Sure enough, the clock struck five and the doorbell rang out. It was bewildering to Tommy how someone could be perfectly on time, and not “on time,” but perfectly on time according to their own kitchen clock. It wasn’t even a super accurate atomic clock, just a plain, analog wall mount that needed replacement batteries every few months.
Forgetting to take off his apron, Mr. Twist placed a hand on Tommy’s back and directed him towards the front room. Once all three were positioned around the entryway, Mr. Twist opened the door.
Tommy yelped! Not a quiet yelp, but a loud, pre-adolescent screech that sent a disconcerted grin across his Mom’s face. Standing at the door were two of the strangest, oddest, most ghastly looking creatures he had ever seen (and he had seen a lot of things in his short lifetime)!
A pinch near his ankle made Tommy look down. When he looked back up, in place of the creatures there were two strange looking people instead. Like they were made of plastic, their faces and ears didn’t look natural, but molded. Their hair was plugged into place like a toy doll. One had a green envelope in hand, and the other a large box. Both stared blankly forward as though their painted eyes couldn’t move.
Tommy reached down to his hurt ankle and realized something that was not going to end well. He had left the Cellulose-pulp Degravitator in his pocket without turning it off. Bending over had rotated it, setting the device on high. The large box started to shake violently in the man’s plastic hands, and the green envelope shot through the doorway toward Mr. and Mrs. Twist. Tommy dropped to the floor as the box burst into a kaleidoscope of flying envelopes, decorating the front room in an animated rainbow of color. Envelopes circled the room, flying up towards the ceiling and then streaking down and to his right in a line across the front window. Orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple envelopes flew everywhere. One of the men yelled something foreign to the other as they grappled for the colored parcels.
Fumbling into his pocket, Tommy turned off the Degravitator. The envelopes stopped in mid flight and dropped to the floor. Trying to avoid his parents glare, Tommy got to his hands and knees and began stacking packets.
The room was a mess. Envelopes were stuck in the curtains and between worn cushions of the old couch. Some had flown under the couch, back out the side of it, and into his Mom’s treasured china doll plant (treasured since it was the only indoor plant that had ever survived his Dad’s inability to water). As Tommy gathered the envelopes, he recognized the weight and shape of each correlated to whatever the color was. Oranges were all the same, about three centimeters thick, the yellow ones had two lumps inside, both about two centimeters thick, but narrower than the oranges. There were more green envelopes than blue, and more blue than purple. Tommy thought he had seen a red one, but the visitors must have snatched it back into the box before he could verify it.
Trying to recover the situation, his Dad blurted out, “Ummm… would you like to stay for dinner?” The two creatures, or uh, people, both double-checking for lost envelopes, spoke mechanically, “No thank you Mr. Twist.” They found and handed him a green envelope, and then walked away without saying another word. The door closed, and Tommy could feel his parents gazing down at him.
“Thomas, we know they look a little different. They’re foreigners from a small island in the Atlantic, and they all look like that. You need to learn how to control your reactions better. You probably scared them half to death!”
“Mom! They aren’t merely foreigners! They didn’t even look human! They only had one eye, and I swear one of them was purple! At least, when they first got here anyway…”
“Thomas! Please, don’t make stories about them just because they’re different.”
“I’m not! I just…”
“Thomas, I think you’re Mom will agree with me. You need to go to your room while we decide what to do about this behavior,” his Dad ended.
“So much for the better-than-normal meal tonight,” Tommy thought as he sheepishly marched the stairs to his room.
Plopping down into the recliner, Tommy tried to determine what had just happened. What had he seen? What were they? Even when they walked away, their movement seemed unnatural…
They had walked away! The company’s closest office was in the city! At least thirty miles from here! And they had walked away? Where was their car? Tommy flew to the window and opened the drapes. Sure enough, the piles of snow left over from the neighborhood plow were still sitting undisturbed in the street. A fresh layer of snow rested over everything without a hint of tire tracks. Only two sets of footprints, from the side of the road up to their doorstep, which led Tommy’s eyes to something they had overlooked. A stray envelope from the box had been left behind. The red one.
He knew he had seen a red one. It was sitting between the bushes and the stucco underneath the front window, directly below Tommy’s room. With a quick slide, his window was open, the emergency rope ladder was released, and Tommy was on his way down. Not wanting to get into more trouble, he grabbed the envelope and quickly climbed back to his room.
The parcel was different from the others, heavier, and not as flat. Probably why it didn’t fly into the house. Dad’s green envelope had his salary in it. A humble amount of cash that Tommy never got to see or count except for when his allowance was counted from it. He knew he shouldn’t open other people’s mail, but curiosity was a powerful force that always won out against him. Besides, it wasn’t really mail was it? No address or name was on it, sender or otherwise. The men from Dad’s work were already out of sight. What else could he do?
A small, infinitesimal prick of guilt was there when he tore the seal open, but didn’t last long enough to change his mind. Reaching inside, Tommy pulled out a flat, rectangular device, along with a small box of multi-colored crystals. The device was the size of a small book with writing around the edges that Tommy didn’t recognize. He flipped it over and peered at the otherwise smooth, black surface. It was dark, except for several dots of light floating within. None of them stayed visible for long, and for a moment Tommy thought he recognized the star constellation Orion. It was mesmerizing.
The movement within the device wasn’t as a television or computer screen. There were no seams around the display and no back lighting.
Tommy pulled a crystal across the device to get a better look, and the little bits of light rippled away. He moved the crystal closer in response and it snapped from his fingers, latching onto the black surface. A quiet hum resonated from it.
Filling his hand with the remaining crystals, Tommy started placing them around the first. Each snapped into place and harmonized with the others. Dots of light danced around the crystals, leaping and jumping as though they had been joined by long lost friends.
Prying crystals off with his fingernail, Tommy moved them to make different patterns. The sound and dancing changed with each placement. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt happy, as though he were helping an old lady with her groceries or finding a lost pet for someone. Certain patterns made him feel better than others. If only he could find the best one…
…on to Chapter 5 The Manager