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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 9:
An Alarming Loss

Alice was the first to speak, "George, Charlie, are you here?"

"Yes," they both replied, glad to hear another voice.

Alice demanded, "What did you do this time, Charlie?"

"I don't know what happened," Charlie replied.

George said, "And what's that smell?" Just as he said that, it occurred to him what had happened. He slowly reached up, feeling for something solid. When he found it, he pushed upwards. As he did, a line of light flooded the dumpster that they were crouched in.

Alice started to shout at Charlie, but he put his hand over her mouth, "Do you want everyone in town to hear you?" Charlie asked.

She hissed at him, "We're in a filthy, smelly dumpster and it's all your fault."

"I can't help it - someone must have moved the dumpster in the last month." Charlie defended himself, "How could I have known that it would move?"

"Fine," she said angrily, "just get me out of here."

George peered out of the dumpster, making sure that no one was around and said, "Charlie, hold up the lid for me." George climbed out. Alice scrambled out next. Alice wanted to slam the lid shut before Charlie could get out, but George anticipated this and held the lid up for Charlie as he got out.

They all went to hide behind the dumpster and brushed off the coffee grounds, potato peelings, and other garbage that was on their clothes.

Looking at the fire station across the street, Charlie said, "When I found the time machine it was about 3:40 - that's 10 minutes from now. And the time machine is not on the sidewalk yet, so we'll see who dropped it very soon."

A couple with a small child walked down the sidewalk right in front of the fire station, but they didn't seem to drop anything either.

Alice jumped up. She brushed her legs off and made a strange noise that she tried to muffle. "A roach, there's a roach crawling on my leg," Alice cried. "I'm going to get even with you someday, Charlie," she said. George laughed, but he also inspected his clothing very carefully.

Charlie warned, "It's just a roach. Don't forget to keep looking across the street." George and Alice reluctantly looked back across the street.

At that moment, an alarm sounded at the fire station; the bell was on top of the oversized garage door of the fire station. A woman had been walking right under the bell when the alarm sounded. When the alarm went off, she jumped and almost fell. A few items fell out of her shopping bag. The garage door of the firestation was opening quickly, and the engines of the two shiny red fire trucks started revving loudly. She was right in front of an enormous fire truck and she panicked. She quickly scooped up her belongings, but when she bent over, something fell out of her shirt pocket. She stumbled out of the way of the trucks. The fire trucks then roared out of the station.

When the trucks had gone, the kids saw a gleaming red object lying on the sidewalk where the woman had been. That woman with the shopping bag had lost the time machine - she was the time traveler.

Alice was disappointed and said, "I really thought it would be Mr. Ross. It should have been him - that would explain why he's so weird and so mean. I'd be mean if I had lost my time machine and was stuck here."

The three of them walked across the street and looked at the shiny red item. It was a time machine.

"We have to find out who that woman was," said George. They followed far behind her on the opposite side of street. She was tall and slender, and had short black hair; she wore yellow pants and a matching yellow shirt.

Then Charlie looked down the street and said, "That's me - down by the bank building. I'll be here in just a minute. We've got to hide."

They ducked between two buildings and waited until the second Charlie walked by. Charlie was thinking to himself that he looked goofy walking down the street - no wonder everyone laughed at him so much.

When the second Charlie had gone, the kids emerged from their hiding place and looked around for the woman with the shopping bag. She was gone.

They went to the next intersection and looked in each direction, but couldn't find her. George suggested, "Let's go back in time a few minutes, to when she was still here. We should find a good hiding place where we'll be able to keep an eye on her but not be seen by the other Charlie."

Alice warned him, "I'm not going anywhere near a dumpster this time."

They found a good hiding place behind a decrepit fence, and they went back in time three minutes. When they reappeared, they saw the woman turn into a tiny, dingy alley just as the other Charlie walked by again. They followed her into the alley, and saw that she went into an old, spooky, two-story brick house. The address was 2121 Emit Road. Charlie had never noticed that road before, and he had lived there all his life. Neither had the others.

"Well, what do we do now?" said Alice.

"I have a plan," said George.

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