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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 12:
Night Terror

Charlie woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning. As he was getting dressed, he noticed a strange-looking object on his desk and picked it up. It was a smooth, yellow metal cylinder about the size of his finger, and one end was made of glass. It had a single button near the glass end. When Charlie pressed it, a very intense yellowish light went on. It was a flashlight, the coolest flashlight he had ever seen.

He wondered where the flashlight had come from - maybe his parents had left it there by mistake? A ringing telephone interrupted his thoughts. He slipped the flashlight into his pants pocket and ran down to answer the phone. He was sure that the phone call was for him - his parents never took early calls, especially on weekends.

Sure enough, it was George on the phone. George had been thinking about the time machine again, and he had some ideas on ways to to make it easier to use. He wanted to come over and experiment with the machine. Charlie said yes, but his thoughts were elsewhere; he had just noticed a newspaper lying on the table and remembered about the newspaper article mentioning his computer and the trouble it might cause.

As soon as George got to Charlie's house, he said, "Look, this machine is obviously from far in the future. Machines from then would probably have a lot of cool features making them easy to use. Like when you travel in time, there should be a home button or back button, so you could get back quickly and wouldn't have to type in the whole date."

Charlie replied, "Yes, probably, but so what?"

George was astounded. "So what?! If you could just press one button to get back, that could save you a few seconds, and maybe save your life. We have to test this out."

Charlie was not very enthusiastic, and he tried to change the conversation and talk about the newspaper article. George had seen it, but he was too involved in his new theory about the time machine to care about anything else.

George continued, "I think we should try pressing the blue button to get back next time - I'm not sure if it will work, of course. It might be the red button twice, or something else. I'm also not sure if we would go back to the exact moment we left, or to the time we left plus the number of minutes we spent away. We need to test it out. I figured that we could go to a safe time and place to test it. I thought about this for hours. Traveling to your room last night would be perfect. It's safe, we can experiment with the machine and there won't be anything chasing us or trying to eat us. Then if it doesn't work, we can just go back by typing the date in the old way."

Charlie reluctantly said, "Okay, let's try it." He walked over to a pile of laundry in the corner and pulled the time machine out of a pocket in his torn, dirty jeans. As Charlie typed in 1:00 AM, George held onto the machine. Suddenly it was dark.

Charlie whispered, "I've got a great flashlight that I found this morning," and he switched it on. He noticed another Charlie asleep in bed, curled up against the wall. Charlie didn't like this at all. He whispered to George, "This is way too weird."

Two Charlies didn't bother George at all. He whispered, "Do you want to press the red button or the blue button?"

Charlie answered, "I don't care about the buttons."

"Fine," said George, but then they heard a noise just outside his door. George held onto the machine and whispered, "Press the blue button now."

Charlie pressed it, but nothing happened. The door to his room was opening. The boys quickly dived into the closet, and Charlie turned off his flashlight.

Charlie had expected to hear the voices of his parents, but it wasn't them. It sounded like the couple who had lost the time machine.

They were still arguing with each other, but quietly this time. The woman, Gertrude, hissed angrily, "I told you it wasn't downstairs. It's got to be in his room."

Talon snapped at her, "Be patient. We'll find it. I'll check the desk."

Charlie and George peered at them through the slats in the closet door. Charlie noticed that Talon and Gertrude each carried flashlights that had unusually powerful, yellowish beams, just like the one that Charlie had found this morning on his desk. He knew that his flashlights was somehow connected to theirs, but he couldn't figure out exactly how.

Talon shone his flashlight on the bed, and saw Charlie curled up and asleep. He looked closely at the sleeping Charlie but saw no time machine. He then went to Charlie's desk, shining the flashlight on it. As he rifled through the drawers, he pointed to the bed table, and gestured for Gertrude to look there.

After a minute, she gave up and started going through the bureau. Charlie and George knew that the closet would probably be next, so Charlie tried typing on the time machine to escape, but he couldn't see the keys well enough in the dark, and if he turned on the flashlight, they would definitely be seen by Talon and Gertrude.

Suddenly, there were more voices in the hall outside the door. It was Charlie's parents this time. He heard his mother say, "I know I heard something. I'll check Charlie's room, you check Kate's.

Charlie's father said, "No one's here. You probably heard that tree hitting the house again."

"No," Charlie's mother insisted, "I heard people talking - it wasn't a tree.""

Talon and Gertrude had heard his parents too. They quickly opened Charlie's window, slithered out, and disappeared into the darkness. Charlie and George heard a slight thump as Talon crawled out the window, as if something had fallen.

The door opened, and Charlie's mother went in and looked around. She went over to Charlie's bed, straightened his blanket, and kissed him on his forehead. After closing and locking his window, she left the room, shutting the door behind her.

Charlie and George quietly opened the closet door and Charlie turned on his flashlight. "Let's go back now," said George. But Charlie wanted to make sure that he was safe sleeping here.

He went to the window to see what had happened to the couple. He noticed a small flashlight lying on his desk. Charlie whispered to George, "Talon must have dropped his flashlight when he escaped. That's the flashlight I found when I woke up this morning."

Charlie then strained to look out onto the lawn to make sure that Talon and Gertrude had left, but he couldn't see anyone out there - it was too dark. He went right up against the glass to get a better look when a huge, dark figure loomed right in front of him, on the other side of the window.

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