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SUBJECTS OF A MYSTERIOUS EXPERIMENT
“We’ve been observing you boys for a long time,” he continued. “And we’ve concluded that this is the moment to take control.”
“Control of what?”
“The two of you.”
“Hey, nobody controls us,” the boys snapped in unison.
“Boys, boys, boys,” Mr. Archer said, holding out his small hands in a reassuring gesture. “What I meant was control of your case.”
“We’re not a ‘case,’” Allan said.
Mr. Archer’s face froze, like a mask, and he fixed the boys with a glare.
Edgar and Allan kept silent.
He moved quickly toward the boys as if to shake their hands, but instead removed something shiny from his jacket pocket—tweezers! In a flash, he reached up and plucked several hairs from each of their heads.
“Ouch!” they shouted, jumping away.
He slipped each sample into its own small plastic bag and tucked the bags into his jacket.
The boys started toward the little man, their faces set in identical expressions of anger. But before they got close enough to snatch back the bags of hair, the office door burst open.
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THE TELL-TALE START
THE TELL-TALE START
A black cat crossing your path signifies
that the animal is going somewhere.
NO ORDINARY SCHOOL DAY
EDGAR and Allan Poe sat beside each other in the back row of their homeroom class, asleep. They’d been up late the night before, reading the latest in their favorite series, True Stories of Horror, and now they leaned shoulder-to-shoulder, head-to-head, together in dreamland. Like little sleeping angels….
Well, maybe not angels.
The Poe twins bore an uncanny resemblance to their famous great-great-great-great granduncle Edgar Allan Poe, the author of gothic tales so horrifying that for close to two centuries they have kept readers awake long into the night. Edgar and Allan were proud of their great-great-great-great granduncle and happy to look like him. Nonetheless, the resemblance ensured they would never be mistaken for run-of-the-mill boys.
The author Edgar Allan Poe as he looked in the 1840s
The Poe twins today
It wasn’t just external similarities that the boys shared with their great-great-great-great granduncle—they also shared his taste for the thrilling and unexpected.
Intrigue, coded messages, dark secrets…
And in at least one way, the boys’ minds were even more unusual than their famous uncle’s. If at this moment you could observe the insides of their sleepy heads rather than just the outsides, you’d discover the following:
Edgar was dreaming he was Allan.
Allan was dreaming he was Edgar.
The boys were jolted awake when their homeroom teacher, Mrs. Rosecrans, slammed her stapler on her desk (inadvertently squashing an unlucky ant that happened to be making its way toward the glazed doughnut Mrs. Rosecrans had set beside her attendance book). Now Edgar was no longer sure he was not actually Allan, as he had been in the dream, and Allan was not sure that he was not actually Edgar. They looked at each other and saw only their own faces looking back. It happened to them all the time.
No big deal.
No one could tell the difference between them because there was no difference—not even to Edgar and Allan. One moment one was Edgar, the next he was Allan. Same boy, different identity; same identity, different boy. Their thoughts and actions were not identical but coordinated, like moving parts in a single fine Swiss watch. Each always knew what the other was thinking, feeling, experiencing. Sometimes, they wondered if they were actually one boy with two bodies. Or two boys with one mind.
“So sorry to have disturbed your beauty sleep, boys,” Mrs. Rosecrans said.
“Oh, that’s all right,” Edgar said, rubbing his eyes.
“You can just pick up your lecture where you left off and we’ll get right back to sleep,” Allan added.
The rest of the class laughed.
Mrs. Rosecrans didn’t think the matched set of Poes was funny, even if they were the most knowledgeable students she’d ever had. “So you two didn’t hear a word of what I just said?”
They shook their heads no, in unison.
She waved a note from the main office. “The principal wants to see you both, immediately.”
The boys’ classmates looked concerned.
But Allan and Edgar just yawned and ruffled their own already unruly heads of hair. “Why?” they asked.
“When it comes to you two, I can’t even begin to guess,” she answered.
The boys stood and gathered their books.
“Maybe Principal Mann needs our help planning the school’s curriculum,” Allan said.
“Either that or he wants our help writing his memoirs,” Edgar added.
Mrs. Rosecrans pointed to the door.
“Good luck,” the boys’ classmates whispered.
Edgar and Allan nodded appreciatively, though they didn’t think they’d need luck. The principal had always been putty in their hands.
The long hallway that led from Mrs. Rosecrans’s classroom to the main office of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Middle School was empty aside from a scattering of other students who were excused from class for one reason or another.
“Hey, Edgar and Allan, are you guys going to the principal’s office again?” asked perky Sherry George, who was on her knees painting LUNCHTIME PEP RALLY on a ten-foot-long strip of paper.
The boys nodded.
“Does he want to see you about the skeleton?” she continued.
A few days before, the boys had slipped into the biology lab during lunch period and artfully rearranged all the bones on the human skeleton. The result was a grotesque form that so startled and wrecked poor Mr. Parker’s nerves when he returned that he had to postpone that afternoon’s exam. The Poes’ less academically prepared classmates had been very grateful.
Another voice called from across the hallway, “Pssst, guys!”
It was Stevie “The Hulk” Harrison, one of their best friends, perched uncomfortably on a tiny chair outside Ms. Jenkins’s (“No talking will be tolerated!”) classroom. He motioned them over. “Does the principal want to see you about the rockets?”
The previous Thursday night, Edgar and Allan had stolen onto their rival school’s soccer field and dug half a dozen holes. Into these holes, they deposited six small rockets, covering their handiwork with a thin layer of turf. Late in Friday’s game, with the score tied 1-1, the six rockets simultaneously launched, ripping into the sky and bursting at their apex into a spectacular shower of red and gold sparks (Aldrin Middle School’s colors). Naturally, everyone gazed skyward—or almost everyone. When the wide-eyed fans, referees, and players eventually returned their attention to earth, they discovered that Stevie “the Hulk,” who’d been in on the plan, had just kicked the ball into the net for his first-ever goal, a game-winner, unopposed.
Who knew the two most valuable players weren’t on the field but in the stands, putting away their remote launchers?
The twins continued down the hall to more questions: Could it be this? Could it be that?
“Could be,” the Poes acknowledged every time.
Edgar and Allan had a lot of school spirit.
Mr. Mann stood beside his cluttered desk, his eyes narrowed to slits, his broad chest puffed out like a rooster. “Close the door behind you and don’t give me any of your guff,” he snarled.
“‘Guff’?” Edgar asked.
“It’s what you’re both full of,” Mr. Mann said.
“That’s funny,” Allan answered. “Last time we were here you told us we were full of ‘baloney.’”
“And before that it was ‘beans,’” Edgar added.
“And before that,” Allan said, “you actually told us we were full of—”
“Stop!” Mr. Mann demanded, pointing to two chairs. They had often seen his face grow red with anger, but at this moment it was a brighter shade than the boys had ever witnessed—something like the color of a baboon’s butt. “Sit down.”
Allan and Edgar sat.
“Do you boys know the meaning of the word ‘incorrigible’?”
“Of course,” Allan said.
“‘Incorrigible’ means to be incapable of being corrected or reformed,” Mr. Mann said, ignoring him.
“Yes, it’s Middle English from the late Latin,” Edgar said.
“Incorrigibilis,” Allan added. “From corrigere, meaning ‘to correct.’”
The principal’s mouth opened slightly. “You know Latin?”
The boys looked at each other. “Sort of.”
“But we don’t teach Latin here,” Mr. Mann said. “Have you studied it at home?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘studied,’” Allan said.
“More like ‘played around with,’” Edgar added.
“Dead languages are one of our hobbies,” Allan explained. “You know, ancient Greek and Sanskrit…”
Mr. Mann was flabbergasted (as usual). Then he gathered himself. “Never mind about the languages! Your cleverness has never been in question. You two are descended from one of our country’s great literary geniuses, so maybe you’ve inherited something of his proficiency with words, to say nothing of his—”
“His madness?” The corners of Allan’s mouth turned up in a slight grin.
“Now, I didn’t say that,” Mr. Mann countered.
“But you thought it,” Edgar said, with an identical smirk.
Mr. Mann shook his head. “You two may know Latin, but you don’t read minds.”
“That’s true,” the boys said. Excluding each other’s mind…
“Well, it’s been a very pleasant visit, Mr. Mann,” Edgar said. “But we should be getting back to class now.”
“Yes, it’s important we attend to our studies,” Allan continued. “But thanks for inviting us to your office. We always enjoy discussing etymology.”
The principal’s face reddened from the shade of a baboon’s butt to that of French teacher Mme. Guimont’s lipstick. He clenched his fists. “Sit down right now and behave!”
“You boys are incorrigible,” Principal Mann repeated, catching his breath.
“If you actually think we’re incorrigible…” Edgar started.
“Then why are you bothering to talk to us at all?” Allan concluded.
“Because I’m expelling you,” he answered.
“What?” Identical expressions of surprise crossed the boys’ faces.
“The decision is final,” Mr. Mann continued. “We’re making special arrangements. You see, you’re being expelled from the entire school district. Effective immediately.”
WHAT THE POE TWINS DID NOT KNOW…
A NOTE RECEIVED THAT MORNING, NOW
FOLDED AWAY IN PRINCIPAL MANN’S WALLET
Dear Principal Mann,
Now that our organization has provided you with evidence against Edgar and Allan Poe, we are confident that you will act in accordance with our wishes. Believe me, you’ll never regret removing these troublemakers from your school district.
Ian Archer, P.O.E.S.
P.S. I’m sure I needn’t remind you that we have also obtained evidence regarding the money you pocketed from your school’s funds. However, as long as you do as we wish, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
P.P.S. If you ever mention the existence of our organization to anyone, we will deliver to you a fate even worse than prison.
A TREACHEROUS FIX
MR. MANN returned to his chair, settled back, and sighed. “Look, boys, we’ve given you every last opportunity.” He nervously wiped sweat from his brow.
What could a principal have to fear? the boys wondered.
“We tried keeping you together in classes, separating you, punishing you, praising you, even letting you teach the advanced material from time to time,” he continued, his voice softening. “I know you two haven’t had it easy since your mother and father were…” He searched for a delicate phrase.
“Lost in space?” Edgar suggested.
Mr. Mann nodded. “Yes, that was very sad.”
It was sad. Everyone in America knew the story. Mal and Irma Poe, the boys’ parents, had been brilliant and dedicated rocket scientists. But seven years before, while making last-minute adjustments to the Bradbury Telecommunications Satellite in the payload section of an Atlas V rocket, they lost track of the countdown and were accidentally launched into space. Their absence on the ground was not noted by Mission Control until after the satellite was in orbit. NASA apologized, but there was no bringing them back. On some clear nights, their orbiting tomb was a visible pinpoint of light among the background of stars.
Since then, the twins had lived with their aunt Judith and uncle Jack Poe, who were good and loving guardians, even if they were largely oblivious to the unusual workings of their nephews’ minds.
“Do you boys want to know why we’re expelling you?” Mr. Mann asked.
They were curious—but they didn’t expect much in the way of a good explanation.
Mr. Mann stood and cracked his knuckles. “I’m expelling you because you cheated on your academic evaluation tests!”
“Cheated?” the boys asked, incredulous.
“Yes, and your cheating will throw our entire school district’s otherwise outstanding test results into a questionable light with the state authorities,” Mr. Mann said. He picked up a stack of papers from his desk, shuffling them mindlessly. “It’s unforgivable. And considering your previous disciplinary record, it’s the last straw. You’re out for good. Done.”
Confused, Allan and Edgar looked at one another. They didn’t cheat, ever. Why would they? They didn’t need to cheat to get good grades.
“We don’t know how you did it,” Mr. Mann continued, dropping the shuffled papers back on his desk. “We put you at opposite ends of the school and gave you the tests at the same time—and you still missed the same three questions out of a possible six hundred. Do you have any idea of the odds against this? Millions to one.”
“The only explanation is that those questions must have been inaccurately worded,” Allan said.
“Otherwise, we’d have both missed zero,” Edgar added.
“I don’t want to hear your critique of the test!” Mr. Mann snapped. “I want to know how you cheated.”
Obviously, he didn’t understand how things worked with Allan and Edgar, whose knowledge was always identical, however far apart they were. Two boys, one mind—one mind, two boys. But Edgar and Allan thought it very unlikely that the principal could ever grasp the matter. So they sat back in their chairs and grinned. If they were going to be expelled, then they might as well have a little fun.
“We must be diabolical geniuses,” they said, “to pull off a maneuver like that.”
“Exactly,” Mr. Mann said, missing the irony.
The boys raised their dark eyebrows. What was to be done about someone this dense?
“So does being expelled from the district mean we can join the French Foreign Legion?” Allan asked the principal.
“Can we finally run for Congress?” Edgar inquired.
“Can we start working as brain surgeons?”
“Do you boys take nothing seriously?” Mr. Mann snapped.
“We take breakfast seriously,” Allan answered with utter sincerity.
“It’s the most important meal of the day,” Edgar said.
Mr. Mann gave them a hard look.
But beneath their joking, there was something the boys took seriously about this—they’d miss being around their friends and classmates (and even a few of their teachers). And the timing couldn’t be worse.
Next Monday was Halloween, their favorite holiday. Every year since kindergarten, Edgar and Allan had come to school dressed as one or another of their great-great-great-great granduncle’s characters (ax-wielding madmen, ominous ravens, skeletal grim reapers…). Now that tradition would be broken. They would have launched an impassioned plea to stay in school if at that moment they had not been distracted by a small, redheaded man who suddenly emerged from a shadowed corner of the office.
Had he been here all along? If so, he must have been standing very still, the boys thought.
He wore a well-tailored suit and a skull-shaped earring, and as he drew near, they realized he was even shorter than they were (and they were somewhat small for their age). When he smiled, his teeth flashed a blinding white.