Read an Excerpt
The Troubling Stone
By Scott Roberts
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Scott Roberts
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe New Teacher
Weird stuff had been happening. Things no one could explain, but ... well, that's getting ahead of the story. To understand all of that, you first have to understand Kim and Tim. Right now they're in trouble. Again.
"I don't know what's wrong with you two! You used to be a joy to have around, but lately you're impossible!"
Mrs. Willem was fed up from an afternoon of living room antics, and hustled the offenders out the front door.
"We're growing children, full of energy!" sassed Kimberly Jean Willem, her feet hitting the pavement as she cleared the step.
"Yeah, we're young!" snapped Timothy Dean Willem, following his sister. "What do you want? Old and boring?"
"I. Want. Some. Sanity!" countered Mom. "And I want you to stay outside until I call you in to eat." The door slammed shut to show she meant it.
Kim and Tim were no longer the darlings of the Willem family. That changed when the new baby arrived. The ten year olds were fraternal twins, and an inseparable team. Although Kim was an hour older than her brother Tim, she hardly ever held it over his head. All their clever jokes, cute questions, songs and dances picked up from TV or movies, had been received with cooing, clapping,hair mussing and cheek pinching. Even casual strangers smiled and said in passing, "Oh, I see you have twins! How sweet!"
That's how it had been before. Now it was about the baby. The baby, who did nothing very clever beyond breathing and spitting up. Whom the aunts and uncles (both real and honorary) drove miles out of their way to see and jabber baby talk to. And why? The house had not been sad and empty without a new baby. So her arrival was seen as a betrayal at least and a conspiracy at worst.
Just for that, Kim and Tim made up their minds to become difficult. From here on out the words "Do you know what the kids did today?" would take on a whole new meaning as a greeting between parents. Pranks, tantrums, and general mischief were the order of the day, and they were equal to the task.
The new reputation caught on rapidly and stuck fast. It did get in the way, however, when the weird stuff started to happen: the large, old-fashioned black car that glided by soundlessly, with no driver. The small, grey dog with the golden, glowing eyes, watching them from the hedges. Weirdest of all was the gnome-like intruder in the basement, who disappeared behind the furnace when followed. Now branded as liars and pranksters, Kim and Tim did have some trouble encouraging belief when relating these sightings. "It's true!" and "Ask Kim" or "Ask Tim" carried little weight, but they swore all the way to bed without supper that these things were very real.
"You know it's wrong to lie," Mom scolded.
"Maybe it's not really lying," Dad offered, trying to cut them some slack. "Maybe it's just vivid imaginations. I mean, it's not as if they really expect us to believe these tall tales and act on them in any way."
"But we do!" Kim protested, acting as counsel for both, as she often did.
"Now Kimmy," Dad warned.
"It's all true! At least, the car, and the thing about the dog. The gnome thing, well only Tim claims to have seen that."
"And I did, too," Tim put in. "It was this high," He illustrated with his hand, "and had a big, ugly nose and beady round eyes, and it ran real fast even though it had short stubby legs."
"I think maybe you saw the cat," Dad offered. "He spends plenty of time in the basement, and he always runs when someone comes down. Makes one wonder what he could be up to down there."
"Up to?" said Mom. "He's a cat."
Kim stamped her foot. "The cat doesn't have a big ugly nose!"
Tim stamped his. "Or run on his hind legs."
Mom stamped hers, hardest of all. "That's enough! To bed! Now! It's time for a little peace in this house."
Kim and Tim lay in the dark in the room they still shared. Fortunately, this night they did have supper, so hunger wasn't on their minds. There were other problems making it hard to sleep.
"Kim?" Tim's voice floated across the room in a whisper. "Thanks for standing up for me. About the gnome, I mean."
"Actually, I was standing up for the cat. I don't know what you saw with a big ugly nose, but I won't stand by and hear that it's the poor innocent cat."
"Cats aren't so innocent. Anyway, you believe me, don't you?"
She didn't answer right away.
"I don't know."
"Why not?" Tim demanded.
"It sounds fishy."
Tim frowned, but of course Kim couldn't see this in the dark. At length he spoke again.
"So does a big old car with no one driving, doesn't it?
"Yeah, I guess. When you really think about it."
"And a dog with glowing eyes that lives in the hedge. It's only because we both saw those things that we know for sure."
"You're right. But I've been in the basement plenty, and I've never seen a gnome thing."
"Well he's good at hiding. I mean it's not like I've seen him much. Just once or twice."
"If I could see him just once ..."
"I don't think he'd come out if we were actually waiting for him. You kind of have to surprise him. Then he runs behind the furnace and that's the last you see of him."
"Did you check?"
"I mean, behind the furnace. Did you follow him there and look everywhere?"
"There's not a lot of 'everywhere' behind the furnace to look. You poke your head in, and you pretty much see it all at once."
Kim rolled over and buried her head in her pillow. "I'll let you know if I see him. Or it. Or whatever. Now let's sleep."
After a night's rest, they were fresh and alert to whatever opportunities arose for creative mayhem. Kim had been thinking about it all the way to school, and, as they were walking up to the doors, the plan was taking its final shape. She put her hand on her brother's arm and drew him aside. "I know what we'll do," she announced.
Today was library day. The library was on the top floor of the school, and the entire class would troop up the stairwell, leaving the classroom empty and unprotected. Kim and Tim sat in the back of the room, smiling over the plan in their minds. Ten o' clock came and Ms. Judd laid down her book and her chalk, as heads throughout the class turned to the clock above the door. "Two lines, people. Stay together and remain quiet. Remember there are other classes still in session."
As a body, the class rose, and fell into formation as they proceeded to the stairwell, Kim and Tim at the end. Ms. Judd marched at the front, as if clearing the way, and watching for whatever dangers might lurk on the short trip.
As soon as the teacher was out of sight, and before the doors to the stair had swung shut, Kim and Tim fell back, and returned to the class. They would finish their task quickly, and slip up to the library explaining that they had gone to the restroom. "At the same time?" Ms. Judd would ask. "It's a twin thing," they would respond. "You wouldn't understand." They had used it for many an excuse before.
The plan was simplicity itself: they would double stack the desks throughout the classroom, and when the class returned, the twins among them, all would be baffled as to how they got that way. Kim soon learned that she'd given too little thought to the work part of the operation. Lifting the desks and placing them was heavy going. They huffed and grunted occasionally, but they kept at it until half the desks in the room were on top of the other half. They stepped back for a moment, breathing hard, and admiring their effort.
Then Tim had a brilliant idea. "Let's go three high!" He anticipated an immediate "Yeah!" from Kim, but she looked doubtful.
"My arms are tired, and we should be getting up stairs before we're missed for too long."
"Just a few. I'll bet we can do it."
"It'd be hard. I don't know if we could reach."
"We'll do 'em together. It won't be as many, after all. We only had to lift half of 'em to do this, so it's like half of half."
Kim confessed that she liked the concept, and agreed to give it a try, as long as they were both lifting together. Sure enough, it was tricky raising the legs so high, and since they had to grip them low, the very first desk began to overbalance. It was at this awkward moment they were interrupted.
Mr. Damianno, the custodian, regularly popped into classrooms to tidy up when the class was away. Kim and Tim hadn't known this, and it was difficult to say who was more startled to see whom. The twins gasped, and lost control of the desk. It toppled over their heads, into another desk, and started a small domino reaction, bringing several others crashing to the floor. Tim was nearly hit by one, and Mr. Damianno let out a high shriek that he would later hotly deny.
Kim and Tim found themselves, for the first time in their recent careers, unable to offer any quick explanation. They were delivered to Ms. Judd, and then marched before the principal, who called their parents to explain how very disappointed he was. They had truly been caught in the act, and would simply have to accept their punishment, whatever it might be.
"Who is Mr. Heed?" Kim asked, when told that she and Tim were being sent to him for their crime.
"He's new here," Ms. Judd explained. Her tone implied that, in her opinion, they deserved no explanation. "He's here to work with students who have special needs."
"Such as concentration, behavioral issues. Students who aren't applying themselves, or are perhaps having ... other problems."
Kim really wanted to press Ms. Judd on the issue of "other problems", but knew she stood on shaky ground. They would go to see Mr. Heed, and somehow they would survive. They had dug themselves into a hole, but she had confidence they could crawl out of it if they played it smart for a time.
Mr. Heed had taken up residence in a room that doubled as a resource room for the teachers' use. He sat surrounded by textbooks, globes of varying age and accuracy, a skeleton lurking behind old film projectors that were hardly used anymore, and furniture that looked like the kind you would find in a living room or den rather than a classroom. Kim and Tim were invited to sit on a couch, but it turned out to be less comfortable than they hoped, and even a little scratchy. Perhaps all the better to keep them alert.
Right away they recognized Mr. Heed as the man they had seen a week or so before, entering this very room when they were crossing the hall with their class at recess time. He'd had his hand on the knob when he stopped and looked at them. They'd felt then that he showed an interest in them, over the rest of the class.
He was a man of average height and slight build. He was dark skinned, had a shaved head, and wore owlish glasses. He now sat before them, in a leather-upholstered swivel chair, and held his hands before him with the fingertips touching. He looked non-threatening, and his mouth seemed to hint at a smile, without committing itself entirely.
"You were taking quite a risk doing what you did. You do know that."
These were the first words he spoke beyond a polite "Come in," and "Please sit down."
Kim, as usual, spoke for both of them. "Aren't you going to introduce yourself or ask our names?"
"I know your names. You were sent to see me, weren't you? Here in my lap is a folder telling me all about you. I assumed you were told my name before you came. Still, you're right, courtesy should be adhered to. I'm Mr. Heed. I'm pleased to meet you both, Kimberly and Timothy. You were taking quite a risk doing what you did. Don't you think?"
Tim finally spoke for the two of them. "We didn't know that Damianno would come in!"
"Damianno? Is that how you address him?"
"Mister Damianno. But we didn't know he'd come in."
"No, perhaps you didn't. But do you think that was the only risk?"
Silence a moment. They weren't sure if they were supposed to know the answer or wait and be surprised.
"Ms. Judd might come back?" Kim asked.
"Yes, she might have. The President of the United States might have walked into the room for all you knew. That's highly unlikely, but let's think along different lines."
Silence again. Tim at length spoke. "Like what?"
"Suppose you had finished what you started. Suppose you had then slipped upstairs unnoticed to the library, and no one ever knew that you had been missing. You were confident that Ms. Judd would not guess?"
Kim this time: "How would she? It could have been anyone."
"Pardon the pun, but I'm sure your teacher can put two and two together." They got it, but did not laugh. "My point is: there were any number of risks that you didn't consider. It was very dangerous; let's not forget that. I understand one of you was almost struck by a desk." Tim shuddered, remembering. "Am I saying that, if there are no risks at all, you should go ahead and break the rules? No. What you were doing was wrong, but it was also foolish. Wasn't it?"
They hung their heads and avoided his eyes. "Yes."
"Let's talk about your home lives a little. You have a baby sister, don't you?"
"Yes." The previous one word answer had been contrite. This sounded entirely different.
"And her name is?"
"You have everything about us in a folder, don't you?" This came from Tim, and surprised them both for its boldness.
Mr. Heed betrayed no offense. "It would be more polite, let's say more conversational, if you told me. Would you rather sit there while I flip through papers looking things up?"
"No," confessed Kim. "Her name's Abby."
"Abby. That's a pretty name."
"No it's not. I think it's stupid."
Mr. Heed shook his head. "Stupid is a very harsh word. I don't think you really stand by it, do you? Do you want to use a word that would surely hurt your sister's feelings?"
"She's a baby. She doesn't have feelings."
"Now that's not true. She simply doesn't have words to tell you what she feels, that's all it is. Don't mistake that for not feeling."
Silence again. Mr. Heed went on.
"Does it bother you that she came along? Do you wish you didn't have a sister?"
"No, it's not that!" Kim protested.
"You've never said that out loud? Even once?"
"Would it surprise you to hear that something even worse happened to me?"
"I was an only child for eight years. I thought I had it all to myself. Then my Mother had twins. Yes, twins. You see, you were two, and then one came along. I was one and two came along. Well I felt as if I'd fallen off the face of the earth and nobody had seen me go. Did I understand that babies just need more attention than an eight-year old, and that my folks didn't love me one bit less? Not then, no. I hated the whole world for playing that trick on me. Now those twins are in college and I couldn't be more proud of them."
"It's just that ..." Kim began meekly. But it was purely defensive, and she knew she had nothing to say.
Mr. Heed felt it was time to change tack, since they clearly got the point.
"From everything I see here," he nodded and raised the knee on which their folders rested, "you're both very bright. Let me ask you this:" He paused, and drummed his fingers before going on. "Have you ever had any special, unusual experiences, or encounters? Talked about things no one else has seen? Other people don't believe you? I ask because sometimes twins share a certain private kind of communication."
This was unexpected. They shifted uneasily and drew together, scrutinizing Mr. Heed. Had their parents spoken to this man, and asked him to probe into their stories?
They told him what they'd been telling at home, and he betrayed no reaction. He did not try to talk them out of it, or to interpret what any of it meant. He made a few quick notes, then changed course again.
"What do you like to do when you're not in school?"
"Um-read," Kim began. "Ride our bikes."
"Explore? Go on adventures?"
"What would be an adventure to you?"
"Um- to see new things?"
"Now don't ask me. Tell me. Would you like to see places you'd never been to or heard of?"
Excerpted from The Troubling Stone by Scott Roberts Copyright © 2009 by Scott Roberts. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.