NICK AND MOONDOG SAVE THE SHADOW PEOPLE
A Children’s Story
Home (805) 928-8091
Cell (805) 598-0259
Halloween Night was icy cold and windy in Middlevale. By nine o’clock, all but the greediest trick-or-treaters were home feasting on candy and watching old horror moves on TV. Two of the greediest ones, Nick Daring and Moondog, Nick’s best buddy, had finally had enough of freezing and were hurrying home with their heads lowered into the wind. Nick was a scrappy-looking boy of ten-going-on-eleven, with wild, curly hair. Moondog was a big, white, long-haired mutt, with a long nose and long ears that flapped in the wind. He was crazy about Nick, who had saved him from the dog pound when he was a scrawny puppy.
Nick’s devil costume was no protection from the cold and wind, and all he could think about was getting warm. So he began running, with Moondog trotting right alongside him. As they rounded the corner of a hedge a few blocks from home, they ran smack into the ghastliest creature they’d ever seen. It looked like the Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster all rolled into one, and it was bellowing at them like a wild elephant, its bandages whipping and snapping in the icy wind.
Nick and Moondog yelped at the same time, tripping over each other in their haste to turn and run the other way. Then the creature began laughing, and Nick recognized the laugh and felt his ears immediately begin to burn. He and Moondog screeched to a stop and turned around. The cold was forgotten.
The monster was Nick’s worst enemy from school, Deke McGee. Deke was a sixth-grader, big for his age, and mean. He teased and bullied the younger kids, and cut in lines when the teachers weren’t looking. But he hadn’t cut in on Nick yet. Nick knew he would some day, and then there’d be trouble. Behind Deke were a couple of his smart-Aleck buddies, dressed like zombies and laughing like hyenas.
Nick was nearly speechless. “You butthead!” he finally shouted, but Deke couldn’t hear because he was laughing so loud. Moondog barked at Deke and nipped at his heels. It was no use. Deke and his idiot friends kept on laughing. Nick was hoping they’d get sick from so much laughing, but they didn’t. Deke was laughing so hard his bandages were unraveling.
When Deke could finally control his laughter for a few seconds, he blurted out, “From now on they’ll call you Nick the Chicken and Mooncat!” This set them all off laughing like hyenas again.
“Oh yeah?” growled Nick. “We weren’t scared! You just surprised us.” This only made them all laugh harder. Nick was steaming mad. In fact, he was so mad he wasn’t sure what he was saying when he said, “Okay, wise guy. If you’re so brave, how about meeting me tonight at the graveyard on Crabapple Hill? Alone. We’ll see who dares to sit on the most tombstones.”
Deke and his buddies stopped laughing then, but Nick was sorry to have spoken. No one liked to go to the graveyard in the daytime, much less at night. There was a short silence as Deke considered what to do. The other two looked at Deke, glad Nick had dared only him. “You’re bluffing,” Deke said at last. “You wouldn’t show up.”
“Speak for yourself. I double dare you. I’ll be there waiting to see if you’ve got the guts to come.” Nick was hoping Deke would make an excuse not to go, because he knew Deke would never mention what had just happened if he chickened out of a dare, and neither would his pals. They were too scared of Deke.
“Wha-what time?” stuttered Deke. He was beginning to look like the most timid monster in the world, but still Nick’s heart sank. Now he’d have to go just to see if Deke would show up.
“Midnight, of course,” answered Nick. “When else would you meet in a graveyard?”
“R-r-right. S-sure. B-but you’d better be there, or you’ll never live it down.”
“Just make sure you’re there, Nick said. “Alone,” he added again, and turned toward home. Moondog barked at Deke once more for good measure, then caught up with Nick.
“And d-don’t forget to bring Mooncat, Nick the Chicken!” Deke shouted after them, trying to sound tough. “I want to hear him howl when he sees his first ghost!” He laughed again, but this time his laughter sounded hollow. When it died away, there was only the sound of their footsteps and the wind chasing autumn leaves down the dark, deserted street. Nick shuddered and speeded up his steps, with Moondog so close that he was rubbing Nick’s legs as they walked.
Nick’s alarm was ringing like a firehouse bell. His hand shot beneath his pillow and shut if off, then drew it out where he could see it. For a moment he was confused. Why was his alarm going off under his pillow at 11:30 at night? Then he remembered his appointment at the graveyard, and shivered. He dreaded leaving his warm, safe bed. He wished very much there were a way out of going to Crabapple Hill, but his reputation was at stake. Before he could change his mind, Nick jumped out of bed and began dressing very quickly in his warmest clothes.
Since his parents’ room was on the other side of the house, Nick had no trouble at all getting out the back door without being heard. It was even colder outside now than it had been. Moondog came out of his doghouse and approached without a sound, as if he knew they had to be silent. His tail was dragging.
Nick patted his head and whispered, “Good boy, Moondog. Follow me, and let me know if you hear anything.
He got his bike out of the garage and began pedaling full speed up the street. Hardly a light showed anywhere, and the only sounds were the hiss of his knobby tires on the pavement and Moondog’s nails clicking on the concrete as he ran alongside. Their breath came out in little white clouds that were swept away on the freezing wind.
When they had gone a few blocks, the street started climbing up Crabapple Hill, and Nick’s speed decreased. Before long, he had to get off his bike and walk it. He and Moondog were both breathing hard. Here on the hill the wind was picking up.
By now the crabapple tree that gave the hill its name could be seen standing up black against the night sky. It made a weird shape because only half the tree had been burned in a fire that destroyed the caretaker’s shack many years ago. The burned side had black, bare limbs that looked like arms reaching for the stars. The other half of the tree was still living and green, and bore tiny red crab-apples that were so sour only a few of the kids would eat them, at the risk of a stomach ache.
As they got closer, Nick could see the broken-down white picket fence of the graveyard and the tilting tombstones beyond. The burned tree loomed larger and larger. The wind began blowing harder, whistling through the branches of the crabapple tree, and something creaked in a slow rhythm. Nick could not help shuddering.
Then they were in front of the gate, and Deke was not there. “I knew he wouldn’t show,” Nick whispered to Moondog. He looked at his watch, and pressed the button for the light. The digital numbers said 11:59. There was something really comforting about that tiny glow on his wrist. It seemed warm. He decided to wait until ten minutes after midnight, to make sure he’d be there if Deke came late. Eleven minutes seemed like an awfully long time to wait. Moondog stood right against his leg, and Nick could feel his heart beating rapidly. He wondered if Moondog could feel his.
Nick dropped his kickstand and sat on the curb, then felt nervous and stood up again to look around. Something snapped in the graveyard. Moondog’s head whirled to look, and his ears perked up. As they watched, a black cat came strolling out of the gate, and without warning Moondog tore off after it, barking furiously. A shrill whistle from Nick brought Moondog to a skidding stop, and he shuffled back looking foolish.
“Take it easy, pal,” Nick scolded. “We’re not here to chase cats.” He scratched Moondog’s ear. “But I understand. I’m nervous too.” Moondog licked his hand. Nick looked at his watch again. It was only 12:0 1. Looking down the hill for Deke, Nick saw nothing but a couple of streetlights making bright yellow pools in the darkness. “Wish I’d brought a Frisbee so we could play catch, anyway.” Moondog’s tail wagged a couple of times when he heard the word “Frisbee” but it stopped when he realized they didn’t have one.
Nick took a coin out of his pocket and started flipping it to pass the time. Moondog watched it flash in the darkness. After a minute or so, Nick missed a catch and the dime dropped silently into the grass between the sidewalk and the street. “Darn it!” said Nick. He got down on his hands and knees and searched the grass for a while, but it was no use. It was simply too dark to see, so he got up and once more checked his watch. It was only 12:04.
An idea popped into Nick’s head. He didn’t need to wait! He would enter the graveyard and pick one of the apples! Since it was the only crabapple tree in town, he could prove he’d been there. He was sure Deke had chickened out anyway.
“Come on, boy. We’re going in. Stay close to me.” They entered the gate. It was even darker inside, where the streetlight didn’t reach. Nick and Moondog were both shivering. They looked behind each tombstone they passed, expecting something to jump out, but nothing did. The wind had died and the silence seemed even worse than the wind’s moaning. They were under the tree.
Nick reached up quickly, picked one of the apples, and put it in his jacket pocket, looking all around as he did so. Nothing happened. Feeling braver, he decided to pick one to eat on the way home just to prove he wasn’t scared. Just as he reached for another, Moondog spotted the same black cat dart from behind a tombstone. With one ear-splitting bark, Moondog was after it. Around and around the graveyard he chased the cat, ignoring Nick’s whistle, until at last the cat practically flew into the crabapple tree over Nick’s head, with Moondog only a few feet behind.
Moondog ground to a halt, nearly knocking Nick down. The cat sat on a lower limb, looking down at them.
“Bad dog! Now behave yourself while I get the cat down.” Moondog looked ashamed. Nick looked up into the tree and Moondog followed his gaze. What they saw made them look harder, and then all their hair stood on end. The cat wasn’t there. That is, it wasthere, but it was only a shadow. A shadow cat. Then it meowed like a normal cat, but to Nick and Moondog it might as well have been the scream of a demon. They took off as fast as they could for the graveyard gate, with Moondog in the lead.
Nick passed the gate like a rocket and made a running leap for his bicycle seat like a cowboy in an old movie leaps on his horse. He was off and pedaling down the hill without even a pause. Moondog was in the lead by fifty feet or so, but Nick was gaining on him, helped by the pull of gravity. Telephone poles whipped by like a picket fence.
That’s when Nick’s bike tire hit the stone in the road. Then everything went into slow motion. His bike flew out from under him, and Nick tumbled through the air like a shirt in a clothes dryer. The sidewalk seemed to swell up like a wave. Nick landed and everything went black.
Moondog was barking. Then Nick felt a wet tongue licking his face. He could hear soft voices asking, “Is he all right? Where is he hurt?” Moondog started barking again. Nick opened his eyes, but closed them again. His head hurt something awful. Moondog licked his face again. Nick pushed the dog away.
“Go away, boy,” he said, sitting up. When he saw the people surrounding him, he let out a yell and tried to stand up and run, but his legs gave out beneath him and he had to sit down again. Moondog’sfur was standing on end and his ears were pulled back as he growled at the crowd around them.
“Don’t be afraid,” said a tall man with a soothing voice. “We wouldn’t hurt you even if we could.” The man was like the black cat. He wasn’t there, only he was. He was a shadow. They were all shadows. There were about ten of them, including twochildren.
The shadow cat separated itself from the small crowd of shadows and cautiously approached Moondog, just the tip of its lowered tail flicking softly. Moondog barked angrily at it and even backed away a little, but the shadow cat kept approaching, evidently feeling brave around all the people. Moondog stopped barking and sniffed. Their noses touched. They liked each other.
“You see?” said a short, plump shadow lady, whose hair was in a bun at the back of her head. “It’s all right. We’re your friends. Really.” Her voice reminded Nick of Jim Thorpe’s mother.
“Wh-what do you want?” asked Nick shakily.
“We just wanted to see if you were all right,” answered a shadow girl about Nick’s age. She had her hands behind her back and was rocking gently back and forth on her heels.
“Well, I am. Th-there’s no reason to stick around.”
“You don’t seem to be able to walk,” said a shadow boy carrying a shadow baseball bat and wearing a shadow baseball cap.
“I-I’ll be all right in a minute,” muttered Nick.
The first man who had spoken said, “I only wish we could help you up, but unfortunately we shadows are helpless when it comes to lifting.” He spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders.
“How come?” asked Nick, curious despite his fear.
The shadow man sighed. “Shadow creatures can’t do much of anything you can. Shadow dogs can’t bite and shadow people can’t touch anything. We’re only places where light isn’t, you know.”
“Oh, sure,” sighed Nick, relieved. “I knew that. Well, thanks for stopping to make sure I was all right. I guess you’ve got things to do and would like to be going, so don’t hang around on my account.” He tried again to get up.
The same man, who seemed to be the leader, shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. “Well, there is a favor we’d like to ask of you, now that we’re friends.”
“Yes. A favor. Now that we’re friends,” added a short, round shadow man. “That is, if you’re not doing anything right now.”
Nick was finally able to stand up. He rubbed his aching head where it had struck the sidewalk. “What is it?”
“Maybe you should explain everything from the beginning, Fred,” suggested a nervous little lady in the rear of the crowd.
“Of course, my dear. You’re quite right.” He turned back to Nick. “That’s my wife, Helen. My name is Fred Hanklin.”
“I knew you sounded familiar,” replied Nick. “You’re the man who runs the hardware store on Bush Street.”
“Oh, no! That’s Ed Franklin. He’s a Threedee! I’m a Twodee. My job is being his shadow. My name just sounds like his because I shadow for him. We’re all named like that.”
Nick looked puzzled. “Wait a minute. What’s a Threedee? What’s a Twodee?’
“Oh, pardon me. A Threedee is someone with three dimensions, like you. You know, height, width and depth. A Twodee is someone with only twodimensions, height and width. Like me. Every Threedee has a Twodee, or every Twodee has a Threedee, depending upon how you look at it.”
“Wow!” breathed Nick. “You mean I have a Twodee?”
“Or he has you,” corrected Fred.
“Where is he?”
“He’s probably out playing somewhere right now. He has to go to work in the morning, you know.”
“Work? What does he do,” Nick wanted to know.
“Why, what you do, of course,” responded Fred.
“Oh! He goes to school. That’s not work.”
“Well, of course we want him to go to school anyway. But that’s not all you do, and he has to do what you do whenever you need your shadow, whether he likes it or not. So it’s like work in a way.”
“That’s not fair,” Nick replied. “I don’t want to make him do things just because I do.”
“It’s not really so bad. Besides, we enjoy a lot of what people do. We don’t have to sleep, either, so we have a lot of spare time, just like you do.”
“How does he know when I need my shadow?”
Fred thought about it. “It's not a question of knowing. When light shines on a Threedee, their Twodee is just there, before the Threedee even knows he needs him. Threedees are very slow by our way of looking at things.”
“Can I meet my Twodee?” asked Nick.
“We’d rather you didn’t just now,” answered Mr. Hanklin. “The favor we must ask of you is very important, and we have no time to waste. We’re afraid that if you met Dick, your Twodee, or your friends’ Twodees right now, it might be hard to keep your mind on what we must ask you to do, so we asked them to go play somewhere else.”
Nick seemed dazed. “I don’t know if I believe all this or not.” He looked around for Moondog, who seemed quite happy now playing with his Twodee friend.
“You must believe us!” exclaimed Mr. Hanklin. “We’re depending on you!”
“For what?” Nick wanted to know.
“That’s the part that’s hard for us to believe,” Fred answered. “Do you know where the university is?”
“Sure. Everybody does,” said Nick.
“There is a scientist working there, Professor Horton Mouseman, who has invented an artificial sun, which he plans to send into an orbit around the earth. It would revolve forever on the side away from the sun.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Nick. “That means there’d be daytime all the time!”
“Exactly! But worse than that for us, I’m afraid.” replied Fred.
“Oh, that’s right,” said Nick. “That means you’d have to work almost all the time.”
“So you see,” said the plump lady who’d spoken before, “we’d never get to do what we want. We’d be like slaves.”
“Why does he want to do a dumb thing like making it daytime all the time?” Nick wanted to know.
“He’s afraid of the dark,” answered Fred Hanklin. Nick was shocked. “A grownup?”
“Sure. Lots of grownups are afraid of the dark. Your Uncle Adam is afraid of the dark.”
“Uncle Adam?” gasped Nick.
“That’s right,” said Fred. “But don’t tell him you know. It would only embarrass him, and it’s not his fault. People only fear things they don’t understand, and he doesn’t understand there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark.”
“I’m not afraid of the dark!” boasted Nick.
“Obviously you’re not,” agreed Mr. Hanklin. “You’re here, aren’t you?”
“Have you tried to talk to Professor Mouseman?” Nick asked.
“Of course,” answered Fred. “We’ve waited for him to turn out the lights at night so we can be free to talk, but the moment one of us speaks, he gets scared and turns a light on. Whenever there’s light, Twodees must disappear, except for the ones doing their jobs. And Twodees on duty can’t talk, so even his own shadow can’t talk to him. It’s a terrible problem. That’s why we need you.”
Nick was surprised. “Me? What can I do?”
“You have a body with real hands that can touch and move and lift things. You can destroy the artificial sun before it’s launched!”
“Don’t forget that Professor Mouseman’s shadow is a Twodee, and he knows everything Professor Mouseman knows.”
“That’s right, Nick,” said a very deep voice. Nick looked and saw a stocky Twodee, even taller than Mr. Hanklin, separate himself from the crowd. He was big enough to be a football lineman. “I’m Professor Morton Houseman. I’m Professor Mouseman’s shadow.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Nick.
“Do you feel up to riding your bike again tonight?” asked Professor Houseman.
“I think so,” answered Nick.
“That’s good,” said Professor Houseman, “because if you’re going to help us, we have to get started. Professor Mouseman plans to launch his artificial sun tomorrow. What do you say, Nick? Are you with us?”
“I-I guess so. I can’t just let this happen, can I?”
“Good boy!” exclaimed Fred in a voice loud enough for the whole crowd to hear. They all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
“No use wasting time, then,” said Professor Houseman. “Let’s get going.”
Nick whistled for Moondog, who left his Twodee cat friend and trotted up, then picked up his bicycle and began politely walking it so that the shadow people could keep up. By now the crowd of Twodees had grown a great deal, and they all began following Nick and Moondog.
“You don’t need to slow down for us,” Fred told Nick. “We can move at the speed of light, so if you know where the space laboratory is, we’ll just meet you there.”
“It’s the building with the roof that opens, isn’t it?” asked Nick.
“That’s right,” answered Professor Houseman.
“Then I’ll meet you in the parking lot by the big oak tree. But are you all coming?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” soothed Fred. “We won’t be in the way.”
“We can‘t be in the way,” added Professor Houseman. “You’d just go right through us!” And he laughed like it was a great joke.
“Can you be there in fifteen minutes?” asked Fred.
“Easy!” Nick boasted, and he jumped onto his bike and began pedaling furiously down the hill, with Moondog pursuing him and barking happily.
“Don’t let the night watchman see you!” shouted Professor Houseman after him.
Strangely enough, racing down the hill with the wind in his face, Nick had completely forgotten how cold it was.
Nick and Moondog arrived at Professor Mouseman’s space laboratory breathing hard, their breath making clouds in the cold air. Looking at his watch, Nick found it had only taken ten minutes to get there from Crabapple Hill. Moondog, still panting, turned around three times and laid down in the grass. Nick was wondering where the night watchman was, when the Professor appeared next to him.
“Better stash your bicycle behind those bushes,” he advised. “The night watchman is checking another building right now, but he’ll be around soon.”
“Yes sir,” replied Nick, doing as he was told. He saw that there were many other Twodees around, all lurking behind bushes and trees so as not to be obvious. Nick was getting the knack of spotting them. A Twodee boy and his dog suddenly appeared beside them. They both looked very familiar, especially the dog. Just as Nick recognized them, Professor Houseman spoke.
“Nick, I’d like you to meet Dick Naring and Noondog. You sort of already know them.”
“Hi!” said Dick.
“Wow! Hi!” exclaimed Nick. He tried to shake hands before realizing he couldn’t. Moondog had already met Noondog, and the two were merrily chasing each other.
“Rick is going to be our messenger tonight,” explained Fred Hanklin, who was suddenly there. “I know you two would like to get to know each other better, but Dick has to watch Professor Mouseman and report back to us if he leaves home.”
“I’d better go now,” said Dick. “See you later.” He whistled for Noondog, waved at Nick and the others, and then the Twodee boy and dog were gone.
“Wow!” said Nick again. He turned toward the space laboratory, which rose up huge and mysterious above them, and remembered his job. “How do we get in? It looks like a fort.”
“Well,” answered the Professor, “we have no trouble getting in, but you’ll have to work at it. Do you see that screen in the side of the building near the ground?”
“That’s a ventilator for the space laboratory. The screen is loose now because the vent motor is broken and was taken out for repair. It’s pretty dark inside, but there are no side vents, so you can’t get lost. All you have to do is wait until the night watchman goes by, take off the screen, and crawl through. We’ll be waiting for you on the inside to show you what to do next. Or if you’ll be afraid, someone can go through the ventilator with you.”
“Can Moondog come?”
“Will he be quiet?”
“Sure. Won’t you, Moondog?”
Moondog wagged his tail in reply, to show he could be quiet. “Then I don’t see why he can’t go,” said the Professor. “If he can come, I’m not scared.”
“Good! There goes the night watchman. Are you ready?”
“Go!” ordered Professor Houseman.
“C’mon!” whispered Nick to Moondog, and ran for the ventilator with Moondog close behind. Once there, they discovered that the screen was indeed easy to remove, and that it was definitely dark inside the tube. But Professor Houseman had said there was no way to get lost, and so Nick crawled into the ventilator. At first Moondog stood outside, whining and afraid to enter. But when Nick turned and beckoned to him, Moondog scrambled in.
For about fifty feet they could see nothing, but then, rounding a corner, they saw a small square of very dim light far ahead. Crawling through the tube was slow and difficult. When finally they came to the screen at the end they realized the dim light was starlight coming through the open roof of the laboratory.
And there in the middle of the giant room, looming over them in the faint light, stood the rocket that would launch the artificial sun. That is, unless they stopped it. At its top, nearly a hundred feet off the floor, was a globe about twenty feet in diameter that looked like a huge lump of gold. Nick pushed open the ventilator screen and dropped to the floor, followed by Moondog. They stood looking up at the rocket in wonderment. It was very impressive.
“You’re doing very well so far, Nick,” said a voice behind him. Startled, Nick jumped, and then instantly realized it was the Professor, and that of course he was already there.
“Sorry,” apologized the Professor. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I’m a little nervous is all,” answered Nick.
“Quite natural, but not necessary. While you were in the ventilator tube, Dick reported back that Professor Mouseman is home in bed. Oh, excuse me.” Dick and Noondog had just appeared, waiting politely to speak to the Professor. When Dick had his chance, he whispered something in Prof. Houseman’s ear. “What’s that?” gasped the Professor. “He’s not? Oh, dear! You go back and follow him carefully. Report back in ten minutes.”
Dick and Noondog disappeared. The Professor turned back to Nick. “He’s not in bed after all. He’s gotten up and is getting dressed. He must have been unable to sleep thinking about the rocket launch tomorrow. I’ll bet he’s coming to the laboratory. That would be just like the old goat. Quick! We have to hurry!”
“What do I do?” cried Nick.
“There, at the top! Do you see that big globe?”
Nick nodded, unable to speak in his excitement. His heart was beating rapidly.
“That’s the nuclear fuel,” continued the Professor. “It’s made up of super-squeezed hydrogen gas, invented by Professor Mouseman. If it’s fired into orbit 10,000 miles above the earth and then ignited, it will light up the night for a hundred years!”
“That’s awful!” was all Nick could think of to say.
“We had planned to make it self-destruct over the ocean, but now there’s no time to re-program the computer. We can only try to damage it enough to make it impossible for them to launch it tomorrow, so we can finish the job tomorrow night.”
Nick was worried. “But if we damage it, won’t they know someone wants to destroy it and put guards around it until it’s fixed? We won’t have a chance then.”
“Good thinking. You’re perfectly right, my boy,” replied Professor Houseman. “We will have to damage it so it looks like someone just made a mistake. Hmmm.” He seemed to be rubbing his chin, although it’s sometimes hard to tell just what a Twodee is doing because they don’t have any substance. “I have it!” he finally exclaimed. Then he disappeared and instantly reappeared near a workbench. “Come here!”
Nick ran over and saw him pointing at a drawer. “Open that drawer.” Nick did so and saw several large, odd wrenches. “Grab that big wrench and follow me.” When next he appeared, Professor Houseman was standing near the point where twohoses, each about twoinches in diameter, entered the hull of the rocket. Nick grabbed the heavy wrench. He sprinted the distance and arrived panting for breath, followed by Moondog.
“What now?” Nick panted.
“These two hoses,” began the Professor, pointing, “carry fuel and oxygen to tanks inside the rocket. The first thing in the morning, before launch, these tanks will be filled. But if we switch the twohoses, fuel will go into the oxygen tanks and oxygen will go into the fuel tanks. An alarm will sound, but by then it will be too late, and it will take them all day to clean out the tanks. They’ll think it was an accident. Then tomorrow night, we can come back and finish the job. Now, put that wrench on this connector and take it off.”
Dick and Noondog suddenly appeared. “Sir,” said Dick, “Professor Mouseman is in his car headed this way.”
“Follow him, and report back when he enters the parking lot!” the Professor instructed. Dick and Noondog disappeared, and the Professor spoke to Nick. “Hurry! There’s very little time!”
The connector was almost too high for Nick to reach, but he managed to slip the wrench onto it and pull with all his might. It didn’t budge.
“What’s wrong?” asked the Professor in a shaky voice.
“It’s too tight!” answered Nick.
“But it’s easy for the workmen!”
“Men are stronger than boys!” Nick reminded him.
“Oh.” Professor Houseman was obviously surprised. “I didn’t think of that. Twodees don’t have any strength at all, so it never occurred to me...”
Dick had appeared again, standing next to the Professor. “He’s almost to the parking lot!”
“Egad!” cried Professor Houseman. “Tell me when he’s at the door.” To Nick he said, “We must hurry! Try again! Please!”
Nick placed his wrench on the connector so that he could hang by his arms from the handle. Nothing happened. He tried bouncing on it. Still nothing. Finally, he noticed a long section of pipe lying on a nearby workbench and hit upon a plan.
Rushing to the workbench, Nick grabbed the pipe and returned with it. He slipped it over the handle of the wrench and, just as he had hoped, found that it fit snugly. Now the wrench had a long handle. With one good tug, the connector was loose.
“Excellent, Nick!” praised Professor Houseman. “You’re a bright young man!”
Nick, however, had no time to listen to compliments, for he was busy disconnecting the hoses. Once loosened, the threaded connectors could easily be turned by hand. He had managed to remove the twoconnectors, when Dick and Noondog appeared again.
“Sir,” Dick said to the Professor, “Professor Mouseman is at the door.” And indeed his key could already be heard rattling in the lock of the door across the great room.
Professor Houseman turned to Nick. “Nick! If you throw the master power switch over on that wall, the lights won’t work, and he’ll be afraid to come in. Run for it!” Just then, the door opened.
Before Nick could start off in the direction Professor Houseman was pointing, a light came on near the door, and Professor Houseman had disappeared. Professor Mouseman was standing just inside the door in a pool of light cast by a single bulb, and Professor Houseman was spread out at his feet, trapped by his duty as a shadow. But the light did not reach as far as Nick, so he was safe for the moment. Not for long, however. The Professor began walking across the huge building toward him, turning on lights as he came. Moondog growled softly.
“Quick!” exclaimed Dick. “You must shut off the master power switch to turn off all the lights before you’re caught. He’ll be afraid to chase you in the dark, and maybe you can finish!”
“But then he’ll know we’re trying to wreck his rocket!”
“It doesn’t matter! It’s our only chance to stop the launch tomorrow! We’ll think of a new plan by tomorrow night!”
“Where is the switch?” cried Nick desperately. “I don’t see it!”
“We’ll find it!” answered Dick, and he was gone with Noondog.
Several seconds ticked by on Nick’s watch, and Professor Mouseman got ever closer to his hiding place. Lights were going on one by one. Then, as suddenly as they had gone, Dick and Noondog were back, but now they had to stand deep in the shadows to avoid the light.
“It’s on the far wall, behind Professor Mouseman, under a sign that says ‘No Smoking.’ You’ll have to make it on your own now, Nick. If you fail, there’s no hope for us.” The lights got closer. Dick was fading rapidly. “Please, Nick...” he pleaded, and was gone.
Nick suddenly knew what he had to do. “Moondog,” he said, kneeling down close to his ear and whispering, “when I tell you, sic him, and don’t let him get away until the lights go out.” When the Professor was almost upon them, Nick jumped up. “Sic him, boy!” he yelled, and Moondog did as he was told with a frightening growl.
Professor Mouseman was taken completely by surprise as the boy and his dog ran straight for him. “What the devil?” he grunted. He made a grab for Nick, who dodged him like a pro quarterback as Moondog hit him in the knees. The Professor went down clumsily and Nick continued his end run for the power switch. Never had he run so fast in his life. When Professor Mouseman saw where he was headed, he cried out, “NO! NO! Not that! Don’t you dare do that!”
Professor Mouseman was on his feet again in a second, running after Nick. But Moondog was no quitter. He raced after the Professor and clamped the scientist’s pants cuff in his jaws, hanging on like a snapping turtle. Try as he might, the Professor could not shake him loose. Now there was no way he could catch Nick.
The plan was going to work! Nick sprinted to the far wall, found the master switch, and pulled it without hesitation, plunging the entire laboratory into blackness again. Then, panting for breath, he turned and leaned against the wall, waiting for his eyes to get used to the dark.
“A-a-augh!” That sounded like Professor Mouseman! Nick looked up quickly, but all he could see, perhaps fifty yards away, was the flare of a match that soon dwindled to a tiny flame. “A-a-augh! G-g-get away! G-g-get away!” The match went out. Another was quickly lit.
“C’mon, Moondog!” Nick rushed back to where Professor Mouseman had crouched in fright behind a packing case when the lights went out. Twenty or thirty Twodees were gathered in the darkness just beyond the wobbly circle of light cast by the match. Fred Hanklin was trying to talk to the Professor from the safety of the darkness.
“If you’d only let the match go out so we could talk this over...”
“G-g-go away!” screamed Professor Mouseman, striking another match. “L-l-leave me alone!”
“I swear we won’t hurt you. We can’t!” pleaded Fred.
“You think I’d b-b-believe an evil creature of d-d-darkness? What kind of f-f-fool do you think I am?” answered Professor Mouseman.
Fred was insulted. “We’re not evil creatures of darkness! We’re Twodees, and if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t have a shadow, or the nice shade under a tree on a hot day. Why do you hate us?”
“Because you lurk around in the dark, waiting to scare decent people half to death.” Professor Mouseman lit another match and stood up.
“It’s not our fault you’re afraid of things you don’t understand,” said Fred. “Darkness is the only time we have to ourselves. The rest of the time we’re working for Threedees, but you don’t appreciate us. You want to destroy all darkness, so we could never be free again.”
“That’s right,” gloated the Professor. “Tomorrow, I will launch my artificial sun, and...”
“No! You can’t do that!” said Nick, stepping into the light of the match.
“You! You nasty boy! Why did you turn off the master power? Whose side are you on?”
“Theirs. I threw the switch because I’m on their side,” answered Nick proudly.
“What’s wrong with you?” The match went out and the Professor hastily lit another. “You’re a Threedee—I mean, a human, aren’t you? Why are you helping them?”
Nick stood up tall and proud, because he knew he was right. “Because they can’t help themselves any more than they can hurt you. If you’d only talk to them, you'd understand and leave them alone, but I guess you’re just a mean old goat.”
“Who are you calling a mean old goat?” snapped the Professor. He was so angry that he let his match go out and forgot to light another. “I’m a respected scientist! The very top of my field. You can’t talk that way to me.”
“Aren’t scientists supposed to discover the truth?” Nick asked.
“Wh-why yes,” answered the Professor cautiously.
“Then figure it out. Why do you suppose all these Twodees had to find a human to help them stop the launching of the artificial sun?”
“I-I don’t know,” answered Professor Mouseman in a weak voice, looking confused. “I suppose they didn’t know how to stop it.”
“Wrong, Professor.” Nick pointed to Professor Houseman, who had joined the crowd when the match went out and Professor Mouseman no longer needed his shadow. “Does he look familiar?”
“He does, now that you mention it.”
“He should. He’s your shadow. Professor Houseman, can you tell Professor Mouseman how you were going to stop the launch?”
Professor Mouseman stepped forward and spoke directly to his Threedee. “I had originally planned to have young Nick here reprogram the x and y coordinates of the rocket’s guidance program so that it would fall into the ocean instead of going into orbit. Of course, without real hands none of us could do it, so we convinced Nick to help us. But then, when we found out you were on you way here, I realized that we couldn’t finish in time and decided to have Nick reverse the fuel and oxygen hoses...”
“Stop!” Professor Mouseman interrupted. “I’ve heard enough. You do know how to destroy the rocket.”
“So you see?” asked Nick. “If they needed me just to program a computer or use a wrench, they really couldn’t hurt you. After all, they’re only places where light isn’t.”
“That is true,” mused Professor Mouseman, rubbing his chin. “Could it be that I was wrong?”
“People only fear the shadows—Twodees, I mean—because they don’t understand them. What’s there to be afraid of? After all, you’ve been sitting in the dark with them all this time and they haven’t hurt you.”
Professor Mouseman looked at the matches in his hand that he’d been forgetting to light. “Why, that’s true too, isn’t it?” He couldn’t help a small smile.
“Besides,” Nick added, “we need the night to rest from the day. And plants die if they get too much sun. What about the animals that gather their food at night? Have you thought about the countries near the equator that would be too hot to live in if they didn’t have the night to cool off? And how about changes in the world’s weather that more sunlight would cause?”
“All right, all right, you’re right,” said the Professor irritably. I suppose I was a fool. I was so busy being afraid of the dark that I forgot to be a scientist. Now I must cancel the launch. All my work has been for nothing. The earth doesn’t need another sun.”
Professor Houseman spoke up now. “No, but the earth does need a cheap, reliable source of power that doesn’t pollute the air, the land or the water. If your artificial sun were broken up into many little suns, they could replace all the old-fashioned ways of producing power that cause pollution and are bad for our health.”
“Of course!” exclaimed Professor Mouseman. “I should have thought of that myself. If only I could think of a way to do it. But what sort of container could hold a tiny sun?”
Professor Houseman smiled, or seemed to. “I think I have some ideas, but I’ll need your help and advice. That is, if you don’t mind working in the dark.”
“After what I’ve learned tonight, I think I can get used to it.”
“Then it’s a deal?” asked Professor Houseman.
“A deal!” answered Professor Mouseman with a big smile. He reached out his hand and Professor Houseman tried to shake it, but of course his shadow hand only passed through the real hand. Everyone laughed. Nick and Dick pretended to shake hands, and Moondog and Noondog chased each other’s tails.
“Now,” sighed Professor Mouseman, “I think perhaps I should put this young man and his dog into my car and drive them home. Someone has to explain to his parents what happened. I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t believe him. I only hope they believe me.”
“Would you ask them if we can come out after dark to play with Dick and Noondog again?” asked Nick.
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” said the Professor.
Fred Hanklin cleared his throat and spoke up. “Nick, we’re all very proud of you. I think you should know that you and Moondog will always be honored as heroes by the Twodee people.”
“And by the Threedee people as well, if I have anything to say about it,” added Professor Mouseman.
“Let’s give them three cheers!” shouted Fred Hanklin to the crowd of Twodees, which by now had swelled to several hundred. And they did. Professor Mouseman joined in and the dogs barked. Nick and Moondog were proud and embarrassed at the same time. Professor Mouseman led them out of the building while they waved to the crowd of well-wishers.
As professor Mouseman drove him home through the dark and empty streets with Moondog’s head in his lap and his bike in the trunk, Nick began feeling very tired. He could hardly keep his eyes open. Just as he was about to fall asleep, he remembered the crabapple he had placed in his pocket at the graveyard and quickly pulled it out to be sure he still had it. He did. He held it tight even though it was still ice cold. Nick breathed a sigh of relief and thought of how Deke would react when he pulled it out of his pocket at school tomorrow and asked him if he’d been to Crabapple Hill lately.
By the time they arrived at Nick’s home, he was fast asleep. Professor Mouseman gently pulled him from the car and carried him up the steps, with Moondog sticking close. His father came to the door in his bathrobe, very surprised because he hadn’t discovered Nick missing. Professor Mouseman promised to explain everything as soon as Nick was in bed. As his parents tucked him into bed with Professor Mouseman looking on and Moondog curled up on the rug, Nick was still holding the crabapple.