Mark Prescott's not your typical 10-year-old kid. He has a best friend who's a girl, a mind that has to have answers, and a need to have things the way they used to be. Before it's all over, he learns priceless lessons about friendship, living with change, and the gift of forgiveness.
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Strange Journey BackFour original stories of fun, intrigue, and friendship
By Paul McCusker
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Focus on the Family
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMark Prescott walked down the sidewalk with grim determination. In his hand, he clutched an envelope. In his heart, he carried a single desire: More than anything else, he wanted things to be the way they used to be.
He wanted things to be the way they were earlier in the spring before his dad left them; before Mark and his mom moved from his neighborhood and friends in Washington, D.C.; before they came to this little town called Odyssey; before ... before, well, before everything went wrong.
No matter what Mark was doing or thinking about, that one desire stayed with him-to change things back.
He didn't have time for the hot June day or the gentle breeze that whispered the first secrets of summer. He was on a mission. He had written a letter to his father, and he had to get it mailed.
Mark walked quickly, glancing from one side to the other. The tarred street to his left looked like a steaming black river. To his right, the last Victorian house slipped away like the last car on a long train. Odyssey Elementary School slid into view. It would be Mark's school in the fall, if he were still living in Odyssey, if he couldn't make things the way they used to be.
He was looking ahead when his attention was suddenly drawn to the playground. Two kids were wrestling on the grass. Next to them, a couple of bikes lay like crippled horses that had fallen to the ground.
"Ouch," cried one of the wrestlers.
"Cut it out," hollered the second kid.
The one with sandy hair, dirty jeans, and T-shirt sat triumphantly on the chest of the darker-haired one.
"Say you're sorry," the victor kept shouting.
"Ow! Get off!" the dark-haired kid whined.
Mark felt sorry for the kid on the bottom. He knew what it was like to be bullied. One time Cliff Atkinson sat on Mark's chest at recess and tried to take his lunch money. Just as Mark was about to give in, Lee Brooks grabbed Cliff and pulled him off so Mark could defend himself. Lee did crazy things like that. From then on, Lee had become his best friend.
Remembering how Lee had rescued him, Mark started across the field toward the fighters. Maybe he could help. Maybe he would make a new friend like Lee Brooks. His pace quickened to a run as he shoved the letter into his back pocket.
"Say you're sorry," the sandy-haired kid shouted again.
"Let me go!" the darker-haired kid on the bottom cried.
Mark locked his arms around the one on top and pulled hard.
"Hey, stop it!" the kid cried out with surprise.
The one on the bottom jumped up like a freed animal. His dark hair was matted to his sweaty forehead; his face was dirty and streaked with tears. A drop of blood bubbled out of his nose. He was taller than any of them.
"Hah," the boy shouted, as if he had gotten free without any help. "You're in big trouble. I'm going to get you for this!"
The boy pulled his bike upright, climbed on it, and pedaled off without even saying thanks to Mark.
The sandy-haired kid broke loose from Mark's grip and turned on him. Bright blue eyes shone with fury, and the face contorted into an expression that could have withered houseplants.
Mark gave a startled gasping sound and exclaimed, "You're a girl!"
Chapter TwoThe girl threw a punch at Mark. As her hand flew past his face, he stepped backward, tripped, and fell. Catlike, she pounced onto his chest and pinned his arms to the ground.
"Do you know what you did?" she screamed. "I waited the whole school year to get Joe! He picked on me. Called me bad names. And just when I-" She let out an angry huffing sound, swallowed, and then asked in a hoarse growl, "Do you know what you did?"
Mark considered wrestling his way out from under her. He knew he could, but he didn't. Instead, he said calmly, "Get off my chest."
"You ruined it! You ruined everything! Joe Devlin's been needing a good pounding all year."
"I'm sorry," Mark said. "I didn't know."
"You're sorry!" she shouted.
"Yeah," Mark answered quietly.
She looked puzzled. "You're sorry?"
She blinked a couple of times. Her weight on Mark's chest lessened as she climbed off.
"Oh," she said and sat on the grass next to him. She looked confused.
Mark propped himself up on his elbows and took a deep breath.
"Well ..." the girl fumbled, "you should be sorry."
Mark got up and pulled the letter out of his pocket. It was wrinkled and sweaty. It doesn't look too bad, he thought.
He turned back to the girl. "I have to leave," he said and started to walk across the field toward the post office.
By the time Mark reached the sidewalk, she was at his side walking her bike.
"I don't know you," she announced. "You're new in Odyssey, right?"
"Yeah." Mark picked up his pace.
"You live in old lady Schaeffer's house, right?"
Mark nodded. Old lady, Mark mused. Is that what they called her?
"Old lady" Schaeffer was Mark's grandmother, his mom's mom. The house had been his grandmother's until she died a couple of years ago and left everything in a will to Mark's mom. He hadn't known his grandmother very well, only through the usual Christmas and birthday cards.
"You're there with your mom, right?"
Mark wished this girl would leave him alone. She asked too many questions. Sooner or later, she would ask about his father.
"Look," Mark said, suddenly stopping. "I said I was sorry for ruining your fight. But I have to go. Nice to meet you." He took longer strides, hoping she wouldn't follow anymore.
The bike rattled behind him. Maybe she'll climb on it and ride away, he thought.
But she was at his side again. "Are you going to Whit's End? Looks like you're headed that way. I'm going to Whit's End, too."
"I'm going to the post office. I don't know what a Whit's End is." "You don't know about Whit's End? Guess you've been hiding somewhere since you moved here."
"We've been busy. We had to unpack lots of boxes," Mark said defensively.
"Oh. Well, Whit's End is the best place to go in all of Odyssey! It's kind of an ice cream shop, but it's also got a bunch of inventions and displays and ..." she paused. "You'll just have to see it. I'll take you after we go to the post office."
After we go to the post office? Mark didn't like the sound of it. His mission didn't include a strange girl.
"But I ..." he stopped. He could be rude and tell her to get lost, but his mom had taught him better. "Okay," he finally said.
The rest of the walk to downtown Odyssey took only five minutes. It could have been five hours. Except to tell her his name when she asked, Mark never got a word in because the girl didn't stop talking.
She told him that her name was Patti Eldridge, and then she went on to say, "I like to do a lot of things boys usually like, but the kids make fun of me because I'm a girl. And Whit's End is owned by a man named John Avery Whittaker who used to be a teacher, but he quit because he likes to invent things for kids."
Her sentences never ended; they just kept going with the word "and." Eventually, Mark did what he always did with people who talked a lot. He stopped listening and let his mind drift to other places.
He was in his bedroom again. Not the bedroom at his grandmother's house but his bedroom, the real one in Washington, D.C. He was buttoning his shirt, rushing to get ready for school. He was feeling nervous.
In another part of the house, he heard the voices of his mom and dad. Another fight. They seemed to be having more and more of them. Mark suspected they had tried to hide their fights from him, but they couldn't. He heard them in the morning and sometimes late at night. And even when they weren't fighting, he suffered through the silences at mealtimes. He knew what the late hours his dad kept at the office really meant.
He fumbled with the buttons on his shirt and listened to the voices. His name was mentioned. He froze. As the questions sneaked into his mind, he felt like a fist was punching his stomach. They weren't questions like he had on tests. They were more like feelings with question marks at the end of them: Why did his parents have to fight so much? Why did they say his name?
Maybe he was doing something to make them fight. Maybe it was because he had woken up late for school again. Maybe he had left his shoes in the middle of the living room floor again. Maybe ... maybe ... it was his fault. Maybe that's why they didn't fight around him, so he wouldn't hear their list of terrible things he had done to make them fight.
The voices reached a peak and stopped. It was as if a bell had rung, sending the fighters to their corners after another round.
Mark heard a soft shuffle of feet coming up the stairs, down the hall, then stopping at his bedroom door. Mark's dad opened the door and surveyed the room with that familiar frown.
"You're not ready yet," he said. "You want to be late for school again?"
"No, sir," Mark whispered.
"And look at this room. How many times do I have to tell you to clean it?" He shook his head. "Hurry up. Your mother has breakfast waiting for you downstairs."
Mark's father turned and walked away. Shortly afterward, his parents' bedroom door slammed.
In the kitchen his mom didn't say anything. Her eyes were red and wet as she served Mark his breakfast. At one point, she kissed him on the forehead while he ate. She had never done that before. He usually got a kiss on the way out the door. It scared him, and he didn't want to eat anymore.
Finally he put on his coat, grabbed his books, and braced himself for the cold morning air. His mom opened the door, leaned down, and kissed him again. One of her tears smeared his cheek. And the tear was warm.
Mark stepped out into a nippy February day, thrusting his hands into his coat pockets. He heard the laughter and chatter of the other kids waiting at the end of the block for the school bus. He wondered if they had mornings like he did. Did their parents have fights before breakfast?
He walked down the front porch steps and glanced back to see his mother close the door. His eyes drifted up to his parents' bedroom window. The curtain moved slightly. For a brief moment, Mark thought he saw his father looking down at him.
Later that afternoon when he came running in after school, Mark's mom asked him to sit down and listen carefully. With a quavering voice, she explained that his dad had left them. She gave some excuses about why he had. She said he was overworked, they had some problems, and he was confused about things.
But Mark knew the truth. His dad had left because of him. He had left because Mark had woken up late again, his room wasn't clean, and his dad couldn't take it anymore. It was Mark's fault.
"There's the post office," Patti said, bringing Mark back to the present.
Mark rushed into the small brick building, waited in line, then handed over his letter when it was his turn.
The woman behind the counter smiled wearily and handed it back. "It's too crumpled," she said. "Put it in another envelope, honey. You don't want it to get lost, do you?"
He shook his head and stepped away from the counter. He had to get the letter to his dad soon.
Outside the post office Mark said to Patti, "I have to go home right away."
"But we were going to Whit's End."
He started to protest, but she grabbed his sleeve and tugged him along. "It's right over there," Patti pointed, "across from McAlister Park. Come on."
He didn't want to be rude; he figured he could escape soon enough. Patti identified the various buildings for Mark as they walked through the park. She showed him the gym, the basketball courts, and sports facilities, but he didn't care. Then a different sort of building came into view. It was a large house sitting off by itself, as if it didn't belong.
As he got closer, Mark noticed that the house looked more like a collection of odd-shaped boxes with small, medium, and large squares and a rectangular section with windows. It also had a jutting tower and roofs that angled every which way, as if the creator couldn't make up his mind which way to build them.
"That's Whit's End," Patti said.
For a moment Mark was drawn to the strange-looking place. But his mission came to mind again. He didn't want to go to an ice cream shop. He wanted to go back home. He wanted to get a new envelope and mail the letter to his dad. He wanted to get away from Patti Eldridge, who kept talking even when he stopped listening. Mark was about to tell Patti he had to leave when-BOOM!
Chapter ThreeThe explosion shook the park, sending echoes through the trees and scattering the birds like a shotgun blast.
"Come on!" Patti said, running toward Whit's End.
By the time they reached the front of the house, a group of kids and a few adults were filing out in orderly fashion. Mark was surprised by the lack of panic. No one was running or screaming. He didn't see any signs of damage. Small clouds of smoke drifted from the basement window.
What a strange place, Mark thought.
"Let's try to get in," Patti said, as they reached the front door. "I want to see what happened."
That was as far as they got.
A man stood in the doorway with a fire extinguisher in his hand. White foam dribbled from the nozzle. "Nothing to worry about," the man announced. "Everything's under control."
His voice was low and fuzzy, and his face was lifted into a large smile. His friendly eyes were bright and clear beneath white, bushy eyebrows. The eyebrows matched his mustache and hair, which were thick and untamed.
A fire engine siren screamed in the distance, growing louder as it approached Whit's End from Main Street.
"Completely unnecessary," the man said quietly. Glancing at Mark, he winked.
"What happened, Mr. Whittaker?" Patti asked.
Mr. Whittaker. So this is the one Patti kept talking about. Mark studied the man more seriously.
"A fractured filament," Mr. Whittaker answered. He put down the extinguisher and moved toward the firemen who were jumping off the parked fire engine. Their red helmets and yellow coats looked bright against the green of the park. Whit waved them back. "False alarm, boys. A lot of smoke, that's all."
As the fire chief approached Whit, he ordered the others to go in and check the building.
"The third time in two weeks, Whit," the chief said with a hint of disapproval.
"There's no danger," Whit replied.
"Uh-huh, and what was it this time?" the fire chief asked.
Whit hesitated, his cheeks turning red. "The Imagination Station."
"A time machine, sort of," Whit offered reluctantly.
A time machine! Mark thought. Can people really travel through time?
The fire chief shook his head. "Whit, you're a wacko."
Mark heard affection in the man's voice.
Patti leaned toward Mark. "This happens all the time," she whispered. "Whit's always inventing stuff like that."
"Do ... do the inventions work?" Mark asked.
"Of course!" Patti exclaimed proudly.
Then Mark heard a breathless puffing and a high-pitched voice muttering behind them.
"Uh-oh, here comes Emma Douglas," Patti said with a snicker.
Emma Douglas went straight to Whit. "Mr. Whittaker, please!" she said in a voice full of shaky nerves. "I ... I told you when I took this job that I'm ... I'm not very good with ... with this." She gestured toward Whit's End. A strand of her silver hair came loose from the knot at the back of her head.
Whit smiled, his upper lip disappearing beneath his mustache. Mark thought the smile was reassuring.
"I'm sorry, Emma," Whit said. "I must have made a mistake in my figuring."
Her small hands twisted her apron, as if she were strangling it. "I know you're sorry, Mr. Whittaker, but I ... I don't think I can stand it anymore. All the tinkering you do, the strange inventions, kids everywhere, loud noises." Emma Douglas caught her breath. "It's too much for me."
Whit pleaded with her. "Emma, give it a little more time."
"I quit, Mr. Whittaker. This minute. This very second. I quit." Emma Douglas turned and went back through the door into Whit's End. The knot of hair at the back of her head bobbed up and down like the tail of a rabbit.
Whit shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his work overalls. "Another one," he said. "That's the third worker I've lost in less than a month."
Excerpted from Strange Journey Back by Paul McCusker Copyright © 2006 by Focus on the Family. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In my quest to research children's Christian sci-fi stories, I ordered a four-books-in-one Adventures in Odyssey. It appears to have been originally published in the 70's. Have you ever read one of those books that had a good beginning, a slow middle, and a good ending? This isn't one of those. In my opinion, this book was a bit depressing. It opens with ten-year-old Mark Prescott trying to settle into a new town--Odyssey. He and his mom moved because his dad walked out on them. Mark deals with the town bully and meets John Whittaker--the owner of Whit's End ice cream shop and a quirky inventor. I understand that divorce is an issue that kids deal with, but I wonder if it could have been dealt with differently in the book or balanced out with something. I think the adventures in the book are too short. Little resolution is offered for any of the problems presented. Potential subplots are introduced, but the story ends too quickly and I'm not sure I am interested in reading the sequel.
Connie cant be sixteen because she has been engaged before. Remember Mitch? And now she is dating Jeff. She is also in college. So she to at least be over 18. Please answer soon. THANKS!!!!!
How many pages? Is it worth 10.49$ ?? I want to spend my money wisely
This four books in one compilation has us visiting Odyssey, this time with new kid in town Mark Prescott. He is there because his mom & dad are separated - temporarily, he hopes, but in the meantime he just plain wants to be back at home in Washington DC. He quickly learns there are lots of things to love about Odyssey, Mr. Whittaker, the Imagination Station, a local "gang" that only does good, a new friend-who-is-a-girl Patti (you can be friends with girls, who knew?) and lots of mystery as well as life changing lessons. I really enjoyed this compilation of books about Mark & Odyssey. I especially appreciated the author's choice to not always have things solved quickly and easily. I think this is a great series/book complication for kids and I can easily recommend it.
Strange Journey Back is a great book. It took me into the little town of Odyssey and made me want to stay there and visit Whit’s end and have an ice cream. If you’ve ever listened to the radio series you’ll recognize some of the characters, like Whit. But even if you’ve never heard of Odyssey you’ll fall in love the second you open this book.
Mark is a boy who is nice. Mark and his mother moved from Washington,D.C, to a little town called Odyssey. Then, everything went wrong. Mark got in a fight with other boys and his mom got fired. I think this was a very sad book. I liked it.