Chapter 9

“Got more mass?” grunted the man looking up from the furnace. The room was swelteringly hot, and in one glance Fay could see why. The iron furnace, roughly the size and shape of a dishwasher, was so hot that the strange and unrecognizable markings that decorated it almost glowed.

“What?,” asked Fay. “We’re looking for a mop. I thought this was a broom closet.”

“I didn’t think it was a closet,” said Barnaby. “This place stinks. I don’t think they ever clean around here.”

The man’s face was glistening, and the collar of his coveralls was wet with perspiration. He had evidently been working hard for some time, and he looked utterly discouraged.

“It is a broom closet,” said the man. “Well, a utility room anyway.” He slammed the cast iron door and turned toward Fay and Barnaby. The name-patch on his coveralls said “McCorley–Flavor Lab.”

“Flavor lab…” said Fay, “Do you work with my father, Lyle LaFarge?”

“Ha,” said McCorley ruefully, kicking at the corner of the hot furnace. “I did. Then I opened my big mouth.”

“Join the club man, I do that all the time,” said Barnaby with a grin. “Did you get into trouble too?”

“I’m an idiot,” replied McCorley. “It was nonsense. When I heard Arg say something about a “special tunnel”, I thought about wormholes and this stupid comic book I read about warping time. So I made a stupid crack that if he wanted a really special tunnel all he needed to do was condense enough mass. So he sticks me in this room and says, ‘There ya’ go McCorley, let’s see how much stuff ye’ can cram in there!’ So now I know he’s cracked.”

“Mr. Arg?” said Fay.

“Yeah, Mr. Arg,” answered McCorley. “He’s a fruit loop if he really thinks I can make a wormhole.”

“What’s a wormhole?” whispered Barnaby.

Fay shrugged.

“It’s fiction,” said McCorley. “It’s bad science fiction. Condense enough matter and you get a black hole. Preposterous–but at least I get paid vacations.”

“Hey,” said Barnaby. “We’ll help you! Shoveling crud is our specialty!”

Fay gave Barnaby a withering glare.

“Seriously,” said Barnaby, “It’s gotta be better than more of that lame tour!”

For the second time that morning, Fay found herself in the awkward position of agreeing with Barnaby.

“Okay fine,” she said, “let’s shovel…um…what kind of stuff are we looking for?”

“Baby food flavored cereal,” snickered Barnaby.

“Or you could jump in there Hootsman,” said Fay.

“Naw,” said McCorley. “Garbage. Dust. Anything you find. Just bring it all back here. The more the better. We’ve just got to make it look like I’m trying.”

“Alriiiiight!” said Barnaby taking off into the hallway. He ducked through an open doorway into a mail sorting room, followed closely by Fay.

“Garbage collection time!” shouted Barnaby grabbing the nearest wastebasket.

“Wait,” called a lady was feeding envelopes into a stamping machine, “Don’t forget the shreds!” She tossed a fat garbage bag of shredded paper at Fay.

McCorley shrugged when Fay and Barnaby returned to the broom closet. “Okay,” he said with a chuckle and an eyeroll. “Not much density there, but here goes.”

McCorley opened the cast iron door with an oven mitt. The glow from inside was so hot the air wobbled, and he shook the bag of shredded paper in the general direction of the opening. Fay fully expected most of it to scatter and hit the floor. But it didn’t. There seemed to be something sucking the paper into the furnace, almost like a vacuum, and as it swirled through the opening McCorley tapped his foot and chanted, “Ooooh yeah…go baby go…ooooh yeah…go baby go…ooooooh…,” he trailed off and shook his head. “Isn’t this fun kids?” said McCorley. “Nothing like getting paid to be a trash incinerator! Looks like we need more mass!”

“Mr. McCorley?” asked Fay. “Isn’t that thing going to fill up with ashes sooner or later?”

McCorley looked back blankly. “Well I guess,” he said. “But as far as I can tell it’s all still in there.”

Barnably shrugged. “More mass!” he hollered, charging back into the hallway.

“More mass,” repeated Fay, right behind him.

By this time Fay had gotten into the spirit of things. She grabbed a mailcart from nextdoor, and by the time she got back to the broom closet with Barnaby at her heels, they had collected two bags of shredded paper, a bucket of cigarette butts, and three sacks of yesterday’s smelly lunchroom trash.

McCorley shoveled and chanted as Fay upended the cigarette butts near the furnace door, and they had a real dump and shovel rhythm going as Barnaby followed with the shredded paper. The lunchroom trash stunk like a dumpster as Fay and Barnaby each grabbed a bag and dumped.

Fay’s head felt light, and the room wobbly as the last tray of unfinished coleslaw disappeared into the opening.

“Eww…my Dad’s feet!” she heard Barnaby yell. Fay just coughed and wobbled with the room as she heard McCorley’s chant change to “oh geez…I think I got a vortex…oh geez…I think I got a vortex…oh geez…”

Fay’s head cleared. The room was quiet.

“No vortex,” said McCorley dejectedly. “But I got a headache. And a stack of bills I can’t pay when Arg fires me.”

Stomping feet clattered in the hallway. Feet stomping in heavy knee-high boots, followed by a lighter step, trotting to keep up.

“Ye’ shoulda’ told me yer’ varmints were troublemakers!” shouted Mr. Arg from outside the door. “Running around me fact’ry like they own the place, the scurvy critters!”

“Mr. Arg!” retorted the voice of Miss Parsnip indignantly. “My students are very responsible! And dependable! It was you who sent them off to get lost!”

The door flew open. Mr. Arg’s glowering face fixed first on Fay then on McCorley.

“Harborin’ stowaways are we McCorley? And how ‘bout me little tunnel…or wormy hole …or whatever then?” demanded Mr. Arg.

“With all due respect sir,” answered McCorley, “there’s not enough trash in Elbow Harbor…”

“Children,” cut in Miss Parsnip, “it’s time to rejoin the class.”

“Not enough trash McCorley?” shouted Mr. Arg, his face turning red. “And I say yer’ an incompetent boob!”

“And I say,” muttered Fay, suddenly remembering the squishy used diaper in her sweater pocket, “yuck. Here’s some more mass Mr. McCorley!”

She gave the diaper a quick heave toward the open furnace door, grabbed Barnaby by the shirt collar, and turned to follow Miss Parsnip. But she couldn’t move. Her feet refused to do as she wished. Nor could she move her arms. In fact, she had no choice at all but to be sucked backward toward the toward the center of the broom closet as Mr. Arg and Miss Parsnip stretched and spiraled toward her like wisps of smoke.

Trackback URL

No Comments on "Chapter 9"

You must be logged in to post a comment.