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“I still don’t see how you can like that weird old Dr. Reit, Sheila.” Cookie Rogers, who was fourteen, plump, and an aspiring actress, gave a melodramatic shudder, hugging her schoolbooks to her. “He gives me the creeps.”
Sheila sighed, shifting her backpack to a more comfortable position. Sheila was Cookie’s age, but they weren’t at all alike in anything else. Where Cookie was short and plump, with curly brown hair and big blue eyes, Sheila was tall and slim. But she was in great shape thanks to running and softball. Her face freckled in the sun no matter what she did, and her hazel eyes usually sparkled with warmth and good humor.
But her eyes weren’t sparkling right now. She liked Cookie, she really did. They had a lot of fun together. But sometimes her friend could be such a pain! “Dr. Reit is not weird. Just because he’s a scientist—”
“Sure! A mad scientist!”
“He is not!” Sheila stamped her foot angrily. “Dr. Reit is a famous inventor. He also happens to be my friend.”
“I thought I was your friend.”
“Well? You promised to come home with me after school so we could go over the math homework together, and instead you’re going off to that creepy old house to look at some creepy old books.”
“I told you. I need them for my paper. The one on parallel worlds in science fiction and fantasy.”
“What does that mean?”
“Parallel worlds? It’s a theory that there might be thousands of different dimensions, with a different Earth in each one. You could have a world where no one ever discovered America, or where magic works, or just about anything!”
Cookie shrugged. “I don’t know how you can read that stuff. Spaceships and sorcerers and—and Things … Ugh. I’d rather read a play any day. Or a love story.” She sighed romantically, pretending to swoon, and Sheila grinned.
“Love stories are okay, but science fiction’s fun and exciting, too. Look, I’ve got to look through those books, but it won’t take me more than an hour or two. We’ll still have time to study. Okay?”
“Well … okay.” Cookie grinned. “Give my regards to Dr. Reit.”
Sheila looked up at Dr. Reit’s house. She supposed some people really might call it creepy. It was one of those old Victorian mansions—all funny angles and shapes, as if rooms had been added at whim. Every edge and corner was covered with that busy ornamental woodwork called gingerbread. Dr. Reit had inherited the house from his father. He had inherited a lot of money from his father, too, but most of it had gone into the laboratory attached to the house. It was a beautiful laboratory, with strange shining machinery and mysterious gadgetry. Sheila loved it when the scientist let her watch him at work, even if she didn’t always understand what he was trying to do. In fact, there were times when she wasn’t sure if even Dr. Reit knew what he was trying to do!
Sheila rang the bell. As she waited at the door she wondered about what Cookie had said. Just why did she like the scientist? He was old enough to be her grandfather, and he didn’t know anything about popular music or anything like that. But he treated her like an adult. He let her ask all the questions she wanted and listened to her ideas. He liked to read science fiction, too. And he never made fun of her when she daydreamed about other worlds, worlds where she could be someone exciting, like a heroic adventurer out of one of Dr. Reit’s old fantasy magazines.
Sheila pressed the bell again and laughed as the theme from Star Wars rang out. That was another thing she liked about the scientist: he had a great sense of humor.
Dr. Reit’s voice, sounding metallic and far away, said over the intercom, “Sheila? Is that you? Yes, yes, I see it is, the camera’s working properly. Wait a minute, now. I’ll get the door open.… There.”
With a whir and a click, the door swung open.
“Did it work?” Dr. Reit’s voice asked urgently. “It’s a new invention, a sort of remote-control door-opener.”
Sheila giggled. “It worked fine. Hey, hi, Einstein!”
Dr. Reit’s orange cat had come running to greet her, meowing happily as she bent to scratch him under the chin. Dr. Reit’s voice continued, “I’m in the laboratory, Sheila. Come on back. I want to show you what I’m working on now!”
“Gee … I’m really sorry, but I can’t. I promised Cookie …”
But Dr. Reit had already shut off the intercom. With a sigh, Sheila started down the hallway to the laboratory, Einstein padding along silently at her side.
“Einstein! Watch it!”
The purring cat had started to twine affectionately about her legs as she walked, nearly tripping her.
“Einstein! Look, cat, I know you like me. I like you, too, but—Oh, all right.” She scooped him up into her arms. “Oof. You’re putting on weight, cat.”
Einstein only purred.
“Ah, there you are!” Dr. Reit’s tall, skinny figure appeared in the doorway to the lab, a grease-stained white lab coat not quite reaching far enough to cover all of his lanky height. His mop of white hair stuck up in wild tufts; Sheila knew the scientist had a habit of absently running his hands through it while thinking, even if his hands were covered with grease. “Come on, I’ve got something exciting to show you.”
He caught Sheila by the hand. Einstein spilled to the ground with a startled yowl, giving Dr. Reit a reproachful look. “Sorry,” he said absently. “There, now, what do you think of that?”
Sheila entered the laboratory cautiously, looking around. Nothing much seemed to have changed. Tools and bits of unfinished machinery were still lying all over the place. Plans scrawled in Dr. Reit’s wild handwriting and blueprints of mysterious devices covered every flat inch of desk and walls. She also noticed a calendar—a year out of date—showing photos of galaxies, a worn-out poster from The Day the Earth Stood Still, a misplaced bag of kitty litter, and a sketch she had once drawn of Einstein as a kitten.
“I don’t see anything different …” Sheila began hesitantly, reaching down to pet Einstein, who had forgiven her for dropping him and was weaving about her ankles.
“No, look over here. What do you think of this?”
In an alcove stood what looked like the framework for a doorway, a rectangle of shining metal, taller than it was wide. Sheila blinked. “I don’t—”
“Doesn’t look like much, does it? Aha, but watch this!”
Dr. Reit darted to a console near the “doorway.” As he pressed buttons and moved gears, a low hum filled the air and grew more and more shrill. The vibration of it quivered through Sheila till she winced. “The doorway!” cried Dr. Reit. “Watch the doorway—there!”
Sheila gasped. What had been empty space a moment before was now a mass of swirling blue, as though the opening had become a window onto a stormy sky. “What is it?”
Dr. Reit grinned. “That, my dear, is the prototype for my grandest invention: my Molecular Acceleration Transport Device. I intended it to be a teleportation device. You know, put a package into one station in New York, press a button, and—zip!—it appears in San Francisco the next moment.”
“That—that’s fantastic! Does it work?”
Excerpt From: Josepha Sherman and Gwen Hansen. “The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Vol. 1: Swept Away! and Sun Blind.” iBooks.
“Ah. Well. Not exactly the way I intended. You see, Sheila, I may have stumbled across something very fantastic, indeed.” The scientist absently ran a hand through his already tousled hair. “Remember that paper on science fiction you were writing for school? It may no longer be mere fiction.” His voice trembled with excitement. “I think you may be looking at a gateway into another level of time and space.” As Sheila stared at him, he added gleefully, “In short, I have every reason to believe you’re looking at a portal that can take you right into another dimension!”
Sheila gasped. “I can’t believe …”
“I didn’t, either, at first. Go take a look for yourself. If the blue clouds are just some sort of bizarre electrical discharge, you should be able to see through them to the wall beyond. But you can’t! Go ahead, take a look. But be careful!”
Heart pounding, Sheila took a wary step forward. Could it be true? Could that simple doorway really lead to the magical worlds of which she had dreamed? Chewing nervously on her lower lip, she peered into the mysterious blue swirling, looking for the wall that must be there, just a few inches behind the doorway. But all she saw were swirling clouds that seemed to go on for miles.
“Be careful!” warned Dr. Reit again. “Don’t get too close. Remember that we don’t know what’s on the other side!”
Maybe there wasn’t anything on the other side! Sheila shuddered. What if there were only clouds? If you fell through there, you just might go on falling and falling forever.…
She hastily turned away, saying, “Maybe you’d better shut it down until—Einstein!”
The cat, unnoticed, had twined himself between her feet. Sheila stumbled over him and fell—right toward the doorway!
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dr. Reit’s panic-stricken face as he leaped forward. For an instant his hand closed about her wrist. But before he could pull her to safety, an unearthly wind seized her. Sheila screamed as she was dragged away from Dr. Reit—
Then she was tumbling helplessly down and down into a dizzying world of stormy blue.