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Chapter 1
How Strange Things Started

Eleven-year-old Zack Goodspeed curled a baseball in his hand behind his back. He loved this moment at the end of close games. The score was seven-seven. Runners on first and third. Bottom of the ninth. And he was pitching.

Zack looked at the boy at home plate. Tommy Johnson. Tommy was one of those boys kids called “runt” on the playground. It should be easy to sneak a slider by him, Zack thought. Between his unusual height for his age and his position atop the pitcher’s mound, Zack had gained a lot of confidence as the team’s starting pitcher. He had won so many Little League games that by now he usually threw the entire game and, more often than not, won.

Zack checked the runners on the corners. They glanced back at him, both leading well off their bases. No matter, Zack thought. This game will be over in three pitches. Zack pulled off his cap, ran a hand through his mess of blond hair, and wiped his brow. Then, he pulled the cap back on, positioning the brim just above his eyes.

Zack kicked his leg in the air as his grandfather had shown him. He wound back. But the moment before he released the ball, a bright flash blinded him.

Zack twisted as he threw, trying awkwardly to shield his eyes with his glove-hand. He stumbled on the mound. The ball slipped from his hand. Zack gasped.

He squinted at home plate as the ball arced toward Tommy. The pitch was too slow and right over the plate. Tommy pulled the bat back and walloped the ball. Zack shot upright as the baseball spun into the heavens. For a second, it looked like it might touch the midday moon just on the horizon. But the ball descended and landed – just beyond the fences.

“Home run!” shouted the away team’s coach. His squad leapt from the benches. Several of them threw their hats in the air.

Zack was furious. He whipped around to home plate to search for the source of the flash and saw something flicker in the sky. Zack looked to see if anyone else saw it. The away team was too busy watching their runners round the bases. Most of Zack’s team had their heads hung in shame.

Zack looked back. It was gone. There was nothing in the sky but blue.

Zack’s close friend Andy Lee strode by him.

“You see that flash?” Zack asked.

“What flash?”

“The one in the sky. Just now.”

“Is that your excuse? Zack, that pitch was awful.”

“It’s not an excuse.”

“Sure. Hey, don’t worry about it. It was only a semi-final. I didn’t really want to go to the finals anyway. Now, there’s more time for my kid brother to annoy me all summer. Yippee.”

Andy strode off. Zack’s coach walked up to him and gave him a pep talk about the difference between winners and losers. Zack half-listened. He wanted to be home. Finally, his coach walked away. Zack packed his glove into his backpack and grabbed his bike. A couple of his teammates shot him accusatory glances as he rode away. Zack was embarrassed. He rode faster.

The baseball field was only a few blocks from home. So, before long, he was outside his house. Zack’s house was a two-story brick building similar to all the other houses on the street. Well, similar to every one, that was, except his grandfather Fyodor’s house next door.

Professor Goodspeed’s house stood out like a sore thumb that had been hammered on several times. In fact, many neighbors would have nodded if you referred to it as a “sore house.” Although its structure was similar to the other houses on the street, Grandfather’s domicile had an unusual amount of gizmos attached to it.

A gigantic wind turbine stood in the front yard mounted on a towering white pillar. Grandfather had once told Zack this powered the entire house and detached garage. Large trenches extended from the roof and funneled into an intricate system of drainage pipes. These pipes wound around the house, like multi-colored party streamers, until they ended in a yellow silo on the front lawn. A series of black lights surrounded the silo and beamed ultraviolet light into the yellow basin. Zack had helped his grandfather design this system. So, he knew it could capture rainwater and sterilize it for use in bathing, dishwashing, gargling - anything. The roof of Fyodor’s house was also quite a sight. It had an exaggerated sloping shape with gigantic flanges sweeping in all directions. Professor Goodspeed told Zack this roof saved him considerable energy by shading his house all day long. Zack thought it looked like a gigantic pancake had fallen out of the sky.

To the Zoning Board of the town, Grandfather Goodspeed’s house was simultaneously something to be marveled at and feared, like a dinosaur trapped in a glassware convention. And with equal caution, they avoided it, despite the complaints.

Zack however was used to the house. It almost seemed normal to him. Besides baseball, inventing was Zack’s favorite pastime, and he looked at his grandfather’s house as most kids might look at a waterslide park: an opportunity for fun and adventure.

Zack dismounted his bike and walked toward his garage. His father was outside watering his prized rose bushes. He waved as Zack stepped onto the driveway.

As Zack passed the fence separating his yard from his grandfather’s, he noticed something strange. The Professor’s garbage bins peeked around the side of the fence. Zack thought this was unusual given it was Saturday. Since one of his chores was taking out the trash, Zack knew the garbage trucks only came on Tuesday.

Zack strode around the fence with his bike. Suddenly, it was like the sun had slipped behind a cloud, even though it was a cloudless day. Zack found himself dwarfed by a massive airplane wing shooting into the sky, like a skyscraper, yet jammed into Professor Goodspeed’s crushed garbage can.

Zack stepped back. What was his grandfather up to now? A bloom of curiosity sprouted in his chest. Zack leaned his bike against the fence. He had to go next door and find out. Before he could leave though, his father called him.

“Don’t bother, Zack. He’s not home.”

“Really?” Zack called back. “Again?”

“Yep,” his father sighed. “I just knocked. Haven’t seen him for about a week. Must be off ‘inventing’ something again.”

The way Zack’s father said ‘inventing’ it sounded like a sin. Zack had long known his father and grandfather didn’t get along. Professor Goodspeed was a wild train-wreck of emotion and energy, while Zack’s father was just…dad. Mr. Goodspeed stood about five-foot eleven, had fair skin, and possessed a well-maintained mat of brown hair. Each weekday, he worked at McKinley Bank & Trust downtown, at the corner of Main Street and First Avenue. He had no time for inventions or flights of fantasy. He was focused on things like profit margins, stock options, and compound annual interest – none of which Zack understood. Not because he couldn’t, but because no matter how many times Mr. Goodspeed explained these concepts, Zack fell asleep.

Mr. Goodspeed grunted to himself. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and cleaned his wire-framed glasses, which already looked meticulously clean to Zack.

Zack plucked his bike from the fence and walked it toward the garage. A rumbling boom sounded overhead.

“Sounds like thunder,” Mr. Goodspeed said.

Zack looked up. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky still. How could it be thunder?

Just then, Zack heard a loud whistling noise. It grew louder. Mr. Goodspeed looked up from his roses.

“What the heck is that-“

Before Mr. Goodspeed could finish his sentence, a gigantic jet engine slammed onto his rosebushes, inches away from his toes. For a second, Mr. Goodspeed stood there, mouth open, sprinkling the smoking motor with the water hose. Then, he stumbled back, grunting several times nervously. He dropped the hose and called for Zack’s mother.

“Jen! Something incredible just happened!”

When she didn’t appear, Mr. Goodspeed leapt up the front steps and into the house.

“Jen, you’ll never believe this! I think an airliner just crashed. Turn on the TV. Call the police!”

Zack stepped up to the engine. He had never seen one like this before. While most engines Zack had seen on planes were round, this one was wide and flat. It had a grill on the front and a tapered exhaust in the back. It looked much more…modern…to Zack.

“Zack Goodspeed, get inside,” yelled his mother. “There’s no telling what else might fall from the sky. Up to your room young man, until we figure out what’s going on.”

Zack thought about arguing with his mother but knew when she used that tone of voice there was no negotiation. He dropped his bike in the front yard and walked up to his room. He showered and changed, then lay on his bed tossing a baseball in the air. Zack left his door open so he could hear his parents downstairs. They called the police, the fire department, the hospital, even the National Guard.

After twenty minutes, Zack heard sirens approaching. He stood up and went to his door. The downstairs was bathed in flickering red and blue light. Zack snuck down a few stairs so he could see what was going on. Someone knocked on the front door. He saw his mother scurry to open it.

“Yeah, someone called in a plane crash?” the policeman at the door said.

“Yes, sir, we did,” his mother replied.

Zack’s father emerged from the kitchen looking a little pale.

“I saw it myself, officer. Part of a plane fell straight out of the sky.”

The police officer looked back and forth at Mr. and Mrs. Goodspeed. He looked doubtful and a little perturbed.

“Sir, where did it land?”

“Right in my front yard!” Mr. Goodspeed said. “Didn’t you see it?”

“No sir.”

“What? That’s not possible,” Mr. Goodspeed said. He pushed the officer and Mrs. Goodspeed aside as he darted from the house. The policeman and Mrs. Goodspeed followed him into the front yard. Zack slipped down the stairs and leaned out the front door. The front yard was full of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances but no jet engine. Where the engine had landed nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Mr. Goodspeed’s rosebushes stood there, as if nothing had happened.

“I don’t believe it,” Mr. Goodspeed said. “I can’t believe it.”

“Jack, are you all right?” Mrs. Goodspeed asked.

“Jen, it was right here. Right here!”

“There’s nothing there now, hon.”

“But I’m not lying.”

Mr. Goodspeed glanced up at Zack and squealed, “Zack saw it too!”

“Honey, did you see a plane crash?” Mrs. Goodspeed asked.

Zack felt conflicted. He had clearly seen an engine fall from the sky and almost crush his father. But now, there was no evidence that had happened. Everything looked as it had before the event, except for the dozen or so police and firemen scratching their heads on his front lawn. Some were laughing at his father. Zack felt embarrassed.

“I’m not sure what I saw,” Zack said. Mr. Goodspeed looked crestfallen so Zack hastily added, “But there was something there.”

“I don’t believe it,” Mr. Goodspeed whispered, staring at his bushes. Then, he cocked his head to the side.

“Wait a second,” he said. He walked up to the bushes. He grabbed one bud and rolled it around in his hand. He smelled it. Then, his eyes shot open.

“Wait. These aren’t my roses!”

“All right. I’ve had enough of this,” the policeman said.

“No, really. I’d know my roses anywhere. They got top prize at the Rose Parade last year.”

“Do you know misreporting an emergency is a crime?” the policeman said. “They can put you away for something like this.”

“But I didn’t do anything. An engine fell out of the sky and landed-“

“I know, on your bushes,” the policeman said, pulling a tablet from his shirt pocket. He started writing on it. He tore off a sheet and handed it to Mrs. Goodspeed.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“A ticket for disturbing the peace. You can show up to contest it in court or pay it. Trust me. Pay it. I’m being easy on you. Night.”

The policeman strode off the porch and signaled for the fire trucks and police cars in the yard to back out.

Mr. Goodspeed looked thunderstruck. Mrs. Goodspeed gently put her arm around him and guided him into the house.

“Jen, I swear. I saw it.”

“I know honey. Let’s just go inside.”

“Zack saw it too.”

“Jack, the neighbors are watching,” Mrs. Goodspeed said, her voice strained. She forced a smile and waved to Mrs. Cavendish next door who did not wave back. Mrs. Goodspeed led her husband inside.

Zack let them pass then stepped onto the yard. He watched the emergency vehicles leave and the neighbors head back into their houses. Once things were relatively calm, he walked up to the rosebushes. They looked just like Mr. Goodspeed’s bushes, but Zack thought all roses looked the same.

Zack felt something cold and wet touch his bare feet. He squatted down and looked at the sidewalk bordering the bushes. A dark, wet liquid seeped from the ground. Zack touched it and rolled it around in his fingers. It felt slippery, like oil. Zack leaned in closer to the bushes. Even though night was falling, Zack thought the mulch around the rosebushes looked newer than the mulch around the rest of the plants. Zack grabbed a handful under the roses. It was damp. He touched the mulch under another bush. Bone-dry.

Zack caught a flicker out of the corner of his eye. He turned to his right and for the briefest second thought he saw something in the top story window of his grandfather’s house.

“Zack, come inside. It’s getting late,” called his mother.

Zack stood and brushed his hands off. Something wasn’t right here. He looked at his grandfather’s house, but he saw nothing else. The house looked derelict, as it usually did. Zack thought his father was right. His grandfather was probably off on one of his inventing adventures again. Maybe he had imagined the movement in Grandfather’s house, Zack thought, but the mulch was real.

“Zack. Inside. Now,” his mother said coming to the door.

Zack opened his mouth to tell his mother about what he’d found, but he could instantly tell she was still in no mood for discussions. He walked up the stairs. Zack looked around one last time before he went inside. Everything looked normal. It felt anything but.

* * *

The next morning, Zack sat at the kitchen table observing his family.

Zack’s mother was busy pan-frying eggs, which she did every Sunday. Zack’s father reclined in a chair opposite Zack, reading the local newspaper which he also did every Sunday. Mr. Goodspeed grunted to himself.

“Strange. No articles on nearby airplane crashes,” he mumbled between page turns.

Zack huffed as he slumped over the kitchen table, brushing his hands in wide wipes across its surface. Boring, he thought. Would things ever change around here? Zack wondered. He knew if his grandfather were around he would be entertained by Fyodor’s strange inventions and wild imagination. Grandfather Goodspeed was a rollercoaster of energy and emotion. Zack seldom found his company boring as he concocted daring plans to build bigger and better inventions. Zack was sure his grandfather would have all kinds of abstract theories about last night’s events.

The only problem, Zack thought, huffing again, was that Grandfather often left him for long periods of time. One moment, Zack and Grandfather would be inventing crazy machines in Grandfather’s garage laboratory; the next, Zack would be knocking on his front door for hours to no response. It was a mystery to Zack how Grandfather could so easily whisk himself in and out of his life. Zack found himself increasingly baffled and frustrated each time Grandfather vanished.

Zack was about to go to his room when the kitchen door burst open and a ridiculously tall man, dressed entirely in white, stumbled inside. Zack shot upright in his seat. The familiar sensations of joy and frustration welled in his stomach, as he realized his grandfather was back.

Fyodor Confucius Goodspeed, as an adult, looked like a stork that had been stretched and, five minutes later, stretched again. He towered over most people at six feet, six inches tall. He was a stringy man built “thin as a rail,” as they say. The abnormality of his figure was emphasized by the fact Fyodor Goodspeed wore only white. He wore white trousers and white shoes. He had white socks and a white button-down shirt. Over this, he donned a white vest and matching white sport coat. He still had a single tuft of white hair that clung to his scalp like a wild bush to a cliff. He resembled a stork that had been washed in bleach and then, five minutes later, bleached again. People often commented on Grandfather Goodspeed during the rare occasion when he ambled through town. They pointed and laughed, while looking for a pair of sunglasses to put on. He was a bright alabaster pillar, but he moved like a man who had just learned to walk.

Grandfather Goodspeed slammed into the door, as he tried to shut it. Stumbling backwards, he caught his balance long enough to throw it closed and whirl around to face his family.

Neither Mr. Goodspeed nor Mrs. Goodspeed looked up. Mr. Goodspeed grunted and slowly turned the page of his newspaper. Mrs. Goodspeed continued frying eggs. Zack, however, smiled at his grandfather, suppressing his momentary frustrations.

“Well Kalamazoo,” Grandfather Goodspeed said, adjusting his rectangular spectacles, which held two cracked lenses. “Glad to see nothing’s changed around here.”

Fyodor winked at Zack and ruffled his wild, blond hair. Zack had to cover his mouth to avoid laughing aloud. Grandfather’s joke eased some of Zack’s tension. Fyodor jittered over to a chair at the breakfast table.

“What’s news son?” he said slapping Mr. Goodspeed on the back.

Mr. Goodspeed looked stunned at being addressed in this manner. The back slap had caused a strand of hair to fall across his forehead, and he used a slow gesture to return it to its proper place.

“Father,” Mr. Goodspeed said. “Was there something wrong with the door, or is it still a convention you have not mastered?”

“Ah,” Grandfather Goodspeed said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his long twig legs. “See, a door is built with two purposes: to open and to close. As long as my efforts achieve one of those two results, then I believe I have successfully operated the door.” He pointed at the closed door. “Exhibit A.”

“Intriguing,” Mr. Goodspeed replied, wrinkling his lips and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Some people think a certain form should be maintained in the process.”

Grandfather Goodspeed rolled his eyes, spun a finger around his ear, and then pointed at Mr. Goodspeed. Zack laughed. Mr. Goodspeed, catching this motion out of the corner of his eye, scowled. He turned a page in his paper with a crinkle and a grunt. Grandfather shot out of his chair, crossed the kitchen in one giant step, and gave Mrs. Goodspeed a big kiss on her cheek.

“And how is my favorite daughter-in-law?” he said.

Mrs. Goodspeed squirmed away from him, smiling weakly. She scurried to the table, dumping two undercooked eggs on Mr. Goodspeed’s plate.

“Fine, thank you,” she said.

Grandfather beamed at her. Then, sensing her indifference, he threw his hands in the air and shook his head at Zack.

Mr. Goodspeed neatly folded his paper and set it aside. Picking up a fork, he pushed his undercooked eggs around his plate. He frowned at them. Looking up and putting down his fork, he said, “What brings you over this morning, Father?”

“As opposed to any other morning? Why, to see my family of course.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Goodspeed shot him doubtful glances.

“All right,” Grandfather said. “I came over to see if my grandson would like to play a game of baseball.”

“Yes! Can I Dad?” Zack exclaimed.

“You just played ball yesterday, Zack. Maybe you should sit with your Mom and me and enjoy breakfast.”

“Come on, Dad,” Zack said. He didn’t know what else to say, but sitting around for another Sunday breakfast sounded like torture.

“Look son,” Fyodor said to Mr. Goodspeed. “Young boys love baseball. They simply can’t get enough. Remember how much you used to enjoy playing with me?”

Mr. Goodspeed shot him another doubtful glance over the rim of his glasses.

“Ok. Maybe not,” Grandfather said. “But Zack loves it. He’s got quite an arm. Come on, son. It’s the summer.”

Mr. Goodspeed looked at his wife. She frowned back clearly indicating she thought this was an abnormal occurrence for a Sunday morning, even during the summer.

“All right,” Mr. Goodspeed said finally. “But bring him to the shopping mall in an hour. We’ll meet you there. We have to run some errands.”

Zack jumped up, opened the door, and raced outside. Grandfather followed him, ricocheting off the doorframe.

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