When Chesley Biggins found the glowing, smoldering lump of rock in his backyard, his first impulse was to poke it with a stick. This was not a new idea for Ches. Over the years he had poked a great many things with a great many sticks. It was pretty much his first response to all things. In fact, in the foregone conclusion that he was going to poke something, the only question that ever rose within him was what kind of stick this particular poke required.
In the summer of his 13th year, Ches came across a dead owl and a dead skunk along Old Stickley Road. As he recalled, it was June and the sun was just picking up its summer steam. He found the owl early in the month and it was fairly fresh. In the lottery of dead things on the side of the road, an owl was pretty rare, so it took him a bit to identify the thing. Even then it wasn’t until a successful stick poke allowed him to see the beak that he was sure it was an owl.
That stick was probably about 18 inches long and even that might not have been long enough, for when he poked it to get it to roll, the essence of unsettling the dead seemed to shiver up his arm and into his spine.
The skunk came later in the summer and had spent a bit longer on the road. You didn’t get as many points for finding a skunk. They were super easy to identify and fairly common in Gimpmann’s Hollow. Still, with the memory of nudging the owl carcass over the tarmac still fresh in his bones, he felt the skunk required a much more substantial stick. He recalled it was a nice piece of birch that took both hands to swing into place. It certainly proved long enough to prevent the skunk’s death shivers from reaching into him. He also allowed that by the time he found it, the death shivers had time to escape.
Looking at the smoking, glowing rock thing, a thing that he was able to trace as it dropped from space and crashed next to his begonias, the poke was set in stone, but the stick…what stick would work best for an extraterrestrial poke?
The rock thing looked about a foot and a half wide. Peering at it with the inadequate glow of his porch light, he saw that the surface appeared smoother than he first suspected. He could kick himself for not bringing out that flashlight, but he wasn’t convinced that it had good batteries in it. The thing in the shallow hole didn’t move so he didn’t think it was alive. And because he was convinced it wasn’t alive, it wasn’t a far stretch to say it probably wasn’t dead; a key factor in determining stick length and girth.
The diameter was one consideration, but then he thought about weight. He quickly recalled something from Mr. Truman’s science about element density and how that could make even a small object misleadingly heavy. Then he recalled he never paid much attention in that class because it was the time when he obsessed over Donna Callingdale.
Next, there was the heat to consider. When he first got to it, he could feel the warmth on his face that reminded him of a campfire. He couldn’t squelch the notion of cooking a marshmallow over it, even if only for a moment. Still, it seemed to be cooling at a steady pace.
With his evaluation just about complete, he realized there was probably nothing in the immediate vicinity that would work. He figured the stick needed to be wood and taking into consideration the depth of the hole and the way it sat, it needed to be at least 36 inches long. It needed to be thicker than a yardstick, but something he could get a good grip on.
His mind tore through his available inventory. There were some two by fours in the garage, along with some branches he trimmed from the old apple tree and the shovel he borrowed last spring from Jennigs McCoy. There was an old banister that he replaced from the basement steps, but that would be too long.
Ah! As soon as he discarded the banister, he thought of the perfect stick for this poke, and if anything went wrong as a result, he would be ready to respond properly.
“Martha!” he said, turning his head a bit toward the house but keeping his eyes on the space thing. “Get me my Louisville Slugger!”