enough of it visible to show the bow of a boat. Mom pulls it out from beneath the pile. On the cover is a cruise ship, tall and wide, with a least a dozen decks. It's a magnificent thing, with a shiny white hull and ocean-green portholes.

Bright letters across the top of the brochure read pacific rim cruises. The name of the ship is the Heavenward. The pages of the brochure are filled with happy people swimming and dancing and eating, in a kind of splendor I can barely even imagine.

The travel agent eyes us warily. "Oh, you don't want that," she says, waving it off. "It's…uh…out of your price range."

My mother snaps her eyes up. "How would you know what our price range is?"

"Well…uh…I mean, I just don't recommend it." She quickly digs into another drawer. "If it's cruises you want, I can book you on dozens of others."

But Mom holds her ground. "Tell us about this one."

The woman looks to Mom, then to me, then reluctantly begins to speak as Mom and I leaf through the brochure.

"The Heavenward is a new ship," says the woman, "from a new and inexperienced cruise line.…

I raise my eyebrows. "Says here it's the largest cruise ship ever built."

"A hundred and twenty tons," says the woman. "But—"

"And where does it cruise to?" asks Mom, cutting her off.

"Nowhere yet. Its maiden voyage isn't until next month."

I can tell that Mom's frustrated by the way this woman doesn't quite answer her question, so we find the answer in the brochure ourselves. Mom's eyes widen happily.

"A cruise to the Orient!" Mom says.

"Yes—to the Far East," says the travel agent, as if there's a difference.

According to the brochure, the Heavenward will depart from Honolulu and sail west across the Pacific, bound for Japan, China, and Thailand. A three-week cruise with ten ports of call!

I look up from the brochure and catch Mom's eyes. They are the same eyes she had when she saw that painting in the art gallery. The one that cost way too much…and then two days later ended up in our living room.

The travel agent must see that look in my mom's eyes, too.

"I should explain something about Pacific Rim Cruises," says the travel agent in a calm, calculated voice, as if she's trying to talk someone in from the edge of a building. "They've built a magnificent ship…but they don't know much about world travel. This cruise that they're doing…it's going a little too far…"

"Nothing's too far for me," says Mom. "The farther the better."

The woman pales a bit, and I realize that she isn't trying to be rude. She's trying to warn us of something…something she wouldn't dare speak aloud…

But Mom doesn't care much for warnings. So she pulls out a wad of credit cards the size of a bar of soap. "We're taking that maiden voyage," Mom says. "Best room available. Money is no object."

And so the travel agent has no choice but to give us what we want.

• • •

It begins on July fourth. A flight to Honolulu, a taxi ride to the port, and there we are—staring at the Heavenward—a majestic white giant, impossibly huge. The ship fills up my whole mind when I look at it, leaving no room for other thoughts.

Everything on board is perfect, from our stateroom filled with luxurious wood and polished brass, to the nine-story atrium in the middle of the ship, where four glass elevators ride up and down. It's hard to believe this is all on a ship! There's even an entire kid deck filled with video games, pizza places, and just about anything else a kid could dream of. I now know why they named the ship the Heavenward, because as far as I'm concerned, it's like I've died and gone to heaven.

It's during that first evening at the midnight buffet that I see the strange old man.

He's in the kitchen—I catch glimpses of him every few moments through the swinging kitchen door. He's not a passenger, but a member of the crew. I don't think he's a cook, because he's not dressed like the rest of the kitchen workers. He wears a rumpled Hawaiian shirt that has seen better days, and his face is covered with beard stubble so dense that even the sharpest of razors would shy away from it. He seems out of place here, with a way about him too dark and brooding for a fun-filled cruise like this.

I can't get his face out of my mind, and even though I pile my plate high with food, I begin to lose my appetite. The old man's eyes seem worn and worried, and for some strange reason, I get the very clear sense that I should be worried, too.

• • •

Two days out of Hawaii, with wild parties raging on every deck, I get tired of the all-you-can-eat ice cream parlor, the free video games, and the dance-till-you-drop teen club. There's only so much pleasure a person can stand. So after dinner, I decide to explore.

Ships are great for secret exploration. They're like mazes filled with hallways and dim corners, and everywhere on the great ship you can hear the eerie rumble of the huge engine somewhere down below.

Finding the engine room is my goal. Sure, I could take the engine room tour, but it's much more fun to find it myself and be there when I'm not allowed.

On the lowest passenger deck I come to a door with a sign that reads no admittance, and I admit myself. Suddenly the luxurious beauty of the ship gives way to a dull beige corridor lined with the crew's quarters. I push farther and find a set of stairs leading down. I take it deck after deck after deck, deep into the bowels of the ship, wandering aimlessly through narrow access-ways until I finally stumble upon the engine room.

You'd think the engine room of a great ship like the Heavenward would have a huge crew of engineers—but a ship as sophisticated as this must practically run itself. There's only one man on shift. A man I recognize.

It's the old man from the kitchen the night before.

He turns his weary eyes to me. He has an intense gaze, and now that I get a better look at him, I can tell that he's an educated man by he way he carries himself—as if the crushing weight of some secret knowledge hunches his shoulders, like Atlas holding up the world. The shadows are deep here, and in those shadows his face seems cragged and cracked, like the Grand Canyon seen from an airplane. I can see that he's not so much old as he is worn. Worn and tired.

"You don't belong here, boy," he says. "Go back up. Party while you can." His words give me a shiver that rises up my spine, but I force it back down.

Around us the engine roars, and through an iron catwalk I can see the silver cylinder of a propeller shaft leading to the stern. Beneath that, the two sides of the hull come together, like an attic turned upside down. It reminds me that no matter how huge this thing is, it's just a boat, with miles of ocean beneath it. The thought unsettles me, and suddenly I want to be anywhere but he engine room.

"Uh…sorry," I say, "I took a wrong turn." I spin and hurry off, fully prepared to spend the rest of my cruise playing free video games, swimming, and eating myself into blimpdom.

But the old engineer calls out to me.

"Hold on there, Alex!" he says.

The ship lurches beneath me, making my stomach feel queasy. Or maybe it's just the face that the old man knows my name. I can't figure how he'd know it.

I turn, and he grins mysteriously. "The name's Riley," he says. "Third engineer. C'mon, I'll take you back to the passenger decks."

Soon the roar of the engines is far away once again. We wind down the narrow corridors and up flights of stairs, until reaching a doorway. Beyond the door I can hear the sound of distant partying; thousands of people drinking in a lifetime's worth of good times. As if there's no tomorrow.

It's then that I realize that I'm wearing my Little League shirt, with my name plastered right across the back. Idiot! I think. That's how he knew my name. All at once, that sick feeling twisting through my gut goes away. I feel normal again, until Engineer Riley puts his hand on the doorknob and turns to me. "Is this your first cruise?" he asks.

"Yes…"

He shakes his head. "I'm so sorry for you." Then he swings the door wide into the bright lights of the Aloha Deck.

• • •

The next morning we're still at sea, somewhere between Hawaii and Japan…or so the map in our brochure says. The ocean stretches out around us, featureless and flat, and although there are a hundred things for me to do today, I can't get Riley's face out of my mind. I can't forget the sorrowful way he looked at me when he opened that door…and what he said.

It takes me half the morning searching the ship, but finally I find him. Once again, I'm in a place I'm not supposed to be: the crew's recreation deck. It's a large space at the back of the ship, with a ceiling so low it feels like I'm being crushed between two decks. The large U-shaped room has wide portholes open to the sea, beyond which the white trail of the ship's wake disappears toward the horizon.

Riley's sitting alone, drinking his coffee steaming black. He doesn't seem surprised to see me; he just nods a weary greeting.

"That was a lousy thing to say to me yesterday," I tell him.

He knows exactly what I'm talking about. "You think that now, but you won't tomorrow," he answers.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He takes a long time to answer. "How much have you traveled?" he asks.

"A lot," I lie. "I've been all over the world."

"Ever known a pilot, or the captain of a ship, boy?"

I shake my head, and he leans in closer to me and whispers, "There's things they know…that regular people aren't supposed to know."

"Like what?" I dare to ask.

Instead of answering me, he stands up and goes to one of the huge portholes. I follow him.

"What do you see when you look out there?" he asks.

"Nothing. Just the horizon."

"And what does the horizon look like to you?"

I shrug. "A line," I tell him. "A straight line."

He nods. "That's exactly right—and why is that?"

I begin to get annoyed. It's as if he's giving me a test.

As if he thinks I don't know the answer, which I do.

"The curvature of the Earth," I tell him. "The Earth slopes off, and you can't see past the horizon."

Then he looks at me with those yellow, weary eyes.

"That's what they want you to believe," he says.

His words strike me like a blast of radiation. I can tell I've been hit by something major…but I don't feel it just yet. But I know I will. Somehow I sense that his words have created some immense damage in me, that will soon get much, much worse.

"Soon everything you know," he explains, "everything you believe in will crumble away."

I feel panic looming inside me like a storm. What he is trying to tell me begins to dawn on me.

I suddenly think of a silly drawing I once saw in history class: the world was a flat disk on the back of a giant tortoise. It was an example of an ignorant belief of people a thousand years ago. People who didn't know any better.

"You're…you're joking, right?" I ask him.

Riley says nothing, and I begin to get mad. "I suppose now you're going to tell me that we're all on the back of a turtle, and every time the turtle moves there's an earthquake."

Riley ponders it. I can't believe it—he actually takes me seriously! "I don't know about a turtle," he says finally. "But anything's possible."

As I look out over the flat immensity of the ocean, I become furious—because no matter how impossible what he's saying sounds, there's a part of me that might actually believe him. Not the rational, sensible part of me, but the part that knows no logic. The same part that makes me check under my bed every night, even though I haven't believed in monsters since I was five. I fight to keep down the breakfast that still stuffs my stomach.

"But if the world's not round…then how do you get to Japan and the Far East?" I ask.

He looks out toward the straight line of the horizon, worry coming back to his face. "Not the way we're going," he answers.

He breaks his gaze away from the porthole, as if unable to look at the ocean anymore, and moves away. I have to admit I feel the same. In my mind, the horizon, as calm as it is, seems razor sharp, and filled with terrifying unknowns.

Riley takes a big gulp of his cooling coffee.

"Sailors are a secretive bunch," he says. "We keep the nature of the world to ourselves—and you'd be amazed how easy it is to keep a secret when most everyone in the world already believes it.…" Then he sighs. "But sometimes the secret is kept too well…and every once in a while the wrong people build ships…like the people who run Pacific Rim Cruises. This is their first ship… and they just don't know…"

And then he grabs me by the shoulder, forcing me to look into his eyes. Forcing me to listen.

"When the time comes," he says, "go to the back of the ship, no matter what they tell you."

He downs the rest of his coffee, then abruptly tells me I should leave—but before I leave I have to ask him something.

"Riley," I ask, "if we're not headed toward Japan, where are we headed?"

He looks down at his empty cup, refusing to look me in the eye. "You don't want to know."

• • •

For the rest of that day, I weave in and out of the happy crowds of vacationers, but can't feel like one of them. They are already ghosts.

As the sun begins to cast long shadows across the deck, I find my mother stretched out in a lounge chair, reeking of suntan lotion and sipping an exotic drink the color of antifreeze.

When she sees me, she smiles and says lazily, "Let's never go back. Let's just float out here forever."

Although I know she's kidding, her words bring my last meal swimming toward high tide.

"Mom," I tell her, "I don't think this trip was a good idea."

She looks at me as if I've doused her with ice water. "Aren't you having a good time, Alex? There's so much to do—so many kids your age!"

I look toward the pool to see dozens of kids laughing and swimming and flying down the winding slide. I wish I could join in the fun, but the old man's crazy words strangle all hopes of enjoying myself.

"Just wait until we get to Japan," Mom reassures me. "I promise you, this trip will be something to remember!"

• • •

It happens that night.

During dinner, the seas become rough—the ship rolling and pitching so violently that Mom's lobster flies right into her lap.

I figure we must be in a terrible storm, but when I look out the window at the twilight sky, there are no clouds. Still the waves crash angrily against the ship with all the furious power the ocean can muster.

It's is as if something is trying to make us turn back, I think, but I swallow the thought with my dinner roll.

I go to my cabin early, trying to sleep off my worry, but it's no use. All I can think about is the old engineer.

What Riley had said is impossible. More than impossible, it's inconceivable—it would mean a conspiracy too immense to be imagined. All the pilots, all the astronomers, all the astronauts—anyone who ever had the chance to truly study the Earth would know. Why would all those people keep it from the rest of the world?

Yet even as I think about it, I know the answer.

Because everything would fall apart.

The whole world would become a bottomless pit of fear and confusion if we suddenly realized we knew nothing about the true nature of the universe. We would be lost and helpless if, after all we thought we knew…we suddenly discovered…that the Earth was flat.

BAM! CRRRUNCH!

I'm suddenly thrown out of bed by the ship's violent lurch. There's no mistaking the meaning of that tearing, metallic sound, and I can already see in my mind the huge gash torn in the side of the ship.

Torn by what? I think. We're out in the middle of the ocean. It can't be an iceberg—we're too far south.

The ship's alarms clang in my ears so violently that every thought is blasted from my mind. I can hear my mother screaming, tumbling out of her bunk and banging her shin against the dresser.

Then another jolt throws us to the floor as a second hole is ripped in the hull.

We burst out into a hallway already packed with terrified passengers, and I remember Riley's words.

Go to the back of the ship.

All around us, people push toward the front of the ship, toward their muster stations, because that's what they were told in the lifeboat drill when we first came on board. That's where the closest staircase is.

But I grab Mom's hand and pull her against the crowd, until we join the people heading toward the stairwell at the back of the great ship.

We stumble our way by three flights of stairs to the promenade deck, and only now, as we are pushed against the railing, do we see the nature of the ship's ruin.

The Heavenward is wedged between giant crags of rock, massive gray granite slabs that jut up around us on either side. I know that these rocks aren't supposed to be here. We're out in the middle of nowhere, a thousand miles from Japan! I'm pretty certain that there's no map in the world that shows this granite reef.

Caught between the rocks, the back half of the ship is rocked violently by powerful waves…but the front end of the ship has a very different problem.

I watch in helpless terror as passengers cram into a forward lifeboat. As the lifeboat is lowered into the water I hear them scream…because there is no water at the front of the ship. There is no ocean. The crowded lifeboat tumbles into an emptiness as deep as the sky is high.

We have reached the edge of the earth.

I instantly realize what's about to happen. I'd done enough exploring to know that two of the ship's three main stairwells are toward the bow—and only one toward the stern. That means that at least two-thirds of the passengers are flooding the front half of the ship!

It only takes a minute for the weight of the ship to shift forward, off its delicate balance. I feel the ship tilting over the edge, and I scream. Then a hand firmly pushes me from behind. The railing before me gives way and I fall, but instead of landing in the ocean…I land in the shell of a lifeboat. People pile on top of me. My mother, and dozens of others.

We are lowered to the water. When I look up, I don't see the side of the ship, but instead see a propeller four times my height, churning the air uselessly.

"Hold on!" a voice shouts. A familiar voice. I turn back to see the weathered face of the third engineer. Riley releases the lifeboat from the crane, and it drops five feet to the surface of the roiling ocean. We narrowly miss being shredded by another propeller coming up through the water as the ship continues to tilt forward.

"We're all going to drown!" shouts my mother, out of her mind with panic—but even in the rough waters of the great Pacific Rim, the small lifeboat manages to stay afloat.

Riley starts the engine and maneuvers us toward the granite reef that holds the ocean back. A wave deposits us on the shore.

"We'll climb to that ledge," Riley says, pointing to a rock plateau about ten feet above us. "The sea will be calm by morning."

Soaked and terrified, we all climb to the plateau, but I don't stop. I keep climbing, even though Riley tries to call me back. I climb as high as I can, until I come to the top of the ridge and can see everything.

They say you're not supposed to look at awful sights—that you should turn your eyes from things that shouldn't be seen. But no one has ever accused me of doing the right thing. I have to watch it happen.

From where I am, the sight is more incredible than anything I've ever seen, or ever will see again. The great granite reef of the Pacific Rim stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. For the most part it holds back the sea, but it's filled with many cracks, through which the ocean pours like massive waterfalls spilling off the world into infinity.

The Heavenward is wedged in the throat of one of those waterfalls.

I stare in numb silence as the largest cruise ship ever built teeters forward like a seesaw and finally flips off the edge of the earth.

I keep my eyes locked on the ship as it tumbles end over end, down into a darkness speckled with stars. Soon I have to squint to see it. It seems no larger than a toothpick spinning in the void. And then a tiny point of light getting harder and harder to see.

When I turn, I see Riley standing behind me, and I pound his chest with my fists, almost slipping off the edge and into oblivion. "Why?" I scream. "Why didn't you stop the ship? Why didn't you turn us back?"

Riley grabs my flailing hands and looks me in the eye. "Because I didn't know if I believed it myself…until I really saw it."

He turns and looks out over the edge, squinting his eyes into the dark sky below, but the Heavenward is gone, with no sign that it ever existed at all. "Maybe it needs to happen every now and again," says Riley. "Maybe it needs to happen so that we never completely forget.…"

• • •

Far to the east, the dim light of the coming down paints the horizon a rich shade of blue, as the handful of us wait to be rescued. Below us, our lifeboat has long since been smashed to driftwood, but Riley is certain we'll be rescued—and sure enough, as day arrives, I can see the specks of rescue ships in the distance.

Perhaps it's just shock, but as I huddle with my mom to keep warm, the terror of what I witnessed slowly begins to turn to amazement. I can't help but wonder what the people on board the Heavenward saw as they fell from the world…but I suppose some secrets will never be known.

I look at the survivors around me and realize that we have all become inheritors of the secret. I know none of these people will ever tell, just as surely as I know that I never will—for if we did, the world would see us locked up as lunatics rather than ever consider the possibility that what we say is true.

How long has this been going on? I wonder. How many generations, and how many shipwrecks ago? But I doubt even Riley knows those answers.

"Are there other things?" I ask Riley. "More mysteries that people don't know?"

He smiles broadly and says, "Have you ever been to Nepal?"

I smile back at him, realizing exactly what he means—because I know my geography.

As I wait for the rescue ships to arrive, I think about my next great excursion. Not a trip of escape, but one of exploration. It may not be next year, or the year after that, but I know that someday I'll travel to Nepal—the gateway to the Himalayas—and Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

There are people who call that place "the Roof of the World."

We'll see about that.…

Copyright © 2002 by Neal Shusterman

Meet the Author

Neal Shusterman is a bestselling author of novels for young adults, including Unwind, which was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Unwind is the first of the Unwind Dystology, followed by UnWholly, UnSouled, and UnDivided. Shusterman’s 2014 novel Challenger Deep won the National Book Award and Golden Kite Award. The father of four children, Shusterman lives in Southern California.

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