illustration

The morning sun shone brightly on the white, two-story house with baby blue shutters. From within the house, a procession of noises announced to all passersby that the Flinch family was getting up.

Windows slid open, water pipes hummed and the garbage disposal roared. Soon after that, the front door suddenly popped open and a gangly-looking teenager came running out.

Norman Flinch was fourteen years old, stood six feet tall and was very skinny. He resembled a really tall spider monkey dressed up like a kid.

He ran down the street to the end of the block and disappeared around the corner. His errand was a quick one. In less than fifteen minutes he had reappeared, carrying a small brown sack and running down the sidewalk toward his own yard.

As he leaped over the hedge along the front walk he missed and did a nosedive into the grass. The brown sack went flying, and landed next to the shrub that hid the large sparkling glass ball under it.

Norman was used to tripping and falling a lot, and he had the bruises and scratches to prove it. He scrambled to his feet and retrieved his sack, not noticing the strange object under the shrubbery. He hopped up on the porch and let himself into the house.

"Norman, is that you?" Norman's mother Janice, shouted from the kitchen. She had been loading the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher when the slam of the front door made her jump.

Hearing no reply, she poked her head into the dining room. "Norman?"

Still no answer.

Janice stepped through the dining room. She could see her son leaning back in an easy chair sifting through a stack of brightly-colored comic books.

When she came into the room he never even looked up.

"Norman!" Janice shouted.

"Huh?" he grunted.

"Where have you been?"

"I went to the drugstore. I wanted to get first grabs at the new comic books that came in last night."

"I want you to get an early start on mowing the lawn today," she said firmly.

"See what I picked up?" Norman explained. "This is where Lizard- Man joins forces with Captain Cosmo to fight off the invasion of Tree Toad people. It starts in this issue of Lizard-Man and ends in this issue of Captain Cosmo."

"You were supposed to have done it on Wednesday," his mother insisted.

"Or does it start in this issue of Captain Cosmo and end in this issue of Lizard-Man?" Norman muttered to himself.

"But somehow you just conveniently forgot," Janice continued. "Then you promised that if I let it go until the weekend you would do it first thing Saturday morning."

"No, I was right the first time," he mumbled. "It's the other way around."

"Here it is, 'first thing Saturday morning,' and there you sit, just like you have all week long, reading comic books."

"That's tricky!" Norman exclaimed. "They switch back and forth."

"Which brings me to another point, young man!" Janice's voice was loud and scratchy. "Those comic books! The way you read them all the time isn't good for you. All you do is sit and read. You need to get some exercise. Why don't you go out and play baseball like normal boys your age? Norman, are you listening to me? . . . Norman! . . . Norman!"

He was so engrossed in his comic that he no longer heard anything she said.

Barbara Flinch, Norman's sixteen-year-old sister, came in from the dining room.

"Mom, I think I've listed everything we need from the store. You want to go over it?" She handed the list to her mother.

Janice took the list and read it over as Barbara pushed her long blonde hair back behind her ears.

"I think I need some more brown sugar," her mother told her as she handed the list back. "Let me check. Ask Norman what kind of lunch meat he wants."

Janice went into the kitchen. Barbara pulled a pen out of the pocket of her slacks.

"Norman, what kind of lunch meat do you want?" She waited for a reply. When none came, she tried again. "Lunch meat, Norman, what kind do you want?"

Still no response.

"Earth to Norman!" she shouted.

That did it. He shook his head, breaking free of the comic book. He looked blankly at his sister.

"Did you know that Tree Toad people shed their skin like a snake?" he asked. "And when the radioactive rays of the green sun fall upon the lifeless skin, it grows into another Tree Toad person. That's how they breed."

After sharing this tidbit of trivia, Norman's head floated back down to the colorful magazine.

Barbara stared at her brother, too stunned to speak.

"Mom!" she finally cried. "Norman is acting weird again."

"What?" came her mother's voice from the kitchen.

"Norman's babbling about toad people."

"Well, go on then," Janice said, returning to the room with the look of a fighter who'd just gotten her second wind. "I'll take care of him."

"But what kind of lunch meat should I get?"

"Get him some liverwurst."

"Eew! Mom, that stuff is gross."

"Good. When he finds that's all he has to eat, next time he'll pay closer attention to the rest of the life forms in this house."

With a shrug, Barbara slid the list into her pocket and went out the front door. "Drive carefully," Janice shouted after her.

Now Mom was ready for the kill. "Norman, get out there and mow that lawn!"

No response.

"Norman!" Janice brought her foot down on the leg rest of the recliner, bringing it to its full upright position fast. Norman dropped the book and grabbed the armrests to keep from flying out of the chair.

"Get out there and mow the lawn," Janice demanded.

"In a minute, Mom." Norman reached for the fallen book.

But his mother was too quick. She grabbed the comic book up and used it to point the way to the front door.

"No, not in a minute. Get out there now!"

Giving an irritated grunt, Norman climbed out of the chair and slowly shuffled out the door. Victory was hers. She glanced at the comic book in her hand, then headed upstairs.

***

The father of this happy home, Edward Allen Flinch, was busy with a major plumbing job. When Janice entered the upstairs bathroom, all she saw of her husband were his legs protruding from the cabinet under the sink. Bottles, brushes, buckets, toilet paper rolls and a plunger were all scattered across the floor. She nudged his leg with her foot.

"I'm working in here," he shouted. "You'll have to use the one downstairs."

"It's me," Janice said. "I want to talk to you."

"Oh, hi, honey." Ed peeked his head out into the light. "Hey, would you hand me those vice grips up there. . . please?"

Janice handed him the tool and he disappeared again.

"Could you hold off on that for a minute?"

"It's okay, honey, I can hear you."

"It's about our son."

"Huh?"

"It's Norman!"

Ed showed his face once again. "If you talk right into the drain, I can hear you better."

Janice stepped over some bottles to move in closer. "How's this?" she said directly into the sink.

"Perfect."

"I need to talk to you about Norman," she said to the drain. "I am really worried about him."

***

The lawnmower burped out a couple of chugs, and then died with a hiss. Norman gave the pull cord another yank. The lawnmower coughed and spat once before it stopped.

If the lawnmower was broken, he wouldn't have to do the lawn until his father fixed it. Then he could return to his comic book with a guilt-free conscience.

He tried once again, and all it did was hiccup at him.

This is great! he thought.

He knew he'd better look over every possible problem before he declared defeat. His mother would check him on everything.

"Oil. . . okay."

"Sparkplug. . .good."

"Gas. . . crud!" It was out of gas.

"Shoot! Why couldn't it have been broken?" he muttered as he went back into the garage to get the gas can.

After filling the lawnmower's gas tank, Norman pulled the cord and the machine roared to life. He gave a quick glance over the top of the hedge lining the front walk to make certain that the lawn was free of foreign objects.

He jerked the lawnmower to the bottom of the driveway, and began mowing the trim around the shrubbery. He let his frustration out with the lawnmower. He recklessly pushed it in between the shrubs of the hedge and pulled it out with such force that it was bouncing around the bushes.

When he shoved the lawnmower under the fifth bush, a tremendous 'CRACK!' was heard.

Suddenly everything was moving in slow motion. He watched the lawnmower fly up into the air. Then he felt himself shoved by an unseen force across the yard. He was slammed into a nine-foot cypress bush at the side of the house, and then dropped to the ground. He felt something wet and slimy splatter all over him. That was the last thing he remembered before everything went black.