Finding Papa

“It’s a secret magazine.”

Iro’s eyes widened for emphasis, and he looked left and right in the weedy backyard like he wanted to make sure no one could hear the three of them.

“There’s symbols on the last page, and if you read them out loud at midnight—but you gotta be alone, and it’s gotta be exactly midnight, not like, ten-thirty.” He scowled at Sandy, like she was some kid who didn’t know what midnight meant. “Then if you read them right, the aliens come!” Iro threw his hands up, “And they give you secret powers!”

Sandy covered her mouth with her hands. Her loose tooth moved; any day now it’d fall out, and Momma would panic again, even though everyone said losing baby teeth was normal.

“But you gotta really believe in them,” said Cait, her conspiratorial hush barely louder than the rustling shrubbery. “Or else when they come, they put you in the hospital.”

Iro nodded. “This kid Joey from school read the symbols five times. He’s been in the hospital three times…”

Sandy was rapt: “And the other two?”

“Who knows?”

“Whoa.”

She loved staying at her cousins’ house. Iro and Cait were already ten, and they knew all the cool stuff.

They remembered Sandy’s Papa, too, better than she did. She’d been just three when he vanished, and all she remembered was standing by his knee watching the night sky. Iro and Cait had known him better, and they told Sandy about him.

They said Papa loved stories about aliens and stars, so Sandy loved those stories, too.

“You think Papa read the special symbols? Maybe the aliens put him in the hospital!”

Momma said Papa was in the hospital ‘cause he didn’t know when to stop, but Sandy never knew what he was supposed to stop. Maybe he’d read the secret magazine too many times.

“You think that’s why Papa had to go away?”

Iro scratched his chin, sharing an uncertain look with Cait. “Eh…”

“You’re not really supposed to tell anyone when you read it,” said Cait. “It’s a secret.”

“Hush-hush,” Iro agreed, and their twin mops of brown hair bobbed in unison against Aunt Delly’s myrtle bush. Sandy relished in the excitement of their wonderful shared secret.

“I want to read the magazine!” She jumped to her feet. “Where do we buy it?”

But the twins looked mournful.

“We can’t buy the magazine,” said Cait, with a big sigh.

“They only sell it up in the city,” Iro put in. “And only if you got lots of money.”

“And you gotta know a secret code, or the seller won’t give it to you.”

Sandy wilted. “We can’t get the magazine?” What was the point of knowing about it if she couldn’t read the alien symbols and get powers?

“But we know where there’s a copy,” said Iro, and he lowered his voice as Cait looked cautiously around the yard again.

“Mikos keeps it under his mattress.”