Middle Grade - Joseph Miller
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 gave me the entire series for my eleventh birthday.
While flipping through the comic, I imagined what would happen if a radioactive spider bit me. What kind of super powers would I get? With my luck, I'd gain a useless one 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.
I wanted to stand out (and not in my usual accident-prone, rush-me-to-the-hospital way). If only I could do something, anything, better than my brothers. 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’m on the phone!”
My head banged against the couch. Couldn’t I have five minutes of uninterrupted reading time? I slipped the comic into its sleeve and tucked it into the box. Safe and sound. The quicker I got this over with, the faster I could get back to reading.
“Avery, did you hear me?”
“I’m going.” I rushed into the hallway and yanked open the door.
A huge cardboard box stood on the front edge of the porch. The winged-hat logo stamped on its front 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. “Grandma, you’ve got mail!”
“Bring it in, dear.”
An excited chill crawled up my legs and back as I stepped into the box’s shadow.
Was this a birthday present for me? My imagination buzzed with the possibilities. Maybe my parents got the Orion telescope and camera I begged them for since we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum last summer. I peeked at the shipping label. No clues. Just a jumble of letters, numbers, and strange symbols. No help. At all.
I tried to lift the package off the porch, but failed. Twice. Gritting my teeth, I changed tactics and pushed. The box didn’t budge. Not one inch.
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 study. A moment later, he stepped outside wearing his Air Force flight cap, housecoat, and slippers (a.k.a. his writing uniform). His fingers ran over the shipping label.
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 package off the porch like a box filled with feathers.
“How’d you do that?” I asked.
“It’s all in the knees,” said Grandpa.
I opened the door. “Is the package 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 with a spatula.
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 the back room a thousand times, but never given the basement a second thought. Strange.
Grandma prodded me over to the table.
“What’s in the basement, Grandma?”
Her eyes narrowed. She pointed toward the silverware. “Fewer questions, more place setting.”
I grabbed a bunch of knives. Why’d she ignore my question? I was eleven now. I could handle the truth.
It wasn’t like my grandparents had a top secret laboratory under their house or anything.
Grandpa reappeared a few minutes later and whispered into Grandma’s ear. The color in her cheeks drained away. She looked as if someone had just run over Cheshire, the stray cat that hung around her house.
“Avery,” she said, leading me to the kitchen sink. “I need you to skin these potatoes while I talk with your grandfather.”
“There are no buts in this house,” said Grandma in her drill sergeant voice. “Only yes sirs and...”
My shoulders sagged. “Yes, mams.”
“That’s right.” She slapped a peeler into my hand and left the kitchen. Grandpa gave me a squeeze on the shoulder and followed her out of the room. Their footsteps echoed up the stairs.
I grabbed a potato and murdered it.
Grandpa’s study door slammed shut, shaking loose an idea in my head. I could sneak into the basement while my grandparents talked upstairs.
My lips curled into a smile. The peeler lowered into the sink.
I crept out of the kitchen, but before I reached the backroom, the front door burst open. My brothers flooded into the house.
Their timing, as usual, stunk.
“There he is,” squealed Rick and Charlie.
Bill and Mike charged down the hallway, hooked me under the arms, and carried me outside. They dumped me in front of Dave and Robbie, who had something behind their backs. My brothers formed a tight circle around me... like 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 winced. The only reason my brothers nicknamed me Lucky #7 was because they knew I didn’t have a fortunate bone in my body. If there was a wrong place to be and a wrong time to be there... I usually showed up right on cue. Just like Peter Parker.
Robbie handed me a present wrapped in newspaper and duct tape. “We all chipped in.”
I sniffed the package. 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.
“Don’t let them freak you out,” said Dave. “I made sure they didn’t slip in any surprises.”
My nose twitched at the memory of the stink-bomb-in-a-box I got for Christmas. Prepared for the worst, I peeled off the newspaper and opened my present to find… an extra large football jersey with the number seven and the name “LUCKY” printed in bold letters.
It wasn’t on my wish list.
“Try it on,” said Robbie.
My brothers chanted, “Lucky! Lucky! Lucky #7!”
I thought about running, but decided against becoming a tackling dummy. I pulled the white jersey over my head and let it fall around my knees.
“Thanks, guys,” I said, trying to sound sincere. “But it’s a bit... big.”
“You’ll grow into it,” said Robbie, who probably thought that was a good thing.
“Yeah, it’s called puberty,” said Mike.
My brothers yipped like a pack of hyenas.
My cheeks burned as I stripped off the jersey. For a millisecond, I imagined throwing my gift into Mike’s face. That would shut him up.
But then, my brain pictured him pile driving me into the ground and I changed targets. The jersey sailed past his ear and hit the back porch instead.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mike. “Don’t you like our present?”
“I…” I wanted to tell him I didn’t like the jersey, my nickname, or being the butt of other people’s jokes. But I chickened out... again.
“I don’t want to get it dirty. That’s all.”
“Good,” said Bill. “Now, let’s play some football.”