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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Saving Montgomery Sole

Mariko Tamaki

Roaring Brook Press

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1



I used to have a T-shirt that had the words NEVER STOP EXPLORING on it.

On the front was a starry moonlit sky with puffy text across the belly. On the back was a tiny ship floating into what I imagined to be an endless night.

When I was in fourth grade, I wore the shirt to show-and-tell. I said it was my favorite because it had “a moon” on it.

Some kid at the back of the room shouted out, “The moon.”

“Duh,” I said. “There’s more than one.”

I got a time-out. Because it’s not nice to say “duh.” Even though I was right. It is “a moon,” which I knew back then and know now. The universe is really big. There’s more than just the one moon that happens to hang over the teeny-tiny town of Aunty, California, where I live. Have lived. For what feels like forever.

Although Mama Kate says everything feels like forever when you’re sixteen.

* * *

It was a crispy but sunny fall afternoon in Aunty. Outside, I could see the shadow of a day moon hanging like an idea in the blue sky. The clock at the front of the clubs room, also Mrs. Dawson’s classroom, ticked to 3:31, and I called the meeting of the Jefferson High Mystery Club, Jefferson’s smallest student organization, to order.

“Okay,” I said, dumping my knapsack on Mrs. Dawson’s desk. “Let’s do this.”

“Right!” Thomas settled his bag on a chair. “Meeting to order!” he boomed. “Members Thomas Masters, Naoki Wood, and Chair Montgomery Sole presiding.”

“Thank you, Thomas,” I said, pulling a cardboard box out of my bag and balancing it on my hand like a tray of drinks. “Thanks for making me a chair.”

“Anytime,” Thomas said.

“What am I?” Naoki chirped from her perch by the window.

Thomas paused and tapped his chin. “The lamp,” he said.

“I love Mondays,” Naoki sighed. “Mystery Club is the best.”

The official purpose of the Mystery Club, as listed on Jefferson High’s hideous garbage-bag-green website, is Fan Club, Literary. Which I’m sure is because Mr. Grate, the vice principal, in charge of clubs, teams, and overall student welfare, thinks the Mystery Club is for people who read mystery novels.

The actual purpose of the Mystery Club is to examine unexplained phenomena, curiosities, and other subjects the members consider to be interesting.

Most students at Jefferson High care about things that are the opposite of interesting, such as celebrity weddings, lip gloss, and expensive cars. These things seem interesting, and people obsess about them, but really, if you think of it, stuff like this is not even curious. No one cares about celebrity weddings from twenty years ago. Because they’re just … weddings. A boring person, in lip gloss or a great car, is still boring.

Compare that with black holes, telekinesis, or spontaneous combustion. Spontaneous combustion. No matter when it happened, and to who, it’s always interesting.

When Thomas and I started the Mystery Club two years ago, before Naoki came to Jefferson, Madison Marlow started a rumor that we were devil worshippers obsessed with aliens.

First of all, kind of a leap between the devil and aliens from outer space.

Second of all, we are neither.

We are examiners of the unknown, Naoki will often say. Voyagers.

Turning, I grabbed a piece of chalk with my free hand and wrote Remote Viewing on the chalkboard.

“Remote viewing,” I began, swiveling back to the classroom, “is based on the idea that we—all of us—have the ability to see beyond time and space. Yes, Naoki? You don’t have to raise your hand.”

Naoki dropped her hand into her lap. “I was going to ask, um, could it be possible with this technique to see into the past?”

“Yah,” I said. “Like, you know, in ideal circumstances, our mind’s eye can see anything, anywhere.”

Naoki rubbed her hands together. “I knew this would be good.”

“But today we’re just focusing on looking into a box,” I clarified.

“Cool,” Naoki said, waving her hands excitedly. “Sorry to interrupt. Please continue.”

“Is this from one of your weird conspiracy theory websites?” Thomas asked, striding to the front of the room and grabbing the cardboard box.

“Yes, it is,” I said, snatching it back. “Any other questions?”

The stars braided into Naoki’s long black-and-white hair twinkled in the sun. “Can I go first?”

“Sure,” I said. “Did you bring a mystery item?”

Naoki bobbed her head and twirled toward the front of the room, a lumpy grocery bag in hand. Thomas and I sat down on the floor. Shielding our view with her massive white smock, Naoki tucked her object into the box and tapped the lid closed.

“Okay!” She spun around. “How long does it take to remote view?”

“Give us ninety seconds,” I said. I adjusted my overalls, tossed my hair up into a ponytail, and tucked my boots under my knees.

Shifting into a kind of side sit, Thomas flicked a giant dust bunny off the palm of his hand. “And we do this how?” he asked.

“You clear your mind,” I said, resting the backs of my hands on my thighs in lotus pose. “We have to open ourselves to our potential.”

Thomas ran his hand, flat, in front of his face. “Done!”

“Aaaaand”—Naoki turned and checked the clock—“go.”

Remote viewing had been on my list for several weeks as a possible Mystery Club meeting topic. Generally speaking, at every meeting, each member takes a turn presenting a subject they’re into. Sometimes we bring in objects or books. Thomas usually shows movies on his laptop, because that’s more his thing.

My last presentation was on ESP, during which every two minutes Thomas yelled out, “Oh! I knew that!

Two weeks ago, Thomas talked about what he deems the great mystery of why Capricorns are really good boyfriends and Aries are not.

At the last meeting, Naoki gave a presentation on lucid dreaming.

When Naoki dreams, she can shape herself and the world around her. She can turn herself into a penguin and swim in the ocean. She can turn herself into a gumdrop or a boot. Whatever she wants. I’ve tried this, too, but mostly it just makes me wake up. Thomas says most of his dreams are sexy dreams.

This summer, Naoki had a dream she was a crane, and so, in the real, nondreaming world, she bleached her hair white and added black tips, like wings.

The site I found on remote viewing didn’t exactly say how to do it. It just said, “Clear your mind.”

Thirty seconds into sitting down, I was getting pretty much nowhere.

Wait, my brain whispered. I think I see a circle.

“Time!” Naoki cried.

I opened my eyes and the classroom swam into focus.

Naoki danced over to the box. “So this is like ESP, then?”

“Sort of,” I said, pulling myself up from the floor with the grace of what Momma Jo has described as a swan with one leg. “Back in the day, it was used for, uh, psychedelic warfare. Soldiers used it to see into bunkers and stuff.”

Thomas stood and dusted off his pants. “For what war specifically?”

“The sixties…” I said, trying to sound authoritative.

“Ah. Hmmm. Not a lot of wars being won around then,” said Thomas, clearly amused. Thomas is the official Mystery Club skeptic, despite also being the person who wants to talk about Capricorns and superheroes the most.

Naoki clapped. “Okay, so Thomas is first. What’s in the box?”

“A hair dryer,” Thomas announced, throwing his hands up in the air like a marathoner crossing the finish line.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really. A hair dryer. You saw a hair dryer.”

“Yes,” Thomas said, dropping his arms and winking at Naoki.

“Interesting.” Naoki nodded.

“You do real-ize,” I explained, with exaggerated teacher tone, “that typically with this sort of technique, a person gets a sense of the thing.”

“Well, I’m incredibly gifted at the whole mind-clearing technique,” Thomas added with equal exaggeration. “So that probably helps … me. You know.”

Naoki giggled.

“Clearly,” I said, switching into my best wise, old alien impression, “your sense of sensing objects is stronger than most. Yes.”

“It’s a gift,” Thomas sighed. “It is my gift and … my burden. Also, your Yoda is terrible.”

Naoki smiled and hugged herself. “Oh you guys! I love this stuff! Like, sensing! Yes! Your faces were so, um…” Naoki rubbed her lips together, feeling out the word. “Triangulated with the object in the box. I could totally see your third eyes.”

No one else I know enjoys herself as much as Naoki does doing just about everything. She’s like one of those cartoon teddy bears that bursts out in a rainbow glow when she’s happy, which is often.

“What did you see, Monty?” Thomas said, pointing a wiggling finger at me. “Sorry. What did you sense?”

I grabbed at the last image that had danced in front of my eyes. “A circle. Like, a charcoal circle.”

“So”—Thomas tapped his chin with his index finger—“not a hair dryer is basically what you’re saying.”

“Ummmm,” I mused. “That wasn’t my sense, no.”

“Naoki, would you enlighten us?” Thomas asked.

Naoki popped off the lid and pulled the object out of the box. “It’s a sunflower!”

Silence.

Thomas and Naoki looked at each other, then at me. It was a look similar to the one I got when we did the telekinesis flash cards (which didn’t work). A look not unlike the one I got when I brought in spoons for us to try to bend with our minds (which also didn’t work).

I could practically see the little puffy “uh-oh” clouds floating above their heads.

“You know what?” Naoki tilted her head, tipped the flower horizontally, then upside down. “It does kind of look a little like a hair dryer,” she offered. “Oh!” she added, pointing at the bumpy brown center. “And there is a circle! Do you think that’s what you saw, Monty?”

Thomas raised an imaginary scorecard and said in his best game show voice, “Remote viewing: survey says?”

I shrugged. As one of the only fans of anything as cool as remote viewers, sometimes I just wish this stuff would actually work … better … more.

“I’m giving it a 3.5 out of 5,” Thomas continued. “Mostly because I’m shocked it wasn’t a hair dryer.”

“You’re a 3.5!” I said, doing my best to keep a straight face but failing.

“You know that’s not true,” Thomas cooed. He darted over and threw his arms around me in a massive bear hug. “And you know I love your weird experiments even if they never work.”

Sometimes they work,” I huffed. “It’s complicated.”

“Well, I love them anyway,” Thomas said.

“You love me,” I said.

“Mostly, yes,” Thomas said, giving me a small shove. “Even though you are bossy and made me sit on the floor in my new pants.”

“What? I’m not bossy!” I grinned. “I’m the chair!”

“Well,” Naoki said, lowering the flower back into the box, “I thought it was pretty cool. Now my turn.”

* * *

By the time we’d finished remote viewing all there was to view, or not, since no one “saw” any of the articles we brought, it was almost five thirty.

“Sometimes I feel like we enter a time vortex when we do Mystery Club.” Naoki sighed happily as she trotted down the front steps.

“Time flies when you’re seeing through walls,” Thomas added.

“Have we done vortexes yet?” I asked, grabbing my phone out of my pocket to check.

When we got to the curb, Naoki’s dad was there to take her to her pottery class.

Naoki’s dad has hair longer than mine, and he wears it in a big bun at the top of his head.

“Let’s go!” He waved from the car. “Hi, kids.”

“Hi, Mr. Wood,” Thomas and I greeted in unison, in that upbeat but drone-like voice you have to use when you’re talking to someone’s parents.

“Bye.” Naoki waved as she hopped into the car.

Thomas had a coffee date.

“Toodle-loo,” he said, blowing me a kiss as he ran off.

Because I refuse to take part in any activities beyond the one I sort of created for myself, I had nothing to do. So I went home, comforted by the quiet, the warm breeze that is the autumn air in California, and the sound of my boots hitting the concrete as I marched to the bus.

* * *

I love my house.

It has a massive pine tree in the front yard that looks like we have a magical creature in a big, pointy, feathered hat squatting on the front lawn. Mama Kate is afraid that one day it will fall on the house, and my sister, Tesla, used to have these crazy nightmares from the shadows the branches cast on her wall. But I love it. It smells like rain.

After the obligatory parental hellos and a hastily zapped microwaved burrito (Monday being the one night of the week we are allowed to eat wherever we want), I bolted up to the cozy paradise also known as my room. As soon as I was in, I kicked off my boots; slipped into my supersoft and paper-thin FRANKIE SAYS RELAX T-shirt and gym shorts; and flopped into the supercomfy armchair I have set up by my desk, which was an old kitchen table so it still smells like onions in some spots.

“Oh, hello, Internet,” I cooed as I flipped open the lid to my ancient but fully functional laptop.

I can lose a whole weekend ignoring the natural beauty of the fabulous state of California to read weird stuff online. Last year I spent a month obsessing over this woman who blogs and live-tweets about what she calls her “process of becoming a human cyborg.” Later I read an article that said she had to give it up because she was hallucinating, possibly due to lead poisoning from all the bolts and screws she was inserting under her skin.

Which, you know, is a little scary.

After polishing off my burrito, I spent an hour just clicking around the web.

I find most of my Mystery Club topics through random searches, which I keep track of in this app I found that was designed for overachieving businessmen.

There’s a happy-face list, originally for listing good habits, where I keep all the mysteries I consider worth looking into:

? ESP

? That thing that lets people bend spoons

And there’s an unhappy-face list, which is technically for tracking bad habits, but I use it, because it’s there, for tracking those things I do not understand and never will, and don’t care.

? Flip-flops

? People’s obsession with getting rid of all body hair

That night I was hoping to find a better psychic experiment and a more thorough explanation of how a person would actually see something psychically. I typed in a few questions along the lines of, How can you see something someone else is seeing if you’re not in the same place?

Alternately, I had this idea that I would find something about crystal balls.

I clicked something. Read something. Got a root beer. Came back. Watched a video of kittens playing guitars. Clicked something, and then I clicked something else, and before I knew it, there was a link to this other thing and a link to a website. And presumably, that is how I ended up at:

Manchester’s Academy of Magic,

Mystical Forces, and New Believers

Which is weird because I was really not looking for anything specifically mystical, or magic, and I don’t remember clicking a link about anything like that.

But suddenly there I was.

The website looked like it was designed in the nineties. The banner was in Times New Roman. Underlined. Top center, framed in lavender, was this drawing of a troll-like two-headed woman in a black cape. Like, the worst picture ever drawn.

Most of the text was about different kinds of mysteries. A lot of it was stuff I’d read before about different legends in different countries: fairy folk in England, the Huldufólk in Iceland. There was something about the Loch Ness Monster, which I’m sure has to appear on every website about anything magical or strange. For a second I thought maybe it was a Dungeons & Dragons fan site because there were a few yes and yores in there.

Ye-ancient-powers-of-yore-type stuff.

At some point, I clicked an About link next to a wizard picture, because, you know, About what? About wizards? Maybe something about spells?

Instead, the link took me to a page that was completely blank, except for a Store link.

Where there was only one thing listed.

THE EYE OF KNOW

Next to the title was a picture, like some sort of badly lit cell phone picture, of this white rock laid out on a piece of black velvet.

Completely genuine crystal amulet. Rock excavated from asteroid landing in the magical mountain ranges of Peru. When wielded by a skilled visionary, the eye is a portal to vision untold. Journey forward into insight. Explore the power of know. Amulet comes with adjustable leather strap and may be worn as a necklace, bracelet, or anklet. Instruction booklet included. Only $5.99!

When was the last time anyone you knew wielded anything?

I thought, Maybe it’s just a piece of rock from some guy’s backyard. Possibly in Manchester.

“‘A portal to vision untold,’” I said to no one but the possibly unseen paranormal presences in my room.

What if it was … a portal?

Plus it was only $5.99. That’s, like, a cup of coffee and a doughnut, I thought.

Looking at the site, I paused to suck out the last dregs of my root beer.

Couldn’t be any worse than trying to see inside a box.

Why not? I thought.

Fortunately, I have a credit card for just such occasions. Which I must, with no exception, pay off every month with my meager allowance or it gets taken away, because my moms are afraid kids today don’t have the same appreciation for money that they did “back in the old days.” Not that I do that much shopping.

After my purchase, I went downstairs for a snack. My moms and Tesla, my younger sister, were sitting in the living room, watching TV. I say “my moms” a lot because I think of them as one being from time to time … They are two separate people. Momma Jo is tall; Mama Kate is short. Momma Jo is loud; Mama Kate is not.

Momma Jo says stuff like, “You look too un-busy for someone your age. Did you do your homework?”

Mama Kate says stuff like, “Did you want to talk about something?”

I’m told there was a time when I called Momma Jo “Bobo” and Mama Kate “Mama.” A little insulting, I’m sure, since Bobo was also the name of my favorite stuffed elephant, a present from Momma Jo for my second birthday.

“Fortunately,” Momma Jo often notes, “you grew out of that.”

As I slipped past the living room, the moms were getting ready to watch some show about a woman who is happy with her job but sad about her love life.

Tesla was on the carpet, still in her special workout gear, because even though Tesla is only eleven, she does yoga every day. To keep her core lean. Apparently this requires special clothes. “Breathing clothes,” Tesla calls them.

I can’t watch TV with my moms anymore, because they won’t stop asking me stuff.

Every time we sit down to watch TV, they immediately dive into this weirdly pointless Q and A.

“Did you know about this Facebook bullying thing, Montgomery?”

No.

“Oh look, Monty! Is that a Goth?”

Ugh. NO.

“Gluten-free. Montgomery, isn’t that like wheat-free?”

No clue.

“Hey, Montgomery, is that the same actor as the one in the movie that you like?”

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, moms, because you haven’t included any actual names in that sentence. So let’s say no.”

They’d probably just zoom onto the next question. “What was the name of that play you did last year? Was it Hamlet, Montgomery?”

No, in fact, it was called I’m trying to watch TV.

It’s easier if I just watch stuff by myself, upstairs in my room, on my parental guardian–monitored Netflix account.

As I padded through the hallway, passing the living room on my way to the kitchen, Momma Jo turned and popped her head up over the couch. “Hey! Monty!” she shouted, pointing at the screen. “Didn’t we watch something like this before? About this woman but in the other show she was a doctor? Is that possible? Monty! Montgomery! Hello? What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” I said, slip-skating across the floor. I was weirdly kind of happy. Like, not laughing-for-no-reason happy, but at least a little happy. Like a kid who’s just discovered that socks on hardwood floors is like skates on ice. I twirled a perfect 360 and skidded into the kitchen.

The Eye of Know, I thought as I perused the cupboards for the perfect snack. The words felt good swishing around in my brain. Eye. Know. All. Possibly my greatest discovery?

“What’s up with you?” Mama Kate chirped, stepping into the kitchen, the popcorn bowl dangling empty by her side. “Are you going to watch TV with us?”

“Nothing,” I said. “And, uh, I’m doing work upstairs, so not tonight.”

“Your clothes are so big and old. You look weird,” Tesla huffed as she wandered in behind Mama Kate. “Where’s the popcorn?”

“They’re supporting my core,” I retorted.

“Do you want new clothes?” Mama Kate asked, raising an eyebrow. “I feel like we’re overdue for a shop.”

“Nah. I’m good.”

I’d been doing just fine on Goodwill finds and mom hand-me-downs. Momma Jo didn’t mind my duds.

Many of them were her castoffs.

Flinging the freezer door open, I grabbed one of the cartons of fancy blueberry gelato and beat it back up to my room.

Then I texted Thomas.

Me: Date done? Call me.

I guess you could say that Thomas is kind of like my big-brother-slash-best-friend because he’s supermature, and I say this not just because he’s a year older than I am (and a grade ahead).

I have often told him that, technically, that should make us even, since boys are so much less mature than girls.

Scientifically proven, by the way.

Thomas says gay boys mature faster than straight boys because they pay more attention to the world around them.

That night Thomas came on the phone humming the theme from some cartoon series he’s obsessed with.

I said, “Does shopping online ever make you inexplicably happy?”

Thomas considered. “Um, sometimes. What did you buy?”

“A crystal from a really ugly website.”

Thomas snorted. “You and Naoki and your crystals and your dreams.”

“How was your date?” I said.

“My date with The Butcher?” I could tell he was painting his nails because I was clearly on speakerphone and he was taking little pauses of concentration. “He’s an urban poet. An urban poet and … a butcher.”

“Surprise, surprise.”

Thomas says his dating life doesn’t define him. It’s all just fodder for his creative sensibility, he says. Sometimes it feels like his dates are characters from a movie.

“What happened to the Yoga Master?” I asked.

“Not so masterful.”

“Butchers are probably cooler,” I added.

“Oh, let me tell you,” Thomas cackled, bumping the phone, “the kids in Aunty are all over the butchers. And the butches! These girls think it’s quite the thing.”

I flipped over on the bed so I could put my face on the pillow, mashing the phone against my ear. I released my ponytail and was blanketed in hair.

“Did you really think the remote viewing was 3.5?” I asked.

“Is 3.5 bad? Maybe on a game show,” Thomas said. “I would say I’m not clear on why you would need to remote view anything now that we have smart phones.”

“Well,” I said, “it would be cool, though. To have that kind of skill in your back pocket. Just in case.”

Thomas paused. “Just in case what?”

“I don’t know.” I rolled onto my back and stared at the chalk spirals Momma Jo had helped Naoki and me draw on my ceiling a few months ago.

“In case we need to start a psychedelic war?” Thomas asked. “Is that what we’re doing next week?”

“I’m not planning anything. I’m just saying. It would be cool. To be able to see.”

To actually see, I thought, and to know. Just because remote viewing was a 3.5 didn’t mean a 5.0 wasn’t out there, somewhere.

I sat up. “I should go,” I said. “I haven’t even done my English homework yet.”

“Good night, Montgomery Sole.”

“Good night, Thomas.”

I turned on some Echo & the Bunnymen because the guy has this great voice and they have this song “The Killing Moon” that I really like. I grabbed my school copy of The Outsiders and flopped back onto my bed.

That night, somewhere, someone, hypothetically, in Manchester, or Pocatello, or even next door, was boxing up my Eye of Know, sealing it in brown paper and tape.

Right before I fell asleep, I pulled out my phone and opened my app.

? The Eye of Know



Text copyright © 2016 by Mariko Tamaki