“The Shirt That Shrank Bigger”
By Wayne Timmons
Danny told his parents he felt a little sick and they let him stay home from school that day. “I’m going to wash my bobcat shirt,” he said as much to himself as to them.
“Okay Danny,” his father said. But Danny’s mother and father were distracted with job and money worries and only absent mindedly felt his forehead temperature. “Just today,” his mother said. “You can watch television and eat left-over pizza.”
After they left, Danny tossed his bobcat shirt and some soap into the washing machine. He set the temperature for cold because he was concerned that his shirt not shrink. He had heard of shrinking, and he wanted to avoid that no matter what. Likewise, when he later transferred the wet shirt to the dryer, he chose no hot air that might shrink his bobcat shirt.
“Soon I’ll be ecstatic!” Danny said rather loudly to himself. “Soon I’ll be wearing my jolly bobcat shirt!” Then, as an afterthought, “And I’m gonna wear it to school tomorrow, too!”
But when the shirt came out of the dryer, it was, strangely, several sizes too large.
“Harumph!” Danny actually said, experimenting with a word he had heard in a movie. He held the now nearly bed-sized tee shirt in front of him and studied the situation. “I must have washed it and dried it wrong.”
He read the instructions on the inside of the washing machine lid. He read the instructions on the box of soap. He read the instructions in the dryer’s operating booklet which he found in a pile of such booklets in the cabinet under the tv. He became expert at washing. “P-H-D,” he said proudly.
Now that Danny wanted the shirt to shrink back down to his size, he selected the hottest water.
While the washing machine applied its part of the remedy, Danny entertained himself xboxing around a video racetrack, faultlessly winning every race without a single crash.
But he was disappointed to find, when he took the wet shirt from the washing machine, that it now seemed to have swollen to the size of a set of theater drapes that would fit a medium proscenium.
“The dryer will cook it down,” Danny muttered hopefully as he stuffed the shirt in with some difficulty, having to use his foot to get the last of the wet bulk inside the dryer door.
He was eager to wear his bobcat shirt, with the smiling bobcat face that made Danny almost laugh when he looked at it. He felt good all the time when he wore that shirt.
Danny checked every setting on the dryer to assure the hottest temperature for the maximum shrinkage. After he pressed the start button, the dryer began to slowly tumble the heavy, soaked tee shirt. Danny saw steam in the little, round glass window. “Mmm,” he uttered thoughtfully. Then, as it turned the massive tee shirt, the dryer rocked a bit on its feet and inched around in a small circle in the laundry room.
Danny wolfed down left over pizza and drank orange juice. He surfed the internet looking for good prices on games until the dryer buzzed its automatic notification of task completion.
“Oh boy!” Danny hopped eagerly to the dryer. To his surprise, the shirt seemed to have increased in volume. It had pushed the dryer door open and covered the entire floor of the laundry room.
“My gosh!” Danny exclaimed, now clearly annoyed. ”Makes no sense!”
He opened the laundry room door and dragged the tee shirt into the spacious back yard. He spread it in the sun and discovered that it covered quite an extensive area and spilled over the fences on three sides of the yard. Near the house, it extended high into his mother’s ixora bushes. All the grass in the back yard was covered with the bobcat face. Danny walked toward the center of the shirt to admire the bobcat face. It made him chuckle, and it was absurdly giant allowing him to stand inside the bobcat’s joyful jaws, and that made him chuckle again, louder.
While he was considering what to do to shrink his shirt back down to a size he could wear, the sheriff’s helicopter arrived, and circled overhead. It flew low enough that Danny saw the amused deputies craning their necks and gawking at his bobcat shirt. They churned the air a long time, and eventually the Channel Five news helicopter came, too, The two choppers orbited Danny’s bobcat shirt 180 degrees apart. Danny saw that they were enjoying themselves, grinning behind the tv camera.
Danny ran inside, clicked on Channel Five, and was shocked to discover that, indeed, he and his bobcat shirt were the subject of the cheery palaver of the man-woman anchor news team filling in a few slack minutes until time for headlines at the top of the hour.
“That wonderful little boy has made a giant work of art just to please us all,” the woman newscaster said, displaying her teeth to express delight.
“It’s not a work of art,” Danny grumbled. “It’s just my bobcat shirt.”
He was about to roll up the shirt to try again when someone knocked at the front door.
Danny knew better than to open the door to strangers. ”Who is it?” he shouted through the closed door.
“We’re from the FAA. We’re here about the art in the back yard.” Danny stood on a chair and peeked through the peephole in the door. There stood two men in dark suits and sunglasses.
“What about it?” Danny yelled, reasonably.
“It’s a hazard to air navigation,” the man in the dark green suit said.
“I’m sorry about that,” Danny said through the door. “I’m going to bring it in now.”
“It’s too late for that,” the other man with a deeper voice said as he took a step forward. “We’re already here, now. It’ll have to be investigated.”
“I’ll just bring it in,” Danny said. He ran into the back yard to gather the transgressing shirt, but stopped suddenly, amazed to see a swarm of helicopters circling the bobcat shirt, and, much higher, tracing miles-wide circles in the sky, airliners, biplanes, and every other kind of plane.
“You better let us in now!” the nicer FAA man said outside a corner of the fence. “We just want to help you.”
Danny opened the gate in the fence and the two FAA men stepped in, but they were joined by a team of thirty or forty technicians dressed in federal coveralls who jogged to specific points on the bobcat shirt and began testing it with various devices, and photographing it, and measuring it. The technicians all expressed delight with “Ooos” and “Aahs” when they saw the bobcat, and even the two FAA men grimaced, trying to be pleasant. Finally, they waved in a wide load semi truck with blinking yellow lights and a flatbed trailer equipped to haul a pocket battleship and began hoisting the bobcat shirt onto it with a crane that had just arrived.
“We have to take it to our testing area,” the more serious FAA man with the deeper voice said. “But don’t worry. We’ll give you a receipt for it,” He produced a receipt pad from his jacket pocket and poised to write. “Er, what do you call this art?” he asked.
“It’s my favorite bobcat tee shirt,” Danny said. “Please don’t take it. I want to wear it to school tomorrow.”
“Well, sorry, but that’ll be impossible. It’s already been slotted for the topographical anomalies test and the secure domains departmental registration procedures. I doubt if you’ll even hear about it again within the year.”
Danny whined his best little boy whine, and the FAA men were moved to try to find some kind of compromise.
“It’s out of our hands,” the nicer FAA man said. “But maybe you could talk to our boss.”
Since Danny wanted to stay close to his bobcat shirt, he rode in the wide load semi truck with a convoy of federal vehicles extending ahead and behind, with sirens wailing and official lights blinking. They drove to the secret base where the government conducts such operations.
During the ride, the bobcat shirt had somehow grown, and three cranes were necessary to lift if off the flatbed trailer. While the federal technicians chained the edges of the shirt to several bulldozers, Danny was able to talk to the main boss, who had been persuaded to leave his office just talk to Danny.
As the boss approached Danny, he cleared his throat and looked at the spectacle of a hundred and twenty-five bulldozers trying to straighten the vast reaches of Danny’s bobcat shirt. As the bobcat image began to take shape, the boss simpered, “What do you want, son?”
“I want my bobcat shirt back.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” the boss said. “It’s classified now and you’re not supposed to even know about it. You’ll have to sign a paper.”
“But I want to wear it to school tomorrow. It’s my favorite shirt!”
The eastern line of bulldozers had begun to ascend a mountain, but the bobcat shirt was still not fully stretched out. On the west, an extra hundred bulldozers had been brought in to pull smooth the deep folds on that side. The northern and southern lines of bulldozers were cranking along at top speed in opposite directions, and the bobcat shirt was still nowhere near being fully stretched out.
Danny’s face turned red and blinked back tears.
“Now, now,” the boss said. “Here. I’ll give you ten dollars for your tee shirt. How would that be?”
“My bobcat shirt is irreplaceable,” Danny wailed. “I’m going to tell my daddy!”
“Just a minute,” the boss said. He searched for the proper procedure for this particular situation in his field manual, but couldn’t find it. He got on the phone and called Washington. The two FAA men listened in.
None of them saw Danny exit the building to wander into the vast, wide open spaces of his bobcat shirt. He walked and walked until he saw the bobcat image on the other side of a beautiful valley. First, he smiled, then he snickered. That was why he loved his bobcat shirt. It made him feel happy.
He sat down on the side of that mountain, gazing miles across the valley at the bobcat image not yet fully stretched from one mountain to another. The hundreds of bulldozers were so far away, at the edges of the shirt, that Danny couldn’t even hear them anymore. It was silent, except for birds and the wind. Danny thought a long time, wondering what he was going to do.
Later, an immense shadow drifted over the valley. Danny gazed toward the sky and saw a flying saucer whose edges were even farther away that the edges of the bobcat shirt. It stopped right above Danny and a door on the bottom opened.
Danny seemed to float from the mountainside into the open door at the bottom of the flying saucer. He was gently deposited in a comfortable chair in a room that was very dark. A minute passed before Danny’s eyes got adjusted to the darkness.
When he could see in the dark he shrieked with surprise and giggled with glee. All around him were flying saucer people, who looked like the bobcat on his shirt. Real bobcat people!
“Greetings, human child!” the bobcat-chief said cheerfully.
“I’m thrilled to see you,” Danny said, laughing.
“What do you want, human child? Why did you call us here by showing our image on your planet?”
“I want my bobcat shirt back like it was. I want to wear it to school tomorrow.”
“Like your shirt was?” the bobcat chief asked. “Has your shirt changed?”
“It’s too big now, Danny explained. ”When I washed it, it shrank bigger.”
The bobcat chief meowed and purred in his native language to his flight engineer, who made answer in similar feline sounds. Then, the chief said to Danny, “If your shirt was in time before now, we can drive it back to that time according to the Einstein Rule, and it will be small again. We can make it exactly the right size for you.”
Danny was skeptical, but he said nothing.
The flying saucer crew easily drew in the continental bobcat tee shirt for the fast ride. The bobcat engineer calculated the universal time span that had elapsed since the tee shirt had been small, and applied that factor to Einstein’s consideration of time’s malleability. The captain explained all this to Danny in English.
“I just hope it works,” Danny said
The bobcat chief directed the required flight, which was calculated to the exact billion-billionth of an Earth second, which is a very short time. Standing with the bobcat chief on an observation deck, Danny smirked when he saw the immense bobcat image taking shape in the ship’s hold. As the speed of the saucer approached the speed of light, the shirt shimmied and fluttered. It billowed and rippled. And Danny was glad to see that it was beginning to shrink smaller.
Then, as he saw the tee shirt’s bobcat face coming down to the correct size, Danny chortled. Every bobcat person in the saucer purred with pleasure.
The bobcat chief spoke a few words in the cat language, then said, “I’m glad that we have been able to restore your shirt that resembles us, which causes you mirth!” He handed over the original bobcat tee shirt, and Danny quickly slipped into it. It was nice and clean, and fit him perfectly.
“Omigosh! I need to go home or I’m going to get in trouble,” Danny declared.
The bobcat people took Danny home in a small run-about scout craft, and they dropped him off at the corner instead of right in front of his house, as Danny requested, to keep the neighbors calm.
Danny got home just before his parents. He was wearing his nice, clean bobcat shirt.
“Feeling better, Danny?” his mom asked.
“Yes. I’m fine now. And I’m going to wear my bobcat shirt to school tomorrow.”
“Okay,” his mom agreed. She knew how much Danny liked his bobcat shirt. “It looks good.” She grinned. “Did you wash it yourself?”
Danny looked at her with a mysterious smile. “Who would have helped me, Mom?”
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