Writing Roots 5- The Bubble
This story, The Bubble, was originally published in Write On!, a literary supplement at Columbus North High School in May, 25, 1975, the year I graduated from the school.
“When is our father getting home,” complained Tom to Margaret. “I wish he would invent something for me. But he has to work on some top secret project for the government. He has no time for the family anymore.”
Margaret suggested, “Why don’t you fix yourself something to eat before supper?’
“Come on,” said Jan, ”Just wait ‘till he gets home. I’ll race ya to the den. The last one down has to turn on the TV.”
When Margaret saw the smiling faces of the two kids, she smiled, too. Sooner or later she was going to realize the truth…” Mr. Gentry is actually spending more time at the plant than he spends with his kids,” she thought. Then in her usual promptness, she had supper prepared in time for Samuel’s arrival time.
There was a problem though; Samuel wasn’t home. In this familiar family problem, Margaret did the best she could. That was to feed Tom and Jan, help them with their homework and sometimes tuck the kids in bed. Whenever Samuel came home, Margaret would fix his late supper. Then Margaret left to come back early the next morning to care for the house and children.
“Hi, George,” exclaimed Samuel as he walked toward the underground elevator. “ Hello Charlotte,” greeted Samuel as she and Samuel walked into the elevator.
in the elevator going down, Charlotte asked, “What is your top secret project? Everyone I know is curious about it, especially me.” She ended this inquiry by a big smile and a cute wink. As the door opened, their identities were checked by computer. Walking out Charlotte said, “That’s me, nosy knows.”
“You’re so right,” agreed Samuel looking at the scientist’s hips move. A smile appeared on his face, but it disappeared as fast as it came. He started walking happily toward his lab, for his “top secret” project was nearly completed.
As the doors closed, this seemingly plain man transformed himself into a combination of a human computer and a top grade robot. In a course of twelve solid hours work, Samuel had completed his project. He was prepared to tell the world of his discovery.
Ironically, he was to tell no one until… the government allowed him to tell. The government had all rights and patents to the material produced by all the scientists of the plant. In a few weeks, he was to meet with Mr. Whitecoat, the head of all research in the Naval forces in the Midwest.
The telephone rang with a distinct ring common only to the Gentry household. Slowly, but surely, Margaret walked over to the humming sound. “Hello, Gentrys’ residence… Oh, good evening to you, sir. Well, the children are in bed and sleeping like babies.” reported Margaret. When she heard the tired voice of a weak man, it had to be Samuel.
“It’s 10:00 o’clock, Margaret. It’s time you get some rest. During these past few weeks you have stayed up late to care for the house and kids. I’ll be glad to pay you a little extra…” insisted Samuel.
“But, sir, you don’t have to pay me extra for my work here. I get paid by love from you and the kids,” interrupted Margaret.
“I will be coming home my usual time from now on. I won’t have to work as hard, so now everything can be normal for a few more weeks,” explained Samuel.
“Thank you, sir. And my doctor will appreciate that very much. When you get home tomorrow, spend some time with the kids, especially Tom. 1 can’t really tell the difference between the engine cowl and the carburetor or something off an airplane engine for Tom,” said Margret with a laugh. “Bye, Mr. Gentry. The leftovers are in the refrigerator.”
“Bye and thanks a lot for all that you’ve done,” sighed Samuel. Then they both hung up.
When Samuel came home the whole house was silent except for the kitchen appliance humming a sad chord. Samuel was tired, very tired. In fact, he forgot about the leftovers and went straight to bed.
Early the next morning the door quietly opened, and someone crept slowly toward the kitchen. Margaret sat on the stool for a minute and surveyed the spotlessly clean room. Slowly, but in her usual way, she walked up the stairs to awaken her employer and his children. From the time she finished telling them to arise to a new day until 9:30, the once somewhat quiet house turned upside down and backwards from the hurry to make ready the venture into the outside worked. Listen to some of the conversation in that busy hour of the morning.
“Good morning, Tom,” said Margaret briskly. “You should be getting ready for school.”
“I am,” answered Tom. “I am getting my bubble gum I hid from Jan. 1 sell it at school for five cents apiece, and I make three cents profit,” said Tom smoothly.
“Three cents profit!” exclaimed Margaret.
“Yes, three cents profit… one cent for the gum, one cent for tax, and three cents for me!” explained Tom.
Margaret laughed and said, “I didn’t know the state charged tax on that.”
“Well, you see, I have a license to sell gum. That’s where the government gets all its money, from little kids like me,” joked Tom. Then he turned away with the bag of gum in hand showing tan advertisement on the back of his T-shirt for his brand of gum.
“Last one down to the breakfast table has to eat the oatmeal,” teased Jan, as she and Tom slid down the stairs.
“The first one to get up will go to school first,” added Margaret who was at the bottom of the stairs. Upon hearing this, both of the children leaned back and pretended to sleep. After this time-wasting scheme was over, the kids raced to the table.
Aside from all the time-wasting schemes and jokes, the Gentry’s had a big breakfast and left to work or school on time. From 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the house was turned inside out and cleaned into a brilliantly gleaming model home. From 3:30p.m. to 8:30 p.m. there was the same kind of running around and forgetting of time and general time wasting.
When the bus stopped in front of the house, the children ejected from the vehicle like a missile from its silo, both racing to their home, the stars. After that paced action, Tom and Jan sprinted to the freezer. Soon the two children strode to the den where they spent the rest of the afternoon watching TV.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said Margaret pleasantly. “It is a great surprise that you are home so early,” she commented.
“I am finished on my project, as far as I am concerned, so I decided to come home early. From now on, I’ll try to be home at this time,” promised Mr. Gentry. Then he proceeded to the den. “Hi, Jan,” he greeted, “How was your day at school?”
“Fair. It was the usual thing,” answered Jan. I’m glad you’re home now! I wish you were home forever,” she added cheerfully.
Over in the corner of the room sat Tom pretending to be sad. “I think I forgot someone. Is Tom here?” teased Samuel. By the time he finished talking; Tom had jumped and landed in Samuel’s arm.
“Hi, Dad,” he exclaimed loudly. “Do you think I would forget my favorite son?” asked Samuel lovingly.
“Never! Never! Never!”, yelled Tom excitedly.
Suddenly he dropped Tom on the sofa. The room quickly burst into a laughing avalanche. Jan begged to be dropped, too. This fun and games was good to all that participated because the weeks of lonely nights disappeared in all the laughter.
After supper that night the normal procedure of home work, bathing and getting into bed was broken when Samuel and Margaret had a brief but important talk.
“I’m glad this month is over,” stated Samuel. “My project has passed every test but one.”
“Mr. Gentry I don’t have to know what your project is or anything about it. I imagine you are not supposed to talk about it anyway,” interrupted Margaret.
“But Margaret, I ….”, begged Samuel.
“Mr. Gentry,” she addressed sternly, “I mind my own business and that is all!”
I’ll skip the details. My project is being tested next Wednesday. I would like to take Tom and Jan to see the publicly shown test. Should I?” asked Mr. Gentry.
“Yes you should. Now the children will see why you spent all of your time away from them last month,” answered Margaret.
A voice said softly, “Dad, I would like to see your test. I think Jan would like to come along, too.” The voice came from the stairs.
Samuel paced to the stairs. “Tom, weren’t you supposed to be in bed sleeping?” he said.
“Well, I just couldn’t sleep. Besides, I heard you and Margaret talk…talk about us,” explained Tom.
“You know that you are going, but Jan doesn’t. Let it be a surprise to her,” suggested Samuel.
“Okay, I guess so. I won’t say a word to her,” agreed Tom.
Margaret smiled when she saw the expression of happiness in Tom’s eyes. With his eyes shining brightly, Tom said excitedly, “Boy, will Jan be surprised.”
On Wednesday the usual race to the den was canceled, and it was replaced by a trip to the testing grounds. “Oh boy! I have never seen any of your projects, Dad. The kids at school ask me all the time about you. I say I don’t know. Then they tease me about being so dumb, and I don’t like that,” complained Jan.
Samuel added, “That happens all your life, so don’t be bugged by it, Okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” agreed Jan.
Soon they stopped at the testing grounds. “Where is it. I mean where is your project?” wondered Tom.
“Is it invisible?” suggested Jan.
“No, it isn’t invisible. Just relax in the car. Just relax …”, said Samuel. As soon as he relaxed to a nap, the children ran away from the car searching for the project. As Tom had just hid behind a big barrel, he heard voices. “Dr. Gentry is in his car waiting. Should we start now?” asked a mysterious voice. As soon as Jan Tom found this place, Jan did too.
“No wait until more people come. The more people, the greater the impact,” answered another voice. “Mr. Gentry is outside. Go and invite him in the block. He knows all the small details,” he continued.
Then the first man walked to Mr. Gentry’s car, but he forgot to lock the door as he left. Tom’s eyes and ears were catching everything being done. They slowly proceeded to the unlocked door. The second man’s back was turned so that he couldn’t see Tom and Jan. In hast, they hid behind something that happened to be a tall grey rectangular panel. As the children inched their way across the floor, they heard noises coming from a source nearby. It was just ahead of them, for Tom stretched his way up the grey panel.
Tom was amazed at what he saw - a million little flashing lights all different colors. He looked a bit more and noticed a big strong man charging toward them. “What are you kids doing here?” he yelled
Just then Samuel ran in the block and yelled, “George, what is going on? I heard you say ‘kids’ I think,” he inquired.
“I saw some kids snooping around the control panel. They pressed a few buttons, but 1 fixed that,” answered George.
“My children, Tom and Jan are in the car,” suggested Samuel. Soon the men were searching near the car. “I thought they were…”
“Help! Help! Someone help!” screamed Jan.
“I want Daddy. Please help me Daddy!” yelled Tom.
“In the block. They’re in the block,” yelled the first man. The three raced to the block.
“Where are they? Where is Jan? And where is Tom?” Samuel cried. Oh, my God! They entered the machine to hide probably,” he said quietly.
“You mean your kids went in the bubble and something went wrong. Are they…?” thought George.
“NO! No! No! No!”, yelled Samuel. Then he slowly proceeded 1 the car crying. -
“Hi, Daddy!” exclaimed Tom. “I hear you but I can’t see you. I’m sorry, Daddy. I think Jan and I tested your bubble, I mean your project. It doesn’t work.”
“Where are you?” asked Samuel. “I don’t know. I guess we’re still on the block. Everything looks so big like a microscope, only we are in the thing you look at,” explained Jan.
“Well, Jan, I don’t know what to do, except wait…wait until my project come back to life,” said Samuel sadly.
“Bye, Daddy. 1 miss you. Can’t you help at all?” cried Jan.
“Goodbye, Daddy. I wish you here with us now,” sniffled Tom. Then an amplified sound of a motor running faded in the distance. “Daddy? Daddy? Are you there?” he cried.
Everything looks so big, and we can see everything around us.. .creeping down at us while they rub our transistors!” said Jan half cheerfully.
“It’s so small, cold and scary in this place,” he mumbled.
Jan suggested,” Why don’t we open the door and see what happened.”
“Okay,” he agreed. Then they each went to a different door. “It doesn’t open. We’re locked in here,” Tom said lowly.
“Neither does my door,” added Jan. “I have an idea. See that panel over there. ..one wall in back?” started Tom.
“Yes,” she answered.
“I bet if someone pressed the right button, we would get out,” suggested Tom.
The thought passed through both of their minds, “What if someone pressed the wrong button? What would happen?”
Slowly Tom dragged over to the panel. Right behind him, Jan followed. At the panel he slowly studied every detail, every little flashing light and every dull black-colored button.
Suddenly, like an arrow, his finger pointed its way to a bright green button. Nothing happened. They waited patiently for a few minutes… nothing.. .nothing at all. So the children sat in the chairs to relax. Soon they fell asleep.
A loud crash of a jet shockwave went the sphere rolling down the not-so-level floor of the block. Within a few minutes the clear sphere was at the foot of the door. There it stayed, unnoticed by Tom, Jan or anyone else until morning.
Someone drove up to the block as the children yawned their early morning blues out to the new day. A great bang came over the speakers in the bubble as the car door slammed shut. A tall, dark clothed man stepped on it, and Jan screamed as they saw him slip. Then he fell on his hands. But in his recovery, the children had a chance to do something a, and they did.
“Hello out there. Who are you? Can you help us?” they yelled in unison.
“Who said that?” asked the man with a speech problem which was very prominent.
“We did…down here by the door somewhere.” answered Tom.
The voices from the bubble were coming in from the speaker on the control panel, but it had an insulated cloth over it. The sound could have come from anywhere because of that fact.
As the man walked over to the door, he cynically said, “If this is a joke, it is a bad one. Anyone could put a walkie-talkie somewhere and talk.” Then he smiled and laughed as if someone saw him in the right perspective.
He continued, “It’s a marble, a plain old marble,” as he held the marble in his fingers. “Now a marble can’t talk, can it? Of course it can’t” he finished scientifically. Then he bent back his arm and threw the bubble out in the dirt road where it rolled to the yard of a farm.
“What happened? Where are we?” Jan wondered as she sat up. Her eyes traveled in circles recovering from the light blow on her head. As she did, she noticed everything was upside down. Just then Tom shook his head and slowly sat up. Then he used his arms as support as he looked, outside.
“Jan! Jan! Where are you, Jan?” asked Tom.
Jan crawled over to Tom and said, “Here I am right beside you.”
“What happened? Where are we?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I think I remember a man… picking us up and throwing us,” she said slowly.
Tom added, “Ya! Now I remember. He said that we were a marble, a plain old marble…” There was short pause, then a sniffle.
Tom comforted, “Don’t cry, Jan. It’s okay. We’ll get out of this mess somehow.”
Jan leaned on his shoulder and whispered, “I hope you can. I hope to God you can.” Then she burst out in tears. Tom tried his best to comfort her. Gently, but surely, Jan stopped her emotions from getting out of hand.
Meanwhile, back in Newson, New York, Samuel was ill in bed. “Margaret, would you come here, please?” he begged.
“Yes, Mr. Gentry.”
“Would you please fix something to eat, like soup… I hate myself for making that machine, it caused too much death and misery,” he said suddenly, but sadly.
Margaret smiled, and Samuel tried to smile back. He couldn’t.
“Have you heard any…”
“No sir, I haven’t” she replied. Every hour for five days he asked if she had heard anything about the children.
“We have to get out. Remember when I pressed that button,” Tom reasoned.
“What color was it?” he asked.
“I think it was blue. No, it was red. That’s wrong. It was green.” Jan thought out loud.
“You’re as mixed up as I am. I’ll try something.
“What, she wondered.
Tom stepped over to the control panel and said, “Pick a color red, green or blue.”
“Blue. That is my favorite color.”
“Okay, now pick a number between one and five,” Tom ordered.
“Why?” she asked.
Tom just stared at her. Jan wanted to crawl in a shell then and there.
“Three.” she said disgustedly. Then Tom pressed the blue button three times.
“Pzamg! Zato! Qupz!” came from the computer.
The bubble rolled what seemed a mile and then was hoisted up by flesh-colored grips.
A gigantic face appeared in front of them, but only for a second. In a flesh of lightening, a grey film covered the sphere, and an ear-splitting yell rang happened at the same instant. Jan and Tom fell to the hard floor when their house rocked back and forth.
“A bug! A human attacking marble bug bit me!”, the yell rang again.
The children fell through space and landed on what seemed a high mountain.
“Well, I guess I pressed the wrong button, Jan,” Tom chuckled. Tom was sprawled out on the cot, but Jan was near the seat, lifeless. “Jan, Jan. Are you awake or dead or something?”
Jan moaned slowly and then blinked her eyes. “Oh! Where… What happened?” she wondered
“Someone picked us up and dropped us,” be explained.
“Hey, look,” she exclaimed. “The doors that covered this thing are open now. And look at that control panel.”
“The green light is flashing. Shall I press it?” asked Tom.
“Okay, here I go, he said carefully. His finger gently floated to the button. KZinko, Kpzgt, PQdpLT went the computer.
A feeling of life spread through the bubble. The grass that seemed like trees grew to their normal size. Everything grew just as nature wanted in just a few minutes. Suddenly, the door opened with the hush of pressure. They walked out.
Have you read the childrens story, The Peasant Princess? It is in English, French, Spanish, German, and Arabic.