Old Paperback Smell


So, this is where Ernie lives. I’ve never seen the place from the outside (and have only felt it from inside Ernie’s room, thanks to the New Eyes fiasco). Not that there’s much to see. The Goodales live in your typical suburbial environment: all the compact, single-story houses are variations on a cookie-cutter theme, right down to the obligatory yard gnomes standing watch over cost-effective concrete lawns.

I toddle up to the front door. I knock. After a moment, Ernie’s grandmother—in human form, thank goodness—answers, frowning, looking up twice, down twice, left, then right, then left again, then right again—her own inadvertent rendition of the Konami Code, I realize. On the bus ride over, I’d been preparing a variety of stranger-danger techniques to get me into Casa Goodale, but I don’t think any of that will be necessary. Ernie’s grandmother is looking too hard to see me, perhaps because of my perceptive probability qualities, or perhaps because she simply doesn’t have her glasses on. Either way, I take advantage of the situation, quickly darting between her legs and into the house.

“Listen up!” she shouts at a nonexistent gaggle of punk teenagers. “If I ever find out which one of you crazy kids keeps ringing my doorbell and running away I’ll chase you down and clobber you myself! In fact…”

I glance over my shoulder. Mrs. Goodale has stepped outside, and is now rapidly erecting a seven-story scaffolding made of crooked girders and ladders. Nearby, a small pile of barrels has appeared out of nowhere.


I face forward once again, making my way past the parlor, down the hall, and into the living room. There’s a faded sofa, two fragile-looking rocking chairs, a pair of rickety end tables (both smothered in flowery doilies), and a large glass display showcasing a collection of plates, statuettes, and figurines. No TV. The place looks like an antique shop—and I start to get it, I start to get what Ernie’s all about. Everything here’s old and brittle and boring. It even smells old. Like when you open a paperback that was printed in 1988. Everything here has begun to yellow at the edges. Growing up in such an environment would drive anyone to Internet porn and excessive eating the first chance they got.

At the far end of the living room is the entrance to another hallway, this one giving access to the bedrooms and bathroom. Through the process of elimination, I find Ernie’s door. I bang on it a couple of times, and Ernie eventually answers. He’s wearing a stuffy-looking sweater over a collared shirt, khakis, and his hair is nicely combed. He looks like he just got back from Harvard…or a golf tournament. He’s no longer the same Ernie whom Theo was forced to meet on the first day of school—he’s an unreasonable facsimile thereof.

We share a moment of mutual bewilderment.

Then I find my voice: “What the fuh happened to you?”

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Published by

Jesse Gordon

Geek. Writer. Supreme overlord of the SUPERMEGANET pseudoverse. Author of THE OATMEAL MAN, DOOKIE, and other such wasteful nonsense.