Publication Date: October 31, 2014 | Age Level: 9 - 12 | Grade Level: 4 - UP
“Let me say at once that I think this is a most original and amusing piece of work. A reader is arrested at the outset by a paradoxical witticism and he goes on being arrested as the story gets into its stride. Ellicott Skullworth and Banneker Bones appear as characters about whom the reader wants to learn more, and soon he begins to be in no doubt about this.”
--Richard Adams, author of WATERSHIP DOWN
Fifth grader Ellicott Skullworth has always felt out of place at public school and now he's tested into the Archimedes Program at Latimer University. While in Latimer City, he’ll be living with his world famous and insane(ly) brilliant cousin, Banneker Bones, the eleven-year-old inventor of robots. The only problem: Banneker doesn't want to share his room. And he's got an army of robots to make Ellicott miserable until he goes home.
When the boys are ambushed by robot bees as big as cars, Ellicott's only friend is carried off and held for ransom. To rescue him, Ellicott has no choice but to partner with his maniacal cousin. Ellicott doesn't know what's worse: facing a hive of giant robot bees or spending more time with Banneker Bones.
BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES features original illustrations by Adam Smith. It's a humorous, science fiction adventure for readers of all ages written in the spirit of a comic book.
Trouble With School
IN SOME WAYS, SCHOOL IS better than prison. Not many, but some.
Like prison, school is all about routine. At 5:30 each morning, Ellicott Skullworth’s mother woke him. At 6:30 he rode the school bus. At 7:00 the first bell rang and class began, recess was at 9:30, lunch was at 12:30, second recess was at 1:30, and the final bell rang at 3:00.
Ellicott rode the bus home and at 5:30 the next morning it began again. Each day the same as the last, the same as the next: an infinite stretch of the same miserable day to be lived over and over again.
The day Ellicott Skullworth’s life changed forever began just this way.
“Who can tell me the name of the inventor of modern robots?” Mrs. Eddy asked her fifth-grade class.
Ellicott knew the answer, of course. Everyone knew the answer. But Craig Keller was the only one with his hand raised.
Craig’s desk was in the first row. Ellicott sat in the last row behind Sam Erwood, the fattest kid in the fifth grade. This worked out well for Ellicott because he could keep Dracula open on his desk and Sam’s meaty shoulders blocked Mrs. Eddy’s view of the book.
Ellicott had been paying more attention to reading than listening to the lesson, but he stopped when Craig answered, “Banneker Bones.”
“No,” Mrs. Eddy said. “Close.”
Ellicott shook his head. Everyone knew it was Banneker Bones’ father, Dr. Patrick Bones, who invented modern robots. Banneker Bones invented the Gyration Rotation Station.
Ellicott had heard the story countless times. Teachers across America told their students the legend of how the then only six-year-old Banneker Bones put together the final bit of circuitry essential to his father’s invention of the first Autobox robot, using the pieces of a broken watch.
“My dad says robots are going to take our jobs,” Justin Cranston called.
Mrs. Eddy ignored this and asked, “Who can tell me what Banneker Bones did invent?”
Ellicott went back to reading Dracula.
Up until last year, he'd raised his hand every time the teacher asked a question, and he'd always given the right answer. Ellicott saw nothing wrong with this—after all, the teacher had asked a question.
Unfortunately, his classmates hadn’t seen it that way and it wasn’t long before he developed a reputation for being “a brain.” It got to be so whenever Ellicott gave an answer, he would hear it parroted by his classmates in a singsong voice.
This was often followed by mutters of “Ellicott’s got a big Skullworth for his big brain. Ohhhhh!”
“Why do the other kids make fun of me?” Ellicott asked his father after school on a day when the name-calling had been particularly vicious. “If they wanted to answer, they should've raised their hands first.”
Harvey Skullworth laughed, vibrating because he was seated atop a lawn mower. “Is that why you think they make fun of you?”
Ellicott shrugged. He didn’t know why the other kids did anything. He went back to picking up the fallen branches in the mower's path.
“Did it ever occur to you, Mr. Boy Genius, the other kids don’t know the answer? Did it ever occur to you that just maybe they’re jealous school is so easy for you when it’s so hard for them?”
“It’s not my fault they’re too dumb to know the answer!” Ellicott said, picking up a branch and thrusting it into the plastic garbage bag he held hard enough to rip its side and spill more branches to the yard. “Why do they have to make fun of me?”
“That’s why they make fun of you,” his father said, turning the mower off. “Pride goes before a fall, son. Remember the other kids are better at different things than you are. It’s not wrong you know the answer. I’m glad you know it."
He hoped off the mower and began picking up the fallen branches. “But if you answer every question, kids might get the idea you’re showing off, showing them how much smarter you are than them. It’s all right to be smarter, Ellicott. It’s not all right to be a show-off.”
Ellicott had thought about his father’s words all night, and the next day at school when his teacher asked a question, he raised his hand like always. When she called on him, he gave the wrong answer, even though he knew the right one.
There had been a round of snickering. But that was all right. Ellicott let the other kids laugh and he hadn't raised his hand again.
Eventually, the cries of “Big Brain Skullworth” transformed to cries of “Big Brain Craig,” even though Craig was only right half the time. Ellicott let Craig give all the wrong answers he wanted. He kept this up through the end of his fourth-grade year and now into the fifth-grade.
During recess, Ellicott sat beneath a tree and read. At lunch, he sat alone at a table near the back of the cafeteria and read some more. He read in class after lunch and if it hadn’t been for the social studies test, Ellicott might've been able to read all day.
If it hadn’t been for the social studies test, everything that followed might not have happened at all.
The class had an hour to take the test. Ellicott finished in just under ten minutes.
For five minutes, Ellicott sat and stared at the back of Sam’s head while the other students continued working.
He couldn’t very well hand his test in yet. If the other kids made fun of him for answering questions, what would they do if they knew he'd finished his 14-page social studies test in less than ten minutes?
But he’d go crazy with nothing to do but sit for another 45 minutes.
Making as little movement as possible, Ellicott pulled his copy of Dracula from beneath his chair and slid it up the side of his desk.
Mrs. Eddy was at the front of the class grading their math homework. Her head was bent down.
He waited until Mrs. Eddy was making a mark with her red pen before he brought the book onto his desk. He shoved it as close as he could to Sam’s fat shoulders to hide it from view.
Mrs. Eddy went on grading papers.
He slowly opened Dracula.
“Mr. Skullworth, this is a closed-book test!”
Mrs. Eddy jumped up and charged straight back between the rows of desks, calling, “I will not tolerate cheating!”
“I wasn’t cheating!” Ellicott cried. “I was just reading.”
Mrs. Eddy snatched up his copy of Dracula and flipped through the pages as though she expected to find test answers written on them.
When she found none, she said, “As you’re reading, I assume your test is finished?”
Mrs. Eddy grabbed his test and returned to the front of the class, taking Dracula with her.
Ellicott went back to staring at the back of Sam’s fat head for all eternity. Or, at least, until the other students finished their tests.
After that, the class lined up at the door for second recess.
Ellicott started for the schoolyard like everyone else until Mrs. Eddy called, “Mr. Skullworth? May I have a word?”
“Busted!” Justin yelled.
Ellicott turned back toward Mrs. Eddy and swallowed hard.
Trouble With Teacher
“DID YOU CHEAT ON THIS test?” Mrs. Eddy asked, holding his social studies test high and sounding to Ellicott like a detective interrogating a suspect on one of his mother’s beloved police shows.
Ellicott looked around the empty classroom for help, but everyone else was at recess. "I didn't cheat."
Mrs. Eddy leaned down close enough to take a bite out of his cheek. “If you did cheat, and I find out about it later, it would be a lot better for you then to have told me now. Do you understand?”
“Are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?”
Ellicott shook his head.
“All right,” Mrs. Eddy said. “I’ll just assume you spent the last week studying every night and that’s why you were able to finish my test in 15 minutes when it took the rest of the class a full hour. Would I be correct in that assumption?”
Actually, it had taken him ten minutes to finish, but Ellicott only shrugged. “I guess.”
“I see.” Mrs. Eddy went to her desk and retrieved a packet of paper. “It just so happens I have an alternate version of the test right here. And seeing as how you spent so much time studying, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble taking this one as well.”
“You mean I have to take two tests?”
“That’s right.” Mrs. Eddy set the new test on a desk in the front row and motioned for Ellicott to sit down.
Ellicott groaned. “That’s not fair. It’s recess!”
“Life isn’t fair, Mr. Skullworth. This test has nine fewer questions than the first one, so I’m sure it will take you no time at all to finish. I’ll give you 15 minutes, probably more time than you need. After that, you can go to recess.”
Ellicott finished the test in seven minutes. The questions were in a different order, but most of them were the same as the first test. When he was done, he handed his test to Mrs. Eddy and reached for his copy of Dracula.
Mrs. Eddy clamped her hand over his book. “Wait. Let’s just see how you did.”
Ellicott folded his arms and waited while Mrs. Eddy went through his test with a red pen. He already knew his score.
There were 56 questions and he'd missed seven, which worked out to an 87 percent; a high ‘B’. If he scored any higher than that, Mrs. Eddy would post his test on a board at the front of the class with the other “Big Brains.”
When Mrs. Eddy finished grading, she asked, “What is the capital of Indiana?”
“Indianapolis,” Ellicott said. Everyone knew that.
“I see. And yet on question 54 you marked that the capital of Indiana is Gotham City.” Mrs. Eddy set the test in front of Ellicott so he could see which option he'd selected.
Ellicott swallowed air. “It’s not?”
“What’s interesting to me,” Mrs. Eddy said, tapping her pen against the desk, “is that you missed the last seven questions on this test. And you missed the last eight questions on the first test. But there were 65 questions on the first test, so your score still worked out to an 87 percent.”
“That is interesting,” Ellicott said, looking toward the door and longing to disappear through it. “I’ll study harder next time.”
Mrs. Eddy circled Ellicott like a shark. “Two tests. You got the same score on each. On both tests you got every question right but exactly the precise amount of the last few questions to score an 87 percent. I find that very, very interesting.”
“Can I have my book back now?”
“Are you bored in class, Ellicott?”
“I see. You’re so enthralled in my lessons you spend all day reading instead of listening to them, is that right?”
Ellicott didn't have a good answer to that. He sensed there probably wasn't one.
Mrs. Eddy rummaged through her desk, then handed him his copy of Dracula, a permission slip, and a brochure for something called the Latimer University Archimedes Program.
“Make sure one of your parents signs that tonight,” she said, “and bring it back tomorrow. The test is two weeks from now, but I should still be able to get you in.”
Ellicott looked over the brochure. On it were pictures of students sitting in a classroom the size of a theater and walking across a sunlit campus carrying book bags.
In one picture the students were being served lunch by a robot wearing a hair net, which was ridiculous, as the robot’s head was shiny bald metal.
The last picture was of a dark-skinned 11-year-old boy wearing a brimmed hat with a wide band, thick black glasses, and a brown trench coat. The caption below identified the boy as Banneker Bones.
"What is this?" Ellicott asked.
Trouble With Permission Slips
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS is?” Harvey Skullworth said that night at the dinner table, holding up the permission slip for all to see.
“They want me to give my permission for you to take the Latimer University Archimedes Program aptitude test. They want to know if you’re an egghead or not, so they can ship you off to your cousin’s fancy private school for spoiled rich know-it-alls."
He set the slip face down on the table, then nudged it away from his plate as though uncomfortable with it so close to his meatloaf. "Well, we can’t afford to send you to a rich-kid school, so there isn’t any need for you to take the test for one.”
“Latimer University offers a scholarship,” Patricia Skullworth said. “I’m sure your brother could put in a good word.”
“He’s my half brother. And you leave him out of this.”
“I have a cousin?” Ellicott asked.
Neither of Ellicott’s parents said anything, but his mother gave him a look that told him to drop it. This was the same look she gave him every time the subject of his father’s half brother came up, which wasn't often.
Ellicott had never met his Uncle Patrick. He knew of him only from stories of his father’s early childhood.
Apparently, Uncle Patrick and his father had had a fight of some kind—every time Ellicott asked what the fight had been about, he was told to drop the subject—and the brothers hadn't spoken to each other since before Ellicott was born.
Ellicott had long known he had an uncle somewhere in the world who was a stranger to him, but this was the first he'd learned of a cousin.
“You’re a Skullworth,” his father said, wadding up the permission slip and pitching it in the trash. “Your aptitudes have been known since the day you were born.”
Harvey Skullworth worked as a manager at a Rand Enterprises warehouse. Ellicott’s grandfather had worked at the same warehouse. And one day, Ellicott supposed, he would also work there. His father always said he would.
“I want to take the test,” Ellicott said. “I was looking through that brochure and Latimer University looks—”
“Expensive?” his father suggested. “It looks expensive because it is. If you want to get a job to help pay the tuition, you—”
“It doesn’t cost anything to take the test,” Ellicott said.
His father sighed. “We don’t have the money for a fancy university. So let’s just drop this.”
“Come on, Dad,” Ellicott said. “Will you at least look at the brochure?”
“You could at least ask your brother,” his mother said.
“I said drop it!” his father shouted, standing up.
Ellicott pushed back from the table and stood as well. “I know we don’t have the money. I know I have to go to Brownsborough Elementary School and Brownsborough Middle School and Brownsborough High School. I know it. But I don’t belong there.”
“What do you mean, Ellie?” his mother asked, standing as well, so that they were all three gathered around a table no one was sitting at and a dinner no one was eating.
Ellicott took a deep breath. “I’m… different… from the other kids. I don’t know why, but I am. The stuff that’s hard for them, it isn’t hard for me. I’m better at schoolwork than they are. I’m not saying I’m better than—”
“It sounds to me like that’s exactly what you’re saying,” his father said. “Be very careful, son. Pride goes before a fall. And why would you want to go to Latimer City anyway? There’s nothing there but a bunch of robots. You’re better off here with flesh-and-blood people.”
“This isn’t pride.” Ellicott gripped the back of his chair. “It’s… I just need to know, that’s all. I know I have to go to school here. But I want to take the test, even if I can’t go to Latimer University. Because I need to know if I belong here.”
“Oh, Ellie.” His mother put a hand to her chest.
“That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” his father said. “Of course you belong here! You’re here, aren’t you? Enough with this. The game’s on.” And with that, Ellicott’s father turned and left the kitchen.
His mother put a hand on his shoulder, but Ellicott shrugged it off and went to his room.
He threw himself on his bed and took out the brochure Mrs. Eddy had given him. He imagined he was on the university campus reading his text book in the sunshine beside a fountain like the students were doing on the brochure and chatting with world-famous Banneker Bones. He imagined himself being served lunch by a robot.
Ellicott had seen robots on television, and once on a field trip to Indianapolis he'd seen a robot outside an electronics store screeching about incredible bargains. But robots were still far too new to have made their way to such small, out-of-the-way places like Brownsborough, Indiana.
Ellicott put the brochure in the top drawer of his dresser and decided to forget it. There wasn’t any point. He sat back on his bed and read Dracula.
An hour later, there came a soft knocking at the door and Ellicott nearly jumped out of bed, convinced it was the count himself come to suck his blood.
The door opened, and Ellicott saw with great relief that it wasn’t Count Dracula. It was his mother. But she looked as white in the face as a vampire.
She came in without saying anything, closed the door, and sat down beside him on the bed.
Ellicott could hear the sounds of the football game on television coming from the den and he got the feeling his father didn’t know his mother was here. That bothered him, though there was probably no reason why it should.
“Do you like school, Ellie?” Mom asked.
“I like school fine.”
“But are you learning anything? Are the lessons your teacher gives you a challenge?”
Ellicott shrugged. “I like school just fine.”
Mom nodded, but he could see in her eyes she'd read the real answer on his face.
She put her hand into the pocket of her slacks and pulled out the wadded-up permission slip his father had thrown away. On the line requiring the signature of a parent or guardian, she'd written her name.
THREE WEEKS AFTER THE TEST, Ellicott was reading and his father was watching TV when his mother marched into the den. In one swift motion she swiped the remote control out of her husband’s hand and shut off the television.
“Honey, what are you—”
“We need to talk.”
Ellicott took one look at his mother’s face, set with the determination and fury of a general storming enemy territory, and got to his feet. He didn’t need to be told a fight was coming.
“The game’s on,” his father cried.
“This is more important,” his mother said. “Sit down, Ellicott. This concerns you too.”
Ellicott opened his mouth to protest, but he closed it after another glance at his mother. He sat down.
His father folded his arms across his chest and sat back, waiting.
“You’re not going to like what I’m about to say,” his mother said. “Probably it’s going to make you mad. All I ask is that you let me say all of it before you say anything.”
His father made a twirling motion with his finger. “Go on.”
His mother produced an envelope containing Ellicott’s results from the Latimer University Archimedes Program Aptitude Test. She admitted she'd signed the permission slip her husband had thrown away and Ellicott had taken the test.
Here his father gave Ellicott a look that made him want to melt back into the soft cushions of the couch and out of sight.
“The university sent us this.” His mother held up a second envelope. “They want to transfer Ellicott to the Archimedes Program as soon as he’s ready. They say we can wait until the spring semester, but they’re willing to admit him now. He got one of the two highest scores in the history of the test and they’re offering him a full scholarship.”
His father's face had hardened into a rigid mold of disgruntlement, but here it broke slightly. “A full scholarship?”
His mother nodded. “Tuition and books.”
“What about room and board?”
“Honey, the program is in Latimer City. We live in Brownsborough. And we can’t afford whatever it is they’re charging for Ellicott to stay in their dormitory. This is exactly why I threw that permission slip away. Now all you’ve done is get the boy’s hopes up.”
Ellicott wasn’t sure if his hopes were up or not. He was too nervous waiting to see how much fighting his parents would do before he could be excused to his room. His father hadn’t yelled yet, but Ellicott could hear in his voice the yelling was coming.
“Wait,” his mother said. “I have more to tell you.”
His father waited.
“I called the university and asked them if they had any sort of scholarship to cover room and board. I told them our situation and they said they’d have someone call me. Well, today I got a call from a Dr. Myra Bones.”
“Who?” his father said, but the way he said it indicated he already knew who Dr. Myra Bones was.
Harvey Skullworth set his bag of potato chips aside and got to his feet, his body suddenly very rigid, his fingers curled so tight against the flesh of his palms the veins in his forearms bulged.
Ellicott stood as well and took small steps toward the door.
“I didn’t call her,” his mother said, taking a step back herself. “She called me.”
“And just why would she call you?”
“Because she’s on the board at the university.”
His father faltered. This was clearly new information.
“Oh, for crying out loud, Harvey! She’s taught there for years. Which you would know if you ever read any of the letters that come in their Christmas cards.”
His mother took a step forward. “She’s your family, after all. And she’s Ellie’s aunt.”
Ellicott stopped moving, though he was nearly to the door now. It made sense that if he had an uncle and he had a cousin, he probably had an aunt as well. Still, it was weird to keep learning he had family he'd never met.
“And what did my sister-in-law have to say?” his father asked through gritted teeth.
“She and your brother live six blocks from the school and her son goes there. He’d be in Ellie’s class. And she says they would be honored if Ellie would stay with them while he’s going to school. That’s just how she said it: honored.”
“And how much money does she want?”
“She doesn’t want money. She’s rich!”
This was an argument that continued through dinner and on to the next evening.
During this time, Ellicott managed to gather the following intelligence: he had an aunt and uncle named Dr. Myra and Dr. Patrick Bones and they had two children, a girl and a boy. Ellicott did an online search at school and found out the girl’s name was Ling Bones and the boy’s name was Banneker Bones.
Yes, the Banneker Bones.
At first Ellicott couldn’t believe it. But when he searched the Autobox Robot Company’s web site, he found a photo of the company’s founder and his family.
Dr. Patrick Bones was tall and thin with blue eyes and blond hair. He had a strong cleft chin and he greatly resembled Ellicott’s father and Ellicott himself.
Dr. Myra Bones had dark skin, kinky hair that shot up straight from her head into an afro, and soft brown eyes that looked friendly.
Ling Bones was maybe seven years old in the picture. She was Chinese and giving the camera a big grin that revealed several gaps.
As for Banneker Bones, there was a separate photo of him shaking hands with the President in the Oval Office. Banneker also had dark skin, though it was much lighter than his mother’s, and he wore thick glasses like his father.
Ellicott wondered what it would be like to live in a family in which everyone was a different skin color. Most of the families in Brownsborough were all one skin color, including his. Now that he considered it, he supposed it was sort of boring that way.
On the second night of his parents’ argument, his father accusing his mother of wanting to send their son off to live with strangers and his mother yelling “They’re not strangers, they’re family,” Harvey Skullworth finally turned to Ellicott.
“Son," he said, "what do you want to do? Do you want to stay here with your loving family in your wonderful home, or do you want to go live with a bunch of rich snobs and be surrounded by robots all day?”
Ellicott looked from his mother, who appeared extremely hopeful, back to his father, who did not. He chose his next words very carefully.
Trouble With Robots
ELLICOTT GOT HIS FIRST EVER glimpse at the skyline of Latimer City through the windshield wipers’ arcs and the steady rain pounding the truck’s hood. From a distance, it looked like a collection of toy towers no taller than him.
His mother had wasted no time in working things out with both Latimer University and Dr. Myra Bones. A mere week after receiving Ellicott’s test score, she and her son were in the family truck, all of Ellicott’s clothes and books packed inside, on their way to Latimer City.
His father didn't come with them, but this morning when Ellicott came into the kitchen for breakfast, he caught his parents kissing by the sink. It was disgusting, of course, but Ellicott had been glad to see it anyway.
At long last, when the rain had tapered to a drizzle, Ellicott and his mother came to the intersection of Garrett and Morgan.
“There it is!” Ellicott cried. “221 Garrett Street!”
His mother searched for parking and found none, so she turned on the truck’s emergency lights and pulled to a stop in the fire lane in front of the building.
221 Garrett Street. appeared to be made entirely of darkened glass and stone. A grand marquis extended over the wide sidewalk. The building looked more like a swanky hotel than a place where people actually lived.
For the first time, Ellicott wondered just how rich his Uncle Patrick actually was.
A door slid open at the front of the lobby and the most bizarre and amazingly awesome thing Ellicott had ever seen rolled toward their truck.
"Oh no," Mom said.
A robot with two big black wheels for feet, a silver chest, and arms ending in four steel fingers approached. It was dressed in a red doorman’s jacket that matched its red base, and permanently molded to its head was a steel cap, also red.
The robot made a winding gesture and Ellicott rolled down his window. “Good evening,” the robot doorman said in a light, cheerful voice.
“Hello,” Ellicott said.
“Are you folks in need of directions?” The robot’s eyes pulsed purple light with each word, but its steel mouth stayed frozen in a wide grin.
“We’re just wondering where we can park,” Mom said.
The robot looked over Ellicott and his mother, both dressed in jeans and hooded sweatshirts, and sitting in a truck that was now almost as old as Ellicott. “And what is your destination? The Rand Enterprises’ Sports Stadium is a few blocks from here.”
“This is our destination,” Mom said.
“I’m sorry,” the robot said in that same cheerful voice that sounded anything but sorry. “221 Garrett Street is not open to the public.”
Ellicott had the distinct impression that though the robot doorman had barely more than a metal nub for a nose, it was now looking down it at his mother and him.
“We’re here to see my uncle,” Ellicott said. “Dr. Patrick Bones. He’s expecting us.”
“Let me just check the log. Your name, sir?”
The robot’s eyes went dark and a loud whirring issued from its metal head. Then its eyes lit up bright purple again. “Ahh, yes. Mr. Skullworth. I understand you’re here to stay with us for a time.”
“Very good, sir. Please open your vehicle doors and I'll be happy to assist you with any luggage.”
“Where can I park?” Mom asked.
“Please, allow me.” The robot came around to the driver’s side of the truck and opened the door for Ellicott’s mother.
She quickly scooted backward to the passenger’s side and got out behind Ellicott.
The robot gave its arm a shake and a black metal ball rolled out from under the cuff of its red jacket.
The robot placed the ball in the driver’s seat and there the ball reformed itself into a long stick the height of a cane and the width of a coat hanger. Its top split and stretched until it had wrapped itself across the steering wheel and its bottom split and wrapped itself around the gas and brake pedals.
The robot doorman retrieved Ellicott’s three bags and then the thing that had started out as a black ball drove their truck into the street and around the corner.
“Just call down when you’re ready to leave, and I’ll have it waiting for you.”
Mom, who looked mortified to see the family vehicle driving away with no one in it, nodded.
“Well then, if you’ll follow me.” The robot backed up slightly to change direction, then rolled toward the glass entrance.
Ellicott started to follow, but stopped when he saw his mother was still staring at the street as though she expected their truck to reappear.
“Come on, Mom.”
The lobby of 221 Garrett Street was unlike anyplace Ellicott had ever seen. There was a fountain the size of the Skullworth’s living room in front of the doorman’s stand. It appeared to be carved from stone, but the stone kept changing shapes.
At first there were angels on the surface of the fountain, angels carved from stone, Ellicott was sure. But then the carved angels retracted into the rock so that the surface was bare.
Carved mermaids formed where the angels had been. As Ellicott watched, the mermaids were replaced with pirates, then the pirates were replaced with whales and sharks.
In the center of the fountain stood a stone boy who waved at Ellicott. At the boy's feet were two stone frogs that croaked and cast out tongues to catch flies that weren’t there. Below them in the water were fish that also appeared to be stone, though they didn't sink.
“Is it magic?” Mom asked.
Ellicott shrugged. The fountain was probably operating within the rules of science, but it was difficult to be sure.
He dug a coin from his pocket and just to see what would happen, he tossed it in.
At once the shape shifting carvings became a crowd of rock people applauding like mad around the inside of the fountain’s pool.
The boy in the center smiled at Ellicott and spoke: “Make a wish and it shall be granted.”
Ellicott considered. He thought of how bored he'd always been at Brownsborough Elementary. He thought of all the lunches and bus rides he'd spent sitting alone reading. He thought of all the late nights he'd spent studying for the Latimer University Archimedes Program aptitude test.
“My wish is that I'll do well in the Archimedes Program and I'll like living here.”
The carvings swirled around in the shape of mystic smoke.
The stone boy grinned. “Your wish is made true.”
“Well, that’s good news then,” Mom said.
The robot doorman made a sound as though it were clearing its throat, which was ridiculous, as it had no throat—at least, Ellicott didn’t think it did. “When you’re ready, Cart 4 will show you to Dr. Bones’ residence.”
The doorman gestured to a trolley cart on which Ellicott’s bags had been placed. The cart rolled toward the bank of elevators behind the doorman’s desk.
Ellicott and his mother looked at each other, shrugged, and followed the cart.
The cart's green base was a flat surface with four wheels on which luggage could be set. There were four gold posts at each corner of the base rising up five feet and arching together, supporting a bar for clothes hangers.
When an elevator opened, the cart rolled inside and the Skullworths followed. Ellicott took one last look at the robot doorman who was now plugged into some sort of charging station behind the lobby’s front desk.
“Thank you for calling 221 Garrett Street,” it said, though there was no one there. “This is Jacob. How can I help you?”
The trolley cart gave a beeping noise and the elevator beeped in response, and then its doors closed and the elevator ascended.
Soft instrumental music played as the elevator’s display panel indicated it was passing floors two through 48.
At the 49th floor, the doors opened and the cart exited.
“I guess this must be it,” Mom said, stepping out of the elevator just behind the cart into a brightly lit hallway.
When Ellicott had stepped out as well, the elevator doors closed, cutting off any hope of retreat.
The overhead lights went out.
Mom screamed as a bright red beam shone in their eyes.
Ellicott squinted and traced the path of light to a broad bronze face with one wide red eye.
“Identify yourselves, please.”
There came a loud metallic clicking and in the red light Ellicott made out the shape of a robot even larger than the doorman. Its arms were bent and at the end of them were what looked like Gatling guns.
“Identify yourselves or I will fire upon you."