Authors: Kenneth Oppel
School was going to be torture with his new orange hair.
As Giles walked down the hall toward his locker, he knew everyone was staring at him. He could hear them whispering, then laughing, then calling out jokes.
“Hey, Giles, you look like a jack-o’-lantern!”
“Ooooh, is your hair hot to touch?”
“It looks like an atomic bomb went off over your head!”
Giles tried to stare straight ahead and pretend he hadn’t heard. He could feel his face burning. He’d never felt so embarrassed in his whole life. He had wanted to dye his hair back to its normal colour, but with all the commotion of Aunt Lillian’s arrival, he hadn’t had time. So now he was stuck with flaming orange hair for the whole day!
In class, he sat as far away from Kevin and Tina as possible, and wouldn’t even look in their direction. But during recess, Kevin caught up to him.
“Hey, Barnes, you weren’t really serious about quitting, were you?”
“Yes, I was,” he said, walking on.
“Well, I wouldn’t quit if I were you,” said Kevin, hurrying to keep up.
“Because Tina’s already looking for someone to replace you!”
“Fine by me,” said Giles. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to English class.”
“You’ll be sorry, Barnes!” Kevin called out. “It’s not easy finding work in genius businesses these days!”
Giles kept walking.
“You can’t just ignore us forever!” Kevin shouted.
“Oh, I think I can,” said Giles.
“Hey, Giles!” Aunt Lillian cried when he walked into the kitchen after school. “You’re just in time!”
Just in time for what? Giles thought. The end of the world?
He felt like he’d walked into a mad scientist’s laboratory. There were four pots bubbling on the stove and something sizzling in the microwave. Things were being blended in the blender and diced and sliced in the food processor. Aunt Lillian was busy mixing something in the mixer. The counter was buried under piles of strange herbs and spices and bottles of coloured goo. And propped open everywhere were dozens of ancient herbal recipe books, their pages splotched and stained with use.
Mom was not going to be happy when she saw all of this.
“I’m very close! Very close!” said Aunt Lillian. “And, as when cooking a good meal, timing is everything—so I’m going to need another pair of hands to do this right. Are you game?”
“Um, I’ll try,” said Giles.
“So. How was school?”
“I wish I were a grown-up,” Giles muttered.
“Why?” Aunt Lillian asked, surprised.
“I wouldn’t have to go to school and have everyone laugh at my stupid hair, and I wouldn’t have to see Kevin and Tina anymore. I could skip all that and just get a job and go to work like Mom and Dad and every other normal adult.”
“Oh, no, Giles,” said Aunt Lillian. “You’re not missing a thing. There are too many responsibilities when you’re a grown-up. Being a kid is great. No worries! I’d trade places with you any day. All right now, roll up your sleeves. This can be messy work! I’ll give you the run-down.”
She quickly led him around the kitchen, explaining what was in every pot and pan. “Alligator eyes here, cream of orchid there, that’s pig’s spit bubbling over there…”
Suddenly she snatched up an old-fashioned hourglass. All the sand had settled into the bottom half.
“It’s time!” she said. “Go grab those oven mitts! Ready, Giles?”
“Ready!” he yelled above the bubbling and hissing and burbling and honking din of the kitchen.
Each gripping one end of a huge soup pot, Aunt Lillian and Giles went racing around the kitchen, grabbing saucepans and dumping the contents in all together.
“Pour!” she yelled, then, “Stir!” then, “Shake!” and then, “Stir again!” and then, “Mash!” And then, “Whisk!” she wailed, “Whisk as if your life depended on it!”
All pandemonium broke loose. The microwave was beeping, smoke was gushing from the toaster, and herbs and spices were flying through the air as Aunt Lillian sprinkled them into the soup pot.
In went the green goo, then the mashed-up alligator eyes, then the goat’s fingernails! The pot was quickly filling up with this strange concoction, which bubbled and spattered and gave off the most diabolical smell.
“All right! Into the oven!” cried Aunt Lillian. “Open the door, here I come!”
Giles flung open the oven door and was nearly bowled over by the blast of intense heat. She must have preheated it to a million degrees! Aunt Lillian slung the pot into the oven’s bright-orange furnace mouth and slammed the door shut, panting loudly.
“Great,” she said. “Excellent work, Giles. Now, in ten minutes, we’ll see what we’ve got!”
“Wow. They weren’t kidding when they said it reduces,” said Aunt Lillian, peering into the steaming pot. “Not a lot left, is there?”
Giles looked. At the bottom of the pot was a tiny slick of bluish goo. It was definitely the gooiest goo he’d ever seen. In fact, he’d have to say it was super-goo. It smelled terrible.
“Well, here goes,” said Aunt Lillian, dabbing at it with her fingertip. “Ooh, still hot. Want some?”
“No, it’s okay.”
Aunt Lillian rubbed some of the goo onto her cheek, then went back for more.
“Feels nice,” she said. “I think we might have something here, Giles. I can already feel it soothing my skin. I can feel those wrinkles fading! Now let’s get some on those smile lines around the eyes. Ooooh, yes…”
She dabbed on more and more of the super-goo—
until the pot was empty and her face was almost completely blue.
“Well, I feel pretty good about this, Giles. I really do.”
“I don’t mean to alarm you, Aunt Lillian,” said Giles, “but you’re beginning to glow.”
“Really?” she said.
Giles nodded. It was unmistakable now—a deep, transparent blue aura was emanating from her skin and enveloping her whole head. Aunt Lillian didn’t seem terribly concerned. She walked over to a mirror to take a look.
“There’s definitely a bit of a glow there,” she said happily. “Of course, the books said this might happen. A healthy glow—that’s all it is, Giles. I’m sure it’ll fade eventually.”
But it didn’t. It got deeper and deeper, and started spreading down the rest of her body over her clothing, down her neck and arms, across her chest, down towards her legs.
“Hmmm. It’s a bit more powerful than I thought. But you know, Giles, I really feel younger. Do I look younger?”
In fact, she
She was also looking shorter.
She was also looking smaller! Her clothes seemed a little too big—sagging at the shoulders, bagging around the hips and ankles.
“Um, Aunt Lillian,” said Giles. “I think you’re shrinking.”
She turned back to the mirror.
“You know, I think you’re right.” Her voice was different now, too—slightly higher. Her face was changing as well—smoothing out, rounding out. Her hair was sprouting and curling. And all the time she was getting shorter and shorter. You could see it happening now, right before your eyes!
“It’s wonderful!” Aunt Lillian cried. “I mean, look at me. I look twenty years younger…well, maybe twenty-two…or twenty-three…or twenty-four years younger…”
“Aunt Lillian?” Giles said.
Suddenly she stopped glowing, and standing before him was a girl who couldn’t have been any older than him.
“Well, I think it worked,” said the girl. “We’ve got a winner, Giles!”
At that moment, Giles heard the front door open.
“Hello!” Mrs Barnes called out.
Mrs Barnes walked into the kitchen and stopped dead in her tracks, staring at the colossal mess.
“What on earth have you been doing?” she demanded.
“Just a little experiment, Liz,” said Lillian.
Both Aunt Lillian and Giles were standing very still, watching Mrs Barnes, waiting for her reaction. But she was too busy taking in the dirty pots and pans, the seeping mess on the counters, the gooey footprints across the tiles.
“Well, you can start cleaning it up right now, both of you. I knew this would happen, Lillian, with all this hocus pocus you…you were…”
Mrs Barnes’s gaze now settled on her younger sister,
and the oversized clothes hanging from her small body. A frown of confusion flickered across her brow.
“Lillian?” she said. “What happened to your clothes?”
Aunt Lillian looked puzzled. “My clothes?”
!” said Mrs Barnes. “What are you doing in clothes so…big, so…”
Mrs Barnes took a quick step back, her eyes wide. “Lillian, you’re…
“I’m young,” she said happily.
“About eleven, I figure,” said Giles.
Mrs Barnes narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “All right, what’s going on here? What have you done?”
“It’s the super-goo,” sighed Giles.
“My wrinkle cream,” Aunt Lillian explained. “It worked!”
“A little too well,” Giles added.
“It turned you into an eleven-year-old again?” Mrs Barnes said in a dazed voice. “All those herbs and spices and crackpot recipes?”
“Wonderful, isn’t it?”
“No, it is not wonderful!” roared Mrs Barnes. “I spent
my whole childhood taking care of you, little sister, and I am not prepared to do it again! Now, I want you to just…
“That might be a bit of a problem.”
“Well, first of all, I think the wrinkle cream might be permanent. And second of all, I don’t want to grow up.”
“What do you mean, you don’t want to? You’re eleven years old! You’re telling me you want to stay this way?”
“Yes. How many people get the chance to have their youth again, Liz? I’m not going to miss out on a chance like this!”
“Oh, no,” said Mrs Barnes. “Not on your life. You are not staying young, Lillian. Absolutely not.”
Aunt Lillian just smiled stubbornly. “Oh, yes, I am.”
“She can’t stay here!” Mrs Barnes said. “I will not have her in this house!”
“Elizabeth, we can’t just turn her out!” said Mr Barnes.
“She’s just a kid,” said Giles.
“Oh, no, she’s not just a kid,” Giles’s mother said severely. “She’s a fully grown woman. She just
like a kid—and I won’t have her in the house!”
The three of them sat around the dining-room table while Aunt Lillian was upstairs in the spare bedroom, blasting the radio and singing along.
“Liz,” said Mr Barnes, “if anyone else saw her, they’d think she was eleven. She couldn’t get a job. She couldn’t even drive her own car now. If we kicked her out, the police would come and arrest us! Try explaining herbal wrinkle cream to them!”
“Why can’t she just go back to her own place?”
“It’s still being sprayed for spirits,” Giles told her.
Mrs Barnes tried to control her seething temper. “Of course,” she said through clenched teeth. “I was forgetting those pesky spirits of hers.”
“She’ll have to stay here for the time being,” said Mr Barnes. “We’ll just have to make do. Maybe this wrinkle cream will wear off. Maybe she’ll wake up tomorrow and be back to normal.”
“Oh, I doubt it,” said Mrs Barnes gloomily. “If I know Lillian, she’s managed to make things as bad as humanly
possible. It’s permanent, Matt. Mark my words.”
“Maybe there’s another super-goo recipe that can turn her back to normal,” suggested Giles.
“No more super-goo!” said Mrs Barnes firmly. “Tomorrow morning, I’m taking her to the doctor to get this straightened out!”
“What seems to be the trouble?” Dr Plint asked when Mrs Barnes walked into his office with Giles and Aunt Lillian.
He was sitting behind his desk, reading his mail, and he didn’t even look up as they came in and sat down. Giles didn’t like Dr Plint. He never seemed to be paying much attention. Whenever Giles went to see him, he was always reading a magazine, or talking on the phone, or staring out the window, lost in thought. Occasionally he would get up from behind his desk, glance down Giles’s throat, poke his stomach, and then tell him it would probably get better on its own.
Mrs Barnes cleared her throat. “Well, my sister, Lillian,
here—” she pointed at the young girl at her side—“she’s about twenty-five years younger than she was yesterday.”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” said Dr Plint distractedly, still reading his mail. “I’m sure it’ll clear up on its own.”
“Dr Plint,” said Mrs Barnes firmly. “You don’t seem to understand what I’m telling you. Yesterday she was a woman of thirty-six. Today, she is eleven.”
With a sigh, Dr Plint put down his mail and stood up. He looked at Aunt Lillian and frowned irritably.
“This is your sister?” he asked Mrs Barnes.
“You say she’s actually thirty-six years old.”
“I whipped up a potion,” said Aunt Lillian helpfully. “A herbal wrinkle cream, actually.”
Dr Plint didn’t seem very impressed by this information.
“A wrinkle cream,” he muttered. “I see. Well, we’d better take a look.”
He glanced down Aunt Lillian’s throat, poked her in the stomach and then sat back down behind his desk.
“Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with
her. What do you want me to do about it?”
“Can’t you…make her go back to normal.”
“I don’t want to go back to normal, Elizabeth!” said Aunt Lillian. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
Mrs Barnes ignored her sister. “It’s not normal,” she told the doctor. “This is not normal. She shouldn’t look like this! You’ve got to give her something that will make her look her age again. I’ve got a picture of how she used to look.”
She rooted around in her purse for a photo, but Dr Plint wasn’t interested. Just by looking at the faint smirk on his face, Giles could tell the doctor thought this was all some big joke—or that they were all crazy.
“My advice to you,” said Dr Plint to Aunt Lillian, “is to enjoy your second youth. Few of us are given such a miraculous gift. Make the most of it. Good-bye.”