Where Would You Be?
Milo had read about magic before. He knew that kids in stories sometimes found magic in secret drawers or hidden away in attics, and he had always hoped that if he were to find magic, it would appear in the form of a mysterious silver coin or a doorway to an enchanted world. But when magic came to Milo Speck, it came in the form of a sock.
“Figures,” said Milo.
Grandmother, who believed that chores built character and kept young boys like Milo out of trouble, had left him a laundry basket full of socks to sort and match in pairs. It was a dreary task, particularly when it came to matching up his father’s socks, which were all navy blue with white spots, it seemed—though Grandmother insisted that some of the spots were actually dots and that both the spots and the dots were not all white, but light blue or pale pink or ivory or gray or beige, and should Milo become careless and match a blue-spot sock with a pink-dot sock, his father might not notice the error and might wear the mismatched pair to his job at Tuckerman Fencing and Mr. Tuckerman’s assistant—who noticed everything—would surely think his father a dolt and have him sacked, and then where would they be?
Milo wished he knew. He hoped they would be someplace marvelous, like in the books he and his father had read together. A sultan’s tent, maybe. Or in the Days of Yore, with knights and giants and people eating whole turkey legs for breakfast. He hoped they would not still be in Downriver, where turkey was just for Thanksgiving and the only knights were plastic ones you got with purchase at Guinevere’s Pizza and Subs.
If he were a real knight, Milo thought, then his dad would probably be a knight too. The two of them would be heroes, riding black steeds through dark forests together, fighting ogres, and swearing oaths. His dad would not have to worry about Mr. Tuckerman’s assistant, or go on business trips like he had this week, and Grandmother—who wasn’t even his real grandmother, but a live-in babysitting lady Tuckerman Fencing provided and paid for—could go back to wherever it was she came from and Milo would never again have to tell a spot from a dot.
This is what he was thinking when he reached into the laundry basket and pulled out a sock that was neither spotted nor dotted. Nor was it navy blue. It was, in fact, yellow and as large as the Christmas stockings that Milo had seen decorating the Uptown Shopping Center. It was much larger than his father’s foot. Larger, even, than Grandmother’s.
But it must be Grandmother’s, Milo thought, and there must be a second one. He flipped the contents of the basket onto the carpet and sifted through the dots and spots. There was no other yellow sock.
Maybe it’s still in the dryer, he thought, and down he went into the damp of the basement, where the washer and dryer sat on a tall wooden platform he and his father had built to keep the appliances from shorting out when the basement flooded, which it did most every time it rained.
Milo opened the dryer door and reached into the dark of the machine. He felt nothing, not even the back of the dryer. He was too short.
He was always too short and, in the words of Grandmother, scrawny.
To her this was a blessing, for although Milo was far too old for the styles offered in the Barely Boys section at the department store, he was still small enough to fit the largest sizes offered there. Few boys beyond kindergarten age would be caught dead in puppy dog pants or yellow duckling sweatshirts, of course, and the largest of the Barely Boys clothes tended to linger on the racks and then go on sale at a significant discount. That is when Grandmother—who loved a bargain—bought them and brought them home to Milo. He saved the most humiliating outfits for weekends and snow days and other times when none of his classmates would see him. Since it was the first day of Thanksgiving break, Milo was wearing one such item now, the aforementioned yellow duckling sweatshirt. The ducky sat smack in the middle of his chest. It had googly eyes and said quank if you pressed it.
Not even quack, thought Milo. Quank.
He stood on his toes and reached farther into the dryer, but again felt nothing.
An inch of platform stuck out from under the machine. Milo got a toehold there, gripped the dryer opening, and pulled himself up. Again he reached in and again he felt nothing. He tucked his head inside, leaning his chest against the opening to gain a few inches.
Quank, complained the ducky.
Milo thought he heard a faint ripping sound and checked the seat of his corduroys. If he had split them, Grandmother would be livid. He found no tear, but his relief was fleeting, for he knew she’d be just as angry if he didn’t locate the missing yellow sock. He waved his hand around inside the dryer. Nothing. No, wait—something. Something woolly and damp. The missing sock, of course. What else could it be? Milo tugged at the sock.
And the sock tugged back.
“Ack!” yelled Milo. He let go of the sock and tried to heave himself out of the dryer, but the sock, or whatever it was, was too quick. It clamped on to his hand and pulled him all the way in.
The dryer door slammed shut behind him.
There’s Your Problem
For a very long while, Milo felt as if he were being dragged downward, and then for a long time after, he had the sensation of being pulled up and then, finally, out.
“There’s your problem, ma’am. Ya got a boy wedged in here.”
“A boy? Heavens! How did that get in there?”
“Can’t say, ma’am. Used to be, dryers just got jammed with all them tiny socks coming from who-knows-where, but with these SuperDry 200s? When they ain’t exploding, we’re finding boys in ’em. Don’t worry, this one’s out now.”
The boy in question was, of course, Milo, who was at that moment dangling by his wrist, which was pinched between the thumb and forefinger of a very large, very hairy, very sour-smelling sort of someone. What was going on? Had he shrunk in the dryer? Grandmother had told him such things happened to sweaters and fine linens, but he had not considered the possibility that people might shrink as well.
“You didn’t happen to find a baby bootie in there too, did you? A yellow one?”
“Just this boy,” said the sour fellow, shaking Milo as if he were a tiny bell. Milo did not ring, but he did consider throwing up. “You want I should dispose of him?”
Dispose of him?
“Drop him in there, won’t you? I’m sure my husband will want him for tea.”
A sweaty hand closed around Milo, blocking his view and making it even more difficult to manage the short panicky breaths he now realized he had been taking.
“He ain’t that big what’ll satisfy.”&nbs...