All three were 8th graders. Janet was 14, Corinne was 14, Maggie was 14.
"Let's go to the library," Janet said.
"I want to go to the mall," Corinne objected.
Maggie argued for going to Barnes and Noble to look at the new Lucy Conover book.
"Lucy Conover!" Janet scoffed.
"Lucy Conover?" Corinne said in surprise.
"What's wrong with Lucy Conover?" Maggie wanted to know.
Janet laughed. Corinne looked embarrassed. Maggie frowned and blushed bright red. "I like Lucy Conover," she muttered.
The girls were walking away from where the bus had let them off at the corner. Other students were around; boys and girls in groups; boys in groups; girls in groups; individual boys and girls walking alone. The loners were mostly ugly or geeks, or fat and friendless. Janet and Corinne and Maggie were not ugly, not geeks, not fat, and not friendless.
"I have to go home first," Janet said. They were two blocks away from her house.
"Where are we going after?" Corinne inquired.
"I don't know yet," Janet said.
The girls were typical 8th graders. Janet was the tallest with chestnut hair, shoulder length with chocolate brown eyes. Corinne had hazel-colored eyes and darker-colored hair down below her shoulder blades. Maggie was the shortest of the three, the fairest, and the only one with freckles. Her hair was dark red, wavy on the verge of being curly, and just touched her shoulders. Her eyes were also hazel, like Corinne's, though flecked with gold.
They reached Janet's house, turned up the walk, walked to the steps, climbed the five steps to the door, where Janet put her key in the lock, twisted it left and went in, Corinne and Maggie following behind her. She shut the door and flicked the deadbolt closed. Then, for a reason she didn't understand and didn't remember doing three seconds later, she twisted the deadbolt open again. Corinne noticed this, didn't really think much about it and Maggie didn't notice it at all. Her attention was on the big brown box sitting in the foyer. "What's that?" she asked.
"I don't know," Janet confessed. "It was there this morning when I came down." All three girls stared at the box.
"You think it's a TV?" Corinne asked. It was the right size for a TV. Would be the right size for an old-style TV, anyway. New TV sets came in boxes that were long and slim.
"I don't know," Janet repeated. "Let's go upstairs."
Passing the box, which was just a plain brown cardboard box with no markings, Corinne and Maggie followed Janet toward the stairs. Maggie kept looking over her shoulder as they climbed, not liking the box. She didn't like that it had no markings. All the boxes she'd seen had markings on them, usually in bright colors for electronic stuff like a TV set. This box was clueless.
Halfway up the stairs, Maggie paused and took off her sneakers. She left them on the step and continued up, catching her friends in the upstairs hallway. Neither girl noticed that Maggie was shoeless. Janet pushed open her bedroom door and went in. Corinne and Maggie followed.
"I have to go pee," Janet said.
"So do I," Corinne said.
"Me too," Maggie chimed in.
All three un-shouldered their backpacks and let them drop: Janet's onto her bed, Corinne's on the floor at her feet, and Maggie's onto ... wait--Maggie didn't have her backpack.
"Where's my backpack?" Maggie demanded, alarmed. She automatically checked all around on her on the floor, felt her right shoulder, craned her head to look down her back, and then looked at the other two girls. "Where's my backpack?" she repeated.
Janet blinked. "Did you leave it on the bus?"
"I don't know!" Maggie wailed. "Did I?" Her iPod was in her backpack and so was her wallet. So were her glasses. No, she had her glasses on. But her pads were in the backpack and she planned to change her current one in the bathroom.
"Can I borrow a pad?" she blurted out.
Surprised, the other girls laughed. Maggie blushed bright red. "I mean ... later. After I find my backpack." Which didn't make sense, for if she had her backpack she'd have her pads, but she was embarrassed and being embarrassed made her dorky. "I have to find my backpack," she muttered.
All three went downstairs on the off chance that Maggie had left her backpack in the foyer or the living room. If was not there. Neither was the big brown box, though none of the girls noticed that. None remembered having seen it at all. On impulse, Maggie opened the front door and was surprised to find her backpack sitting atop a big brown box on the stoop.
"There it is!" she exclaimed. "What's it doing out here?" To her surprise, there was also a pair of pink Skechers sitting on the box. "Those look like mine," she said in surprise. Looking down at her feet, she looked back at the box and then down at her feet again, and then at the other two girls.
"What's going on?" she demanded.
Janet looked confused. Corinne blinked in confusion. Both girls shook their heads.
"You took off your shoes?" Janet demanded. "When?"
Maggie gasped, "I did not! I just looked down and they weren't there!" She stared at the big brown box, her stomach clenched, a frightened feeling in her chest. It felt like her chest was collapsing into itself. She crossed her arms and shivered badly.
"Where did the box come from?" Corinne wanted to know. She looked up and down the street. There weren't any delivery trucks in sight. There wasn't anyone around but school kids. Jimmy Hanaker, from around the corner was across the street, dropped off by a later bus and on his way home. He grinned and waved at her. Jimmy had a crush on Corrine. She waved back.
"Should we bring it inside?" Janet asked, sounding undecided.
"Hell, no!" Maggie cried, scared shitless and needing to go pee. A little pee leaked into her panties and she clamped her thighs closed and moaned, "Oh, God. I got to go pee!" and made a dash for the downstairs bathroom. She skidded around the corner in her stocking feet and almost fell on her butt. She wrestled open the bathroom door and only just managed to get her jeans and panties down before her pee shot out.
"Oh, God," she sighed, relieved. She felt embarrassed about peeing herself like that. She did that all too often. You'd think she'd learn to regulate herself better, stop waiting until the very last moment to go pee. Wiping herself, she flushed the toilet and stood up.
Maggie was rather cute, cuter than she understood herself to be. Her braces added to her cuteness, though she hated and hid them religiously. She never smiled, and when she had to smile, she hid her braces behind her hand. Boys teased her, trying to make her smile.
In the mirror, she turned her head this way and that, examining her hair and her makeup and her teeth. Nothing in her braces, she saw, relieved. Her hair looked just as awful as ever. Like most girls with dark red wavy hair, Maggie hated it. She had learned long ago to leave it alone if it wasn't totally awful.
She washed her hands and dried them on a towel. She turned off the light and went back to the front door to join her friends. On the stoop, Janet and Corinne and Jimmy Hanaker were smoking a joint, Jimmy accepting it back from Janet, who held a big lungful of smoke. Maggie gasped.
"Janet! What are you doing?"
All three smokers jerked, Janet coughing out her smoke, Jimmy bobbling the joint, Corinne loosing her balance and having to grab the rail to keep from falling over. She went wide-eyed, staring at Maggie.
"What are you doing?" she cried.
"Maggie!" Janet choked out.
Jimmie just stared at her, open-mouthed and blinking.
"What?" She looked down at herself and screeched. She covered herself momentarily, hunched and turned around and fled back to the bathroom, a hand thrown behind her to cover her butt. On the floor, just as she had left them, pooled around missing feet, were her blue jeans. Horrified, she snatched them off the floor and slammed the door shut and, hopping up and down on one foot, put them back on.
She was in total disbelief of herself. She had left her blue jeans in the bathroom and shown another student, a boy, her pink panties. Her pink panties with dancing white teddy bears, she thought with chagrin. How embarrassing was that? How horrifying. She thought in dismay: He'll tell everyone. By the time he got home, every friend on his cell phone would know the truth.
But what was the truth? Why in the world would she leave her jeans in the bathroom and go out to the porch? She had no memory of taking them off, but she had no memory of pulling them up, either. What she did remember was flushing the toilet and looking at herself in the mirror. And that was all. Except for leaving the bathroom to join her friends on the porch. Her friends that thought she was crazy. A freak. A geek.
Hugging herself tightly, Maggie stared at the offending two foot square on the floor, at the toilet, at the mirror, and down at herself again. Did she have Alzheimer's, she wondered? Was she loosing her mind? What about her backpack and Skechers? How to explain those?
Explain to whom, she wondered?
Maggie started and clamped her arms over her chest. "What?" The door opened and Janet walked it. Maggie hunched herself even tighter, prepared to start whimpering when Janet gave her shit. But Janet only looked at her, kind of oddly, as though wondering what had Maggie so uptight and anxious. She undid her jeans, pulled them down to mid-thigh and sat down to pee. Maggie was flustered.
"Are you okay?" Janet asked.
Maggie hunched herself tighter. She listened to the sound of Janet's pee hitting the toilet bowl water, an absolutely normal-sounding sound, and observed her with big eyes and a pinched face. 'I don't know what's going on," she said. "What's going on?"
Janet cocked her head. "What do you mean?"
Hesitantly, Maggie asked: "Is Jimmy still here?"
Janet shook her head and spooled white tissue off the roll and used it. She dropped the tissue in the toilet and stood up, struggling against her panties and jeans. Maggie automatically flushed the toilet for her. Just as Janet got her jeans in place, Corinne came through the door and sat down on the toilet. She worked her panties down from beneath her skirt, the way she always did when she wore a skirt. She looked back and forth between her two friends. "What's going on?" she asked.
"Nothing's going on," Janet said, tucking in her shirttails and zipping herself up and buckling her belt.
Corinne disagreed. "Something's going on. What's up?"
Maggie was perplexed. Why were her best friends pretending she hadn't just now walked onto the front porch in just her panties? Why were they pretending she wasn't red-faced with embarrassment? They should be teasing her mercilessly, as any two girls would tease a third for having done something stupid like that. She didn't understand at all. It was like...
Hesitantly, uncertainly, shyly, she said: "Did I just come out on the porch?"
Both girls stared at her. Corinne cocked her head, and Janet made a tisking sound with her tongue. "Yessss?" she said, stretching out the word tauntingly. "You don't remember?"
Maggie eyed them apprehensively. "Was I... ?" She gulped.
"Were you what?" Janet wanted to know. And suddenly, just like that, with no warning and no explanation at all, all three girls were upstairs in Janet's bedroom. Maggie shrieked and threw her hands around in panic and twirled like a terrified child, while Janet and Corrine, wide-eyed and open-mouthed and shocked, watched her beeline for the bedroom door, fling it open and careen off the wall opposite. She fled downstairs, shrieking, as her two friends stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed and shocked at the empty bedroom doorway.
It was two hours later. Maggie was huddled on the floor beside her bed, back against the wall, her knees drawn tight to her chest. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her knees, her forehead resting atop them. She had stopped crying, but it was a close thing. Her feet hurt because she had fled home in only her socks. The box had been gone and with it her Skechers and backpack. Who knew where they were now. The box had them, she knew. She was sure of it.
"Maggie?" her mom called. "Dinner!"
Maggie shook her head. Then she lifted her head and wiped her eyes and nose. Her eyes were bloodshot and her chest ached from crying. Luckily, her mom had gotten home late from work and had not come up to check on her. Dinner was ready, half an hour late, and her dad would come home any minute. She wished she had her shoes.
"I wish I had my shoes," she muttered, disconsolately. Stupid shoes. Stupid backpack. Stupid cardboard box.
Struggling to her feet, Maggie staggered across to her dresser and opened her top drawer and fumbled open the box of mini-pads. She withdrew three and dropped two on the floor. Muttering darkly, she kicked both under her dresser and took herself across the hall, pad gripped tightly in her hand (where was Richard, anyway? He hadn't come home and mom hadn't said anything about it) into the bathroom and shut the door and locked it. And then double-checked the lock. And then checked it again, and again. Finally, she turned on the fan to mask the noise she might make peeing, and set the mini-pad safely aside on the towel rack.
Her face was a mess. Her face, let's face it, was a disaster. The eyeliner her mother told her not to use had blackened hollows beneath her eyes and streaked down her cheeks. Her face was blanched white, making her look a cross between a raccoon and Alice Cooper. Sniffing miserably, she turned on the water and let it warm and then used a washcloth to cleanse her face. Then she brushed her belligerent hair and put it back in a ponytail with a pink elastic band. She thought darkly of her pink panties with dancing white teddy bears. She'd throw them away tonight. For sure.
And then she thought: Why? I like my pink panties with dancing white teddy bears. They were so cute. It wasn't their fault she'd gotten caught outside with her jeans off and her panties exposed. She'd probably hate any pair of panties she'd worn. Reprieved, her panties thanked her profusely.
"Maggie? Are you coming down?"
"Yes, Mom!" she called. Unbuckling her jeans, she slid them and her panties down to her ankles and sat down to go pee. While she did, she considered the afternoon's frightening events, the mysterious cardboard box, the way they had teleported upstairs to Janet's bedroom. More than anything else, she was disturbed by the seeming ignorance of her two friends. Not that she hadn't forgotten herself. There were her missing shoes and her backpack, the humiliating scene on the porch, the- She was in her bedroom again. Stunned, Maggie shrieked and staggered backwards, lost her balance and came down hard on the edge of the mattress. Stupefied, she sat with her back against the bed, blinking at the big brown box. Her jeans and panties were around her ankles, why she had tripped, she realized. She sat, her legs askew, dribbling onto the carpet.
How had she gotten here? How had the box gotten here? Agog and aghast, she levered herself into a half-standing position, looked through her open bedroom door at the bathroom across the hall. The door was closed and she did not remember opening the door and shuffling across to her bedroom with her jeans and panties around her feet. Distraught and frightened, she sat down again and drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped them with her arms as she had done earlier. It terrified her that whatever this box was-and it was definitely something other than a big brown box-it was getting a Class-A view of her very private parts.
"What are you?" she whispered in a choked voice. "How did you get here?" With a yelp, she discovered herself standing before the box, and then blinking in panic, found herself rotated 180 degrees around the box, looking at its opposite side, then brought back again to the original side. Then she was back on the floor, sitting with her knees tucked against her chest. She tried to scream and was too terrified to make a sound. Then she went to sleep.
It was just after midnight. Maggie eyed the red digits of her alarm clock, blinked drunkenly-it felt drunkenly, anyway-until the digits resolved themselves into numerals and told her it was 12:08 A.M. It was dark in the room, but she felt the presence of the box nonetheless. She could see it with her mind, if not her eyes, watching her from the floor. Lifting her head, she looked at the spot on her carpet occupied by the box and confirmed its presence.
"What are you?" she whined. The next instant she was standing in her original spot, naked as a jaybird, the air-conditioning erupting her in goose flesh all across her upper body. She clutched herself and started to shake.
"Why are you doing this?" she whimpered. She found herself ninety-degrees around the box, shivering harder.
Don't talk to it, she thought frantically. Every time you open your mouth, the thing puts you somewhere else. So instead of talking, she just stood there and shook helplessly, clutching herself. And then she asked another question anyway.
"Can I go to the bathroom? I really have to pee." She found herself sitting on the toilet, pee gushing into the water below. Her arms were still clamped across her chest, and she still shook like a leaf. Through the door, she could just make out a corner of the box in the other room. This was so unnerving. She started to cry again, and then, Maggie found herself standing in the middle of a darkened roller-skating rink, surrounded by dozens of school-age kids, couples-skating with boys and girls holding hands, girls and girls holding hands, and even a gay pair of boys holding hands. She knew without looking down that she was completely naked. She could feel her lack of clothing and also the cool air on her skin. She was about to go hysterical and start screaming when suddenly she was no longer in the middle of the huge wooden floor, illuminated mostly by the glittering ball over her head, but standing beside a table in the snack bar. She was dressed in a cute blue and white top and shorts, her feet tightly encased in a white pair of skates. She grabbed the corner of the table and hung on to it for dear life. She hadn't been on skates in years.
"Hi," said a boy she didn't recognize.
Startled, Maggie let out a frightened peep and tried not to fall on her ass. She looked frantically out at the rink, at the middle where seconds before she'd been on view for everyone's eyes. She checked herself again to make sure she was clothed. She looked at the boy. He was kinda cute, actually, with messy blonde hair, blue eyes, and a mischievously shaped mouth. She liked his full lips, thick for a boy, like Brad Pitt's or-
"You okay?" the boy asked, concerned. He got up and put his arm around Maggie's waist. "You look kinda shaky, Mag."
Maggie stared at him open-mouthed, breathing rapidly through her mouth, heart slamming against her chest. She was fully aware of his hand on her right hip and the other on her left forearm. She might fall down, just from the shock of being touched.
"Do you need to sit down?" Not awaiting an answer, the boy gently guided her around the corner of the table and into the chair opposite his. Unable to stop herself, Maggie turned her head to stare at the middle of the rink. She had to convince herself that she wasn't there, about to scream at the top of her lungs. Not convinced, not convinced at all, she turned back to the boy and searched his eyes for any sign of embarrassment, any sign that he was keeping her prior nudity a state secret. He only looked concerned ... and a little impish. He liked her, she could tell that. He looked a little like- She was back in her bedroom again.
"Would you please stop that?" she pleaded. She went from shivering and naked to walking down the fairway of Westlake Mall, bags in both hands, her hair back in a ponytail, dressed in a striped shirt and a denim skirt. Flats clicked against the marble tile floor. It was daytime, the mall was packed with shoppers, and she was there with her mother.
"Mom?" she choked out. Then she did a double take, because directly ahead of her, texting something into his cell phone was her date from the skating rink. (OK, so he wasn't really her date. Just a bit of wishful thinking on Maggie's part. Or confusion, I guess. That works too.) Maggie skidded to a halt, almost lost her balance and flustered, looked from the boy to her mother and back again to the boy. The boy looked up and smiled at her. He began to head in her direction just as her cell phone buzzed in her coat pocket. She reached for it and found herself naked, back in her bedroom.
"Pleeeeeeeeeease!" she wailed miserably. "Will you stop doing that!"
The box sent her nowhere this time. She remained rooted to the spot. She felt ill, as though all the traveling had given her motion sickness. She supposed it had. She shivered, clutching at herself, staring at the box.
"Are you alive?" she whispered. She cringed as she asked, expecting to end up on the National Mall, jaybird-naked again. The box did not move her. She remained motionless, easing out her breath and easing her grip on herself. Stupidly, she reached out a finger and touched the top edge of the box. Nothing happened, though she snatched her hand back as though she'd be burned. She looked at the clock, wondering at the time. She was confused to see the clock reading 11:31 P.M.
She had gone back in time? Or was it the next day? She looked around for her watch and hoped it was on the nightstand next to the clock. That's where it usually was. She thought she spied it sitting there. Looking apprehensively at the box, she backed away and then circled around it to the bed and picked up her watch. The lighted display agreed with the clock. It was still Wednesday, the 26th of May. She looked at the box again.
It wasn't just moving her in space; it was also moving her in time. And making her forget. And controlling her mind. And putting her in clothes and taking her out of them again. Or she was doing that herself and didn't remember doing it. She was really confused. And frightened. And frustrated. And embarrassed. The box had dropped her naked in the middle of a skating rink. It could do anything to her it wanted to, including plopping her onto the National Mall naked if it wanted to. Please don't want to do that, she thought despondently.
She sat down again, drawing up her knees as she had earlier. She was afraid to put on clothes. The box liked her naked, that was obvious. Or liked her embarrassed and helpless, one or the other. She suspected the other. She shivered and tightened her grip on her knees. And then it was 4:00 AM and nothing had changed. She checked her watch and checked the numerals on the clock. She had jumped ahead over four hours. She looked at the box again, wondering if she'd slept-she didn't think so, though how could she know for sure?-and what possible reason the box had for doing such a thing. And then it was back to 11:37 PM again. Correction: 11:38 PM. The box had sensed her question about time travel and had answered her, hadn't it? She wondered if it could- Maggie cried out and stumbled backwards. She thunked against someone behind her, someone considerably bigger than she, and cried out even louder. Frantic, she beat at the water with her hands until her mind caught up with her location. She was in a shower. She was naked, her hair lathered up, with someone behind her who'd grunted and half fell when she blundered into him. She was very close to screaming, would have screamed had she not involuntarily grabbed the off-balance male to keep him from tumbling sideways out the tub.
"What the hell was that?" the man demanded. Maggie was surprised-and almost disappointed not to recognize his face. She had halfway expected it to be-then she was back in her bedroom.
The question of whether the box could send he into an older version of herself was answered. She had been in her late twenties or early thirties, she guessed, with a fuller, more developed body, the sensation of large breasts swaying back and forth. Breasts she didn't have now. She looked down at herself curiously ... and smiled. But who was the guy, she wondered?
"Do you think I could--?" The box put her in bed. She was in another girl's arms, her own arms locked around the other girl's neck, their mouths locked in a passionate kiss. Instantly she rebelled and broke away with a cry. A girl she knew from school-Rebecca Wong for God's sake-reacted in surprise, crying out herself.
"What's wrong?" she demanded.
Maggie just stared at her, open-mouthed, thinking herself in a dream. It had to be a dream. No way was she in bed with another girl! But the first words out of her mouth surprised even her. Rebecca only stared at her, flummoxed.