Boggle & Sneak
CC-BY-NC 2008 by Fritz Bogott
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For my daughters.
Alvy jerks the wheel hard to the left and hangs on tight to her hat. The speedboat throws a high wall of spray as it bounces across its own wake and shoots underneath a parked car. Alvy blinks painfully in the sudden deep shadow and pushes the throttle forward to narrow the gap with her brother‟s speeding sprayer truck, which is eighteen inches ahead and pumping out water so the boat can stay afloat. She can hear Alby shouting above the roar of the engines and the hiss of water hitting the road.
“Next time, I get to drive the boat,” Alby yells.
“Next time, think up your own boat,” Alvy retorts.
“Next time, build it yourself,” Alby shouts back.
It‟s just like Alby to complain and forget to enjoy the ride, Alvy thinks. She sends a high wave crashing forward, flattening Alby‟s hat. Alby, momentarily blinded, drives the truck‟s bumper hard into the side of a beer can and sends the can spinning toward the curb. The truck skids slightly, then regains traction.
Headlights loom up behind them. Alby darts a glance back at his sister and slows, steering carefully between the rear wheels of a long black pickup before stopping and shutting off the spray. Alvy pulls the boat in behind him. Water pools and flattens around them as the car passes and disappears. They look at each other.
“That takes the fun out of it, having to stop and hide,” Alvy says. They turn their heads and watch the headlights pass by.
“Not really,” Alby says, and he turns the sprayer back on and drenches his sister, then guns the truck‟s engine and peels away.
Just as Alvy catches up and is about to drench her brother with spray, something at the side of the road catches her eye. A D-cell battery! They could really use one of those! She darts a glance back toward
the heap of backpacks, tool boxes, coils of wire and piles of tarps in the back of the boat. There might just be enough room. Alby has seen it too, and is already pulling over. Alvy cranks the boat‟s engine down to idle. There is a streetlight directly overhead, but there is nobody in sight to notice them. They jump out and run over to the battery. Alby tries to lift it by himself—twisting his
arms around the battery in a clumsy bear hug—but when he tries to
straighten his legs it barely moves. He‟s going to need help. He switches his grip to one end and his sister grabs the other. They lift together and get the battery up to waist height, but then Alvy‟s wet hands slip, and down the battery comes, barely missing her toes. Alvy has left the boat running, and the exhaust is getting into Alby‟s eyes. He blinks painfully. “Could you shut that thing off?”
“You first,” she says, just to be spiteful.
Alby stomps over and shuts off the truck. Alvy waits for the engine noise to die out, and then she shuts off the boat.
They return to the battery and try once again to lift it. This time they make it three steps before Alby drops his end.
Alvy dusts off her hands. “It‟s not worth it,” she says.
Alby says, “Right, okay, we don‟t need spare parts. I‟ll build your next invention out of mold spores and traffic noise.”
Alvy isn‟t backing down. “If we put any more crap into your crap closet
even light won‟t be able to escape.”
“That closet is what keeps us in business,” Alby says. He kicks a truck tire. “We build stuff. That‟s what we do.”
“Right,” Alvy says, “That‟s what we do. That‟s always your attitude, isn‟t it? No need for a change; just keep on doing what we do.” Even so, she helps him pick the battery back up, and they start sidestepping gingerly toward the boat.
“Oh, great,” Alby says. “It isn‟t your job to worry. Everything will turn out just fine. But I‟m the one making things turn out. You draw up half a sketch on a napkin and think everything after that is just nuts and bolts. You don‟t see what it takes to fit all those nuts and bolts together. You get in, get out, and leave all the messy stuff for—”
Just as the battery falls into the boat, they hear a low rumble. When they look up, they see a slow-moving street-sweeper headed right toward them.
Alby runs to his truck, and Alvy scrambles over the mess in the back of the boat and fires up the ignition. The truck‟s starter is
screeching but its engine won‟t turn over.
“Let‟s go!” Alvy shouts.
“Won‟t start!” Alby yells back. He tries the key again. “Something‟s wrong!”
Alvy takes a quick look at the rapidly-drying street all around the boat. She‟s beached. “This is just perfect,” she says. “If the boat were dead, we could at least drag it with the truck!”
By now, Alby is doubled over, tinkering with something under the truck‟s raised hood. The street sweeper is moving closer. Alvy vaults into the back of the boat, digs around in a crate, and comes up with a long rope and a pair of skates.
Alby is muttering, “I knew this two-part vehicle was a mistake. Too
much complexity. Too much that can go wrong.”
Alvy already has the skates on. She skates up and ties one end of the rope to the truck‟s trailer hitch. She skates back and loops the rope around a cleat on the boat‟s hull.
Alby, his head under the hood, doesn‟t notice. “And it‟s not like this thing is light either, with all this water in the back. If I can‟t get the engine started in the next couple of seconds, maybe there‟s some way we can take advantage of all the water to get us up out of the street. Alvy?”
Alvy is skating toward the street sweeper. She zips past it, loops the rope around a tree in the median strip, skates back up to the sweeper, and with a mighty heave, gets the end of the rope up and over the sweeper‟s bumper, and tangles it into something like a hitch. Then she hangs on.
Alby leans way over and looks around the truck‟s hood just as the rope goes taut. The truck jerks away from him and crashes into the boat, and both the truck and boat go bouncing up and over the curb and across the median.
He goes running off after them, but he has on his cowboy boots, and he catches a toe on the curb and goes sprawling. His hat comes off in the process, and a nest of snarled dreadlocks whips loose. He slaps uselessly at his locks as they flail like live snakes, and they speedily take advantage of their momentary freedom to bind his legs and tie his arms behind his back. He gives up the struggle, and lies there hog-tied, the truck disappearing off into his upper peripheral vision. Meanwhile, Alvy is struggling with the knot on the street sweeper‟s bumper, which has drawn up really tight under the tension of the dragging vehicles. The knot suddenly goes loose, and Alvy jumps awkwardly down off the sweeper, up the curb and over to Alby.
One lock at a time, she slowly unwinds her brother and manhandles his locks back into his hat. Alby is extremely grateful she‟s not laughing—much.
“Where?” she demands.
“In the truck,” he answers.
Alvy goes over to the truck, finds the duct tape, and duct-tapes Alby‟s
hat down around his chin. “Looking good,” she says. She pulls off her
own hat and mops sweat off her bald scalp.
Alby works his jaw. There‟s no way his big sister is going to get him to admit she‟s a genius for shaving her head.
“How far is it?” Alvy asks.
“Another block,” Alby answers. “Maybe we should just leave the vehicles here and come back for them after. Nobody‟s going to find them in the middle of the night.” He gestures around them at the dimly-lit median.
The toppled truck and banged-up boat are only fractionally taller than the half-dead, never-mown grass and weeds around them.
Alvy nods. Together, they make their way over to the boat, lift out heavy backpacks and begin laboriously bushwhacking through the grass. After what feels like an endless hike, they finally reach their destination. Panting and catching their breath, they stare up at the screen door towering above them.
Alvy pulls a crowbar from her pack and hands it to Alby. He looks at it, shakes his head and tries to hand it back. She grins. “Monkey get,” she whispers.
Alby pries the door open and holds it, mock-chivalrously, for his sister. Alvy frowns and squeezes her backpack-widened form through the opening into the screened-in porch. Alby wedges the crowbar so it holds the door open a crack, then steps over it into the porch. It‟s quiet.
The window to the kitchen is standing open, probably window-locked on the inside at three inches to keep out intruders. That‟s a laugh. Alvy already has her grapnel out and is whirling it around her head. It arcs up and catches on the first try. Alvy looks smugly over at Alby, but he‟s pretending to look the other way.
Alvy climbs the rope hand over hand, her boots against the clapboard. When she reaches the sill, she hauls herself onto it and crouches low, waving at Alby to join her. He is halfway up the rope when Alvy sees two sets of eyes, green and glowing, moving toward her. She grabs the rope with both hands and throws her legs back down over the edge, kicking Alby in the side of his duct-taped head. “Hey,” he
“Cats!” she whispers.
Alby lets go and thunks to the floor. The cats are making themselves thin and squeezing through the three inches of open window. Alvy‟s boots reach the floor and she and Alby begin to run, steering around the legs of the breakfast table, dodging chairs. The first two pair of paws hit the floor as Alby jumps over the crowbar and through the door. Alvy jumps too, but her pack gets caught, and she jolts to a stop.
“Help me!” she gasps.
Alby grabs her by the shoulders and jerks. She pops through, then turns back and gives the crowbar a solid kick. It hits the near cat across
the bridge of the nose, and the screen door bangs shut. Alvy sticks out her tongue at the glaring cat.
Alby points around the side of the house and makes a knocking gesture. Alvy nods and starts off through the flowerbed. She reaches the foot of the trellis and shrugs out of her pack, then rummages in it. There—
a pair of gloves.
Gingerly, she climbs her way up and through the roses. When she reaches the window, she removes a glove and begins to tap softly at the glass. She keeps up a steady rhythm until the eyes appear in the gloom of the dining room. Hello, eyes, she thinks. You just keep looking right…up…here.
Behind the cats there is a brief flash of light, then a huge shift in the room‟s shadows as the door between the dining room and the kitchen drifts shut. Good job, Alby! She begins to climb her way back down. Once she‟s back in the kitchen, she sees that Alby is already hard at
work at the foot of the refrigerator. His fingers are jammed in the soft rubber of the door seal, and he‟s red in the face with strain. After a few seconds, he slumps, removes his aching fingers, and digs in his backpack. He brings out a jack, holds it up as though proud of it, then jams it into the door seal and begins to pump. This is much easier! The door unseals with a soft slurp, and the jack clatters to the floor. Now that it‟s unsealed, Alby is able to shoulder the door open wider, and then he steps quickly over to his backpack, puts it back on, returns to the door and begins to scale the condiment shelves—a difficult climb with the heavy pack.
Meanwhile, Alvy has been chimneying up the crack between a cupboard door and the kitchen wall. A rope between her teeth trails off and down, the end tied to the straps of her backpack. She gets herself up and onto the counter, and begins hauling the pack up on the rope. In the fridge, Alby has reached the shelf with the milk bottle. Someone has left the cap off, thank god. He reaches over his shoulder into his pack and pulls out the end of a rubber hose, which he threads down into the milk bottle. He then begins to squeeze the side of his pack rhythmically with his elbow. The hose wobbles slightly, as liquid pumps from the pack into the bottle. There— done.
On the counter, Alvy is trying to free-climb the blender. It‟s a nice
challenge; most of its surface is slick, and there‟s not much to grab onto. The lid is easier. It is soft, and she can sink her fingers in and pull up.
From the blender lid, she can just get her fingers under the cupboard door and pry the door open. She steps up from the blender onto a small empty space on the shelf and looks up at the rank of hulking cereal boxes looming above her. This poses another chimneying problem; a wobbly one. When she reaches the top of the cereal boxes, she steps
cautiously from one box to another, heading for the Raisin Bran, but then the Shredded-Wheat box under her feet suddenly tilts sideways several inches, and she‟s dumped painfully back down to the shelf below. Nothing to do but to climb up again. Balancing carefully atop the Puffed Rice, she gets the Raisin Bran box top open and uses both arms to unroll the plastic liner. The box is about half-full—shadowy flake and raisin
shapes down below in the dark. She kneels and shakes the entire remaining contents of her pack into the liner, then stands and uses one foot to stomp the liner, crinkling, back down into the box, then crouches and presses the box-top closed with her palms. Then, her pack empty and her movements light, she performs her climb in reverse. When she reaches the counter, she jogs across it toward Alby‟s corner.
Alby is standing on top of the sugar canister, waiting for her. He reaches an arm down for her and helps pull her up, and then they work together to shove the lid of the neighboring flour canister so it‟s partly ajar, making a crescent-shaped opening.
From his pack, Alby takes out a heavy particle mask and hands it to his sister. While Alvy is strapping it on, Alby takes out a cardboard box the size of his two clenched fists and a spool of string. The end of the string he ties to a loop on the top of the box, and then he hands the box to Alvy. She takes the box, salutes jauntily, and jumps gracefully down into the flour, throwing up only a tiny puff. The string unspools rapidly as she descends.
The surface of the flour roils for a few moments, and then Alvy‟s masked head breaks the surface. The box is gone, buried somewhere in the depths of the flour. The string is looped loosely around her right wrist. She treads flour, her palms sculling steadily. Alby reaches down and pulls her out.
Moving very cautiously now, they tug the flour canister‟s lid back on
and begin to pay out the string: across the counter, past a few neglected dirty dishes, around a dusty garden gnome. When they reach the sink, Alby stretches out his arms and ties the string in a knot around the faucet handle. They take a careful survey of the room to see whether they‟ve forgotten anything, and then they take their (much lighter now) backpacks and slip back out the open window. As they‟re leaving the porch, the screen door squeaks open, then hisses shut, then closes with a soft bang.
The family troops downstairs and into the kitchen. Lisa notices that the kitchen door has fallen shut. She kicks the doorstop up and down a couple of times, then rigs the door open and watches to make sure it doesn‟t fall shut again right away. Dad immediately starts flipping on components of his Enormous Espresso Setup: roaster, grinder, boiler, lever. Mom‟s granola is burnt because the oven timer got disrupted.
Kirsten says she messed it up baking midnight cookies. Mom says it‟s
okay; she has some day-old granola. She gets it out and dumps fresh yogurt from the yogurt maker, then wanders out of the kitchen muttering something about e-mail. Lisa pulls a large whisk out of one of her dress pockets and sets about making an omelet. Kirsten climbs up on a footstool, takes a loaf of bread out of the bread machine and starts grinding peanuts for peanut butter. Dad is chattering about espresso, and isn‟t really paying attention as he dumps out bright-blue raisin
bran and pours out acid-green milk. The milk foams when it hits the cereal. Dad, still not looking, takes a bite, does a spit-take, grabs up a glass off the counter, and jerks up the faucet handle. An enormous thump sounds out, and the kitchen is instantly filled with flour. Everyone goes silent. Three ghostly shapes blink at each other. Dad purposefully fills his dusty glass with water and drinks it in a single long swallow. This rinses the flour off his lips, making them the only touch of color in the all-white scene.
“Good one, girls,” he says, and starts grinding coffee beans.
“Good one, Kirsten,” Lisa says.
“Good one yourself,” Kirsten says back.
Up on her stool, Kirsten is looking into the open cereal cupboard. She notices something, and blows some of the flour away in a big puff. There is a tiny but distinct boot print on the cupboard shelf, where the flour has stuck to a patch of spilled honey. Lisa joins her and looks over her shoulder. They blow more flour, and find more prints. Dad has the espresso machine going by this point, so he‟s deaf and oblivious.
Moving the footstool along the counter by stages, Kirsten follows the nylon line from the faucet handle to the flour canister, and pulls up the remains of the bomb. Lisa is dusting for more prints, puffing her way around the whole kitchen, finding nothing, but persisting anyway. Kirsten is sniffing the milk. She pours some into a juice glass and holds it up to the pale light coming in through the floured window. Lisa gives another short huff and then suddenly stops, staring at a partial print on the sill. Kirsten sets down the glass, climbs down, and comes over to look too. They crane their necks down close to the opening, then measure it off with their fingers.
“Anybody home?” a voice calls from outside.
“Hang on,” Dad yells. He drops a sugar cube into his cup of coffee and stirs it as he walks out the door. Lisa stuffs a handful of napkins and silverware into a pocket, and the girls follow their father, holding their breakfast plates in front of them.
They stare into the dull eyes of an enormous ox standing at the foot of the driveway. The ox sighs.
On the bed of the oxcart is a shambles of a tiny two-seater convertible, soft-top caved in and caked with decayed leaves. Dull rusty paint shows
through in a few spots out of a thick blanket of chicken droppings. Torn upholstery is partially visible through cracked and streaked windows.
Dad is looking back and forth, back and forth between the convertible, the ox, and the ox driver, whose denim shirt doesn‟t quite reach his denim pants. The ox twitches off a fly.
“Guess you got an early start, to get here this early,” Dad says.
The 21 bus drives by. The ox slowly turns its head to watch it pass. “What?” the ox driver says.
“Do we owe you anything, or are we all set?” Dad asks.
“Where do you want it?” the ox driver asks.
“Top of the driveway,” Dad says, “But I don‟t see how…”
The driver makes a cracking noise with his tongue. The ox starts to back up and the wagon begins to twist up the driveway.
“You‟ve got an ox that can back?” Dad says.
The ox driver ignores him.
The girls look at each other and at the oxcart, then start rapidly forking breakfast into their mouths.
The ox somehow steers the cart up the driveway, narrowly but precisely avoiding the neighbor‟s van. The ox driver doesn‟t even watch. As the cart reaches the top of the driveway, the ox driver climbs down off the rocking cart and starts removing straps.
“You need a hand?” Dad asks.
The ox driver removes the last strap. The convertible wobbles on the cart. The ox driver gives it a shove with the flat of his hand. The convertible sags off the cart and crashes to the ground. The ox driver climbs up onto the cart, says, “Okay then,” and makes the clicking sound
again. The ox starts to step back down the driveway.
“Okay then,” Dad echoes, and sips his coffee. The girls finish eating and scrub their faces with the napkins.
The neighbor comes out behind the neighbor‟s dog, and stares at the
wrecked convertible for a moment before following the dog around the side of the house.
* * *
“We could rig an alarm,” Kirsten says. “In case it comes back.”
“I‟m going inside,” Dad says. “Please clean up the kitchen before you go out.”
“It would be cool with lasers, like in a jewel-thief movie,” Lisa says.
“I was thinking we could just reuse the fishing line,” Kirsten says. “Maybe tie it to the door bells.”
“Okay,” Lisa says. “And we can put out some honey. That honey worked great. How come they don‟t have honey in the jewel-thief movies?”
“We can get some at the co-op when I go out to buy peanuts,” Kirsten says. “They have some wormwood I‟ve been wanting to try.”
The girls go back inside the house, and shut the door. The door bells jingle faintly.
“Do you think we‟ll ever run out of ideas?” Alvy asks, her voice crackling over the headset radio inside Alby‟s motorcycle helmet.
Alby looks over questioningly at his sister, then returns his attention to his front-view mirror.
“What would we do?” Alvy asks. Her eyes are also darting back and forth between her speedometer and her front-view mirror.
“Can‟t you just shut up and ride?” Alby asks. He tenses his grip on the throttle, and his motorcycle climbs the side of the barrel slightly, causing the whirling barrel to arc slightly toward the middle of the street. Alvy accelerates slightly to compensate, and the barrel returns to a straight trajectory.
“Do you think we‟d have to walk,” she asks, “or stay at home?”
Alby ignores her.
“Where do you think ideas come from?” she asks.
“Ask yourself,” Alby says. “I don‟t have ideas, remember? I just build things.”
“What if we only get just so many, and someday they‟re all used up?”
“What if the Moon Men came and moved you to the moon? Would your ideas
still be used up then? Or would you start having moon ideas?”
This shuts her up. They go back to adjusting their speed and monitoring the barrel‟s forward progress.
“This is nice,” she says, “not having to hide.”
Alby sees a gray shadow in the corner of his eye, and suddenly his sister screams. A huge moth has somehow been sucked into the barrel, and it‟s blown against her face shield, blinding her. Her hand spasms on the throttle, and the barrel begins to oscillate. “Help me!” she shouts.
Alby reaches out his arm and waves at the air. This does his speed-control no good, and the barrel begins to jerk violently from side to side. Alby waves at the air again. This time his fingers touch moth, and he jerks down hard on its wing. The moth pulls loose from Alvy‟s face shield, and blows, flapping, back out of the barrel. The jerking subsides, and they stop to catch their breath. Then Alby sees something else out of the corner of his eye. “Uh,” he says. A uniformed
policeman has stepped out of his cruiser, lights flashing, idling in the driving lane. The policeman is marching toward the barrel in the center of the road. “Um, let‟s—” Alby says. Alvy nods her helmet slightly and gently turns her hand on the throttle. Alby does likewise. The barrel slowly begins to roll. The policeman quickens his step. Alvy and Alby gently increase their speeds. The barrel rolls faster. The policeman starts to jog. Alvy ratchets her speed slightly ahead of her brother‟s, to turn the rolling barrel away from the center of