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Authors: David Lubar

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’m not a bad game player. I do best at the driving games, but I do okay on the other stuff, too. And I like pinball. Torchie, Cheater, and Lucky were all pretty good, but Flinch came close to being amazing. I started out playing Road Revenge. Flinch was standing next to me, taking on one of the new fighting games with the really cool graphics. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he was undefeated after I’d already gone through a dollar. That got my attention. In the next hour, I saw him roll up incredibly high scores at almost every game he played. I could barely believe that someone who was so jumpy could play games so well.
“He’s got great reflexes,” Torchie said as we watched Flinch blast his way through level after level on Smash TV. They had a lot of the latest stuff at the arcade, but Flinch seemed to like the old games as much as the new ones. He’d go from something brand-new like Shaolin Annihilator to something ancient like Pole Position, Frogger, or Centipede. I stuck with the old games, since most of them were still just a quarter. I didn’t want to run through Lucky’s money too quickly. I even played a game of Skee Ball for old times’ sake, hitting just enough of a score to win one ticket. My sister and I used to play it when we were little. I usually gave her all the tickets I won so she could save up for good prizes. I shoved the ticket in my pocket, figuring I could send it to her as a joke.
I beat my old high score on Xenon, one of my favorite pinball machines. For a moment, as I stood there, just drinking in the great sounds that washed over me from all the machines, life seemed absolutely fine.
Flinch stepped away from Smash TV and went to one of the all-time pinball classics—Eightball Deluxe.
“Want to play a two-player game?” Torchie asked me, pointing to NBA Jam.
I shook my head. Right then, I just wanted to watch Flinch. There was something odd about the way he used the flippers.
“Guess I’ll play pinball,” Torchie said, stepping up next to Flinch and feeding some change into Excalibur.
I think, if I’d just watched Flinch, I might never have noticed what was going on. But with Flinch and Torchie standing side by side, I began to see the differences in the ways they played.
After a while, I started to understand what Flinch was doing. As the first suspicions grew, a shiver of excitement tingled across my flesh. Beneath the thrill of discovery was a tinge of fear.
Even though I was sure I’d figured out what was happening, I didn’t quite believe it.
A couple minutes before midnight, the lights blinked on and off. “Closing time,” the guy behind the counter shouted.
“We’d better get going,” Torchie said.
It was just as well—I was down to my last three quarters. “Here,” I said, handing them to Lucky.
“Keep ‘em,” he told me.
I felt funny about that. “I don’t need—”
“Keep the quarters, okay?” He glared at me, his hands clenched in fists.
“Yeah. Sure. Thanks.” I wasn’t going to get into a fight over it. If he wanted me to have the quarters that badly, I’d keep them.
We headed out. I watched Flinch carefully on the way back to the school. He didn’t do anything unusual, but I decided to keep an eye on him.
We got inside without any trouble. Much to my surprise, climbing up was a lot less scary than climbing down. As Lucky hauled in the ladder and stuck it under his bed, my eyes homed in on the open closet.
“Wow.” I couldn’t help gasping. There was no way the door could close. The closet was crammed with stuff. I stared at stacks of cardboard boxes overflowing with an amazing variety of loot—pens, eyeglasses, tape recorders, hats, wallets, all kinds of small toys. I saw at least a dozen baseballs, most pretty scuffed but one that looked brand-new, a bunch of golf balls, tons of tennis balls, and a jar full of coins.
“Found ‘em,” Lucky said. “I didn’t steal them.”
“All of that?” I walked over to the boxes.
“Yeah, all of that. Especially around home on the weekends.” His voice grew tense. He moved a step closer to me. “I found it all. Finders keepers.”
“Great.” I held my breath, hoping he wasn’t going to get angrier.
Lucky smiled. “Go ahead. Take anything you want.”
I looked at him, unsure what to say.
He nodded. “Really.”
I figured he’d get upset if I refused. I reached toward the top box. It felt funny—almost like I was stealing. But Lucky started to look tense again so I just grabbed the first thing my hand touched. “Thanks. This is great,” I said. I looked down and discovered I was holding one of those big plastic clips girls use in their hair.
“Nice choice, Martin,” Flinch said. “Maybe we can get you a dress to go with it.” He started laughing, and exchanged a hand slap with Torchie.
“Hey—I’m going to send it to my sister,” I said. I shoved the stupid thing in my pocket and left the room. Sometimes, Flinch just didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Torchie asked after we’d slipped back into our room.
“Yeah. Thanks for letting me come.” I thought about telling him what I’d seen, but I decided to wait until I had real proof.
It wasn’t as simple as I’d hoped. After spending most of Saturday trying to study Flinch without being obvious about it, and learning absolutely nothing, I realized it might be better to get more information first. So I decided to do some research. If I was right, everything I knew about the world was about to change. Everything I knew about the whole universe, for that matter.
After breakfast Sunday morning, while all my classmates were hanging out and relaxing, or spending quality time at home with their parents, I went to the school library down on the first floor. The librarian—I think it was the same guy who taught the history lecture—seemed shocked to see someone. Or annoyed that I had disturbed his nap. I’m not sure which. Either way, I had the place pretty much to myself.
I wasn’t exactly sure where to start, so I wandered around reading the titles of books on the shelves. I knew I could look something up on the computer catalog that listed all the books in the library, but I didn’t even know what to look under. It was like trying to find a word in the dictionary when you didn’t know how to spell it. But at least the library didn’t have as many books as the dictionary had words.
“Can I help you?” the librarian asked after I’d scanned the shelves for ten minutes or so. He walked over toward me, but stopped several feet away, as if I might be contagious. I guess it drove him crazy watching me search the shelves like someone trying to find the right variety of soup in the supermarket.
“No thanks, I’m just looking.”
He gave me that special smile teachers use with students who aren’t very bright. “Well, if you tell me what you’re looking for, I can help you find it.”
I shrugged. “I won’t know what I’m looking for
I find it.”
“Suit yourself. But call me if you need help.”
“I will.” I resumed my search. There was a lot of interesting stuff. There were some books about dinosaurs and tanks and outer space. All the books looked pretty worn. The ripped covers were wrapped in yellowing
plastic. A lot of them were patched with tape that had turned stiff and brittle. I flipped open a couple of the books and checked the dates. Most of them were written years ago. I guess an old book is just as good as a new one if it has the facts you need. But at first I didn’t see anything that would do me any good.
Then I got warm. I spotted a book called
A Skeptical Look into the World of the Unexplained
. That seemed worth a shot. I took it to one of the tables and started flipping through the pages.
The guy who wrote the book talked about all kinds of unexplained phenomena like ghosts and stuff, and he tried to explain them in normal terms. Some of the unexplained stuff he’d investigated was obviously fake. He’d caught people making thumping sounds and pretending it was a ghost, or using hidden springs to make objects jump off a shelf. There were all kinds of frauds out there. Some of them were after money, and some just wanted attention.
I wasn’t interested in the fakes. The most important thing I got from the book was a list of the words for what I wanted to learn about. I’d brought a notebook with me. I wrote down the words—
clairvoyance, telepathy, telekinesis
, and several others. Then I went to the computer—it was an old piece of junk with a green screen, and the software was pretty lame, but it had all the books in the library on file so you could search for titles and subjects. I noticed the librarian giving me a smug look, like he’d won some sort of contest. I ignored him.
I searched the computer for the words I’d found. There weren’t any books on the subjects. That didn’t surprise me. It wasn’t the sort of thing a school library would have. So I tried the encyclopedia. Bingo. I found short articles under several of the words. And I learned a couple more words from those articles, especially the part at the end where they say
see also
. I added those words to the bottom of my list. After I’d looked at everything I could find in the encyclopedia, I took those new words and went back to the computer. This time, I actually found two books listed.
As much as I hate to admit it, I was starting to have fun in the
library. If I told the guys that I was enjoying myself, I’d be kidded without mercy. They’d probably start calling me Bookman or Wordboy, or something like that. I certainly wasn’t a brain, and I didn’t think of myself as the kind of kid who studies stuff or learns things just for fun, but this was almost as good as a game.
And I’d done it all by myself. I’d gone in there with little more than a suspicion, and ended up learning a lot more than I’d expected. As I sat back in the chair at the library, thinking about all I’d read and what I suspected, I realized there was an easy way to get the proof I needed. And I could do it before the end of the day.
was in the library so long, I missed lunch. I guess the bell rang, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. So I had to wait until dinner to spring my trap. It was tough keeping quiet. The guys would be blown away when I told them what I’d figured out. It was all so amazingly incredible. I caught up with them in line. Lucky hadn’t come back from his weekend with his dad, so it was just Flinch, Torchie, Cheater, and me.
When we brought our trays out from the food line, I grabbed a seat next to Flinch. This was perfect. All I needed was a distraction.
That came quickly enough. I noticed Torchie’s napkin was on fire. It wasn’t a big blaze—the edge was lightly smoldering. “Fire,” I said, just loud enough so Flinch looked at Torchie’s tray. I reached out and smothered the fire with my right hand. As I leaned across the table, I knocked over my milk with my left hand.
Before the carton even landed on its side, Flinch jumped out of his seat. At that point, he still wasn’t looking in my direction.
“Hey, careful,” he said as the milk glugged out of the open lip of the carton and splashed over the spot where his butt had just been resting.
“Wow. I’m sorry,” I said. I mopped up the chair with a handful of extra napkins I had on my tray. I knew I’d need them, so I’d grabbed a whole bunch. It was hard to keep from grinning. But I wasn’t grinning over spilled milk, I was grinning over the proof I’d hoped to find. As I’d expected, Flinch was bone dry—not a drop had touched him.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” I whispered. This was great. I was dying to tell them right there, but I didn’t want anyone at the other tables to hear. “It’s a secret. I’ll explain when we get back to the room.”
“I can’t wait to hear this,” Flinch said.
“Hear what?” Torchie asked.
“Later,” I said.
Cheater gave me an odd look. I had a feeling he already knew what I was going to talk about. Even so, he didn’t say anything. None of the others had a clue yet. But that would change after dinner.
As I finished my meal, I thought about how thrilled they’d be to hear the truth.
“Okay,” Torchie said after we’d had gathered in the room. “What’s this big mystery?”
That was a good choice of words. I felt like the detective at the end of a mystery movie, when he’s gathered all the suspects together and is about to explain everything. I stood up and pointed at Cheater. “Why are you at this school?”
“You know why,” he said. “They think I cheat on tests.”
“Do you cheat?”
“No. I don’t need to cheat. I’m smart. Ask me anything. Anything at all.”
“I know you’re smart,” I told Cheater. “What about you? Why are you here?” I asked, pointing to Flinch.
“I’m kind of jumpy,” he said. “I guess I get distracted a lot. It messes up my grades. According to my teachers, I’m
a disruptive influence in the classroom.

“And we all know why Torchie is here,” I said. “But maybe the adults are wrong about you guys. Maybe there’s another explanation.” This was going to be great. They’d be amazed when I told them what I’d figured out.
“What explanation?” Torchie asked.
Here goes
, I thought. “You all have psychic abilities.”
Dead silence filled the room and three pairs of puzzled eyes stared at me. I might as well have been speaking Turkish. I realized they needed more of an explanation. I could understand that. This was a big idea to grasp all at once. “Flinch has precognition and Cheater is telepathic,” I said, stumbling a bit over the words as I showed off my new vocabulary. I waited for them to congratulate me on my brilliance.
“Huh?” Torchie said.
“Precognition?” Flinch asked. “Sounds like a device that starts a car by remote control.”
Cheater just looked at me like I was crazy.
“Really,” I said. “It’s true. Cheater is telepathic. He can read minds. That’s why he always has the same answers on his tests as other people in the room. I’ll prove it.”
I needed to concentrate on something so Cheater could read my mind. A number—that would be a good test. But not a small number. It couldn’t be something simple like the number seven. Everyone thinks of seven. Just like everyone thinks of the ace of spades if you ask them to name a card. It had to be a bigger number. My house was on 85 Pritchard Drive. I closed my eyes and thought real hard of the number eighty-five. I pictured a big eighty-five—huge, red digits flashing like a score in a video game. I said,
Eighty-five, eighty-five, eighty-five,
over and over in my mind, then asked, “Okay, Cheater, what number am I thinking of?”
“How should I know?” Cheater said.
“Come on, take a guess.” I knew he could get it.
Cheater shrugged, then said, “Seven. Is that it?”
“Yeah. I mean, it was, but then I changed it. It started out as seven.”
“Big deal,” Flinch said. “Everyone picks seven.”
“Forget about the numbers. That doesn’t matter. Think back,” I urged the others. “Cheater always knows what I’m thinking. It must have happened to the rest of you, too. Haven’t any of you noticed? Come on, you must have.”
“My mom usually knows what I’m thinking,” Torchie said.
“I’m thinking you blew a brain gasket,” Flinch said.
I could tell they were ready to walk away. This was not how it was supposed to go. They should have been thrilled. They should have been thanking me. Maybe Cheater wouldn’t cooperate, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
“Flinch,” I said, pointing at him. “I know this sounds really wild, but you’re precognitive. That means you know things are going to happen before they happen. Like with the milk. You jumped before I spilled it.”
“You did that on purpose?” Flinch asked, his face shifting from surprise to anger. “Hey, that’s really rotten. I could have gotten all wet.”
“But you didn’t. That’s the point. Why do you think you’re so jumpy? It’s because you see stuff coming before it happens. You knew the milk was going to spill. Somehow, you saw it before it happened, or felt it, or just knew it was coming. The rest of us, we go through life getting bumps and having small accidents. I’m always stubbing my toes. Or I’ll bang my elbow when I walk around a corner. You avoid all that, but it makes you look real jumpy. And you start worrying about all the stuff you see coming from the future instead of paying attention to the present.”
I paused to catch my breath. I felt like I was giving a speech, but I couldn’t help myself. There was so much to tell them. “You get in trouble for interrupting, too. You think the teacher’s done talking, but that’s ‘cause you’re seeing ahead. Or hearing ahead. Don’t you get it? It makes perfect sense.”
Flinch shook his head. “I just can’t believe you spilled that milk on purpose.”
“It doesn’t make sense at all,” Cheater said. “And Flinch is right, it wasn’t nice of you to spill milk on him.”
I ignored Cheater and revealed my final piece of evidence. “Think about Torchie,” I said. “Have you ever seen him actually light a fire? Even once? I haven’t. And I live in the same room with him. They’re always blaming him, but nobody’s ever caught him. He’d have to be the sneakiest kid ever born to get away with that. Torchie isn’t sneaky. He’s telepyric. That means he can start fires with his mind.” I grabbed my
notebook, ripped out a page, and thrust the sheet of paper at Torchie.
“Come on, light it.”
“Martin,” Torchie said. “This is some kind of stupid joke, right?”
“No joke. Come on, light it.” I moved the paper right in front of his face. “Please.”
“I can’t do nuthin’ like that. Honest. I told you I didn’t start no fires.”
“You didn’t know you started them,” I said. “But you caused the fires—not with a lighter, but with your mind. Come on, try. If you’re my friend, you’ll at least give it a shot.”
Despite his protests, Torchie tried. He stared at the paper. His brow got all wrinkled. His eyes narrowed to slits. He concentrated so hard that he grunted.
Nothing happened.
“Are you sure you’re trying?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m trying. It’s not working. Face it, Martin. You’re crazy. How’s that for a simple explanation? Edgeview has gotten to you.”
“Yeah, Edgeview has pushed you over the edge,” Flinch said. “How’s the view from there?”
“I’m not crazy,” I told them. “It all makes sense—perfect sense. Think about it.”
“It’s getting late,” Cheater said. “It’s almost eighty-five.”
“What did you say?” I spun toward him. A tingle of excitement ran through my scalp as his words sunk in.
(1963 EDITION)
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