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Unstable Molecules, First Chapters

Unstable Molecules, First Chapters

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Published by Bob Proehl
Valerie Henson and her nine year old son Alex travel across the country on a circuit of comic book conventions. Valerie may be just reliving her glory days as a cult TV show star, but Alex is getting a temporary family full of strange artists, writers and fans. But even a kid can tell there's something Val is keeping from him.
Valerie Henson and her nine year old son Alex travel across the country on a circuit of comic book conventions. Valerie may be just reliving her glory days as a cult TV show star, but Alex is getting a temporary family full of strange artists, writers and fans. But even a kid can tell there's something Val is keeping from him.

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Published by: Bob Proehl on Dec 13, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Prologue/TravelogueIn a marble notebook, Alex Henson writes the names of the places on the exit signs.Below each, he spells the name out backwards. He reads them aloud, quietly, so he
doesn’t distract his mother from driving.
Collections of random syllables. Impossiblestrings of consonants.
It’s tough work. But finding a magic word ought to be. There are useless
abracadabras and hocuspoci lying around everywhere. In the old comics the Idea Mankeeps in long boxes in his apartment, kid reporter Brian Bryson spends days in thearchives of the Kirby City L
ibrary searching a clue to his sister’s disappearance. Eyes
bleeding tears behind thick glasses, he stumbles upon the word that, spoken aloud, callsdown the lightning and turns him into Captain Wonder, champion of pantheons,imbued with the power of six ancient gods. For his part, Alex had looked up the names
and histories of all six gods (along with the words “pantheon” and “imbued”) in various
books checked out from the Brooklyn Library, but none of them, said backwards,forwards or sideways, had imbued him with the Wile of Wotan, the Resilience of Ra, oranything in between.
“Excelsior!” Alex attempts. If it worked for Brian Bryson,
the word might stillhave a little magic in it, even if the comics were from before Alex was born, their pagesyellowed and crisp. The word uttered, he is still a nine year-old boy in the back seat of aHonda Civic, heading away from New York City for the first time in his life. He humphsand returns to his list of potentially transformative words. Pronunciation and emphasismay be the key.
I” he says.
Fub,” he says.
Ot,” he says.
 Nothing.Upstate is a treasure trove. Iroquois names sound magical backwards and
forwards. In Ohio, an inexplicable patch of Spanish names shows promise but fails todeliver. Alex chews the names like gum that refuses to lose its flavor. He asterisks theones he deems worthy of further investigation.Now and then, his mother checks the rearview and sees his lips forming oddwords, but the sounds are drowned out by one sputtering NPR station after another.
Alex cannot understand why she can’t have him talking to her while she drives but she
can stand the talk radio prattling on endlessly. As the pass from one station to the next,
discussions are repeated and Alex’s mother seems to take comfort in this. She laughs atthe jokes again, nods with more insistent agreement at opinions she’s already heard.
 Alex thinks of the interstate as a railway across a green sea.
is thestrongest magic word he knows. Nine and already a jaded New Yorker, Alex was happyto see the city in the rear view. But now even as every mile puts him the furthest west
he’s ever been, there’s a part of him prepared to go back. On a
separate page, he listssome things that will not be as good anywhere else.
Bagels. Parks. The whale at the 
museum. The turret of the Idea Man’s house.
Our apartment.
Return is supposed to be part of 
travel’s magic spell. Captain Wonder only has to repeat his magic word and he’s Brian
Bryson again, kid reporter and fifth grader at Kirbyville Elementary. Alex has a feeling
this spell he and his mother are working is permanent. That they’ve managed to make
New York disappear.
he says. K
nowing it’
s not the word even as he chokes it out. Magicwords sound like magic words.Alex puts the notebook on the seat next to him and opens his book. It is aboutBrooklyn boy who discovers he is a powerful magician. The neighborhoods and streetsthe book wends
through are Alex’s own
, and maybe the book is part of the spell. Acharm containing all of New York, one he can carry with him across the country.Outside the window, the midwest races away from him.
The Idea ManAlex loves going to see the Idea Man. For one thing, there is the G Train, which has thefantastic ramshackle feeling of a real train instead of the minor rack and jitter of theother subways. There is a roll and shudder to its motion Alex associates with littleengines that could and trains departing from the fractional platforms of British railstations.And when the train settles its drab and New York arrival point, the doors openonto an unlikely mix of lounging young people dressed for a party on the moon, theirspeech slow bouncing in low gravity arcs, and little old women bustling about hairsalons and bakeries, speaking to one another in a rapid alien tongue. The spaceboysignore Alex, or greet him with the same solemn nod they use to greet each other. Thespacegirls point at him and squee. Kids are a rarity on this planet to be coveted andcooed over. The old ladies coo and nod at once. They call him
, assess theskinniness of his limbs, and cluck before offering him some bit of pastry with sugarglaze polished to a mirror sheen.Alex could walk along the streets of Greenpoint all day, being acknowledged,cooed over, and fed in regular rotation. But they are on what his mother calls a visitingmission.The building where the Idea Man lives looks like it must have been a castlewhen it was younger. Alex thinks of building as having childhoods and adolescences. He
imagines the Idea Man’s building, with its red bricks shedding dust into the stairways
and narrow windows looking over the entire neighborhood, had been a fort when it wasan angry teenager. It must have matured into a fortress (Alex is unclear on thedifference between a fort and a fortress, but the latter sounds more protective, theformer more aggressive), then a castle before settling into its current state of retirement. Now it lords over the lunar colony of the neighborhood like an agingArthur, venerable but out of place, antique and confused. When Alex read the story of Arthur he thought it was one of the saddest stories in the whole world. So when he
imagines a story for the Idea Man’s building, he imagines the building quietly content,
watching the loitering spacekids and the little old ladies and smiling down on them.

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