Cathie Pelletier The Summer Experiment

ISBN 13: 9781402285783

The Summer Experiment

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9781402285783: The Summer Experiment
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Are There Aliens in Allagash?

Roberta is convinced she and her best friend Marilee can win the State Science Fair if only they can find an amazing project to showcase. And they've got the whole summer to work on it. But in order to win they'll need to defeat their chief competitor, "The Four Hs of the Apocalypse": Henry Horton Harris Helmsby

When mysterious lights begin to appear over her hometown, Roberta has a brilliant idea: finding aliens in Allagash and proving they exist would win her first place for sure. Four Hs could never top that...or could he?

"Richly drawn characters, a poignant family drama and girls who love science make this a winner" ― The Buffalo News

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About the Author:

Cathie Pelletier was born and raised on the banks of the St. John River, at the end of the road in Northern Maine. She is the author of 11 other novels, including The Funeral Makers (NYTBR Notable Book), The Weight of Winter (winner of the New England Book Award) and Running the Bulls (winner of the Paterson Prize for Fiction). As K. C. McKinnon, she has written two novels, both of which became television films. After years of living in Nashville, Tennessee Toronto, Canada and Eastman, Quebec, she has returned to Allagash, Maine and the family homestead where she was born. She is at work on a new novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

Strange Lights

It was at Grandpa Carter's birthday party that we first saw the strange lights in the sky. Everyone but me, that is. Roberta Angela McKinnon. That's because I was in the kitchen getting a jar of mustard and my family was in the backyard. I don't like missing anything. Generally, I'm known to be at the heart of the action. Sometimes, I even cause it. But when I went back outside, everyone was staring up at the sky, mouths open, like a nest of baby birds waiting to be fed. I looked up and didn't see anything but stars.

"Holy cow!" said Uncle Horace.

"Wow!" Johnny said. "You missed it, Roberta!"

"What was it?" I asked. I handed the mustard to Grandpa so he could put it on his hot dog. Grandpa won't eat pasta. He says it's just not American. So Mom always cooks him a hot dog when we have Italian spaghetti or Chinese food.

"A weird light," Johnny said. "It moved really fast." Johnny is my big brother, and he is usually of sound mind. Usually. But now that he likes Miranda Casey, I'm doubtful.

"What did it look like?"

"It must have been some kind of jet," my dad said.

"I bet it's something new that the military is testing," said Uncle Horace. "Something secret."

"What color was it?" I asked.

"Maybe a weather balloon," said my mother. She was holding Tina, my baby sister, and looking at the mountain across the river. Tina is only four years old. I'm the middle kid, two years younger than Johnny, who is thirteen.

"Could it have been the International Space Station?" asked Aunt Betty.

"The space station doesn't move that fast," Uncle Horace said.

"How big was it?" I'd only been in the kitchen a minute. Surely they hadn't already forgotten that I existed.

"The Air Force is probably testing a new weapon," said Grandpa. He blames everything on Loring Air Force Base, even heavy snowfalls and summer lightning storms. And yet, the base has been closed for years.

"Will someone describe it to me, please?" I felt invisible.

"Maybe it was a helicopter from the forestry department," said Grandma. When Grandma has even one glass of wine, she can see all kinds of things. But everyone who was in the backyard had seen the light. Everyone who was in the kitchen hadn't.

"WHAT DID IT LOOK LIKE?"

They all stared at me like I was an alien or something. Mom and Dad say I tend to be dramatic. But it's not easy being the middle child. And then, it's not like excitement happens every day around here. Mostly, when school is out for the summer, I'm beyond bored. And God put me in the most perfect place for boredom to occur. I was born and raised in Allagash, Maine, right on the Canadian border. The middle kid in the middle of a wilderness. It's the land of trees and lakes at the very end of the road. No ocean. No department stores. No fancy restaurants. No cell phone reception. Even Stephen King lives way down in Bangor, five hours south. Allagash is probably too scary for Mr. King.

But for me, it's mostly boring. Now and then, tourists who come here to take the Allagash River trip claim to see lights in the sky. Since they're city people, they probably see moonlight bouncing off the horns of a moose and then panic. Rumors start that way. And we do have moose here. Plenty of them. Sometimes, I wake to see one swimming in the river behind my house or eating lettuce in my mom's garden. But it's a fact that tourists imagine all sorts of things once they get a few miles from an airport or a mall. Allagash tourists are a lot tougher than the city tourists who gather on the ocean down in southern Maine to eat lobster and sip wine. But they're still tourists. They come down the Allagash River all summer long in brightly colored canoes or kayaks. The blackflies bite them and the mosquitoes feed off them. But they seem to enjoy themselves, especially once they get back to their laptops.

So if any excitement happens, I'd like to be part of it.

"It was a big, white ball," said Dad. I finally got an answer. "And it had flashing lights on it."

"Where did it go?"

Johnny pointed across the river in the direction of Quebec, Canada.

"I hope those extraterrestrials got passports," said Uncle Horace, and grinned. Not many locals were happy when the law changed and now everyone needs a passport to go to Canada. Even if it's to have supper at the Maple Leaf Restaurant, which is just across the international bridge.

"I still think it was a weather balloon," Mom said. She was still holding my sister, her sweater wrapped around Tina's chubby little arms.

We all watched as Grandma lit the one huge candle in the middle of Grandpa's cake. On cue from Mom, we broke into a pretty bad version of "Happy Birthday to You." Grandma can hit notes so high that only dogs can hear them. This is why we own a cat.

"I can't believe that in four years I'll be seventy," said Grandpa when we finished.

"Good thing you didn't light sixty-six candles, Bob," my dad teased. "They'd probably see the glare all the way down in Bangor and think it's UFOs." Grandpa popped him a fake punch on his arm. He says my dad is his favorite son-in-law, but then, Dad is his only son-in-law.

"Roberta, would you go get Grandpa's present?" my mom asked. "It's in my bedroom."

Did I mention that the middle child is also the family slave? Roberta, get this. Roberta get that. Tina's too little and Johnny is too grown-up and self-important to fetch mustard and birthday presents. Sometimes, I wish aliens would take me. I really do. At least I'd be free.

I found the birthday present sitting on the end of my mother's bed. I slipped a finger in under the ribbon and lifted it. I let the screen door slam behind me as I stepped outside. I could see my family still gathered around the outdoor fireplace, all orange in the glow. Grandpa was telling them something funny, probably one of his stories about working at Loring Air Force Base before they closed it.

I started down the path, which is lined with my mom's lilac bushes. It's my least favorite place in the yard. At night, the bushes are spooky. They block the rays of porch light and cast shadows on the path. And that's when I did something very stupid. I remembered the Allagash Abductions. Not all tourists who come here to take the river trip have a great time. One summer night in 1976, four men from Vermont put up their tents in a campground and then made a huge bonfire on the shore. They wanted it to burn for hours since it gets darker than dark in the woods at night. The four of them got in a canoe and paddled out into the lake to fish. That's when they saw a round, white ball in the sky. One of the guys signaled it with his flashlight. When it started coming toward the canoe, they paddled like heck. Next thing they know, they're onshore again and the big fire they had just made was almost out. Years later, they were hypnotized by an expert in UFOs. Sure enough, they'd been taken aboard a spaceship and examined by aliens, creatures with big heads and large black eyes. The man who hypnotized them wrote a book called The Allagash Abductions. So that's our claim to fame here in town. But don't take my word for this. Go ahead and google it. Go to YouTube.com and make up your own mind.

So there I was, standing in the shadows of Mom's lilac bushes right after my family had also seen a strange light in the sky. And now the bushes were moving in the wind like living things. Bushes, for crying out loud, Roberta. Lilac bushes! Get a grip. And that's when I saw it. It stepped out in front of me and stood there. The large, round head, the big, black eyes. I felt the birthday gift drop to the ground at my feet. My heart was beating so loudly that I could hear it. I tried to scream but nothing came out. "Help me, Mom! Save me, Dad!" Those words stayed in my mouth. And then the head, with those awful eyes, moved out of the shadows and right up to me. A round, white head with huge black eyes...

"Mom! Make Johnny stop scaring me!" Those words came out easily enough. And they got my mom's attention.

"Jonathan McKinnon, leave your sister alone and I mean this!" She always means it, but he never listens. Ever since he went to a movie with Miranda Casey, he thinks he's all that and a bag of chips. She may be the prettiest girl in school, but how smart can you be if you go to the movies with my brother?

"You are such a girl," Johnny whispered, laughing his mean laugh. Then he bounced the soccer ball he'd been holding in front of his face. Huge white head with big, black eyes? A soccer ball! "Good thing a sweater can't break or you'd be using your allowance to buy Grandpa a new gift."

I bent down and patted the ground near the lilac bushes, looking for the present. It had fallen on its side, but it seemed okay. And that's when it happened a second time.

"There it is again!" I heard my father say. "Now there are three of them!"

"Awesome!" said Johnny.

By the time I stood up, holding the present against my chest, it was over. Apparently the ball of light had zoomed back and brought a couple of friends. Or so I heard later from Mom. Then the lights disappeared over the mountain.

"Did anybody else hear a whirring sound?" Grandma wondered.

It took about thirty seconds for everyone to announce that they too had heard sounds, which varied somewhat. Humming. Buzzing. Droning. Whining. Purring. You name it and they'd heard it. Everyone but me.

I stood there staring up into the night sky. I could hear the fire snapping in the fireplace. I could hear frogs croaking down at Frog Pond in the meadow. I could hear June bugs hitting against the screen door, trying to get inside. I could hear Mr. Finley's dog barking from his doghouse a quarter mile down the road. I could hear the river lapping at rocks along the shore. But nothing whirred, hummed, buzzed, droned, whined, or purred. All I could see up in that enormous sky were thousands of softly twinkling stars. I could see the Milky Way streaking white across the heavens. And the crescent of moon, a fingernail above the mountain. I'd missed the excitement again.

That's when I felt something crawling, inching its slimy way along the back of my neck. I screamed as I whacked it away. It was a cold string of spaghetti held in the hand of my big brother.

"You are such a girl," he whispered. I didn't even bother to report this one to my mother. What good would it do? I was stuck until he got old enough to move out of the house. Before I went back to the picnic table for a big piece of birthday cake, which I most certainly deserved, I looked up into that heaven of stars.

"Take him, please," I whispered. "Abduct my brother. And don't ever bring him back."

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