Tom squirmed and stretched and pulled at his arms and legs, trying desperately to get free of his bonds. All he was succeeding in doing was hurting himself more, causing the ropes to dig in deeper. Mr. Gunderson was doing something with a strange device that looked sort of like an insecticide sprayer. He was applying something to the mass, which was responding quickly. It was stretching down toward Stacia, who was planted right in front of it. She was screaming through her gag, her head lashing back and forth furiously.
The door between the basement stairs and the house burst open, and someone came thundering down. It was Stevie, and in hands a dutch oven with some kind of yellowish liquid sloshing out of it.
“Yeesh! It smells even worse down here! Mr. Grunderson, what have you been up to?” Stevie grinned as he came in sight of Mr. Gunderson, standing by the workbench just below the staircase, who looked up at him in surprise. “Oh well, time to talk later. Catch!” Stevie leaned over the side of the staircase, gripped the dutch oven at the top with one hand and pushed up on the bottom with the other, and the liquid inside it went splashing out, dousing Mr. Gunderson.
Mr. Gunderson stood blinking for just a moment. Tom stared bewildered. Even Stacia stopped thrashing. Mr. Gunderson licked his lips, smacked them once. “Chicken soup?”
Suddenly he fell to the floor, convulsing and writhing and shaking from head to foot. His face was locked in a rictus of pain. Then all at once it stopped. He was still. With a sudden deep gasp, his eyes flew open and he looked around. Normal eyes. Human eyes.
“What in the world made you think that would work?” he asked, staring at Stevie as he pulled himself to his feet.
Stevie leaned back against the wall of the stairs, eyes wary. “You said it was like a virus. Mom always feeds me chicken soup when I’m sick, so I just thought…”
Mr. Gunderson laughed and shook his head. “You brilliant, brilliant little boy! Oh, my boy!” His head snapped in Stacia’s direction. “Oh, my goodness sakes, that’s a problem!” He rushed over, grabbed her chair, and pulled it as far away from the mass as he could. Carefully, he pulled the knot out of the gag and pulled it away from her face, then started on the ropes holding her to the chair.
“Mr. Grunderson, are you good now?” asked Stevie.
“Yes, Stevie, I am,” the older man replied.
“Right. Another trick, I’m sure,” said Tom.
Mr. Gunderson’s shoulders slumped. “You have every reason to think that,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. Right now, we need to get you all safe, though.” He finished untying Stacia, then with her help released Tom.
Tom put his arm around Stacia and pulled her away from Mr. Gunderson, standing between the two of them.
“I am on your side,” said Mr. Gunderson quietly.
A loud thumping noise at the cellar doors startled all of them. A similar noise sounded from the top of the other set of stairs.
Stevie looked up the stairs, then bolted to Tom. “Space ninjas! Lots of them!”
“Do you have any more of that chicken soup?” asked Mr. Gunderson.