Notes and disclaimers: Pete and Pete and all characters herein are not mine. No profit gained from this ever ever. A very happy birthday to Kelly! Thanks to Mosca (and in a way to Lise and Lesa Soja) and beta thanks to Circusgirl and Katie.
BORN WITH THE FISTS OF A PETE
The Plekters moved to Wellsville, two doors down from the Wrigleys, during the foggiest week in Wellsville since 1966. It took three days for Little Pete and Nona to determine that there were four Plekters: mother, father, older and younger sister. Or possibly father, oldest and middle and youngest daughter. Nona pointed out that one of the girls could be a boy with long hair and a preference for kilts. The fog made investigating extra hard. Pete pointed out that the Plekters could have brought the fog with them but Nona dismissed this. The fog did dissipate on Monday.
In Big Pete and Ellen's senior year, the Fighting Squid Marching Band, known as the Squidettes, once again faced a challenging formation to master. They'd thought forming fusion freshman year, the Wellsville Water Tower sophomore year and the Largest Ball of Dental Floss their previous year had been difficult but this was the dreaded Dutch Elm Blooming formation. Pete hated that he'd be a root while Ellen was a leaf; they'd be far away from each other, in their very last year together in band. Sometimes Ellen waved from across the field and her hand fluttered in approved leaf fashion.
Endless Mike got a part-time job as a piano-tuner. No one knew until Ellen saw him lovingly bent over Mrs. Kapellitini's baby grand when Ellen came by with extra peanut brittle. Mr. Hinkle had made an extra large batch using the new crunchy Krebnut butter that came in red 5 gallon jars. Endless Mike confessed he'd always loved the piano and hearing one out of tune caused him to break out in painful hives all over his calves. Piano-tuning was a mission of self-preservation for him. He swore Ellen to secrecy and told her the peanut brittle crunched in F-sharp.
Mom and Little Pete had a vicious conflict over the proper maintenance of the HMS Lily, the ship tattooed on Pete's back. On a night of sunspot activity, Mom had picked up a radio station in the Yucatan and heard of an herbal remedy that made tattoos even more vibrant. Petunia didn't need it; she glowed brighter in the sun that she got once a week. Pete objected to the remedy because he had complete faith in his Krebs Tattoo-Lotion. Plus, Mom's remedy contained curdled artichokes. Once he dared Mom to eat the batch she'd made, she admitted her error.
Frank the crossing guard used Dad and Little Pete's leftover devices from the years ago Hinkle-Wrigley prank war to set up motion detectors around the intersection so he could be extra-ready when people, cats or dogs approached with the idea of crossing. It enabled Frank to take a few well-deserved breaks in his newly built 10 foot tall teepee on the corner. He was renting the yard space and sewer access from Mrs. Kapellitini. Frank let Little Pete into his teepee which was decorated with pictures of diseased lungs. "Quitting smoking is hard," Frank said. "I hear ya," Pete said.
As Spring Break approached, Little Pete organized a Self-Boxing League leading up to a Tournament of Champions. The idea was that your left arm wanted to punch the rest of your body, with only your right arm and an amazing amount of flexibility on your side. Pete had learned the basics from Artie before he left and he taught Mort, Monica, and the rest of the gang. Nona acted as impartial judge in scoring since with her cast, she had both an unfair advantage and an unfair handicap.
Monica petitioned the Kreb Scouts to see if she could count her ten and one history towards a Pugilistic Merit Badge but there'd been no answer yet. Mort had lost to himself seventeen times, which would have been a record but Wayne was the biggest loser in the league with 23 matches lost and no victories at all.
Pete was the champ and entered the Tournament confident of victory. It was held in the Wrigleys' back yard. Dad thought Self-Boxing was barbaric, wrong and he didn't want that kind of hooliganism happening on his front lawn. Mom thought it was fascinating and told them to use the back yard. Big Pete helped hang the nets around the boxing box so no spectators were hurt.
Frank showed up with his Krebstar 2005 beeper to let him know if anyone came near the intersection and said when he was a child, he'd been involved with a Self-Boxing League. "It was only me and I was always the Champion. And the biggest Loser at the same time." Mr. Mecklenberg arrived to help Nona out with binoculars to make sure there was no cheating.
Pitstain insisted on entering and turned out to be formidable. His fists flew and his back bent and he shoved himself against the nets and even with Pete's yelling of "Make him eat puke," Pitstain not only won, but scored a number of points, putting him in the lead over Monica.
Big Pete helped Little Pete get psyched up and ready. "You can do it. You're a Wrigley. You're Pete. You were born with the fists of a Pete." Ellen helpfully hummed the theme to Rocky behind him. Little Pete nodded, scowled and ducked under the net to start his match.
Left had a strong advantage going in with a devastating left hook towards the collarbone that had Mom wincing in sympathy. Pete fell back against the net but sprang up for a return head butt to the left arm. Pete tumbled and fell and shoved and punched. Everyone was on their feet, even Dad watching from the living room. Left struggled back but Pete ended his attempt with a wicked double jump and twist kick leaving Left twitching on the ground, covered in mud. "Good try," Pete sneered, patting his left arm with his right hand.
Pitstain sneered that everything had been rigged but once he wandered off, muttering "stupid stupid stupid," everyone went back to celebrating Pete's clear win.
Looking back, Big Pete was pretty sure everything started on a grey Spring Monday as he and Little Pete walked towards the bus-stop. Little Pete was scratching his arm, muttering when Big Pete said, "Spring is great. Spring is full of potential and blooming and budding." Waiting to hear from your colleges, Pete thought. Glorious new awakenings. He was a little scared of leaving Wellsville but out there, outside Wellsville, there would be an even bigger world.
"Spring sucks," Little Pete said. "It can bite my pancreas with an abscessed tooth."
"You hate Spring? You never hated Spring before."
"Pollen! No holidays from school! Lawn-mowing starts up again! Gardening! And everyone goes crazy! Spring fever, loser. I've seen it, it's a horror."
"Even April Fool's Day?" Pete was sure he had found the one thing that would make Spring palatable to Little Pete again.
"Too easy, blowhole. The challenge is gone." Little Pete muttered and walked faster, still scratching his arm.
When they got to school, Ellen wasn't making sense either. She did have a spring in her step and a smile on her face but her conversation was like listening to Artie explain the importance of red yarn in making cows sweaters for winter. It always had to be red, according to Artie. It warmed the cows. Ellen said, "I found it on my pillow, Pete," she said, nearly whispering. "I don't think I can show you yet."
"What? What did you find, Ellen?"
She smiled like she had had too many Slushies. The yellow-mauve swirl pez-topped kind that had once made Teddy see tiny dwarves running a sneaker check service for sneakers in the school locker room. They'd been standing the parking lot. Pete found that smile frightening. "Don't worry, Pete." Then she walked away on her tiptoes.
Pete had foolishly hoped that home would be a sanctuary from the weirdness of Ellen and Little Pete but Mom was mowing the lawn. "Mom? What are you doing? You can't be mowing the lawn! Did you get approval from Dad? Did you sign it in triplicate?"
"Approval? Don't be silly, son."
"Mom, it's the lawn. It's his lawnmower. It's the ceremonial third mowing of spring. That's his new Krebstar 3000 Lawn Massaging and Rejuvenating Sparkle Powered Lawn Mower. He wouldn't even let me and Pete look at the box until we'd washed our eyes. With soap! Twice! He watched us!"
She smiled. "He's fine with it, son. Go inside, have a snack!" She did a tight turn, leaving no stray blades of grass un-massaged or un-rejuvenated. It was a move worthy of Dad.
Inside, the weird kept breeding and growing new spores and buds. Dad had made lemonade and cleaned the sink. Pete dumbly took the glass and sipped. Tart and sweet. Worthy of Mom. He fled upstairs and found Little Pete standing shirtless in front of the window. He looked like he'd been rolling around in mud. "Now what?"
Little Pete turned around. "I'm turning into a llama."
Nona was sitting on the curb, looking sad. "He told you," she said when she saw Big Pete. "I know I should be looking for alfalfa to feed him now, but I can't stand up."
"Sat on gum." She lifted her hip slightly and a large wad of gum clung to her butt. "Can't get up," she grunted.
He bent down. "Let me help you." As Nona lifted her hip, Pete swatted at the strings of gum trying to free her. She finally wrenched herself up and fell on her back from the effort. Under other circumstances, Pete would have laughed.
Nona stood up and said, "I'm going to Mr. Plekter."
"Why Mr. Plekter?" Pete trailed after her. "How can Mr. Plekter help?"
She didn't even turn around to look at him. "Mr. Plekter used to be a llama farmer. He'll know what to do about Pete."
Mr. Plekter wore a red cardigan and Pete thought again of the poor shivering cows. Was Artie still making them sweaters, wherever he was now? Nona said, "My friend is turning into a llama. What should I be doing about preparing habitat for him?"
Mr. Plekter nodded. "How old is your friend?"
"14 years old," Nona said.
"Wait," Pete said. "Isn't the better question how do we stop this? He can't be a llama. We have bunk beds!"
"This is the first time I've heard of 14 year old turning into a llama. Once I heard of it happening to a baby, but it turned out there was a mix-up at the hospital," Mr. Plekter said. He removed his glasses and cleaned them on his cardigan. "But, are there other transformations happening?"
Nona looked lost in contemplation and then she said, "Not that I know of." She turned her head and looked at herself. "Nope, no one but Pete."
Pete said, "Yes. My parents! I think they've switched bodies. And my friend Ellen, she's been acting very strange."
Mr. Plekter said, "Friend or girlfriend?"
Why did everyone ask that? Pete shook his head and said, "No, friend who is a girl. But she's not someone who acts strange. She gets convinced that she can be things, like dots and bunnies and leaves, but that's more the essence of the thing, not an actual transformation. She's a very grounded person."
Nona said, "Sounds like everyone around you is changing." She stepped away from him slightly.
Mr. Plekter did the same. He had his glasses on now. He leaned in to squint at Pete. It felt like being under a cardigan covered microscope. Mr. Plekter said, "Maybe, son, the problem is you." He leaned back and began describing the care of llamas to Nona who took notes in a notebook she had clearly stolen or borrowed from Monica. It had the logo of the Kreb Scouts and Monica's name written on the bottom left.
Pete walked away. He needed help. And he had no one. Except Teddy, but that made him depressed.
Pete was sitting on the massaged and rejuvenated lawn after enjoying a delicious dinner of macaroni, cheese and vegetarian sausage made from alfalfa, all prepared by Dad. For one brief moment Pete thought he heard Little Pete orgle. Then right after, he could have sworn he heard radio transmissions coming from Dad's head.
As the sun was setting, Ellen came to the house, still walking on tip-toes. "I'm growing wings," she said breathlessly to Big Pete. He'd been thinking about orgling and if they would have to find Little Pete a mate. Then he was thinking, wings? "What? Ellen, how can that be?"
"I don't know," she said, smiling. "But I found feathers on the bed and on the pillow, tiny feathers and I can feel them pushing out."
"Pete's turning into a llama and my parents have switched bodies." Pete felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. At least two continents worth.
"A llama. Wow. Is he orgling yet?" Pete nodded. "Maybe you should find him a mate."
"I wondered about that, too." Pete stood up and moved carefully off the lawn. "Ellen, we have to stop these things. My parents need to be in their own bodies and Pete can't be a llama. We have bunk beds! And you can't have wings, how will you fit in your dorm room? Mr. Plekter said it's all my fault."
"How could it all be you, Pete? That seems like a selfish way of looking at things. It's all you, you, you! To you, it's not things that we're doing, and that's wrong, these things are happening to us. We're living our lives, not revolving around you." She was no longer on her tip-toes. Pete wished she would always stay like that.
"But you're all people I know."
"But it's not bad. I'm excited about my wings!" She turned on her toes again and walked away into the setting sun. Her shoulders did look more square than usual.
Pete decided to wander. He went by the Mecklenbergs where Nona and her dad were planting wheat stalks in a corner of their lawn. Nona waved with the arm in the cast. Frank was sitting outside his teepee, smoking a cigarette. Monica had a stuffed llama she had mounted on a wooden wagon that she was walking like a dog. Teddy was power-walking with his walkman on, singing along to the Captain Scrummy theme song.
This was his town. Wellsville, in all its spring twilight glory. It was the twilight of Pete's time in Wellsville, unless he came back after college. He only had a few more months before he went off to State College. And Ellen only had a few more months before she went off to State University. Everything would just keep happening without him; people turning into llamas, Halloween, April Fool's Day, Sick Days and Saturdays.
They'd always have summer.
That was what Pete was thinking as he stared at the trees and walked straight into Endless Mike.
Endless Mike glared as he stepped back. "What's wrong, Carrot-head?"
Pete sighed. "Too much."
"Oh, Wrigley's life is so hard. Wrigley can't handle the big things or the small things, Wrigley wishes he was a bear, Wrigley wants to be a root of a tree. Out of my way, tumor."
"I don't want to be any of those things. I don't want to change. Everyone is changing, but not me." He marched away but Endless Mike grabbed his arm.
"People are changing? What do you mean, changing?"
"Growing wings, becoming llamas, switching bodies. Keep up!"
Endless Mike rubbed his chin like the statue of the Thinker or a monkey playing the Thinker in a movie about thinking monkeys. He said, "I've seen this before. My second senior year. Not to me, but to someone else. We need Stu."
Pete said, "The bus driver?" as Endless Mike grabbed his arm and dragged him down a dark street lined with blooming dogwoods. "How do you know where Stu lives? Why are there so many dogwoods here? How many senior years have you had?"
"Answers later. We have to stop this. Before it affects everyone you know."
Stu lived in a house that was one third the size of all the other houses on the street, even the door. Stu ducked his head and stepped out onto the tiny porch. "It's happening again," he said when he saw Endless Mike.
"We have to stop it."
"Is it him?"
"Is it me? What am I doing?" Pete slipped off the tiny step and fell on his butt. Endless Mike sniggered and Stu grinned. Even in disasters, slap-stick still worked to bring people together. Pete rubbed his butt. "What's going on?"
"Has someone new moved to town?" Endless Mike said, turning back to Stu.
"Yes. The Plekters! The Plekters arrived in a haze of misty fog. They were the first catalyst. And the Wrigleys bought a new lawn-mower."
"The Krebstar 3000."
Pete watched from his prone position as the two compared news like old comrades in war. Was this war, the transforming of all of Pete's nearest and dearest people? Who was attacking, who was defending? Which was Pete?
Stu said, "Pete? We need you."
Pete stood up and said, "Tell me what to do. And tell me what's going on."
Endless Mike leaned in and said, "You would never comprehend the true story of what's happening here. But it's your fault." His breath smelled like rancid intestines flavored with baloney.
"First we have to gather the people who are changing. Before it gets too far," Stu said. "Then we get them on the school bus. We'll have to use it. And then we'll drive to the Plekters. Endless Mike and I will deal with the changelings; you have to get the Krebstar 3000."
"No, I can't! I'm not allowed to touch it!"
"YOU HAVE TO!!" Endless Mike leaned in again. "THIS MUST BE STOPPED!!"
Pete wiped a little spot of spittle from his nose.
He found Nona at his door. It was awfully late for her but she had a stalk of wheat in her hand that she was staring at. She was probably wondering if it had the proper nutrients. Pete had to trust that Endless Mike and Stu would do their part without harming Little Pete, Mom and Dad and Ellen. He had to get the Krebstar 3000. He could use some help.
"Nona, can you help me?"
"What do we need to do?"
"If we do this, Nona, I believe Pete will not become a llama."
"Thank goodness," she said. "I don't want to be a wheat farmer. What do we need to do?"
"We need to get the Krebstar 3000 to the Plekters' house."
Nona threw up her hands and the stalk of wheat flew straight into the tree. "Touch the Krebstar 3000? Mr. Wrigley set up an alarm system. It involves a caged weasel."
"Did you and Pete examine the alarm system?"
"Naturally." She took a deep breath. "We can do this." She dragged Pete around to the garage. Pete noticed wires leading in and out and, as Nona had said, an additional cage built on to the side that contained a weasel. It hissed at them as they walked by.
"We have to make sure that weasel doesn't get out," he said.
Nona frowned and said, "Let's get Monica."
Monica came in full uniform with a Kreb Scouts flute. "I already earned my rodent hypnosis merit badge, but I remember the tune." She began playing and the weasel sat up then began swaying side to side to the vaguely reggae like tune.
With the weasel neutralized, Pete and Nona entered the garage. "Laser motion detectors," Nona said. She removed her sweater and put it over her head. "Does your sweater repel lasers?"
"No," Pete said.
"Didn't Artie make you one?" She looked annoyed.
"Loser," she muttered. "Stay back. I'll throw the Krebkey at you when I get it."
"What do I do when you throw it at me?"
"You put it in the lock that turns off the system. Jeez," she said. With her sweater over her head she crawled for two feet and then stood up, hopped forward on her right leg and then two more steps on her left leg. She did a complicated limbo move and then approached the Krebstar 3000. Her hand whipped out and she said, "Catch it! Catch it!"
The alarm had started to blare even before Pete caught the key. He turned and jammed it in the control panel and it finally fell silent. He walked over and ran his hand over the Krebstar 3000 and felt it thrum. "I should push it," he said.
"Come on, let me push a little!"
Monica came running in and said, "I want to push, too!"
Pete was already pulling the Krebstar 3000 out when he noticed Monica. "What about the weasel?"
"I put him to sleep. Just for an hour or two."
He pushed the Krebstar 3000 up to the front door of the Plekters' where Endless Mike came out, dragging Little Pete (now covered in fur), Mom (now wearing pants and a plaid shirt) and Dad (now wearing a dress), and Ellen (the back of her shirt seemed to be fluttering). All four of them had their hands tied behind them. Monica said, "That's excellent knot work."
Stu rushed out after them and said, "Mr. Plekter! Bring out the generator! We saw it!"
Mr. Plekter came downstairs with a large red generator labeled "Krebstar 3000 Sparkle Powered Dry Ice Maker." He said, "I need it. I have to keep things frozen!"
Stu rose to his full height and said, "Everyone knows you can't use two Sparkle Powered Krebstar 3000 generation products within 100 yards of each other. Things HAPPEN."
Ellen said, "No! I'm growing wings! I'll fly away from here!" She fell to her knees and grabbed Monica's flute with her mouth.
She blew off-key and Endless Mike grunted in pain, holding his calves. "Off-key," he said. "Hives!" He was wincing. Little Pete started to gallop away but Pete grabbed the flute from Ellen and Endless Mike sprang up to corral the near-llama.
Mr. Plekter screamed "No" as Stu brought out a shiny screwdriver. Stu said, "They both must be adjusted," and opened the control panel of the dry ice machine. There were sparks and squeaks. Mom said, "Why am I wearing these pants, again?"
When Stu finished adjusting the lawn-mower and Dad's plaintive cries died down, Ellen looked at Pete and said, "No more wings."
He said, "Good. And look, Pete's fur all fell out." Mr. Plekter was carefully sweeping the fur into a bag. Llama fur made good pillow stuffing.
Pete untied her hands and said, "It's good, right? You wouldn't fit in your dorm with wings."
"I thought I could fly to State College and see you without having to pay for the train." She looked down at her hands that would never feel clouds. "Maybe Pete thought he could gallop there easier if he were a llama."
"Oh," Pete said. He'd missed all that. He'd been thinking about his leaving, not the people who were staying and the one who was leaving as well. "We still have the train."
Ellen smiled. "And we still have spring. And summer."
She leaned over and kissed him. It was just as wonderful as the three previous times they'd done it. "Before I leave, we could try for five," he said. She took his hand.
They walked home after Mom and Dad switched clothes. Little Pete said, "I still want to orgle." Then he bumped Big Pete's arm. "I was gonna make sure you had to clean my stables, scabface."
"For you, I would have," Pete said.
Spring would turn to summer and then fall but until then there was time for one more meeting of the Self-Boxing League, cushioned by llama fur pillows. One, maybe two more kisses, too.
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