The Truth is Stranger
At 23, Allen was doing all right for himself. He had just found himself a girlfriend and had landed a job that allowed him to make ends meet, and then some. His best friend, Dan, was his roommate. Dan was just a year younger than Allen, but they had been best friends since preschool. When they graduated high school, they had a plan. They would both attend the same college and live off campus in a small apartment while both of them worked to pay the rent. It was hard for a while, but they managed. Allen had already gotten his degree, but Dan had a way to go yet. To tell the truth, Dan was a bit jealous of Allen who would sit in the apartment at night with his girlfriend, Alice, while Dan had to study and write long papers. Dan could remember back when he and Allen were just kids and would hang out all day together and play with their GI Joes or video games. He felt sorry for Allen, though. After all, Allen never really knew his father.
The last memory Allen had of his father was when he left the house for the last time. Allen was about 5 years old, but he never forgot that day. That morning, his father had left and kissed Allen's forehead and his mom as he had always done. Then that afternoon, his mom got a call saying that her husband had been killed in a lab accident. His father was a brilliant scientist and was always inventing something. Sometimes he would even invent new toys for Allen to play with. His mother never remarried, and the life insurance money was enough to last them well into the future. Young Allen was sad that his father would never be coming home again, but his mind was not really ready to handle such a predicament. Dan was allowed to come over and play often, which helped Allen to cope with his loss better. He and Dan would always make up stories about how his dad was really a secret agent and that he just couldn't come home because the enemy spies would come get them. They often dreamed of being GI Joes and helping his dad out on a few of his missions. Dan and Allen still talked about his dad every now and then, but Allen would change the subject. He knew the truth now, and didn't want to pretend anymore.
Soon, Dan didn't see much of Allen at all. He was either at work or out with his girlfriend. Whenever he would get home, he would just say, "Hey Dan! Boy what a night! I can barely keep my eyes open I'm so tired. I'm going straight to bed." and Dan would just nod and continue his work on his computer or watch TV. Dan had been taking many computer courses at the college trying to get his degree in computer science. Allen had taken a few of the same, but settled for a smaller degree in quicker time so that he could work at the new insurance company in town. He had been lucky to catch that job. They needed someone to manage databases and do general tech support. Both Dan and Allen had applied, but Allen was the one who got hired. This made Dan more jealous, but he didn't want to say anything. He thought he should be happy for Allen, but just became bitter. Dan missed the old days, and wanted things to be like they were, but he didn't quite know how to do it. Then one rainy day, Allen got a phone call.
"Allen I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. You had better prepare yourself." said the voice on the phone. Allen sat down and prepared himself for the worst. "Allen, I'm afraid your mother has passed away. I'm sorry." Allen was devastated and unable to say anything. A tear rolled down his cheek when he finally managed, "How did it happen?" Dan could see the pain on Allen's face as he listened. "She had a heart attack while working in the yard. A neighbor saw and called the hospital, but it was too late. By the time they got her here, she had passed on." Allen just fell silent. He couldn't believe it. He knew it would happen one day, but he had no idea it would be today. "Listen Allen, I know how you must be feeling, but she left everything to you in her will. You need to come down here so we can get everything finalized. I'm very sorry Allen."
Allen managed to talk out the details with the lawyer on the phone. After the funeral, there was no consoling him for a while. He stayed him from work a few days and mainly stayed in bed. Whenever Dan would see him, he would have tears in his eyes. He really missed her. Alice would come by a few times and enter his bedroom. They would stay back there for a long time in silence. A day or two later, Dan finally had a long talk with Allen and the discussion ended with talk of a vacation. Spring break was coming up and Allen had already scheduled the time off, so they agreed that the best way to make Allen feel better was to stay in his old house for a few days. He had to go there to clean it out anyway if he was going to sell it. He didn't want to sell it, but he couldn't afford to keep it up and live in his apartment too. Alice couldn't get time off immediately, so she said she would come and help when she could. Allen and Dan packed up a few things and made their way to Allen's childhood home.
Allen hadn't been there in three years, but it was all too familiar. The instant he entered the house, the familiar scents and sights brought back old memories. "Hey, let's go check out your old room." said Dan, trying to cheer Allen up a bit. They were both surprised to see that it had been pretty much untouched since he last saw it. He had expected his mom to turn it into some sort of storage room or something. "Heh, remember the time we used to spend in here playing video games and watching cheesy horror movies?" Dan asked. A smile crossed Allen's face.
"Yeah, as I remember, I used to whomp you in Street Fighter." Dan smiled back when he realized that Allen had begun to open up a bit.
"Aren't those games still here somewhere? Why don't we find them and see who can beat who now." Dan winked. Allen knew his old toys and games were packed away in the basement. He agreed and they ventured down stairs. There were tons of boxes down there. It was just a good thing that his mom had labeled them.
"Let's see... we've got clothes, pictures, clothes, knick knacks, clothes, baby toys, ahh.. here it is. Games." Allen said as he opened the box. "Looks like they're all here. Let's get to gaming."
"Your mom never threw anything away did she? I mean, look at all the clothes. You've got stuff down here from since you were born. My mom never kept any of that stuff. It got passed around the family or sent to Good Will." said Dan.
"Yeah, she insisted that we 'hang on to our memories' rather than let them go. In a way, I'm glad she did keep all that stuff. Going through it used to help me feel better." Allen explained as he hooked up the game. They both sat down and played various two-player games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Mario. Allen was out of practice, but Dan had been playing computer games for so long, he was able to beat Allen this time.
"Haha! I beat you! You're not even trying man." Dan gloated over his victory, as he had done in days long past the very few times he had managed to beat Allen.
"Heh, those games are for little kids anyway. Still, they are kind of fun." Allen's memories were flooding back. "Remember our GI Joes?"
Dan could hardly believe Allen said that. "Do I?! Let's go get them!" They ran excitedly back into the basement and sorted through the boxes until they came across some toys. "Yeah! Here we go!" Dan said as he took out a few figures from the box. Allen was going through everything when he noticed the door that had everything locked away. He still remembered the secret to opening it, even though his mom always told him never to mess with it. He had, on occasion, taken a peek. Now that she's not here, he decided to see just what she was trying to hide.
"Hey! Now I can finally show you all that cool stuff my dad made for me!" He pressed on a spot near the door and it opened. Inside were more boxes. Some had words written on them, others had strange symbols and some had no writing at all. Allen found a box labeled "For Allen" and opened it. Inside were all kinds of toy ray guns and flashing robots that his dad had made for him. They were exciting to have as a five year old, but now they looked kind of boring. Still they were impressive for home made toys. Allen took them out and arranged them on the floor as he had done when he was little.
"Wow, he was creative, I'll give him that. I wonder why your mom put these away." Dan suddenly remembered that he had just brought up unpleasant memories, but Allen didn't seem to mind. "Oh hey, what's in these boxes?" he finally said pointing at the boxes with the strange markings on them. Allen's attention was directed towards the forbidden boxes and he opened them. Inside was just a bunch of papers with what looked like blueprints and formulas on them. Then they opened a few other boxes and discovered a few pieces of circuit board and what looked like parts to some sort of device. The last box they opened had the infinity symbol on it. He opened it up and saw a crystal with two lead wires coming out of it. There was also some documentation under it. He couldn't figure out what it all meant, but there was a picture of his toy ray gun and the crystal being put together. "Some sort of weapon?" Allen thought to himself. It did look like a weapon, but then why would his dad let him play with it if it was dangerous?
"Hey, that looks like this gun. Why don't we put them together and see what they do?" Dan suggested.
"Do you know how dangerous that could be? I don't know what it does. It could kill the both of us." responded Allen.
"Nah, your dad wouldn't have let you play with it if it was that dangerous. We'll be careful with it. Come on, aren't you at least a little curious?" Dan begged.
"Fine, but if it blasts a hole in something, we're taking it apart." Allen said finally. Dan agreed and they put the crystal in the gun as the picture showed. Dan took the gun and pointed it at an empty box and fired. A light in the gun's barrel lit up and flashed as it made a sort of buzzing electrical noise, but nothing happened to the box. Dan fired again, still nothing. He tried it a third time, but this time it didn't flash or make any noise. He inspected the gun closely to make sure the crystal was still connected properly. Not realizing that he was now pointing the gun toward Allen, Dan accidentally fired the gun again. This time it flashed brightly into Allen's eyes. Allen was in a trance, staring at the flash and listening to the sound it made. Dan realized what had happened and tried to stop the gun but it wouldn't turn off. He watched in amazement as Allen seemed to shrink. His clothes became loose and his body lost definition. The hair on his arms slowly disappeared and his hands became smaller as they drew up into his sleeves. His pants no longer fit and slid down to the floor. The gun finally stopped and Dan couldn't believe what he saw. It was the 10-year-old version of Allen!
"Allen?" Dan asked as he bent down to look into Allen's eyes. "Allen are you okay? Are you still you?" He snapped his fingers and Allen jumped to attention.
"Wha-what happened to me?" said Allen in a childish voice. "What's the matter with my voice? How come everything's so big?" Allen looked at the gun in Dan's hands. "That gun! It shrunk me! My dad made a shrinking gun?!"
"Uh.. Allen? It did more than just shrink you bud. It made you younger. You look like you can't be much older than 10!" Dan said, still not able to fully believe what just happened.
"Younger?! 10 years old?! That's impossible!" Allen protested. Dan found an old mirror that had been covered up with a blanket. He uncovered it and Allen stared at his childish image. He stepped out of his shoes and clothing that lay on the floor. His shirt hung to his knees and provided enough cover. He felt the cold concrete floor of the basement on his bare feet as he got closer to the mirror. He still couldn't believe what happened. Tears began to flow as he finally shouted, "Nooooo! I can't be a little boy again!"
Dan watched his friend collapse onto his knees as he sobbed uncontrollably. "Well, maybe there's a way to undo it." Dan said while looking at the plans.
Allen sniffled, "You think so?" Allen wiped the tears from his face and walked over to Dan who was huge in comparison now.
"Well, I can't make much sense of these plans, but there must be a way." Dan looked at the gun and back and the plans several times. "Maybe if I just switch the leads on the gun." Dan switched the leads and prepared to fire again.
"Whoa! Hold it! If you fire that thing and you were wrong, I'll get even younger!" Allen protested.
"Well, I think I have it figured out now. I can stop it if it starts making you younger."
"No way! I don't want to be any younger! I've got a better idea. Let's try it out on you. That way if you get just a little younger, it won't be as big a deal." Dan didn't want to, but he gave the gun to Allen. It was sort of his fault that his best friend was now a 10 year old. Allen smirked a bit as he fired. Dan became mesmerized by the gun as Allen had. At first, nothing seemed to be happening, but then Allen noticed Dan's clothing getting a bit loose. He stopped firing, though he thought of letting it go until Dan was as young as him. It wouldn't have helped the situation.
"Well?" Dan said, not noticing that his voice was just a bit off.
"It didn't work." Allen said defeated. "You got younger."
Dan walked over to the mirror. Sure enough, he was suddenly looking at himself at 18 years old. "Man! You couldn't have stopped it sooner?!"
"Hey! At least you're not 10! Be happy!" Allen said angrily.
"I guess you're right. We should put the gun away until we can figure it out. In the meantime, let's find something that fits you better. You can't go around in just that shirt all day." Dan took the gun and put it back in it's box, then looked through the clothing boxes until he found one that had "Allen, age 10" written on it. Allen picked out what he wanted to wear. A GI Joe T-shirt and red shorts. Allen dressed, then took the plans and climbed the stairs. They were higher than he was used to.
After reading through the plans a few times, Allen became tired. He decided to take a nap on his bed and Dan continued the research. Dan soon became bored, though, and began to watch TV. He soon fell asleep as well. He woke up a while later after hearing Allen say, "I'm hungry! I wanna eat something!"
Dan thought it had all been a dream, but then saw 10 year old Allen standing there looking at him. "Yeah, me too. Let's see what there is to eat." Dan looked in the cabinet. To his surprise there was food there still left over. Mostly instant stuff. "How about some macaroni?"
"That sounds good!" said Allen excitedly. Dan noticed that he seemed to be acting more like he looked now. He guessed it was just a side effect. Dan made the mac and cheese while Allen went into the basement. He came back a minute later with a few toys. Mostly GI Joes. "Wanna play?"
"Uhh.. okay." Dan was a bit confused, but decided to sit down and play with Allen anyway while the food cooked. He wanted to have fun like the old days, but it wasn't as fun as he remembered for some reason. Allen seemed to be having a blast, but Dan figured that he was just too old to really enjoy it like he used to. Allen seemed to be having too good a time when Dan finally asked, "Allen? You do remember that you're not really a kid right? You're 23."
Allen looked up at Dan. "Hmm? Oh yeah. I remember, but being sent back to my childhood has brought out so many fun memories. I went down and grabbed these toys almost instinctively. Just seemed like the thing to do." Dan was puzzled, but then remembered the food. He would worry about Allen later. He got the macaroni and mixed the cheese sauce into it and made a bowl for himself and Allen. After eating, Dan and Allen went into the living room to watch TV. Allen wanted to watch Nickelodeon, but Dan wanted to watch MTV. They settled on the Simpsons. Afterwards, Dan attempted to read the plans again. The problem was that the plans had all kinds of complicated formulas on them. He was always bad at math. Allen couldn't pay attention long enough, and eventually went back to playing with his toys. When he rubbed his eyes, Dan knew it was time for bed.
Allen took a bath while Dan went down into the basement to find some PJs that would fit his friend's 10-year-old frame. He finally found some that had Spiderman on them and underoos to match. The pictures of Spidey were a little faded, but it was still good. Allen seemed happy to see them and put them on in a hurry. Beaming, he went straight to his room and got into bed. "Read me a story?" Allen asked Dan.
Dan stopped. "Do what? A story? Are you serious? You're acting like you really are 10!"
"I am 10 aren't I? You can tell just by looking at me." Allen said, a little confused.
"No! You're 23, remember? You got zapped by that gun thingy and it turned you into a little boy." Dan explained.
Allen seemed to remember something about a gun and being taller before, but it was as if it were a dream. He decided to humor Dan. "Oh yeah. That's right. I was uhh.. just testin' ya."
"Okay, just make sure you don't scare me like that again. Good night." Dan shut the door.
"Good night." Allen replied. He was a little scared of the dark, but he remembered that he had to be a big boy.
Dan got into one of the other beds in the house and eventually fell asleep. The next morning, he awoke to the sounds of cartoons on TV. "Allen! What are you doing up so early?!"
"Shhh! Cartoons!" was Allen's only response.
Dan just stared for a minute. He felt like he should be concerned, but he couldn't quite remember why. "Alright then kiddo. Just keep it down would ya?" Dan tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. He got up and made some breakfast. Cereal and juice. After the cartoons were over, Allen went down into the basement again. He came back up with some more toys. He put on a plastic space helmet and had a "laser gun" in one hand. There was something about the gun the got Dan's attention. What was it about that gun?
"Prepare to die you aliens! Pow! Zap! Boom!" Allen shot at imaginary targets all around the room. The gun was making too much noise for Dan's taste.
"Allen, please keep it down okay?" Dan asked calmly. Just then, Allen jumped in front of where Dan was sitting and pointed the gun right at him.
"It's the evil alien master! I must destroy him!" With that, Allen fired. Dan's attention was focused on the gun's light and sound. He suddenly remembered everything that had happened, but it was too late. All too soon, he began to shrink. His feet slowly rose up out of his bedroom slippers and pulled in under his robe. His hands became chubbier and retreated into the cavernous sleeves. His five-o-clock shadow was now gone and even the last trace of "peach fuzz" was starting to disappear. His hair became shorter and his head retreated into his robe. As soon as his eyes were no longer in contact with the gun's light, he stopped shrinking. Allen stopped firing and looked at the 8 year old in front of him. "Cool!" he finally exclaimed.
"Cool?!" little Danny said in a small voice. "This isn't cool! Look at me!" Dan stood up, trying to hold his robe on. He now had to look up at Allen. "I'm even smaller than you now! Why did you do that?!"
Allen just kind of smiled. "I don't know. I was just playin'. I didn't know it would shrink you. Honest! At least now I have someone I can play with! Wanna play GI Joes?" Allen asked.
"What?! Are you crazy?! We've got to figure a way out of this mess!" Though playing with GI Joes was awful tempting. "Let me have that gun!" Dan took the gun from Allen and put it on a nearby table. "Don't touch it again, okay?" Allen nodded. Dan looked around the room. Everything was so big. It was almost terrifying. He realized the hopelessness of his situation. He couldn't figure out the plans as an adult, how would he be able to as a little kid? Even worse, he and Allen both were now to little to even drive. Dan's emotions got the better of him and he began to cry.
Just then, the boys heard a car pull up. Dan padded over to the window and looked out. It was Alice! What was she going to say about all this?! He had no choice. After all, at least she could drive. Dan opened the door and blushed.
To be continued...