By Henry Clark
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This never-before-seen twist on time travel adventure explores the theme of accepting those who are different–and having the courage to join them.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World
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The E=Mc Squad
I lost my best friend, Tom Xui, twice. The first time, I simply wasn't paying attention. Everything had been going wrong that afternoon.
First, my locker wouldn't lock. Then the crossing guard turned out to be Cautious Carl, who doesn't let you cross if there are leaves blowing down the street. And then Tom vanished. It was like a conspiracy to keep me from getting to the carnival.
Tom had been running next to me only moments before. I looked down—remembering that he'd once, during the summer, fallen into an open road-repair ditch—and then I looked back. There was Tom, hiding behind a mailbox.
"What?" I asked, not getting it.
"My mom!" he whispered fiercely, pointing at the street.
We were on Hartnell Road, which starts at the Freedom Falls fire station, runs the length of the town, and ends down near the river at the fairgrounds. A blue Ford Focus was passing us, and although the woman driving it had black hair and Tom's mother's determined look, she wasn't Chinese.
"Relax," I said. "It's not her."
Tom eased out from behind the mailbox and tracked the Focus until it turned at Mordred's clothing store and disappeared down Troughton Avenue. Tom's mother thought he was at an after-school meeting of the E=Mc Squad, the school science club. She never would have given him permission to go to the carnival.
I grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him along.
"We really should get our story straight," he said. "If she asks, what was today's meeting of the squad about?"
We raced past the new Burger King, and then past the old hot dog stand that had recently changed its name to Wienie President.
"Pattern recognition," I said, impressed with my own quick thinking. We had talked about pattern recognition in science class that morning. Our teacher said it led to discoveries like DNA, computer language, and planets beyond the solar system. He also said there was such a thing as false pattern recognition, which led to people seeing the man in the moon and clouds in the shape of Mickey Mouse. "And the other thing," I added, "where people see the face of Elvis on a piece of toast—"
"Apophenia!" cried Tom, remembering the weird word for it, because that's the way he is. "Perfect! My mom won't know what that is, and it sounds very scientific!" He turned to face me and slapped the pattern on the front of his sweatshirt. "You'd be surprised how many kids asked me today why I have a huge computer bar code on my shirt! That shows you apophenia happens all the time!"
Tom's shirt had a series of lines on the front. They looked like this:
I had no idea that those lines were about to change our lives. Like the other kids, I had just assumed they formed a giant computer bar code. Or maybe an H, for Harvard, the college Tom's mother wanted him to go to.
I steered Tom into the street, crossing diagonally to save steps.
"BRO!" he shouted, pulling me back just as a delivery truck sped by inches away from me.
"HEY!" I shouted at the driver, even though I knew it wasn't his fault. I looked both ways and resumed my diagonal. Tom kept pace, but he wasn't happy.
"You should be more like Cautious Carl," he said.
"What?" I said. "And wear a belt and suspenders? My dad is picking us up at five. That gives us ninety minutes. What if there are people ahead of us?"
"Nobody's going where we're going. They'll all be heading for the rides or the games."
"The kids will. It's the grown-ups I'm worried about."
Camlo's Traveling Wonder Show had opened on the Freedom Falls fairgrounds the day before, on Tuesday, and would be there through Sunday. It came every year in mid-October, and the kids from Ambrose Bierce Middle School always flocked there the minute last period ended. I had gotten one of the kids who had been there on opening day to draw me a map, so I knew exactly where Tom and I had to go once we got in.
It was the first year my parents were letting me go on my own. They said I was showing more responsibility—I took out the trash a couple of times without being asked, and I found a new way of jamming stuff under my bed so my room looked clean—and it didn't hurt that my dad worked at the school, so I could touch base with him before I left and he could pick me up at the fairgrounds once he finished his after-school stuff.
We sprinted past Gaiman's Funeral Home and cut behind the sign that, from the opposite direction, declared:
WELCOME TO FREEDOM FALLS, OHIO
A PLEASANT PLACE TO LIVE
I don't know how many people actually live in our town, but I agree it's pleasant enough. I liked the way the sunlight streamed through the buckshot holes scattered all over the sign.
Admission to the carnival is five dollars, but once you pay, you can go back as often as you want. We found the ticket booth with the shortest line, paid, and got our hands stamped. Tom pulled his sleeve up and got his stamp halfway to his elbow. If his mother saw the bright blue star, she'd know where he'd been, and she'd tack on at least another hour of study to the four hours he was expected to do each day.
We headed down the midway. At a funnel-cake booth we made a right, then a left at a ride that turned you upside down (and, according to the kid who drew me the map, shook money out of your pockets), then, finally, out of breath, we arrived in Fortune's Way.
It was a narrow alley lined with the tents of palm readers and psychics. Tom and I were going to get our fortunes told. He wanted to know if his mother was ever going to undo the parental lock she had recently used to block every channel on their TV.
I had a much more urgent question to ask.
In all, Fortune's Way was home to seven tents and seven different ways of seeing the future. The dullest was one where somebody looked at tea leaves in a cup. The weirdest was the one with the banner saying MESS-O-MANCY, where a guy smashed a jelly doughnut with a mallet, then predicted your future by studying the splatter. The cool thing about that one was, after it was over, you got to eat the doughnut.
"We don't truly believe this stuff, do we?" I asked Tom, hoping he'd give me an argument. I needed at least some of it to be real. Maybe not the doughnut guy. But somebody. I desperately wanted an answer to my question.
"No, we don't believe any of it," he replied, disappointing me. But then he shrugged. "Then again, maybe some people really are psychic. Did I ever tell you I almost always know when a phone is about to ring?"
"You have two sisters. The phone rings every thirty seconds."
"You're telling me! Hey, that must be Dr. Lao!"
He nodded at a tent at the end of the alley. It was covered with Chinese writing. A sign in English declared: WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS. CONSULT DR. LAO. Another said: SEEK GUIDANCE FROM THE I-CHING. A thin Chinese man was standing next to the tent flap. Posters on either side of him were covered with horizontal lines similar to the ones on Tom's shirt.
"Okay," said Tom, standing straighter. "Here I go!"
He walked up to the doctor, who nodded when Tom bowed. Tom disappeared into the tent.
I looked around. The only tent other than Dr. Lao's that didn't have a line belonged to Madam Janus.
said the sign above the entrance. A poster showed a single head with two faces looking in opposite directions.
When I got closer, I discovered the entrance flap tied shut and a small sign pinned to it: SESSIONS 6:00 TO 8:00.
It was 3:30. This stopped me for maybe twenty seconds. I couldn't wait. I scooted under the flap.
I guess I expected Madam Janus to be living in the tent, and that I'd find her sitting on her sofa. But the tent, as far as I could see, was empty.
It was big, about the size of my bedroom, only without any underwear on the floor. A rug stretched from the entrance all the way to the back, with a small table and two chairs in the middle. In the center of the table, on a hokey coiled-dragon pedestal, sat a crystal ball.
"Hello?" I called. Then louder, when nobody answered: "Anybody?"
Fortune-teller things filled glass cases along the walls of the tent. Bottles of potions, dream catchers, smaller crystal balls—all of them with price tags.
The ball on the table winked at me, catching my reflection as I moved. I slid into one of the chairs, leaned forward, and gazed into the sphere.
I had thought a crystal ball would be crystal clear. It wasn't. It was full of murky blotches and tiny bubbles and fissures. It looked like a giant round ice cube. My eyes followed one of the fissures to a cloud in the ball's center, where misty shadows seemed to move.
"I assume you don't like jelly doughnuts." At the sound of the brittle voice behind me, I jumped up, knocking into the table and causing the ball to rock. I grabbed it with both hands to steady it.
"Or are you allergic to tea leaves?" the voice continued. "Are you afraid of getting a paper cut from a tarot card? There must be some reason you came in here, rather than to one of the open tents!"
A girl about my height stepped out from between two display cases. She had long black hair and olive skin almost as dark as mine. Dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt with peacocks on it, she clutched a spray bottle of Windex.
"I'm looking for Madam Janus," I said, trying not to sound guilty.
"I'm her daughter, Shofranka," said the girl, taking a step toward me.
"—franka. Most people drop the 'Sho' and the 'uh' and call me—"
"Frank. I also answer to Frankie."
"Didn't you see the sign?"
"It said 'sessions six to eight.'" When she just stared, I added, "It didn't say 'do not enter.' There was another sign that said 'sees all, knows all.' I need somebody like that."
"'Seize All, Nose All' is my family's motto," she said, folding her arms across her chest, like she was daring me to argue. "In the original language of my people, it means more like, 'Grab the Day; Check Out Everything.' Or maybe, 'Be Nosy.' I try to live by it, but every time I do, I get grounded. Why do you want to see my mother?"
"That's… personal." I didn't see any reason to trust this girl with my family problems.
She pulled a notebook from a shelf and flipped it open.
"I make her appointments," she said, turning to a page near the back. "I can probably get you a spot on October fifteenth… of next year. She's pretty much booked up otherwise."
She looked at me expectantly. I knew what she wanted, and I decided, reluctantly, to give it to her.
"I want to know if my parents are going to stay together," I said.
Her defiant expression softened a little.
"Well," she said. "At least, that's something I never have to worry about."
"Oh," I said, annoyed. "Your parents are pretty solid, huh?"
"I've never seen them argue." She gave me a hard squint, and then her hand shot out, grabbed my chin, and twisted my head toward the light.
"What instrument do you play?" she asked.
"Trumpet. How can you tell?"
"The center of your upper lip. A mouthpiece always makes a callus. You must practice a lot."
"I like playing."
It was one of the things I enjoyed most.
"Ambrose Brody? Do they ever call you Bro Bro?"
"Only if they stutter."
Tom Xui had once introduced me to one of his friends as "my bro, Bro Bro," but I'd asked him never to do that again.
"What about Rose?" Frankie asked. "Does anybody ever call you Rose?"
"You've made a mess of my mother's crystal, Rose. And I just finished polishing it!"
She picked up the ball in one hand, and three of her fingers disappeared into the bottom.
"Crystal balls have finger holes?" I asked.
"This one does. My mother bowls. See the mess you made?"
She tilted the crystal closer to my face. The murky cloud in its center parted and I jumped back.
"Who was that?" I demanded.
Frankie glanced around the tent. "Where?"
"In the ball. I saw a face."
"In the ball?" She sounded like she didn't believe me. "Describe it."
"It was a guy with messy black hair and an eye patch. Like a pirate."
Frankie clutched the crystal to her chest, throwing an arm around it protectively, as if my seeing something in it might damage it. She eyed me suspiciously.
"Do you often see strange things in shiny surfaces?" she asked.
"Sometimes," I admitted. "I once saw my uncle Leon in the bathroom mirror."
"Was that, by any chance, on the day he died?"
"It was the day he fell asleep in the bathtub."
She plunked the ball back on its dragon, sprayed it vigorously with Windex, then aimed the spray nozzle at me. I put my hands up.
"There are seven fortune-telling tents here," she told me, "all within twenty feet of one another. Why did you choose this one?"
"It was the only one without a line."
"That's all? You didn't feel yourself drawn here by some strange unearthly power?"
"Not that I noticed. I just wanted to ask somebody about my parents. My dad, mainly."
"What about him?"
"He showed up at dinner two nights ago wearing the uniform of a World War One soldier."
"What? Something he found in the attic?"
"No, something he bought. A sergeant's uniform, with a helmet. At least he took off the gas mask when he sat down to eat. My mother said it was the last straw and told him she was going to visit my aunt Maya. Usually when that happens, she's only away overnight. This time it's been two days." She'd called me each morning to check on me, but she wouldn't answer when I asked her when she'd be back. "I thought maybe a fortune-teller could tell me what was going to happen. I don't want this to be serious."
"I don't quite see what your mother's so upset about."
"She doesn't like my father dressing up. At least, not at dinner. Last week, he was a Native American chief, with a full headdress. There were feathers in our soup."
"He dresses in clothes from other time periods."
"Yes." I was surprised by how quickly she understood. "And he's been doing it at work and out in public for way too long now, and… it can be very embarrassing. My mom and I have both told him it's really not a good idea."
Frankie nodded, as if nothing I said surprised her. She stared into space for a moment, then snapped her attention back to me.
"What are you doing tonight?" she asked.
"No, I'm sure that can wait. I want you to meet me at the main gate when the carnival closes at nine."
"There's a Camlo family treasure hidden somewhere in your town, and I need somebody who knows his way around to help me find it. I think you may be the one. In fact, from what you've just told me, I'm positive."
"What kind of treasure?"
"I'm a Camlo," she said, ignoring me. "My father's the Rom baro; he owns the carnival—so the treasure's as much mine as it is anyone's. Someday I'll be its official Keeper."
"Frankie?" came a voice from behind the tent's rear wall. "Where are the Twizzlers?"
"My mother!" Frankie whispered, and pushed me toward the tent's front.
"Madam Janus?" I resisted her push. "Maybe she'll see me. Is she any good?"
"She's the best. Even if, sometimes, she can't find the Twizzlers. But I'm telling the truth—she's booked for today. If you help me with my quest, I can try to get you an appointment with her later in the week."
"Maybe if I just went back and said hello—"
"No! She's very self-conscious about her appearance. She'd probably want to change. You don't want to annoy her!"
Frankie forced me out the way I had come, and followed me into the dusty lane in front of the tent.
"Do you own a flashlight?" she asked, smoothing my shirt where she had grabbed it.
"A flashlight? Uh, yeah—"
"Bring it tonight. And wear dark clothing. Don't fail me! This is important!"
"SHOFRANKA!" came Madam Janus's voice from inside.
"Nine o'clock! Treasure!" Frankie reminded me, and dived back into the tent.
An Ancient Roman English Teacher
I was dazed as I fell into step with passing carnival-goers. I couldn't believe I'd agreed to go on a treasure hunt with some strange girl after dark. How could I get away with it?
"There you are!" said Tom, grabbing me by the elbow. "Look what I got!"
He steered me between two tents and then out onto the midway, where there was more space and less chance of our getting trampled. He waved a book in my face.
"Dr. Lao gave it to me. He taught me how to read the I-Ching!" He pronounced it "ee-Ching." The book was a thin paperback with a picture on the cover very similar to the one on Tom's shirt. The picture looked like this:
Above this odd symbol it said If You Have an I-Ching, Scratch!, and below the symbol it said A Modern Guide to an Ancient Form of Divination, by Richard K. Philips.
"Uh, cool?" I said, not certain how he expected me to react. "He gave you this?"
"Well, after I paid him twenty bucks to have my fortune told. He had a stack of them."
"Did you find out if your mother is ever going to take the lock off your TV?"
"Yes! She will! But not until after I'm married. That's not important. I want to show you how this works."
He dug in his pocket and pulled out a quarter.
"We have to flip a coin a few times—"
"Listen!" I said, clutching his hand before he could toss. "Something really strange just happened to me in the crystal ball tent—"
A familiar voice interrupted me from the direction of a cotton candy booth. Sheila Gurwitz, a girl in most of my classes at school, broke away from two of her friends and came running over. She had a furry pink mustache from the cotton candy she was eating. "I'm so sorry about your dad!" she blurted.
I froze. "What about my dad?"
Her hand flew to her furry mouth, and her eyes went wide. "You don't know?" Her two friends came up on either side of her and looked at me sadly. "They let him go!" she announced, and her friends nodded like the bobblehead dolls on our math teacher's desk. "McNamara called him into his office at the end of the day and fired him! Everybody was talking about it on the way here! I'm so sorry! Your dad's a good teacher… except for that one… weird… thing.…"
I shoved past her. Sheila's mom worked in the office, and I could only assume she was the reason everybody knew about what happened. Over my shoulder I said to Tom, "I gotta get home!"
"Right!" he agreed, snapping his book shut and keeping pace as I sprinted down the midway toward the entrance. There was a commotion up ahead, and my heart sank as I recognized one of the voices.
I broke through the crowd and there was my father. He was surrounded by a ring of some of the tougher high school kids.
"Hey, Mr. Brody!" one of them jeered. "Nice skirt!"
"It's not a skirt," my father explained. "It's an apron." There was a burst of laughter from the high schoolers, but my father kept talking. "The technical term is pteruges. The dangling strips of leather are weighted at the bottom and hang down in front, over the tunic, to protect the groin during a sword fight."
They all laughed again when Dad said "groin." Part of me wanted to run to him, but another part of me was too embarrassed. I hovered at the edge of the crowd, unsure what to do.
My father was wearing his Roman legionnaire costume. He had a crested helmet on his head, light armor around his torso, and sandals on his feet. A red tunic under the armor and pteruges ended an inch or two above his bare knees.
"Nice legs," said a kid with ANTHRAX on his T-shirt.
"Thank you," said my father, who never notices sarcasm. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find my son."
Anthrax stepped in front of him and placed his hand on my father's armored chest.
"Take your hand off my cuirass," said my father.
"Apron" and "groin" had gotten laughs from the high schoolers, but "cuirass" gave them hysterics. Anthrax yanked his hand back as though he had burned himself. "Your queer what?" he asked.
"Cuirass," my father enunciated more clearly. He tapped his chest with his fist, causing the metal to ring. "Let me pass."
Anthrax stood his ground. "You failed me four years ago, Mr. Brody. I had to take summer-school English because of you!"
"And I was right there through that hot summer teaching it to you again, Mr. Killbreath," my dad reminded him. "You finally passed it, with a D, as I recall."
"If everybody had known back then that you were a nut job, you wouldn't have been teaching!"
"Then somebody else would have flunked you and been forced to tutor you. My being a nut job wouldn't have made you any brighter, Leonard."
"It's about time they canned you! Look at you! I wouldn't want you teaching me! You shouldn't be around kids!"
I launched myself at Lenny Killbreath. I was going to knock him down and beat the anthrax out of him. But a man in black stepped out of the crowd and caught me by the shoulders, holding me at arm's length.
"Whoa there, young fry! No donnybrooks at my show, if you please!"
I looked up at him. He was wearing a black coat, a fancy green vest, and a tie like a huge floppy shoelace. He had messy black hair and an eye patch.
It was the guy I had seen in Madam Janus's crystal ball.
"My name's not Donny!" I said, and tried to get past him again.
"Manner of speaking," he said, gently pushing me back. "A donnybrook is a contretemps." As if that explained it.
He let go of me, took my father's hand, and shook it. "Orlando Tiresias Camlo," he said, "proprietor of Camlo's Traveling Wonder Show, at your service. And you"—Camlo twisted my father's hand sideways, to show the crowd the blue star on its back—"have had your hand stamped, so you paid to get in. This makes you an honored guest."
Camlo bowed, let go of my dad's hand, and turned, sweeping his gaze across Lenny Killbreath and his buddies. "I notice others here have not had their hands stamped. This makes you fence-jumpers—and unwelcome!"
Lenny and his boys melted into the crowd.
"'The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, and these are of them. Whither are they vanished?'" said Camlo, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Possibly he was calling Lenny a bubblehead. He certainly talked the way I imagined someone who owned a treasure might.
"Macbeth," said my father.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Macbeth." Camlo beamed. "It's quite a coincidence, you being named Macbeth. I just quoted from a play of the same name."
"I was identifying the play," explained my father.
"Why would you do that? Did you think I didn't know what I was quoting?"
"My name is Hannibal Brody," said my father, sounding the tiniest bit annoyed.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Brody!" Camlo looked my father up and down. "Are you, perhaps, in search of the rest of your marching band?"
"I am in search of my son," said my father, straightening and nodding in my direction.
"Who I presume is this feisty lad," Camlo decided. "So you have found him, and I see that he, too, paid to get in—honest families are the axle grease of commerce—meaning my work here is done. Enjoy your visit! The briefness of our encounter has made it all the sweeter!" He turned on his heel and bubbled away.
"They fired you!" I yelled at my dad. And on top of that, I couldn't believe he had shown up at the carnival after I had been there only half an hour. I hadn't expected to see him before five. His Roman legionnaire outfit made him look like the bad guy in a gladiator movie.
He winced and put a finger to his lips. I realized I had shouted. The crowd surrounding my father had pretty much dispersed when the high schoolers left, but a few people lingered, as if they thought my dad might suddenly start juggling.
"I was hoping to find you before you heard it from somebody else," my dad said, so quietly I had to get closer to hear him. "And I'm not exactly fired. It's more of a suspension."
"Kids get suspended!" I snapped. "Teachers don't!"
"Sometimes they do," said my father apologetically. "I'm not fully fired. Not yet. They've called a special session of the school board for tomorrow night to review the case. Mr. Garlock will be teaching my classes until things get worked out."
"I told you!" I sputtered. "You didn't listen to me! You didn't listen to Mom!"
"This isn't really the place to discuss it. Maybe we should go home? You can always come back here later."
"Sure! Fine! Whatever!"
I turned and headed for the exit. I knew he was right behind me from the squeaky sound of his armor, but I was so mad, I couldn't look at him.
When we got to the car, I realized Tom was still with us. "You said you'd drop me off," he reminded me.
Praise for The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens:A Bank Street College Best Children's Book of 2016*"The characters are well-crafted and charming.... School librarians and teachers will definitely want to add this to their collections."—School Library Connection, starred review
- "Where time travel, historical fiction and nonfiction, ancient Chinese design and Morse code collide--keep up, or risk being left in the past...or the future. [This book] will extend readers' knowledge of history and expand their concept of 'diversity.'"—Kirkus Reviews
- "This is such a terrifically fun, mind-bending book, I want to go back in time so I can start reading it again!"—Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and co-author of the I Funny and Treasure Hunters series.
- "Zany, clever, endlessly inventive and genuinely one-of-a-kind."—Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society
- On Sale
- Apr 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers