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Saving Montgomery Sole

Mariko Tamaki

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  To DBT, who has saved me many times

  We shall not cease from exploration

  And the end of all our exploring

  Will be to arrive where we started

  And know the place for the first time.

  —T. S. Eliot


  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.

ait, 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!”


  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:


   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.r />

   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.


  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.