Read an Excerpt
In families like mine—savvy families—change can hit fast. When I was still teeter-tottering on tiny feet, my family moved away from our home next to the ocean. Momma and Poppa had no choice; my brother Fish had triggered a hurricane along the Gulf Coast on his thirteenth birthday, and we needed to live someplace where he couldn’t do as much damage with his storming.
My grandpa moved with us, which was lucky. Originally, my parents were going to relocate the family to Colorado. Closer to Poppa’s childhood home.
Closer to Grandma Pat.
Patrice Beaumont was the sourest, least-magical grandmother imaginable. But with the Centennial State still west of sunset, Grandpa Bomba got a twinkle in his eye and we took a detour. Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, Grandpa nudged Nebraska farther north and kicked Kansas farther south, using his savvy to move and stretch the soil. Just like that, we had our own bit of land, smack-dab in the middle of the country. We called our new home Kansaska-Nebransas, and we were happy there.
Grandpa Bomba was gone now, called up to heaven three months ago—right after I turned thirteen. Right after I got my savvy. But his room in our house still stood empty. Nobody wanted to disturb it. The air inside those four walls held too much love. Too much magic. I often stuck my nose into Grandpa’s room, just to remember what he’d smelled like; I grieved as the scent of sun-warmed sand and freshly turned earth faded slowly into the whiff of dust and memory.
After the fiasco at Flint’s Market, I hid in Grandpa Bomba’s room, locking the door to keep my little brother out. Still moping over my miserable afternoon, I remembered the last birthday card Grandpa Bomba gave me. He’d jotted oodles of X’s and O’s inside it. Beneath his hieroglyphic smooches, Grandpa inscribed a quote from Shakespeare, his penmanship wobbly and crooked:
Come what may, time and the hour run through the roughest day.
Grandpa must have known that I’d have some rough days coming, now that I was growing up. I imagined what Grandpa Bomba would’ve said if he were still alive and sitting next to me. He might have smiled and kissed the top of my head, proclaiming, “How I love you, Gypsy girl!” or “You look like you need a good yarn to cheer you up.” Then he would’ve reeled off endless stories, his eyes shining bright. He would’ve told me for the hundredth time how Grandma Dollop had put up radio waves inside of jars the way other ladies put up peaches. Or maybe he would’ve repeated the story of our first savvy ancestor, Eva Mae El Dorado Two-Birds Ransom, the pioneer girl who fell into the Missouri River on her thirteenth birthday and climbed out covered head to toe in gold dust. Trawling gold, forever after. Generations of savvy folk had been having extraordinary thirteenth birthdays ever since; savvy families dotted the map like sprinkles on a sheet cake.
My savvy birthday had brought its own set of marvels.
On the morning of October eleventh, the sun had slumbered late beneath the deep-blue covers of night, slow to wake on my special day. Swimming up and out of dreamland, I’d wiggled my toes, too woozy and content to move any other part of me. The hum of my parents’ voices drifted up from downstairs. Momma was busy cooking a special breakfast. Poppa was setting the table with the unbreakable dishes we always used for savvy birthdays.
My sister, Mibs, would be arriving later in the day with her fiancé, Will Meeks. My oldest brothers, Fish and Rocket, were on their way home too. Fish was bringing his new wife, Mellie. Soon, Samson would come out of hiding, like a moth drawn to the thirteen tiny flames atop my cake, and Tucker would get to sing “Happy Birthday” as big and as loud as he pleased. There would be sparks and hugs and windy bluster as everyone helped me celebrate.
My grown-up siblings had all had their own savvy adventures. Even Samson had seen his share of excitement. Samson’s savvy gave him the power of invisibility, and more. Whenever my reclusive sixteen-year-old brother became as unseen as a ghost, he charged up like a battery, giving him a storehouse of inner strength he could pass to other people with a touch. During a particularly heroic moment the previous summer, Samson had given all his strength away, making it difficult for him to disappear again for months. Making him super-cranky too. By the morning of my birthday, Samson was still working hard to get the full power of his savvy back. But at least he’d gotten to see some spectacular Sardoodledom. Some thrilling drama and excitement.
Now, at last, it was my turn to have some fun.
Despite the slugabed bliss of my early-morning snooziness, I’d shivered in anticipation of what the day might bring. I imagined sprouting a pair of wings as beautiful as those of doves and angels. Or going fishing with Poppa and catching candy necklaces instead of catfish. I pictured myself dancing up to the clouds. Moonwalking to the glowing moon.
I took stock of myself as I lay in bed, trying to decide if I felt different. But I only felt like same old, same old me. Believing it was safe to start my morning, I sat up and stretched, blinking into the light streaming through my window.
My blurry window . . . inside my completely blurry room.
“Drat and drumsticks,” I whispered to myself. “My eyesight is getting worse! If things stay this blurry, Momma and Poppa will make me get glasses for sure.” No one else in my family wore glasses. No one but Grandma Pat. And I didn’t want to share one thing more in common with Patrice Beaumont than I already did. I’d already inherited Grandma Pat’s untamable curls—mine the color of sunflower honey, hers now as white as nurses’ shoes, or cottage cheese. We both had pointed chins and peachy-cream skin, though Grandma’s cheeks were more like wrinkled old fruit in skim milk now. We even shared the same birthday!
I hadn’t gotten a birthday card from Grandma since I was ten. That was fine by me. The only things I’d ever found inside Grandma Pat’s cards were crumpled dollar bills and sharp words. Words about growing up and toughening up. Words about not standing out, or being different.
Grandma didn’t like us. She frowned upon savvy smarts and savvy talents. She hadn’t even come to Fish’s wedding.
I was still blinking and rubbing my eyelids, trying to bring the world into focus, when little Tuck burst into my room.
“Why are you still in bed, Gypsy?” Tucker demanded. “You should get up. Know why?” My brother crossed the room and leaned against my bed. “Because it’s your BIRTHDAY!” he yelled. Then he added, “Momma’s making waffles, Gypsy! Waffles!”
At seven—almost eight—Tuck was still years away from getting a savvy of his own, but that didn’t stop him from being super-enthusiastic about mine.
“When I’m thirteen”—Tucker jumped onto my bed and started bouncing—“I hope I get a savvy that lets me turn into a cat.” My brother’s blond hair flew up and down as he made the mattress springs squeak and groan. “Hey! Maybe you’ll get volcano power, Gypsy.” Tucker leaped to the floor and skip-hopped around my room, pretending his feet were on fire.
“Hot lava! Hot lava, everywhere! Help, everyone—help!”
I giggled. I couldn’t help it. Tucker was a clown.
Tuck’s cries roused the rest of the house. Samson arrived first, a long, tall shadow in the doorway. Just in time to see Tucker stop, drop, and roll beneath my bed.
“Watch out, Samson!” Tuck called out. “Hot lava is abrupting from the top of Gypsy’s head.”
“Erupting, not abrupting,” I laughed, correcting him.
“Lava. Really.” Samson had obviously just woken up; his husky voice sounded lower and even more unimpressed than usual. He yawned and leaned against the door frame, fading a little at the edges, like he was thinking about disappearing.
“What’s happened? Is anyone hurt?” Poppa’s words were taut as he pushed past Samson. He held a cook pot lid in front of him like a shield, and he gripped an industrial-sized fire extinguisher in his other hand. Ready to do battle with any bubbling magma.
Surveying the scene, Poppa relaxed his shoulders. “There is no lava, is there. What a relief!”
I was about to assure Poppa that everything was fine, when something peculiar began to happen to my blurred vision. Every time I tried to focus on Poppa’s face, his features began to swirl. The same thing happened when I looked at Samson. My brain felt like a spiral noodle lost inside a cinnamon roll factory—everything was going around and around and around.
By the time I turned to look at Tucker, all I could see was a spinning vortex of moving images. The dizzying swirl spun counterclockwise, then jerked clockwise, before resolving into a single crystal-clear scene. A scene that played out in my mind’s eye like a silent movie. Showing me . . .
Blowing out thirteen candles on a cake, and then—Gadzooks!
I squeezed my eyes closed and shook my head. I rubbed my eyelids with my knuckles. I’d always had a knack for seeing things other people couldn’t, but this was different. This was wackadoo extreme.
I blinked and blinked as Momma stepped into the room and stood behind Poppa. “I think you can put the fire extinguisher down now, Abram,” she said, taking the cook pot lid from him.
Momma turned to me and smiled.
“Good morning, sweetheart. Don’t be too anxious. I just know today is going to be a Gypsy-wonderful day!” Momma always knew the right words. She was, after all, capital-P Perfect. Her savvy made her that way. My mother never looked rumpled or sloppy. She never stumbled, bumbled, or burned toast. Which was why I was extra, extra confused when my savvy hit full throttle.
I nearly fell off my bed as graceless visions of Momma rioted through my mind’s eye. Blinking through a counterclockwise churn, I saw my mother as a little girl. She was sitting on a bench outside a school principal’s office, looking as happy as a clam, despite being a wild mess. Her socks slouched and her shoelaces were loose. Her braids were half undone. She had a Band-Aid on one knee and a prize-winning shiner. Momma looked like she’d just gone three rounds with the school bully and won.
I blinked in surprise but didn’t take my eyes off Momma. The swirl of flashes in front of me suddenly jerked and switched directions, spinning clockwise before settling into an all-new scene. An all-new vision.
I saw Momma exactly as she was now—she was even wearing the same shirt. Only, in this premonition, Momma stood on a road lined with tall pine trees, illuminated by the bright lights of a tow truck. It was nighttime. It was snowing. And Momma looked frazzled. She held a half-eaten cupcake in one hand, and she had icing and rainbow sprinkles in her hair, on her shirt, even smeared across her cheek. Our station wagon rested behind her, nose-down in a ditch.
I closed my eyes and refused to open them again for the next half hour; I couldn’t look at anyone for more than a few seconds without having another dizzying vision.
There were no candy necklaces on fishhooks for me.
No wings, or moonbeam-dancing either.
My new savvy gave me the power to see willy-nilly into anyone’s past or future, but I had no control over which images I got to see. Momma tried to assure me that control would come later, after I learned to scumble. After I learned to be the boss of my unique abilities.
“Mastering a new set of skills always takes time, Gypsy,” Momma reminded me.
Before my birthday was over, I was the proud owner of a brand-new pair of sparkly purple spectacles, made for me by the one-hour optometrist up in Hebron. My entire family had gone along to help me pick out my glasses. Everyone assured me that the two bottle-thick lenses didn’t make my eyes look as huge as I knew they did. But the glasses did the trick, correcting my vision and giving me quick-fix command over my new clairvoyant abilities. As long as my eyesight stayed 20/20 crisp and clear, there was no swirl. No vortex. When I wore my glasses, my savvy visions stayed away.
Of course, that didn’t keep me from sliding my new specs down my nose and spying on other people whenever I felt like it. Which was how—three months later, inside Flint’s Market—I knew Mrs. Foster was going to take a nasty spill in the bathtub sometime in her future. Slipping on a brand-new bar of Suds o’ Heaven soap.
The cordless phone rang in the hallway, bringing me back into the present, back to my mopey-doping inside Grandpa Bomba’s room. From the other side of the door, Tucker shouted, “I’ll get it!” There was a moment of silence, then my little brother’s voice clanged through the house again.
“Poppa! Hey, Poppa! Some lady named Mrs. Kim wants to talk to—oops! I think I just hung up on her.”
There were footsteps in the hall, followed by Poppa’s voice. “Hand me the phone, Tuck. Why don’t you go ask Gypsy or Samson to play with you until dinner.”
“But, Poppa!” Tucker whined as the phone began to ring again. “Gypsy locked me out of Grandpa’s room, and I can never find Samson now that he’s got his savvy back. He’s always invisible. I wish I had my savvy already. I hate being the littlest.”
At the dinner table that night, I picked at my food. I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t feel like talking. All I wanted to do was sit and wait for time to finish running through my awful day.
Poppa was quiet too, and plainly distracted by worried thoughts. Momma, to everyone’s surprise and distress, was uncommonly clumsy. Samson and I shared a look of shock when Momma dropped an entire pot roast on the dining room floor but served it to us anyway, seasoned with carpet fuzzies. She had tried to make brownies for dessert, but she’d been talking with Poppa behind closed doors, after the mysterious Mrs. Kim called, and didn’t hear the oven timer. The brownies were too burned to eat.
Even with my mind in a fluster over the events and the visions inside Flint’s Market, I could tell something was going on. Something was wrong. Really wrong. I knew Tucker and Samson could sense it too. Tucker got cranky, and Samson disappeared the moment he finished helping me wash the dishes. Kansaska-Nebransas brimmed with tension. It felt as if a big, bad wolf lurked just outside our door.
At church the next morning, Pastor Meeks said a prayer for Mrs. Foster. Despite my efforts, Shelby’s mom had slipped and fallen in her bathtub the night before, breaking two ribs and busting her elbow. She must have found a bar of Suds o’ Heaven soap someplace else, after leaving Flint’s Market.
Mrs. Foster was recuperating at home, but Shelby had come to church with her father. She turned in her pew and glared at me throughout Pastor Meeks’s entire prayer, like she blamed me for her mother’s accident.
I sighed. In the three months since my birthday, I’d never once managed to change a single bad future I’d envisioned. I’d seen that Tucker was going to swallow a marble; enlisting the entire family to help me, I’d cleared every marble from the house. I told my brother about my vision and instructed him to keep inedible objects out of his mouth. Yet, when Tucker spotted a small green marble in a potted plant at the bank, he put it on his tongue on purpose.
“Thee Gypthy?” he said, trying to talk around the glass ball. “I can thuck on a marble without—” Gulp! “Oops.”
I barely listened to Pastor Meeks as more and more memories of things I hadn’t been able to change came back to me: I’d had a vision of our mailman getting bitten by a dog, and it had happened; I’d glimpsed a bandage on his hand a few days later. I’d seen that Leeba Goldstein, the librarian, was going to drop her wedding band down the sink. When I advised her to never remove the ring before she washed her hands, she thanked me. But she was really thanking me for giving her the idea to wash away her ring. Apparently, Mrs. Goldstein was filing for divorce.
I liked it better when the spinning vortex of my visions shifted counterclockwise, showing me the past. The past was over and done with. There was nothing I could do to change it.
I spent the rest of the church service losing myself in panoramas of other people’s lives. I was staring over the tops of my sparkly glasses, watching an amusing, old-timey scene of Mr. Popplewell playing stickball as a boy, when Momma nudged me.
“Please work harder to stay in the present with the rest of us, Gypsy,” she whispered as everyone stood to sing “Take Time to Be Holy”—the morning’s final hymn.
I pushed my glasses back in place, then hunted for my shoes. I’d kicked them off somewhere beneath our pew. “I swear I was listening,” I whispered back.
“Were you?” Momma brushed an unkempt strand of silver-blond hair out of her face and gave me a stern look. Then she accidentally dropped her hymnal. I frowned as I noticed a snag in her cardigan, and a coffee stain on her blouse. Where had my perfect momma gone? It was like her savvy had turned upside down.
“I just worry about you, sweetheart,” Momma murmured in an undertone as the rest of the congregation warbled: “Take time to be holy, the world rushes on . . .”
I winced as Momma bent to retrieve her hymnal and hit her forehead against the top of the next pew. Rubbing her eyebrow as she straightened up, Momma exhaled tiredly. But she went on talking as if she hadn’t blundered.
“It’s like you’re never really here with us anymore, Gypsy,” she said. “You’re always too busy looking forward or back.”
Clearly grumpy that Momma and I were talking during the hymn, the woman behind us leaned forward and sang extra-extra-loud: “TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY, BE CALM IN YOUR SOUL . . .” as if doing so would make us be quiet.
Momma turned and gave the woman a withering look. “You be calm in your soul, Myrna Lee,” she said. Then she stuck out her tongue. I wasn’t sure what had happened to make Momma act so different, but part of me liked this new side of her.
After the service, Tucker made a mad dash for the donut table; Samson vanished into thin air, as usual; and Momma and Poppa joined the rest of the congregation in the fellowship hall. Following on my parents’ heels, I paused in the open doorway. I watched Shelby join the older girls gathered by the windows. They were all comparing shoes and nail polish, and taking pictures with their phones.
I looked down at my feet. Drat! I’d forgotten my shoes in the sanctuary again. I curled my toes into the tight gray carpet beneath me, praying Shelby and her friends wouldn’t notice I was barefoot. All I could think about was the way Shelby had called me a silly, dancing, flower-picking baby.
When Shelby caught me staring, I waved and gave her my best, most grown-up smile.
Shelby turned her back on me.
Scarcely able to hold back tears, I fled to the bathroom and locked the door.
After taking a few deep breaths, I splashed my cheeks with cold water, adjusted my sparkly spectacles, and considered myself in the mirror. Yesterday, in Flint’s Market, I’d taken my glasses off to squint at Shelby, hoping to see a happy future filled with camaraderie. Perhaps I’d been gawking in the wrong direction.
Maybe I should have been looking at me.
In the months since my birthday, I hadn’t once worked up the courage to try to see into my own past or future. I’d spent hours peeping into other people’s lives. But I’d been careful to never look at myself in a mirror without my glasses on. I’d worried it would be too much like discovering hidden presents before Christmas. I was afraid to see things about myself that weren’t meant to be seen. To know things that weren’t meant to be known.
“If you can’t look yourself in the eye and face your own future,” I told my reflection, “when will you ever grow up?”
It was time to take a good look in the mirror. To see how long it would take me to evolve into an honest-to-goodness teenager, and to make some true-blue friends. Friends who would stick by me no matter what. It was time to find out exactly when I’d stop acting like a baby.
Slowly, I took off my glasses, folded them up, and set them gently on the countertop next to the sink. Then . . . I looked.
The swirling images that filled my mind chilled me to the bone.
I saw myself as a feeble old woman with curls as white as thistledown, balancing precariously on an icy ledge—a small thrust of concrete and stone that rimmed a ramshackle clock tower, six stories up.
Snow clouds parted momentarily, and a bright full moon mirrored the round face of the enormous clock. The hands of the clock pointed just shy of midnight. In the vision, I looked out at myself, as if from a vantage point inside the tower. It was like a film camera had been set up in the gap of shattered glass between roman numerals six and nine, capturing a fish-eye view of reaching arms and grasping fingers. Someone in red coat sleeves leaned out through the ruined clock face, trying to rescue me. But I couldn’t see any features. Only those red sleeves.
Maybe I would never learn to be less babyish and dippy. Even as an old woman, stuck high up on a tower, I looked ridiculous. I wore a full-length party dress the color of mothballs and old quarters, and a shabby jacket made from white rabbit fur, a single fuzzy pom-pom dangling from the collar. Two oversized Sorrell snow boots stuck out from under the hem of my dress. My knuckles were large and bony, and sparkled strangely in the moonlight. My wrinkled lips were lined in coral lipstick, and a faraway look clouded my eyes behind big, round old-lady glasses. To top it all off, a tarnished rhinestone tiara sat tilted on my head, half of its glass bits gone. Leaving dark spaces, like missing teeth.
In my vision, a mute gust of wind whipped at my dress and made me wobble. I exhaled a fog of breath. Then my lips took the shape of a soundless, startled O.
Staring in stunned horror into my reflection, I watched my future self slip, then start to fall—my skirts flying up over my head, exposing skinny white legs and saggy, floral granny-panties.
With a cry, I shut my eyes. I scrabbled blindly for my glasses, ready to return to the here and now inside the church bathroom.
I hadn’t expected to see all the way to the end. My end. I hadn’t planned to watch myself plummet. How I wished I could un-see it all: the clock tower . . . the tiara . . . the awful, awful underwear. I wished I could un-know that even the final moments of my life would be a constellation of embarrassments.
I decided then and there that I’d avoid anything and everything that might make my premonition come to pass, even if it was a fate sixty-odd years into my future. I would live a life completely void of sparkles and lace and fur coats of every kind.
I’d keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.
“Your mother and I have something we need to tell you all.” Poppa called a family meeting in the living room as soon as we got home from church. I perched between Samson and Tucker on the sofa. Poppa sat in a chair opposite us, next to the hearth. I wished Poppa had built a fire; I couldn’t get my frightening clock tower vision out of my head, and my skin was one big goose bump.
Momma refused to sit. She paced the room instead. Back and forth she went, staring at her feet like she was measuring the length of the opposite wall, the one decorated with photographs of all our relatives. With each new pass, Momma accidentally knocked her elbow into the motley assortment of frames, turning the neat and tidy display of family photos into a crookedy mess.
Poppa scrubbed at the scar on his head. It was a mark he’d carried for almost a decade, after a car crash nearly took his life before my sister’s savvy birthday.
“Maybe we won a trip to Disneyland,” Tucker whispered loudly in my ear as we waited for Poppa to find his words. I took my little brother’s hand and squeezed it, wishing I could be as hopeful.
Samson must have sensed my apprehension, because he wrapped his long, thin fingers around my other hand, making me feel a little stronger. A little calmer too. Whatever was happening, I hoped it had something to do with the phone call Poppa had gotten the day before, and nothing to do with me or Mrs. Foster. Or Flint’s Market. Or soap.
“I’m sorry, everyone,” Poppa said at last. “Your mother and I have talked it over and, while we know it won’t be easy, we’ve decided we have to bring Grandma Pat here to live with us.”
I sucked in a breath and held it.
Samson made a muted choking noise.
Tucker’s eyes went wide in horror. He quickly pulled his fingers out of mine and stuck his hands under his corduroys, protecting his backside. The last time Tucker and Grandma Pat crossed paths, Grandma had given him a swat on the bottom. He’d never forgotten it.
Momma continued to pace, not looking at us. I flinched as she caught the toe of her shoe on the edge of the rug again and again. I knew the odds were against her; if she didn’t stop pacing soon, she was bound to trip and fall. But I had bigger worries.
Grandma Pat? Coming to live with us?
“Your grandmother can have Grandpa Bomba’s old room, kids,” Poppa barreled on, his words gaining sluggish momentum, like an express train bound for dreary destinations. “I suppose that room has been empty long enough. We’ll all go to Colorado this week to pack my mother’s things and move her here.”
“Grandma Pat isn’t well,” Momma said. “Her neighbors called here yesterday.”
Poppa nodded. “Mr. and Mrs. Kim are both doctors, and they feel strongly that my mother can no longer care for herself. Her memory . . . her mind . . . well, she’s starting to get very mixed up. But Grandma is family, and we Beaumonts take care of each other, yes?”
No one seconded Poppa’s yes. The thought of Grandma Pat moving to Kansaska-Nebransas—moving into Grandpa’s room—was a bomb detonating inside my chest. I couldn’t speak. I could barely breathe. I was certain I was turning inside out.
“We’re going to bring Grandma Pat . . . here?” Samson said slowly. His grip on my hand tightened and grew hot—unbearably hot. So hot, I had to let go for fear of being burned. Things were getting worse, and weirder, by the second.
Little Tuck climbed to his feet and stood on the sofa. “But it won’t be forever. Right, Poppa?” he said. “Grandma’s not coming permanently, is she?”
“Yes, Tuck. Permanently.”
“Nooo! Grandma Pat is going to ruin everything.” Tucker voiced the potent thought that all of us were thinking. He began to stomp the sofa cushions, shouting: “Grandma hates us! She hates us!”
It was true Grandma Pat didn’t like us—Momma and us kids, at least. Poppa was Patrice Beaumont’s only child, and her pride and joy. She’d raised him on her own after Grandpa Walter died when Poppa was a boy, and she’d always felt her son should have married someone else. Someone different. Or rather, someone who wasn’t so very, very different. Savvy different.
At Tucker’s cry, Momma stopped pacing and turned toward us, like she’d suddenly remembered she was supposed to comfort us and tell us everything would be okay. Those were the sorts of things a perfect momma would do. But just now, Momma didn’t seem too good at remembering her supposed-to’s either.
“Kids—” she began. Then her toe caught for the hundredth time on the edge of the rug and she took a tumble, rattling the family portraits on the wall. As the rest of us leaped up to help her, a framed photograph of Grandma Pat landed catawampus on the floor. Upside down and glowering, Grandma looked just as unhappy as the rest of us.
Grandma Pat was no relation to Eva Mae El Dorado Two-Birds Ransom, the first savvy-powered girl from Grandpa Bomba’s stories. But maybe she wasn’t as un-magical as I thought. Maybe she did have a savvy. Maybe Grandma’s savvy was the ability to make a muddle of other people’s lives. To turn things topsy-turvy. There was no other explanation for what happened next.
“Um . . . you guys? I feel sorta funny.” Tucker stuck out his tongue, lolling it around the way he did whenever he saw cauliflower. Only now his tongue was HUGE. He looked like he was having an allergic reaction to Poppa’s news. Already, Tucker’s hands and feet were twice their normal size. The rest of him was ballooning fast.
I turned from Momma to little Tuck, then to Samson. “Samson! Look at Tucker’s hands and—”
But Samson wasn’t looking at Tucker. He wasn’t looking at Momma or Poppa. He wasn’t looking at me either. He stood staring down at his own hands instead. Rather than vanishing, the way he so often did, Samson had begun to glow. His fingers and palms were turning as orange and as bright as the embers of a campfire, or the burners on a stove.
Like Tucker, Samson looked all wrong.
My brother tugged at his shirt collar, muttering, “Did it just get super-hot in here?”
“Samson!” Poppa gasped, just as Momma shrieked, “Tucker!”
Head and shoulders, knees and toes, nose and clothes—Tucker was now three times his normal size. And Samson was on fire.
“Whoa!” Samson barked, glancing down at his hands as each of his fingers lit up in licks of red-and-yellow flame. He looked like he was holding ten candles. A second later, there was a whoosh and a crackle, and Samson’s entire body became a bonfire. His normally dark eyes shone crimson.
Where did Poppa keep that fire extinguisher? I was about to run to look for it, but I stopped short after taking two steps . . . I was beginning to feel a wee bit strange myself.
I forgot about the fire extinguisher as loony-switcheroony sensations twisted through my innards, making me feel sick and weak and peculiar.
Samson’s blaze turned the living room oven-hot. The air smelled strongly of struck matches. Yet my brother’s sudden combustion didn’t appear to be hurting him. Engulfed in flames, his clothes weren’t even burning. Samson wasn’t on fire—he was generating it. But that didn’t stop him from dashing out the front door and diving into the snow.
Tucker didn’t bother with the door. As soon as he grew large enough for his head to hit the ceiling, my brother boomed: “I told you Grandma Pat would ruin everything!” He then plowed straight through the wall, like the Kool-Aid Man, leaving a giant, Tucker-shaped hole in the house. While Tucker’s tremendous size was shocking—and not at all the talent I’d expected him to get—it was even more shocking because he was so young. Getting a savvy before age thirteen wasn’t completely unheard of: My twin cousins, Mesquite and Marisol O’Connell, had been pestering people with their powers of levitation since they were five. Whatever force was jumbling things up, it must have brought on Tucker’s savvy early.
Still feeling strange, and hoping I wasn’t about to grow or catch fire, I followed Momma and Poppa outside as they chased after my brothers. Samson had successfully doused his inferno in the snow; steam rose from his skin as the ice around him melted into puddles. But he continued to lie on the ground, too dumbfounded to move.
Tucker PUM-PUM-PUMMED around the yard, growing as tall as the house itself. Throwing the biggest tantrum ever seen west of the Mississippi—maybe even east of it too—he seemed unaware of his colossal size, or of how powerful his size made him.
“No, Tuck!” I cried as I watched my younger brother uproot trees in our front yard like they were daisies. With the jumbo ears he had now, Tucker should have heard me. But he didn’t. Or wouldn’t. Or couldn’t, over the thunderous sound of his king-sized corduroy pant legs rubbing together. I was thankful Tucker’s clothes had grown as big as the rest of him. Otherwise he would have been running around the yard both giant and naked.
I watched helplessly as Tucker tossed two leafless maples and a blue spruce into the field across the road. Seeing an old bird’s nest and a squirrel’s collection of acorns go flying, I whispered a quick prayer for any small creatures hibernating in those far-flung trees.
Poppa hollered, “Tuck! You need to calm down.”
Momma cried, “Take a breath, Tucker! Try to—” Then she slipped and fell, landing on top of Samson.
Nothing stopped Tucker’s raging. The rest of us could only stare, openmouthed, as he kicked over the tool shed. As he stepped on the frozen birdbath. As he picked up Momma’s knee-high garden gnome like it was a grain of rice and threw it so high, none of us saw where—or if—it came back down.
When Tucker turned around, barreling toward our house head first, like he planned to knock it over, I couldn’t watch. I turned away, my heart hammering in my chest. All I wanted to do was forget this terrible moment.
Hunching low, I closed my eyes and pressed my hands over my glasses, shouting: “Stop, stop, stop, stop, STOP!”
And everything did just that. Everything stopped.
Everything but me.