S01 STICKY PLACES*

Jam Rodger was in his secret den in the park, worrying about his English homework, when a boy who looked like him – exactly like him – shoved something in his hands, and ran away.  He realised – the thing might give him nn easy way of doing his homework.

Using it, he was marooned on the Coral Island, faced danger with Tom Sawyer, and was trapped in Fagin’s den with Oliver Twsit.

No.  It wasn’t quite so easy.

1

I sat at my desk, and stared at the sheet of paper. It wasn’t blank. Not quite. At the top, I’d written a title, Inside Story. That, I thought, was neat. My English homework was to write about a visit to my favourite story.

Underneath was one sentence. “I sat at my desk, and stared at the sheet of paper.” What story should I choose? I might go to Trouble on Wotzit 4 – but everybody would do that. They’d talk to Tony and Bea. Maybe see the headquarters of the Galactic Federation. No. That was too obvious. I wanted to go to a different story, one that nobody else would choose. But – what story?

I threw down my pen, and checked my watch. 4.27. I had time to go out. Maybe the fresh air would give me fresh ideas. I put on my anorak, and headed down to the park. I have a secret den there – a hollow in the bushes.

I stood near the place, and took my usual look round, to make sure nobody was watching. I was about to creep in, when rustling came from inside. A boy burst out. I glimpsed two shadows behind – one tall and thin, the other shorter and broader – but I was mainly gaping at the boy. Because he looked like me. Exactly like me. Face, gear, everything.

2

While I was standing with my mouth open, he pushed something into my hands, and ran on. As I took it, my finger moved something at one end of it.

3

Next moment, I was sitting at my desk, staring at the sheet of paper. It still had the heading, Inside Story, and the single sentence underneath.

But – what happened? Just now, in the park, a boy – a boy who looked like me – had given me something, and run away. Now I was back at my desk. Was I dreaming? No: I was sure I was awake – and the thing was in my hand.

It was a dark grey box, like a small e-book reader. At the top of the screen was the name ‘Incorporator’, in curly writing. In the bottom end were two buttons, labelled Select and Go.

The screen showed:
Title: Inside Story
Author: Jam Rodger
Edition: 2012
Page: 1

I sat there for a while, staring at the thing. I looked at the first sentence – the only sentence – of my Inside Story. “I sat at my desk, and stared at the sheet of paper.” Then I moved to the bed. I put my finger on Go. Should I? I had to find out. I took a deep breath, and pressed Go.

4

No flash. No bang. No nothing. But I was back at my desk, staring at that same sheet of paper, with the same title and the same sentence.

Did this… this incorporator do what I thought it did? That was mind-boggling. It was certainly boggling my mind. How could I find out?

I took a new sheet of paper. At the top, I put a title, In the Park. Under that, I wrote, “I lay on the soft leaves in my secret den in the park.”

Then I studied the incorporator. How could I set it? The Select button? I held my finger over it.

“James!”

Mum. Calling me. I checked my watch. 5.38. Teatime. I shoved the papers and the incorporator in a drawer, and ran down.

We were halfway through tea when Mum asked, “James, are you feeling all right?”

I jerked my mind back to the table. “Yeah, Mum. Fine.”

“Are you sure? I don’t often have to call you down for tea. It’s your favourite – chicken and chips. But you’re sitting there, eating it like a zombie.”

“I’m sorry, Mum. I am enjoying it.” That was a lie. I hadn’t noticed what I was eating. “I… I was thinking about my homework.”

“Thinking about your homework,” said Dad. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

“Yeah.” I grinned to show I’d noticed he was being funny, and asked, “What are you doing tonight?”

“It’s Wednesday. My bowling night.”

Mum would be watching the telly. That meant I’d have peace to do a bit of experimenting with the incorporator.

I washed up faster than usual, and escaped to my room. My watch showed 6.25. During tea, I’d decided to check the timing. I took the incorporator into the room next door – the bathroom. I bolted the door, and sat on the edge of the bath, frowning at the screen:
Title: Inside Story
Author: Jam Rodger
Edition: 2012
Page: 1
I took a deep breath, and pushed Go.

5

I was at my desk again. My watch showed 6.27: the incorporator didn’t change the time. The screen still showed Inside Story, Page 1.

How could I reset it? I pressed the Select button, making a kind-of keyboard appear at the bottom of the screen. The letters were in alphabetical order, with the numbers underneath. Along the bottom was a separate row of boxes. The left-hand one was labelled Set. I touched that. The Inside Story display vanished, and a little box appeared opposite Title. As I touched I and N, they appeared there.

“James, how long are you going to be in there?” Dad called from the landing outside.

I leaned out. Dad was frowning at the bathroom door. He shifted the frown to me. “I thought I heard you go into the bathroom.”

“I did, but I came out again.”

“Hmm. I didn’t hear you.” He turned the handle, and pushed the door. It didn’t move. He pushed harder. It still didn’t move. “What’s the matter with this door?”

“It… it must be jammed,” I said.

“I guessed that.” He braced himself to lean against the door. It creaked, but still didn’t open.

Mum came up the stairs as he shoulder-charged the door. At the second try, it made a cracking noise, and, at the third, it made a louder cracking noise, and crashed back.

Dad staggered, then checked the doorpost. “The bolt was caught.” He gave me a scowl.

“It worked all right when I used it.”

Mum said, “I’ll make a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.” She went downstairs while Dad went into the bathroom, muttering, and I retreated to my room, deciding I’d have to be careful when I used the incorporator.

I completed setting it. Pressing the Select button made the keyboard vanish. Then I sat at my desk, and looked at the screen:
Title: In the Park
Author: Jam Rodger
Edition: 2012
Page: 1

I brought out the bit of paper, and looked at it. At the Title, In the Park, and the sentence under it: “I lay on the soft leaves in my secret den in the park.” I held the incorporator tight in my left hand. I gathered my courage, and hit Go.

6

Next moment, I was lying on my back in my den in the park.

I sat up. My anorak was on, and the incorporator was still in my left hand. After a bit of experimenting, I found:
Title: Inside Story
Author: Jam Rodger
Edition: 2012
Page: 1
I pressed the Select button. The keyboard vanished. Then I pressed Go.

7

I was back at my desk with the incorporator in my hand, and my anorak on the bed.

Now, I knew how the incorporator worked. And I knew what I wanted to do. I crawled under the bed. Dirty football boots. Last year’s jotters. My old green shirt. Granddad’s box!

About a year ago, I was laid up in bed for nearly three weeks. A footy injury. My granddad brought a box of ancient books. He said they were his favourites when he was my age. I politely said, “Thank you,” and, as soon as he left, I dumped them under the bed. But I ran out of things to do, and I remembered Granddad’s books. Without much hope, I hauled them out. And I did enjoy some of them, in a way.

The Coral Island, for instance. It was stodgy, but the idea was sky-high. Three boys, shipwrecked and cast ashore on a desert island. Later, it got duller when cannibals and pirates arrived, but I’d read the first bit, where they explored the island, three times. I’d wished I could be there. Now I had the chance, using the incorporator.

And it would be perfect for my English homework. My English teacher, Miss Binks, better known as Binky (when she’s not listening), likes stodgy old books. She’d give me good marks for visiting The Coral Island.

It didn’t take long to enter The Coral Island opposite Title, and R M Ballantyne opposite Author. The incorporator gave me a choice of editions, and one of them, 1953, matched Granddad’s book, so I used that.

I didn’t want to go to the beginning, because that’s a long, boring bit about Ralph at home. The next bit describes the storm and the shipwreck. I certainly didn’t want to appear in the middle of that. I hoped to see the island, and maybe speak to the boys.

I wanted to visit the island soon after they landed on it. Then, if we met, I could tell them I’d been cast ashore by the same storm. I flicked through the book until I found it. Page 49. I set it.

Then I sat, looking at the screen.
Title: The Coral Island
Author: R M Ballantyne
Edition: 1953
Page: 49
I put my finger on Go. Did I want to do this? Did I really want to do this? Remembering The Coral Island, I couldn’t resist it. I pushed Go.

8

In an instant, I was standing among palm trees at the top of a beach of white sand that sloped gently to a pale, blue-green sea.

I was wearing a mustard-coloured, long-sleeved shirt, rough canvas trousers and heavy black shoes. My watch was gone, but the incorporator was still in my left hand.

Everything was brilliant – except a nervous feeling in my guts. Could I get home safely? I set the incorporator for Inside Story, and hit Go.

9

I was at my desk, in my own clothes. I brought up the Coral Island display again. With a thrill of excitement, I hit Go.

10

I was in the trees above the beach on the Coral Island, wearing my boy sailor’s gear.

My first job was to set the incorporator for Inside Story, in case I wanted to leave this place fast. I put it carefully in my pocket. Then I looked around. I had to remember everything, to put in Binky’s story.

The early-morning sun was low in the sky to my right. The soft white sand sloped gently into that beautiful, blue-green sea. That was the boys’ ‘lagoon’. Beyond it, a row of bumps was the coral reef that ringed the island. At some places, where it was higher, a few coconut palms stood, with tall trunks and spreading tops, silhouetted against the blue sky. From time to time, white clouds of spray soared up, as the Pacific surf broke over the reef. Its distant booming sounded above the swish of the small waves on the beach.

In the sunlight, the trees looked bright green, dotted with flowers of all colours. Parrots – green streaked with red and yellow – flew around, and shrieked in the branches, peering down at me with bright eyes. A warm breeze brought the sharp smell of the sea, mixed with a spicy smell from the forest.

Now I had to find the boys. I might hide, and watch them for a while. Then, if it seemed safe, I might.…

“Got you!” Somebody grabbed me from behind.