Saturday, April 16, 2011
My fingers twitched as I unlocked the treasure chest in my grandparent’s living room and opened the box marked “Ultimate Spider-Man.” As I lifted issue #1 out of its sleeve, a part of me wanted to shout, “Halleluiah!”
I couldn’t believe Grandpa was giving me all the comics in the series for my eleventh birthday.
As I flipped through Spider-Man’s origin story, I slipped into a daydream, imagining what would happen if a radioactive spider bit me.
With my luck, I'd gain a useless super power like the ability to transform into a daddy longlegs. No thanks! The last thing I needed was the power to shrink into a common household spider. My six older, attention-hogging brothers made me feel small enough.
What I really wanted was a way to stand out. Something my brothers hadn’t done before me.
Maybe I could become a first-class photographer like Peter Parker. Or write comics like Stan Lee. Or...
The doorbell rang.
“Avery,” yelled Grandma from the kitchen. “Get the door!”
I banged the back of my head against the couch. Couldn’t I have five minutes of uninterrupted reading time?
“Avery, did you hear me?”
“I’m going.” I slipped the comic back into its sleeve and put it away.
The quicker I got this over with, the faster I could get back to reading. I rushed into the hallway and yanked open the door.
A huge cardboard box stood on the front edge of the porch. Stamped on its front was a winged-hat logo that read, “Mercury’s Messengers: Delivery at the Speed of Now.”
I peered down my grandparents’ driveway.
Whoever dropped off the box hadn’t waited around.
I shrugged and shouted, “Grandma, you got a package!”
“Bring it in, dear.”
I stepped into the box’s shadow.
An excited chill crawled up my legs and back.
Was it was a birthday present for me? My mind buzzed with the possibilities. Maybe it was the Orion telescope and camera I begged my parents for since we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum last summer. Or a model rocket kit. Or a remote control plane. I peered at the shipping label for a clue, but it was a jumble of letters, numbers, and strange symbols. No help. At all.
I tried to lift the box off the porch.
It refused to budge.
I gritted my teeth and pushed it toward the door.
It didn’t move.
I glanced around the front yard. Were my brothers playing another birthday prank on me? It’d be just like them to superglue my present to the porch.
If they did set this up, I wasn’t going to play along. I called back into the house. “It’s too heavy!”
“Frank,” yelled Grandma. “There’s a—”
“I heard!” bellowed Grandpa from his upstairs study. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
While waiting for him, I rummaged through the bushes. My brothers weren’t there. Maybe the box wasn’t a gag gift after all. Or my brother had a better hiding place.
Grandpa stepped outside, ran a finger over the shipping label, and frowned.
I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him without a grin. “Is something wrong, Grandpa?”
“Get the door for me.” He lifted the box off the porch like it was filled with feathers.
“How’d you do that?” I asked.
“It’s all in how you lift,” said Grandpa.
I opened the door. “Is it for me?”
Grandpa squeezed into the house.
“So, what is it?” I asked.
“Nothing for you to worry about.” He weaved his way around a knick-knack cabinet full of Wizard of Oz collectibles and a pair of shelves cluttered with books.
I chased after him. “Come on, give me a hint. Please!”
Grandma stepped into the hallway, blocking my way. “Stop pestering him and help me set the table for lunch.”
“But—” I tried to squirm past her.
She herded me toward the dining room. “No buts about it.”
Grandpa disappeared into the back room, the one which led to...
My brain short-circuited. What had I been thinking about? I forced myself to focus. The back room. Where did it led to? The answer popped into my head like a cartoon bubble.
How could I forget my grandparents had one? I must have passed by the back room a thousand times, but never given the basement a second thought. How weird was that?
Grandma dragged me over to the table.
“What’s in the basement, Grandma?”
Her eyes narrowed and she pointed me toward the silverware. “Fewer questions, more place setting.”
I grabbed a bunch of knives. Why didn’t she trust me? I was eleven now. I could handle the truth.
It wasn’t like they were keeping national secrets under their house or anything.
After what felt like hours of setting the table and peeling vegetables, Grandpa reappeared. He touched Grandma’s shoulder and whispered into her ear.
The color in her cheeks drained away. She looked like someone had just run over Cheshire, the stray cat that hung around her yard.
“Avery,” said Grandma. “That’s enough carrots. Go read your comics.”
I dropped my peeler in the sink and escaped before she could change her mind.
After washing my hands, I grabbed issue #1 and settled onto the couch.
The echo of my grandparents’ footsteps drew my attention upstairs. Were they going to talk about the mysterious box?
I focused on the comic, trying to resist the urge to eavesdrop. It didn’t work. Something about the mysterious box and the basement had latched onto my brain like a leech and wasn’t letting go.
I put away the comic for the second time. The thrill I’d felt when Grandpa gave me his Ultimate Spider-Man collection was gone. In its place was a prodding curiosity that pushed me off the couch.
I was halfway up the steps when an idea crept into my head. Instead of listening in on my grandparents, I could sneak into the basement and find out what was inside the mysterious box. No one would ever know.
I tiptoed back down the stairs and slipped into the backroom.
I tried to open the basement door, but it was locked.
Where would my grandparents keep the key?
I scanned the backroom. Nothing. Maybe it was on the key rack in the kitchen.
I stepped into the hallway, but before I could continue my search, the front door burst open and my brothers flooded into the house.
There timing, as usual, sucked.
“There he is,” said Rick and Charlie.
Bill and Mike charged down the hallway and hooked me under the arms.
They carried me out to the backyard, then dumped me in front of Dave and Robbie, who were holding something behind their backs.
My brothers formed a tight circle around me. A noose made of twins (yes, all my brothers came in identical pairs).
On the count of three, they shouted, “Happy Birthday, Lucky #7!”
I cringed. My nickname would’ve been great for someone else, but not for me. I didn’t have a fortunate bone in my body. Bad luck followed me around like a frisky black cat with extra sharp claws. It pounced at the worst possible times (like when I was trying to sneak into a basement).
The only reason my brothers called me Lucky #7 was because they knew it pushed my buttons.
Robbie handed me a present wrapped in newspaper and duct tape. “We all chipped in for this. Hope you like it.”
I sniffed the present. It didn’t stink. I shook it. Nothing exploded. The contents shifted around like loose clothing. I glanced at Rick and Charlie.
They pinched their noses shut. Not a good sign.