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It started at the dinner table.
It was the Tuesday night after Labor Day. Wind and rain beat about the house as they often seemed to do the night before the start of school.—The weather feels the way I do about school beginning, Meg Murry thought.
Charles Wallace Murry, the baby of the family, sat kicking his pajamaed feet against the rungs of his chair. “I suppose it will be all right,” he said, cheerfully if not convincingly.
Nobody responded, and nobody was eating, both of which things spoke louder than words. Mrs. Murry had made her special spaghetti, which everybody loved; she started to ask if anybody wanted seconds, then saw that nobody had finished firsts.
Mr. Murry’s spectacles had slid down his nose, and he wore his absentminded-scientist expression, but he was not thinking about physics, or the present experiment he was conducting in his lab, in which he was very close to producing a controlled molecule of anti- matter. This work was of the gravest importance to the United States, but at this moment his concern was entirely for his youngest son.
Meg, too, was thinking of Charles Wallace, rather than her own usual teenage rebellions. “I won’t even be on the same school bus with Charles Wallace. I’m not going to be able to help at all.”
Calvin O’Keefe, who spent more time at the Murrys’ than in his overcrowded home where there were always dirty dishes in the sink and where nobody ever had quite enough to eat, was twirling long strands of spaghetti thoughtfully around his fork; and he had forgotten the Parmesan cheese. Calvin had no personal problems with school; he was captain of the basketball team and would be president of the senior class. It was because of Calvin’s friendship and attention that Meg was beginning to think of herself as a possible person rather than the ugly duckling who would never grow up into a swan. Calvin, too, at this moment, was wholly concentrated on the little boy sitting across from him at the table. “Even the twins won’t be on your bus, Charles. I wish we’d spent more of the summer teaching you judo.”
The Murry twins, Sandy and Dennys, were off with their baseball team, despite the rain, and had eaten—with no loss of appetite—earlier. This was just as well, Meg thought; they’d only get mad at Charles Wallace for being different.
“Judo wouldn’t do me any good,” Charles Wallace said.
Calvin started, “I know you’re against violence, but—”
“Even if I weren’t, what good would judo do against a whole busload of kids?”
Mrs. Murry absentmindedly poured milk into Calvin’s glass, which was almost full. “Perhaps we’re just borrowing trouble when we assume that school will be difficult for Charles.”
Calvin pushed his carroty hair back from his face with an impatient gesture; his worn blue sweater sleeves were much too short and exposed his strong wrists and forearms. “Let’s face facts. Charles Wallace is going to get jumped on the first day, and some of the kids play rough. We already know that.”
Charles Wallace leaned his elbows on the table, his chin in his hands. “You make me sound like some kind of freak, and a helpless one at that.”
Calvin nodded grimly. “Facts number one and two.”
Mr. Murry said, “Now wait a minute—”
“Father!” Meg cried. “Calvin’s right. Charles Wallace is six years old and he’s got an IQ so high it’s outside testing limits, you told me that yourself. But everybody around here is used to thinking he’s not quite bright because he didn’t talk till he was four. Even now he won’t open his mouth unless he’s around us.”
“You know why,” Charles Wallace said. He had grown during the summer, but his pajamas were inherited from the twins and were shabby and a little too big for him; instead of making him seem older, this made him look small and vulnerable.
“Because you know more about people than they want you to know.”
“I don’t want to know. That’s why I don’t talk. I’m never quite sure what they’ve told me in words and what they’ve told me in the other ways.”
“There are times,” Meg said, “when I wish you didn’t always know what I’m thinking.”
“You think very loud.”
“Only to you. And that’s the problem.”
“Now, look, Meg,” Mrs. Murry said, “your father and I have spent a number of wakeful nights discussing this. Charles Wallace looks like a perfectly normal six year old—”
“He’s a mutant,” Calvin said flatly.
Meg banged her fist on the table. “I’m not. And if school was awful for me, it’s going to be even worse for Charles.”
Mr. Murry pushed up his spectacles again. “It was largely your own fault, Meg. Calvin has managed.”
“By pretending to conform.” Calvin sounded bitter. “And by being bigger and stronger than the other kids. Charles is not.”
“Don’t you think,” Mrs. Murry suggested, “that you may be underestimating Charles Wallace’s adaptability?”
“I don’t want him to adapt!” Meg shouted. “I want him to be Charles, special and different.”
“Stop it, Meg,” her father said. “We don’t want Charles Wallace to stop being himself, either. That’s not what adaptability means. And have you an alternate suggestion?”
The wind shook the house, and rain dashed wildly against the windows. Charles Wallace cocked his head to listen, gave a pleased laugh. “Yes, she does, and they’re about to arrive.”
“Charles! How did you know?”
“You told me.”
“But I wasn’t even sure myself that they’d come.”
“Who?” Mrs. Murry asked. “What are you talking about?”
Again the house quivered against the wind’s attack. Then there was a strange and sudden shimmer in the air, and the flames of the can-dles on the dining table stretched towards the ceiling. Meg jumped up. The shimmering seemed to solidify, then to separate into three shimmers, to quiver, assemble, gather color, and there, in the middle of the large kitchen- dining room, were three extraordinary beings.
Text copyright © 1970 by Crosswicks, Ltd.
Art copyright © 2018 by Hope Larson