The prompt over at Today’s Author this week is “You have ten seconds…” and my submission, “Stanley Takes a Trip” is an ode to another of my favorite fellows, Mr. Rodman Edward (“Rod”) Serling.
By his third birthday, Mrs. Muntz had decided something would have to be done with little Stanley; it wasn’t until this most recent birthday, Stanley’s fifth, that Mr. Muntz agreed without the slightest objection. Folks were fond of saying that Stanley was just a little different; if folks were on the receiving end of Stanley, they were fond of saying other things. It was certain that something was different about Stanley. He had no friends and both elder Muntz’s did their best to avoid him. Little Stanley could make birds fall out of trees, caused cars to stop running, and manipulated people like marionettes. Mrs. Muntz thought about these things in the deepest parts of her mind and tried to keep the parts Stanley looked into as clear as a lake; she peered down at him as he walked stickily beside her, lapping the blue stripe of the giant sucker she’d bought at the Five and Dime. Mr. Muntz had begged off the trip, citing a slight headache and a pile of mandatory paperwork. In fact, he still loved the boy and figured his sentimental side would flummox the plan.
Said plan had been initiated by Mrs. Muntz; she loved mystery and suspense and the other day had happened upon an interesting advertisement in the paper between the soap opera recap and her favorite word-search puzzle:
Need help with an unusual problem? We have unusual answers! Call Sycamore-7 today!
Stanley never paid much attention to Mrs. Muntz when she went to the beauty parlor; at five years of age, he knew nothing of women’s beauty regiments other than a vague realization that his mother took a whole day every couple of weeks to go somewhere besides the church or the corner grocery. Mrs. Muntz got her usual permanent that morning, but while there used the phone in the back of the parlor to call about her unusual problem. This trip with Stanley would lead her to the solution.
As instructed, Mrs. Muntz walked Stanley to the swap meet; it was one of the few places she could take him and nothing strange happened to anything or anyone because he loved the swap meet. It was probably the only place, Mrs. Muntz thought, that Stanley was truly happy. “Yes, Mother; the swap meet makes me happy,” Stanley slobbered over the edge of his giant sucker, his voice reminding Mrs. Muntz why they were there. As he crunched off a piece of the candy he asked, “Where are we going in here?”
Mrs. Muntz was prepared, having memorized her answer. “Well, Stanley dear,” she always began her answers to his questions with a loving sentiment, “there is a brand new ride at the back. I heard at the beauty parlor that it opens today and I know how you love trying the new rides right when they open.”
“Oh, yes, Mother!” Stanley could barely contain his excitement. Mrs. Muntz guided him toward the back and had she not been concentrating on being happy about Stanley’s happiness, she might have taken the liberty to be joyful just for herself. As they rounded the corner, she felt Stanley’s wet little fingers tugging at her sleeve. “Golly, Mother; it’s keen!” Ahead of them in the dark was what looked like a flying saucer. A misshapen man in a moth-eaten tuxedo stood at the bottom of a ramp that led up to the ship.
The man tipped his hat in their direction. “Ah, now here comes a junior spaceman if ever I’ve seen!” He crowed.
Stanley was enthralled. He let go of Mrs. Muntz’s sleeve and started toward the ramp. Before stepping on it he turned to look expectantly at his mother. “Go ahead, dear; it’s okay for you to take a ride.” As Stanley skipped up the ramp, Mrs. Muntz placed a neatly folded $20 in the box on the man’s table. She and Mr. Muntz would have to take powdered milk in the morning coffee and meat would be a luxury for the rest of the month but it was worth it. Besides, she ruminated briefly, it would just be the two of us from now on anyway.
The man tipped his hat to her. “An unusual answer, yes?” he said quietly and turned to follow Stanley up the ramp. Once at the top, he directed Stanley to what he called the Captain’s Chair. Mrs. Muntz heard Stanley laugh with glee as he was clamped into the chair for his ride. A few last instructions and the man closed the door to the ship. After bolting it from the outside, he made his way back to Mrs. Muntz. From beneath his table he produced a box, which was covered in markings Mrs. Muntz could not make out. As he adjusted some knobs, she noticed a low-frequency hum that was beginning to vibrate her gold fillings. With eyes that were a bit too shiny, the man turned to her. “You have ten seconds,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Ten seconds for what?” she asked.
“To change your mind.”
As silence passed the time, Mrs. Muntz watched the ship begin to shimmer, then fade. She stared at the spot where it had been, a slight smile on her lips, long after the man had folded his table, tipped his hat a final time, and walked away.