Part One. Lots of work to do…
by Brian Newlin
Nancy did not like her new house. It was boring and stupid and smelled weird. Nobody had lived there for about a year before her parents had bought it, and it had been dusty and dark when she first walked in. Nancy did not like her new town. It was small and dumb and didn’t even have an amusement park. Nancy did not like her new school. The kids were mean and stuck up and smelled weird too.
Nancy didn’t know why her family had to move here, to the boring, stupid, smelly house when her old house in her old town and her old friends were just fine. Her mom had explained that they had to move for their job, but Nancy didn’t care. Her little brother Simon said he liked the new house because there was a big yard with a tree and a swing. Nancy thought her little brother was stupid too.
On her first day at the new school, Nancy tried to make new friends. She had worn her favorite yellow pants, the ones her best friend Sarah back home had said looked like lemonade. She did like her parents had shown her, stood up in class, smiled, and said, “Hi. My name is Nancy and I just moved here from San Francisco, and I…” Before she could finish, the boy behind her started laughing and yelled, “Look at her pants!”
Nancy looked down at her pants, confused. Then she saw it. She remembered her little brother had given her a big big goodbye that morning, but he must have still had peanut butter on his hands because there, right on her butt, was a giant peanut butter brown handprint. And everyone had seen it.
“PANTSY NANCY!” the boy laughed, and everyone started laughing too. Nancy felt her face go hot. She felt like she was going to throw up. Nancy quickly sat down, but it was too late. “PANTSY NANCY! PANTSY NANCY!” they all laughed until the teacher made everyone settle down and do math problems. Nancy stayed in her seat until everyone else had left, wrapped her jacket around her waist, and got on the bus to go home. Nobody would let her sit next to them, so she sat in the only empty seat, right up front, next to the little old man driving the bus. Nancy could hear the kids behind her whispering, “Fancy Pantsy Nancy.” and “Her pants look like pee with poop on it.”
Nancy didn’t want to cry. She could feel her face get hot again, and she squeezed her eyes shut hard, so hard that it almost hurt, anything to keep the tears from coming out.
“You OK?” she heard the old bus driver ask. She opened her eyes but didn’t look at him and nodded quietly. Nancy just wanted to go home, her real home back in San Francisco. “Rough day, huh.” the bus driver said, slowing down to let some kids off. Nancy stared straight ahead, pretending she didn’t see them giggling at her as they went down the steps.
Nancy’s stop was next. As soon as the bus squeaked to a halt, she grabbed her bag and rushed to the door. “Tomorrow will be better.” the bus driver said as she ran down the steps. Nancy looked at him as the doors closed, wanting to believe him, but as the bus pulled away she could still hear the kids laughing. Nancy pulled her jacket tighter around her waist and walked home, into her weird smelling house, up the stairs, and into her room. She took off her favorite yellow pants with the barely visible peanut butter handprint on them and threw them into the trashcan.
Tomorrow was not better. Or the next day, or the day after that. Nancy heard people whispering and laughing whenever she walked down the hall. She sat alone at lunch, eating her sandwiches and never looking up. Nobody ever picked her to be on their team during recess. Nobody wanted to be her partner in science class. The only person who ever smiled at her was the weird old bus driver, who would drop her off every afternoon and say, “Tomorrow will be better.”
“How’s school going?” her mother asked. This was the first time either of her parents had asked Nancy that question since the move. Yes, they had been really busy with unpacking and getting Simon settled in, and their new jobs. Nancy knew all these things, but it still didn’t make her feel any better. Hadn’t they noticed that she had spent every afternoon locked in her room? Or how sad she looked every morning when she walked out the door? “I hate it.” she mumbled. “Sorry, what did you say?” her mother asked, turning on the tv for Simon. “Nothing.” Nancy replied, and walked out of the house and into the back yard.
This was the first time Nancy had really been in the huge yard behind the house. It was overgrown with tall grass and weeds, and there was a constant buzzing and clicking of bugs that Nancy could hear even from her room with the window closed. Her dad kept saying he was going to get out there and mow, but they’d been in the house for a month now and they didn’t even have a lawnmower yet. Nancy wandered through the scratchy grass, kicking at rocks and sticks until she stood in front of the giant old tree at the far end of the yard. It was gnarled and old and big, so big that almost half of the yard was covered in shade. Nancy looked up and sighed, thinking of how many leaves she would have to rake soon.
Nancy walked around to the back of the tree, happy to discover that it felt like a private spot where nobody inside the house could see her. She sat on the ground and thought about how much she missed her old house and her old school and her old friends. For a minute she thought that maybe, just maybe, she could convince her parents to let her go back and stay at Sarah’s house. She could live in Sarah’s room and go back to her old school, just for the rest of the year. The more Nancy thought about it, the more she realized how that wasn’t really going to happen. Nancy felt that hot sensation behind her eyes again, and she hated it.
She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and leaned against the tree. When she opened her eyes, Nancy saw a large knot in the tree next to her face. It looked a little… weird. As she looked closer, she thought there was a bug, like some sort of shiny black beetle in the middle of the knot. She had always liked bugs, and wondered if they were different kinds here than back in San Francisco. Nancy peered closer, trying to see what sort it was, and reached her finger in to try and get it to move. She poked it, but it didn’t move. It didn’t feel like a bug, it felt like a hard piece of metal. Frowning, Nancy pressed it even harder.
The beetle, which wasn’t a beetle at all, *clicked*. Nancy stepped back, confused. A seam, outlining the size and shape of a small door, appeared in the tree bark. Nancy gasped. She carefully ran her finger around the seam and was surprised to feel cool air slipping out. She put both hands on the door and felt it slide inwards, just a little bit.
“Nancy! Nancy! Where are you? Dinnertime!” her father’s voice floated across the yard. Nancy didn’t want to leave, but she also didn’t want to share her discovery with anyone, not yet. She quickly pressed the button again and the seam vanished. Louder, closer, her father called out, “Nancy?” Without a word, Nancy rushed past him and into the house.
The next day at school was almost too much for Nancy to bear. Between the whispered giggles a she walked down the hall, the books getting knocked out of her arms in the stairwell, and the ugly drawing of “Pantsy Nancy” she found underneath her desk, Nancy felt like she was going to explode by the time the last bell rang. The only consolation was knowing that today was Friday, and she’d have the weekend to herself. Two days away from school, two whole days to stay try and figure out the button and the tree with the impossible door.
“Take care now,” wheezed the old bus driver, grinning. “Whatever,” Nancy mumbled back, “Weirdo.” Nancy was sure the old man hadn’t heard her, but something in his eyes looked a little sadder even though his smile stayed the same. The door closed and the bus rumbled away. Nancy felt a strange hot spark in her chest. It felt good to make someone else feel bad for a change, even though she knew it was wrong. She shook off the feeling and ran inside, past her mother and wailing little brother and into the back yard. The tree stood there, just like before, but it seemed so much larger today. Nancy carefully checked to make sure nobody was looking, then snuck around to the back of the tree. She felt for the beetle shaped button and gave it a push. CLICK. The seam appeared again, and Nancy gave it a little nudge. It swung wide, and she felt that cold breeze again, rustling her hair and the leaves on the ground. Nancy paused only for a moment, then stepped forward into the darkness.
From the little bit of light coming from outside, Nancy could see there was another button on the wall next to her. It was round and plastic looking. Without thinking, Nancy pressed the button. Nothing. She pressed it again. Still nothing. Frustrated, Nancy jabbed the button again, hard. The the door behind her snapped shut. A dim yellow lightbulb high above Nancy’s head blinked on, revealing a ridged metal surface all around her, like the inside of a trashcan.
Her finger found the button on the wall, and she poked at it, hoping the door would just open again and she would run out and never go back into the secret tree room again. The door didn’t open, but something else started to happen. There was a hum, a vibration, and the sound of gears. Then, a slight lurch, and Nancy was horrified to realize that the room was moving down. Nancy went to press the button again to try and stop everything, but it was now too high for her to reach. As she watched in panic, the button, along with the faint lightbulb, faded away quickly into the distance.
“Don’t panic, don’t panic,” Nancy hissed to herself. But she was panicking. She suddenly realized that nobody knew where she was, and she might end up trapped, *inside of a tree*. She actually let out a little laugh, thinking of how ridiculous it would be, how would her parents or the police ever find her? How dumb would that be? Would anyone at school even notice she was gone? Nancy felt a wave of relief wash over her when the platform lurched to a stop. There was no way to tell how far down she had gone, but the air felt much cooler, and the lightbulb above her was just a tiny pinprick high above her, like a distant star.
Then, nothing happened. Was this all there was? As cool as an elevator inside a tree was, Nancy hoped there would be a bit more. As if on cue, there was a faint DING, a hiss, and a door slid open in front of her. Nancy couldn’t make out what was in the room on the other side, but there were some lights, like Christmas lights, blinking on and off. That was unexpected. What was even more unexpected was when a voice, cold and metallic, announced “Welcome back, Doctor Doomsday.”
Nancy froze. Was there somebody else down here? Another overhead lightbulb flickered on inside the room, revealing a large metal control panel covered in dials and small blinking lights. Old televisions, both small and large, covered the wall in front of the desk. There was another door on the left wall, but it was closed and didn’t have a handle. Nancy’s eyes quickly scanned the room, but found no hint of anyone in the room. There was a large musty smelling leather office chair in front of the panel, but it looked like nobody had sat in it for a long time.
“Hello? Who’s there?” Nancy called out. “Welcome back, Doctor Doomsday,” the cool metallic voice repeated. “Where are you?” Nancy asked, “Actually, where am I, for that matter..?”
One of the little old televisions on the desk came to life, a small white dot that wavered for a moment, then expanded into a screen of static. The static resolved into a cartoon picture of a woman’s eye. “You are in the Lair, Doctor Doomsday,” the voice replied. Nancy could now tell that the voice was coming from a small wood speaker on the desk.
“The what?” Nancy asked, confused.
“The Lair, Doctor Doomsday. Your secret hidden laboratory and home base.”
“Ooookay. And who are you? Are you watching me from somewhere? Where’s the camera? And what is this place doing under my tree? And-” Nancy babbled
“Error. Error. Multiple queries. Attempting to process. You are speaking to the Brain. I have no visual capabilities. There is no camera installed in the control room. The Lair was constructed under the tree as per your blueprints. Welcome back, Doctor Doomsday, you have been away far too long.”
Nancy stepped forward into the room and examined the desk, the walls, and the ceiling. She couldn’t find anything that looked like a camera, and she began to realize that this whole thing was way too elaborate to be some sort of practical joke. “Ok. Ok. First thing, I’m not Doctor whatever. I’m Nancy. You said your name is what, Brain? Where are you?”
The voice was silent for a moment and Nancy was worried that she was alone again. Then, “Does not compute. Only Doctor Doomsday has access to the Lair. Conversely, you are Doctor Doomsday. Correct. I am the Brain. I am located within the Lair. You created me when you constructed the Lair. Shall I activate all systems?”
“Will that turn on the elevator?” Nancy cried, “Yes, do it, I want to go home!”
“Affirmative. Activating all systems.” Brain chirped merrily. More monitors blinked on around Nancy, and a deep hum rumbled up through the floor, through her feet, all the way up into her hair.
Nancy was about to turn and press the elevator button when something curious caught her eye. There, on the monitor, was an image of Nancy’s own back yard. On another one, her bus stop. And her school recess yard. More and more places flickered on and off, streets around tow- the grocery store, the library, the Main Street downtown intersection. Not just still pictures, these were live cameras showing people walking around, driving cars, eating at the diner. Some of the screens remained blank or had static, wavy images that were impossible to make out.
“What… what is this? How are you doing this?” Nancy whispered, confused. “The camera system is 62 percent functional, Doctor Doomsday. Repairs are needed at multiple locations. Shall I dispatch repair bots?” Brain replied. Nancy was too busy looking at all the televisions to bother answering. People were just going on with their day, totally unaware that they were being watched. It was kind of creepy, but Nancy felt a rush of excitement for the first time since the move.
“All systems activated, Doctor Doomsday.” said the Brain. There was a little click and the door next to Nancy slid open. A whoosh of stale air made Nancy cough, and she thought it smelled like her Grandma’s attic. Whoever Doctor Doomsday really was, he hadn’t been in here for a long time. Through the open door, Nancy could see a short hallway curving around into the distance, lined with even more closed metal doors with signs on them.
“Okay. Umm. Brain?” Nancy called out nervously.
“Yes, Doctor Doomsday?” Brain replied, “How may I assist you?”
“How big is this place?” Nancy asked.
“The Lair is exactly 4027 square feet, containing thirteen rooms of various purpose. Just as you constructed.” said Brain.
“This is all under my house??”
Nancy started to walk through the open door and into the hallway. She could see the first door closest to her was labeled “LABORATORY”. Just as she was about to reach out and open the door, she heard a voice, strangely tinny, call her name.
It was her mother’s voice, coming from one of the televisions on the desk. Nancy rushed back into the control room and looked at the screen. Her mother was wandering around the back yard, looking for her!
“Oh no. No no no. She’s going to freak out if I don’t get back,” Nancy gasped “What am I going to do?”
Brain was silent. Nancy watched nervously as her mother walked around the tree, positive that at any moment she would somehow find the secret door. She exhaled with relief when her mother walked back through the yard and into the house.
“I’ve got to get out of here. Brain. I, err, I command you to let me out of here!” Nancy shouted.
Behind her, Nancy heard a pleasant “ding!” and the elevator door slid open. Nancy bolted into the elevator and pressed the button. The door closed and the elevator rose smoothly upwards.
“Farewell, Doctor Doomsday. See you soon.” Brain’s voice spoke from a hidden speaker in the elevator ceiling. The door opened, and Nancy was back in her yard, jogging towards the house as the tree sealed itself up behind her.