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What is in the mysterious wooden box that Thomas Edison buried in his backyard more than a hundred years ago? Why didn't he feel the world was ready for this amazing invention?
And after thirteen-year-old Qwerty Stevens digs up the secret box in the twenty-first century, why does the creepy Ashley Quadrel want to get his hands on it so badly? How will Qwerty and his sisters, Barbara and Madison, use Edison's machine to save a life and make ...
What is in the mysterious wooden box that Thomas Edison buried in his backyard more than a hundred years ago? Why didn't he feel the world was ready for this amazing invention?
And after thirteen-year-old Qwerty Stevens digs up the secret box in the twenty-first century, why does the creepy Ashley Quadrel want to get his hands on it so badly? How will Qwerty and his sisters, Barbara and Madison, use Edison's machine to save a life and make history?
No need to ask all these questions! Just read Qwerty Stevens, Back in Time: The Edison Mystery, which blends fact and fiction into a thrilling time-travel adventure jammed with surprising twists, eccentric characters, and maybe even a few laughs.
Thirteen-year-old Robert "Qwerty" Stevens uses the time machine he finds in his back yard to visit Thomas Edison's workshop in 1879, and there helps develop the electric light bulb, but then needs his sister's help to return to his own time.
Chapter 1: The Box
Qwerty Stevens found the box at four o'clock in the afternoon on October 18. He would always remember the date because it was the day after his thirteenth birthday.
He found the box right after he'd had another one of those arguments with his mother. She said he had gone over to Joey Dvorak's house without getting permission first. He said he had asked for permission. She said "maybe" did not mean "yes."
He said, she said. The next thing anybody knew, Qwerty's mother was saying that he was grounded.
Mrs. Stevens wasn't mean. She just seemed mean sometimes. It was hard for her, bringing up Qwerty and his two sisters all by herself. Six years earlier Qwerty's dad had been killed in a car accident. He was driving home on Franklin Avenue in West Orange when a teenager lost control of a Jeep Cherokee and plowed right into Mr. Stevens's little Honda. He was killed instantly. The teenager walked away with a few bruises.
"Robert Edward Stevens!" Mrs. Stevens called out in her firmest voice. "Don't you ever go anywhere without getting my permission first, do you understand me?"
Mrs. Stevens called him by his real name only when she was mad. And she used all three names only when she was really mad. The rest of the time, she called him "Qwerty," like everyone else.
He had gotten that nickname when he was in third grade. The whole class was in the computer room practicing keyboarding one day. The computer teacher told the class to put their fingers on the keyboard and type — without looking — the top row, left hand (QWERT), then the top row, right hand (YUIOP). Then they were instructed to type the middle row, left hand (ASDFG), and the middle row, right hand (HJKL;). Then they had to move their fingers down and type the bottom row, left hand (ZXCVB), and the bottom row, right hand (NM,./). Then they had to print out their work and turn it in.
Robert Stevens had a problem lining up the paper in his printer. Somehow he clipped off his name from the top of the page. When the computer teacher was going through everyone's papers, she held up Robert's to show what happened when you didn't load the paper into the printer correctly. This was what the top line said:
From that moment on, everybody had called Robert Edward Stevens "Qwerty."
Qwerty slammed the back door on his way out. Mom's just being overprotective, he thought. I'm thirteen now. I'm old enough to go over to my friend's house by myself. She's just afraid the same thing that happened to Dad will happen to me.
When Qwerty was mad, or when he was in a bad mood, he liked to dig. He'd take a shovel out of the garage and go to a corner of the backyard where the grass never grew. Then he would dig a hole. He never had a goal in mind. He just liked to dig holes. He found it relaxing.
Qwerty never dug up anything good. One day he found a rock in the shape of a triangle that looked like it could have been an old Indian arrowhead. More likely, it was just a rock in the shape of a triangle.
While he was digging, nobody ever bothered him. He didn't think about anything.
Mrs. Stevens figured digging gave Qwerty an outlet for his anger. And to be honest, it kept him out of her hair for a little while.
It was while he was digging that Qwerty found the box.
The ground was well worn. He had dug holes out in the backyard many times before. Maybe if I dig deep enough, he thought, I can climb in and nobody will ever bother me.
Qwerty pointed the shovel at the earth and placed his right foot on top of it. He leaned in, and the blade sliced into the dirt. And then, less than a foot below the surface, something stopped the blade from going any farther.
Thunk. A definite thunk. It wasn't a clank, which would have told Qwerty he had hit something made of metal. No, it was definitely a thunk.
Qwerty pulled up the shovel and placed it a few inches to the left of the mark he'd just made. He leaned on it again, just enough to cut through the soil without damaging anything that might be down there.
Thunk. There was something down there. It didn't feel like a rock.
He placed the shovel a few inches to the right of his original mark. When he leaned on it — very carefully — he felt something stop the shovel and heard the thunk noise again. Whatever was down there had to be at least a foot wide.
Qwerty got down on his knees and began to loosen the dirt with his hands. It came away easily. In a few minutes he had cleared off enough dirt so he could touch the top of whatever was down there. It felt like it was made of wood.
"Whatcha doin', Qwerty?"
Qwerty looked up quickly. He had been concentrating so hard on digging that he hadn't noticed anyone standing there. It was Thing One and Thing Two — his sisters.
Madison, the little one, was six. She was curious but harmless. Barbara, the bigger one, was sixteen and nosy and had achieved her full potential to be annoying.
Qwerty didn't say anything about what he was doing. Whatever was buried down there, he didn't want to share it with them.
"Nothin'," he lied.
"Whoso diggeth a pit shall falleth therein," Barbara recited dramatically.
"Nobody asked you, Barb."
Barbara had recently discovered a love of poetry, which made her more annoying than ever.
"It's a free country, Nerdy. Ever hear of freedom of speech?"
"Aren't you going to get in trouble for digging up the backyard?" Madison asked.
"I never have before. And besides, trouble is my middle name," Qwerty replied, getting up and clapping the dirt off his hands.
"No, it's not," Madison said. "Your middle name is Edward."
"Come on, silly," Barbara said as she took Madison by the hand. "The only thing dumber than digging holes in the ground is watching somebody else dig holes in the ground."
When Thing One and Thing Two were out of sight, Qwerty got back down on his knees. He pushed the shovel all around the hole he had made and figured out that the object had to be a rectangle about two feet wide and one foot long — about the size of a backpack. He couldn't tell yet how tall it was.
Dirt was packed around the thing pretty tightly, and Qwerty was having a hard time getting it out. There was no handle or anything on top to grab on to. He scraped more dirt around the sides and tried to rock the thing back and forth. Dirt was getting under his fingernails, and his hands were filthy. He knew his mother would get on his case about that, but then, what else was new?
Finally Qwerty removed enough dirt on all four sides to free the thing from its grave. He lifted it out of the ground.
It was a wooden box with a curved top, sort of like one of those carriers people used for bringing their cats to the vet. It wasn't too heavy. Qwerty could lift it easily. There was a small lock on one side. Part of the wood was rotted away. This thing, whatever it was, had been buried in the backyard for a long time.
Dirt was still caked on the sides of the box. Qwerty brushed it off with his hand, revealing these letters in flowing gold:
Thomas A Edison
Copyright © 2001 by Dan Gutman
Chapter 9: Meet the Wizard
As soon as the message from Edison stopped, Qwerty took off his pajamas and pulled on his jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers. Instinctively, he grabbed his backpack from his chair and slung it over his shoulder.
He flicked on the scanner next to his computer and scanned in the photo of himself. The Edison Web site was still on the screen, with the time line set at 1879.
For a moment Qwerty thought about knocking on Barb's door and telling her what he was doing. But he knew she would go ballistic if he woke her up before her alarm clock went off. Instead he took a piece of crumpled scrap paper and wrote "HIT ESCAPE KEY" on it. He slipped the paper under Barbara's door. If he went away, Qwerty figured, Barb could bring him back home.
Qwerty went back to his desk and sat down at the computer. Hesitantly, he hit the ENTER key.
"Out of the way, you imbecile!" a man yelled.
Qwerty dodged to the left, narrowly avoiding getting whacked in the head by a long wooden plank.
He looked around and saw that he was in a large, long room that appeared to be some sort of machine shop. There were lots of men hurrying around, some of them as young as Qwerty. Others were stationed at tables, pounding hammers against metal, grinding handsaws into wood, or working with wires and bottles. No women were in sight.
Various machines were whirring and chattering. Steam was hissing. It was so noisy Qwerty had to cover his ears. Flies buzzed around like they owned the place. There was no air conditioning, and the heat was almost unbearable. The smell of chemicals and sweat filled Qwerty's nostrils. He wrinkled up his nose with disgust.
Shelves covered the walls from floor to ceiling, filled with tools, microscopes, Bunsen burners, oddly shaped glass containers, magnifying glasses, and hundreds of chemical bottles. Only after taking this all in did Qwerty spot the sign on the far wall: THOMAS A. EDISON, INCORPORATED.
He had done it, Qwerty realized! Not only could Edison's machine send him to Spain, it could also send him to Edison!
A door opened and a man strode into the room. He didn't look like Thomas Edison. At least, he didn't look anything like the photos Qwerty had seen of Edison. This man was much younger. He was handsome, about five feet eight, with soft, straight dark hair that was starting to turn gray. It flopped down over his forehead, and he brushed it back with his hand.
From the way he walked into the room and the way the workers looked at him, it was obvious that the man was the great Thomas Edison himself.
If Qwerty had to sum up Edison's appearance in one word, it would have been disheveled. There were gray smudges on his black suit and pants. Underneath the suit he was wearing a dark vest and wrinkled white shirt. His bow tie was crooked and loosened. He carried a cigar, which he hadn't bothered to light. His posture was slightly stooped. His complexion was pale. He didn't look like he spent a lot of time outdoors.
But Edison was alive. He whipped around the room like a tornado, stopping to peek over the shoulder of one worker, to ask a question of the next one, and to issue an order to the next. He seemed to be working on a dozen or more projects at once.
Edison looked up and noticed Qwerty staring at him.
"You, boy," Edison barked before Qwerty could say a word, "I'm not paying you to stand there gawking. Get me four ounces of nitrous peroxide!"
Qwerty was paralyzed with fear and awe. Edison's steel blue eyes bored in on him. The eyes were bleary and tired, as if he hadn't had enough sleep, but they also seemed to crackle with energy.
Edison came over to him. Qwerty could see the man's yellowed teeth, the stubble on his chin, and the dandruff on his shoulders. Qwerty tried to speak, but his mouth couldn't seem to form words.
"Why do you fix me with that vacuous stare of incomprehensibility, young man?" Edison demanded. "Nitric acid! Is that within the scope of your understanding?"
"Uh...where is it?" Qwerty mumbled.
Edison leaned over, cupping a hand around his right ear and placing that ear almost against Qwerty's mouth. Qwerty remembered learning in school that Edison was almost totally deaf. Qwerty also realized something they'd never taught him in school -- Thomas Edison had bad breath and body odor.
"You work your articulating apparatus so weakly I can't make out a word you're saying!" Edison shouted at the boy. "Go to the supply room, you harebrained dumbbell!"
Qwerty wanted to tell Edison he wasn't one of his employees, but Edison was already at the next table, peering into a microscope and ridiculing somebody else. Qwerty dashed off in search of the supply room.
The Edison laboratory was a huge complex of a dozen or more buildings, each one with a specific purpose. One building had a sign on it that said WOODWORKING. Another said METALLURGY. Other buildings were devoted to chemistry, photography, and research. Qwerty ran all over the complex until he saw a door marked SCRAP HEAP.
Inside it looked like the Addams Family was having a garage sale. There were hundreds of boxes and bins scattered all over the place, each one filled with some other weird thing. There were animal skins, feathers, rocks, hardware, peacock tails, and walrus tusks. Qwerty hadn't seen such a mess since...well, since he left his room at home.
A little bell was on the counter, and Qwerty tapped it to make it ring. A burly guy rumbled out of the back room.
"You new?" he asked.
"Uh, I guess so."
"What's that you're wearin'?"
Qwerty looked himself over for a moment before he realized the man was referring to his pants. "They're jeans."
The man looked at Qwerty's pants again. "Gene don't wear no pants like them."
"No, they're jeans," Qwerty explained. "Blue jeans."
"We ain't digging for gold here, son," the man grunted. "Get yourself a proper pair of black pants before you come to work tomorrow."
"Name your poison," he said gruffly.
"Nitric acid," Qwerty replied. "Mr. Edison needs four ounces."
The man went in the back room and emerged a few minutes later with a test tube. There was liquid inside it and a cork at the top to seal it. He jotted something down on a pad of paper and had Qwerty sign his name before surrendering the test tube.
"What's this?" Qwerty asked, picking up a large, soft object behind the counter and examining it.
"A rhinoceros ear."
"What do you need that for?" Qwerty asked, dropping the ear quickly and wiping his hand on his pants.
"I don't," the man said. "But I know that one day the boss is gonna come in here and say he needs a rhinoceros ear for some experiment. When he does, I'll be ready."
Qwerty hurried back to the lab, where Edison and one of the workers were pouring some kind of powder from little jars into a larger one. Edison took the test tube from Qwerty without a word and poured the nitric acid into the large jar. Smoke poured out of the jar, and Edison nodded his head with approval.
Before Edison could move on to the next table, Qwerty worked up the courage to speak to him.
"Mr. Edison!" he shouted in the great inventor's ear. "It's me! I'm here!"
"Who?" Edison asked.
"Qwerty Stevens!" Qwerty shouted.
"My God!" Edison exclaimed. He stopped, touching Qwerty's arm with his fingertips as if he needed proof the boy was real. "You figured out a way, didn't you?"
Qwerty nodded excitedly. Edison, who had seemed so ornery when Qwerty first saw him, softened instantly. A broad smile danced across his face. He wrapped his arm around Qwerty and led him outside the lab, where it was cooler and they could talk privately.
Main Street looked different from the Main Street Qwerty knew. Instead of cars, carriages were being pulled by horses. The Pizza Hut on the corner wasn't there. In its place was a tiny store that sold "dry goods," whatever those were. There was no Treats and Eats, Econo-Cleaners, or Fabulous Wall Coverings Factory Outlet. Where the strip mall had been, there was, incredibly, a farm.
But Qwerty barely noticed all the differences. He couldn't take his eyes off Edison.
"How does the machine work?" Qwerty hollered into Edison's ear. "How did you invent it?"
"A few years ago," Edison told the boy, "I was experimenting with acoustic telegraphy. Do you know what that is?"
"Doesn't matter," Edison continued. He beamed in on Qwerty with his eyes, as if to compensate for his difficulty in hearing. "One day I accidentally brushed a wire against the core of a vibrator magnet. The core of the magnet gave off bright sparks, even when they weren't conducting electric current. Those sparks didn't follow the laws of static electricity. I immediately seized upon this phenomenon. It represented the unconfined visual flight of energy through space. Are you following me?"
"I think so."
"The point is I had discovered a true unknown force, which I called etheric force. It was a radiant force somewhere between light and heat on one hand, and magnetism and electricity on the other. It was something new to science. Do you understand?"
"Not exactly," Qwerty admitted.
"Let me put it to you this way. There's a connection between all the natural governing forces of life -- chemical, electrical, and magnetic. Knowing how these forces interact, I was able to build a machine that, I hoped, would be able to circumvent the limitations of space and time."
"The Anytime Anywhere Machine!" Qwerty marveled. "It works as a time machine, too."
"It must work, or you wouldn't be here," Edison proclaimed proudly as he lit the cigar he had been holding. "This is a glorious day for science."
A food vendor's wagon was parked along the street, and Edison offered to buy Qwerty anything he desired. He would have liked a good breakfast. But the man was selling all kinds of candy, and everything cost just a few pennies. Qwerty grabbed two cotton-candy packages, one to eat immediately and the other to save for later.
"Young man," Edison scolded, "you're digging your grave with your teeth."
"Aw, a little junk food never hurt anybody," Qwerty hollered.
"The human body is a machine," Edison said. "If you don't put the best fuel in that machine, it won't run properly."
"You sound like my mother."
"She sounds like a good woman," Edison said. "I'm sure she told you the secret to good health is mastication."
"I beg your pardon?" Qwerty asked.
"Chewing," Edison said. "Chew every piece of food until it's a liquid. That way you get every ounce of nourishment and energy from it."
Edison suddenly stopped walking and got down on his hands and knees. Qwerty joined him, peering at the ground. There was a row of anthills in the dirt. Edison stared intently at the colony of ants moving in and out of their holes.
"Look at them," he finally said. "There must be a million of them in there, living and working together. No fights. No problems. They all work toward a common goal. I don't care if it's 1879, 1979, or 2079, you'll never see human beings work together like that."
"I think you would like the future," Qwerty hollered at Edison. "We've got a lot of cool inventions. TVs, PCs, VCRs, DVDs -- "
"Shhhh," Edison said, putting a finger to his lips. He got up, not bothering to brush the dirt off his pants. "Don't say another word about those things."
"I don't want to know the inventions of the future," Edison said. "I want to invent them myself."
"If you don't want me to tell you about the future, why did you want me to come here?" Qwerty asked.
"Did you bring what I requested?" Edison asked anxiously, glancing at Qwerty's backpack.
"Your message broke up and I couldn't translate the end of it," Qwerty said. "Bring what?"
"An electric lamp!" Edison said sharply. "I called you here because I need a bulb."
"I'm sorry," Qwerty said sadly. "I didn't bring one."
Edison's shoulders slumped as he cursed to himself. He told Qwerty that he had been struggling for several years to invent an incandescent electric lamp. That is, a lamp that gave off a bright light when an electric current was passed through a substance he called a filament. The only problem was that he had not yet found a filament that would give off light without burning up.
"I tested coconut hair and fishing line," Edison said. "Hog bristles and porcupine quills. Spiderwebs. I tested every metal in existence. I tested six thousand different vegetable fibers. I tested everything from an elephant's hide to the eyebrows of a United States senator. Nothing works."
"And you thought that if somebody from the future brought you a bulb," Qwerty said, "you could crack it open and look inside?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Edison sighed, hanging his head. "I have been sending out signals through my machine for months, hoping someone like you would receive them."
"You will invent the lightbulb," Qwerty assured Edison. "I mean, it says so in all the history books."
"That's gratifying, but it doesn't help me right now," Edison said. "I have a half dozen competitors trying to beat me to the solution. I'm running out of money for research. I already told the press that my lamp is finished, and promised them a demonstration by New Year's Eve. My reputation is at stake."
Edison gazed off into space for a moment, then he brightened and snapped his fingers.
"Wait a minute," he said to Qwerty. "You have electric lamps in your time, don't you?"
"Sure. In every room of the house."
"Then you must know what the filament is made from."
"Mr. Edison, I never looked inside a lightbulb. I didn't even know what a filament was until you just told me."
Edison slammed one fist against the other.
"I'm sorry," Qwerty said.
"It's not your fault," Edison said, turning back toward the lab. "It was a ridiculous idea anyway. I just have to keep searching. The answer is out there, waiting for me to discover it. It's teasing me, taunting me."
Edison shook his fist in the air and announced, "I will find you!"
"May I ask you a question?" Qwerty yelled at Edison. "Your machine -- the one that brought me here -- is an incredible invention. Why did you bury it in your backyard?"
"Bury it?" Edison said, surprised. "I didn't bury it."
"Then who did?"
Copyright © 2001 by Dan Gutman
Posted January 24, 2011
No text was provided for this review.