As he neared the house, the creature saw no sign of Jess. He headed toward a corner of the house to have a look in the rear, but just as he turned the corner, he ran into Jess and bounced backward onto the ground.
“Why’ncha watch where you’re going, critter? What’s you and that turd of a little brother up to?”
The creature stood up and dusted himself off. “I was just looking for you. Me and Gil want you to try something.”
“Well, just follow me and I’ll show you.”
“Tell me first, then I’ll follow.”
“It’s easier for me to show you than to tell you. Come on. It won’t even take a minute.”
“Wellll…OK. But if this is some kind of trick...”
“Oh, good grief, just come down to the barn and see for yourself.”
The two ran, and the creature lead Jess to the side of the barn. The creature picked up the short board and the pencil and stood on the stool.
“Where’s Gil?” asked Jess.
The creature looked around with a puzzled expression. “Hmmm, I don’t know. He was here just a second ago. Maybe your dad called him or something. It doesn’t make any difference. He doesn’t need to be here.”
“Well, whaddaya want me to do?”
“Just stand right up here and let me measure you. That’s all.”
“Well, you’re always saying how you were taller at Gil’s age than Gil is, aren’t you?”
“What of it?”
“Well, we figured a way to find out if that’s true. See here? I already measured Gil and put his name and the date next to the mark. I’ll measure you right now, then in two years when Gil turns eleven, we’ll measure him again and see if he’s taller than you are now. Understand? It’s like a scientific experiment.”
Jess eyed the whole setup. He pointed to the short board that the creature held. “What’s that for? You gonna take a cut at me or something?”
The creature laughed. “Of course not! This is the measuring board. This is what I put on top of your head to make the mark with.”
Jess squinted suspiciously.
The creature held the board out to Jess. “Look. Here. You put the measuring board on top of your head, then I’ll just level it and make the mark, OK?”
Jess was still unconvinced.
The creature lowered the board and his eyes and said, “Oh, I see...”
“Me? Scared? Of what?”
“You’re scared Gil will be taller than you now when he’s eleven. Then you can’t call him ‘runt’ or ‘pee-wee’ or anything like that. I understand now. You’re scared.”
“Hah! Heck if I am!” Jess clomped up to the side of the barn, took the measuring board, placed it on his head, and stood tall and straight with resoluteness in his eyes. “Measure away, critter!”
The creature pulled at Jess’s arm a bit. “Move over toward me a bit. I want the mark to be right above Gil’s.” The creature guided Jess directly in front of Juniper’s board.
“Now stand up straight. Wow, you’re a lot taller than Gil!”
“Yer darn right!” Jess said with smugness.
“But just the same…I bet Gil beats you.”
“When pigs fly, critter, when pigs fly. Hurry up and make the mar-HARK!...”
A boom cut Jess short, and both he and the measuring board went up and out like a ball from a cannon. The creature watched Jess’s trajectory until the final thud on his posterior, a good ten feet from the side of the barn. And after he landed, the measuring board bounced off his head for good measure.
Jess yelled in pain and put his hand to his head.
With whooping laughter, the creature stumbled off the stool, picked himself up, then started to run. He bumbled into Gil who was just turning the corner to see the results of the joke.
“Run! Run!” cackled the creature breathlessly, and Gil followed him, looking back at Jess with raucous laughter.
“You two better run! If I see you again, I’ll knock every tooth outta your heads!” Jess stood slowly to his feet. He rubbed his head, then rubbed his bottom, and walked stiffly in the same general direction as the boys, muttering to himself.