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Pigs don't just vanish, thought George as he stood staring into the depths
of the very obviously empty pigsty. He tried closing his eyes and then
opening them again, to see if it was all some kind of horrible optical
illusion. But when he looked again, the pig was still gone, his vast muddy
pink bulk nowhere to be seen. In fact, when George examined the situation
for a second time, it had gotten worse, not better. The side door of the
pigsty, he noticed, was hanging open, which meant someone hadn't shut it
properly. And that someone was probably him.
"Georgie!" he heard his mother call from the kitchen. "I'm going to start
supper in a minute, so you've only got about an hour. Have you done your
"Yes, Mom," he called back in a fake cheery voice.
"How's your pig?"
"He's fine! Fine!" said George squeakily. He threw in a few experimental
oinks, just to make it sound as though everything was business as usual,
here in the small backyard that was full of many, many vegetables and one
enormous -- but now mysteriously absent -- pig. He grunted a few more
times for effect -- it was very important his mother did not come out into
the garden before George had time to think up a plan. How he was going to
find the pig, put it back in the sty, close the door, and get back in time
for supper, he had no idea. But he was working on it, and the last thing
he needed was for one of his parents to appear before he had all the
George knew the pig was not exactly popular with his parents. His mother
and father had never wanted a
pig in the backyard, and his dad in
particular tended to grind his teeth quite hard when he remembered who
lived beyond the vegetable patch. The pig had been a present: One cold
Christmas Eve a few years back, a cardboard box full of squeaks and
snuffles had been delivered to their front door. When George opened it up,
he found a very indignant pink piglet inside. George lifted him carefully
out of the
box and watched with delight as his new friend skidded around
the Christmas tree on his tiny hooflets. There had been a note taped to
the box. Dear all! it read. Merry Christmas! This little fellow
needs a home -- can you give him one? Love, Grandma xxx.
George's dad hadn't been delighted by the new addition to his family. Just
because he was a vegetarian, it didn't mean he liked animals. Actually, he
preferred plants. They were much easier to deal with: They didn't make a
mess or leave muddy hoofprints on the kitchen floor or break in and eat
all the cookies left out on the table. But George was thrilled to have his
very own pig. The presents he'd received from his mom and dad that year
were, as usual, pretty awful. The home-knitted purple-and-orange striped
sweater from his mom had sleeves that stretched right down to the floor; he
had never wanted a xylophone, and he had a hard time looking enthusiastic
when he unwrapped a build-your-own ant farm.
What George really wanted -- above all things in the Universe -- was a
computer. But he knew his parents were very unlikely to buy him one. They
didn't like modern inventions and tried to do without as many standard
household items as they could. Wanting to live a purer, simpler life, they
washed all their clothes by hand and didn't own a car and lit the house
with candles in order to avoid using any electricity.
It was all designed to give George a natural and improving upbringing,
free from toxins, additives, radiation, and other such evil phenomena. The
only problem was that in getting rid of everything that could possibly
harm George, his parents had managed to do away with lots of things that
would also be fun for him. George's parents might enjoy going on
environmental protest marches or grinding flour to make their own bread,
but George didn't. He wanted to go to a theme park and ride on the roller
coasters or play computer games or take an airplane somewhere far, far
away. Instead, for now, all he had was his pig.
And a very fine pig he was too. George named him Freddy and spent many
happy hours dangling over the edge of the pigsty his father had built in
the backyard, watching Freddy root around in the straw or snuffle in the
dirt. As the seasons changed and the years turned, George's piglet got
bigger...and bigger...and bigger...until he was so large that in dim
lighting he looked like a baby elephant. The bigger Freddy grew, the more
he seemed to feel cooped up in his pigsty. Whenever he got the chance, he
liked to escape and rampage across the vegetable patch, trampling on the
carrot tops, munching the baby cabbages, and chewing up George's mom's
flowers. Even though she often told George how important it was to love
all living creatures, George suspected that on days when Freddy wrecked
her garden, she didn't feel much love for his pig. Like George's dad,
his mom was a vegetarian, but George was sure he had heard her angrily
mutter "sausages" under her breath when she was cleaning up after one of
Freddy's more destructive outings.
On this particular day, however, it wasn't the vege-tables that Freddy had
destroyed. Instead of charging madly about, the pig had done something
much worse. In the fence that separated George's garden from the one next
door, George suddenly noticed a suspiciously pig-sized hole. Yesterday it
definitely hadn't been there, but then yesterday Freddy had been safely
shut in his sty. And now he was nowhere to be seen. It meant only one
thing -- that Freddy, in his search for adventure, had burst out of the
safety of the backyard and gone somewhere he absolutely should not have
Next Door was a mysterious place. It had been empty for as long as George
could remember. While all the other houses in the row had neatly kept
backyards, windows that twinkled with light in the evenings, and doors
that slammed as people ran in and out, this house just sat there -- sad,
quiet, and dark. No small children squeaked with joy early in the morning.
No mother called out of the back door to bring people in for supper. On
the weekends, there was no noise of hammering or smell of fresh paint
because no one ever came to fix the broken window frames or clear the
sagging gutters. Years of neglect meant the garden had rioted out of
control until it looked like the Amazon jungle had grown up on the other
side of the fence.
On George's side, the backyard was neat, orderly, and very boring. There
were rows of string beans strictly tied to stakes, lines of floppy
lettuces, frothy dark green carrot tops, and well-behaved potato plants.
George couldn't even kick a ball without it landing splat in the
middle of a carefully tended blueberry bush and squashing it.
George's parents had marked out a little area for George to grow his own
vegetables, hoping he would become interested in gardening and perhaps
grow up to be an organic farmer. But George preferred looking up at the
sky to looking down at the earth. So his little patch of the planet
stayed bare and scratchy, showing nothing but stones, scrubby weeds, and
bare ground, while he tried to count all the stars in the sky to find out
how many there were.
Next Door, however, was completely different. George often stood on top
of the pigsty roof and gazed over the fence into the glorious tangled
forest beyond. The sweeping bushes made cozy little hidey-holes, while
the trees had curved, gnarled branches, perfect for a boy to climb.
Brambles grew in great clumps, their spiky arms bending into strange,
wavy loops, crisscrossing each other like train tracks at a station. In
summer, twisty bindweed clung on to every other plant in the garden like
a green cobweb; yellow dandelions sprouted everywhere; prickly poisonous
giant hogweed loomed like a species from another planet, while little
blue forget-me-not flowers winked prettily in the crazy bright green
jumble of Next Door's backyard.
But Next Door was also forbidden territory. George's parents had very
firmly said no to the idea of George using it as an extra playground. And
it hadn't been their normal sort of no, which was a wishy-washy, kindly,
of no. This had been a real
no, the kind you didn't argue with. It was the same no that George had
encountered when he tried suggesting that, as everyone else at school had
a television set -- some kids even had one in their bedroom! -- maybe his
parents could think about buying one. On the subject of television, George
had had to listen to a long explanation from his father about how watching
mindless trash would pollute his brain. But when it came to Next Door, he
didn't even get a lecture from his dad. Just a flat, conversation-ending
George, however, always liked to know why. Guessing he wasn't going
to get any more answers from his dad, he asked his mother instead.
"Oh, George," she had sighed as she chopped up Brussels sprouts and turnips
and threw them into the cake mix. She tended to cook with whatever came to
hand rather than with ingredients that would actually combine to make
something tasty. "You ask too many questions."
"I just want to know why I can't go next door," George persisted.
"And if you tell me, I won't ask any more questions for the rest of the
day. I promise."
His mom wiped her hands on her flowery apron and took a sip of nettle tea.
"All right, George," she said. "I'll tell you a story if you stir the
muffins." Passing over the big brown mixing bowl and the wooden spoon, she
settled herself down as George started to beat the stiff yellow dough with
the green and white vegetable speckles together.
"When we first moved here," his mom began, "when you were very small, an
old man lived in that house. We hardly ever saw him, but I remember him
well. He had the longest beard I've ever seen -- it went right down to
his knees. No one knew how old he really was, but the neighbors said he'd
lived there forever."
"What happened to him?" asked George, who'd already forgotten that he'd
promised not to ask any more questions.
"Nobody knows," said his mom mysteriously.
"What do you mean?" asked George, who had stopped stirring.
"Just that," said his mom. "One day he was there. The next day he wasn't."
"Maybe he went on vacation," said George.
"If he did, he never came back," said his mom. "Eventually they searched
the house, but there was no sign of him. The house has been empty ever
since and no one has ever seen him again."
"Gosh," said George.
"A little while back," his mom continued, blowing on her hot tea, "we
heard noises next door -- banging sounds in the middle of the night. There
were flashing lights and voices as well. Some squatters had broken in and
were living there. The police had to throw them out. Just last week we
thought we heard the noises again. We don't know who might be in that
house. That's why your dad doesn't want you going around there, Georgie."
As George looked at the big black hole in the fence, he remembered the
conversation he'd had with his mom. The story she'd told him hadn't stopped
him from wanting to go Next Door -- it still looked mysterious and
enticing. But wanting to go Next Door when he knew he couldn't was one
thing; finding out he actually had to was quite another. Suddenly
Next Door seemed dark, spooky, and very scary.
George felt torn. Part of him just wanted to go home to the flickery
candlelight and funny familiar smells of his mother's cooking, to close
the back door and be safe and snug inside his own house once more. But
that would mean leaving Freddy alone and possibly in danger. He couldn't
ask his parents for any help in case they decided that this was the final
black mark against Freddy's name and packed him off to be made into bacon.
Taking a deep breath, George decided he had to do it. He had to go Next
Closing his eyes, he plunged through the hole in the fence.
When he came out on the other side and opened his eyes, he was right in
the middle of the jungle garden. Above his head, the tree cover was so
dense he could hardly see the sky. It was getting dark now, and the thick
forest made it even darker. George could just see where a path had been
trampled through the enormous weeds. He followed it, hoping it would
lead him to Freddy.
He waded through great banks of brambles, which grabbed at his clothes and
scratched his bare skin. They seemed to reach out in the semidarkness to
scrape their prickly spines along his arms and legs. Muddy old leaves
squished under his feet, and nettles attacked him with their sharp,
stinging fingers. All the while the wind in the trees above him made a
singing, sighing noise, as though the leaves were saying, Be careful,
Georgie...be careful, Georgie.
The trail brought George into a sort of clearing right behind the house
itself. So far he had not seen or heard any sign of his wayward pig. But
there, on the broken paving stones outside the back door, he saw only too
clearly a set of muddy hoofprints. From the marks, George could tell
exactly which way Freddy had gone. His pig had marched straight into the
abandoned house through the back door, which had been pushed open just
wide enough for a fat pig to squeeze through. Worse, from the house where
no one had lived for years and years, a beam of light shone.
Somebody was home.
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking
George looked back down the garden, at the path along which he'd come. He
knew he should go back and get his parents. Even if he had to admit to his
dad that he'd climbed through the fence into Next Door's garden, it would
still be better than standing there all alone. He would just peek through
the window to see if he could catch a glimpse of Freddy and then he would
go and get his dad.
He edged closer to the beam of bright light coming from the empty house.
It was a golden color, quite unlike the weak candlelight in his own house
or the cold blue neon strips at school. Even though he was so scared his
teeth had started to chatter, the light seemed to draw him forward until
he was standing right by the window. He peered closer. Through the narrow
space between the window frame and the blind, he could just see into the
house. He could make out a kitchen, littered with mugs and old tea bags.
A sudden movement caught his eye and he squinted down at the kitchen floor,
where he saw Freddy, his
pig! He had his snout in a bowl and was slurping
away, drinking his fill of some mysterious bright purple liquid.
George's blood ran cold -- it was a terrible trick, he just knew it.
"Yikes!" he shouted. "It's poison." He rapped sharply on the pane of glass.
"Don't drink it, Freddy!" he yelled.
But Freddy, who was a greedy pig, ignored his master's voice and happily
kept slurping up the contents of the bowl. Without stopping to think,
George flew through the door and into the kitchen, where he grabbed the
bowl from under Freddy's snout and threw its contents into the sink. As
the violet-colored liquid gurgled down the drain, he heard a voice behind
"Who," it said, in distinct but childish tones, "are you?"
George whirled around. Standing behind him was a girl. She was wearing the
most extraordinary costume, made of so many different colors and layers of
flimsy fabric that it looked as though she had rolled herself in butterfly
George spluttered. She might look strange, this girl with her long tangled
blond hair and her blue-and-green feathery headdress, but she definitely
wasn't scary. "Who," he replied indignantly, "do you think you are?"
"I asked first," said the girl. "And anyway, this is my house. So I
get to know who you are, but I don't have to say anything if I don't want
"I'm George." He stuck out his chin as he always did when he felt cross.
"And that" -- he pointed to Freddy -- "is my pig. And you've kidnapped
"I haven't kidnapped your pig," said the girl hotly. "How stupid. What
would I want a pig for? I'm a ballerina and there aren't any pigs in the
"Huh, ballet," muttered George darkly. His parents had made him take dance
classes when he was younger, and he'd never forgotten the horror. "Anyway,"
he retorted, "you're not old enough to be a ballerina. You're just a kid."
"Actually, I'm in the corps de ballet," said the girl snootily. "Which
shows how much you know."
"Well, if you're so grown up, why were you trying to poison my pig?"
"That's not poison," said the girl scornfully. "That's grape soda."
George, whose parents only ever gave him cloudy, pale, fresh-squeezed fruit
juices, suddenly felt very silly for not realizing what the purple stuff
"Well, this isn't really your house, is it?" he continued, determined to
get the better of her somehow. "It belongs to an old man with a long beard
who disappeared years ago."
"This is my house," said the girl, her blue eyes flashing. "And I
live here except when I'm dancing onstage."
"Then where are your mom and dad?" demanded George.
"I don't have any parents." The girl's pink lips stuck out in a pout. "I'm
an orphan. I was found backstage wrapped up in a tutu. I've been adopted by
the ballet. That's why I'm such a talented dancer." She sniffed loudly.
"Annie!" A man's voice rang through the house. The girl stood very still.
"Annie!" They heard the voice again, coming closer. "Where are you,
"Who's that?" asked George suspiciously.
"That's...uh...that's..." She suddenly became very interested in her ballet
"Annie, there you are!" A tall man with messy dark hair and thick, heavy-
framed glasses, set at a crooked angle on his nose, walked into the
kitchen. "What have you been up to?"
"Oh!" The girl flashed him a brilliant smile. "I've just been giving the
pig a drink of grape soda."
A look of annoyance crossed the man's face. "Annie," he said patiently,
"we've talked about this. There are times to make up stories. And there
are times..." He trailed off as he caught sight of George standing in the
corner and, next to him, a pig with purple stains around his snout and
mouth that made him look as though he were smiling.
"Ah, a pig...in the kitchen...I see...," he said slowly, taking in the
scene. "Sorry, Annie, I thought you were making things up again. Well,
hello." The man crossed the room to shake hands with George. Then he sort
of patted the pig rather gingerly between the ears. "Hello...hi..." He
seemed unsure what to say next.
"I'm George," said George helpfully. "And this is my pig, Freddy."
"Your pig," the man echoed. He turned back to Annie, who shrugged and gave
him an I-told-you-so look.
"I live next door," George went on by way of explanation. "But my pig
escaped through a hole in the fence, so I had to come and get him."
"Of course!" The man smiled. "I was wondering how you got into the kitchen.
My name is Eric -- I'm Annie's dad." He pointed to the blond girl.
"Annie's dad?" said George slyly, smiling at the girl. She stuck her nose
up in the air and refused to meet his eye.
"We're your new neighbors," said Eric, gesturing around the kitchen, with
its peeling wallpaper, moldy old tea bags, dripping faucets, and torn
linoleum. "It's a bit of a mess. We haven't been here long. That's why we
haven't met before." Eric ruffled his dark hair and frowned. "Would you
like something to drink? I gather Annie's already given your pig
"I'd love some grape soda," said George quickly.
"None left," said Annie, shaking her head. George's face fell. It seemed
very bad luck that even Freddy the pig should get to have nice drinks when
Eric opened a few cupboards in the kitchen, but they were all empty. He
shrugged apologetically. "Glass of water?" he offered, pointing to the
George nodded. He wasn't in a hurry to get home for his supper. Usually
when he went to play with other kids, he went back to his own mom and dad
feeling depressed by how peculiar they were. But this house seemed so odd
that George felt quite cheerful. Finally he had found some people who were
even odder than his own family. But just as he was thinking these happy
thoughts, Eric went and spoiled it for him.
"It's pretty dark," he said, peering out of the window. "Do your parents
know you're here, George?" He picked up a telephone handset from the
kitchen counter. "Let's give them a call so they don't worry about you."
"Um...," said George awkwardly.
"What's the number?" asked Eric, looking at him over the top of his
glasses. "Or are they easier to reach on a cell phone?"
"They, um..." George could see no way out. "They don't have any kind of
phone," he said in a rush.
"Why not?" said Annie, her blue eyes very round at the thought of not
owning even a cell phone.
George squirmed a bit; both Annie and Eric were looking at him curiously,
so he felt he had to explain. "They think technology is taking over the
world," he said very quickly. "And that we should try and live without it.
They think that people -- because of science and its discoveries -- are
polluting the planet with modern inventions."
"Really?" Eric's eyes sparkled behind his heavy glasses. "How very
interesting." At that moment the phone in his hand burst into tinkling
"Can I get it, can I get it? Pleasepleaseplease?" said Annie, grabbing the
phone from him. "Mom!" And with a shriek of joy and a flounce of brightly
colored costume, she shot out of the kitchen, phone clasped to her ear.
"Guess what, Mom!" Her shrill voice rang out as she pattered along the
hall corridor. "A strange boy came over..."
George went bright red with embarrassment.
"And he has a pig!" Annie's voice carried perfectly back to the kitchen.
Eric peered at George and gently eased the kitchen door closed with his
"And he's never had grape soda!" Her fluting tones could still be heard
through the shut door.
Eric turned on the faucet to get George a glass of water.
"And his parents don't even have a phone!" Annie was fainter now, but they
could still make out each painful word.
Eric flicked on the radio and music started playing. "So, George," he said
loudly, "where were we?"
"I don't know," whispered George, who could barely be heard in the din Eric
had created in the kitchen to block out Annie's telephone conversation.
Eric threw him a sympathetic glance. "Let me show you something fun," he
shouted, producing a plastic ruler from his pocket. He brandished it in
front of George's nose. "Do you know what this is?" he asked at top
"A ruler?" said George. The answer seemed a bit too obvious.
"That's right," cried Eric, who was now rubbing the ruler against his
hair. "Watch!" He held the ruler near the thin stream of water running
from the faucet. As he did so, the stream of water bent in the air and
flowed at an angle rather than straight down. Eric took the ruler away
from the water and it ran down normally again. He gave the ruler to
George, who rubbed it in his hair and put it close to the stream of water.
The same thing happened.
"Is that magic?" yelled George with sudden excite-ment, completely
distracted from Annie's rudeness. "Are you a wizard?"
"Nope," said Eric, putting the ruler back in his pocket as the water ran
down in a long straight line once more. He turned off the faucet and
switched off the radio. It was quiet now in the kitchen, and Annie could
no longer be heard in the distance.
"That's science, George," said Eric, his whole face shining. "Science. The
ruler steals electric charges from your hair when you rub the ruler through
it. We can't see the electric charges, but the stream of water can feel
"Gosh, that's amazing," breathed George.
"It is," agreed Eric. "Science is a wonderful and fascinating subject that
helps us understand the world around us and all its marvels."
"Are you a scientist?" asked George. He suddenly felt very confused.
"I am, yes," replied Eric.
"Then how can that" -- George pointed at the faucet -- "be science when
science is also killing the planet and everything on it? I don't
"Ah, clever boy," said Eric with a flourish. "You've gotten right to the
heart of the matter. I will answer your question, but to do so, first I
need to tell you a bit about science itself. Science is a big word.
It means explaining the world around us using our senses, our intelligence,
and our powers of observation."
"Are you sure?" asked George doubtfully.
"Very sure," said Eric. "There are many different types of natural science,
and they have many different uses. The one I work with is all about the
How and the Why. How did it all begin -- the Universe, the Solar System,
our planet, life on Earth? What was there before it began? Where did it
all come from? And how does it all work? And why? This is physics, George,
exciting, brilliant, and fascinating physics."
"But that's really interesting!" exclaimed George. Eric was talking about
all the questions he pestered his par-
ents with -- the ones they could
never answer. He tried asking these big questions at school, but the answer
most often was that he'd find out in his classes the following
year. That wasn't really the answer he was after.
"Should I go on?" Eric asked him, his eyebrows raised.
George was just about to say "Oh, yes, please," when Freddy, who had been
quiet and docile up till then, seemed to pick up on his excitement. He
lumbered upright and, with a surprising spurt of speed, he dashed forward,
ears flattened, hooves flying, toward the door.
"No-o-o-o-o!" cried Eric, throwing himself after the pig, who had
barged through the kitchen door.
"Sto-o-o-op!" shouted George, rushing into the next room behind
"Oink oink oink oink oink oink!" squealed Freddy, who was obviously
enjoying his day out enormously.
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking